A/N Alright, some words before going further. Thank you to everyone who reviewed this story. This chapter is here only because of you. Also what I want to say that I have no idea how often I am going to upload updates or if there is going to be the next chapter at all. I have a very clear vision of the plot and how it is going to evolve, all details of Vipers' world included, but that's a problem. I prefer making up the stories not writing them. So yeah...
If something is unclear I am more than happy to answer your questions. The chapter is not edited by Beta-reader so all mistakes are mine and there certainly are some of them.
Please review, because who knows, maybe your review will persuade me to write more. I hope it doesn't sound as reviews whoring.
See you soon/Iki greito/À bientôt
The cool air of the night with every breath rushed through her nostrils and lungs, pinching them. The icy fingers were sliding beneath the scales, slowing and restraining her movements. Despite that Thysa followed her mother's figure without complaining.
They descended down by meandering valleys, which carved the mountains array, not meeting any living being on the way. Even the wind finally subsided, leaving them in a tensed silence. Anyone else would have easily gone astray in this naturally formed maze, but in the ramifications, the older Excetrawould not stop for a moment, always knowing the way. These hills and rocks were their home for as long as Thysa remembered herself.
As they passed a narrow gorge, pressed by steep rock cliffs on either side, they found themselves at the foot of the mountains before a never-ending sea of sand dunes in front of them. The sickle of Khaja already was hidden behind the horizon, and only the brightest stars were still shining in the sky, slowly resigning for the ever-brightening sky.
The weather was warming up a bit, but it was still freezing cold. The low temperature made her breath hard, her heart was pounding in her chest and her thoughts were unbearably slow. Tail movements became sluggish, and though Thysa saw her mother feeling the same way, they continued the journey. If you delay too much time and miss an opportunity, the family will be left without food. An empty stomach was a more unpleasant thing than a bit of cold.
She corrected the crossbow position on her back, rubbing her hands as she tried to get the cold out of them. Meanwhile, her mother was blowing warm air into her palms, making a soft hiss. But in general, they walked in silence, as usual in hunting. Unless several words were interlaced. Thysa was not talkative, and the mother, after her sister's departure, closed inside herself, as with her daughter would have left a part of her. But according to grandpa, her mother was always prone to hiding emotions and being cold, and now it's only got worse. And when Thyra, her sister, inherited these traits, Thysa was faster to show her emotions like her father. Father she never saw. While she was still peacefully laying in the egg, a mine disaster struck. When someone lit a crystal clod, an explosion occurred, killing everyone who worked there, including her dad. Mom looked after four summers Thyra that day.
Mom avoided talking about it, what Thysa fully understood. And when she differed from her mother in all qualities, the sharp eye was her legacy. She not even knew how to use a crossbow thrown over her shoulder, but was a great shooter. She was able to count missed shots on her eight fingers. She was proud of that. Rare of her kin ever held a crossbow, let alone been able to use it.
As they slowly continued their journey along the sierra through the wind-blown dunes, the sky gained the prism of all colors; from purple and blue to red and orange. The air soon became pleasantly warm. Her tail even shivered with pleasure as she felt the heat slowly returning to her veins.
Suddenly, a bright light flooded the world like fire, scattering all the remnants of the morning haze. Thysa with her eyes closed lifted her head, meeting the rising suns. Astra and Arona, the two star-sisters, began their journey in the heavenly vault. One from the east, the other from the west, they would travel throughout the sky until finally, they would meet at noon, merging into one circle, thus shining only more vividly and brightly. They were the reason life could have existed in Harena, providing the much-needed warmth. As a result, they were of great importance in the culture of Excetras'.
Thysa's thoughts were interrupted when suddenly her mother stopped and invited her to come closer. It seemed she hadn't even noticed the new dawn. The cold manner remained in her movements, only when Thysa got nearer, she noticed a slight liveliness in her eyes.
"What can you say about them?" The elder Excetraasked, without taking her gaze off the ground.
Thysa looked at the same direction, seeing small hollows in the sand. They led from the middle of the desert and followed towards the mountains. She leaned closer to the ground, resting her hands on the sand that had already been warmed by the two suns, to inspect the traces closer.
"From their shape and depth, I guess a belay passed by," she looked at her mother, but nothing changed in her expression. A sign that she was heading in the right direction. "Maybe six to seven summers old. Steps are wide. Probably a male. Healthy and strong. Serious opponent. The footprints are quite fresh," She put out a sensitive forked tongue just beside one of the footprints in the sand. After a moment, he pulled it back, tasting the smell and trying to decipher the information it was giving.
