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Molly Fyde and the Fight for Peace tbs-4, Page 2

Hugh Howey

  The sudden slip of a claw returned the Wadi’s focus on the climb. He was far enough from the light for his eyes to be blinded, leaving just his wagging tongue to show him the way. The cold already made his joints stiff, his heart racing to keep his insides warm and moving. He knew from that long-ago day of giving the blue hunters chase—and also from his near-dying fall below the canyon floor—that the cold was a danger. The key was to move fast and full of purpose, to know one was going to survive the ordeal. He had never known that before and had gotten lucky. This time, he would be swift and knowing. He would just grab a few.

  The shaft twisted near the bottom, curving flat before jogging to one side. The Wadi kept to the roof of the tunnel, keeping out of the flow of gathering water. He released a soft trail of scent behind to mark the way out.

  The crackle of rock sliders could be heard ahead of him. He tasted the air, took a turn, then dove back down as the shaft deepened. There were more sliders further in the shaft, but he wouldn’t be greedy. He flexed his fingers, shaking the cold out of his joints. The numbness was already in the tip of his tail and growing toward his legs. He hoped his mate-pair wouldn’t worry—

  There! Two sliders, maybe three, clacking back and forth.

  The dead husks of the small, black creatures were often found in the lowest warrens. The male Wadi had sniffed from neighbors that they were known to clean the skeletons of dead Wadi. They had certainly seemed intent on doing something like that when he had fallen into their midst many sleeps ago. The eating, however, had eventually gone the other way around, as the rock sliders proved to be tasty morsels once their teeth had been removed from his hide.

  The Wadi crept forward, balancing haste with the need to be silent. He clung to the ceiling and crawled out over the gathered bugs, homing in on their scents and persistent clicks. He readied himself with courage smells, ignoring the cold swelling in his bones. Before he could reconsider, he released his grip, spun in the air, and fell claws-down across the small creatures.

  The rock sliders erupted in a mix of hiss and clack, their little teeth buzzing within their hard, shiny shells. Two of them bit into the Wadi’s belly and held tight. A third attempted to flee, but the Wadi slapped it with his hand and brought it close. He moved it near his soft belly until the rock slider’s teeth sank deep.

  He had them. Or they had him. Either way, it didn’t matter—he knew from experience that the buggers wouldn’t let go. With claws he could barely feel and muscles stiff with chill, he turned and ran back through the deep tunnel, following his scent trail around and up, running and scampering until the smell of his mate-pair began to intermingle with his own harried scents.


  Where did you go?

  The young Wadi forced herself to scent the question calmly. Her mate-pair had dashed off amid a dizzying cloud of fondness and returned cold and trembling. He responded to her question by rolling to his back and reaching for the black critters—each one as big as his fist and attached to his belly.

  Why? Whywhywhy?

  She reached for one of the rock sliders and wrapped two sets of claws around it; her mate pair was leaking a bit of blood around the creature’s bite. With a loud crunch, she broke the shell of the thing, forcing it to let go. She reached for another while her mate-pair worked to extricate the third.

  For you, he was scenting.

  Silly, silly Wadi.

  She couldn’t help but release the thought. The last two bugs came free with the pop of their shells. In the dim light of the tunnel entrance, she could see the rows of tiny holes in her mate-pair’s flesh, all leaking the barest amounts of blood. It was all too often that his behavior confused her, and just as often that she found herself drawn closer to something she couldn’t understand.

  They’re for tonight, he scented. They’re for our eggs.

  The young Wadi shivered as soon as the thoughts tickled her tongue. She forgot the dying rock sliders and pressed herself against her mate-pair. She forgot the scent of death hanging in their temporary home and rubbed her scales against his. She forgot the blood on him, the need for water, the need to remain aware, and just lost herself in the yielding. In the pleasure—

  What was that?

  She froze. The shivering cold in her mate-pair had subsided, but she could still feel the chill in his bones. She sniffed the air, but didn’t quite smell—


  What is it? she scented, masking the ire at the moment’s interruption.

  Something is coming, her mate-pair scented. Something—

  But he didn’t finish the smell. The thought remained, half-formed and drifting, masked by the terrible odor of death come amongst them, the ripe and powerful stench of their warren’s owner preceded by a whiff of his foul thirst for blood. Both odor and Wadi were heading their way, blazing down the freshly scented trail her mate-pair had left in tiny, wet, crimson paw prints.


  They both scented out a cloud of it. A cloud of scampering to safety so thick, it was hard to tell where one of their thoughts ended and the other’s began. The ideas swirled into one nasty vision of darting ever deeper into the growing and more dangerous canyons.

  A surge of pure fright coursed up the young Wadi’s back from the tip of her tail to the base of her neck. The scent of death and aggression that billowed up after them was not new. Twice before they had taken up residence in another’s warren, and twice they had escaped by the width of a claw.

  She ran, legs stretching to their fullest. She reached ahead for the rock, dug in her claws, and pulled herself along. She took turns at random, as her fear and racing mind dictated. She passed watering holes and occupancy smells and dreams of someone else’s eggs. She flew through all the scents, chased as she was by an explosion of rage, of black thoughts so frightening and thick, they threatened to drown out all else.

