When the day of the cannar hunt finally came, the villagers from Talx dressed in their ceremonial clothes and gathered for a communal feast.
“To the Hunt!” one of the elders cried after the group prayer. He held his mug of grog high and howled.
The other elders howled along and raised their mugs, too, which they then handed to any young ones in the family who were about to have their first hunt. It was an important rite of passage for the young villagers, their first taste of intoxicant and their entrance into the world of adulthood.
Anaxis gulped his father’s brew down, wiped his chin, and burped.
“That’s my boy,” Valaxis said, slapping Anaxis on the back, which elicited another burp from the boy. “Are you ready?”
“Ready as I ever will be,” Anaxis said, running his hand over the lens stored in the pouch around his waist.
“You’re going to do great, Anax,” his brother, Caraxis said. “Just stay with me, I’ll make sure we’re in prime position.”
“It’s not much of a hunt, really, is it?” Anaxis asked. “We just corral them and it’s easy slaughter, right?”
“There’s some skill involved,” his sister, Illox, said. “You’ll see when we get out there. They’re smart animals, you have to anticipate their moves.”
The grog took hold of Anaxis’s body, and he started to sway where he sat. “And we do this drunk?”
“It’ll wear off in the heat,” his mother, Jora, said. “And when the excitement takes hold, you’ll be as clear as sunshine.”
“I hope so,” Anaxis said. “Because right now I just feel sick!”
“Have another one,” Caraxis laughed. “Go ahead, drink up!”
After the feast, the villagers headed out to the narrow valley through which the cannar were due to pass. The beasts were huge, hairy things, with horns that wrapped around their heads and met beneath their snouts. They lumbered when calm, but picked up lightning speed when scared or angry, both of which were easy to incite. Thousands of them travelled together from the south, and the sight of the herd moving was one of the most impressive natural phenomenon on the planet.
“See them?” Illox asked her family from where they sat along the valley ridge. “Aren’t they magnificent?”
“So beautiful,” said Valaxis. “We are incredibly lucky to have such a gift from nature.”
“Is the herd the same size every year?” asked Anaxis.
“Roughly,” said Jora. “Though there was one year, long ago, when the hunters got greedy, and ruined the Hunt for many years following. They killed so many of the beasts, so many more than they could ever use. Their bodies rotted in the sun. It was horrible.”
“A tragedy,” said Valaxis. “We are careful now to kill no more than what we need. Three animals per family member, no more.”
“I will get all fifteen this year!” Caraxis proclaimed. “You all can sit back and watch!”
“Good luck, brother,” said Illox. “Because I’m going to beat you to it!”
Anaxis was relieved at his siblings’ fervor, as he didn’t want to have to kill unless he had to. He wasn’t against it, by any means; he knew it was necessary. But he feared the look in the animal’s eye as it was struck and the noises it would make dying, and what it would feel like to know he inflicted that pain. He would make the kill someday, as he knew life fed off life, but he didn’t know if he was quite ready. He was more than ready, however, to use his new lens, to try to make it easier for his fellow villagers and gain some of their respect. He anxiously awaited the chance as his family talked of Hunts past and watched the herd come nearer beneath the searing heat of the sun.
“Send down the scouts!” announced one of the village elders.
At this, ten men and women started to descend down the valley walls. The got into position behind scrub trees and rocks, at the tightest squeeze point in the deepest part of the valley. Anaxis snuck away from his family, who were too excited and focused to notice, down to the valley floor himself. He took his lens out from his pouch and gave it one last polish, just before the cannar herd passed by the first scout.
The first scout ran screaming from her hiding place, shaking her spear and arms, which started the front of the herd calling and moving faster. The second scout came from the other side, which made the beasts break from their lumbering walk into a trot. A third scout came from behind the front of the herd, which started the beasts moving faster still.
As they came nearer to where Anaxis hid, his heart started to beat wildly. He hadn’t imagined what being in front of the charging herd would feel like, the shaking of the ground beneath his feet, the terrified faces of the beasts as they ran. Trembling, he lifted his lens to the sky to try and find the sun for reflection.
Three more scouts were goading the animals into a frenzy now. The cannar charged through the valley thunderously, shaking boulders and loose scree down from the walls as they moved like a terrible wave across the floor.
The first group of hunters had made their way down into the valley, and Anaxis was positioned between them and the cannar. He caught the light he was looking for with his lens and directed it into the eyes of the beasts at the front of the herd.
The animals reared up and started to fall about. Those behind them did not stop their charge; they trampled over the those in front. The confusion grew the charge into a stampede. Anaxis knew immediately that something was wrong.
The cannar broke into their fastest run, which saw the smallest of the animals fall and get crushed. Their cries filled the valley with horrible noise.
Anaxis tried to hold onto his lens as the animals came closer, to gain some sort of control over their charge, but he lost his courage when he saw the look of terror in one of their eyes, and dropped the lens and started to run. The hunters waiting for the animals, who could already tell that something was wrong, shouted at the boy to get out of the way, but there was nowhere else for him to run but before them. Some keen spearing on the part of the hunters brought a few of the cannar down, but could do nothing to stop the stampede.
The other waiting hunters started to run and pull out of their position on the valley floor, as Anaxis sped as fast as he could before the coming wall of animals. With the front of the herd at his back, he tried to run up the side of the valley, but it was too steep. He tumbled back down in front of the animals, and it was only through luck that he wasn’t flayed to death. Instead, he bounced off the ground and somehow managed to get hold of one of the animals. Something told him to hold on tight, which he did, as tight as he could, as the animal continued running at full tilt.
With two hands full of matted fur, Anaxis was dragged along the floor of the valley, rocks and stones lacerating his back and tearing his clothes to shreds. The noise of the cannars’ hooves over the sandy ground was so loud that he couldn’t even think.
The valley opened up again after the choke point, to scorched plain on one side, and a sheer drop-off on the other. The animal Anaxis had hold of skittered along the edge of the drop-off and then fell.
Anaxis let go now, as he fell through the air with a number of the beasts. They squealed and brayed as they tumbled through the air, and Anaxis could see nothing but their fur for a while, though he knew he was falling. When he caught sight of the sky again, it was just for a moment, before he splashed down into water.
He saw the forms of cannar tumble down through the water with him, and one of them strike a rock. Blood started to turn the water red, and then Anaxis hit the bottom of whatever body of water he had tumbled into, and fell unconscious.