Consciousness came back slowly and at irregular intervals. I had a reasonably clear recollection of my time in Memory’s kitchen early on. Everything before that, however, was a jumbled mess again.
Yeah, I was pretty sure that was something I had more or less expected. I was still unclear about the ‘why’, though.
I found myself marinating in a very cramped place with an opaque hard shell all around me. It was thin enough to register the changes in illumination outside, but perceiving anything more than regular light-dark-cycles was pretty much impossible.
Well, not quite.
I was frequently flooded by different energies that felt very familiar, often accompanied by the walls getting darker if it occurred while it was light outside. Every time this happened, I felt a bit stronger and thinking became a bit easier. And sometimes, it felt like I was picked up and moved around.
But otherwise, there really wasn’t much to do. I just lay there, folded around myself, growing until I would become big enough to crack my tight prison. I - pretty obviously - was inside of an egg.
So I had nothing but time to try to figure out what was going on.
I knew… stuff. That much was clear. Stuff that wasn’t in the memories of myself reluctantly cuddling with a goddess at a kitchen table. Trying to think deeper about where I knew those things from, jolted awake other, older memories. But they were all messed up and mixed together without rhyme or reason.
I was losing half of my luggage running from a wildfire, then swimming through a river getting my hindleg torn off. Next, I was sitting in a beat-up old car crying while reading a letter, then teaching an attentive little lizard how to read…
Yeah, it didn’t make much sense.
There were at least two different sets. In one, I was always bipedal and everything seemed hazy… a bit like a dream. In the other, I was a quadruped and they felt… fresher, more recent.
That was a bit strange since I had been a biped in the kitchen with Memory, so I would have expected it to be the other way around. I guessed I was wrong about that, though.
Well, I couldn’t be correct about everything from the get-go, right?
We learn and live on… or something like that?
Anyways, I had nothing else to do and this gigantic pile of puzzle pieces to sort out. If not into complete wholes, then at least separate piles for each respective puzzle.
It took forever. Many, many dark-light-cycles passed and I was nowhere near being finished. But I had a relatively clear picture of my general circumstances.
I had lived and suffered through the end of my world, got picked up by a goddess, told that reality is simply one of many games gods like to play with each other, and got deployed as some kind of game piece on behalf of Memory, the Player who - quite literally - ‘adopted’ me.
Memories of my original life were loaded with negative emotions. My previous incarnation apparently had avoided them whenever I could justify doing so. There seemed to be quite a few things missing from them, too. I remembered many details about that life. My family, studying, working, surviving, but everything referring to my own identity was… not gone completely, but strangely occluded. I had no idea if it was a result of that perpetual avoidance by my previous incarnation or if this was by design and already the case when I went into my first new life.
Recollections of that life were far more lucid. I’ve been a large female amphibian calling myself a ‘scalamander’. I had been tasked to found a religion for Memory and had done so differently than she had intended. I also had multitudes of offspring. There was a strange mix of feelings regarding my children. Genuine care and affection but also guilt that it somehow wasn’t enough or the right kind? I wasn’t able to figure out yet what that was all about. Scalamander-me also seemed to be convinced that I was a genius. I still had to puzzle most of that life together, however, so it was very patchy for now. Even so, I doubted that claim already.
This current existence seemed to be my second deployment. At least I hadn’t found any memories of another one yet. I didn’t remember having a mission this time. Memory had called it a ‘vacation from my vacation’?
I wasn’t sure if I trusted that.
But I didn’t even hatch yet, so what could I know?
Speaking of… It was getting increasingly constricted in here. And there seemed to be some kind of commotion outside? Perhaps it was finally time?
I was about to begin to stretch with all my might when something collided with my egg and I toppled over.
What were they thinking they were doing? There was a baby inside of here! How rude!
Thankfully, I didn’t roll very far before someone picked me up. There was a long visible crack in the shell now. Well, it was a start. I stretched and wiggled around, trying to widen it.
I didn’t have much success but the movement got the attention of the individual who was carrying me. I could make out growling and trilling noises as they clutched me tighter, muffled as if hearing them through a layer of water.
They seemed to move pretty fast, making the ride a very bumpy one. Were they running from something? Was I in the process of getting stolen from the nest? What was happening?!
Regardless, I decided that these weren’t exactly ideal conditions to proceed with my hatching efforts, so I tried to keep as still and quiet as possible for the time being.
I wasn’t sure how long it took. The shaking intensified and calmed down several times before my carrier eventually came to a stop and gently set me down again. Now, I was merely slightly moving up and down in a rhythm matching someone breathing heavily.
