This is the rest of the story. Click here for the beginning
She shielded her eyes and looked at the horizon again. Her heart beat faster. There was no doubt this time. She could see the moving wall that signalled the next cycle closing in. It would still be an hour or more before it reached the mountain, but it was on its way.
She let out a deep sigh. The pilgrimage was complete. She no longer had to stay at the peak of the mountain, now she could make her way down to the transition zone. Despite the tiredness, despite the dehydration, there was a spring in her step. She was going back to what she knew. She was going back home.
The descent wasn’t easy. Much of the vegetation on the mountain was thick and wild, difficult to find a path through. She had to try and follow tracks made by small animals, forcing her way past trees and bushes that scraped her dry skin until it bled.
She didn’t care. All she focused on was being ready when the start of the cycle reached the mountain. Technically she didn’t have to be there at that time to finish the pilgrimage, she could head down after the front of the tide had passed. But, despite her significant age, a small part of her felt like a child again at the thought of greeting the cycle as it struck the mighty chunk of rock.
* * *
Finally she stood on the edge of the transition zone, well down the side of the mountain, waiting for the cycle to arrive. It was close now. She could tell by the actions of the creatures and plants below her, those far enough down the mountain to be engulfed by the cycle. Creatures adapted to survive the cycle.
Then she started to hear it, though at first it was more felt than heard, a rumbling that shook even the mountain. It started to become audible, building rapidly and far more discordant than she was used to. Normally the cycle simply washed over an area, but here it would batter its way around the mountain. That’s why the slopes below were stripped of all but the hardiest vegetation. The force of the cycle, of the massive tide, struck with more power here than anywhere else.
Now the roar of the tide was growing and the mountain was shaking even more. She let out an exultant shout as the tide struck the far side, recognising the sound from the previous cycles when she’d had to stay much further up the mountain. She knew the tide was sweeping past the mountain on both sides, drawing close to where she stood.
She fought the urge to leap off, to meet the water. If she leapt now she would hit the ground before the tide arrived. The fall of several hundred feet would certainly be fatal, but her body still trembled, desperate to return to the world she knew and unwilling to wait.
The tide finally completed its sweep around the mountain, the divided torrent meeting again in a foaming mass just below where she stood. She couldn’t restrain herself any longer. She leapt off, turning the movement into a graceful dive toward the surface of the water which was now barely a hundred feet away.
She plunged into the maelstrom, into churning waters that battered her backwards and forward, and her body throbbed joyously at the feel of water surrounding it again. She exulted in the feel of it washing through her gills, clearing out the dust and dirt of the last ten cycles.
Strength flowed back into her body and she fought her way toward the front of the tide. The churning water she swam through was full of plants and trees that had been dragged loose, and the occasional body of dry cycle animals that had failed to find shelter.
She avoided them all easily. The long tail which had been such a liability on the dry mountain now served its purpose. Her short legs tucked themselves away against her body, ensuring there was no drag. She rolled and turned in the water, laughing at destructive surges which held no fear for her. She rode the wave that way for an hour or more, covering a huge distance, before allowing herself to relax and slip into the calmer waters behind.
She luxuriated in the calm sea, in the coolness, and started to use the much gentler currents which followed the Tide to guide her back towards her home. A home which was half the world away from the mountain, but she would get there. She’d covered much of the distance already by riding the wave front, but she wouldn’t reach home this cycle.
That didn’t matter. She was within her environment again. Her body was hydrated, more than ready to cope with the dry side of the cycle when it came. During the wet side of the cycle she did what she wanted, went where she wanted. When the dry side came legs became more use than her tail and she was quite capable of both surviving and thriving in that environment.
But she would have to be careful about venturing too far in the dry. Once her people had free reign of the whole planet, but that was before the coming of the others. Before the coming of the creatures with long legs and no tails. Before the coming of the creatures that could only survive in the dry side. The creatures that erected strange structures to survive the wet side of the cycle. The creatures with metal vehicles that had descended from the sky.
It was those creatures that had driven her to take the pilgrimage. They had been expanding over time, taking more and more of her peoples’ natural lands. So far none of her people had been seen, but a meeting was becoming more and more inevitable as the interlopers expanded their reach. The way the newcomers treated other wildlife they found had convinced her people the meeting would be harsh when it came, that conflict would be inevitable.
She thought differently. She thought the newcomers could be reasoned with, but to do that she needed to understand them. That was why she’d chosen to embark on the full ten cycle long dry pilgrimage. Having spent ten cycles out of the water she felt she might have some understanding of how they would feel if they were denied the dry for a similar length of time.
Armed with that knowledge she felt ready to meet one of the others. Not that her people would approve of such a plan, or even know of it, but it was better to manage the first meeting rather than it happening unexpectedly. Now she just needed to choose an appropriate individual among the others and work out how best to make the first contact.
But not for a few days. First she planned to spend several cycles simply revelling in the feel of her world. The dry as well as the wet, for the world without water had a beauty of its own.
Then… in a few cycles… she would approach one of the newcomers. And she thought she might just know the perfect one…