Crocodilian ~ Chapter 4
Tales of Havek: Volume One | Duration: 9 Minutes 30 Seconds
IV: (Un)Due Influence
The sun dipped behind the treetops lining Unkel Bo River, leaving the humid air as the sole perpetrator of discomfort. Unkel Bo had spent the afternoon sweating and catching fish to fill his haul basket. He’d pondered for an unreasonable amount of time on the mysterious arrival of the explorer and the young man’s purpose in coming to the homeland. He sure as Burg wasn’t down here for a light swim in the shallows, nor did he look all that much like the outdoorsy type Unkel Bo had known in the Hunters’ Guild. Trouble was brewing in the homeland.
The homeland—what Unkel Bo liked to call his neck of the woods—was indeed his home now, his place of freedom from “civilization”, his plain of wild existence. The swamp enabled a unique symbiotic link with nature wherein one survived off of its abundance, whilst only taking one’s fair share. That reunification had awoken within him something internally ancient and forgone.
On his way back to camp, he carried the haul basket with both hands, angling his face away from the odor. Unkel Bo had slung the lightbow over his shoulder to let it dangle at his back. It was a holdover from his past life, but a necessary one. Although he was an avid lover of mother nature, he was keenly aware of her ability to remove the life it had bestowed upon him at any moment, as she’d done with so many others. The pecking order in the homeland was quite clear, and humans were not at the top of the food chain. So in order to maintain his edge, the lightbow remained at his side at all times.
That wasn’t the only edge Unkel Bo had gained in the homeland. He’d also adopted children. These children obeyed him for the most part, about as much as any wild animal might after millennia of adaptation to the contrary. Honestly, it was difficult to even categorize them as children anymore, the largest among them now thirty feet long. But no matter how much they grew, to him they were still the tiny, green-scaled reptiles that had hatched under his protection.
“All right, dinner’s here,” he said, dropping the basket at his feet.
He’d made his way deep into the mangroves behind the cabin and the clearing. He no longer lived out there by the river. The dilapidated structure was more of a landmark, full of bad memories he’d rather forget. Unkel Bo had decided that to connect with the homeland he’d need to commit to it. The swamp had vast regions completely underwater, but there were swathes of territory where the water had receded, the exposed hilltops perfect for making a camp both protected from the harsh sun and the curious eyes of unwanted passersby. His camp was nestled against the gnarliest amalgamation of mangrove roots he’d ever seen, its formation somewhat concave like that of a large barrier, centuries of growth undeterred by outside forces. It just so happened to be where his children’s mother had once nested, a possible influence weighing upon his decision to reside there, or a silent calling from beyond the grave.
Unkel Bo grabbed a dead fish from the basket and tossed it into one of the shallow pools of black water surrounding the camp. A moment passed and no movement erupted. Usually around this time the children would be clamoring over one another in an attempt to be the first to catch dinner. Yet, the dead fish bobbed in the water until the surface returned to its mirror-like state, reflecting Unkel Bo’s lonely visage back to him.
“Hey y’all, it’s time to eat,” Unkel Bo yelled.
A splash came from his right and he spotted the first child approaching, the tops of its nostrils, eyes, spine and tail the only parts visible. It glided with such elegance, with no signs of exertion above the water. It headed directly for the floating fish. A rather routine meal, the crocodile wasted no time contemplating its dinner. Snapping its razor-like teeth into the fish, it lifted its elongated snout out of the water and let it slide down its gullet whole.
“There ya go,” Unkel Bo said. “Now, where are your brothers and sisters? This ain’t like them to miss a free meal.”
He threw another fish to the croc and it caught it mid-air, snapping its head to the side with honed precision. It was one of the smaller crocs under his care, the runt of the bask of seven. Despite this, he could tell it was still growing, approaching thirteen feet long. Unkel Bo never tired from admiring these majestic creatures, their multi-colored scales like that of a watercolor painting only nature could produce. They were, all at once, beasts of beauty and destruction, purveyors of life and death, the great keepers of order amongst interminable chaos.
A noise betrayed someone sneaking up from behind, but Unkel Bo didn’t turn to face the trespasser yet. He wasn’t terribly afraid, plus he wanted to see what they were about, whether they would try to attack him, or if they had enough honor to at least address him first. Luckily for the trespasser, it was the latter.
“Well, well, I see you’re rather lonely today. Thought I’d stop by and keep you company,” the trespasser said. Unkel Bo recognized the voice, it was the same man that had approached him several days prior.
“I told you what I think about trespassers on my land,” Unkel Bo stated. He threw another fish to the hungry crocodile and it smacked the muddy bank. The crocodile breached the water, its lanky limbs stretched out to either side, pulling with long claws, its belly dragging. They could run at great speeds if provoked, but oftentimes they conserved their strength, opting for the path of least resistance.
