Colin Raff’s Torpid Slivers #4

On a riverbank one afternoon, a crane suffering from a swollen throat poked her beak feebly in the silt, hoping to find a small morsel without effort. She caught something that wriggled and, removing it from the water to inspect it, found a pair of juvenile stag minnows (Phoxinus actaeonae), their tiny antlers locked together following a bout of playful jousting.

“We almost starved to death!” said one of the fish. “Thankfully, you found us in time. Please untangle us and let us go. We’re still too small to satisfy your hunger.”

“Untangle you? My beak couldn’t manage such a complicated task,” replied the crane. “And it seems that you’ll starve to death in this state anyway. Why, you’ve talked me into eating you!” And with that, she swallowed the two minnows. Or rather, tried to swallow them, but their horns got caught in her already inflamed gullet, causing great pain. She flailed her head around to no avail.

This went on for a few minutes until something sprouted very abruptly from the soil across the water. In no time at all, it was as tall as a large tree. At first it resembled a nettle intertwined with a rose, then assumed an irregular rounded shape bristling with spikes and ribbons. It began to speak (by unknown means) very loudly:

“I am the harbinger of the Little Gray Foxes. They will be here very soon! Their power is immense. Can you detect it? Already, it has bestowed upon you the gifts of prodigious strength and invisibility — unfortunately you will die before you can use them. Ah, the Little Gray Foxes! They are so very near! They come! They come! I give them five minutes at the most.”

In a field not far from this scene, a ploughman’s hands completely disintegrated before he could finish yoking his steeds. Also nearby, a colony of wasps were stricken with mumps, an illness never known to affect their species.

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