The Old Guard – The Monksville Chronicles #76

Vorcolt of the Klaww watches keenly from one of many interconnected burrows as The Mink dives for his life and wiggles for deeper water. A moment later, the heron lands in the shallows and begins to strike the sand into which it planted its decoy, one of Vorcolt’s many molted shells. Wingflappers and landwalkers are queer creatures, very strange creatures indeed, and though they routinely bring bloody decimation to one another, none will ever catch the final original member of the old guard, Mighty Mother Monksville’s last line of defense against the most wicked, dangerous threat of all: not the unrestrained reproduction of smallfish and algae, but the piles of corpses the species leave behind.

The many feathers of the turkey vulture flock like to fancy themselves the greatest scavengers in the keep of Monksville, but buzzards are merely crayfish of the sky. The crayfish clans have been servicing Monksville since the days it was a grassy valley with a great roaring river tearing through its middle. Before the days of The Basin and the Northern Leg and the massive Southern Expanse there was the Wanaque River and there was Beech Brook. The shellbacks used the shallower brook as a spawning ground and a central hub for all their activity; a healthy population of crustaceans would live there cycle-round to ensure the species never went extinct. The crayfish had many and many’a predator across the few districts of the Wanaque River – raccoons, otters, riverfish, all the like – but they were seldom bothered in the gentle flow of Beech Brook. Perhaps this was due to the abundance of rocks in the water and the interconnected burrows beneath them, or mayhap it was the sheer size of the crawdad bastillion; regardless, Beach Brook was a grand crawdad haven; all crawdads were welcomed there without fuss, regardless of which clan they claimed in the greater river.

Alas, this wonderous sense of unity and camaraderie amongst crayfish went swiftly away when the crawdads ventured out to the Wanaque River. The river was divided into three districts: North Bend, which stretched from the forest behind what is now called The Sticks to the break in the flow south of what is now revered as North Cove; Upper Flow, which began at the aforementioned break in the flow and kept north at the western fork, coming to an end at the eastern fork; and Lower Flow, which began at the western fork and kept south through the eastern fork, halting at the spillover point where the river gave way to the mighty waterfall where the beavers’ dam now stands. Lower Flow was patrolled by the Tailwhip clan and Upper Flow by the Tennae clan, leaving only the Klaww clan to hold watch over North Bend.

In the Beech Brook safe haven, all was well between crawdads, division and tension were things of myth and legend; along the Wanaque River, however, territory was highly disputed and bodies were often laid to rest in piles until the current of the river pulled them over the edge of the waterfall. It was a barbaric time, as most old times are, and Vorcolt only knows so much of it through stories he was sent through his mother’s tail before he hatched from his egg; according to those stories, this savage way of life is how the crawdads originally came upon the ancient art of scavenging.

According to the high matriarch of the Klaww clan, crawdads originally only ate that which still roamed the realm of the living. Any lifeform incapable of escaping the grip of their claws was duly and swiftly brought to death and pinched apart into bite-sized pieces; smallfish, algae, riverweeds, aquatic insects, the more incompetent amphibians, twigs, pebbles (if they got desperate enough) were all chopped up and stuffed down the hatch and the crawdad race was propagated in full. Eventually though, the territory wars led to the piling up of crawdad bodies above the river’s surface, and something had to be done about it. Noclaw will say for sure which clan started the trend, but cannibalization of crawdads passed spread like wildfire after it was accepted by the shellders, the eldest of the crawdad species who kept to the gentle waters of Beech Brook from winter ‘til autumn. Before too long, the cannibalization extended past the realms of scavenging; what were once simple disputes over boundaries quickly spiraled into something else, something carnal and not so deserving of a word, for words are symbols which dictate reality; even though crawfish do not speak they are more than capable of thinking, and if one were to tap into the consciousness of a Monksville crawdad, one would find Existence’s most extensively developed lexicon of labels, terms, definitions, and words, one that far surpasses the complexity and intricacy of our own.

The same cannot be claimed of their social behavior, unfortunately; before too long, living crawdads became a main staple of the crawdad diet. Those were the darkest days of Monksvillian crawdad history, the darkest days indeed; fortunately, when the giants settled the valley, the cannibalization slowed down drastically. I’d like to say it was because of a massive movement of unity once the crawdads realized there was a new lifeform populating the valley, and an apex lifeform at that, but I’m not one to blatantly lie in the yarns I spin – the giants simply began to catch and consume the crawdads, and so the little lake lobsters decided to come together and work towards the survival of their species rather than against it; as the wise giants say, all it takes is a grand threat to bring peace to a warring populous.

Of course, all this ended when the river dried up and the crawdads were forced to swarm back to Beech Brook; we giants were not the only denizens to feel the poverty and struggle of Monksville’s last and final drought. When we danced for days and the heavy rain came down, the bastillion disbanded and the crayfish scattered like dust in the wind, or rather like loose sand in the water. Few of the crawdads from those days remain today, but Vorcolt is one of them, and he proudly carries his lost heritage with him by baring the name of his clan, not out of a want to go back to the dark days of old, but as a badge of honor for getting through it and living to tell the tale. Vorcolt of the Klaww is the last survivor of the Klaww clan, the final active member of the original old guard, and the only part of his family to occupy the many interconnected burrows around the shores of Dino Island.

Vorcolt of the Klaww’s bride, with their brood safely glaired to the underside of her tail, fled Dino Island many shinecycles ago, shortly after the myriad of healthy eggs were transferred from her insides to her out-. She tried to convince Vorcolt to follow her, tried to convince him that staying at Dino Island would mean certain death, but he’d have none of it. He had spent the last prime cycles of his life here digging out dozens of burrows underneath every viable rock and the massive subterranean tunnel system which links them all and allows safe escape in the event that predators come and start flipping stones. He tried to convince her it was safe to stay in the burrows, perfectly safe, the burrows were designed with safety and nothing more in mind, but that time, ‘twas she who had none of it. Vorcolt’s bride took to deeper water in the direction of that queer gargantuan boulder with the smooth surface which appeared the night the mountains trembled; he means to join her eventually, before the eggs hatch at the end of the spring, surely, but that’s a ways away. Vorcolt still holds his domain over the shallows of Dino Island and he’d like not to give up his grand magnum opus until he no longer has a choice in the matter… though the nights are getting longer and lonelier with each new set of the great shine. So long, and so, so lonely…

He’ll know to flee Dino Island when the time to do so comes; until it does, Vorcolt of the Klaww shall live in the moment. For right now, that means he shall relish in the entertainment inherent in watching a duel between Dino Island’s two greatest terranean predators, the reasons his family left the island behind. To see one pick off the other would be a treat, but to see them decimate one another, to see a stalemate reached? That would be a prize.

After the heron takes off with The Mink clamped to its slender leg, Vorcolt of the Klaww loses track of them completely. Now would theoretically be the perfect time to flee, when neither of his predators are there to see him, but… then he wouldn’t get to see the victor. He’ll flee when he learns who won the bout, for the sake of having a story to share with his many children as soon as they learn to interpret meaning from the clicks of his big, meaty claws. Yes, Vorcolt of the Klaww shall flee just as soon as one of the predators returns to the island, he’s very sure of that.

Until he sees the goose.

This has been the thirteenth subchapter of the fourth chapter of the book The Monksville Chronicles. Here is everything you need to know about it:

The Monksville Chronicles

I’ve written a few other books, too. Click here to see the list.

The Hillside Commons has a Facebook page. Here’s that.

If you’re there, hypothetical reader, thank you for being there. From this day on, we move forever forward~

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