4 Battle Between Beasts

    *thu-thump* *thu-thump* *thu-thump*

    Daniel's heartbeat resounded heavily in his ears, yet unable to distract him from the loud noises which the large crocodile made while chasing him.

    One may think that a crocodile would have difficulties in moving through a forest, but the legs of the Yellow-striped Caiman were long enough to allow it to avoid most obstacles.

    "Stop chasing me! ...damn lizard!!" Cursed Daniel while gasping for air.

    In this part of the forest, the trees were a good thirty meters tall at the very least, and full with autumn colored leaves. Their trunks weren't large, but their branches extended widely. The thick foliage formed a large blanket that prevented most of the moonlight from shining through.

    This had affected Daniel's visibility more than his pursuer's, due to the fact that ranked beasts were used to hunt at night. So most of them, to a certain extent, had the ability to see clearly in the dark.

    Provided that the Yellow-striped Caiman was an aquatic predator, and It moved out of water when pouncing at its prey, it was still a subaqueous beast. The main way the crocodile had to sense a prey was by feeling movements and changes in pressure in the water while it stood submerged in it. That was the reason why, when the Bloody-eyed Hare drank from the water, it had been alerted.

    Daniel assumed that the crocodile's only way of hunting was by hiding under the edge of the pond, and wait for an unsuspecting animal to come to drink, like any unranked crocodiles would do. What Daniel didn't know however, was that most Ranked beast above Rank 3, other than being fiercer than any rank 2 beast, they also developed a certain extent of intelligence.

    The rank 3 Yellow-striped Caiman was a peak hunter amongst rank 3 beasts, and if it had the possibility of absorbing the beast core of another similarly powerful beast, it could evolve into a rank 4 beast.

    The severe lack of powerful beasts in this forest was the reason why the Yellow-striped Caiman had such a difficult time finding a suitable prey. So it had remained at the peak of the rank 3 for dozens of years, limiting its intelligence to that of an extremely ferocious and violent 5 year old human.

    Unfortunately, it was still enough to give Daniel a hard time in shaking it off.

    What Daniel expected far less than the relentless pursuit of, how he liked to call it in his mind " damned oversized lizard", was that a pair of bright yellow eyes were quietly following both him and the Yellow-striped Caiman from the distance.

    After half an hour, the Crocodile was still hot on Daniel's pursuit. His gasps for air could be heard a dozen meters away. He was starting to feel difficulties in avoiding to stumble on tree roots or small leaves covered ditches. The crocodile was a mere ten meters behind him and it didn't show any signs that it would stop its pursuit anytime soon.

    One long hour passed. Daniel could feel his muscles scream in pain at every step.. This was nothing like escaping from the guard patrol, as the view wasn't obstructed by darkness and it was easier for him to avoid obstacles, but in spite of everything, he kept running.

    The more tired he grew, the more he felt the need to look back in worry. The crocodile didn't make any progress in its pursuit, because whenever it got too close, Daniel would promptly hide behind a tree, and slightly change direction before running off again, so that the crocodile would waste a few precious seconds to circle the tree to continue the chase.

    Inside his mind, Daniel was cursing at the crocodile in a thousand different ways. His tiredness and worry started to affect his thoughts, badly enough to make him do mistakes.

    Daniel made such a mistake in the worst possible moment. The realization of having stumbled over a hidden tree root, hit him before touching the ground. He had no words to regret not paying more attention to where he was going, all he could do was recover from the fall, crawl over the roots of the tree, and hide behind its trunk.

    Unable to run anymore, he tried to shift his body in order to keep himself opposite from the mouth of the crocodile. The trunk wasn't large by any means, just enough for Daniel to kept himself out of the crocodile's reach. He could smell the bloody stench that came from the crocodile's mouth.

    After making almost a full circle around the tree, Daniel noticed a big set of tree roots just a few meters away from him. The tree's roots were thick, and tightly intertwined together, but there were parts where they were far apart enough, to allow a small sized human to crawl inbetween.

    Daniel didn't have to find pros and cons as, by staying out in the open he would eventually die.. So after circling the tree once more time, he kicked the trunk had been pressed on with the root of his foot, hand rapidly rushed towards the tree roots.

    It took him only two large steps and a dive to reach for the roots nest, which was little enough to give him a chance to rapidly crawl inbetween the roots and under the tree.

    The crocodile was unable to reach him in time, as it had to circle the tree and straighten his body, before rushing at its prey. Nevertheless, after it did, it still rushed at Daniel's hiding place.

    Daniel flattened himself against the earthy ground, on the opposite side to the entrance of this naturally made nest, while the mouth of the crocodile crashed on the thick roots.

    Snapping sound could be heard one after the other, as Daniel shivered in place. The sharp bloody teeth of the crocodile hacked at the wood left and right, trying to enlarge the gap between the roots in order to reach the young man hidden inside.

    As Daniel was about to to forgo his courage and start to pray to whichever god he could think of, he heard a loud hiss coming from the mouth of the crocodile, whose big snout backed out as if it had given up on him.

