It Began

Stars-Bright shuddered, tail twitching, as he crouched under the fallen tree, looking warily at the pile of rubble that was his tribe's family-cave before. The mountain cliff it had rested under had been stable for generations, hundreds of them to hear the story-talkers talk about them, but the ground had grown restless lately, the earth frequently rumbling. And then last night, they had all scampered out of the cave to climb the high-trees and peer into the distance, where fire licked the sky, being spat from a distant mountaintop like a monster's maw, and a cloud bank that crackled with unnatural lightening gathered above it.

Stars-Bright huddled close to his mother, cold in the pelting rain. Without the family-cave anymore, there was little protection from the elements, not that he thought about it. He didn't think about things like earthquakes, or even about things like gods or fate. He just thought, simply, that something terrible had happened.

It was fortunate that they had gone out to watch the eruption, though, as it had spared most of them from the landslide that followed, collapsing their cave and sealing them off. He whimpered and snuggled into the pile of his family closer. It was so cold. He longed for the cave-home.

Meanwhile, something under the earth groaned in pain and flexed ancient muscles, stiff as the stone around them, pulling itself away. A vent into the underground source that had given it heat had burst open, spilling molten stone onto it's flanks. It wouldn't damage the thing, no, it was far too ancient and powerful for that, but it was annoying, and hot.

It shuddered as it moved it's body for the first time in centuries, although it's many impossibly long necks and heads had sought out the massive underground maze of caverns. It had been sealed away from the outside world for too long.

But…the earthquakes. They had been becoming more frequent, and it searched more frantically with impossible reach and agility. Eventually the mountain range it was trapped under had to collapse. It would be free. But it was worried…it had been there for so long, and even such an impressive creature as herself…her life was finite.

And with every beat of her massive, ten-chambered hearts, she felt the end of her natural life creeping closer. And she swore that she would not die trapped like this.

Stars-Bright had always been a curious one. It had nearly gotten him eaten alive by rakehorns some days, but other days it bore unexpected fruit- literally, such as when he discovered vines of clusterberries in the thorn bushes, or a den of unguarded screambird eggs.

So now, as he dug through the rocks of the old family-cave in the cold morning air while the others foraged for food, he struck upon unexpected fate as he saw a plume of steam rising in the cold air. At first he worried that perhaps fire would burst from the ground again…but soon enough, he realized that the steam plumed in a steady pattern, like his own hot breath.

In a flash of rare insight, he decided that some of the family was still alive, but stuck under the rubble, and began to dig - his kind was always good at digging. He pushed the large rocks aside and cleared out crumbled dirt and gravel…and finally, there was a space, leading into a bigger space, just big enough for him to squeeze into.

His claws scrabbled for traction as he slid into what remained of the cave, snorting at the smell of his own relative's decomposition…before a blast of warm air struck him. Like a breath, from somewhere deep. He saw that part of the back wall had collapsed, leaving another opening…and without pause, he climbed into it.

She groaned a deep, agonizing pain. She was no simple beast, after all, and she could feel her death coming. She was so old, and growing tired now and then. If she could not escape her prison or return home, to her own world, where all was dark and endless shadow and pause…she didn't want to think about that. Then, she sniffed, and smelled something she hadn't smelled since she had first arrived on this world. Fresh air.

She inhaled deeply again. Fresh air, smelling like rain and cave dust. The head that sensed it surged forwards…before encountering something. Stone, thick stone, with only a small opening in it! She cursed how cruel her dark gods could be.

Bellowing with all her maws, hidden under the earth, she felt her rage boil over and she thrashed, shaking the mountain range…then settled, exhausted, in no hurry to cut what was left of her existence short.

That was when she saw it

Stars-Bright squinted. Even though his kind was comfortable by starlight, there was nothing so dark as the inside of this cave, as she crawled forwards, squeezing himself through the tiny space, even as the world around him shook and there was a noise- such a horrible noise - like a nightcat's scream magnified a million times over - that made him curl up in pain until it ended.

But then his claw-tips grasped the outside of the tunnel, and he knew he had reached it's end, and pulled himself through. Suddenly, there was light, as an eye big as he was tall opened and looked at him, a shade of deep blue.