"The scent is fresh. Judging by everything, he passed by here about half an hour ago." She finally concluded her observation by retreating from the ground.
Being able to read traces was one of the first things she learned in hunting, even before she learned how to shoot a crossbow. Such checks were made to see if she hadn't lost these skills. Elder Excetra nodded in agreement for her relief.
"You're right, though I wouldn't be surprised if this male is nine summers old. A really serious opponent, " Mother looked around as hoping to see the wandering owner of these footprints. "I thought they no longer come in these lands. Several summers have passed since I saw one. It seems I was wrong, "Her gaze stopped at the mountains, in the direction where the footprints led. "He probably pulls towards the source of the water and I guess which one. If we are in a hurry, we can still overtake it with road shortening. Well done, Thysa, "Mother praised her before turning to continue the hunting, this time at a much faster pace.
Thysa curved her tail shyly. Mother rarely wasted of praises.
For a while, they followed the footpaths, leading straight to the brown peaks of stone. While they were going uphill by one of the dunes, Thysa felt something steep buried in the sand with the scales of her belly. Not bothering to lean over, she unearthed a layer of sand and stared at the finding with surprise. There was nothing else but a blue crystal. Grabbing it, Thysa rotated the sharp-edged pebble with interest.
Usually, the crystal layers lay deep beneath the earth, hiding from the outside world and waiting for someone to dig them out. In order to reach the enormous seam of the Blue crystal, a thick layer of rock and sand had to be overcome.
"Thysa," her mother called, dragging her attention.
She stood on the top of the dune. From her gaze, Thysa realized that she wanted to show her something. Quickly, she overcame the rest of the dune, approaching the patiently waiting Excetra.
What she saw made her gasp. There was a giant pit in front of her. Its width within 50 belays, placed one after the other, and the bottom… the bottom couldn't be seen. It disappeared into the black abyss, which absorbed every ray of light that fell inside. The sides of the rock were cut into the precise spirals, swirling down, eventually disappearing into the darkness.
"The abandoned mine," the Mother stated the obvious.
Thysa was surprised not by the fact of finding the mine, but by its size. The pit's gullet was three times as wide as the usual crystal mine. She was also troubled by imagining the size of the machine that was capable of digging it.
"It seems they found a new way to excavate crystals and uglify further our planet's surface," said mother darkly. Her eyes flickered with cold flame and pent-up rage, however, she held her tongue. "Come on. We have to hurry if we still want to catch that belay. "
For a few more moments, Thysa seems to be hypnotized by the black abyss, not being able to drag her look away. She remembered still holding an against the suns shining pebble. Without thinking too much, she threw it into the pit. Stretching her hearing, she listened for any sound coming from it.
There was a bird howl high in the sky, but that was it. No sound or echo returned from the darkness, as the abyss could not only absorb the light but the sound as well. Keeping a safe distance, she bypassed the former mine, imagining herself the ever-falling through the endless emptiness.
Excetras used this blue crystal as a source of heat. When ignited, a large amount of it was released. Properly machined, it could be turned into incandescent lamps and ornaments. Traditionally, the King's and Queen's crowns have been adorned with the brightest pieces of the Blue crystal found in Herena. And the body of the dead Excetrawould is burned by the heat accumulated in the rock. Like that, the soul of Excetraleaves the body, wherein the sky Khaja was already waiting for her.
But later other ways how to use the crystal were found out. The crystal was perfect for galaxy exploring spaceships as a fuel. But this was nothing compared to the energy you could get after concentrating the heat inside the crystal into the smaller space while exploding, diffusing a green light.
Now it was a major substance of plasma rifle ammunition and explosive charges in most systems of the Planetary Friendship and Cooperation Confederation. Various usefulnesses of the Blue crystal, of which the depths of Harena was full, dragged Elders Council attention, until more than a hundred summers ago, with Advent at the forefront they attacked their planet. The brutal and debilitating war did last long. And while in their own planet fighting Excetras would do more damage and bring more casualties to the invaders than they would receive, they eventually had to surrender for the power of the Elder Council and their endless military resources.
The ultimatum of the Elders submissions was signed by at that time ruling King and Queen, whereby Harena and all its inhabitants got into the structure of the Confederation, and Queen herself was executed with her life-long mate for the crimes against benevolent elders. All of this wasn't spoken in the schools of Advent, and what the little is told, less truth hides in these words.
