The Way of the Word

4. October 2010

The Gatherers – Chapter 15

“No,” Ghenni muttered as the serpent swooped down upon one hapless fisherman and swallowed him whole. She could see a large lump move down what she guessed to be the monster’s throat, but even then the creature was already looking for new prey. A casual thrashing of the body destroyed the boat, landing two more men in the water. Before anyone had any time to react, the monster had eaten them too.

Ghenni glanced around. Was Bolwyn doing this somehow, to force her to ask Habbassin for help? But Bolwyn wasn’t anywhere around. Even Yanag was staring at the spectacle.

Even if Bolwyn had caused this, she had no choice. She turned around and started to run.

She told herself that the tears that blurred her eyesight came from the air pressing on her eyes. Why oh why did that cave have to be so terribly far away? While she ran, that sea serpent was killing people. Perhaps her friends. Perhaps her father. And there was nothing she could do about it. She was helpless. Helpless. If only she’d thought of some way to call Habbassin without having to run to the cave. Perhaps he could have stopped the monster before it could hurt too many people.

Oh my god, what if that beast can crawl on land?

She was getting closer to the cave. Just down here, past that corner, there it was.

“Habbassin,” she called, or tried to. She was too much out of breath to really call. “Please, help.”

“Easy, kiddo,” the sonorous voice said, and two large hands held her gently. Two light blue large hands. “Wow, you’re really out of breath. Calm down, kiddo. Take some deep, calm breaths. Yeah, that’s it. Okay, now tell me what the rush is, okay?”

“Monster,” Ghenni gasped. “Sea serpent. In the surf. Eating the people. Help. Please.”

“There’s a monster eating the people? That I must see.”

Ghenni saw a blue mist swirl around her, and the world turned fuzzy for a moment. When her vision cleared, she was at the edge of the jungle, looking out on the sea where the giant serpent wrought its carnage.

“This looks serious,” Habbassin said. “You did right to call me, kid. I suppose you want me to get rid of that thing?”

“Can you?”

Habbassin sucked in a breath of air.

“There’s Bolwyn to consider,” he muttered, “but what’s life without a bit of a risk, right?” He grinned at Ghenni. “I’ll try.”

A bolt of lightning caught their attention. It came out of nowhere, and struck the serpent in the head. It drew back, hissing and spitting, until its head vanished under the surface.

“What was that?” Ghenni whispered, giving a silent thanks to Wakano.

“I don’t…” Habbassin began. He stopped short when the serpent burst up from the water, jaws open wide. Ghenni’s eyes followed the serpent’s line of attack. There, in the sky, stood a man. Ghenni blinked, not quite believing her eyes. The man stood on empty air. His posture was erect, and he had his arms folded across his chest. Ghenni glanced at the unnatural creature at her side. Well, maybe a man standing on empty air wasn’t all that incredible.

The serpent rose higher and higher, to fall only a bit short. The man seemed to laugh. He was so far away that Ghenni couldn’t make out any details.

The serpent dove again. The man seemed to seek her. He held out a hand. Small lances of flame shot out from his fingers, making the water boil where they hit.

The serpent rose up between the boats that were desperately trying to reach the shore, tumbling them like small cinder. Men fell into the water, screaming, and tried to reach the beach swimming. The serpent ignored them, leaping again for the flying man. The man spread his arms, his cape billowing out behind him like giant wings, and swooped down toward the serpent. The monster’s jaws unhinged. The man flew right into them.

Ghenni gasped, pressing her fists against her lips, as the serpent’s jwas closed around the flying man.

And the serpent’s head exploded in an orgy of gore.

“I guess I’m not needed after all,” Habbassin said. He squinted at the man who was now slowly drifting toward the beach. “How very lucky that that wizard just happened to be around when the sea serpent showed up, wouldn’t you say.”

“What?” Ghenni said, shaking her head to clear it. “What did you say?”

“Nothing. Just talking to myself.” Habbassin grinned and ruffled Ghenni’s hair. “Well, even if they didn’t need me after all, you did the right thing, coming to get me. I’ll just bampf back home now. With this second mage in town, I’ll need to do some heavy thinking. Drop in when you have the time, all right?”

“Sure. Sure.” Ghenni blinked, remembering. “Habbassin?”

“Yeah?”

“Thank you. For coming.”

“Anytime.” The djinn waved at Ghenni and vanished in a very small cloud of blue smoke. Ghenni watched the empty space for a second or two, then she turned and ran to join the gathering crowd. She ran to her father, who was already busy with keeping Opona and Lejani from crushing him with their hugs. Grateful that her father was among the survivors, Ghenni added her hugs to theirs, doing her best to crush him. Feeling him safely among the living, she looked at the stranger who was at the center of attention.

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