Beelo stared with wide eyes at the landscape in front of him. Beerok placed a hand on Beelo’s shoulder to steady the boy. Beelo was grateful. It saved him from clutching his father’s hand like a frightened child.
They stood at the edge of a precipice. It looked as if an enormous gardener had stuck a trowel into the land and scooped it away. The fawn-colored stones of the hillside gave way to ones of varying shades of black. Even the soil was the color of charred wood. Beelo followed the perimeter of the crater with his eyes. It arced away to the north and south in nearly a perfect circle
Beerok shielded his eyes from the afternoon sun and peered into the depths. Beelo did the same but couldn’t make out very much detail until some high, gray clouds covered the sun.
Beelo saw that the edge of the cliff did not drop straight down but curved steeply. Dark, sharp scree on the slope guaranteed a treacherous descent and an impossible climb. The escarpment below them ended in a lake of black stone, the bleak hardness of which contrasted with the soft, pillow-like texture of the surface.
From the north shore of the lake rose a wall of stone. On careful inspection, Beelo realized the wall was more like a palisade, comprised of gray-black columns. Each column had eight straight edges. The columns stood closely together and formed a plateau the almost extended to the the opposite rim of the crater. In some places, the columns had fallen and the edge of the lake was littered with pieces of the ones that tumbled.
On the southern shore, small mesas jutted into the air like rotten molars. The spaces between the little islands of black earth were a labyrinth of gloomy passageways. Beelo shivered. Someone unlucky enough to walk through that place would get hopelessly lost. Hemmed in on either side by crumbling earth, you would be lucky to see the sky except at noon. Any attempt to find your bearings would be hopeless.
Beerok whispered into Beelo’s ear, “Do you see it?”
Beelo looked quizzically at him.
“There,” Beerok explained. He took his hand off of Beelo’s shoulder and pointed.
Beelo peered into the depressing darkness and tried to find what his father saw. At first he thought it was a trick. Beelo blinked, squinted, and then he saw it. Something was moved. A creature was tentatively creeping along the southern shore of the stone lake. From this distance it looked like a mouse, but Beelo knew it to be a lapina. From it’s stature and the awkward movements Beelo guessed it was young, maybe no more than a year old. Lapina were very important to the Téchni and Beelo had learned about them from his teachers in the community every summer.
“How did a lapina get down there,” asked Beelo.
“The young sometimes get too close to the edge when they graze and fall in. There is no way out,” answered Beerok. “But that is not what I was trying to show you.”
Beelo didn’t see it before it moved. It was nearly invisible since it’s hide was the same color as the soil and rocks around it. The slink pounced on the lapina’s back. The lapina screamed in pain and terror. It’s wobbly limbs failed to hold the combination of its own weight and that of its attacker and the animal collapsed to the stony floor. The lapina tossed its head from side to side and kicked its splayed legs furiously. It managed to crash the top of its skull into the nose of the slink and the dark creature drew back a little. That was opportunity enough for the lapina. The front legs planted and shoved the body up. The slink fell off of the furry, screaming creature and the lapina bounded forward on its powerful rear legs.
It did not get very far. Blood coursed from wounds on its sides and ran down the muscular rear legs. One wound pulsed blood, spurting in time to the lapina’s heartbeat. With each hop, the beat got slower and the gush of blood came with less force. The lapina took just one more step and fell to it’s knobby knees. It slumped forward, face first onto the hard, lumpy surface of the stone lake.
In the sky above, the cloud cover shifted. The early afternoon sun crept over the edge of the crater and illuminated the dying animal. A halo of light encompassed the lapina and shone dully on the blood-soaked stone around it.
The slink approached cautiously. It made absolutely no sound as it walked. The skin around the nostrils fluttered as it drew in air.
“The slits on the nose can be closed, like you close your eyes. We think it may be a way to keep out dirt while digging,” Beerok explained.
As the slink drew near, the lapina made a loud, plaintive whine. It was near to death, but still terrified of the beast that padded ever closer. The slink paused when it got near. Beelo thought the disgusting predator was having fun. He thought it enjoyed the horrific noise made by the lapina. Beelo continued to watch and realized the slink was not savoring the moment. It was being cautious.
The slink lifted an mottled, black paw. It extended its claws and reached for the hind leg of the lapina. The black talons shimmered in the sunlight. But when the skin of the slink’s paw came into the light, it drew back. The creature let out a gravelly chuff, followed by a short roar. It licked the offended skin and paced back and forth, just inside the shade.
“It,” wondered Beelo, “It can’t stand the sunlight?”
“Exactly,” said Beerok. “They never venture into direct sunlight, it causes them pain.”
Beelo watched breathlessly as the slink paced back and forth along the shadow’s edge. The terrifying predator got gradually closer when the movement of the sun pushed the shadows closer to the dying prey. Suddenly, the one spot of light in that depressing world went dark.
Another cloud had passed in front of the sun. The slink wasted no time. It pounced on the lapina, opened its massive jaws, and closed its horrible teeth on the back of the poor animal’s neck. The whining stopped in an instant. Beelo shivered as he watched the slink drag the broken body of the lapina towards one of the entrances to the labyrinth. The grisly pair disappeared into the dark, leaving only a smear of blood to show that anything had happened.