“Yes, well, I’ve yet to complete my business here. I need your help,” the trespasser said. “You know why I’m here, hunter. I see the marks on your arm. There’s no use denying what you are. You can control them.”
Unkel Bo looked down to regard the scars along his right arm. The half dozen inch-wide circles were a mismatched grey against his sun-soaked skin. They were a constant reminder of what he’d done, of what he needed to atone for. He turned to face the trespasser, who held up his own arm for Unkel Bo to see; a jagged row of bite marks scabbing over.
“We have more in common than not,” the trespasser said.
“Who are you?” Unkel Bo asked.
The trespasser stepped forward, the mud squishing up between his toes. He was relatively short, shorter than Unkel Bo at least, and through the tears of his stained white button-up shirt his ribs could be seen pushing out against pale skin. He was familiar, but Unkel Bo couldn’t quite place where he’d seen this man before.
“You don’t remember? That’s to be expected. Most people don’t remember me. I suppose I have a somewhat forgettable presence. But I plan on being better about making an impression on others, leaving my mark on those I want to remember me. Like Mayor Penh, for instance. I believe we share the same disdain for that man. I should know, I was there when you told the mayor where to shove his proposal the day you left Yonledo.”
Unkel Bo remembered that day like it was yesterday. Although he recalled only one other person in the room at the time. “So you were the man with the rifle, the mayor’s guard?”
The trespasser grew feral, squatting down with arms outstretched to either side. He curled his fingers up as if they were claws and growled. His eyes grew dark and the pupils shrank to slivers of black against emerald green. He was indeed the same as Unkel Bo, there was no doubt. Unkel Bo grabbed his lightbow and spun it around in front of him. He thought about engaging the battery but if the man attacked there would be little time for the bolt to heat up. He’d have to settle for a regular shot and hope that it struck soft tissue.
“No, fool!” the trespasser said, his voice deepened. “The other one. There were four of us that day. I trust you’re smart enough not to push me further with petty insults. You know what is to come if you dare do so.”
Unkel Bo nodded. He pondered that day for another moment. He had truly forgotten the fourth man in the room. But the reminder nudged his recollection. A small, wiry man had been sitting in the corner scribbling everything down as they spoke. He’d worn glasses then, and had repeatedly pressed the frames back up to his face as he looked down at the paper. He had tried to speak at one point, but the mayor had scolded him for it, threatening even to take his life.
“Ah, that’s right,” Unkel Bo said. “I remember now. You’re the scribe. What’s your name again?”
The scribe regained his composure, cracking his neck and rolling his shoulders. He closed his eyes for a breath and then opened them again, the crocodilian eyes morphing back into round human pupils.
“My name is Tyvno Marsden-Penh.”
“Wait, you're related to the mayor?” Unkel Bo asked.
Tyvno smirked and looked at the crocodile eyeing him stoically. “As much as that creature right there is related to you,” he said. “But sure, he was a father figure once. Not much of one. I thought I’d give him a second chance but, well, you see how that turned out. Anyway, I wanted to thank you for instructing your children to terrorize Yonledo. I had been frightened at first, but now I see the truth of this place. The reason you want to protect it. The power lying just beyond the mayor’s reach.”
Unkel Bo shook his head, squinting his eyes. “What do you mean? The crocs haven’t attacked anything. They’ve been with me….”
He trailed off as he realized that his children hadn’t been showing up for dinner as often as they once did. It had been one missing at first, but now the majority of them were gone. And the explorer had mentioned something about rumors involving the town. Were those two things related?
“Oh? That’s an interesting development. I figured you were behind it,” Tyvno said, regarding the bite marks on his right arm. “Well then, I guess you aren’t to thank for this after all. Pity.”
Unkel Bo regarded the smallest of his children. “What have your siblings gotten up to, huh?” The crocodile responded by opening its mouth toward the haul basket, still hungry for the rest of dinner.
“Looks like they found a new source of food, wouldn’t you say?” Tyvno said. “If you don’t want an entire Empyrean battalion marching through this swamp killing everything that moves, I’d suggest we figure out a solution to this new problem. We can either help them take the—”
“There’s no we. I want you to stay out of this,” Unkel Bo snapped. “I’ll take care of it. You just leave me and my crocs alone.”
Tyvno held up his hands in surrender. “Whatever you say, Unkel. Whatever you say. I’ll be around if you need me.” Tyvno retreated from the raised encampment, ducking past the giant mangrove formation and disappearing into the swamp.
Unkel Bo re-slung his lightbow and tipped over the haul basket for the crocodile, which happily attacked the mound of dead fish. He knew what he had to do. Despite how much he hated that mayor and the town, he couldn’t let it devolve into a battle for survival. The explorer was likely here to determine if Asyrema would send aid in exterminating the crocodiles. Unkel Bo wouldn’t let it come to that. He’d visit Yonledo one last time, whether its denizens lived or died was entirely up to them.
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