It had been seven days since they had found their double-hulled ‘cat’. It was nearly ready for the crossing and Sooley, feeling restless, went for a walk-a-bout in case she had missed something they could use. As his eye was still healing, she left Rufus with Peri and set out with Athor on her back, taking Chlo’e and Fussie for company. She felt relaxed, and though on the lookout for wolfdogs since arriving, they had neither seen nor heard anything to concern them. Even so, she took her spear and bolas with her. 

Not daring to go too far on her own, she peered over parts of old walls and into dried up gardens but saw only more ruins and debris. She thought of the people who had lived here—who were they? What had happened to them? Her grandfather had told her of a giant quake when his father was young, but she wondered if it was the terrible sickness that came afterward that killed them all, though the city was certainly destroyed by something bad. It was all such a puzzle. 

As she moved down the heaved roads and torn up streets, a few edible plants caught her eye. She put Athor down to play in some sand and gathered the plants, stuffing them into her sachel. Chlo’e was sniffing about while Fussie chewed on weeds, but she saw no other signs of life. Other, that is, than the ubiquitous rats scurrying through the rubble. She thought she heard a strange huffing sound but again she saw nothing. Keeping an eye on Athor, she carried on gathering plants. She didn’t notice Chlo’e’s nose twitching. 

Her sachel filled, it was not yet dark when she was ready to return to camp. She went to pick up Athor, but before she reached him, she heard Chlo’e growling deep in her throat—and then a smell of rotten meat assailed her nostrils, making her skin crawl. A slight hiss made her turn. Squatting behind her, saliva drooling from its jaws, a huge black reptile with large yellow eyes flicked its tongue at her, as if this sensitive organ smelled the scent of prey. 

Sooley had often seen small lizards scampering amongst the rocks and caught them if she could, but this was a giant, bigger than anything she had ever seen before—about three metres long from head to tail. Chlo’e’s growl rose to a high whine.

Turning suddenly toward the cat the huge reptile made a dash for her with a speed Sooley wouldn’t have thought possible for so heavy an animal. 

“Run Chlo’e, run!” she yelled, forgetting the cat couldn’t hear, but Chlo’e wasn’t to be so easily caught. She leapt straight into the air and raced away into the rubble. 

Athor’s eyes were like saucers. “Soo Soo!” he cried, reaching for her. But now only a few feet away, the reptile was between Sooley and the baby: it turned to stare at him. 

“Get away from him, you filthy beast!” Sooley screamed, frantically looking for her spear. But it was on the other side of the huge creature, and even if she tried to reach Athor, she had seen how fast it could move—she had to make a distraction. 

Dashing forward, she threw her bolas, curling it around the animal’s heavy neck. With an angry hiss, it made for her, twisting on its own body length so quickly she barely had time to jump out of the way. She scooped up her spear and with a mighty yell, threw it with all the force she had in her, transfixing the animal through the heart and sending it rolling over in the dust. Without waiting for its struggles to diminish she picked up a large rock and crushed its skull.