Chapter VII : Eastbound VI

Chapter VII : Eastbound

“ Here Lies Linnorm “

Due to the presence of desert snakes and the acacia, which finally caught up to the group of humans, most of the journey was relatively safe. The bloody thorn tree even took to pulling sanguinea out of the ground so that it could eat the potato-like plant, much to the humans’ amazement. But something bothered Hunter and he could not figure out what it was exactly.

“ Linnorm looks… “ he said to Steel, “ … old. Don’t you think so? “

“ That snake’s always been old, “ the farmer laughed.

Out of the corner of his eye though, Steel did notice the sudden change in the creature’s appearance. The purple eyes were dull, the once-shiny scales no longer reflected light, and the snake slithered slowly. There were times when Linnorm even fell asleep as they traveled; a smaller snake which had one white eye usually nudged the old one to wake it up. Hunter’s fear became reality when Linnorm let out a shrill sound followed by a few grunts. The old snake then fell onto its side. The odd-eyed snake once again nudged their leader, but there was no response.

“ Linnorm’s dead! “ Rina wailed as she shook the snake’s massive head. Some children soon joined her.

Errol calmly walked up to the snake and pressed her ear against its neck.

“ Nope, not yet, “ she declared, “ Linnorm’s just dying. How inconvenient. “

The look on her face wasn’t one of worry, but of annoyance. Xing walked over to the black-haired girl and ruffled her already-ruffled hair. He then told the townsfolk to rest a bit while he and the Keepers discussed what they should do with the dying snake. So far, they’d been safe because of the beasts’ presence, but if Linnorm was left behind, the other snakes would probably stay by their leader’s side.

“ There’s nothing to worry about. It’s just a minor delay, “ Errol shrugged.

When the meeting concluded, the Overlord hopped onto a tree branch near the old snake. Hunter, who’d been keeping his distance from her so that the townsfolk would not ask so many questions, climbed up the tree and sat down beside Errol. The girl had her chin in her hands and she sighed every now and then.

“ He’s a tough guy, “ Hunter assured her, “ He’ll make it. “

He expected a nod, but all he got was a weird look from Errol. Her next statement took him completely by surprise.

“ I wish Linnorm would hurry up and die already, “ she grumbled.

Hunter felt a pain in his chest. Was it because she’d been fighting so much? Did Errol go back to who she was in the Age of the Sun? He thought that his feelings reached her heart and changed her, but perhaps that was wishful thinking. Soon, his thoughts went back to Linnorm for the sun began to set and the lack of sunlight meant that the snakes would have to rely on their stored energy. As Errol looked on, the tamer hopped down and gathered all the wooly jackets that he could find. He then put them on Linnorm, or, at least, whatever part of the massive snake he could cover.

The evening passed quickly for the tired humans and animals. Come morning, Linnorm was absolutely still and was very cold. Even Steel could not hold back the tears when Errol pressed her ear against the snake’s neck and confirmed that it was dead. While Hunter found it odd but nice that the townsfolk seemed to care about the snake’s death somewhat, he found it even weirder that neither Errol nor the remaining snakes looked sad.

“ Come on, how long will this take? “ the black-haired girl kicked Linnorm’s neck; the humans gasped.

Anise was about to lecture Errol on respecting the dead, but the Keeper nearly yelled when something moved beneath the snake’s skin.

“ Oh, there you go, “ the girl said and at that, she and the odd-eyed snake pried Linnorm’s mouth open.

A large, disgusting, vomit-like length of unrecognizable crap popped out of the dead snake’s mouth. It squirmed on the ground and there seemed to be an endless length of weirdness. The thing did not smell bad, but its appearance was enough to make one have nightmares for a few days. Finally, the end of the thing popped out of Linnorm’s mouth and the dead snake was allowed to rest.

“ Need help? “ Errol spoke to the disgusting piece of something.

The thing replied with a huff, and its head soon broke out of what turned out to be a thick protective membrane. When the creature slithered out of its birth organ, it slowly opened its eyes and revealed wise, purple orbs. Despite having been just reborn, the young Linnorm was still bigger than the other snakes.

“ What the heck did I just see? “ Thyme broke the silence.

The humans began to murmur, some due to disgust, but most due to awe. Then came the questions.

“ Do all desert snakes do that? “

“ Why do they do that? “

“ Is that Linnorm’s baby? “

Errol shrugged and answered what she could.

“ No, just Linnorm, “ she said, “ It does that every now and then. Bad timing, really. “

Since the creature’s old body was too massive, they just left it beside the river and the people of 27, with their escorts, continued to travel towards the Iron Wall. While Hunter mentally cursed himself for doubting Errol, the black-haired girl turned to an old entry in her diary. She skimmed through that page until she found the part which she wanted to read:

I found a huge thing at the bottom of the Citadel. I wonder if it had always been there. It seemed to be the only one of its kind, so really, I was not surprised when it coughed and gagged and spat out another one that looked like it. The other one was smaller and had a white eye, but it seemed to be just as smart as the first one. They’re in the animal shelters; last I heard, the odd-eyed one coughed up more thingers but they all had green eyes, unlike the first one which had purple eyes. It’s a funny way to multiply, but quite practical. I found a word from one of the ancient things called books; I think it will suit the purple-eyed one. I shall name it Linnorm.

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