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Chapter 31 – The Coming of the Age of Metal
When the Thrill Seeker came back to his hunting party on the back of a docile Quick Spring, they were flabbergasted. A million colors flashed to him at once asking all sorts of questions. The concept was difficult to explain to the others, as there were no words to describe what he had done. The closest thing he could come up with was that the beast was now like family. When he dismounted, the Quick Spring stayed within close range of him, not tearing off back to its herd as was expected. The Thrill Seeker also did not try to put distance between them, preferring to stay in close proximity.
One of the hunting party members tentatively asked if she would be able to ride it. The Thrill Seeker was unsure, but gestured for her to try. No one had tried to mount a Quick Spring without trying to ambush it from above, so she was a little puzzled about how to get on its back.
When she put her hands upon its back to try and vault herself up, a pang of unease blossomed in the Thrill Seeker’s family heart. It was a weaker connection than with other lizards, and didn’t echo through his heart to those around him; a private connection between lizard and beast. The Thrill Seeker put his hand upon the female lizard’s shoulder to stop her, relaying his companion’s unease at another being upon its…her back.
He knew the Quick Spring was female by the shortness of her horns, but hadn’t thought to refer to her as a ‘she’ until they were connected. One did not typically care about the gender of prey, but now that she was a companion, it felt wrong to consider her an ‘it’. A tumult of emotions passed through the Thrill Seeker as he looked upon his new companion and wondered if he would ever be able to consume Quick Spring meat again. His life had significantly changed in an instant and he still did not know just how far this new connection in his heart would take him.
The female lizard then desired to see the Thrill Seeker upon his glorious steed once more, an acceptable alternative to riding the beast herself. Being unpracticed in mounting a docile Quick Spring, it was a bit of struggle and not at all graceful, but eventually he was again on the back of his companion and breathed a sigh of relief. He took his mount and walked in a circle around his party so they could stand in awe to their hearts content.
They took their time seeing just how well the Thrill Seeker could communicate his intentions to his Quick Spring, and found that so long as the requests remained simple, she was able to oblige. There were some requests she refused, like adding a second rider to her back, as she was again uncomfortable with the notion, and the Thrill Seeker respected those feelings. After being asked again how the Thrill Seeker had connected so deeply with the beast, the hunting party wanted to see if they too could claim a mount of their own.
After several attempts at riding more Quick Springs, they found that the bond between the Thrill Seeker and his Quick Spring companion was not one easily replicated. The Thrill Seeker felt that their desire was not strong enough to jump start the connection, which caused a bit of bitterness among the younger members of his party. Even if they knew that theirs was a whimsical desire created in the heat of the moment, it still put them out of sorts to be told so directly.
The party returned to the colony a while after that. It was a quiet return with everyone, except for the Thrill Seeker atop his mount, plodding along. The younger members were a mix of downtrodden and miffed at their failure. The Thrill Seeker wanted to help them if they truly desired to ride on the back of a Quick Spring, but he wasn’t sure how to encourage them. The more experienced members of the party told him not to worry about it too much, and that even those negative feelings could be the spark they needed to turn their luck around. Things had a strange way of working themselves out at times.
The party came back to many surprised looks. Colors of wonder and confusion appeared across many sets of scales. As members of the colony started to crowd around the strange sight of a lizard on the back of a Quick Spring, the Thrill Seeker could feel his new companion becoming more anxious and distressed. He decided to remain near the border of the colony where there were less lizards and try to relieve his companion of her fears. The party went their separate ways to their homes from there, but rumors spread fast. Many lizards, especially young ones, went to go visit the docile Quick Spring. The children also wanted to ride the beast, but were content with petting her fur. She seemed more comfortable among the small lizards than the adults, and the Thrill Seeker thought she may eventually overcome her fears so long as he took things slowly with her.
As the older members of the party predicted, two of the younger party members became even more driven to succeed after their repeated failures to bond with a Quick Spring. While other parties focused on hunting as normal, the Thrill Seeker’s party had become devoted to trying to make connections with the Quick Springs. Those that didn’t have the desire to ride the Quick Springs themselves assisted the other members that did, and as the days passed more lizards found themselves able to create that special bond with the Quick Springs when their desire synched with the heart of the beast.
The lizard society was once again headed for change thanks to the Thrill Seeker. The new docile Quick Springs quickly formed a herd of their own that wandered around the borders of the colony. There were some Quick Springs that preferred to stay close by their bonded lizards, but most were fine being with the herd until they were needed by their lizard companion. The lizards immediately noticed the need to differentiate the bonded Quick Springs from the wild herds used for food, and began to decorate their mounts as they would themselves. Necklaces were most common, followed by horn ornaments, to show that these Quick Springs were part of the colony.
