Chapter Five

The sun rises without warning in a globe that hangs above the horizon. She turns towards the mountains as soon as she can see the gray ground clearly; the tops of the mountains are turned orange by the flaming star. She breaks into a jog as she heads towards the road. She weaves in between the scraggly trees and pauses behind each one.

The air seems to be fresher than last night. It fills her lungs in a way that she has not felt since she was too young to go to school. Her ribboned legs and straight spine make her taller, even as they give a strange lilt to her gait. It has been far too long since she saw the world through the eyes that she was supposed to have. Her parents have always warned her that she must stay away from the temptations of running and violence.

She has always considered violence as something that should be avoided, but running is entierly different. Her parents’ warnings have become less frequent over the years, but she knows that their position in the matter of her heritage will never change. But she is alone for now, and she can make her own decision.

As the town has emptied over the years with beings moving to different places, dying from a mysterious disease, or becoming a catastrophe of one crime or another, she has seen less of a reason to hide. But there is always at least one reason despite her wishes. And she has always followed those reasons. Until now. She is already being hunted, it does not seem necessary for her to hide her own abilities.

She has already killed at least one being and destroyed the hierarchy of a gang, and she knows that she could do more. Much more. The ground dips underneath her as the mountains grow closer and the trees fade behind her shadow. The ground is sandy and rough, but her legs allow her to run without slipping.

It has been a long time since one of her race has run across the land with a narrow face. She rejoices in the freedom that the wisps of wind give her as she bounds from one rock to another. The sand barely crumples underneath her feet.

Her life has always been defined by how others would see her. It is something that was told her again and again until it could not be forgotten; there are not many of them left, and those that are must pretend that they are the same as everyone else. She supposes that she has always had a slight advantage, she is generations down from the major family lines. But she is close enough to be as much of the world as any of the petrified trees that stand out of the reach of houses.

Before the forth centennial, her race was one of only a few on the planet; but things have changed drastically and the intolerance for anyone different lasted for just long enough that they were almost entirely wiped out. She is simply lucky that her grandparents found a way to hide.

Their origins are something that her parents have rarely discussed. There have only been the usual warnings and a few conversations about how certain actions may impact them. Despite what was a form of growing safety: her parents have always decided to hide. As much as she understands their actions, she has always hated having to wear thick dresses to restrict her movement and prevent herself from playing with children in the streets.

And yet, she can be thankful as well. She is safe enough, or she was a few days ago. Now it seems as though neither of her secrets will be secrets for much longer. Things always have a way of coming out. She reaches for the side of a bolder to pull herself higher, what would it have been like to live before their world was populated by species from across the solar system? Would there still be so many catastrophes and violence by unnamed gangs?

On the rare days that her mother would explain a story about their race to her before bed, she always mentioned the harshness of their laws. But she cannot imagine how the laws that existed back then would be worse than the danger they face now. Perhaps differences are frowned upon by everyone who does not live them. Everyone is prejudiced. Everyone believes in their own opinion.

She is not entirely sure what her opinion about the world is. Everything seems to be shaped by Sa. And yet, she cannot complain about that either. She does not know who she would be without Sa. She is her heritage it seems, but beings are more than what they appear to be. She certainly hopes that she is.

She never met either of her grandparents, but she knows that they spent most of their lives in hiding. Even her parents hid for the first many years of their lives. The exterminations of their race began slowly, and then the frenzy engulfed the entire planet and beyond. They could not travel and they could not stay.

And so they did the best that they could, and most of them still ended up in graves. She does not know if anyone else in their town is one of the former races of the planet. She supposes that another family must have ties that run back beyond the conquest. But she has never met anyone.

And yet, anyone who would be open about their heritage would have to be a fool. A great fool indeed. And it seems as though she is becoming a great fool. She can be sure that someone has seen her, anyone watching the mountains would be able to see her. And a gang without a leader is simply out for revenge. She climbs higher and steps onto a narrow path in between boulders.

She wonders how long she will have to wait before someone finds her. She doubts that it will be more than a few hours, most of the other beings might not be able to climb as quickly as she can, but no one is entirely slow. Anyone who is slow would not have been able to make it on the streets. They would have been gobbled up like the dust that sinks underneath clouds. No, she will not have to wait for long.

