The next many nights passed relatively uneventfully. The swarm didn’t run into any creatures quite as dangerous as those on their initial hunt, although they did still take losses, despite her best efforts. She’d tried to stop them from fighting suicidal fights a few more times but had given it up as hopeless at this point. The swarm was far smaller than it used to be, but still large enough to overwhelm anything they came across.
She noticed they were all growing. Many nights had passed by at this point and she and her siblings had become significantly larger. If she would have fit entirely on a patch of moss before, that same patch would only fit her stomach now, her shoulders and hips spilling off the ends, and she was on the small end of the spectrum. Some of her siblings were a full head longer and her head would only come up to their nose slits.
Her mouth water had started burning stuff at some point. She had woken up one night and there’d been a small sizzling hole where she’d been drooling as she slept. She still wasn’t sure how she felt about the situation.
She had of course tested this on all manner of things. She could pockmark stone and dirt, but flesh and most plant matter practically dissolved when she got her mouth on it. It made eating stuff feel strange but she got used to it. Wood was somewhere in between. Somehow it didn’t seem to hurt her at all, but a sister had run away screeching with a sizzling spot on her back when she’d licked her.
She felt pretty bad about that, and hadn’t tested it on anyone else afterward.
She did observe her siblings however, and noticed that no one else seemed to have the burning mouth water. Many a drool puddle existed but there were no holes left like hers made.
She’d had to start being really careful moving around her crystal. She started rinsing out her mouth in the stream whenever she wanted to move it around. Only the water her mouth made on its own burned things. Her saliva. She’d figured out it was safe to grab things for a little bit after she drank or rinsed her mouth out.
The rinsing was also necessary if she wanted to mess around with her balancing rocks or sort her stuff pile. Quite a few things had pockmarks in them at this point because she wasn’t as careful with them as she was with the crystal, which was why she was conflicted about the whole situation.
It was a useful ability, and made her bite even fiercer, but it was ruining all the stuff she’d been gathering. It made everything harder if she wanted to keep stuff intact.
She’d brought back many other things, like shells she’d found, neatly shaped sticks, mushrooms, and really anything she thought was interesting and was small enough to carry.
Turns out all her head balancing practice had come in handy once she’d had to limit carrying stuff in her mouth for fear of destroying it.
But none of the other things she’d found had been as amazing as her crystal, so that was the one she slept with, the others things getting to hang around in her stuff pile.
On a sadder note her crystal appeared to be dimming, it was noticeably less bright than it had been when she first got it. She could look at it fine now without blinking.
She’d also noticed that the tingling feeling she got from touching it had been sticking around even when she wasn’t touching it. Which was weird, but it didn’t feel bad and she was used to it at this point. Most of the tingles were in her head but more of it seemed to be moving around her body in general nowadays.
But all that was small news compared to her grand discovery (well, maybe not the acid spit, but still). She’d figured out where the light had gone! After many nights had passed, she realized she hadn’t ever seen the light she’d seen on the day she was born again. She’d been looking forward to it coming back and was beginning to worry it wouldn’t ever happen.
Her answer to the issue had come after a particularly long night of swarming. They hadn't come across anything large (which was great as far as she was concerned) and had needed a longer time to find enough small creatures to fill up. As they’d been returning to the cave she noticed that the forest had started to get brighter. She was excited the light was coming back but so tired from the long night she decided to explore more after she slept. But when she woke up, the light was gone again.
It made her suspicious. Maybe the light just came around very rarely, but she suspected…
She stayed up for a while the next night after they got back from the second hunt. She almost gave up and went to bed when nothing was happening but after enough time passed the world started getting lighter.
She’d been sleeping through the light!
She checked again the next night and sure enough, it happened again. There were whole phases the world went through. The light phase and the dark phase. Day and night. She was always up at night and asleep during the day, as were all of her siblings.
And that brought her to today.
She’d made sure to sleep as much as she could during the rest period between hunts. Normally she would just mess around with stacking rocks or playing around with her crystal or the dirt.
The dirt had become interesting again once she’d found she could make patterns in it, which felt significant. They stuck around as long as her siblings didn’t mess them up, and it was like she could store the pretty pictures in her head on the ground. Sort of. She wasn't too good at it yet, but it was quite fun.
For some reason, she’d never considered leaving the cave without her siblings, which was really odd now that she thought about it.
Considering that was her plan for today.
She was rested enough and was just waiting for it to start getting light. She knew it’d hurt her eyes before, but she was bigger and tougher now, so she figured she’d be alright.
She supposed if it got too bright she could just come back.
It would have to get very bright though, because she really wanted to see what everything looked like in the light.
Looking out of the cave entrance she noticed the world was starting to brighten.
It was time.
She made her way towards the entrance and noticed a... hesitancy to leave the group behind her. Some part of her urged her to stay with the swarm, to sleep while the light shined.
She squished it.
I will not be denied!
She huffed out a determined breath, and padded off into the forest, as it filled in with the breathtaking colors of the dawn.
Things started off uneventfully, but she immediately noticed differences in this expedition from all the others, and it wasn’t just because of the beautiful light. She was able to take so much more time to examine things than normal, which led to the thought of why she hadn’t taken more time before.
She’d always needed to keep up with the swarm.
But why did I have to?
