We had sailed the Long Drift for centuries, but I had yet to come to terms with our new reality. My son had only borne witness to a fraction of it. He was still young, still struggling to understand his place in the world. The two children from the House of Dancers, Rakis and Siviks, were slightly older and had become his reluctant friends. They protected him from the adolescents who would steal his Ether when I wasn't looking. It was not a family to me, not truly. I had yet to understand that Ketch is kin.
Once we found the Great Machine, we learned that it had uplifted a whole new species, granted them power beyond anything it had ever bestowed to us. That betrayal drove some in our House to despair, others to death, and many to violence. Adapting to this betrayal was to be our next challenge. I listened to the poison-minded advice of soft-shelled cowards and tried to speak with the Great Machine's new chosen—our usurpers.
They repaid the Machine's kindness with violence. Killed three of my closest friends. I later discovered that they shucked their carapaces and wore their chitin as armor. We learned all we could about these usurpers, like how their limbs were supple and could be pulled from their bodies far easier than our own kind. I came to love the sound of their screams.
If violence was the only language they spoke, so be it. Time had made me fluent.
Some of my House refused to abandon the old ways. The fools draped themselves in the naïve raiment of Splicers, praying to a god that doomed us all. They could contemplate their failure with what was left of their lives in the cold dark. I had no time for them, save for goading them into raids. If we wanted to retake the Great Machine, we would not do it by prostrating ourselves like weeping children. We would take it back by force.
We killed the Machine's chosen, taking what we could, rooting through the rotten innards of their dying world. We took refuge in the shadows of their dusty moon where the usurper's ruins stuck out like bones from the dust. It was empty, it was silent, but there was value to be had in picking those old bones clean.
On one such expedition, I had strapped my son to me and set out to pick over a bounty of bones. But it was not the spools of spincable, the plates of hardsheet, or the fragments of clearcut that proved most valuable. It was what we found buried beneath the bones. What was buried deep.
We traversed that day into dark tunnels, where something hideous festered beneath this moon's surface. Horrific creatures that stank of wet soil, shrieked like dying animals, and tore at flesh. They possessed a ferocity we had never seen before, and my raiding party was being whittled down one by one. But when it seemed like these creatures were to finish the rest of us off… they relented.
They appeared to hear something. Something that terrified them. Something that left us to wonder: what are monsters afraid of? The creatures scurried back into their warrens and vanished into the subterranean temple they spilled out of. And for a moment, I thought I heard something too. Something soft, a whisper. But as forceful as a scream. That was when we saw it, situated in a rift beyond the temple. The true treasure of this dusty tomb.
A pyramid of jet black, opening its doors for us.
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