The Shaman of Karres – Snippet 23
“I think I need to go have another look outside,” said the Leewit.
“For what?” asked Pausert.
“I don’t know. But maybe I need to look at some more of the tumbleflowers. Besides, I had to sit in here while you all got put in jail and met Me’a.”
No one seemed to have a better idea, so Captain Pausert agreed. They had time, and his gambler’s itch said it was a good idea. Vezzarn was left to look after the Venture, and before dawn they slipped out and back into the wilds of Cinderby’s World.
They walked for some hours, and had one encounter with another tumbleflower, which the Leewit was also able to touch — and, again, failed to diagnose anything but age. It was younger than the first one, she said, but still had had many years of rolling.
“We c’n try the other side of Torg pass,” suggested Nady, pointing to a notch in the mountain. “Usually find more there, but more porpentiles too.”
So they did. Ta’zara insisted on them walking in formation — Nady ahead, Pausert behind him, and then the Leewit, with Ta’zara just behind her. He didn’t explain, but Pausert figured it was probably the best defensive strategy the Na’kalauf body-guard could come up with — Nady to spot the problems, Pausert to deal with them — and himself to deal with sudden attacks from the back.
They’d just gotten over to the sun-side of the pass when it all happened. Nady was perhaps ten paces ahead of the Leewit, and Ta’zara just behind her, when the porpentile undulated out of a narrow gully, between them. Ta’zara reached out and grabbed the Leewit, and put her behind him.
Nady turned, and yelled “No!” through the speaker of rebreather. The porpentile — which had been turned toward the Leewit and Ta’zara — twisted and leapt. In a sinuous lunge, it spread and covered Nady.
The old gatherer had been fast enough, barely, to get an arm out. All they could see of him was his hand sticking out from under. The fingers moved.
Ta’zara stopped his charge from running forward. “We can’t just leave him like that,” said the Leewit.
“We can’t get off — or at least that’s what he said,” explained the captain. “If he can breathe, it’ll eventually give up.”
“Ain’t dead,” came a voice from under the porpentile. “C’n breathe.”
He might not be dead, but he certainly sounded hurt. “How do we get you out?” asked the Leewit.
“Will it attack us?” she asked.
“Not while it has got me.”
“I could whistle at it, Captain,” said the Leewit. “Bust it up inside, good and proper.”
“Not through the re-breather speaker,” said the captain. “You’d bust that first. And no, you can’t take it off. This air is pretty close to poison.”
“Oh. Great Patham! I hadn’t thought of that,” said the Leewit. “So what do we do now, Captain? Can you cocoon him? Or it?”
“I could make holes in it. It might work. I don’t want to make holes in him. And it is hard to tell how thick it is, or what it might do.”
“Jest leave it alone,” said the voice of Nady from underneath it. “I’ll wait it out.”
“You’re hurt,” said the Leewit.
“Might have broke something. But you get on. You cain’t stay out here. Could take three days or five.”
“The big problem, even if we were willing to do that, is knowing where to go,” said the captain. There had to be some kind of answer to this. It made no sense. Both the Leewit and Ta’zara had been much closer. Why did it attack Nady? It had looked like it was just going past, and then done that huge turn.
The Leewit had stepped up to Nady’s hand. “Mistress, don’t,” said Ta’zara, leaping forward. “I cannot allow…”
The Leewit looked at him sternly. “No. It needs doing,” she said, and calmly put her hand on the porpentile. Nothing happened. And then she said: “Clumping Great Patham’s seventh steaming hell, Cap’n! It’s the same animal.”
Pausert, who had also started forward, noticed that the porpentile had done nothing in reaction to her touching it. So he asked: “The same as what?”
“The same as the tumbleflower,” explained the Leewit. “I mean not the actual same animal, but organized the same inside. I can even feel where the arms were. It’s just folded itself flat and those things that looked like flower-buds have kind of grown to each other.”
“Is it well, but old too?” said the captain with a smile, making a joke of it. “It’s bigger than a tumbleflower, even spread out.”
“No… it doesn’t feel old,” she said
“Hungry for gatherers?” asked Ta’zara
The Leewit blinked. “It just eats sunlight.”
In his head the story of the young gatherer suddenly came back to Pausert. The porpentile wasn’t hungry. It had ignored the fellow… until he found some granules of the catalyst “It has to be the granules. That’s what it’s after!”
“Well, it cain’t have them! They’re under me,” protested the gatherer.
“I think we need to do a little digging here,” said Ta’zara. “If I haul that slab of rock out, we might be able to reach.” So he and the captain pulled, and wriggled the piece of rock free, making a narrow gap. He stuck his hand in… and pulled it out hastily… with the red rochat attached to his thumb. He shook it, and it let go. Then, bounded across to a rock, where it hunched, looking at them with slitted eyes chittering with rage.
“I’ll try again, now that pest is out the way,” said Ta’zara. So he did, but he could not reach far enough.
It took the captain, who had slightly longer arms, to reach in and cut the gatherer’s pouch free and pull it out. He opened it and pulled out the little oiled leather bag.
“Look out, Captain!” yelled the Leewit.
The porpentile was surging towards him. So Pausert threw the bag to Ta’zara. It turned to chase him and, just in time, he threw it to the captain. It was very fast and turned back like an agile fish. Pausert slipped on a rock and flung it — badly. The Leewit scooped it out of the air, and tossed it across to Ta’zara. The porpentile whirled after him. “Captain! What must we do?”
“Open the bag and pour the stuff out!” he yelled.
So Ta’zara did, throwing the crystals out on the ground.
Nady sat up and yelled in outrage. “Thieving claim jumper! That ain’t yours!” He struggled to his feet as the porpentile surged over the scattered green granules and settled on them. The raging old man limped up to it, and started pummeling it with his fists. “Yer kranslits! Now I’ll have ter wait until it moves…”
He backed away, because it was moving. Well… not so much moving as simply breaking apart, the fragments blowing away. The Leewit caught one. “That figures,” she said, in a tone of satisfaction. She stepped over to Nady, who had sat down and was clutching his ankle. “Look.” She held out her cupped hands to him.
“A tumble-flower. I ain’t never seen one that size before. But where’s me granules?” he asked plaintively.
“I think that is your granules. Or what happens when you mix your granules with a porpentile. That’s why you’re running out. They haven’t been breeding properly.”
“But I still ain’t got my granules. Or my Kiki.” The rochat was nowhere to be seen. He sniffed plaintively. “She’s gone an’ left me. And I lost my granules. I was goin’ ter buy her some coalfish.”
The rochat suddenly appeared out of the Leewit’s shirt, and bounded across to him. “How did that get there?” demanded the Leewit as the rochat oozed its way up to Nady.