The Reificant - Part Three: Panorama 02.17.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
Reduced from shell and soft meat to a thought. To the crackle of lightning between nerves. To the fire that burned within my body. I dissolve. I am nothing. I AM. Wearing flesh of your place. An old friend. A beast. These limbs and this shape you know, this configuration less terrifying.
My flesh does not know words so I speak with fire.
The sea of Surata, turned the color of secretor's milk, boiling with corruption. Contamination. Idiot queen of my people. I step into its befouled waters and my shell is consumed.
There is a coldness between, yawning and empty. I traverse in time unfamiliar to living things. Light's journey of centuries in an instant. I am remade. I am reconstituted. Birthed live and adult onto unfamiliar shores.
The air is flat in my lungs. Cold and bitter. It does not sustain me as it should. I tear at the membrane that encloses me and spill out into a muddy riverbed. The banks are steep, the earth soft and churned. The world beyond is gauzy with smoke. Storm sound rumbles. Distant lightning flashes through the blanket of gray.
I beat my wings to slough the remaining membrane. There are squared pieces of wood and strange shapes cast from metal turned to rust and pressed into the mud. In many places there are impressions in the earth as if a large animal has moved from one side of the riverbed to the other.
Each marking is filled with a fine, white dusting of familiar fungus. This is the same plant that infested the gardens and sent its mycelia threading around the necks of every plant. It was this same fuzzy white that afflicted the warriors of the allied spire. More of this than I first realized spreads throughout the riverbed, clinging to pieces of wood, a beard upon the crossed iron trusses of some past structure now buried in the muck.
I follow the trickling waters into the smoke. I come upon a blackened machine. It is made from metal and it has been burned, slumping half in and half out of the riverbed like an immense, dead caterpillar. Linked panels of iron spill from round hubs shaped like loom wheels. It is still warm. There are dead things within, mossy and white, but I do not recognize them.
The thunder intensifies. The earth shakes with its violence. A bestial howl penetrates the deadening smoke, louder than the thunder, approaching at great speed. Shapes begin to resolve from the smoke. Huge, broad-shouldered bipeds. Some are bare-chested, others are hung with scraps of cloth. They hurl themselves into the riverbed by ones and twos until I am surrounded. They are soft meat. Their flesh is gray, muscles bulging, marked with symbols and stitches of black cord. Their heads are hard, black, arachnid shapes covered in bristles. Their multiple eyes regard me with hostility. Each of the beasts carries a long piece of metal in its muscular forelimbs.
The thunder is so loud I cannot hear their cries. Each burst of thunder seems to be at ground level and it beats against my shell. The bipeds take out sacks of black from pouches worn around their chests and they cover their heads. I do not understand the purpose.
Wisps of violet vapor curl through the gray and fall upon the riverbed. Where it touches the white fungus turns black and crumbles. I suck the air into my spiracles and immediately I am wracked with pain. Poison! The thunder was the bursting of bombs and this, the violet smoke, a poison gas.
The pain is too great and I am unable to stand. Dizzied, thrashing at the feet of the bipeds, I wish for death to take me from the agony. It feels as if fire has seeped into every joint and every duct.
One of the giant bipeds looms above me. Its chelicerae beat and it emits a clicking noise I can hardly hear above the booming explosions. It brandishes a long piece of metal. There is a snap against my nerves and a sound like cracking stone and I realize, as I reel back into the coldness between, that my shell has burst to pieces and my inner softness has sublimed. I am no more.
I emerge in this same place, in the riverbed crowded with the bipeds. I tear from my hideous cowl and throw myself away from the violet smoke, away from the arachnid bipeds, and into the water once more. Crossing, flowing by no decision of my own, to resolve in a new place. The darkness is much quieter here, but I am flesh and emerge to a deafening scream.
I free myself from the membrane of my unnatural creation. I inhabit the bottom of a deep shaft in the earth. It is lit by the soft, blue glow of fungal fruits atop swaying stalks. Larger caps pulse with hypnotic life and tiny crustaceans move among them.
High above, a wan crescent of light breaks into the shaft. The screaming I hear is the wind against this opening. It is cold. My joints and mouth steam and I exhale in boiling gusts. I beat my wings and rise easily, as if I weigh very little, ascending the shaft and emerging into a desert of ice. The pitted face of an unknown moon looms in the starry night sky. The wind trails snow from the peaks of folded mountains.
My body is not made for this cold and my joints become stiff, the air sharp in my lungs. I take wing above the mountains, buffeted by the snow, the cold digging its talons into me inexorably. My shadow glides across the white peak of a mountain and I soar above a trackless valley.
There, in the midst of the ice and snow, half lost to the pitiless winds, are the metal ribs of a fallen spire. I descend with a last beat of wings, kicking the snow into my ice-touched face. This is a long-ago place. The rings of support beams curve high above me. Walls and struts have been stripped away leaving only an ice-hung skeleton.
No, that is not entirely true. Walking among the abandoned spire I see signs of more recent activity. Perpendicular pieces of metal have been lashed together with black ropes torn from inside the walls of the spire. These strange icons have been placed throughout the spire. Near the far end of the gutted structure lies a machine too large to be stripped down by the pitiless wind. Central to this device is a huge column of metal descending into the frozen earth. I take it for an excavation machine.
My limbs fail to move. I am able to beat my wings enough to rise into the air, but I cannot fly for long. I clamber on my six limbs. I can feel the ice in my lymph. I have only enough strength to push myself over the mouth of the shaft and fall directly into the Pool.
I am born once more upon the shores of the Surata. It is apparent I was deposited here on some whim. I did not wish to ever return to this place. Much more time has passed than I anticipated. The garden is completely gone. Many of the spires have collapsed or burned out. The rain falling from the smoke-black sky stinks of ammonia. Beneath that, too potent to be smothered, I recognize a confusing, sickening smell of desperation. It is the cloying perfume of the traitor queens.
I search my spire, but there is nothing left for me there. It slumps against a lesser structure, the tunnels and floor at uneven angles, serving as a tomb for the desiccated remains of dead warriors. A slow-moving animal seemingly made from bent wires begins to devour a faintly luminescent jelly. The small, pale bipeds with blue eyes gather in the fallen spire's dark corners and watch me furtively. A towering beast lies dead, half-eaten, in the boulevard just beyond.
I cannot stand to remain in this unfamiliar place. I return to the sea. As I approach the churning water, intent on my return to exile, a creature is heaved upon the shore at my feet.
It struggles with its cowl, clawed limbs stretch and pierce the membrane and tear open the mucilaginous tissue. Hard limbs emerge, awkward, but quickly it finds its balance and stands in much the same posture as I. No, not much the same. Its posture is identical. Its face is exactly my own. It reacts with the same hissing sound and draws back from me. Its black shell is flecked with red. The patterns upon its folded wings are too exact to be chance.
There is no denying what my senses confirm: by the sickening caprice of the water, I have multiplied.