The title of the Rulers later went to their descendants, though Thysa wasn't sure how much authority they retained in their hands. Maybe they were just puppets controlled by the Elders Council. Thysa did not know that but doubted that the Rulers of Harena would approve the kind of their planet's spoiling she was facing today. At any rate, her loyalty laid to the Queen and the King, to the leaders and guides of their race, not to the foreign aliens who controlled them from somewhere far in the galaxy.
As they reached the foot of the jagged rocky mountains, Astra and Arona were already shining high in the sky, hotter and hotter. Thysa felt a surge of energy inside her. It was their curse and blessing at the same time. Although in the cold they were left in an unpleasant and vulnerable situation, in the warmness their strengths could heighten a few times, letting for them beat bigger opponents.
On the brown, wind-blasted stone it wasn't possible to follow the tracks anymore, only the faint scent would give up the movement direction of the belay. As a mother guessed, the creature was heading towards the mountain spring through the wide path of the valley. Due to uncommon rainfall, freshwater supplying places, even during the wettest period, was a rarity, so it wasn't hard to have an idea which one was his goal. Instead, of following after belay, Excetras slipped out of the valley, heading to the narrow lane, hardly visible from the side even for the sharpest eyes owner.
Swaying between stone blocks and rocks, the narrow road allowed them to reach their desired location quicker. Due to the two suns in the sky, the shadows did not fall from the high mountains above their heads, so Thysa could feel the rays warming her scales all the time. She hadn't been to these places for a long time, so she was completely devoted to the memory and guidance of the older Excetra. Her mother knew these places as well as she was shooting with a crossbow, so she wasn't surprised when she heard the refreshing flow of water behind the giant boulder that seemed to be standing here still from the beginning of the world.
Soon they saw the spring itself, flowing rapidly down the cliffs into the pool and playfully reflecting the light. There were tall cactus along the waterfront. Their broad stems adorned with flowers of various colors.
Looking at the crystal clear water flowing, which seemed to invite her to come and drink, Thysa felt her throat dry. Unfortunately, the scent may have betrayed them, so she swallowed dry saliva, looking for a good position for the shot, but the older Excetrahad found something similar. It was a space between the rocks, far from the source without risking being seen, but close enough for a shot.
"What do you think? The mother whispered barely audibly. It was unknown, maybe the prey was already nearby.
Thysa grabbed the crossbow and appended its steelyard to her shoulder, aiming at the imaginary target.
"It's great," she replied half whispering. A slight nod was the only response.
They both held their elongated bodies to the stone, catching a glimpse towards the direction from where the so-called belay had to appear.
Astra and Arona were still shining in the sky, slowly traveling through the firmament as they approached closer to each other, meanwhile, the two Excetras were still waiting. Time went by and their hunted creature showed no sign of appearance. The thirst was increasing, and the rays of the sun began to burn the unmoving scales.
Doubts were growing in Thysa's head if belay was going to show up at all, instead of leaving them on the bare stone to roast like fools. It seemed even the mother was losing patience. Her eyes dimmed, her tail jerked impatiently from time to time.
Thysa was about to surrender and move from the hiding place just before a muffled grunt sounded. She immediately regained her alertness, clutching her crossbow firmly, her fingernails squeezing into its bony frame. Excitement covered her whole body. It didn't take a few moments for the owner of the sound to emerge from behind the rock with all its beauty.
Creatures low but long and large body was carried by 6 lower legs. If someone tells her to describe the being in one word it would be disgusting. The bald, wrinkled skin protected from the scorching suns. The muzzle contracted and narrow. Two drooling tusks intervened from the mouth. But it was their food.
She aimed for a deadly shot at a slowly moving creature. In a direct battle, the belay might have been very dangerous with its sharp tusks, but from the one creature such as this, their family could victual for a few weeks and even settle some for the dry season.
The creature turned its comparable little head towards the water, revealing the thin skin of its neck. She was already pressing the trigger, but out of sudden the ground beneath and the air heavily was shaken, followed by a powerful explosion. A cloud of dust rose into the air. Before she could react properly, a huge boulder rolled next to her, crushing everything in its path. Her attention was only dragged for a moment, but it was enough. By a sound scared belay bounced off from the spring, having forgotten the water, it was turning to run to the direction he crawled from a few moments ago.