It seems she will have to wait for long enough to have time to think. Her plan seems fuzzy and half formed as she looks at it again. But an unsure plan is better than not having a plan at all. She will make it work. She must make it work. She stumbles and grabs onto a nearby boulder to hold herself onto her feet. The ground changes underneath her and shows red dust that rises up as a metal box lands at her feet. It is about a foot long with a layered pyramid of metal on top. She starts to reach for it, but it fades along with her strength and she crumples on the ground.

She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand as she stands up again. Even her Sight is not as debilitating in her natural form. An avalanche of small rocks tumbles down the side of the mountain behind her; she glances over her shoulder with her heart racing in her chest. Her mouth becomes dry as she scrambles to straighten up. The narrow path in front of her is secluded by boulders that reach up to her waist or shoulders.

She crouches down as she runs forwards, she is not ready to be found. She has not found Sa yet, and she must find Sa before she is caught. She can only remember her mother bringing her to see Sa once. It was a clear day that her mother handed to Marie in the form of a permission slip to leave the house and spend as she wished. Her mother walked into her bedroom and declared that they would spend what was left of the day together. Her mother’s voice was sharper than usual, but she could not decline such an offer. She is not entirely sure what happened earlier in the day, but she knows that she was in trouble. Perhaps she had decided to change into her natural form.

Of course that was it. Marie barely managed to stop herself from screaming. She has always wondered why humans find them so terrifying. She is not that different in appearances; the things she thinks about are not that different either. Her back might be slightly straighter and she walks with a strange gait, her legs might be much longer and her arms might be slightly short in comparison, her face might be triangular, and her eyes might be the same size that they are when she is wearing a disguise, but she is not that different.

Perhaps it is the similarities that bother people. Perhaps her race is just close enough to be a comparison, and far enough that no would make the mistake of calling them human. Perhaps it is the fact that her race tried to fight back when the ships came in with soldiers of all origins.

Not all of the settlers survived. There were more of them that died then those that lived. But those that lived flourished in their small numbers for a time. But that time is over, and the idea that the planet might have had a large civilization for centuries has been almost entirely erased.

Most of the houses in the plains have been covered up by dust. Sometimes she wonders if the rocks are the only ones with memories of the past. But she is sure that whichever council sent the settlers have not forgotten about the small planet at the edge of the seventh moons.

She sighs with relief as she sees the entrance to a cave that looks vaguely familiar. The walls arc inwards to cover a sandy floor. The shrine is almost exactly as she remembers it; except for a thick layer of dust. Those who used to take care of the caves died a long time ago. But not long enough for them to be entirely forgotten.

The shrine is almost as tall as she is with a carved chair facing the entrance of the cave. The sunlight is bright enough for her to barely be able to see as she steps closer to the drawing of Sa painted above the chair. The floor at the bottom of the chair has been strewn with pebbles and flowers. They seem to stir as she steps closer and changes back into her disguised form.

Her legs shrink underneath her and her hands grow smaller as she crouches down in front of the shrine. Her heart beats in her chest as she hears footsteps climb up to the cave, and then something presses into her back. “Stand up slowly an’ turn ‘round. We hav’ a few things t’ discuss.” The voice is low and gravelly, and she keeps her hands away from her as she follows the instructions.

The cat faced man behind her is much smaller than her own height, but he is clearly in change of the leaderless gang behind him. For the moment at least. The other beings watch him with a quiet reverence, and she is sure that he must be older than all of them combined. She swallows thickly, she knew that they would catch up to her quickly, but she did not expect them to catch up quite this quickly. Sooner rather than latter it seems.

Now at least she knows that she will not be able to back out of her own plan. She is as locked in as she was when she was hiding underneath the floorboards in her parents’ bedroom closet. Now she simply has the chance to define what kind of walls will be surrounding her.

“I didn’t want t’ hurt yer leader, but I needed t’ run too.” The Silosc cat-faced-man lets his shaggy hair hang in his face, “Maybe, but ya hav’ somethin’ th’ we want. An’ we gonna be sure t’ get ‘t, no matter what kind of things ya ar’ plannin’. We still hav’ ya.” She wants to smile as his surprisingly chivalrous words. And she wonders when her opinion of a good being suddenly depended on how quickly they would threaten her.

Something rumbles and makes the ground inside the cave shake. Dust falls from the walls as beings in the gang look over their shoulders. The dust makes her mouth feel dry and distant, she did not think that this day would come for a very long time.

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