  They even smothered the fact that she was now running alone.

  The Wadi stopped. She peered through the darkness behind her, searching for her love, for his moving dull brightness amid the black. She sniffed the air for her mate-pair, but his trail had thinned to nothing.

  A new fear grew inside: a hollow powerfulness that threatened to consume her, an untarnished dread as bright and vivid as any emotion she’d ever scented. She teased apart the constituent molecules, trying to understand this novel horror—

  It was the potential of being alone in the world, she realized.

  The young Wadi turned and raced back along her route, following her trail of fear and sniffing for her mate-pair. She scrambled back through the egg-dreams and occupancy odors and over the watering holes. She hurried back toward the smell of death, a smell that had—

  The Wadi came to a stop. She shivered uncontrollably.

  A smell that had—

  She opened her mouth and wailed into the dark tunnel, emitting a scream to outrace her thoughts. She dug her claws into the rock and threw her chest into the mad cry, allowing it to echo through the stone and race down the tunnel. She yelled and yelled to drown out the smell, a smell of death that had grown stronger. More vivid.

  And more achingly familiar.


  The Canyon Queen stood frozen by the mouth of her warren, her eyes moistened with old memories. There were some days when the long-ago seemed but a sleep or two away, when her scent tongue could probe her memory sacks and conjure visions as fresh and bright as the view of the suns-lit canyon before her. There were other times when the noise of so many smells from other Wadi made it hard to tease out what had happened in her lifetime and what were the latent memories of all those around her.

  She forced her great muscles to relax as she sniffed the cloud of nostalgia for the brighter trails: trails of companionship, of longing and loving, of egg-dreams and playful scampering. It was these recollections, drawn out every so often, that had kept her going through the thousands and thousands of sleeps after his death. They had kept her wary of taking a new mate-pair. They had give
n her the strength to push ever deeper into the canyons, bringing those twin lights higher and higher, the shadows shallower and shallower. Those good memories had done much over the sleeps. They had even helped her do bad things. Helped her kill. Helped her survive. Helped her grow bigger and stronger than any Wadi in all the memories stirring on the winds.

  And she would keep growing, she knew, as long as she never took a mate-pair. As long as she stayed eggless, with nothing to feed, nothing to grow outside of her, she would grow and grow until—

  But even she didn’t know.

  She sniffed the air, hoping for answers, but the bright fog of her past still lingered and occluded the thoughts beyond. Her warren, situated as it was directly below the twin lights, was an area to which answers tended to drift. It placed her at the center of what she now knew to be a half-lit sphere, a world that went all the way around. That was one of the many answers that had drifted to her on the breeze. Another was where the wind came from—or more precisely, where it went. The hot air directly over her warren was always surging up, taking her thoughts and the thoughts of a billion Wadi with it. The wind rushed from all around her egg-shaped world, pushing toward her warren and away from the cold and dark before rising up toward the great twin lights. Somehow, those lights sucked and sucked at the air and never breathed it out. They pulled the winds up with the heat, dragging the scents of billions with them as they passed.

  And the Canyon Queen lived at the heart of it all. She had lived there for thousands and thousands of sleeps, sniffing the air with every spare moment, looking amid all the countless answers for the one that wouldn’t show itself. The answer to her great and sorrowful: Why?

  It was this vigilance that had kept her sane, had filled her with many other answers, and had kept her alive.

  But it would be her current fog of deep rememberings, her thoughts of long-ago, that would doom the great Wadi. For it was then, with her senses numbed by a cloud of recollections, that the band of males came with their schemings.

  It was then that they came to rape their Queen.


  They arrived in a number higher than counting, a number not needed for any Wadi purposes and therefore a number without name. It was more than the biggest number the Canyon Queen had in her head—two or three or ten times that number. When the first rows stormed her warren, they brought with them the awful smell of their mad plans. They reeked of the many closing in behind. Gone were their odors of occupancy and territory. Gone was the male competition. They had banded together, their thoughts intermingling. They had become something new and terrible and fully worthy of her fear.

  The Canyon Queen snapped the necks of a few, their male bodies as big as males got, no more than the size of her arm from elbow to claw. She could kill two or three at a time, one in each paw. A sharp squeeze, a snapping like brittle rock, a flood of death smells. But the waves of the living kept coming after.

  Claws sank into her back. Teeth wrapped around one of her great ribs. The Canyon Queen shrieked, her skull ringing with the sound of her own voice, and everything seemed to pause for a moment, taken aback by the mighty roar.

  And then it resumed.

  The Queen threw her body into the rock, crunching the male on her ribs. She swiped her tail in the darkening confines of her warren, swishing a Wadi off her back, his claws raking her flesh as he went.

  One of the Wadi moved to fill her with eggs. She felt a cold sensation, felt her thighs buckle, her knees clench to her chest, her tail tuck protectively. She roared again and spun around, meeting the wave of Wadi pouring in through the back of her warren. She kicked the male off her flank, her body convulsing as his egg-dreams invaded her nostrils. Her scent-tongue became useless for any other danger. It remained in its pouch, sullied and hidden, as the lights from the canyons were finally extinguished by the writhing masses pressing their way inside.

