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Molly Fyde and the Fight for Peace

Hugh Howey

Page 1


  The cave hollows thundered with the Wadi’s coming. The great pads of her feet shuddered the rock as claws the size of a lesser Wadi’s tail met the walls of her cave with the crack of shattered stone. When the Canyon Queen moved, the world knew. For in her old age, the great Wadi had done more than forget how to scamper soft and slow—she had outgrown the need.

  She came to a stop before one of the great watering shafts, the circumference of the black well wider than the span of her old birth canyon. The Canyon Queen bent her thick neck and drank from the condensation rushing out of side holes and gurgling down the deep shaft. She drank her fill, leapt across the gaping void, and continued her loud passage through the rock. As she bounded forward, her scent tongue picked up the vaporous trails of fear and haste from those scattering before her. None had ever grown to the Canyon Queen’s size, not that any alive could remember. And nobody knew what to do about it but stay out of her way.

  The massive Wadi took the last turn in her vast warren, and the round maw of light at its termination came into view. She loped toward it, reaching out with powerful limbs, gripping marble with her claws, pulling herself along in an ecstatic release of energy. She ran with the dizzying might of a thing unopposed and for the pure thrill of it.

  At the end of the shaft, she paused to read the air beyond. The wind outside was, as always, a turbulent mess. Her home was situated on the brightest point of them all, where the two great lights stood directly overhead and rarely cast a shadow. It was a very long way from where the Canyon Queen was born—way around where the canyons squeezed tight, where the Wadi holes dwindled to the size of her claw, and where the winds blew strong and steady in the same direction.

  Far enough around that way, just past her birth canyon, and a Wadi could escape the light altogether, reaching a flat land of complete shade. The Canyon Queen knew. She knew a Wadi could scamper out into a world of solid cave-dark, spoiled only by the shimmering glimmer caused by the two lights over the horizon. She knew such a place existed, where there were no canyons and no watering shafts and Wadi would freeze if they stayed too long. She knew of such a place, but now lived as far from there as possible. So far—so very far into the light—that she frequently struggled to remember how she had arrived.

  The great Wadi tasted the swirling, raucous air outside her warren and tried to sink claws into that long-ago past, remembering.


  Where have you been?

  The young Wadi flew in agitated circles around the small cave. Dust drifted from the roof, caught in the light from the tunnel’s entrance like a veil of worry. She exuded the same mixture of scents over and over: Where have you been? Wherehaveyoubeen?

  Her mate-pair staggered into the cave to join her, his body finally catching up to the scent of his arrival. He rubbed against her, scales scratching scales, but the young Wadi pulled back, leaving room for an answer. Where have you been? Wherehaveyoubeen?

  Her mate-pair had been missing for three sleeps, his scents trailing off to a sad nothing. Now he was back, but his smells were agitated and impossible to read. Wherehaveyoubeen?


  That single concept pierced the noisy smells, making itself clear in the young Wadi’s mind. She danced back and followed the cave’s turns to their shaft of meager drippings, leading the way. She tasted her mate-pair following close behind. Her brain reeled with the days of sadness mixed with the new joy of his return, all of it jumbled with the confusion of why he’d left and where he’d been. She reached their craggy hole of condensation and rushed to the far side. Her mate-pair leapt eagerly to the drippings. He drank and exuded his story:

  Dark, he scented. Dark and cold. A walk so far, the two lights burrow into the rock itself and the land erupts with color.

  Her mate-pair seemed to have lost his mind. The young Wadi licked the air, making sure she tasted it properly, wondering if perhaps he had spent three days chin-up to the two lights, roasting his brain.

  Where did you go? She couldn’t stop exuding it.

  Her mate-pair continued to drink what little water was there. The young Wadi looked over her shoulder, wondering if they would have to break a truce and fight for a bigger stream—

  The blue hunters.

  The image of large beasts on two legs flashed through her mind, scattering the rest.

  The blue hunters came while you slept, a long file of them wrapped in their single silver scale covering all but their faces.

  The young Wadi silenced her own worries and latched on to the stream of smells. She bent her head close to her mate-pair’s and breathed in every molecule lest some drift off to waste.

