Banran’s eyes flickered somnolently open. The wagon was wobbling, and he could hear the nervous neighs of the horses nearby. Something had spooked them, and something heavy was scuffling by the back door.
“Thieves?” he hissed softly. He stood up sluggishly in the darkness and searched under the seat for his magic rifle. He grabbed ahold of it, lifted it in position, and stalked carefully to the door. As he neared the door, the scuffling stopped. Banran inhaled sharply. The sound was moving to the right. Whoever or whatever it was, it was heading toward the tent.
He whipped the door open and jumped out, ready to fire. In the dimness of the early morning, he spied a large black creature grappling with the protective spells that had activated around the tent. The magic stakes emitted a blue light when triggered, and Banran squinted as his eyes adjusted to their brightness, and he made out the creature’s details. It was a reptilian jaguar with amber irises and blood red pupils, and forearms that extended into leathery wings. The sight of it nearly made Banran shriek in alarm. The enraged beast demon was assaulting the magic barrier with astounding force. At the pace it was going, he deduced he had only a minute to stop it before the spell shattered.
Banran took a shaky breath and swallowed hard as he centered his rifle on the beast. He turned the weapon’s knob to the fifth gear, the highest magic setting. Usually, only the lowest gear would be needed to quell a first tier demon or regular animal. The second could kill, the third would, the fourth would for a much larger creature, and the fifth could hurt third tier demons and spirits. It was a typical magic rifle for non-magical travelers to protect themselves. Fully loaded, it could hold three fifth gear shots. One fifth gear shot was equivalent to five fourth gear shots and so forth. While the chance of meeting a third tier demon on the road was rare, Banran didn’t want to take any chances with the reptilian jaguar. It was clearly stronger than a normal beast demon, and he had a hunch that the fourth setting wouldn’t be enough. If he didn’t kill it in one powerful shot while it was oblivious to his presence, then he could be risking his own life trying to fire several less powerful shots once it did notice him.
Steadying his resolve, he braced himself for the recoil and let the magic bullet fly. It hurtled toward the demon in a beam of copper light and hit it squarely in the side. The monster yowled in pain and dropped away from the tent. The nearby sound of the bullet and injured monster jolted Essairyn awake. She looked bewilderedly around in the dim light before realizing that Chona and Akari had also started awake. Jerry tossed fitfully in his sleep but slept on.
“What is that?” Essairyn whispered edgily. The sounds of a fumbling creature outside could be clearly heard.
“I-I don’t know,” Chona stammered anxiously as she fumbled above the pillows for the lamp.
Akari stood up apprehensively and flattened her ears against her head. “There’s a beast demon outside.” Now awake, the stench of demon filled her nostrils. This beast was more dangerous than the ones Essairyn had previously faced.
At the mention of a demon, Chona froze for a moment before reaching for the lamp again. Demons were creatures of the night and disliked the light. Essairyn’s breathed hitched, and she carefully got up from the covers and stalked toward the front of the tent. The thrashing and growling of the large large creature nearby grew in volume.
Outside, the jaguar beast was writhing tormentedly on the ground. It turned toward Banran with a crazed look in its amber eyes that were slowly turning more red. Even as it struggled to get up, the demon’s eyes were furiously fixed on him, making his skin prickle in dread. With trembling arms, Banran lifted the rifle to shoot again, but the barrel clicked emptily. It had been a long time since he last reloaded as he uncommonly used it. Terror rose in his gut and his eyes shot back to the beast which was now on its feet. Smoky black tendrils gushed out of its wound and covered its body, seeming to make it larger. Dead silence filled the space as the beast stared wildly at the petrified man.
The sudden silence made Essairyn pause by the exit. Wary, she closed her hand in a loose fist, letting magic flow into her palm. A sharp snarl followed by a terrified cry snapped her out of her cautiousness, and she whipped the tent flap open. The lamp clinked behind her as Chona lit the wick. With the light illuminating behind her, Essairyn’s eyes swiftly sharpened, and she took in the scene before her. A reptilian jaguar demon was careening toward Banran while he rushed toward the open wagon door. Black smoke trailed in the beast demon’s wake. Just as his right leg crossed the threshold of the entrance, the jaguar flared out the wings on its forearms and clouted the man with the claws on its right foreleg.
“Banran!!” Chona shrieked in terror as she saw her husband slump to the ground. At his mother’s scream, Jerry jolted awake and looked with shocked eyes at his mother’s devastated face. His head whipped from his mother to Essairyn as she dashed from the tent. At the sight of the jaguar beast perched on the side of the wagon, he skidded backwards in horror and entangled himself in the covers.
The jaguar’s red eyes snapped toward the incoming girl. It had picked up a particular scent on her, and it snarled viciously as she drew near. The beast scrunched its muscles and lurched at Essairyn from the wagon. The wood splintered into gaping holes where its claws had embedded into the wall. In the background, Essairyn could hear Chona’s shrill cries calling for her to come back, but she stared defiantly at the airborne demon. Gritting her teeth in anger, she hoisted her hand into the air and released the spinning magic ball that she had built on the way. The deep lavender light knotted into the beast’s underbelly, and the impact sent the demon spiraling away from her.