Sample from Two Masters
See more about my world at: https://thomasfawkes.com/two-masters-dinosaur-epic-fantasy/
Revin burrowed his fingers into the chilly earth and raised a handful of moist soil to Blackfire. Blackfire’s nose twitched. Through their psychic link, Revin found the grimy, putrid scent. He grinned.
They still headed in the right direction.
They marched through forested slopes as Blackfire sifted through scents of pine and just-fallen rain. Often, they didn’t need an odor, as the giant serpent’s body had left long, deep grooves wherever there was earth instead of stone.
Revin didn’t know which of them first recognized when the sinuous tracks started leaving deeper, more tightly packed marks, but they confirmed his worst fears. The serpent had detected their scent and quickened its speed. Revin paused, the breeze pressing against the back of his neck.
Now even the wind worked against him.
“Let’s pick up the pace.”
Over the past three years, Blackfire and Revin had traveled often, sometimes to hunt for Blackfire’s meat and sometimes just to explore the Hiriv. He’d crossed the full length and breadth of the isle in his travels, spending many a night lingering in the chill and the rain.
Revin shoved branches aside as he and Blackfire raced. His metalweave mastersuit threatened to slow him, but he pressed on ahead, the thrill of the chase lending him strength.
They stopped sporadically, checking the earth and smelling the air. Each clearing they hit could have given another clue, but there was little in sight and scent. This serpent was fast. One false step could get him killed.
The serpent had only eaten sheep and ostrich eggs before it attacked two monks in the village. One had died, constricted until his bones broke. Revin wished he’d been there to stop it. The boil-brained saddle-gooses had chased it off with sticks, torches, and dogs. Revin had only seen the aftermath, but while his leaders debated what to do, he was here. Hunting it. Alone.
Just how he liked it.
The other monks had told him it was suicide to use Beastspeaking on a wild wolf, to link his mind to a dangerous beast, but he’d done it. Not only that, but Blackfire had been his constant and loyal companion since then. He could do this too.
He and Blackfire came to the top of another ridge; pushing past the pines which lined its top. Ahead of them was a small dip in the earth which formed a large, shallow bowl covered in grass and dirt. The perfect place to trap the beast.
The creature’s musk intensified. It was close.
They rounded the ridge. Revin closed his eyes, feeling the breeze on his skin. The curve to their path placed them downwind from the serpent. Blackfire sniffed and listened. Revin sensed a fetid smell, then heard leaves rustling on the far side of the bowl.
It was there.
Revin pulled out a mint-wrapped canvas sack from his travel bag. He tossed the mint leaves aside and retrieved the large ostrich egg from within the canvas sack. He removed the canvas wrap around it, letting out the smell of fresh egg. He set it at the crest of the bowl, letting it roll down the slick grass to the center.
He and Blackfire sat to wait.
The rustling of scales on leaves and branches grew louder. Revin’s heart jumped. It wasn’t the soft rustling of a small creature making its way through the brush, this was something so big that it cracked branches, and broke or uprooted smaller trees. How big was this thing?
The rustling stopped.
Did it know they were here? Blackfire growled and shifted. Revin smiled. He reached for the bridge where their minds met and told Blackfire where to go.
Blackfire rounded the edge of the clearing, jogging closer to the serpent. Revin watched through Blackfire’s eyes as the wolf pushed through the greenery, the branches revealing a huge scaly head. Fear reverberated across Revin and Blackfire’s mental bridge. Blackfire bared his fangs and growled in warning.
The serpent’s enormous maw opened. It’s black tongue slaked out. Its half-meter long fangs extended from the roof of its mouth. Revin had expected a hiss, but it uttered a ground-rumbling growl. Blackfire’s growl were squeaks in comparison. The wolf stepped back.
Revin was ready for the strike.
The fanged beast lashed out. Blackfire hopped to the side and the serpent’s head smashed into the dirt where he had just stood. The serpent swayed, dazed. Blackfire followed Revin’s command to head to the center of the bowl.
The serpent followed.
It was far longer than he’d expected, as long as four men at least. Its massive body looked strong enough to shatter the trunk of a great pine. Revin’s heart skipped a beat as doubt filled him.
Blackfire gave him a questioning glance.
The serpent headed down the bowl, straight for Blackfire. Revin held his ground at the edge of the clearing, looking down into the depression in the earth where the serpent and the wolf faced each other.
The creature hesitated, scanning the area. Revin wondered if it heard him.
Growl, he thought, and the wolf did. Blackfire walked in a wide circle, putting himself between Revin and the serpent. Revin felt Blackfire’s heart thundering with anxiety.