What…was that. She wondered, staring at the little creature who trembled before her eye. She was reminded of other creatures, ones that would worship her kind on other worlds…but this one…she looked at him, and he looked back. What a pitifully simple creature, she thought

Similar to many she had seen, one head, body, arms, legs, a tail. It's eyes were big and dark and scared, set on a head with a slim little snout, covered with a layer of fur that condensed into keratin plates down it's back. She snorted slightly with that head, testing, and it was startled, the plates on it's back poofing up in a display that might have been impressive, but made it look like a large ball of fur.

Pitiful. She sighed deeply. She could sense that it wasn't even smart enough to comprehend what she was, much less help her. So close, but not quite. She rested her head on the floor of the chamber and closed her eyes, a deep sickly shade of gray-green in depression, to rest again. Of course, they snapped open again when she felt something….scrabble on her snout.

She looked again. It was resting on her head, touching her with delicate little claws that clinked against her hard armor and leathery flesh, it's tail, ended with a tuf of fur covering a small bony club, wagged. It was happy, curious to explore her. She huffed, and it went sailing off her nostrils, landing agily and going right back up on her head, seemingly attracted to the light of her many eyes

Then she paused

Perhaps it could not free her as she was now…but she could spread herself other ways. It was a horrible price to pay, and made her ill to think of it, but it was the only alternative. How clever, she thought to herself, am I?

Stars-Bright enjoyed the color-changing lights in the cave, staying near them, touching it's face. It felt like no creature he had ever seen, with a lipless jaw and teeth so plentiful and huge that they were bigger around than his waist, and so many that he could not comprehend their number even just exposed. But it was alive, he could feel it, even through the leathery skin and armor like stone.

He turned to glance back at the opening to the rest of the cave, wondering if perhaps he should leave this great monster to itself, and suddenly something grasped his tail and he was jerked backwards. He saw, in the dim light of the creature's eyes, it's teeth closing around him and many wet, thick tongues tougher than vines wrapping around him, then there was the sensation of movement, so fast his head felt strange.

It felt like forever, although the trip was rather short, and suddenly he was spat out of it's mouth. It was even darker here, and he looked around, unseeing, before many, many, *many* great, glowing orbs opened all around him. He stared at them, fascinated…and felt something like warning calls, no, other calls of his family in the back of his mind.

The creature's brain was not advanced enough for her to control it, but it was just close enough to influence. She prided herself on thus, as she urged the little creature's simple animal thoughts. She would leave her, one way or another, before she died. And this little being would carry her out.

Stars-Bright inhaled deep, sniffing at the massive beast and the glowing orbs, his mind curiously pushed into his heat cycle early, even though he reasoned that he was not enough summers old to choose a mate yet. But then a smell washed over him, a smell like a deep musk, and like the healthiest females in his family, only greater.

And then his eyes went half-lidded, and he stumbled into the darkness, tail wagging eagerly.

The family waited for Stars-Bright to return from foraging for what felt like a long time, a few days, before they finally decided that he had fallen prey and left, heading for new cliffs and new caves. They found another family, and eager to have a home again, accepted their mates and their cave as their own. And things were good. the earth stopped rumbling, fire didn't lick the sky iin the distance anymore, and food was plentiful.

But one night, something changed. Star-Bright's mother, Sun-Heat, raised her head and sniffed the air. She smelled something…familiar. Her other children did the same, the whole family's attention was gained, and those who were already asleep were roused by excited chatter and communication as something grew near. Star-Bright. The lost one.

And he came. But he was…different. There was a spark in his eyes that none of the others had, and although they could never comprehend it, months had been spend in the deep beast's dying thoughts pushing his brain forwards. She needed something to remember her, and memory took a mind, a true mind.

And he did not come alone, he came surrounded by a dozen babes, only a month or so old and already independent and ferocious. And although they smelled like the family, they were not the family. Not quite. They did not have the same fur as the family, and their fur-plates had become stiff and sharp, their claws longer, their teeth more fierce…and their eyes. Their eyes glowed and glimmered like lantern-bugs in the dark, and their were fierce, and smart.

Before they were seven summers old, they chose their mates and left, heading back to the cave whence they had come. Small tremors in the earth had opened the caves up further, and they returned to find their mother dead, but it was of no concern of theirs. For she was still alive, in some form. In all of them.

And what was left of her told them that deep in the earth, was where she was from, in the darkness and unending silence…and they would return home.


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