She set off back to the cave, her mind aflutter with all the new things she had just witnessed.

They must be like me.

She was very excited. She couldn’t wait to see if they liked things as she did. She thought her chances were good.

They already had stuff hanging all over them!

She was so caught up in the excitement of this new reality, where there were other beings that could form thoughts all their own, and move them around to others, it took her until she actually saw her cave to remember why she had met them anyways.

The others had tried to eat her. Eat her. As dense, boring, and instinctual as they were, they were supposed to be her siblings. A swarm, moving as one. They had betrayed her.

She looked at the cave for a long moment.

How could you?

She already knew why. They… they didn’t mean to. Not really. They were ruled by their instincts. They would throw themselves at the food no matter how dangerous. They would always rest at the proper times, they would never break their routines of their own volition.

She felt the same urges, but she wasn’t ruled by those feelings, and it made all the difference.

She had smelled like food and so they had thought she was. It was so simple. It had fooled all of them. It would never have fooled her. Thus was the power of thinking.

Even knowing they were just following instincts didn’t make it any better. Before they had been her stupid, boring siblings that would throw their lives away, but she had always felt like one of them in the end. She knew she was different, but they were her siblings, and they would fight and hunt together. They were a group.

But that sense... that hope of belonging and safety was gone.

They felt more like some unthinking entity that could turn on her whenever the right instinct was tweaked. She had cared about them despite their issues, but they were incapable of caring about her.

It just made their differences starker. It hurt more because it showed there was nothing there. They were fundamentally different. They had tried to eat her, and they would do so again if presented with the same situation.

She so desperately wanted the truth to be different, she had deluded herself into thinking it could be.

She felt as betrayed by their failing to step up and embody her hopes as she did by the attack itself. It may not have been a fair thing but it was true.

She felt things stirring and fought them back down.

She… really didn’t want to go into that cave. Not… not yet.

Some more practical reasons for putting it off came to her mind as well.

The scent of the fire-horn was still all over her. It was a lot weaker, and she could smell her normal scent much more strongly at this point, but she should wash it off just to be safe. She started heading toward the outside stream, while doing her best to lick off the scent in the meantime.

Maybe acid spit would work better?

The thought brought her back to her interesting new... energy muscles? She had one for the acid spit, but she could vaguely feel others.

She could experiment as she walked. She wasn’t in a particular hurry but she wanted to make sure she got back before the… Back leg standers? Strap wearers? Thinkers. She wanted to get back before the thinker’s scent faded too much in case they’d moved on.

While they might have understood her intention to come back, she didn’t think it was very likely. Her current theory on their method of thought-sharing was the complex gibbering they did, not just somehow knowing what was being thought at them. She hadn’t had much success with that method so far.

She was a bit worried about that too, to be honest. Even if she could figure out how the gibbering turned into thoughts, the sounds involved vocalizations she was pretty sure she wasn’t capable of.

She made a few attempts.


“Ee Errrheh Hreee HSsssEre.”

“Ssseee Fffppfpfppppp.”

Yea things were not looking too hopeful on that front.

Ugg. She’d deal with it later.

On to testing the energy. She thought back to when she was… being accosted by the others. She had done something that had saved her from that situation. She thought back to the sensation she’d had and tensed those same ‘muscles’. The response was fast, with energy spreading out to her skin and then… into the world. She looked at her body and it was obscured by a layer of… what seemed like… shadow fluff?

It was like staring into a pitch-black corner, but only where her body was, and a little bit around it. It made her edges indistinct. She would probably be next to impossible to spot in the dark like this. Even with the light, she imagined it’d be hard to tell she was a living thing and not an oddly placed shadow.

She felt like she could push this further somehow. Like she could will herself in a direction and move there, but she was too ‘weak’. Her energy muscles weren’t strong enough to make it happen, not now. She must have only been able to do it out of desperation before.

Speaking of strength, keeping herself shadowed like this was tiring, almost like running, but it only tired this inner self. She could probably keep it up for a while but would need to stop eventually. It didn’t feel like that with the acid spit for some reason. Perhaps it was just easy enough that she could keep it up indefinitely?