I’ve got this.
Revin commanded Blackfire to howl. The serpent hissed and reared its head, body tensing. Revin urged Blackfire to jump back. The serpent’s head shot forward and snapped where Blackfire had just been, sending up clumps of dirt and grass.
Revin jumped and grabbed its extended neck just below the head. The serpent thrashed. Revin held on with his arms and legs. It couldn’t bite him, but it rolled, smashing him into the dirt. Sharp pain shot up his chest as he held on. He sucked in a breath, closing his eyes and beginning the process of Mastery.
The thrashing lessened, disorientation setting in. Just a little longer. It was intelligent, hungry, and desperate to escape his grasp. Its mind was more resilient than most he’d seen, more than Blackfire’s. But he’d mastered Blackfire. He’d mastered everything he’d tried to master before.
With a determined grunt, he made lassos of his will and lashed them around the beast’s mind, commanding it to obey. It growled in defiance, trying to buck him off again, but the effort wasn’t as strong as before. He lassoed it a few more times.
The serpent flailed again, throwing Revin’s arm loose. He opened his eyes, his mental cords snapping and the connection shattering. Revin had slid down a few feet. His eyes widened. The coiled around Revin’s arm, tightening down with extreme pressure. Crushing pain shot up his forearm.
The serpent’s massive body began to twist around him, and panic rose. He’d seen smaller serpents do this to rodents, hold on hard, squeezing until the breath was gone and bones were broken. Then they would swallow them whole.
His disorientation turned to terror as the serpent’s coils constricted around him. He could only force the tiniest of breaths. His bones creaked, his arms and legs went numb. He blinked away white pinpricks in his vision, shooting in scattered lines. He was going to die. His bones would soon shatter and puncture his organs, leaving him to be swallowed whole. A rat with a garden snake. His vision darkened, and his mind strained to think of anything more than just breathing.
Blackfire bit the monster’s tail, its vice-grip lessened. Revin sucked in a deep breath, the strain lessened. He closed his eyes and, reforming his mental lassoes, reached around the angry mind. He tensed with the effort, every muscle tightening, every vein bulging. The serpent ignored Blackfire’s bites and focused on crushing Revin again. Blackfire whimpered in concern.
He made one final cord of willpower, thicker than the others, entwined into a hyper-strong cord of thought. Revin smirked and tossed the super-lasso around the serpent’s mind.
And with that final effort, the mental gateway opened. And like water through a shattering dam the thoughts rushed in. With a quick mental command from Revin, the creature released him and relaxed.
Revin fell, breathing hard. The creature stared at nothing, analyzing their new connection with a cold distance. With a smile he realized it was a female. Revin smiled, directing her thoughts to the ostrich egg. She jumped forward, her jaws opening wide to swallow it whole.
Blackfire approached. Revin scratched the wolf’s ears and sent reassuring thoughts. Revin surveyed the area. Grass and dirt sat in overturned heaps, and shattered tree branches lined the bowl’s edges.
He had done it. They would call it impossible, but he had done it. He had mastered a great serpent of the western continent before it could eat him. The others wouldn’t believe it. He didn’t care. When the passive monks disapproved, he knew he was living. The other monks stayed in their homes, wasting their days farming and studying scripture. So many of them seemed satisfied with just letting their lives pass by, not doing anything interesting. They called it peace, Revin called it boredom. The stories told of monks who’d gone out into the world, went on adventures, made a difference. Revin’s fellow monks were fine with mastering goats and donkeys.
That wasn’t enough for Revin. He wanted to experience more.
He dug through the serpent’s memories. Her mind felt so different from Blackfire or anything else he’d mastered before. Where Blackfire was passionate, the serpent’s thoughts and memories were so… calculated. Practical. Like a clock. She sought food and had ended up here. He looked for the memory of swimming here, and just found instincts. Instincts of seeking food. Of swimming. Of climbing trees to eat a bird. She had no memory of crossing the waters.
But as he dived into the technical creature’s mind, her hunting and navigating instincts gave him the clues he needed. This beast had swum from the western continent. He knew that from the grey-green trees and the massive warthogs in her instinctive memory. Not too far sailing, but it was quite a swim.
His commitment to sending her away waivered. He pictured the monks’ surprised looks if he walked into the village with a giant serpent. Their reactions would be worth the struggle.
He sighed. Blackfire was hard enough to keep in the village without starting an angry mob. Other monks had domesticated wolves long ago; bred them to be smaller, more timid. Weaker. Wild wolves had killed no one in decades.