She could have stopped, let the swarm move on and explored at any point. She also could have left the cave whenever she had wanted to. But she didn’t. It hadn’t even occurred to her. The only reason she had left this time was that she had desperately wanted to see things in the light and knew the swarm would just sleep through it.
It troubled her.
She’d never lost herself like she had on that first night again, but it was clear she was sometimes doing things, or not doing things, with no real thought or reason.
I will not be mindless!
She firmed her resolve, promising herself she would look for these thoughtless tendencies. She loved thinking, and twisting things every which way in her mind until the world started making sense. She loved the challenge and focus solving problems and understanding things took. She loved the joy and awe that came from finding beautiful and interesting new things.
As much as she thought she was the odd one out, she feared becoming like her siblings. All they ever did was eat and sleep and poop. They never did anything interesting, and she had failed repeatedly to involve them in her own activities.
It was like they lacked something that she had. They had no curiosity. No drive to do anything new.
But it was no matter. She was out here and exploring now! No need to think about sad stuff.
She took a deep breath and spun in a circle, amping herself up again for her adventure!
It was the only thing that saved her. The long scaled tube struck right as she turned and saw it. With a blast of adrenaline, she threw herself to the side, tumbling, and shot back to her feet. She stared at the thing in shock. It was a snake.
It had attacked her. Nothing attacked them. Sure some things would defend themselves while being swarmed but this snake had just gone on the offense. It was suicidal, her siblings would…
Oh. I’m swarmless.
She suddenly felt a lot more vulnerable. A small creature in a world where many things were quite large. But there was no time for doubt, the snake demanded her attention.
It was a striking blue color, with keeled scales giving it a spikey look. It was also about three times her length and about the same width as her torso.
It struck again. She dodged again while batting it with her claws. The strike was avoided with only a mildly painful bump into a root, but her claw attack didn’t do much more than score its scales.
She was thinking hard. The swarm’s normal method of combat was “throw bodies at it until it died”. She’d improved hers somewhat, learning to dodge out of the way when something tried to attack her, but it was always weight in numbers that brought down anything dangerous. She realized she had been depending on her siblings a lot more than she thought.
That wouldn’t work here because she was lacking siblings at the moment. She was the only one here. She needed to find a new way to fight this thing.
It struck again and she dodged back before jumping quickly forwards, just managing to grab it with her outstretched claws before it reset, but it was too strong. She let go quickly, realizing the precariousness of her situation, and just managed to twist out of the way as it bit forwards again.
She scrambled back, trembling at how close that strike had been. Trying to grapple it had been a stupid move, and she’d almost killed herself, just like her siblings.
But if she was going to win she needed to get her teeth on this thing. Her claws could hurt if she got a good hold on something, but it was her teeth that did real damage. More importantly, she needed to bite it without getting bitten in return. The long fangs in its mouth suggested a bad time if it managed to chomp her.
Their dance continued, with her focus mainly on dodging and keeping a safe distance. She noticed the snake’s actions were somewhat predictable. It would approach, and once it got close enough it would strike, before pulling back and resetting. It actually seemed pretty dull. The problem was that even knowing the attack was coming didn’t make it easy to dodge. It would try to adjust mid-strike as she dodged, which meant she couldn’t really do too much afterward. By the time she recovered enough from the movement to go on the offensive it was facing her again, and she had no plans to lay into the thing when it could do the same to her.
She needed to surprise it. She scanned her surroundings again and her eyes locked on a large tree.
She had an idea.
She jumped back, then backpedaled as it pursued her. It always kept its head high, eyes forward, locked on her. She did another quick jump back, spun around and darted towards the large tree she'd spotted, hearing the thing in pursuit. Glancing back she realized she could probably outrun it if she wanted to, and slowed down a bit so it wouldn’t lose her. She had a plan and was getting hungry at this point. Also... she didn’t want to lose to this thing that had ambushed her.
She dodged around the tree and broke line of sight, and then threw herself up on the bark, claws out and digging in. She got a couple more steps up the side of the tree before pulling her tail under her belly and turning her head to watch the edge of the tree.
She still felt pretty unstable latched on to the tree trunk as she’d only recently had the idea to try. She didn’t have much practice and being so far above the ground was nerve-wracking.
She tensed and readied herself. She saw the snake come round the corner, slowing as it looked around. It didn’t spot her. She gathered her nerves and lunged off the trunk, aiming for the back of her opponent's neck.
She crashed to the ground, not quite getting her feet in place but her jaws were on point. By the time the snake reacted she had it securely in her grip. Her teeth dug in, her acid making the task easier than it would have been, and with a snap, she cut its spine and carved out the majority of the meat there. It fell like a puppet with its strings cut.
She staggered to her feet, swallowed the meat and screeched in victory!
I am the superior hunter!
She considered her defeated foe and realized it was quite beautiful. Cobalt blue scales that changed from lighter to darker as they made their way down its back, and the keeled scales giving it a unique appearance.
Maybe she could keep them. She’d never had the chance with all her siblings around, but perhaps now she could take the scales off it now that she didn't have to worry about them eating everything? Perhaps she could just take the skin off entirely. She’d definitely peeled some skin away when eating before. She hadn’t really been going for that as a goal but she knew it was possible.
Here was not the place to do that however. She was well aware that she was still exposed out here and didn’t invite another ambush. She’d drag it somewhere safe before she got to work.