Friday, July 2, 2010

Chapter 23 - THE HUNT

I don’t know where we went; Oskan brought us here the same way Tsan had taken us up into the mountains this morning. I think it would be so cool to be able to do that. We were in an area that was covered with a thin forest with little underbrush between the trees, which made way for plenty of grass. Among the trees, just on the edge of our view, was a large herd of bastons. They’re kind of a cross between a camel and some kind of ox. They had long droopy horns that eventually curve forward. Older adult bulls use them to rip up big gouts of turf. Apparently, the more turf they can rip up the more popular they are with the ladies whose horns are positively delicate by comparison.

This wasn’t what we were looking for. Oskan led us on around the edge of the herd. A couple hours later, he drew my attention to something on the ground. It took me a moment to digest what he was showing me. The grass was crushed and swept down; close to it was something that reminded me of a duck’s footprint, except it wasn’t webbed, and it was huge. I could have paced, heel to toe, three times in order to measure the middle and longest toe. I absolutely had to see the creature that left this enormous track.

“Stay close to the trees,” whispered Oskan. “If it sees us, it might decide to attack us, and if it does, we’ll have to climb, and climb very high, or leave.”

I let my eyes follow the trail as far as I could see. “How do you tame something that big?” I asked.

Both Brom and Lagge made an inarticulate protest at the idea. Oskan just said, “Wait until you see it, then you can ask that question again . . . if you still feel the need to.”

We followed that trail for another hour before we caught our first glimpse of it. All I saw was the end of a snake’s tail twice the size of my leg disappearing between the trees, but that small glimpse was chilling.

A few minutes later, we heard a commotion up ahead and we ran to see. Taking cover behind the big trunks of the trees around us, we watched this . . . thing . . . laying waste to a herd of wild thoppers, killing and maiming indiscriminately as it slithered through the small herd with amazing speed.

When the survivors had escaped beyond reach and interest, the basilisk turned back to consume those that remained. Dead or alive, with all the delicacy of an alligator, it ate. Its snake-like body had to have been three hundred feet long. It had four legs, but they were almost vestiges and had little to do with how it moved. I had thought the footprints were big, but attached to this monster they seemed quite small.

Oskan spoke softly in my ear. “Its fangs are highly poisonous, and if you don’t climb high enough when it comes after you, its breath burns the skin. One this size must eat like this at least once a week, so it must travel many miles every day. They mate once a year, early in the spring. They come together in groups that can number up to a hundred and they tangle together in a great and terrible orgy. That is the best time to hunt them. When they become a nuisance to our herds, we must kill them. During the mating, they have only one thing in mind. They can be killed almost safely then.”

I watched it chomp down another body. “You didn’t say how it could be tamed.”

“It can’t be done. They are nothing but a killing machine. They kill anything they come across, even each other, when it’s not mating season.”

“But I must, even if only in my head, I must tame a basilisk.”

He seemed to understand then. I’m sure Durmas had told him everything. He looked back at the monster and shook his head. “I suppose I might try and starve it first; to teach it that it must look to me for food. After that, I’d have to find some way to impose my will on it. Such a thing has never been tried. I’m not sure it can be done.”

Starve it. How can I starve my magic? My magic feeds on me, and if I do not eat, I die. But I didn’t die. I had spent four days on that ship, burning magic in great quantities with nothing more than an IV. But I did kill. When my magic couldn’t feed on me anymore it fed on someone else. I knew what it was I had to do. I had to try it. At least I wouldn’t be broken and bleeding this time. “I’m ready to go back now.”

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