The river was clear where it closed over my head, but just a few feet away the cloud of silt roiled through the water. Dark shapes thrashed in the cloud but judging by the amount of red tainting the river, the cow didn’t have long. I swam toward the fray, my efforts hampered by the current. I reached out to the river, just make room for me, I coaxed, that’s all.
It ignored me.
Even without help, a few powerful strokes pushed me into the cloud of silt and immediately a long hard shape slammed into me. I tumbled, my free hand scraping against scales. I grabbed ahold of a ridge of spikes and found myself whipped through the water. I bumped over the now limp form of the cow and then slammed into another coil of scaled muscle. Large savage claws were in the bleeding flank of the cow. Eloi, what was this thing? I hoped it had an obvious head. I let go of the coil and grabbed the claws, thrusting my long knife at the creature’s wrist. The impact jarred through my arm as the knife barely pierced beneath the scales. The claws yanked from the cow, nearly tearing the knife from my grip.
With a swoosh of current I came face to face with the jagged teeth and wide fish eyes of the head. For one heartbeat my whole soul was overcome with conviction that in front of the teeth was the one place I did not want to be. I dove toward the creature, closing the distance between us and striking out with the knife. The monster slipped to the side, easily dodging my blow. I swept past it, turning to attack it from behind. A coil slammed into my back, forcing me down until I hit the river bottom. My ribs protested. For a few seconds I struggled to push off the coil, stirring up silt in blinding clouds. The rocky bottom offered tantalizing leverage, but I couldn’t get my legs under me to push upwards.
Even with those teeth and claws, I realized this creature preferred drowning its prey. A wry smile touched my lips; we could be here a while. I willed my body to relax. My hands floated up from the coil, limp and moving gently in the river’s current. I could see shadows moving around me in the murky water. The legs of the cow rolled by in a sickening motion before vanishing again. I waited, listening to the water and the beat of my heart. The silt had nearly settled, outlining the long body of the beast moving gently through the water, by the time the hideous head again turned toward me.
Stay still. Stay relaxed, I reminded myself. I hoped it wasn’t smart enough to know the knife I still held wasn’t a part of my anatomy.
The creature nosed my body, moving from my legs toward my head. The urge to strike burned inside me, stoked by every proprietary touch from the monster’s snout. The monster shifted its coil, loosening so it could get better access to my torso. The jaws opened, its teeth tearing at my shirt. I struck. Blood stained the river as I drove my knife into the monster’s eye. The beast jerked back, wrenching the knife from my hand. I let it, putting both hands on the coil and writhing free.
Bubbles exploded everywhere as another body hit the water. Loops of long, scaled body flailed, knocking me back and then going rigid. I caught the river bottom with one hand and pulled another knife with the other. Shudders ran through the scaled body, I saw a clawed foot flex and pull at the riverbed. Swimming through the silty water, I angled the knife carefully ahead of me. The monster’s head appeared in the glittering silt, my knife sticking from its eye still, its jaws slack. Behind it, shadows took form into the familiar shoulders and bleached head of Ayglos. His hands were still wrapped around his own knife hilt where it protruded from the base of the monster’s skull, leeching blood into the water.
Our eyes met, and Ayglos asked, “Are you alright?” using the language of clicks and whines nymphs used under the sea.
“Splendid,” I replied in the same language. I sheathed my knife and caught hold of the monster’s jaw, helping Ayglos tow it to the shore.
The cows were long gone when we broke the surface of the water and hauled the heavy carcass up behind us. It was thirty feet long when we finally got the whole thing out of the water. We stood back, hands on our hips and regarded our catch. Covered in muddy green scales, the back third was nearly flat for powering through the water, four short legs with webbed feet and savage claws in the middle third, a long flat neck crowned with glassy eyes and massive toothy jaws…
“It looks like an eel with legs,” I said.
“Crossed with that…dinrodile monster from Haim.” Ayglos gestured to the head. “Teeth of a dinrodile.”
“What’s it doing up here?”
My brother shrugged. It was a good question, but the answer wasn’t our business. Unless someone wanted to pay us to find out. “The real question is, will Hook and Rood be willing to haul it?”
I wrinkled my nose. Our horses were all the way back at the main barns for the cattle operation, since we hadn’t wanted to risk them getting eaten by whatever took the cows. I didn’t want to walk back for them and didn’t think we could whistle loudly enough to summon them. My lips twisted as I pictured them, ears askance and eyes wide, should they arrive and see the monster. “Let’s just take the head.”
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