Then, slowly, awkwardly, as though she had never done it before to drink from a lake or stream, the matriarch knelt. Jerem Cozak walked to her shoulder and then, grabbing handfuls of her long, coarse fur, climbed up her side. Weaving from side to side, he balanced as she stood again.
“Come, Del Tanich of Ariel,” he said aloud, and gestured to his right. “It is time you held the reigns.” The other mastodons were drawing up alongside – not only the warriors, but the whole herd was crossing the field to line up across from us, thirty beasts in all, as I counted them.
A large young mastodon, with tusks even longer than the matriarch’s, came to her right side.
“The oldest daughter,” said Julius. “You will ride second-in-the-line.”
My wave of dread had not diminished. My heart raced. I felt cold all over. But I would be able to ask more questions if I rode next to him. I stepped forward. I could her hear great breaths from two paces away.
“Let her smell you, just as you saw him do,” said Julius again.
I held out my hand. She reached out with her trunk, and with a touch as light as a feather’s, flitted the tip of her trunk across my hand. She sniffed, and I knew she inhaled the White Swarm that was with us always –now, it was very bright and dense around me.
She knelt, and climbing I followed the example of Jerem Cozak. The coarse lank hair, I found, only hid the softer, denser fur closer to her body. And the fur only softened the steel-corded muscles of her flank. I could not imagine the strength such a creature must possess.
When she stood, I struggled to stay on, just as he had. And I found that not only did mastodons carry machines which could bind them to your will; they also carried machines which make you feel as they do and sense what they sense. The machines had been beginning this as I climbed. Now, the world of the mastodons entered me entirely.