October 8

Fictober, Prompt 8 – “Can’t you stay?”

Warnings: none. Fantasy, with a snake friend.

I felt my tracking spell die as I climbed out of the culvert and scrambled up the dirt embankment that rose just outside the city limits. Cursing, I hauled myself up faster, and darted across the road and through the trees on the other side.

Coming to a halt at the edge of the huge field that suddenly stretched out before me, I quickly pulled the tuft of fur out of the pouch at my belt and crouched down to perform the spell again. It should still work, I had only nabbed the fur a short time ago.

The spell flared to life…and then promptly died again.

I stared at the fur, and then out at the field. Distance shouldn’t have been an issue, not at this range, and even if there were a lot of rats here, it should still have worked.

But, the tracking spells were not perfect, and a large number of rats might be enough to confuse it, especially if there were any that might be related to the one I had tracked.

I stared out at the field again in deepening dismay. How was I to find a single rat in this huge field without my tracking spell? I couldn’t just let it go. More people were falling ill by the day, and my searching had led me to that rat, specifically. I had to get my hands on it, or the illness was going to spread, and that inevitably meant that a lot of people were going to die.

I started running through the list of possible spells that I could use, wondering if there was any way I could modify the tracking spell sufficiently to get it to work—

Something moved, slithering, out of the corner of my eye, and I jerked my gaze down.

Along the edge of the grass came a snake, a large one, patterned light with regular dark patches down the length of its body, shading from nearly black to light brown.

Slowly, I crouched down.

The snake froze, clearly looking at me. It flicked its tongue once, but otherwise remained still.

“Ah, hello,” I told it in a soft voice, carefully reaching out one hand, letting magic spark low at my fingertips. “Would you be willing to help me, perhaps?”

The tongue flicked again, out-up-down-in, but the snake did not move.

“I’m trying to find a rat, you see. A specific rat,” I explained. Magic would potentially allow the snake to understand me, but only it could choose to engage or not. Some animals were curious and inclined to welcome such connections when offered, but I wasn’t sure how a snake would feel. I had a sense that they were more cautious.

“Please?” I tried, still attempting to look friendly (what did snakes consider friendly?). On a whim, I stuck my tongue out and tried to imitate that up-down flicker. It felt strange, but I tried again and it seemed easier the second time. I spared a brief thought to be glad that there were none around to see me sticking my tongue out at a snake.

Then, to my amazement, the snake tasted the air again itself, and then slithered towards me.

Had that worked somehow?

I held my breath and kept my hand steady. The snake’s tongue tickled ever so slightly as it brushed my fingertips, and the snake pulled its head back quickly, as if the magic had felt strange. But it did not withdraw fully, and after a moment stretched forward, trying again.

When the snake (a male, I could now dimly sense through the magic) seemed content with his exploration of my fingers, he lifted his head slightly and flicked his tongue up, seeming to study my face.

Still moving slowly, I retrieved the bit of fur and held it out with my other hand.

The snake investigated this new thing even more thoroughly, but then immediately turned and began to move toward the longer grass. I was disappointed…until it paused just before disappearing, and I caught a glimpse of a raised head and one bright eye looking my way.

It was going to help!

I rose carefully, and followed with contained eagerness.

We cleared up an early misunderstanding where the snake caught the first rat it came across, and gave me what seemed like a reproachful tongue flick when I was not excited by this offering. I tucked it away in a separate pouch, knowing that he would likely appreciate a meal later, and we tried again. This time, after tasting at the fur, he seemed to understand that it was that specific rat that I needed, not just any rat.

We went deeper into the field. The snake often disappeared at times, either blending in low and well with the vegetation, or actually vanishing down various holes and burrows, chasing the scent that I could not.

It took several hours of working back and forth across the field, in the end, but it was worth it when the yellow-and-black head snapped out, too quick to follow, and that long body was shortly wrapped around what was indeed the rat I had gotten a trace on back in the city.

He was a bit reluctant to the let the prize go before it was dead, but I offered him his earlier catch, and he seemed to consider that a fair exchange. I quickly secured my rat, putting it to sleep and immobilizing it with two quick spells, and tucking it away in a special bag.

The snake was soon done swallowing, making quick work of his meal. He shifted, tongue flicking, and started to turn.

“Oh,” I said, feeling unexpectedly disappointed. I had gotten what I needed, after all. “Can’t you stay?”

He paused, and raised his head to look at me again. Flick, flick of the tongue, and then he slithered over to me, circling once deliberately around my feet. Delighted, I found that he would even let me stroke his back briefly, his scales warm and smooth from the long afternoon under the sun.

But, he soon turned again, and when I looked I could see the burrow he seemed to be interested in.

“More food,” I guessed, laughing a little, “or maybe just a place to nap for a bit.” This tongue flick seemed to agree. “Well, I’ll come back then, if I may?”

The snake raised its upper body slightly again, then sank back to the ground and went on his way.

My sense from the magic told me that was a ‘yes.’

“Thank you!” I called after him, waving as I stood up and prepared to find my way back to the city.

A last flash of disappearing tail was my answering wave.

Well, I thought, wading through the long grass as the sun began to sink toward the horizon behind me. A friend skilled at tracking rats might be very useful in the coming days.

With hopes higher than they’d been in quite some time, I returned to my lodgings and got to work.

(I definitely do not flick my tongue at my snake this way. *coughs* >.>)

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