    What Daniel heard afterwards made his skin crawl. A loud yet soul shakingly deep growl rumbled in his head, followed by a loud roaring noise. He slowly approached the barrier of roots and took a peek at the scenery outside.

    The crocodile was turning around aimlessly, as if unable to see the position of its enemy, while a dark shadow kept dashing from bush to bush around it.

    After a few minutes of threatening verses, the shadow rushed towards the big crocodile and jumped on its back.

    The moment the shadow attacked the crocodile, Daniel managed to have a clear view of the beast.

    It was a panther like animal with pitch black fur, and long thin ears that floated in the air almost magically, as it dashed at impressive speed. Its length from tail to head was at least 5 meters, and it weighed at least 300kg. The pitch black fur, which fully absorbed the moonlight, was completely devoid of any sort of shine, making it very hard to see clearly.

    Daniel couldn't recognize the beast, yet many in the past feared it. The beast's name was Shadow Tracker, and it was an evolved form of panther, at the peak of the third rank. Its habit was to slowly follow its prey and attack during a moment of distraction.

    The panther's interest had been picked when it noticed the large crocodile on a mad rush through the forest. It wasn't unusual for a strong beast to hunt one of its peers, especially when considering that beasts evolved when consuming other beast cores. For a high ranked beast to attack another at first sight, in a place where highly ranked beasts were almost impossible to be found, it was to be expected.

    The moment the big paws of the panther landed on the crocodile's back, it pounced directly at the back of its head. Its teeth sunk inbetween the crocodile's scales and dug deeply as the panther tried to tighten its jaw.

    The crocodile wasn't any less fierce than the panther. Without giving the panther enough time tear at its flesh, the crocodile pushed its frontal and rear left legs heavily against the ground, and rolled its entire body, crushing the panther underneath its massive weight.

    As the crocodile moved away, in order to assume a position that could allow it to rush and bite at its enemy, the panther claws hooked at the crocodile's belly scales, ripping them off. The crocodile hissed loudly as it stepped away, its spiked tail swinged left and right until it hit the leg of the panther, leaving it with a bloody gash.

    The two animals fought fiercely, adding injury upon injury on one another. Their strength was comparable, and Daniel couldn't say which beast held the upper hand, since both were covered in cuts, and were visibly tired. Daniel's umber eyes never moved from the fighting beasts, the dark gold light at the bottom of his pupils still present, and slightly brighter than it was before.

    The fight between the ranked beasts had come to a stalemate. Every damage was given back in full, no matter who attacked first. Both of the beasts intelligence had reached the limits of the third rank, which paired with their instincts, made them both very dangerous beasts.

    The crocodile had a bite mark on the back of its neck, injury that it had earned at the beginning of the fight, its side had various scales missing, and a few that had penetrated its own flesh, one of its legs was broken, its tail had a large chunk of meat missing, ripped by the Shadow Tracker's sharp teeth, and lastly, one of its eyes was gone.

    The panther's injuries were more difficult to see. Two patches of shiny black fur were drenched in blood, and stuck tightly against the hidden twin injury that it had suffered to both sides of its chest, when it had been viciously bitten by the crocodile. Its leg also had a visible gush from which bright raw flesh could be seen.

    The crocodile often retorted to the panther's attempts to bite its neck with rolling on place and crushing it underneath its weight, while the panther used the fact that it took time for the crocodile to turn into a suitable position to to dash and bite, and hooked the crocodile's scales with its claws, ripping them off and tearing at its flesh.

    Aside from the various wounds, the two animals had one major debilitating injury each. The crocodile's skin was covered in cuts and a good part of its scales were missing, the blood loss was nearing deadly levels. One of its legs was also broken, which made rolling and holding its full weight, a very painful experience.

    On the other hand, while the panther could resist its fleshy wounds, its breath was visibly slowed. In fact, if one had been able to clearly see the panther's condition, they would have noticed that it had a broken rib, which had punctured one of its lungs.

    Daniel was sure that the battle was about to come to an end. As he looked at the two -injured yet more dangerous than ever- beasts, he thought about how humans could grow powerful enough to fight on par with them.

    His thoughts were interrupted by loud hisses and roars. The panther, which until now was staring at the crocodile while growling deeply, circled around the long body of the massive reptile. Before the crocodile could turn around and face the panther openly, its neck had already been bitten through.

    The crocodile reacted rapidly by pushing its weight with its fore, and broken hind leg. His body rolled on itself, forcing the panther to back away rapidly or be crushed again, but unexpectedly, that wasn't the crocodile's main attack.

    When the crocodile completed its full roll and found itself back on its four legs, without wasting a moment, it whipped its mace like tail at the backing panther, hitting it squarely in the thorax.

    The panther flew for a few meters, when its path was interrupted by a large tree trunk which broke its spine in half, killing it on the spot.

    The Shadow Tracker had died.
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