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The Snake Hunt

-Part One-

By Shima

The huntress ignored the heat of the sun. She paid no attention to the wind as its playful gusts freed her hair from the band she wore. She did take the time to brush one escaped strand from her eyes as she focused on her goal

The lone ravvit sat cleaning its long ears, completely unaware of the huntress. She slipped the Throwback from her sash and the next moment sent it spinning towards her target. The creature never saw what killed him. The weapon cut through the ravvit like a blade through water. The two dune hounds at her feet raced off in unison. The smaller dog, Ato, fetched the kill, while Tora retrieved the weapon. The Throwback would not return if it struck anything, while in flight. That included a scrawny ravvit.

Tora returned first and Shima took her weapon from his mouth. There were no teeth marks, the dog knew better. Shima scratched him behind the ears as she studied the large dog's scarred face. Kyara had tried many times to repair the damage to her Lifemate's bond beast. However, fangs and growls greeted each attempt.

Shima watched Ato return with the kill. Even with her head up, the ravvit's feet still dragged in the sand. The huntress petted the excited hound as she took the kill from the dog's mouth. Standing, Shima sighed as its life-blood drained onto the sand. One ravvit and four of eights mouths to feed.

"Just make sure the tribe is here when I get back."

A simple command given by her Chieftess in jest, that might be impossible to obey.

It had started going wrong soon after Onsha had left her in charge . . .

Her Chieftess had been seriously injured, by a human, while in the city of Ishmar. The whole tribe had stayed by Halban's side until they received word the she would recover.

The next day the hunt had returned empty handed. That was not an oddity, sometimes game was hard to find. The following day a lone ravvit was all hours of work, by numerous hunters, had to show for.

Shima went out again yesterday. Never had she seen the desert so dead. To those new to the desert it always looked void of life. However, those who call the sands home, recognize that it is full of vitality.

Except for lately. Last night Sharana and Ame had used vegetables and broth to stretch their meager food supply one last time. Today the hunters had to bring home some descent kills or Shima would have no choice but to move the tribe to where game could be found. Shima had called on almost everyone in the Holt who could carry a spear or shoot a bow.

Ame, her mother, had laid aside the hoe and rake to take up her bow. She and Seeker were on the hunt together. Shima had teamed up Isbeth with Seelee and Moon Singer had taken Bee Sweet. The others were split up in pairs, combing the desert for anything that would be considered food. Judging by the lack of response, Shima's kill was the first of the day and it was already late into the morning.

The elves left at camp included the youngest of the kitlings: Jardan, Sasha, and Akan. Jardan had not liked being left behind but Shima had taken him aside and asked him to watch over the other two. Jardan had promised he would and Shima had the confidence he could take good care of the babies of the Holt. The only other elves back at the camp were the elders and a small group to defend the Holt if needed. Shima had asked Jasha, the Rockshaper, to seal the entrance to the Holt. He did as she requested, to help protect those left behind.

She had even called the elves off of Sky Tower. If the humans needed them, they could wait. And if the elves in town needed them, they were just a thought away.

A bird's cry brought Shima's attention to the clouds. Feathered game was not her usual kill but desperate times called for anything with meat on its bones. She made ready to launch her weapon when she spotted the blue cloth tied around the hawk's leg.

** You weren't thinking about using that toy of yours on Blue, were you, Cousin? **

Shima grinned and searching the surrounding sand found Valash standing at the top of a nearby dune.

** Sorry, ** Shima apologized. She slipped the Throwback back into her sash. ** I forgot you and Blue were my hunting partners. **

** I'm surprised you remember your name. It must be difficult having to worry about everyone. **

** I have always worried about everyone. **

By now Valash had worked his way down to Shima's side. "That is not what I meant." He held out his gloved hand and Blue glided down to perch upon it.

Shima gently stroked the hawk's head. Blue rewarded her with a sharp cry of delight. "Have you had any luck, Cousin?"

Valash's smile wavered. "Nothing, not even Blue's sharp eyes can see any living creatures, except for a mouse here and there. What is going on, Shima? Never have I seen the desert sands so dead."

"Seelee, has always taught me it's better to hunt before you get to the point where you have to have food. Because then there is never any game to be found." Shima smiled but it quickly faded away. "This, though, is different . . ." The huntress ran a hand through her tangled locks and seemed to pause before finishing. "Something has scared the prey away."

"What . . . humans?"

"No, we haven't seen that many humans . . . not during the summer."

"The Sand Cobras?"

Again Shima paused before answering. Not ready to trust herself yet. "Yes . . . that is why I hated sending everyone out. But what choice did I have. Being summer, we didn't have that much fresh meat in storage. Even in the deepest cave it would have spoiled from the heat. And now . . . we are out of meat."

"You didn't alone choose this path. You held council, we all agreed on this course of action."

"We all?" Shima raised an eyebrow.

"Well, almost everyone, even those that didn't are out hunting."

"I just hope the others are having better luck." Shima looked down at the carcass she still held. "At least the kitlings will eat tonight."

She slid the ravvit into the pouch on her Runner's back.

"If they are not very hungry," Valash retorted with a grin. "Talking about hungry . . . here." He held out a strip of dried meat.

Shima looked at the jerky but made no attempt to take it.

"Take it," Valash growled. Shima was shocked by the angry look in her cousin's eyes. "I watched you last night. After giving Halban the speech about eating for the sake of his children, you went to scout without eating anything yourself." Shima did not move fast enough for the hawker. He forced the strip of meat into her hand. "Eat," he demanded. "You're not only eating for your child, you're eating for the tribe. They need a strong leader. The kind of leader Onsha knows you can be, even if you don't believe it yourself."

Shima knew arguing would not get her anywhere, so she bit into the tough meat. "They don't need me as a leader, what we need is a miracle."

** We found one! **

Seelee's excited cry caused both hunters to jump.

** Found what? ** Shima inquired.

** A Sand Cobra . . . we'll eat well tonight! **

** Seelee, wait for the rest of the hunters. We desperately need this kill. We can't risk it getting away. **

** Aw, Shima . . . one good shot and . . . **

** Seelee, please, let us feel a little useful. Everyone has been combing this desert for the past three days. ** It was Ame whose voice was heard by all the elves.

** Oh, okay, we'll wait. Just hurry up, Isbeth is anxious for her first Sand Cobra skin. **

Shima glanced over at Valash. "Kumo and Kigen waited almost 500 years before taking on their first Sand Cobra . . . what's the rush?"

Valash shrugged his shoulders and motioned for Blue to take flight.

The desert hawk glided off his arm and into the sky. "Seelee has always gone after the Cobras."

"Why?" Shima untied the Runners from the rock they were tethered to.

"Because she can."

** Seelee, where can we find this snake? **

** We're about halfway between the Holt and Sleeping Mountain. Come from the way of the Holt. **

"That close . . . no wonder the animals have left this area," Shima mumbled to herself. Then nodding she mounted her Runner. Valash already sat upon his.

** All right, everyone, to the hunt! ** Shima cried.

A chorus of voices from various corners of the desert answered her.

Part Two of The Snake Hunt