Horatch slept above the girl's head. He'd found a perfect tree, one with deep ruts for climbing and great, thick fronds to hide her sleeping body only to discover that she couldn't climb. Her pitiful attempts to scale even a few feet of tree trunk had reminded him too much of prey. She moved like an injured beetle, and he'd quickly decided to toss out the idea.
So she slept on the ground, covered in enough bramble and vines to hide her from sight at least. Her scent could still draw interest, however, and Horatch positioned himself on guard above her, his claws deep in the bark and his tarsi ready to sense even the slightest vibration from the surrounding jungle.
He wanted to be home already. The rift still waited two days' trot away, by pig, and he doubted his candidate could make it there in that time. He told himself that he still might return first, still might be the only one to find a candidate, but his heart didn't believe it.
Mostly, he missed Niatha. He longed to see her olive green gleaming from the side of the main pyramid.
The tree trunk thrummed and jerked his mind fully awake. An impact. He checked the girl below and found her sleeping, still as a stone. If she hadn't moved...The tree shook again, harder this time. Horatch felt the vibrations like a wave from the ground, up through his toes, and onward toward the fronds above.
Something big moving, something very big.
"Milyi," he voiced as softly as he could. The girl shifted, sent a micro tremor through the tree that drowned in the next huge thump. "Milyi, wake up."
"It's Horatch." He crawled down, near to her shoulder. "It's me, Milyi."
She rubbed her eyes and blinked at the jungle. "Right."
"There's something moving out there. We have to go and see it."
"Shouldn't we hide?" She sat straighter, pressed her body tight to the tree and Horatch took the opportunity to climb aboard.
"No. We have to go. I think..." Did he really think it? "I need to see what it is."
"I-it's dark, Horatch." Another tremor shook her frond bed, brought her up to her heels against the tree. "Was that it?"
"I believe so."
"What is it?"
He couldn't be sure, could he? Then again, what else was big enough, heavy enough to shake the jungles that deeply? "I believe it is one of the Great Ones."
"I thought they were all sleeping."
Thump. The trees rattled overhead, scattering birds that also should have been sleeping.
"This one appears be awake." He clung to her shirt with his forelegs and used his pedipalps to drum softly against the girl's shoulder. So quiet, his voice. Would the Great One even be able to feel him? "I need to get closer."
He could leave her here if necessary, but Horatch didn't care to be separated so soon. Milyi was his, had chosen him over her people, but in the face of danger most creatures ran for the familiar. He tapped again, and urged her to be strong.
"Milyi, if it's wandered from its burrow, if it's out in the open... We must see."
Tap, Tap, Thump. An answer shook through the vines. Low and swift, not the footsteps now, but drumming. Horatch heard the rhythm and his heart leaped to the skies.
"It's a Great One! It is!"
"Oh." Still, she hesitated. "That's good, right?"
"Hurry. This way."
He guided her with his toes and, this time, the girl moved. The jungles quaked now, rattled by the return drums of the giant who by all means should not be wandering out in the open. Not yet, at least. Not when they had no candidates. Then again, perhaps Milyi...
"Can you dance, Milyi? If you need to?"
"Dance? Of course, but why would I?"
"Just be ready." Excitement joined his anxiety now. If the girl was meant to bond so quickly, Horatch wouldn't need to bring home the first candidate. He could bring home the first Great One! She'd had no training--they hadn't had any time--but he had faith in his girl. She could do it. "Don't be afraid, no matter what. Just let the dance take you. Like in the clearing."
He coached her and she tensed and listened, ducking fronds and vines and weaving their way closer to the drumming giant.
"His burrow was destroyed." Horatch relayed the words inside the beat. If she understood the Great One, it would go smoother for them. "He seeks shelter and...rest."
That part didn't make sense. If he'd awoken for Milyi, why did he still long to sleep?
"Wait, Milyi. Just a moment." He needed to think. Horatch wouldn't lead the girl to her death, not for the sake of his own pride.
"What is it?" Her voice trembled. She wasn't ready. This Great One was lost, searching yes, but not for his Hand. "Horatch?"
"Don't move." A spider that big, one who'd slept that long, would be ravenous. If it didn't want to bond, it would most certainly appreciate a snack. Horatch had no intention of giving it one. "Hold very still, Milyi. Perfectly still."
Now he'd really scared her. Instead of freezing, the girl shook until his tarsi buzzed with her terror. They'd sound like prey for certain now. They sounded like a cricket, or a bee, or... What was that sound? The buzzing shook through the fronds now, could not come just from his nervous partner. The sky filled with it, a hum, a drone that burned down through the trunk and filled his body with a new horror.
The Great One was out of its burrow. It was exposed, unprotected, vulnerable. And the Wisps had just found it.