She stopped with the shadow fluff and relaxed right about the same time as she made it to the stream. She set to rinsing herself off, keeping an eye out as a lot of animals seemed to frequent the stream. No need to get involved in another ambush.

She could feel that her inner energy was more tired than it had been, but was now recovering. It was strange. It was like having a whole different body in her body. It felt half asleep and weak like she only had a tentative grip on it, but perhaps with practice, it would get stronger, like her normal body?

Or maybe the crystal was the key? The first time she had felt the tingles had been when she touched it, and she had felt those tingles transition into this strange, quiet energy she had now. They must be related.

Her thoughts turned back to the cave.

No use putting it off any longer.

She felt trepidation looking into it. Her logical side told her that she didn’t need to worry now that she’d washed off the scent, but she kept having flashbacks of the swarm leering over her, mouths coming down to devour her. She shivered. She felt kind of bad for all the other creatures she’d subjected to the same fate.

She shook herself. They’d needed to eat. It was what it was. No use worrying about it now.

Steeling herself, she entered the cave.

And found it empty.

What? They should be back. It’s daytime.

She saw her piles of stuff over in a corner, right where she left it, but the others were nowhere in sight.

Then realization dawned on her.

I never made it back for the end of night hunt.

She had led them for the first, but they had another hunt every night. She’d been planning to sleep in-between the hunts and lead the swarm for both of them.

She hadn’t been here.

She was suddenly sprinting out the cave, scrambling in the direction of the tree eater, desperately sniffing the air for her siblings' scent.

Why was she running? Why should she care? They had betrayed her. Tried to kill her. They were not like her. They weren’t her siblings. She was so angry at them. So hurt at the betrayal. So scared it could happen again.

Her mind was awash with confused emotions as she came upon the scene. And there they all were, motionless. She could hear the thumping in the distance.

Some stood locked in time, mid-run or pounce, encased in clear icy crystal. Others simply lay on the ground, no movement, not even breath. She could feel the harsh chill in the air. She could see how many of them had cracked.

She… this was what she wanted, right? They deserved this for their betrayal. For their stubborn ignorance. For their stupid instincts. They had done this to themselves. She wouldn’t need to worry about them anymore.

It wasn’t nearly as bloody as some of their battles.

She reached for anger to smother the terrible feelings that were emerging.

She couldn’t find enough of it.

All of the shock and trauma she’d been fighting away with distraction surged forward.

She keened, curling up on the ground, not having the strength to stay standing. The mournful sound filling the air like her sadness made manifest.

I didn’t want them dead.

The sound continued, only interrupted by ragged breaths.

I just wanted kin.

She was lost in her sorrow, in all that had been taken.

After some time, she found herself quiet, exhausted by the whole ordeal. She was shivering fiercely at this point. She needed to go.

Slowly, she got up and padded back to the cave, forcing herself to stick to shadows and be properly cautious despite wanting to do nothing of the sort.

She hadn’t really internalized what had happened back then. It had all happened so fast and then she’d been almost immediately (from her perspective) thrust into the situation with the thinkers. She hadn’t really had a chance to dwell on it. She’d had thoughts but it had been more surface level.

Now the emotional blow had finally landed, and with this bunch of trauma added on top. It… wasn’t as bad as it could have been. She had never really liked her siblings. But they were all she’d ever had, and she didn’t want them dead. Even after they’d betrayed her. She mourned what might have been.

She rounded the corner to her cave, absent of other creatures, and looked upon her stockpile, the glowing blue crystal front and center. A small bit of happiness found it’s way back to her.

She… still had to work through this. But for now, there was a promise she needed to keep. A little bit of hope and wonder in all this tragedy couldn’t hurt the situation. She headed in and grabbed her crystal, then started off back towards the thinkers.

Kin can come in more than one form. She was sure of it.

A note from Zat

Apologies for the sad chapters. Hopefully things cheer up soon!

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