Part Sixteen - Herd to Find
Tom studied the clawed foot that held him. The scales were a rich red color, not blood-red but a true red. The claws which protruded from the tips of the toes were stained. It appeared they were a light gray, almost a dirty white, at one time, but now were a dark gray with a few nearly black streaks. Tom could guess why they looked this way. Years and years of who knows how many bloody battles, massacres, murders, killings and whatever else were leaving its stain.
The scales were rough like that of a crocodiles’ and scraped at his skin. It was almost a physical representation of what was happening in his mind. The answer Chaphar had given the very creature which held him now was holding his mind.
What does he mean their leader is not a creature? Every living thing qualifies as a ‘creature’. ‘Animals’ are all the large land creatures; ‘insects’ are all the bugs, ‘fowl’ are all the birds, and ‘marine life’ are all of the water creatures. All of them, though, are ‘creatures’.
He could mean man, but he denied that too. Could he be referring to this guy who can pull me from one world and into another? I believe he called him ‘Aetos’. And what about that ‘here but not here’ business? This all makes no sense whatsoever. At least I only have to make contact with him once.
Zawkane spoke, bringing Tom out of his thoughts. “We’ve gone at least five miles, are we nearing the target?”
“Yes, we are very close,” Chaphar answered.
“I surely hope so, or you might just find a new meaning of ‘close quarters’ in my claws,” Zawkane said.
Chaphar grunted as if he were in a slight bit of pain. Tom was sure he saw the claws loosen slightly when Chaphar pulled in a breath. “You won’t be disappointed sir,” he said with his new breath.
“I won’t be as long as it’s alive,” Zawkane said as he flapped higher to avoid a taller-than-normal tree. “If I have to, I’ll even settle for duck, but don’t push me, I hate feathers. They have the knack of irritating my scales and getting stuck in my teeth.”
Tom wanted to ask how they irritated his scales but decided it might be classed as ‘privileged information’. Tom began his lookout for ‘food’ and sure enough, they soon passed by a herd of wild cattle. A low growl came from Zawkane’s stomach as he mumbled, “Very nice!”
He flew down to just over the trees and switched over to his stealth mode. The cattle were grazing in a small clearing. As they neared the point of being spotted, Zawkane flapped hard and fast picking up speed in a flash.
They came within feet of the nearest head of cattle before the herd had time to even look. As they did turn their heads, it was nowhere near fast enough. Twenty of them were already killed by the fire blast. Fifteen more were down by the time those still alive were able to acknowledge the danger.
The herd stampeded away, but Zawkane let them go. He slowed down to the slowest speed Tom had seen him go and lowered to within inches of the ground. He released his cargo and flew away. He circled around and landed, gently for him, but had they still been in his grasp they’d have been crushed.
Tom turned around to look at the fallen cattle. They were still simmering and giving off smoke. Amazingly though, Zawkane had barely singed the grass! A few scattered bushes had their tops burnt, but even they were only touched from about five inches from the ground and up.
Tom hadn’t seen so much death in his life. There were more than thirty cattle strewn across the field. That was nearly two for each of the years he had lived. Tom felt like he was in part to blame for these deaths. He was one who led the dragon here.
Zawkane practically pranced around as he gobbled up the cattle one by one. In one minute he had eaten six of them. It reminded Tom of a few of the kids he had seen in his life. While only being a minority at parties, they would eat most of the food. Overfilling their plates and stuffing it down to go get more before others got to it.
Tom felt sick and so leaned back to look at the passing clouds. That didn’t help with the smoke still clearly rising. He sat up and looked the other way. He still couldn’t forget that which was behind him as the smell of burnt flesh remained. He hadn’t noticed it until now as the sight was his focus, but now his nose was his only link. The smell alone still kept his stomach churned.
Tom gagged, but some calm was given him when Chaphar sat down behind him, putting Tom’s shoulder under his head. Tom wrapped his right arm up around Chaphar’s snout. Shehleg sat on Tom’s left and put her head on his chest. Tom didn’t want to throw up on her and so began forcing the sickness away. He put his left hand on her neck. For the third time in his life of memories, he actually felt at peace.