The roar of the monstrous creature combined with the soaring winds deafened Lalang. It was a moment before she realised there was a third sound, the skip! The craft flew overhead, it hovered over the chasm below and swung around bringing its weapons to bare on their target.
This was not precise hunting, this was a massacre. The two large guns underneath the hull of the craft roared to life, Lalang dove into the snow, the scene disappearing from view. The sound of the creature’s roars came through, followed by that of a large object hitting metal, then the skip’s engines struggling, it began to spin. Lalang turned gently and watched as a flash of dull orange and black flew past just over her head, the skip barely clearing the ridge that she sought refuge on. Laying on her back, staring at the wisps of dark gray clouds she heard the crash of metal on ground. A Crash, even their heavy weapons weren’t enough. If she lay still, the Mordon may not notice her. Listening as the storm came closer, shooting towards the mountain at a frightening pace, she realised that she couldn’t stay put. It wasn’t long however when she heard scuffling sounds near her feet. She kept still, the sounds were unmistakable, gasping, sighing, grunting, they were human.
She sat up and watched with genuine surprise when the three men emerged from the slope below, using the rope and clambered up to the ridge.
March looked like he had been in shock but was now recovering, Darius looked around, his gruff features and lighter coloured skin betraying his lack of confidence, blood seeped from a small wound from his left temple.
The third man, Merl, his wisps of red hair and fair skin had pure shock written on his face.
‘What happened?’ She asked as she sat up, the three men stopped for a moment to catch their breath. They ignored her as they walked towards the crashed skip, a little over the horizon. Lalang looked down below, there was no sign of the creature, only a clear sign of conflict, footprints, blood in the snow.
She followed after the men, by the time she reached the crash site, they had left the craft.
‘Don’t go up front lass,’ Darius said. The pilot is dead, she thought, he seeks to protect me as a child, he knows not what I have seen in my time.
‘What happened?’ She repeated. Darius took a breath before looking at her.
‘We lured it out, as planned, but it was even tougher than we thought. It jumped onto the skip, it was wounded, badly, but it fought like nothing we’ve seen before. It finally slipped and fell into the chasm below, surely dead, the skip was damaged, it crashed, Dern was the best pilot I’ve ever seen, but with these winds, and a claw smashed into the cockpit, it’s amazing he made it that far.’
Lalang wanted to tell them that she had warned them of the ferocity of the creature, but she had learnt long ago that saying ‘I told you so’ never endeared one to a frustrated people.
‘Those winds, yes,’ March said in his deep voice. ‘The storm did indeed come in quickly. Darius help Merl set up camp, we’ll wait it out, you’ll come with me child, we’ve got to get our quarry.’
‘Are you sure March?’ Darius asked, but was cut off by a stern look from the solid man.
‘You want me to go with you?’ Lalang asked cautiously.
‘Of course, you’re the expert aren’t you? We’ve lost the adult, but the baby is now easy prey, and we need it alive.’
March walked ahead, the fading light of outside giving way as the tunnel took them further into the mountain. Lalang had to move quickly to catch up, knowing that the adult was dead didn’t make her feel any better about going into its home, her people had learnt over many years that you didn’t go near any mountain that contained these creatures, and indeed, the ones that didn’t would have many Ngara, the ferocious mountain bears and other predators capable of making a meal out of any human.
Being hesitant was only natural. It was known tha the young Mordon were extremely placid, their killer instinct not activating until their adolescence, but if the cub was nearing that stage it would be very dangerous indeed.
March showed no hesitation, he simply activated his head lamp and barreled down the tunnel. Within only a few minutes they approached the nest. Lalang knew they were close, the air changed subtly, March stopped, he must have sensed it as well, a skilled hunter after all, despite his grotesque techniques.
‘We encountered the creature only a little further back towards the entrance, I didn’t realise we were so close,’ he whispered. Moving in with a small handgun at the ready, his rifle over his shoulder. The rifle will kill, the smaller one stun, she thought.
Lalang’s light crossed the room, a cosy hovel taller than March by half and wide enough to fit two of his build shoulder to shoulder with ease, slightly larger than the tunnel. Both their lights froze on a glowing eye. Lalang flicked off her light and ducked instinctively, March stared ahead, his gun at the ready. His light moved down the furry form, the creature was small, Lalang released her breath, it’s quite young, we should be fine. It was perhaps only the size of a man if it stood on its hind legs, there were hints of gray in its coat, these would be gone soon.
The creature stood slowly, looked at the newcomers, it yawned, stretched its legs, purring gently. The claws, fangs, all looked menacing enough without thinking about what this babe could become. The clear white eyes would change to, becoming blue when it was ready to begin killing for itself.
