Kyle’s mind had a hard time sorting out the tangle of traits that composed the creature. Its body was that of a lion, tawny, sleek, muscular, and above all possessed of powerful paws tipped with claws. Sprouting from the creature’s hindquarters was an utterly massive tail. It had the broad structure, and chitinous covering, of a scorpion’s tail. The top was a barbed mass like an organic morning star; the tip of each spike was stained an unpleasant greenish color. Still, the worst part of the creature was its head. It was human.
The head was large, built more to the scale of a lion than a human. The man, because the creature was clearly male with a coarse and poorly maintained beard, had middle eastern features. That made sense, it was a manticore. It was also profoundly ugly. His nose was wide, flat, and crooked as though someone had made a concerted effort to hammer it into his face at some point. This mark of a violent past was matched by a puckered scar that drew the corner of his mouth into a snarl and made one of his eyes droop. The fact that the eyes were small and violent and the mouth was over wide was probably entirely natural.
The creature opened its mouth and roared. The mouth opened far wider than a normal human jaw would have allowed and three rows of teeth were exposed. The entire first rank were sharp more weapons than equipment for eating. The loss of functionality probably wasn’t a problem: the creature had enough teeth for a few spares. Perhaps the entire third row was molars. Or perhaps it was an obligate carnivore and it just liked to swallow bloody chunks after limited mastication. Its roar was also more like what a gorilla would have produced than the typical sound of a lion.
Gorillas still have a pretty intimidating roar. That, combined with the manticore charging, was enough to make Kyle freeze. He probably would have been captured, or eaten, or whatever else the thing wanted to do to him, if it hadn’t been for Jessie.
She bolted from the courthouse, crossed the distance to her boss, and grabbed his shirt before the manticore had time to skewer him. The handful of his shirt wasn’t really enough to drag him along, but it was a fairly effective way to turn his collar into garrote. Kyle stumbled into motion out of a desire to keep breathing and only managed to clear the manticore’s rush as a side effect.
Kyle still held the spell he’d cast earlier. He couldn’t really drop it; it was just energy. He spun and tossed it at the manticore who was still in the process of stopping and getting itself turned around. The manticore was only a few feet away and it was the size of a compact car. Kyle didn’t miss. The white ball of energy hit the beast cleanly in the flank and crackled out across its body dissipating to invisibility before it reached its hindquarters, feet, or head. It gave another hooting roar, but it didn’t fall over.
“Run,” Jessie yelled. Kyle looked toward the bounty hunter who was still standing in the parking lot. That proved fortunate because Kyle saw the other man summon up and throw a second ball of green energy. He had time to dodge and again the spell missed.
Jessie took off running. She didn’t head toward her car, that would have taken them toward the bounty hunter as well. Instead, she sprinted for the back of the courthouse. Kyle wasn’t sure what she thought was back there, but she’d had time to look at the map of the area on her phone so he followed- looking over his shoulder at the manticore as he went. It hadn’t entirely escaped the effect of Kyle’s spell. It was trying to chase them, but one of its front legs seemed numb and the other was just dragging.
They rounded the corner of the courthouse and found themselves on a narrow strip of road, or perhaps driveway, that ran along the back of the building. To one side of the road loomed the unbroken stone of the building. To the other was a small strip of grass, slightly brown in early winter dormancy, and an unbroken, five foot tall, row of well maintained shrubs. The only obvious cover was a dumpster next to an unadorned door about a quarter of the way down the building.
They both ran to the dumpster. Jessie gave the door’s handle a jerk . It didn’t budge. She crouched low, and Kyle followed suit trying to get out of sight.
“What was that?”
“Manticore, warrior enchanted from ancient Prussia. Very rare. I can’t imagine what one is doing here.”
“Looked like it was trying to kill you boss.”
“Other than that.” Kyle tried to come up with a plan to get them out of this and came up blank. They had seconds, maybe a minute or two if the bounty hunter stopped to check on the manticore, before someone rounded that corner and started throwing magic. Fighting wasn’t looking like a good option. Maybe if he hit the manticore right in the head with his spell it would be enough to take it down, but that was only a “maybe” and then he’d be facing the bounty hunter unarmed. Running seemed like a better option, but not by much. They couldn’t get back into the courthouse or through the hedge in the time they had, so that left running straight down the street away from pursuers that were faster than they were. Furthermore, there might be some other sort of backup nearby.
Kyle was considering surrender when Jessie spoke up, “They’ve been ignoring me. I might be able to get to my car while they’re coming after you. Do you think you can hold them off while I do that?”
“Almost certainly not. Unfortunately, I don’t have any better plan. We might as well try, but if they get me, get out of here.”