  They took eggs from the shafts across the canyon. I followed even bigger hunters deeper while you slept. They took one of the mate-pairs we fought with last season—


  The Wadi couldn’t help the interruption. Her body felt full to bursting with a thousand smells to release. Her mate-pair stopped his futile licking on the now-dry rock. He gazed at her, the blacks of his eyes wide in order to see in the dark. Or wider than even that, she saw. They were wide with fear.

  They came with silver claws as long as their bodies, claws that could reach in warrens and pull out Wadi and their eggs. I watched them from an abandoned shaft as they crept along in the shadows. One blue hunter came and looked in after me. I could see his long claw, but it was no longer shiny. Wadi blood covered it, and a body hung there, pierced through its belly.

  The young Wadi bobbed her head, trying to make sense of the images. Smells of the blue hunters had drifted through the canyons before, and some of the older Wadi—those who came back to lay their eggs—would leak such thoughts at times, but they were always like ghost memories, nothing vibrant and real and immediate as this.

  What did you do?

  I ran. I went deep in the caves, treading all over rock scented as someone else’s. I didn’t care. For all I knew, that someone else was gone, their body hanging on a claw. I ran until my brain cleared and I remembered you.

  I was still sleeping?

  It happened so fast. I came back through the fought-for interior, but no one was fighting. All were running. All were agitated. I ran past watering holes like we’d dreamed of, past eggs left abandoned, past Wadi twice my size and just as full of fear. I picked up your sleeping scent and came back to warn you. I was just around the bend when I heard the claw call.

  Claw call? The young Wadi weaved her head around the scent, trying to make sense of its newness.

  An urge to defend. To fight as one. I didn’t know it either, but it seized me. It was one of the elder females, one of the dwindling come back to lay her eggs.

  She wasn’t dead yet?

  Her mate-pair tapped his claws on the rock. Close, he scented. Very close. She had just laid her eggs and was feeding them. She told us. She commanded us to save them. My head was full of pictures of small blue hunters clutching her unborn babies. Her rage became mine, her scents my inner thoughts. I had no defenses—

  A flood of sorry drowned out what her mate-pair was saying. He exuded a week’s supply of begging forgiveness, of shame and self-pity. It hung like a black fog in the tunnel, obscuring all else. The young Wadi scampered up the wall and around the watering hole; she nestled against her mate-pair, oozing all the acceptance and soothing she could. Her bright cloud of scent soon dispelled his darker other, and she remembered why this was her mate-pair. He and no other.

  I had no defenses, he oozed again. I joined with the bigger Wadi and we gave chase. We followed the blue hunters into the winds and away from the twin lights. There were attacks, wh
ich brought bigger hunters with claws that shot lightning a million paces and with such precision—

  Images of charred Wadi, of twitching limbs, of fighting and the dead—they flitted through the young Wadi’s mind. She saw elder blue hunters coming to the rescue of the younger ones. She saw that this was some sick ritual, something they did often and in different places. This new danger danced in her vision, scaring her and mocking her at once.

  My cowardliness saved me, her mate-pair scented.

  The thought wafted away during a lull in the smells.

  My cowardliness saved me. It had more might than the rage driving me along, the rage from this old female and her stolen eggs. Or maybe the two had the same might, because I couldn’t return to you either. I was left following the eggs, wanting to retrieve them, but not knowing how. I had dreams of bringing them back and hatching them as my own. As if they were yours—

  The young Wadi nestled closer to her mate-pair. We’ll have eggs enough, she wanted to scent him, but didn’t.

  I followed them until the two lights sank beneath the rock and all became one great shadow. I followed them until the borrowed rage of the claw call melted from my bones and I felt, at last, how impossibly weary they were. I collapsed. I watched the blue hunters shrink across the black flatness, merging with so many other hunters in a bright, shiny warren that sat high on the ground. I laid on the cold rock and smelled nothing but death carried on the winds between me and these hunters. Death and alien excitement, our misery laced with their hope. It was awful. It was—

  She pressed her scales close to her mate-pair and exuded calm and peace. The horror of his ordeal was so clear in her mind. Of all the terrible dreams of where her mate-pair had been for the last three sleeps, none compared to this.