March broke the silence by moving forward, his gun still at the ready. He pulled out a small canister, the size of one of his sausage like fingers, broke the top and moved right up to the animal. He waved it in front of the docile cub, it sniffed, investigating its new visitors, it yawned again.
From beneath his large coat, a collar and leash emerged, now secured to it, he turned and smiled at Lalang, who now had returned to her full height and had her head lamp back on.
‘You were right, it’s friendly,’
‘It would likely not be so friendly if we had arrived in a fortnight, it’s not far away from changing.’
‘Well, either way, I gave it something to calm it down. We’ll be rich,’ he grinned with delight.
‘We’ll be dead if we get caught in this storm,’ Lalang cautioned. There was no such indication deep inside the mountain as they were, but March charged back to the entrance knowing all too well how close they were cutting it.
The creature followed obediently, and within a few minutes, the whipping sounds of the fast moving storm began to emerge. Outside, the gray clouds were thick, ice was hurled against them, they moved up the slope, the rope still in place. Fortunately, the other two men had worked efficiently and there was a large, thick canvas, secured to the mountain’s surface on the small open area.
Crawling into the opening, Darius moved behind them to secure it as the flaps tried to fly out of his hands.
Once inside, the storm’s menacing feelers were off them, the warmth of a portable furnace hit them. Breathing heavily, March and Lalang removed their heavy coats. Merl and Darius looked dubiously at their quarry. For its part, the creature seemed quite calm.
‘Tie it up,’ he said handing the leash to Merl, the stout man cautiously followed orders taking it to the back of the tent which connected to the hull of the skip, thus using it as an extra room. Darius pointed Lalang to a metal container, she sat, watched as the men worked. She drank some of her water, ate some dried fish and contemplated what she had just been though. These men had killed the most feared animal on or near the plains, but they weren’t hunters, they were butchers. Merl and Darius worked in the skip, tools clanging.
‘Will it fly?’ Lalang asked.
‘Aye, ’twill,’ March growled around a piece of some unidentified meet as he washed it down with a swig of water. ‘Merl’s the best fix it man I’ve ever known.’
Lalang was relieved, she didn’t want to spend the harsh, long dark on the mountain. As if reading her mind, Darius poked his head through a panel in the craft.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll be back before Dark,’ he smiled, his scar moving as he did so, the wound on his head had stopped bleeding.
‘You know,’ March said sitting down half way between the skip and Lalang, ‘I don’t like this planet, the day and night cycle is crazy. My home, we have only about eight hours of dark and eight of light, here, they drag on and on, about three times as long!’ He looked from the animal, his prize, to Lalang, ‘but then again, you people have adapted well,’ he eyed her for a moment, ‘very well,’ before looking back at the cub, which was now seemingly asleep, curled up on the metal floor. His face turned dark, sinister. His was the face of Ira, the trader who had looked at Lalang’s mother, the face of the predator. She looked at the creature, fully unaware of its fate, it purred gently.
It was less than two hours before the storm had passed, the blessing of the fast winds was that whilst storms came in quickly, they also left in the same fashion. The camp was packed up within ten minutes, and after some testing, the skip roared to life, sputtering as it did so.
‘There are cracks in the cockpit,’ Merl muttered rubbing grease off his hands, ‘we’ll have to fly slow, but we should be fine,’ he looked around at the horizon. Indeed the clouds were looking less threatening, the afternoon sun was beginning to fade, but there was at least an hour of flying light.
They finished loading everything into the skip, Lalang brought her pack and sat in the back, ignoring the smashed windscreen at the front with some canvas covering part of it, the wind only partly invading their vehicle. She also ignored the signs of gore, their man was wrapped up and kept in the back of the craft, the smell of death was slowly beginning to permeate the air, slowed only slightly by the cool air, which forced them all to wear their heavy gear, even inside the craft.
Lalang looked back at the pup, it still slept, ‘it was gaining its strength,’ her people said, slept and ate for many fortnights before the energy inside it burst out, and the dangerous creature it was to become would emerge. Then why did she feel so wrong about this? She wasn’t naive, she knew that whoever bought the creature would keep it in horrendous conditions, otherwise, how else could it be controlled? It would soon be too far out of control to be kept as a docile pet.
The men didn’t care, the way they had gunned down the parent told her that, and once again March looked at the pup, that same grin on his face, she shivered looking at him as the skip lifted off and limped slowly back to town.
You have an incredible knack for understanding right and wrong, don’t ever lose that.’ Lalang’s memory flew back many fortnights, when she was young, ‘Yes father, she had said then, not really understanding, but she was beginning to see more clearly now.
She would do what was right, her eyes bore gently into the pup as her mind raced with the possibilities and implications of her decision.