Feng Jiao steadied his weight on his back foot while trusting forward with his spear, hoping against hope to catch the mamba off guard before it managed to collect its wits.
In all fairness, the snake hadn’t yet collected itself and did not dodge the spear that was aimed at its back. Unfortunately, Jiao’s strike proved largely ineffective as his spear glanced off the rock-hard scales of the reptile.
With a loud hiss, the banded mamba swiped its tail at the tiny human who’d disturbed its rest. Although the human was very small, the mamba decided it would make a decent enough snack for its first meal of the day. It licked its tongue at the spot where the human had splattered, only to discover that its tail had missed entirely.
Another dull thud against its side alerted the mamba to the fact that the human had not only not died, but it had dodged and struck out at the snake again. Although it had dulled senses in its granite-like scales, it could still feel the blunt impact every time the human struck it with its long stick, an unpleasant sensation to say the very least.
On Feng Jiao’s side, he cursed his inability to pierce the rock-solid hide of the snake as he skirted back out of range. For a moment, neither predator moved, choosing to eye each other up from several paces away. Jiao’s initial plan to fight a battle of attrition had already failed before it started, the mamba was not rising to the bait and was taking a wait-and-see approach as well.
Their staring competition slowly ate away at Jiao’s concentration, making it harder for him to pay attention to all of his surroundings while remaining alert at the same time. Although his heart continued to pound in his chest and his muscles remained tense, the young cultivator could feel the adrenaline that was pumping through his system slowly drain away.
As if it were waiting for that exact moment, the mamba struck suddenly. Jiao leapt from the path of the snake strike and felt his heartbeat pick up again. After landing to the side, Jiao spun and struck out with his spear but met only air as the snake withdrew itself from his range. With that, another stare off began.
‘It is a battle of attrition, and at this rate I will lose.’ thought Jiao to himself. At any given point, Feng Jiao was required to continuously circulate Qi to his arms and legs in order to dodge and strike back whereas the snake could rely on its hide for natural defense. Added to the fact that the beast certainly had deeper reservoirs of energy than a newly cultivating human, there was little chance for Jiao to win this battle of attrition.
Judging from its speed of movement and attack, Feng Jiao determined that retreat was also not an option at this point. If he turned to flee, the snake would strike out and end his life. Even if he managed to dodge, he was unfamiliar with this forest while the snake had spent its entire life there.
“Damn it all, you stupid snake. I was supposed to be the one doing the ambush here!” Without a chance of retreating or winning a drawn out fight, Jiao was forced into the offence, also not a great option. Still, if your chances of victory were zero, zero, or thirteen percent, you’d choose thirteen every time. Jiao sprinted toward the mamba, confusing it momentarily, and struck upwards with his spear.
The mamba tilted its head to the side, causing Jiao’s strike to catch it on its hardened scales, and struck back at the human. Jiao propelled himself out of the way and stabbed backward at where he’d been standing.
This time he’d been prepared and the mamba was unable to dodge in time. His leaf bladed spear struck home and lodged itself between two scales just above the mamba’s eye. Jiao forced all of his weight onto the spear’s shaft at the same time and managed to dislodge the leaf-bladed spear downward, dragging the bladed edge of the spear along the mamba’s left eye.
Hissing and in pain, the snake’s tail came pummeling in toward where Jiao was standing. He kicked backwards and hauled his spear with him but was unable to get away cleanly. The tip of the massive serpent's tail captured Jiao on his side and sent him flying several feet into a tree.
With a crunching noise, the boy slammed into the massive stone-tree and fell down onto his knees. The snake finished its thrashing about and slowly honed in on Jiao, facing him with its good eye, an eye filled with rage and hate. Jiao slowly hauled himself to his feet using his spear for bracing and stared back at the snake while blood trickled down his forehead. Blinking to force the blood out of his eye, Jiao finished standing and prepped his spear for a strike.
It was then that he realized something was wrong. Sparing a moment from their staredown, Jiao glimpsed down at his spear and discovered that his spearhead was missing, snapped off about six inches in. He held only a five foot staff at that point, and the leaf-bladed spear head was located several feet away.
