A/N: Ah, Beastmaster. I used to watch this show way back when. It would air on network television (no cable for me!) on Saturday afternoons along with some equally cheesy fare. Yes, cheesy it may have been, but it somehow wiggled its way into my heart. Could it have been the scantily-clad men and busty women running about the forests? The cutting-edge special effects? Or perhaps the fine acting? Alas, no. It was the nerdy sidekick. Because damn, do I have a thing for sidekicks.
It's been years since I've seen the show, so it was a little startling to have this pop out of my head one day at work as I stared mindlessly at my computer screen. Just a little blurb, the beginnings of a possible story that may or may not come to fruition. Not a particularly popular fandom (it was, after all, a very cheesy show) but hey, the little voices in my head told me to write it. So here ya go! At least its not a big time commitment! ;D
The hardest thing to remember as he looked at the man before him was that this was NOT Dar. This cold warrior with the dead eyes and menacing blade was not his friend-the blood dripping between Tao's shaking fingers as he clutched his left arm was proof enough of that. This...thing...had never chatted companionably around a campfire, or cradled a sick orphaned lion cub, or smiled at Tao's overenthusiastic babble. It had never laughed or cried or mourned the passing of a loved one. It was not a living thing, for all it moved and breathed in Dar's physical form.
And that was the cruelest joke of all. Even if he wasn't nearly petrified with fear and confusion, Tao could not defend himself against the body of his friend, though it held the will of a killer. Because-unlikely as it may be, Tao thought with a slightly hysterical internal laugh-what if he hurt it? What if he managed to injure it in his escape? What would that mean for Dar, wherever he was? Tao was afraid to attempt a confrontation at the risk of his friend, and wasn't so sure about his odds of success anyway. So barring a miraculous manifestation of Tao's previously-undiscovered fighting prowess, there remained only one option: escape.
Forcing his frozen limbs into motion, Tao backed slowly away from the soulless thing. It followed him with Dar's eyes and the Beastmaster's blade, tracking him with the sword's point as Tao cautiously rounded the spent ashes of last night's campfire. Carefully, slowly, hoping the gleam in the thing's eyes wasn't as predatory as it seemed, Tao began to back out of the circle of trees that had sheltered them the previous night. One step...then another.
He hadn't taken three steps before Dar's powerful body slid toward him like a shadow over the forest floor, closing what little distance the Eiron had gained. Tao froze, his eyes wide with near-panic. The sinuous, heartless motion frightened him. Frightened him in an ancient and powerful way that left his muscles quivering with suppressed energy. Run! they screamed at him, and only a fleeting memory kept him from bolting.
A great black cat, all crouched shadows and teeth, rumbled low in its chest. Tao gasped, tried to run, but Dar's strong hand wrapped around his arm, rooting him. "Don't turn your back on a hunter," came the calm voice, "unless you want him to hunt you. Show him you're afraid, and he will see you as food."
That black cat...so very like the man standing before him now. But the cat hunted to survive and feed its young. This thing hunted only for the joy of slaughtering its prey, like those poor farmers they'd found in the last village. Was this what had happened? Had someone they knew, someone they loved and trusted come to their door with empty eyes? With a chill that seeped into his bones, Tao knew that to the evil inside Dar's body, he was already prey.
No use making it obvious though, right? He certainly felt like prey as he carefully began backing up once more, hoping against hope that it would let him go if he avoided making any sudden movements. But again the thing followed him, step for step. The rough bark of a tree brushed his shoulder and he moved to press his spine into its trunk as if he could absorb it's strength. He felt safer somehow with the tree at his back. An illusion, he knew, but he'd take any kind of comfort he could get right now. He swallowed against the dry lump that formed in his throat. This wasn't working. He had to try something, anything.
"Dar," he tried saying as he trembled against the tree. But the tree remained impassive, and Dar's name caught in his fear-tightened throat and came out in a gasping squeak. At the sound the thing moved forward another step, raising Dar's blade above Tao's head in a slow, sinuous, deliberate motion. Tao's heart clenched.
In a flash he saw the horrifying outcome: the blade would fall, Tao would drop to the ground bleeding, dying. And Dar would come back to himself covered in his friend's blood. It would destroy him. Destroy them both. Whichever enemy had brought this on didn't need to slay the Beastmaster to defeat him utterly. He didn't even need to fight him.
"Dar," he whispered again, and this time the word came out right. But the thing's slack face gave no indication that it heard. Instead, its muscles tensed, coiled with Dar's strength.
The blade sang as it fell.