Panicked that all this waiting would be in vain, she leaped from her position. There was no time for aiming, so she immediately squeezed the trigger, feeling as an arrow with great force left the temple.
Holding her breath, Thysa watched as the arrow flew through the air at tremendous speed before hitting the hind leg of a belay.
The arrowhead stuck deeply and the belay howled out of pain, but the shot was not fatal, nor did it stop the prey. Thysa just stood there desperate, not knowing what to do. From the total failure saved her mother. She pushed Thysa behind herself, opening her wide jaw. A forked tongue shot at a lightning speed towards the running belay. The muscular tongue wrapped around one of its short legs and was pulled back to Excetraagainst its own wish.
Not waiting for belay to respond she coiled around his body, slowly drawing air from its lungs. But belay wasn't going to give up so easily. He waved and kicked, trying to slip away from the coils of the excetra, But mother was too skilled to let that happen. The warmness that gave strengths for all Excetras was also on her side. The death-bringing coils pressed more and more while the belay tried to break free.
Thysa could only watch this duel of will and strengths. Her intervention could only hinder her mother. It also seemed that belay's potency was slowly fading. Realizing that death was imminent, its eyes panicky ran sideways in search of any salvation. In the end, its gaze met hers and it appeared to her that she felt his fear and suffering caused by the lack of oxygen. She turned her look away.
It was their way of life that helped them stay strong, and only the strongest survive in nature. That's what her mother said. But was she strong enough? She didn't know that. But they had to do what they had to, even if it was unpleasant.
At that point, any sounds of fighting subsided. She leaned back. The gray belay body lay motionless. The mother slowly pulled away from him, pulling her tail off the creature. She breathed hard, her hands trembling slightly.
"Mother?" Thysa asked. The older Excetra turned towards her suddenly, before she added quickly. "Is everything alright?"
"Yes, yes," she predicted, as much as I could.
"It's a shame I missed it. I didn't want him to suffer, "Thysa said softly, looking at the wound she had inflicted, but her mother cut her off.
"You should not worry about whether the prey suffered or not. Belay could escape from us, leaving us empty-tailed and without food, "Mother's words hit coldly as steel, forcing her hood to shut in shame.
Probably when she saw this, her mother spoke a little more softly this time.
"What's more interesting to me is what caused this explosion in the first place."
Thysa had already forgotten the reason for her miss shot. She looked around, trying to remember from which side the noise came from.
"Whatever exploded, I think the blow came from there," Thysa nodded shyly toward where the dust cloud rose a few minutes ago.
The older Excetra took another deep breath before pulling in the direction she pointed.
The climb was difficult and their bodies were not adapted for climbing steep cliffs. Without strong nails, going deeply into the stone, it would be much harder or even impossible to do that at all. Finally, the grueling climb ended and two Excetras found themselves on top of a rock. Thysa overlooked a wide valley surrounded by mountains. It would have been a normal valley, no different from any other standing in the sierra, except for a smoking pit in the middle.
Thysa soon spotted Excetras, lurking around with various tasks. But with a better look, she realized her mistake. Instead of the usual green and orange, or blue scales, the so-called Excetras had white scales, brightly gleaming before the suns.
These were clones. The greatest insult to their race, invented by the Adventist authorities. There was one thing to use their planet to extract the blue crystal, but produce them like some kind of tools? It was unnatural and insulting to the existence of their race. She didn't even notice how her fists clenched.
Now Thysa has focused on clone tasks. From the trucks, decorated by the Advent symbol, white clones pulled huge metal parts and joined them into a single, giant ring. On its sides, Thysa recognized the ridges seen on the sides of an abandoned mine.
It is the same horrible machine which made that dark abyss, She realized.
"It seems much more effective than the traditional way. Maybe good. Fewer Excetras will have to slave in those hellish mines, "Mother said before her face darkened with shadow.
She probably remembered father.
"I just wonder what they'll do to us when all the resources are mined. Will they leave us alone or get rid of how the townspeople get rid of their garbage.
Her mother's settled deep in her head. A feeling of something terrible and inevitable surrounded her.
"Let's go. There is still a good road to home, and there are only a few hours left before the Merger, " Mother`s voice woke up her from terrifying thoughts.
Thysa threw the last hateful glare at the metal monster, the threat to her known world as expecting it to broke up.
Unfortunately, nothing similar happened and the clones continued to constructing the giant ring. Thysa sighed and followed her mother down.