The great snakes had descended that morning. They tore into the village with wild abandon, swallowing villagers and destroying their homes. Kanti had followed her mother’s instructions and taken her little brother to hide in the rubble. No harm will come to you. The words rang in her thoughts. They were the last thing her mother had said before running off.
Everyone had thought she had been crazy, that her visions of this day were nothing but dreams. Where were those disbelievers now? Kanti hoped that they had been the first swallowed by the horned serpents.
In the afternoon, the thunder started. After listening to the people of her village scream for hours as the snakes had their fill, Kanti’s old fear of thunder seemed so petty in comparison to the horrors she’d witnessed. Even as the sound became deafening, drowning out the cries of her people and the hissing of the snakes, she did not flinch or cry out. Instead, she cradled her brother close to her and tried to soothe his crying.
Achak had always been a quiet baby but the terror had even struck him. He was crying and Kanti was frantic to calm him before one of the snakes found them. They had been lucky so far but once the snakes ran out of people to eat, they might hear Achak’s cries once the thunder died down.
But the thunder didn’t quiet like it usually did. It continued to drown out all other noises. Achak cried louder in response and Kanti could only wish for her mother’s presence. Plagued by visions as she was, their mother was better with babies than she was.
There was a rustling sound that made her heart stop in her chest. It was the same rustling that had gone around them when the attack first started. But this time it was faster, as if the snakes were moving at high speeds.
Glancing through the broken pieces of wood that had been keeping them hidden, her gaze caught one of the snakes. Others were moving past it, as if fleeing, but that one paused. They stared at each other and Kanti could tell that the snake was debating whether or not to move the wood and get one last meal.
Just as the giant snake moved in her direction, great claws descended from the sky with a boom of thunder and took the snake away. In her shock, she clutched Achak closer to her and put her back to the sturdiest spot of her hiding spot. The sight was so strange but not unfamiliar. In fact, it reminded her of the eagles that would hunt fish and normal snakes in the valley.
Ancient stories did speak of one enemy of the great horned serpents. Since she’d never heard of anyone actually seeing the creature like they’d seen the snakes, she never thought they were actually real. The even booms of thunder made sense now though. Like the beating of a drum, with each flap of giant wings a great boom of thunder echoed in the air.
Reaching up, she pushed aside some of the debris so that she could see the sky. All her work to position broken pieces of wood and animal skins above their head to hide them was blocking any view of the sky. If it was the thunderbirds that were chasing the snakes away, she wanted at least one glimpse.
The legendary birds were just like the eagles that she’d admired before except they were much larger. No bird she’d ever seen before could even compare. The serpents stood no chance against attacks from above, even with the warning sounds of thunder each time the birds flapped their wings.
“We’re saved,” she murmured, looking down into the face of her little brother. He would get to see the changing of the seasons and grow into the warrior that their mother always said he’d be.
Though the constant thunder hurt her ears, she felt that it was safe enough to leave their shelter now. It took time to move the debris with one hand while the other held Achak, just as it had when she was trying to hide them.
When she had a space big enough that she could crawl out with Achak, she paused. While hidden, Kanti had only a little space in order to look out and see what was going on. This was going to be her first look at the entirety of the damage and she feared what she would find. Were there other survivors? Did the serpents destroy everything or were there still homes standing?
Bravery was not her strongest point, it never had been. But without her mother here to be her rock, her stability, she had to try and be that for Achak. With a deep breath, she crawled out of small hiding place.
There was no time to take in all of the damage. Kanti was barely able to stand up straight before one of the thunderbirds was landing before her. Her eyes widened in a mixture of fear and awe as the bird’s wings folded in next to its body. She was frozen to the spot, trying not to shake in the presence of the creature.
An odd movement at the breast of the bird caught her attention. In absolute fascination, Kanti watched as the feathers shifted and changed. As if pushing a great cloak back, tanned arms emerged and shrugged away the feathers as they shrunk into a dress and actual cloak. It settled around the woman’s shoulders gently as she reached up and tipped back her own head.
Only, it wasn’t her head. The bird’s head dropped back like a hood and long black hair tumbled around the tanned shoulders. Even with the feather dress and wild look, she’d always recognize her mother’s features. Relief filled her chest and she ran forward, wrapping her free arm around her mother’s waist and burying her face in the feathers.
Her own mother, one of the legendary thunderbirds, wrapped her arms tightly around both her and her brother. The safety of that hold was enough for her to push away all the questions for now.
Happy tears ran down both of their faces. Kanti allowed her mother to smother her and then her brother with kisses before falling into her warm embrace again.
“I told you that no harm would come to you,” the whisper made Kanti smile and she snuggled closer to her mother as the other birds began to land around them and shift. None of them mattered, nor did the villagers who had believed her mother to be crazy. They were safe and her family was as whole as it was ever going to be.
That was all that mattered.
Next Creature: Pukwudgie