She was hatched beneath the red-gold star, six willowy legs slicing patterns through the ether. The ley-readers were there. They praised the silver marking on her forehead and later called it an omen, a prophetic sign of impending greatness.
She knew nothing of prophecy.
Neither did her hatchmates. They clawed at her thorax as she heaved her segmented body from the blue-glow jelly of the egg, their bodies trembling with hunger. She reared and plunged amongst her fellow newborns, snapping their chitin between her mandibles. If there had been a carcass present, or any other source of nourishment, she would not have devoured her siblings. But there wasn’t, and their creeling, piteous cries were drowned out in the roiling compulsion to feed.
Her mind was filled with the scent of killing, and the sweet taste of raw flesh, and the thoughtless naiveté of a hatchling who knew neither kin nor foe, correctness nor wrongdoing.
The shame came afterward, in lonely nights spent eavesdropping on the nonsense chatter of younger hatchlings. In weeks and months of solitary hunting forays, wondering why her sib-group’s eggs had not been separated according to custom, why no one had intervened to offer the hatchlings other nourishment.
When she had passed her first molt, she demanded her right as an adult to speak with the ley-readers and ask her questions openly.
Their answers were enigmatic. They said that death was a part of all life, weakness a part of all strength, and that her dead siblings’ souls would pave the way for her eventual triumph. She was not satisfied, but she was granted no further information.
“It’s not their fault, Kitjaya,” her mindsguide told her as they emerged from the dark tunnels of the kin-nest and squinted into the afternoon sunlight. “You are the Predestined. The conditions on your birth were written nearly one thousand years ago, by the mighty Jakitu himself.”
“But he never explained why,” she said.
Her mindsguide hunkered down beside her, legs double-folded against his thorax. The chitin of his head and body was marred by overlapping scratches, the legacy of a long life spent in combat. His name was Tahn, but Kitjaya seldom called him that.
“Patience,” he told her. “M’hagmoth has spread His jaws to guide your future. He will bring you safely to and from the destroyer’s lair.”
“M’hagmoth should spread His jaws and tell me something more useful than that nonsense Jakitu wrote on the Record Stones!”
Tahn seemed genuinely hurt. “Have I taught you so poorly? Jakitu’s path did not lie clear before him at the outset. Nor did those of the other great heroes. Faithless words do not beseem you.”
Kitjaya turned away. Tahn’s disappointment stung. He was a paltry substitute for a sib-group, to be sure; he and Kitjaya shared no private language of the mind, harbored no sense of many-yet-one. But he had been her only companion throughout her lonely youth, and he had been nothing if not loyal. She wanted to reassure him that everything would be fine, that when the destroyer rose again she would vanquish it as Jakitu had, but she found no words to express her contrition. Instead, she shook the joints of her exoskeleton into place and settled on a nearby stone outcropping, forelegs crossed beneath her mandibles.
The kin-nest was alive with activity. Leggy architects scrambled at the openings of the mound, shoring up walls and polishing the turquoise runes that bordered each entrance. Hunters paced above the dried husks of winter grasses, sparring and sharpening their combat ridges. There would be rich foe-meat tonight, enough for the entire nest. Kitjaya felt a pang of envy as she watched the troupe assemble. As the Predestined, she was forbidden to risk her life in the foe-hunt.
“I know it hasn’t been easy for you,” Tahn said beside her. “Being alone, I mean. Tsitaka and I have never been the same since our other siblings rejoined M’hagmoth. It was like—like losing a piece of my soul.” He bowed his head in private recollection.
Kitjaya felt like a stone thrust to the bottom of an icy river. Did he think that because he had lost half his sib-group, he understood how she felt? The insolence. Did he dream nightly of his siblings’ newborn faces? Did he feel the snap of their legs between his jaws, the fading ether-ripples as their lives drained away? Was he haunted by the taste of their death, by the empty spaces in his mind where no sib language lingered?
“You’re as bad as the ley-readers,” she said, more bitterly than she intended. “Babbling about things as if you understood them.” She pushed herself from the ledge and trotted away from the kin-nest, shouldering past hunters and architects who failed to scramble out of her way.
* * *
Away from the kin-nest, Kitjaya’s heart lightened. She l -- [End of Preview.]