Not far from the vein, while marching a length of quiet pipe, we heard quarreling voices. I urged my brothers to continue homeward while I investigated, for my manhood was only recently achieved and like all young hunters I was hungry to prove myself against adventures so that I might be lauded and sung about over the vents.
Using all of my cunning I crept upon the quarrel, hugging the cables that feed the lamps as I clung underside the ceiling, a knife clutched in my handsome yellow teeth.
I found two people and a small blind whale.
They were overworlders, yes, but I did not fall upon them right away. I watched. Though their speech was ridiculous and incorrect I was never the less fascinated to see that their hearts were not entirely unlike our own -- they bickered as any man and woman might.
In my opinion they looked supple and delicious, and so I waited for my opportunity to strike, hanging unseen over their heads as they shouted.
But instead of trying to console the woman so his night could be peaceful the man's anger grew, and finally he struck her across the face as if she were not an adult woman but a misbehaving child.
She ran to the whale, and an aperture unfolded from its side. She tried to put herself inside its body but the man pulled her out. She began to implore but his rage was total. He struck her again, and then she twisted free and dived inside the whale. She yanked closed the hatch before he could get under it, and then the whale's lights all lighted up and its stomach growled.
I realized that she was going to feed the man to the whale. It is well known that whales are bloodthirsty things.
The man tried to stand in front of the beast to interfere with its progress, but the whale was not intimidated. It surged forward and crushed its nose against the side of an archway, pinning the man. He made a sound of lamentation but it was brief. Even as the echoes of the impact died away through the nearby roots he was lifeless. The side of the whale popped open and the woman slid out in a spew of viscous blue collision fluid. She vomited some of the fluid out of her nose and mouth and then, confoundingly, attempted to return to the ruined giant carcass.
I decided it was time to intervene. If she damaged herself from grief she would not make a good meal. When the inner pipes of prey are perforated during death their dark essences can leak into the meat and turn it to poison. Members of my own clan have sickened and died in this way.
I leapt down from the ceiling and she screamed. I raised my knife but she dodged it, throwing herself against the collision fluid bubbling out of the stricken whale.
I understood why the man had been shouting at her: she was crazy.
But when she emerged from the foam I had a second understanding, taller than the first, and this was that she was not crazy. She was a mother. With desperate conviction she extracted a baby from the fluid, scooping strings of the stuff out of the baby's mouth and smacking the baby's back until it coughed and shrieked, as if it had been born of the beast.
She rolled her back against the whale and clutched the child to her breast, facing me with one arm raised defensively.