Hello friends and fictional folk! I’m so sorry this one took a while. I don’t know why, but this chapter just did not want to get written. Hopefully I can get back to my normal posting schedule. Anyway, its here for your reading pleasure, so I hope you all enjoy!
It did not take long for Natalie to realize that the connection she had felt to these hills was more than just nostalgia.
She had been following Daniel and Mr. Ross for about ten minutes as they retraced the tour around the hills the teacher had given on the field trip. That was when she finally recognized that what made her keep looking toward the southernmost hill was not a memory
The hills might have looked like normal mounds of grassy earth, had it not been for two things. Firstly, was the fact that they were in the middle of Kansas, one of the flattest areas in the whole United States. Secondly was their arrangement. Natalie was no geologist, but she was pretty certain that hills didn’t naturally form in a symmetrical pattern.
There were thirteen burial mounds in total according to the map Mr. Ross had given her. Based on the drawings, there were three central mounds running north to south. On either side of these three were four other mounds, two on each side, and another six surrounding those, also split half and half. The central mound was the biggest, with the ones to its north and south almost resembling tear drop shapes.
It was from the southern drop shaped hill that she was feeling the pull. She’d originally brushed it off as nostalgia. After all, this was where it all started, and that mound in particular she remembered eating lunch near. Except she’d never had a sense of nostalgia that felt like a slight tug in her chest. And this was definitely a physical pull, almost like someone had implanted a magnet in her chest. When she turned away from the hill, the pressure went on her spine. When she turned toward it, the pressure was on her sternum.
She couldn’t see anything special about that hill, at least not from where she was standing, but everything in her body was whispering to her to go that way.
“So, I think I found it somewhere over by Mound 4?” Daniel said, his statement turning into a question at the end as he pointed off somewhere vaguely to his left. He and Mr. Ross were a few steps away and facing away from both her and the hill she was being drawn toward. “Or maybe it was Mound 8.”
“I don’t mean to criticize you, my boy,” Mr. Ross said, “but how could you forget such a monumental event as finding an archeological artifact?”
“I’ve been a little preoccupied with all the other monumental events happening in my life.”
“Hey Daniel,” she called.
He and Mr. Ross turned to look at her.
“Did you maybe find it over there?” she asked, pointing at the southernmost hill.
The light of realization dawned in his eyes, then the blush of embarrassment. “Oh. Yeah. That would be it. Wait. How did you know it was that way?”
“I’ve been feeling a…pull that way ever since we got here. I know it sounds crazy but I’m serious. Its like I’m the needle on a compass and that way is north.”
“Fascinating,” Mr. Ross said, almost to himself. He was looking at her with what might have been curiosity. It made her feel like he was cross-referencing her with memories of frogs he’d dissected.
“Do you think it has something to do with your shard?” Daniel asked. “Does it remember this place?”
Natalie shrugged and looked away.
“No idea,” she said, deflecting the question. She didn’t want to admit that she had been wondering the same thing and just what that might mean about this place, the shards, and her. “The shard has never done anything like this before, and it certainly isn’t talking to me.”
She almost wished it would. Then maybe she could start getting some real answers about how the damn thing worked.
“Well,” Daniel said, “since you’ve got the compass sense, it would probably be better for you to show us where the way instead of me.”
“Quite so,” Mr. Ross agreed. “Lead on, McDuff!”
Natalie had no idea who McDuff was supposed to be, but she led on anyways. Following the pull from what she assumed was her shard, she walked up the hill, Daniel and Mr. Ross right behind her. Cresting the peak, she looked over the vast flat plains of Kansas stretching away from the hills. Looking down, she could see a spot at the foot of the hill where she remembered having lunch with the rest of her grade.
She frowned. Something was off. Maybe it was because of the compass comparison, but she had been expecting the pull in her chest to either spin around or point straight down into the hill. Instead, it kept tugging her south, almost seeming eager now, as if it could somehow see where she needed to go now that they were over the hill.
Maybe putting her trust in an ancient artifact of unknown power lodged in her sternum wasn’t the best idea, but she didn’t have any better ones. Besides, as much as she was afraid of what they might find at the end of this metaphorical chain, another small part of her was excited to finally find some real answers. And with those answers, maybe she could find a way to stop all the other hybrids without having to risk her life fighting them.
With that thought in mind, she marched down the slope.
About twenty feet from where she remembered her and the rest of the kids having lunch, she came upon a small, basketball sized crater in the ground. A few feet away, she spied a similar patch of grassless dirt, but this time in the shape of the tongs Ahuizotl had given them.
“This is where I found the ark orb!” Daniel announced, a little redundantly in Natalie’s opinion. “So that other hole must be where the tongs came from.”
Mr. Ross looked utterly dumbstruck.