  I went in and out of sleeps so often, I lost track of time. My dreams were punctuated by alien scents, my mind filled with their jubilation and celebrations. The scents dissipated for some time, then new ones returned. Images of more blue hunters filled me, tormenting me as I lay dying. I wanted them to come and take me, to put an end to it, but then I kept thinking of you, back here and all alone.

  The young Wadi tensed; she looked through the darkness and searched for some sign of the hunters, of their coming. Her mate-pair picked up on the thoughts.

  No, he scented her, I staggered back to our canyon, their smells and the wind pushing me along, but they were not to follow. There are far more canyons than you can dream of. These new hunters chose to go down another—

  But for how long? she wanted to know. How long before they return?

  Many sleeps, I hope.

  We need to move away from this black place, she scented him.

  When we’re bigger, we will.

  The Wadi slapped at the dry watering hole, her claws clicking with a hollow, fragile sound. Grow bigger on this?

  She hated herself for scenting it. She hated the still air it brought between them. She scratched her mate-pair’s scales and added to his fog of sorry.

  He nuzzled her back, then scented: When we’re bigger, the eggs will come.

  What? What did he mean?

  The female who lost her eggs, the dwindling elder, our minds became as one when her rage flooded inside me. I saw the story of her eggs—she showed us why they were worth saving. She had journeyed deep along the winds many thousands of sleeps ago, growing bigger as the caves grew. There were visions of her mate-pair, of her with eggs in her belly, of her body shrinking as she fed them, of a dangerous journey back to the cool hatching rocks where we were born, of her mate-pair dead from defending her—

  Dead? The young Wadi nuzzled closer, her brain reeling from the shared experiences flashing through her mind.

  Dead, but ready to live on in those eggs, to pass along all her scents and memories. Oh, but if not for my cowardice—

  I’m glad of it, the young Wadi scented. I don’t want you dead.

  It’s the way of the eggs, he scented her.

  Then it’s good we aren’t having any.

  We’ll have them when we get bigger. Twice or triple our size now, and we’ll be having them and fighting our way back here for the hatching.

  Then we won’t get bigger, the young Wadi said.

  But if the hunters come again—?

  She rubbed her scales against his, could feel his trembling weakness still skittering through his bones, his heart racing and light from his ordeal.

  We’ll claw through that canyon when we get to it, she scented. For now, relax. Relax, and then we’ll move from this darkness and claim us a better watering shaft.


  Better shafts quickly became bigger shafts, and the two Wadi grew right along with them. It had been difficult to spot the changes at the time, since everything had enlarged together. Neighboring Wadi, their own claws, each other, the sizes of their ever-changing warrens, everything had grown as they made their way along the winds.

  Suddenly, the Canyon Queen could remember it well. Her scent tongue probed the recesses of her mouth and tasted the myriad molecules lodged there over thousands of sleeps of forgetting. She looked down at her massive claws, each of them as big now as her entire body had been when she’d lost him. She pressed one of her claws into the solid rock and watched the marble crack and splinter under the pressure. She had a sudden impulse to smash the weakened marble with her balled hand, breaking stone, or self, or both. She gripped the tunnel’s edge instead and tasted the winds of the past for more memories.

  She wasn’t sure why she needed to dwell on it. Why now, with the tunnels not able to get bigger, would she think on smaller times? Perhaps she longed for a return to that far-gone ago. Perhaps her reign as the Canyon Queen had lasted longer than a mind could take. Or maybe it was her way of avoiding the conspiracy swirling on the winds around her—the quiet scheming of the large pack of male Wadi banding together to do at once what no single male had done for thousands and thousands of sleeps—


  Not here.

  Why? The male Wadi craned his neck around and looked to the circle of light at the tunnel’s entrance. The drippings from no less than three watering holes could be heard simultaneously, and the echoes of several deep interconnected passages swallowed his claw clicks with ease.

  Is it not perfect? he scented.