Chapter 48 – On The Hunt
I needed a teacher. Someone who could learn and lead, and impart their knowledge onto their fellows. One with earned respect that others could trust. For this role, I turned toward the older lizards. Most of my chosen few to impart knowledge upon were young, impressionable, easily led while still trying to find their way in life and their purpose. But this time, my plight required not someone I could mold freely, but rather one whose mold I could detail and add to, one who already possessed a semblance of my intended design. Had I the time, I could bring up someone younger in the exact shape I wanted, but time was of the essence.
My eyes flitted through the many colonies, focusing on the hunters, ones who already knew how to kill and knew that death was needed to survive. Though the killing of prey animals and predators paled in comparison to what I needed to teach, it was as close as I would get. It would have to be enough.
I followed along a particular hunt, a group going deep into the forests, venturing far from civilization. They sought new food sources as the ones near their mighty colony began to diminish. Here were the untamed wilds where other lizards were not within easy reach, and they must be careful.
He smelled it long before he saw it. It was not a pungent smell, really it hardly had any smell to it at all, but there was just barest taste of sweetness on the cool breeze. Not the sweetness of fruit or flower, but something rather strange that you couldn’t put a finger on. At least, not if you didn’t know what it was already. Prey animals would be driven by their curiosity, disregarding their safety for just a moment to try and figure out exactly what that strange smell was. To prey, it acted as a lure, to all others it served as a caution. ‘This is my territory’ it warned. The lizard’s scales trembled in recognition.
He called his party to a halt, dismounting from his Quick Spring. He motioned to a younger lizard near the back of the group, one new to their party, asking her to help him investigate. At first, the girl didn’t move, shocked at the invitation, but after a second quick flash asking if she was coming, she quickly swung herself off her mount, nearly falling down in the process. A few of the other lizards remaining behind gave quiet shimmers to each other, wondering what exactly the older lizard was up to.
The two cautiously advanced, taking care to make as little noise as possible, climbing the bark of trees when they needed to avoid wading through snarling bushes. The older lizard followed his olfactory senses, and not even a league away he found it. It covered a leafy plant in its viscous fluid, yet the color was almost clear. Long hanging drips slowly descended from edges before the weight finally snapped it off and it puddled on the ground below. The area was ominously quiet aside from the slow drips.
Normally, the older lizard would have steered clear of such a thing, but he saw something in the young lizard, a special something, and knew the young lizard must see for herself. First, he asked her if she knew what this was. The young apprentice took in the sights and smells of the thing, then thought in silence for a moment before realization dawned on her. Her scales stood on end, flashing in recognition; the Great Snakes! The older lizard nodded his head.
This unprocessed, regurgitated liquid came from the belly of the Great Snakes. They used it to mark their territory, as a warning to other Great Snakes, to lure in prey when they were hungry, and to attract mates during the breeding frenzy. The Young Apprentice shuddered. They were in snake country now. Close to panicking, she urgently shimmered that they should leave and retreat to the colony. But the older lizard shook his head and brought her closer to the oily substance. Disgust and dread almost kept her from accompanying him, but she obediently followed his beckoning hand.
He prompted her to smell the vile substance, really take it in. She grimaced, her scales colored in disgust, but again she did as she was told. He mind discolored her thoughts of the smell, seeing it as foul, but her nose had to admit it was rather enticing in a strange way, even though it should be dangerous. The older lizard made sure she knew the smell well, for she must one day be able to pick up on it as he had, as it could save the lives of many adventuring lizards. She begrudgingly nodded her head in agreement.
Then, to further train her on the snakes, he brought her around to all sides of the plant, getting a feel for just how much of it there was. He even put a finger to the liquid, feeling its cooled temperature. When he drew his finger away, a thin string trailed behind until he flicked his hand free of it. The temperature, he told her, was important. The hotter it was, the closer the snakes were likely to be. The Young Apprentice took his word for it.
They then surveyed the area, looking for traces of the snake, and finding the winding trail where small pieces of rock were pushed aside to make way for the snake’s girth. Following it for a stride, they noticed it left the ground, and just a slight compression in the bark of nearby trees gave away its ascent towards the canopy. Although it passed through this area a while ago, the liquid mark was still relatively fresh, and both agreed they should then be on their way after determining the general path the snake took.
They gingerly maneuvered back to the group, and warned them of the passing snake. Most had a similar reaction as the Young Apprentice, their scales on edge, though the oldest members of the group remained more relaxed. Those with experience looked towards the older lizard, awaiting his directions. Instead, the older lizard looked towards the Young Apprentice, encouraging her to explain what they ought to do.
She stumbled through her explanation, not mentally prepared to give instructions to the group as their most junior member, but she recommended a path that would take them away from the snake’s territory and skirt the areas it likely had under its jurisdiction. After she finished fumbling through her proposal, the older lizard nodded, his scales smiling. He elaborated further on her plan, noting where they might find new groups of prey based on the movements of the snakes and areas that would likely act as a refuge from the large predator. The Young Apprentice apologized for not realizing that connection, but the older lizard brushed it off, telling her take all the knowledge she gained today and improve upon it in the future; that one day, they would all be counting on her to lead.
A few of the lizards gave their leader incredulous looks, but the younger ones were patting her on the back and flashing colors of encouragement in future endeavors, a few going to far as to tease her by calling her ‘future leader’. Her scales flushed with embarrassment as her party had a few laughs at her expense, but more than anything she remained touched that their leader had so much faith in her.
The unmounted lizards returned to their seats atop their swift steeds, spirits high, and they headed off to get the game they’d come all the way out here to seek. I smiled to myself as I watched them go. The Young Apprentice would indeed have a bright future ahead of her, quick of a learner as she was, but the one that impressed me the most was the leader. He didn’t just lead, he could teach, and recognize both potential and danger. He was perfect.
It was then I made up my mind: this lizard would become my Warmaker.