On top of the highest point of the highest hill in the valley, there’s a large, flat rock. Up at this elevation, the stone catches every drop of fine, gold sunlight, and never has the hint of any shade.
The perfect basking spot.
So! Using logic - Only the most powerful naga would get to use it. Which, not coincidentally, is exactly the monster Max is looking for.
Max watches the horrible thing slither into the clearing, from his hidden place in the nearby brush. And keep slithering. 'Large' didn't quite cover the difference between this naga and the usual size.
Max keeps watching as it circles lazily around, runs a hand through its human-seeming hair - and curls up in a lump to bask in the sunlight, on hot stone.
Amazing. He didn’t think he’d catch it this same day, or at least not this easily. Logic, yes. It works.
The Beast of the Valley is a deadly, thieving sneak. Who knows how many - Max does, it's somewhere between three and five - people it's murdered. That human bit helps it seem normal, but no. It’s an awful, monstrous imitation of decent people.
But right here, right now, it’s alone and exposed. More surprisingly, it’s completely unaware! Max is super lucky he got this close without being sensed, slain in an instant, then devoured.
The human mouth on that thing yawns too widely for it to look truly human - The massive tail flops back as it lies down. Belly up, loosely coiled.
In most creatures, the stomach would be their vulnerable spot. With this one - it’s heavily armored. It’s the human bit or nothing, and that’s still going to be tough….
But when is Max going to get a better chance?
If he goes into that clearing - he might get a moment or two before it reacts. It hasn’t noticed him yet. He could sneak up on it. If he’s very, very quick, he might-
No, that’s not right. It should know its crimes before it dies.
Besides, sneaking isn’t fair.
Max straightens up, steps out into the clearing, and makes no attempt to disguise the clanking of his armor, or his footsteps.
There’s, oddly, no reaction as Max approaches. This creature surely spotted him. This isn't subtle... Though it doesn’t move, Max sees its muscles slowly tense.
When they’re almost five meters from each other, it rolls over, and trails its slit-pupiled gaze over him.
Max stops in his tracks. He tightens his grip on the hilt of his weapon. He’s not in range to strike - but neither is the beast. It’s looking at him, eyes half-lidded. Slightly coiled, arms resting against the stone. A few fingers tap on the edge of the rock.
It says nothing. The tip of its tail twitches. Watching.
Max draws a deep breath - then his sword.
Here it is. No going back.
“Avaunt, monster!” He shouts, loud and his voice carries both his courage and conviction. “Your reign of terror is over, and I,” He raises his voice. “Am here to vanquish you!”
It doesn’t move. Or answer him, at all. It stares for a long few seconds.
Then it rolls its eyes, flopping back down, and waves Max off. “Go away.”
Hey! Max is very threatening!
“I’m here to vanquish you.” He repeats. He thrusts his sword forward a bit. Maybe this thing didn’t get the point.
The beast makes a rude gesture, back still turned.
Hesitates. This. Isn't.
And sheathes his sword. He sees the naga’s ear twitch, and simply feels confused.
This monster can’t even react to a threat right! This isn’t how things are supposed to go! Where’s the attack? The bloodshed? At the very least there should be a better insult! This isn’t following the usual roles of, of monster and hero interaction, and…
This doesn’t fit the description at all!
“Hold on, beast,” Max says, and fumbles around in his pouches. Where did he put the thing, he knows it’s here somewhere. He beams, finally pulling the bounty notice out of his pocket.
Reading it again, the description seems right - he squints at the monster, sticking his tongue out - back down at the notice.
The naga looks over its shoulder at Max. Then around the clearing, opening and closing its mouth - then at him again. Frowning faintly. It rises up, very slow. Apparently Max warrants attention again.
“No, no, just a second!” Max waves at it before it can try and start what it didn't before, frowning. That’s not important right now. None of this makes sense.
“What are you playing at?” The naga asks, voice low. Slightly hissing. Coiled more tightly, raising up its human part. Anything that comes close is in for a very, very deadly hug.
Max watches the naga - still annoyed at him, but still not aggressive. Well....
“You seem like a well-fed beast,” He starts, rubbing his chin. He looks over this thing’s scales - nicely shiny, that probably means this naga’s hale and hearty. He points at it, eyes narrow. "How much of that was manflesh?”
The question seems to throw the thing. Max gets stared at.
“None.” It replies. Though it took a few seconds. It has a weird look on its face. Its long tail spreads loosely across the rock, while it folds its human-ish arms. “Humans aren’t worth the trouble.” A beat, where it seems like it's thinking. "I prefer to avoid you."
Max… hums softly, thinking it over. He narrows his eyes, cups a hand over his chin, but….
The beast does have a point.
This creature has no reason to lie! After all, eating humans might bring in more humans - but only humans like Max, who are all ready to slay the beast. If it has some wits - which it does, it didn’t attack first thing - it would have thought of those consequences. It’s not insane, or insanely aggressive.
Besides, if it wanted Max dead, they’d already be settling things! Man to monster, as honest as any adventure Max has had.
He tucks the bounty notice back in his pocket. Feeling slightly miffed.
Damn. Max came here for nothing.
“Well.” He clears his throat. He taps his foot for a second - then shrugs. “I’ll be off, then.”
“What?” The naga curls up tighter. Lucky thing Max isn’t close!
But Max knows monsters! This naga is alert, sure! It’s tightened its coils, in case it needs to strike, but it’s defensive! Nothing about its body language has said ‘attack’, from start to finish.
Also, it’s giving him the kind of disgruntled glare that Max has mostly seen from when he’s interrupted someone sleeping. And of course this thing couldn’t get back to sleep in the nice, warm sun, with him here. Max doesn’t seem like a threat to this thing, but it’s still wary.
“Sorry to have wasted your time,” Max says, and waves, as friendly as he can. “Case of mistaken identity.”
He gives it another half-wave, turns, and strides off.
His face feels hot.
Interrupting someone’s basking is probably rude, and Max even waved a blade at it! That’s, like, triple rude! This naga probably won’t be able to nap for ages after having an adventurer interrupt its rest. He's probably ruined the best basking spot in the valley.
Max smacks himself on the helmet. He should have asked first, and used sword later.
There’s a very soft noise behind him that gets cut off, falling silent.
Max unfolds the bounty notice again, and frowns at it, marching through the brush and forest. Damned if this isn’t frustrating! This trail didn't work out, and he wasted a lot of time on it.
Now he’s got to find the right target.
Max was supposed to be facing a, quote-unquote, ‘huge specimen’. Not like any other naga in recorded history. Which… that creature was. Most nagas, given legs instead of a tail, would barely come up to Max’s chin. That beast would have towered over Max if he’d been human.
But he was also supposed to be vicious, aggressive, and hungry for manflesh! A naga consumed with an urge to devour any human it saw. Mad with, quote, ‘cannibalistic urges’.
That can’t be the one Max just met. Of all the monsters he's met - and there's a lot - this one was maybe the single most docile.
Something else must be murdering humans around here. Max mentally crosses that creature off his hunting list, and hums to himself as he walks.
Time to figure out what it could be.