He scanned the waters, looking for the characteristic dark spot created by a pod of shralankce. The waters here were a favored hunting ground near the spring and fall transitions as the large, black-skinned fish migrated north to the cooler waters they preferred for spawning.
A glinting off to the southwest caught his attention. He focused on the spot and found what looked like a shadow dancing under churning waters. The area was free of crags that far out, so the chances of it being a shralankce pod were high. It looked like a small group feeding on a cloud of the translucent fish the humans nicknamed “bubble fish” for their tendency to inflate when threatened.
Tricon backed several meters from the edge of the ledge and took a running start into a gliding takeoff. He thrilled in the feel of the wind rushing over him. It was freeing, flying without a rider and saddle. He could make use of maneuvers he didn’t dare with Maya in less than full battle gear on his back.
Tricon pulled his wings in, folding them close to his sides, and went into a dive parallel to the cliff face. He plunged headlong toward the rubble left by the crumbled summit and the waves crashing against the wall of ragged shards. A rush of primal emotion swept through him, and Tricon reveled in it before unfurling his wings again. The membranes stretched almost painfully tight as Tricon missed impaling himself on the rocks by less than a meter.
He pumped his wings, enjoying the slight burn he was starting to feel from the day’s exertion. Transition had been bad this year, and it was a relief to no longer be grounded by torrential rains.
Once Tricon was at a good altitude again, he decided to play a bit before he pounced. He folded his left wing against his side and went into a roll. The spin was faster than anticipated, and he stretched the wing to abort. The result was clumsy, and Tricon decided it would be best to leave the acrobatics until he’d fully recovered his strength. Just over two weeks out of hibernation, his muscles were still weak and stiff. He felt a minor strain, and knew he’d been lucky not to seriously injure one of his wing joints with such a wobbly pullout. It wouldn’t do to strand them all.
He’d have to make time to practice in the next few days. Otherwise, he’d embarrass himself during the celebrations surrounding Lanre and Maya’s wedding. Or, worse, he’d embarrass himself and then be humiliated when he was too sore to move the next day.
Tricon turned his attention back to his prey. He was close now. The pod still resembled nothing more than a large, undulating shadow under sea foam, but he could tell it was a tiny pod. They were a social species, depending on large numbers coupled with heat and pressure sensing organs to compensate for being nearly blind, so such a small group was odd.
The humans called them eel-sharks due to their narrow heads, serpentine bodies with truncated fins, and their tendency to frenzy like this pod was doing when they found a school of fish. He’d never understood the human’s need to rename everything, but it was amusing at times, the names they created.
Once he reached the pod, Tricon went into a lazy figure eight to observe the feeding shralankce. There was little chance of the creatures sensing his presence. The minuscule pod of five was easy enough to fly over while avoiding their dorsal heat pits.
He regarded the five, looking for the weakest amongst them. They were probably part of a larger group, perhaps siblings who’d broken from the main pod to help a sick or wounded brother.
What a pity. This wasn’t so much a hunt as it was a culling. The shralankce were less suspecting of threats from above now after centuries of diminished hunting since the humans crashed on Yekara, and their attention now was completely focused on feeding. The challenge the word hunt implied wasn’t there. No, this was more like a service to the species. He’d butcher the injured, leaving the whole to return to the main pod. He was lucky, the weak one appeared injured instead of diseased. It favored its right side, and Tricon glided lower for a better look.
A chunk was missing from the right pectoral fin of the medium-sized male, and long, angry gashes slashed the ebony hide with red outlined in white. It looked like he’d gotten into the crags near the cove, likely due to the last storm judging by the freshness of the wound. Even if it managed to avoid infection, it was crippled.
Continue to Chapter 4, Part 3.