The dream of the kaskas was truly fading away, now, and the world about Zikad was becoming more and more real. It was less like waking up than it was being inundated by cold running water–painful yet exhilarating.

With a resounding crk!, Zikad pulled himself free of his larval exoskeleton. Its thick, protective chitin had served him well for 37 years of growth underground, dreaming in tandem with his legion of brothers, sisters, and ancestors. But for the world above, for the Veld, he needed a different form. A softer body that could take whatever armor he set to it, eyes that could dart and focus, and wings that would bear him to the topmost boughs to sing his love to whomever would listen.

As he pulled himself free, tottering on his new legs and feeling his adult wings pumping as they expanded, Zikad looked about for the others. The junior brood should have been thronging around him, thousands strong, all newly awoken and newly molted.

But there was no one.

Zikad, confused, began to sing. Perhaps he had been laid too far from the others, an outlier. It had happened before, as his ancestors in the collective dreaming of kaskas had mentioned. But there came no answer to his song, nor did the Vale seem to give any indication that it had heard.

After 37 years of growth and dreaming, Zikad was awake, an adult, and–it seemed–utterly alone.

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