My thief, caretaker or rescuer apparently began to examine my egg again, because I perceived some light knocks and scratches. I replied by stretching and squirming around once more, causing the crack to widen and new ones to form. That seemed to appease them enough as a life sign, since shortly after, they began to help me, carefully peeling away pieces of shell.
Flickering firelight flooded my eyes, but I couldn’t make out much of my surroundings. Everything was really blurry, seen through the thin membrane still enveloping my whole body even after I was completely freed and lifted out of the eggshell.
Next, I was licked all over. The membrane ripped and was torn away early on but the licking continued until I was relatively dry.
I just lay there quietly, tolerating the process. It strangely reminded me of the time in Memory’s kitchen. So I already was more or less used to enduring affections of all kinds.
All the water leaving my ear holes improved my hearing immensely and my sight was much better without the thin membrane distorting it.
Observing my surroundings, I discovered that we seemed to be in a small cave or hole in the ground. My caretaker was sitting near a fire, making snarling, hissing, growling and trilling sounds in strange patterns. We also were not alone. There were a handful of other similar creatures around the fire, answering in kind.
They seemed to be talking with each other. Those sounds had to be speech! I immediately tried to get a look at their hands for thumbs! I was delighted to see the one licking me using theirs to pick up something that looked like a strip of roasted meat from near the fire.
I didn’t even notice that I had my mouth wide open until they shoved the piece of meat directly into it.
I gobbled it down instantly.
That seemed to cause a rumbling trill in everyone who was watching me. They were laughing, right?
My caretaker finally nuzzled and nudged me until I took a few steps forward on my own.
So… this was probably my parent? I examined them a bit closer.
The face was undeniably that of a short-nosed reptile. It reminded me a bit of a gecko. There were many sharp teeth, though, and on top of the head were two rows of ridges like on some crocodiles.
The rest of the body was hard to make out in the dark cave. I wasn’t sure about the shade of the scaly skin that reflected the firelight. Largely brown with green mixed in? Five appendages, the front limbs were longer than the hind limbs, and a long slender and flexible tail, that seemed to be in motion the whole time. But perhaps they just noticed my attention on it and wanted to entice me to play?
Hey! That could be fun!
I was wiggling around and about to chase after it before I caught myself. Maybe later… I had to finish figuring out where and what I was first!
My species appeared to be largely quadrupedal. I saw a few of the other adults moving around and they supported themselves on all four limbs most of the time. But I was pretty sure my parent had carried my egg with their front limbs when they… ran away from something(?) earlier.
I also noticed a few other eggs lying around. The firelight made them gleam orange with large brown spots.
The shells of my egg got eaten bit by bit by my parent. If I interpreted that behaviour right, that would make her my mom? At least I didn’t think males would need the extra resources to produce more eggs.
Well, I was alive again and I had a caring(?) family. This seemed to be a far better start than last time already!
Slowly, I crawled towards who I assumed to be my mother and snuggled up to her. This caused quite a bit of excitement from the other occupants of the cave. My mother only nuzzled me back and fed me another strip of meat, though.
Hmm, this seemed nice. I could get used to this. Now if only I knew what she had been running from earlier.
The following days were quite exciting ones. I wasn’t allowed to leave the cave, dragged back towards the fireplace whenever I wandered too close to the exit. Still, the daylight that shone inside allowed me to really see!
It was incredible! Everything was so clear and detailed. A completely different experience from going through my memories all the time.
The different shades of moss-green of the adults looked quite a bit different from the boring brown they appeared to be in the light of the fire. And they had countless shiny scales, every single one being unique! I actually tried to count mom’s once, but I always lost track and gave up after starting over three times.
I also observed that the adults liked to sit on their legs, keeping their hands free to do other stuff with. When they moved around, they seemed to prefer all fours most of the time, though, reminding me quite a bit of certain types of monkeys.
They also had tools for all kinds of things! Knives made of sharp shards of rock or a glass-like reflective substance, prongs, forks, skewers, you name it. There were even bowls and pots shaped of stone! One time, I watched mom make a new bowl. She shaped it right out of the ground with the help of magic.
She was strangely exhausted afterwards though. I remembered magic to be quite a bit easier from my last life. I hoped that this was a simple case of mom not being practised enough. But seeing another one of the adults getting tired from lighting a simple fire a short time later, didn’t leave me especially optimistic in that regard.
Still, if there were at least roots of some affinities, I should be able to improve upon them in the future.
I also noticed that someone apparently brought us food at regular intervals. Including my mom, there were five adults in the cave. None of them ever left for long enough to justify coming back with so much meat to eat. They also usually took one or two obvious weapons with them - knives or spears, sometimes clubs - and returned without them.