This beast, however, had killed a monk just a few days ago. It was hungry, and the others wouldn’t understand. Despite their patient natures, they wouldn’t forgive a carnivore for following its instincts. For having a religion around patience and acceptance, the monks’ bore little tolerance for beasts that ate meat. Fear of wolves and other predators certainly contributed to that intolerance.
After swallowing the ostrich egg, the serpent looked at Revin, waiting placidly for what he would do next. She was uncertain of what to do with a creature whose thoughts were in her head.
He let out a sigh. “Time to go.” The beasts didn’t respond. He could communicate through thoughts alone, but sometimes, on his long treks, with only his beasts to keep him company, he did miss human voices.
They walked through the hills. Revin felt Blackfire’s suspicion of the serpent. Revin thought Blackfire would be familiar to prey becoming friend by now. But the wolf would obey Revin’s command to leave the serpent alone. He told Blackfire the danger was no more.
They walked throughout the night. Revin had to take quite a few breaks, as his arm and ribs still throbbed. Consciousness was a battle every second. He wanted to stop and relax, but he needed to get the serpent off the Hiriv before they sent a hunting party. He fell asleep. She wouldn’t attack him, but Blackfire would be at risk. There bond was so new he wasn’t sure how strong of a command he could leave while he slept. And in Revin’s exhausted state, he didn’t know if Backfire’s pleas would wake him. The thought terrified him. He’d mastered this serpent, but she was still a beast. If he weren’t conscious to stop her, what would she do?
Another reason to hurry was so that neither himself nor the serpent would become too attached. But the damage had been done. She saw him as a great source for sustenance. It would take a hard push to get her to return to her lands.
The pines thinned out. Through Blackfire, Revin smelled the crisp ocean air, heard waves crashing and birds’ faint squawks in the distance. His stomach flipped in excitement and his steps lightened, a rush of energy cascading down his body. The ocean felt like freedom. Limitless possibility. He smiled as they crested the final hill.
Hello, old friend.
The grey-blue ocean lay before him. A textured and shifting plane as far as he could see, white tips rising and falling with a hypnotic rhythm. A grey-black speckle of rocks covered the shore, smoothed over time by the waters’ ebb and flow. The cresting waves collapsed in a spread of white foam, covering the stones then pulling back with a quiet crackle, pushing the pebbles in and out. A soft white clouds spanned across the sky, like a crumbling arch miles overhead.
The cool breeze was sweet, and the smell of rain hung in the air. He closed his eyes. Listening to the soft rumbling, feeling the wind pushing through his sweaty hair, cooling his head. He took a deep breath.
And his bruised rib protested. He reached for it, testing its sensitivity. Much like the walk here, the walk back would hurt. But he’d take his time.
He grabbed his spyglass, thanking the Highest he’d removed the sack before his tussle with the creature, and scanned the horizon. He hoped to spot a ship from the west, one that brought trade, travelers, and the opportunity for adventure. Occasionally, a monk would go with them to seek a Lord to serve. He saw no such ships today. And besides, he needed the council’s permission before he could leave. He prayed it would be soon.
The day was clear enough, however, to see the tip of the western continent. He turned to the serpent. She stared back with her slitted eyes, double-lids blinking. She was thick, strong, her dark green scales glossy in the morning light. And he wished he could have more time to study her. Her mind was just so… alien. Unlike any beast he’d mastered before. The almost-memories and instincts in her mind were sorted into two categories; that which helps me survive, and that which does not. The serpent seemed to care for little beyond that. Even now, she felt no animosity toward Revin or Blackfire. Revin, she considered good, as he had brought her food. She was ambivalent toward Blackfire, however.
On Revin’s command, the serpent entered the water. He felt the battle in her mind as the cool water enveloped part of her body. Her instincts told her to go back, to return to the island with food, to stay with the human who gave it. But Revin nudged her away. He forced her to focus on her home.
The beast moved in a sinuous line. His research told him the great serpents could swim well and were surprisingly buoyant. He looked through her eyes, she blinked, knowing the direction but still unable to see home.
There was hardly an ache in her muscles even as she reached halfway to the mainland. Their connection weakened, but his commands were deep in the creature’s mind. She would not turn back. She passed the three-quarters mark and Revin’s connection grew weaker still. He sent her a final goodbye. He got one last impression, the serpent’s head bobbing above the water, seeing her own pine-covered continent. Their connection severed with a sharp snap, leaving only his and Blackfire’s thoughts.
He scratched behind Blackfire’s ear, who now exuded relief. Revin didn’t feel the same. He wanted to go with her. To land on those foreign shores. To find a new land and new beasts.
He let out a disappointed sigh.
“Let’s go home.”