  The Canyon Queen began to kill full-grown males with wild abandon, cracking them like so many rock sliders. She crushed them, and more appeared. Their bodies soon packed all around her, each victory bringing more confinement. No matter which direction she faced, there were those with egg-dreams attacking her flank, hoping to dwindle her with their insemination, hoping to drive her off to the shallow canyons where she’d grow her eggs and die.

  Tiny claw after tiny claw bit into her flesh, the thousand small nicks merging into a web of fierce wounds. The Queen slipped in her own blood. One of her legs became pinned beneath her. More Wadi pressed in—the Wadi of a thousand warrens, drawn together by some scent of desperation. They crowded her. They sank their claws and teeth and worse into her. They packed themselves between the walls and her cut and leaking body. They stirred and slithered through the jumbled mess of dead and dying, and they took their turns with her. They were violent and rough. Feral. Mad with their victory and with the stench of the dead all around them.

  The great Wadi’s head became buried under those she had killed. She was no longer able to unclench her paws to add to their number. She whimpered, barely able to breathe. Tears of pain squeezed out her eyes. She choked on the horrid stench of it all as the males filled her with their egg-dreams.

  They filled her, and they clawed her.

  And she was the Canyon Queen no more.


  It’s her.

  Let her pass.

  We should help.

  Don’t go near her.

  The thoughts stirred through the canyon hollows and swirled around the Wadi, her body still laced with scars. She ignored them and drank from the watering hole. She drank until the rivulet ran dry, her powerful thirst refusing to step aside like all the thousands of Wadi she’d run past on her dwindling, egg-filled journey. Rumors of her coming and of her past ran upwind faster than she could travel. Legends were growing of the eggs she would lay. Legends she aimed to prove false.

  That way.

  Take this turn.

  Use my home, I beg.

  My birth warren is best.

  The directions and pleadings were scented in feeble tendrils, choked back by the shared and ancient fear of her. She ignored them all. Her body was dwindling, returning to its birth-state as it prepared to give new life, but she had no intention of seeing it through. Her physical self could waste away, but nothing would take the memories lodged in her mind—the trillions and trillions of scent molecules saved up over thousands of sleeps of looking for answers. There was one there—one answer stolen from the winds—that she never appreciated until now. It was the tale of an eggless canyon, where something in the rock made females sterile, where few Wadi dared to live but many went to die.

  And that’s where the worn-out Wadi would go: to the canyon where the blue hunters never came, to the land of the crazed females who arrested their dwindling to live in solitude and sorrow. She would travel there before the eggs came. She would go mad there before her brood could come and take her awful memories as their own. That would be her revenge against the males who raped her, who had done so many awful things, none of which were more hideous than having allowed her to live.

  The Wadi drank her fill, practically feeling herself shrink as she did so. She cursed the need to pack away energy, storing it in parasitic eggs that would one day hatch as she lay dying. She drank her fill and moved on, ignoring the whispered scents of those around her who pleaded with her to reconsider her plans even as they scurried out of her way.


  Many sleeps went by. The periods of walking between each sleep were just as dreamlike and hazy. The Wadi had lived two lifetimes before; this was her third. There was a lifetime of loving and growing, a lifetime of powerful surety and haunting questions and thin shadows, and now a lifetime of wasting away. It seemed to her that many of the things that had happened in the past must have happened to some Wadi else. The fresh pain had long ago become dull aches. The dull aches had long ago become stiffness in her bones. Her bones had long ago begun to feel brittle and weak, not capable of
holding such aches and pains. She could remember bad things happening to her.

  She tried to pretend they had happened to some Wadi else.


  When she arrived, the Wadi found the eggless canyon a stagnant place, a near-odorless place. She had to strain herself to scent the life in the adjoining canyons, as it was feeble even there. Occasionally, a whiff of normalcy would invade, of eggs laid and Wadi living, but the winds would carry them off just as quickly, leaving behind the nothingness she had travelled so far to find.

  She was vastly smaller than her former Queen-self. She knew this despite the matching warrens and canyons, which had shrunk along with her. She could feel it in the tightness of her being, in the sensation of an entire form packed into the size and hardness of a single claw.

  Bending close to the rocks, she sniffed deep. The stone revealed traces of those who had come before her. Their old smells lingered longer than she thought possible, untrampled by the scents of the boisterous living.

  She spent her first few sleeps teasing out stories from the past. Stories of hunters—not blue for some reason—stalking the lifeless canyon once an eon or so. She scented stories of sadness similar to her own, of Wadi without hope coming to a place where they could wither in peace. She sniffed deep from the cool rock, finding answers in the small eggless place that had eluded her when she ruled all. She found more truth in that quiet sadness than she had uncovered in her days at the apex beneath the full glory of the twin lights. She found more in common with these other Wadi, her sisters in time, who had lost everything but their desire to remember and be remembered. Here was the land of the pair-less, of those whose bonds had grown so strong, when broken they could not be mended.