Theolus hit the ground hard at the end of his short tumble from where he had been perched, in a hiding place half-way up a craw tree. He had gotten so exited when he saw the wild creature that he forgot his balance, but his resultant loud fall had scared the jet-black jungle cat away, hopefully. For now though, openly exposed as he was on the muddy ground, he didn't stand a chance if the the creature decided to attack him.
They didn't attack often, printoors, but if it had been a female and her cubs were nearby, or if had been a starving male, Theolus would know soon. As he raised himself up out of the muck his leather overcoat crunched loudly with every bend and move. Thinking he saw something moving in the jungle ahead, Theolus drew a knife from his belt and readied himself for the worst. The tall reeds before him swayed and shook and then a nideer burst out of hiding, its spindly legs skittering across the jungle floor nimbly. When it saw Theolus, the nideer managed an instantaneous right-angle turn and then was gone again, lost in the thick foliage.
Where was the printoor? Its huge green eyes had been unmistakable from where Theolus perched in his tree. Or were they cat eyes at all? The Ojikef was notoriously misleading, and the guide had been by himself in the thick of it for so many days that he was beginning to crack. He had to stop himself from devouring plants he knew full well were lethal. He had even almost abandoned his clothes, but was able to convince his fracturing second half that they would serve him better than nudity. Theolus had always been odd, and known it, but in the jungle he always had to keep a close guard on his sanity. The place had stolen many a clear mind, replacing it with hallucinations and paranoia. Theolus hated that he had to be so often in the Ojikef Jungle, but it was his trade that kept him there. There was something else too though that compelled him to return to the green vagaries, a faint voice he could hear calling him louder every time he reentered the unknowable place.
"Where are you?" he cried out. "You filthy black beast, I'll cut your throat out and sing through it!"
A bird laughed at Theolus, as it followed him in his fruitless search for the elusive printoor. The bird hopped from branch to branch behind the mad guide, cawing and taunting him. Theolus would stop to throw rocks at the bird, but they were easily evaded with a wing-flutter and a hop.
"Leave me alone! Leave me alone, you little demon!" Theolus roared at the bird. When the little thing finally flew away, the silence it left made Theolus wish he hadn't chased it off. Now he could hear his own thoughts, telling him the printoor was at his back, telling him the trees were closing in on him.
"You'll not take me, you bastard Ojikef!"
Theolus had somehow gotten lost on the return leg of his latest trip. It was with a party of seven others that he had made his way from the outskirts of Jaidour to the southern boundary of the jungle. He had made the trip countless times, but for some reason this time he had gotten woefully turned around. Surely the jungle did it on purpose, Theolus thought. He loved the jungle for its trickery, and hated it.
There was then a loud snap of wood, which sent Theolus scrambling behind a bush for cover. As he knelt behind the bush, he saw them again: the greenish-yellow cat eyes, as wide as saucers, peering out from the darkness.
"Don't think I can't see you," Theolus growled at the printoor. It's huge black form slunk out of view, leaving the greenery shaking where it had stood.
Theolus could take it no longer. He raced into the bush after the printoor, his knife brandished before him, screaming with abandon. And then he saw the beast again, stopped ahead to see better the crazed human chasing after it. Without moving its head at all, the printoor repositioned its body around to face in Theolus's direction. Its massive back legs then coiled in anticipation, which brought Theolus to a halt.
"What?!" Theolus screamed at the top of his lungs. The printoor didn't move. "What do you want?!!" Theolus begged the creature.
The printoor then disappeared again, in a seemingly effortless single bound. Chasing after the mysterious black shadow was only getting Theolus more and more lost, but he wasn't thinking of his own safety now. He simply had to kill the printoor, the menace stalking him through the jungle, he knew no other purpose. He then heard a roar, something awful and close, and smelled the stench of rotting flesh coming off the printoor's lips, as it suddenly reappeared on an overhanging branch just above him. How the branch was supporting the weight of the creature, Theolus did not know. The printoor must have been three times as big as him, but it moved like a cloud, or a flock of birds, weightlessly and with fluidity. Theolus stared into the gaping pink jaw of the roaring printoor with terror for a brief second, before his killing instinct took hold and he launched his knife at the creature. It flipped point-over-handle through the air, before lodging itself in the printoor's shoulder. The creature wailed, and tried to get at the knife with it's mouth, but it proved to be unreachable. The printoor glared at Theolus and roared again, a pained, mournful roar that seemed to ask "Why would you do this to me?", before it turned tail and disappeared again.
Theolus now began racing through the jungle recklessly, following the drips of blood from the printoor's wound. He lost control though, and stumbled over a tree root into an open area, where he fell and rolled under the velocity of his charge. Before he could get up, he felt a massive weight at his back, and then smacked down hard again to the ground under it. Without having to look, he knew it was the printoor attacking him, as he felt the animal's massive claws sink into his back. The pain was so great that it didn't even register, as if it were something other than pain altogether.
Theolus managed to roll over, to see the furious face of the printoor staring into him. Then a huge black paw struck Theolus in the face, sending a spray of blood and hair flying off onto the ground next to him. And then came another swat from the printoor, this one sending Theolus rolling over like a rag doll. It was as if the printoor was playing with him.
Theolus tried to get up, but the creature knocked him down at every attempt, barely exerting any energy as it did so. Blood was still flowing from the knife-wound where the weapon was still lodged, but the beast was showing no sign of fatigue. Theolus could have even sworn it was smiling, enjoying the torture.
The printoor knocked Theolus around the open space for what seemed like an eternity, as the guide cried and struggled helplessly. A fateful swing of its paw placed Theolus next to a log, which he was able to sweep up into his arms before being sent rolling back over to the other side of the clearing again. When the animal closed in, Theolus swung the log and hit it smack in the nose, which elicited an annoyed grunt. Another hit stunned the printoor just long enough for Theolus to leap forward and grab hold of the knife-handle sticking out of its side. It was hard to pull from the thick sinews of the beast, and so Theolus was dragged around wildly as the printoor tried to shake the guide.
The creature ducked low in its struggle to break free, which allowed Theolus to jump onto its back. The guide kicked hard, like he was riding a phantom horse, which started the printoor spinning around, desperately biting over its shoulders at the guide. The printoor's huge jaws lunged and snapped shut over and over again, inches from the guides sweat-covered face. And then, just as the creature coiled itself to try and spring free from its capture, Theolus raised his knife high into the air and then brought it down into his prey's skull. The creature screamed and Theolus roared, the two noises combining into an awful cacophony that filled up the jungle and echoed off into the distance.
Theolus twisted and gouged the printoor's head with his knife, until it was dead and then for a while after. When at last his gory satisfaction was complete, the head of the animal was barely recognizable, just two huge green eyes peering out from under a waste of brain matter and blood.
"Any others interested in the same?" Theolus cried, licking the blood from his knife. When his senses finally returned, and the world went from red to green again, he couldn't believe he had caused the horror before him. Looking at the poor creature on the ground, his shoulders sank.
"What have I become?" he asked himself with a shudder. Though now he couldn't even remember ever having been anything before what he was: the darkness, death.