Young born to the docile herd, while wary of the lizards, seemed more keen to accept their presence than their wild born cousins, and made them easier to bond with. It also became more apparent as time went on which lizards were more adept at bonding with a Quick Spring by the feelings exuded from their Family Heart when they looked upon the tamed beasts, although none were barred from at least trying to bond. And just as some lizards went about their lives not caring whether they rode a Quick Spring or not, there were also Quick Springs that stayed wild at heart, never bonding with a lizard, though some remained content to stay with their herd.
When the Thrill Seeker was much older, thanks to the many lizards that now bonded with the Quick Springs, expeditions to the old forest became possible. A distance that would have taken many moon cycles to walk could now be covered in a matter of days. They avoided the unstable walking bridge that had gone into disrepair, and aimed for the northern end of the land mass where the river had yet to completely sever through to the other side of the sea.
The expeditions were often a pleasant ride until they came to the areas desecrated by the volcano. For the new generation that hadn’t lived through the destruction, even they could hear the echos of the crying earth as they gazed upon the charred landscape. Among the blackened husks of trees there was little life. The feeling cast a pall over the explorers, come to see if they could find colonizable pockets of green forest among the debris, or if anything was salvageable.
The Quick Springs were usually uncomfortable in these areas that offered few places to hide from predators, but the comfort of their riders were able to still such fears to a tolerable amount for all but the most skittish. The riders were also reversely assured by their companions, relying on their heightened senses while they were on high-alert to be watchful for potential danger.
At the lead, the Thrill Seeker, now aged and experienced, led his troop through the routes he had seen a dozen times before. Despite his previous expeditions, he had not become numb to the sight of black shells of homes as they passed through old colony territories, and all who rode through the darkened roads experienced the same disquieting feelings upon seeing the rubble of former civilization.
Perhaps it was my own memories causing phantoms to appear in their hearts as they tread once lively ground, now desolate. As they gazed upon the burned and broken structures, seeming as if they would crumble at any moment, my memories overlayed on the scene. Where they saw a blackened hut, I saw a family of lizards going about their daily life. A black streak of soot was a common road traveled by many to the center of the colony. The ghosts of the past filtered in among the debris, and it was like I was losing them all over again as they faded from view. Nearly everything we had been through together lied on this side of the river, and to see it all but dead shadowed my heart in sorrow.
The only touch of color along the dark ground were small isolated shoots of green, plants and weeds attempting to reclaim the burned land, but not in any large amount. Likely they were wayward seeds, caught adrift on the wind and made to take root in the inhospitable lands. Periodically there would be small patches that had been able to thrive, but they were few and far between. But even so, the small amount of green was a tiny signal of hope. As the greens withered, they gave nutrients to the earth to help new plants survive, and in time, the forest would again come alive. So for now, although the phantoms and ghosts of a better time still haunted the spaces between the dead trees, they would eventually fade and give way to a new future.
That future, however, would come far sooner than I expected, and certainly not in any way I could have foreseen. The expedition troop was heading into new territory, nearer to the volcano than they’d ever been. The mountain still smoked every now and then and sometimes at night you could see a bright light trickling down the side, but no more large eruptions occurred now that a pathway had been opened. Still, it was unnerving to draw near, having seen the aftermath of its destructive power first hand.
As they walked along the old roads, a call came from the back of the troop. The Thrill Seeker at the front turned around on his mount, a son of his first docile Quick Spring, and headed towards the back of the pack. There he found a few dismounted lizards inspecting something on the ground. They were in an area affected by lava flows, the farthest reaches of the hot fingers from the days of the eruption. It had long been cooled, but it was still a strange sight. Long lines of black lumps, both smooth and bizarre, caressed the ground like an alien hand. Like waves in the sea or folds of cloth, beautiful patterns adorned the quieted magma. But it was not those beautiful shapes that had attracted the attention of the lizards.
Next to the mounds of lava rock there were glints of something in the ground. One of the lizards requested a tool, and hammer in hand, began to excavate the curious find. Bang bang, the hammer struck, ringing into the air as tension rose in the group, anticipating the find. As their emotions flowed into me, I was reminded of the first time I had ever seen my little lizards, and the Little Leader who had changed my life so significantly. Watching the actions mirrored here, I could see just how far they had come from the little lizards they used to be.
With a last strike and some muscle power, a rock was finally pulled from the earth. The lizards had seen many beautiful rocks, but this was something altogether different. It shone with a brilliance unmatched by any rock, like a shell from the Shore Colonies that reflected all manner of colors. But this was not some brittle shell. The hammer that had freed it from the ground had become dull very quickly, but the rock itself was hardly damaged from the blows.
As in every precious moment before this, I knew this one rock would again change their society in an untold amount of ways. There had been small sparkles in rocks from the mountains or the riverbed, but this piece was larger than the hand that held it. The aqua-colored shine extended like rivers over a brilliant orange surface, and it was beautiful to behold. The lizards would call it a shining rock, but I alone knew its true name.