I didn’t want to jump to conclusions, but I was pretty sure they were trading them away. Either that or they were supplying a hunting party or something.
The real excitement started, however, when the other eggs were beginning to hatch.
Watching the process was utterly fascinating.
There seemed to be one to three eggs belonging to each adult. And over the course of several days, one clutch after the other tried to break out of their shells. They received similar help to what I had. Whenever I wanted to creep closer to have a better look, I was shoved away by their respective parent or dragged back by my tail by mom.
Why couldn’t I watch? I didn’t do anything! So unfair.
But mom simply fed me more strips of meat and cooed at me. Continuing with what I came to think of as her ‘obvious attempts to teach me how to say mama’.
Well, I wasn’t sure if this was the specific word but she pretty obviously made efforts to speak to me as you probably would to a baby. If only she’d use a more academic approach to go at it… But of course, how could she know that I was a tiny bit smarter than a usual child?
By now, I was pretty sure my name was ‘Griss’. At least, those were the sounds she made most often when she wanted my attention. Everything else was still very much gibberish to me, however.
Since I seemingly wasn’t allowed anywhere near the other kids, I tried to focus more on my language lessons. I still had to wonder why they’d keep the children separated. At least it wasn’t just me who was denied contact with the others. Every mother made almost zealously sure that her offspring was mostly spending time with her. Was this supposed to be some kind of imprinting process? Or were they afraid we’d hurt each other if we were left to our own devices? As scalamander-me I had experienced a lot of cannibalism in my childhood. But I somehow doubted that was the case here.
Anyways, the following days I spent mostly eating, snuggling, sleeping, learning and chasing my mother’s tail tip around.
My memory was simply amazing. Once I figured out what was supposed to be a word, I rarely forgot it again. It only was difficult to differentiate between single words in this strange hissing language in the first place. Everything seemed to flow together without any distinct breaks in between.
Then there were the trills and growls that were produced simultaneously with the hisses. I was quite confused until I realised that I had three different sets of vocal organs! One in my nose, and two in different parts of my throat. Trying to reproduce this speech myself initially caused more than one amused snarl from mom before I figured it out. The first time, I genuinely thought she was angry until I realised that she was just laughing at me.
She referred to herself as ‘Hessa’. I hadn’t found out yet if that was her name or the word for ‘mom’ or ‘mommy’, or something of that line. I’d have to wait and see what the others called her. Everyone was busy with their own kids for now, though. So I immersed myself in trying to learn, being the most attentive and diligent student I could be.
My exceptionally fast progress didn’t go unnoticed, of course. My mother earned a lot of envious looks and remarks, the faster I improved my linguistic proficiency. I was leaving my… cousins(?)... peers(?) in the dust on an intellectual level, but I was wary to let that fact go to my head. While I would let them think I was a genius all they wanted, I knew better. Memory’s Blessing and Curiosity’s Trait were what allowed me this feat.
However, not being able to reproduce any of my magic at all, even after more than a few nights of testing and practising, had disillusioned me quite a bit. I told myself over and over that I probably was just too young and should be patient. But the tiny bit of mana I eventually managed to feel circulating inside of me didn’t make me very optimistic. Worse, I hadn’t been able to perceive any ambient energy at all, yet.
So far, I failed to locate my mana glands. So I couldn’t even make an educated guess which affinities I possibly had. The energies I had regularly been flooded with when I still was in my egg felt familiar but decidedly different to me than I could remember them from my scalamander body. The only one I recognised was Memory’s warm embrace that helped me focus and memorise.
This one, I felt quite frequently, and I wasn’t sure how to feel about this unprompted help. I honestly preferred to think of it as an automatic process instead of active aid on Her part.
Nevertheless, while my speaking skills lagged behind considerably, I was able to understand the gist of most conversations relatively soon.
First, I could confirm that mom’s name really was Hessa. The other four females were called Tress, Sarka, Hiska, and Siss.
Then I learned that my mother was a relatively new arrival to this group. Supposedly she had originally been situated in a brood cave that was set up with favourable conditions to develop male eggs. That confused me at first, but sieving through knowledge of original me let me conclude that this probably worked as it did with turtles?
In any case, mom’s original cave had been attacked by… something? They didn’t describe what they were talking about. The conversation only came up because she asked if the others had heard any news if someone else had made it out of there. The answer had been ‘yes’, but they hadn’t been able to save their eggs so they joined ‘the hunters’.
Well, at least this answered the question of who brought us our food.