As Jiao glimpsed down, so too did the snake. Noticing that the tiny little human had lost its fang, the grey-banded mamba couldn’t help but rejoice. Without its long fang, the human stood no hope of injuring the mamba again. Finally, it could enjoy its rather pithy morning snack. A good thing, because it’d managed to work up a large appetite over the last several minutes.
It coiled itself and prepared to strike out once and for all as the human began to slowly spin the fangless stick in its hands. A low whistling noise began to hum in the air as the stick picked up speed, vibrating its way into the mamba’s head. A challenge! The human was challenging the massive snake even though it had shed its fang.
The mamba, enraged by the loss of its eye and encouraged by Jiao’s loss of his ‘fang’, finally took the bait and pounced at Feng Jiao. The snake soared through the air and the boy slammed his staff into the ground and jumped, using the pole to propel himself forward at an angle. The two passed each other in the air only inches apart, the snake writhing itself to try and reach Jiao as he twisted out of the way.
The mamba slammed into the granite tree and spun itself, ready to strike again but slightly disoriented. Jiao hit the ground near where the mamba had leapt from and rolled hard, bouncing a few inches in the air and landing face down in a furrow of red sandy-dirt.
The snake reoriented itself and saw that the human wasn’t moving any more. Its tongue flicked out and tasted the air as it listened for vibrations. Nostrils flaring as it took in air, the snakes head turned from side to side to observe its surroundings with its one good eye. After a few moments, the mamba was convinced that the human was unconscious and slowly made its way over to where it lie.
Thick grooves were left in the reddish dirt while the snake slithered its way over to the no-longer-moving human. When it was only a few feet away from the unconscious Jiao, it paused once more and smelled the air with its tongue while it listened for vibrations of movement with its jaw. Satisfied that he was not breathing and truly dead, the mamba encircled the human with its long body before lowering its neck and cocking its jaw backwards.
It struck down and bit the human to inject it with its venom before opening its mouth so wide its jaw seemed to be unhinged. As it closed its mouth around the upper body of the human, the grey-banded mamba tasted blood. This would be expected considering how hard it had slammed its puny prey into the tree, but something else went wrong. The mamba was unable to swallow the human at all, try as it might. Come to think of it, it was unable to do a whole lot of anything. Then it collapsed.
From within the mouth of the mamba, Feng Jiao scrambled to withdraw the spear-head from the roof of the snake’s mouth while his body slowly stopped responding to the signals his brain sent it. His body began to seize as the yin-venom he’d been injected with coursed its way through his veins but he did his best to stab the snake a few more times for good measure before he quickly lost control of his arms and hands. Somehow, he managed to squirm his way out of the jaws of the now-deceased monster and collapsed into the dirt while shaking.
A near-transparent silhouette of a red bird appeared above Feng Jiao as he cycled his Qi from his diantain into through his toxitus meridian. Alongside this, he funneled the Qi he’d been storing in the Qi pool around his brain through his channels to try and keep his muscles and veins from shriveling up and dying, much the same way he’d cured the poison that rushed through his mother while he was in the womb. His blood was cleansed at a faster rate than natural at the cost of insanely large amounts of his already depleted Qi.
Other beasts in the forest heard the commotion and considered approaching and acting as the fisherman who reaped the benefits of the battling crab and fish. A large portion of the reason that the forest wasn’t a site of constant battle between various beasts was this exact mentality. No beast wished to win only to be defeated by a fresh opponent shortly afterwards.
Birds flew closer, snakes slithered in the bush, and beasts trampled grass underfoot. Each one had the same reaction as they drew closer to the site of the battle, however. Developed senses allowed them to smell the decaying flesh and boiling blood caused by a banded mamba’s bite. The victor of the battle was obvious and the grey-banded mamba was the undisputed ruler of this section of the forest. Not a single one of the animals thought for even a second that the mamba would lose its battle even after injecting its venom.
Battles occurred when the disheartened would-be party crashers encountered each other, including battles against the victors of those scuffles when they concluded, but no beast ventured closer than 100 meters to the clearing where Feng Jiao seized in the dirt.
The clearing with the withered tree, rotten fruits, and dead mamba remained undisturbed, apart from a shaking human child and a red bird silhouette. That is were Feng Jiao remained for many hours, shaking in the dirt while black-colored sweat poured out of every pore.