This story is by Arundhati Madhusudan and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Tilest Hexicat was a bounty hunter. But she had a peculiar interest in hunting mythical creatures. She loved the adrenaline rush while chasing ancient beasts with great powers, and simply enjoyed bringing great beasts down to their knees. Tilest was a founder member of Ocuvsin Hunting- an outfit that hunts down endangered mythical creatures.
It was the morning of September the 1st, when Tilest received a missive from Ocuvsin Hunting.
“Greetings Tilest,” she read out. “We have a new assignment for you, if you choose to accept it. The Firefly forest on the eastern shore is abuzz with sightings of Minx the Manticore! Yes, the mythical beast from Greek and Persian legends is indeed alive and kicking. Our moles posted in the forest tell us that the ferocious Manticore loves to devour her entire prey, bones included. She shouldn’t be difficult to recognize with a head of a human, the body of a lion and a tail of venomous spines similar to porcupine quills. You are the only one who can do this. So get your gear and finish the job. You will be handsomely rewarded with a $10 million for Minx’s head. There is a bonus of $5 million if you can catch her alive as her venom still has magical properties, and she can be a splendid addition to our Menagerie of spectacular animals. This secret missive will destroy itself in 10 seconds, so dispose it on time. All the best!”
Tilest headed to a dilapidated building at the outskirts of the city. The second floor housed a secret library of rare scrolls, manuscripts and books about all things mythical and ancient. Some say many books from the great library of Alexandria can be found here as well! She picked up an ancient manuscript on Manticores to learn more about them and prepare for her battle. Tilest learnt a few remarkable facts about Manticores. “It can shoot its spines like missiles!” She exclaimed.
“The Manticore curves its body to shoot ahead, while it straightens its tail to shoot in the rear. Human flesh was its favorite dish! Oh, what am I getting myself into?” She mumbled as she poured more into the manuscript to identify any chinks in its armor. Was this a bloodthirsty creature or a battle tank?
After a few more minutes of searching, she discovered that the Elephant is the only creature that can survive its deadly stings. Tilest made a few calls to her mahout friends to arrange a friendly Elephant for the hunt. She polished her rifles and opened a round of silver bullets from her locker. Now she was all set to work for her $10 million pay check.
The day of the hunt arrived and Tilest scurried into the Firefly forest at daybreak on the back of the Elephant. . She was feeling at home as she had been living in the woods all her life before moving into the city 5 years ago. A couple of fruitless hours passed by as she combed the floor of the forest. Then she recollected her stint at the library where she had read that some Manticores did have wings! She started to flash the torch up towards the tall, sticky trees. Tilest was so immersed in flashing the torch at the branches that she did not notice the Elephant had stepped on an ant bill. Thousands of angry fire ants rushed out and stung the Elephant- who flung Tilest down and ran away in pain. Tilest crashed onto a bush. The thorny bushes pierced her legs but the pain was numbed by a blood curdling scream! A vicious looking man-faced-creature with the body of a lion swooned from the sky and caught Tilest by the scruff of her neck.
What a nightmare, to end up as breakfast for Minx, were the thoughts going on in her head.
She snapped out of her thoughts as she heard a screeching sound from the nearby bushes. A very strange sight greeted Tilest. A pack of four tiny Manticores came scurrying around to Minx! “What a day, to meet baby Manticores on the last day of my life,”Rued Tilest.
Minx loosened her grip on Tilest’s neck a little as the cubs started crying. They seemed to be in great pain. It was then, Tilest noticed that all the baby Manticores had bruises on their tails. It was a cruel sight to see them all in such pain. She spotted a familiar knife on the ground with the logo of Ocuvsin Hunting. It dawned upon Tilest that her colleagues had inflicted these wounds on the babies and had fled possibly after being chased by Minx. Tilest recalled the legends on how since ancient times, hunters caught baby Manticores and cut their tails to curtail the growth of ‘missile’ spines in their adulthood. It was a ghastly thing to do.
Tilest felt a new emotion! Was it pity? Until now, she saw Manticores as ferocious man eaters and a prize kill. But seeing the little Manticores in pain, touched a part of her heart. Minx was red with rage and had already let go of Tilest by the time she was licking the wounds of her cubs. Tilest flinched at the gesture. She was free to go. But instead of fleeing she opened her first aid kit from her backpack and took out the super-gel cream for express healing. She applied generous amounts of it on the babies tails before Minx could comprehend what was happening.
The super-gel had an instant calming effect on the babies and Minx seemed to be relieved. She must have also felt a strange emotion for the human. Was it gratitude?
It was an awkward moment for Tilest and Minx. The hunter and the hunted were experiencing new emotions and they did not know how to react. And then Minx spoke! Tilest was startled to hear Minx speak like a human to her. She explained to Tilest that Manticores were polyglots and could speak many languages including human ones. The next hour was a strange one, where two archenemies were having a conversation! Minx talked about her challenges as a mother to protect her cubs as she was one of the last few Manticores because her species was dying. Tilest told her how sorry she was about her hunting profession and that she didn’t know Manticores had emotions. They did not seem so different from humans after all…
Tilest was a realist and knew that Ocuvsin Hunting was not going to stop hunting even if she tried to tell them about Minx. So she advised Minx to take her cubs to the western shore, beyond the great ravines, where no hunter can find them. Tilest took the task upon herself and guided the Manticore family to the other side of the ravines. The new friends said their goodbyes. Before parting, Minx asked Tilest for a empty bottle! Tilest was intrigued and gave her the empty water bottle she had. Minx turned the other side and spit into the bottle! Tilest was surprised by the Manticore’s actions.
“If you had to vomit, you could have done it on the ground, it’s good for the flora,” She muttered to herself.
It took another look at the bottle for her to notice the effervescent liquid in the bottle. The bottle was filled with the venom of Minx! She realized. With an enigmatic smile, Minx and her cubs crossed over the ravines for ever.
Tilest headed back wondering why Minx had given her the venom! She went straight back to the library and scanned through various books on Manticores. Finally, she got her answer in an obscure volume on Manticore Venom. It said: Hold your breath, a Manticore’s venom is magical and old. Pour it on a surface to see what the magic unfolds.
With bated breath, Tilest poured a drop of Minx’s venom on a coin.
“It turned into gold!” Tilest gasped.
Minx had made her an alchemist! She could now turn any metal into gold.
Tilest was wondering the boundless riches in store for her. Then she shook her head. It was not about boundless riches. This was about the boundless kindness of Minx the Manticore. She had tears of joy and made a vow to use her newfound riches to protect endangered and mythical animals. Tilest had covered a lot of ground in one day moving on from a hunter to a conservationist of mythical animals. It was indeed a day which had opened boundless possibilities in her life!