Still, the most interesting revelation I had from this conversation was that I was in fact a male this time. The only one in this cave even. I hadn’t noticed any physical differences between me and the girls before. Neither did I now. I had yet to see an adult male, though, so maybe I could judge that better once we eventually all left this cave and joined the main group to move on.
Oh, yes. Another interesting tidbit I picked up. We didn’t actually live in this cave. This only was a temporary arrangement to hatch eggs and teach offspring the basics before bringing them out into ‘the real world’. Otherwise, we apparently were a pretty nomadic species.
Here I simply couldn’t hold myself back from asking.
“Why?” I stopped chasing mom’s tail tip and looked at her imploringly.
She had been conversing with Hiska about when she thought the kids would be ready enough for us to ‘finally’ leave again.
“What do you mean, Griss?” Mom shifted her intention to me, speaking more slowly and pronounced now.
“Oh! Is he playing the ‘Why’-game?” Hiska asked before I could reply. “My little Trigs does that all the time, too!” She turned to her daughter who was munching down on a slice of meat. “Isn’t that right, Trigs?”
The girl looked up at her mother, gulping down her latest bite. “Why?” she hissed, tilting her little head.
I wasn’t so sure if that was just the only word indicating a question, Trigs had learned so far. But Hiska only laughed delightedly. “See?”
I looked back up at mom and we both shook our heads slightly, nearly at the same time. Then she chuckled, too.
“I don’t think so. He usually only asks about specific things that have caught his interest,” she told Hiska without looking away from me. “What did you mean, Griss?” she repeated, once more with the slow and deliberate pronunciation.
“Why leave?” I tried. My speech still needed a lot of work. “Why not stay?”
That seemed to confuse both adults for a moment, making me even more self-conscious about my verbal skills. But their confusion seemed to be caused by something else.
“He understands far more than he should at this point, doesn’t he?” Hiska asked my mother after a few seconds of silence.
“Yes,” mom replied. “Yes, he does.”
I waited, only looking at mom undeterred.
Hiska glanced at her daughter, then back at me. “You’re so lucky.” She ‘sighed’ dejectedly.
“Am I?” mom asked, seemingly elsewhere with her thoughts.
Were they planning on ignoring my question?! I began to feel mildly irritated. “Well?” I tried to remind them of my question. “Why leave?”
That seemed to snap mom out of it. “Oh, sorry Griss. I didn’t mean to ignore you.” She notably did not shift back into her slow ‘language-teaching-talk’. “We simply can’t stay too long at the same place. Even staying here waiting for the eggs to hatch is dangerous.”
Hiska had discretely removed herself from the conversation, the topic probably not a favourite.
“Why dangerous?” I asked. But I already had a hunch.
Mom nuzzled against me and pulled me closer. “Because if we’re found by any ??????? they’ll hunt us down and eat us,” she said very quietly. “So we have to move as much as possible to not leave too many tracks to the same place.”
I didn’t know the word she used. But I recognized it from when she was talking about running away from the other brood cave. So, some kind of predator? Another tribe who happened to be cannibals? The eating part at least excluded any elementals. Still, I suddenly was painfully aware that I was not part of the apex-species this time around.
Let’s hope this isn’t the kind of thing that gets summoned by talking about it. I jokingly thought, considering mom’s and Hiska’s reaction to the topic.
Only a few days later, clinging to the scales on mom’s back to avoid being thrown off as she ran through a strange forest in the middle of the night, I very much would have liked to slap myself for that lapse in judgement.
It had begun with an adult I’d never seen before, bursting into the cave, shouting “We’ve been ambushed, let’s move!”
They looked quite a bit more green than brown than the five adults I had known so far.
“And you idiot lured them here?!” Tress growled back. But everyone was already moving, picking up their kids in something I’d call ‘organised panic’.
The newcomer didn’t retort, just picking up the latest batch of weapons and darting back out of the cave.
Then I heard the ear-splitting roar for the first time. It sounded very close, incredibly deep and loud, and like… coming from something very large. It reverberated through my core.
That wasn’t good. Not good at all.
Worse was the second roar that answered it.
Then a third bellowed from further away.
There was no hesitation from anyone. We evacuated the cave, the only place I was familiar with, and ran for our lives.
- CET... but my sleeping schedule is messed up anyways
- Fledgeling Writer
I wanted to pick up writing again after years of stagnation. And this time I'd really like actual feedback.
So I switched to English, since I barely even read in a different language for fun during the last decade, and I hoped to reach more people with a modern lingua franca.
Anyways, I hope to receive honest and diverse criticism. This site seemed rather civil compared to others in that aspect.
So I'm here.