“All this time,” he breathed, sound like he might snap and start pulling his hair out at any moment. “All this time the answers were right here!? We were a short walk away this whole time and never found anything!? Archeologists, dig teams, ground penetrating radar! All within a stone’s throw of this very spot!”
Natalie didn’t wait to hear if her teacher’s incredulity would turn into a full rant. The force in her chest was still pulling her onward and growing stronger with each step. She followed it, walking thirty, then forty, then fifty feet away from the base of the southern hill. Something important was here and it was calling to her, but ahead all she could see was miles of flat, wide-open grassland.
Why couldn’t she see it? There was definitely something she should be seeing but couldn’t. How far away from the hills would she have to go? What if she never–
She stopped so suddenly that Daniel ran into her from behind.
“What’s wrong,” he asked when they’d regained their footing.
“It’s gone,” she said, glancing around. “The pull. It just…disappeared.”
“Gone? But how? When?”
“I don’t know. I was walking and then it just vanished.”
“Natalie,” Mr. Ross said, calling for her attention. He had apparently regained his composure since that quick freak out a minute ago and was kneeling with his hand pressed to the ground, his eyebrows furrowed in concentration. “Something is moving below us. Can you use your snake DNA’s sensitivity to vibrations to determine what it might be?”
“I can try,” she said. It sounded simple enough. When she had been fully half-snake, she’d been sort of able to feel people walking around her through the ground. It hadn’t been a precise thing, but maybe with her new control over her powers she could sense things more accurately.
Concentrating, she transformed her arm from pale skin to green scales. She pressed her palm to the earth and closed her eyes. At first, she couldn’t feel anything except a slight tremor, which was concerning enough. But as she focused on the vibrations in the ground, she felt the snake transformation creep up her neck and into her ears, almost as if the shard was adapting to her needs.
She had imagined being able to somehow “see” what was underground like how a bat used echolocation, but that wasn’t what this was like at all. It was somewhere between touch and hearing, as if her hand and ears had been extended into the surrounding dirt. There was the soft taps and gentle press of Mr. Ross standing up and Daniel shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Somewhere off to her left a mouse scurried away, setting off a series of rapid taps like Morse code. And above all that, one sound and feeling dominated all the others.
Somewhere, deep below the surface, something big was rising to meet them. It wasn’t particularly fast, but it was steady and seemingly unobstructed by the yards of dirt it was tunneling through. The thing didn’t feel like a drill, or at least not what she imagined a drill to feel like. If she had to guess, she would have said it was dome shaped and about the size of a school bus. It burrowed through the ground with uncanny smoothness, not so much pushing through the dirt away but simply…moving it aside.
The closest example her mind could think of was when she’d learn about displacement in science class. Somehow this thing was just moving the soil somewhere else as if it were in a giant lake rather than solid ground.
As Natalie’s mind wrestled with what she was feeling she realized the thing beneath had almost reached the surface and they were standing right in the middle of its path.
Her eyes snapped open and she jumped to her feet.
“Move!” she shouted, grabbing Daniel and her teacher by the shoulder. “It’s almost here.”
“What is?” Daniel asked as she steered them away.
“I don’t know. But it’s big and coming fast.”
They ran until Natalie felt they were safely of the thing’s path. As it turned out, she’d gotten them out of the way just in time.
The ground where they had been standing rose, bulging like a hand pressing up through a bedsheet. The dome of dirt grew until it was nearly half the size of the burial mounds and then, like an eye opening from a long slumber, it split apart. The earth folded away to reveal a huge metal dome easily big enough to fit at least one of her school’s busses, two if you cut the second one in half and set the two halves to either side of the first bus. Despite having been buried for what must have been centuries, the surface of the dome gleamed as silver as the day it had been made. At least, Natalie assumed it was as clean as the day it had been made since she couldn’t see a speck of soil anywhere on its chrome exterior.
Once the dirt and dust had settled, the dome split open too, mirroring the way the earth had parted for its arrival. Inside was…nothing. Well nothing except for a wide platform that was as wide as the dome it fit inside and just as clean.
Natalie stared at the platform for several moments. Her reeled as she tried to process what she had just witnessed. She had seen many crazy things over the past two weeks, herself being one of them. But never, in all that time, had there been anything like this. In her mind, the shards had seemed like magic. Stuff that ancient and weird couldn’t have been made with technology. Yet here was what she could only imagine was the most high tech elevator she had ever laid eyes on. And even more unsettling was the realization that this couldn’t have been made by human hands.
Was this really happening? Was she looking at proof of aliens?
She glanced at Daniel and Mr. Ross. They looked as stunned and confused as she felt. What were they supposed to do now? This was outside of anyone’s area of expertise.
Finally, Mr. Ross cleared his throat and straightened his bowtie.
“Well,” he said, still sounding shaken, “I suppose our lift has arrived.”