The Reificant - Part Four: Warning 02.24.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
By the water I am multiplied. Gleaming droplets glistening on arachnid web. Moved by tides. Witness to the devouring.
I am home. Forever. My place is lost. My spire has fallen. I cannot return to this place.
Upon the crumbling shores of the Surata, precious waters turned to white, the sea is boiling mud. It has devoured the things we have built and in the places of our seaside spires disgorges a host of giants and pale predators. I stand before myself. An exact double, clawed free from its wrapping.
"Why do you wear my carapace?" I quill to this imposter. "Why do you conceal yourself beneath my pattern?"
"You are the taker of my pattern," it quills in return. "No matter the shell you wear, you will never possess my heart."
But it is wrong, for this very thought occurred to me in the same moment. We decide in short exchange that only one of us can remain.
"I will return to the water and inhabit whatever place it takes me," I quill.
"Then I will remain among the ruins," it answers."I will witness..."
The imposter turns its back to me and gazes at the buckled stones of the once-proud boulevard, at the fallen spires and obelisks. At the purple-black sky of pyroclastic clouds lit from within by lightning. At the final, pitiful remains of our civilization picked over by beasts. I know its sorrow, for its heart is my own.
I return to the scouring pain of the water. I am disintegrated by heat. I flow as a river through the cold and dark.
Heaviness. Crushing heaviness. I cannot lift myself from within the membrane of my resurrection. I flail and squirm out upon baking surface. There is weight to my lymph.
Golden hooks pierce the fleshy caul, retracting it and freeing me with a gush of fluid upon rock. I am in a vast chamber lit by the glow of fire. The heat is unbearable. Strange hands clean my body. They are simple, unformed, and attach to thick, short arms that bend without apparent joints. The great weight upon me is such that I cannot lift my head to look upon these creatures.
Each breath I take is more difficult than the one before it. I am suffocating as if the chamber is filled with smoke. Darkness closes around me. The heat begins to cook the softness within my shell. The joints of my limbs pop with sharp pain and exhale steam from my boiling innards. This agony is brief. I am lost to suffocation long before I perish from the temperature.
In the darkness between. Lingering. By my will I do not recoil from this place. There are shapes drifting with me. Dormant. Vessels waiting to be filled with fire. My fire. My intent. This is no process to be explained. It is the complexity of procreation and birth and the natural attraction of magnetic poles.
I am born of the pool into the sticky shroud. My hands are unformed. My body is pliant, but dense. A compressed fluid in a stout, bipedal shape. My caul is torn away by golden hooks. I am lifted upon simple feet and short, thick legs. Robbed of a pair of limbs is disorienting. For a biped it might seem like walking upon your hands. I have no palps either, only a simple slit of a mouth filled with a quivering lump of muscle.
How can I speak without quills? The chitter of a mammal? The hiss of a reptilian? I open my mouth but there is no sound.
Most disorienting is the way in which I see this place. The simple eyes of this body perceive a colorless, flattened world with a faint white glow surrounding every object. The creatures around me, presumably of the same species as this flesh I wear, are small, wide bipeds with featureless and asymmetrical heads. They possess paired eyes so miniscule they are nearly lost in the folds of their brow. Some have bodies more slender than others.
They amble, swaying from side to side. Their limbs are slow and imprecise as they help clean away the membrane from my body. When they are finished they move away in different directions as if they have no interest in me.
My body - the body of my birth - lies upon the floor of this chamber, roasting in the heat. It is deformed by escaping steam. Liquid bubbles from the ruptured hemispheres of my former eyes. The creatures seem entirely disinterested by it. Watching them skirt around it in their awkward stride I am concerned I may be forever trapped in this flesh. I intended, after all, to escape my place for good. Are these my people? Is this my home?
For a time it is.
The chamber is a natural, domed cavern of great size. Light filters in through several channels in the ceiling. They are angled such that I cannot see the sky above, but I can sense the passing of day into night. Light is also provided by a yawning tunnel which emanates intense heat. My body perceives this heat as pleasure and the mouth, glowing white by my perception, is crowded with the creatures. They stand at the tunnel entrance and sway in place, like strands of sea grass in a slow current. Periodically, some will wander away and more will amble over and join this strange tableaux.
The creatures are builders. They construct tiny, bulbous shelters and fill them with various rocks and trinkets. They make only one sound with their mouths. "Mummon." They speak it at different volumes, which seems to have some meaning. They often mutter it to themselves or exchange utterances as if it is a greeting. I come to think of these creatures as the Mummon.
My body is not without its own desires. After the passing of several days I become very tired. I try to sleep, lying upon the hot stones, but I am surrounded by the creatures who prod me and speak, "Mummon?" I gradually realize that they think I am sick or dying.
I stand and in my weariness my body exerts some control. I am drawn inexorably to stand at the mouth of the tunnel. I stand with the others and I see that down the glowing tunnel is a moving river of magma. The heat from it awakens some process within my body. It feels as if I am bubbling within and the heat brings me pleasure. The air that passes through my mouth in exhalations takes on a strange taste. My vitality is soon restored.
There is pleasure to forgetting my past sorrows. To losing myself in this new place. There is no heirarchy, no queen or pheromone to guide them. The society of the Mummon is completely egalitarian. I learn to shape the stone with my hands and construct a shelter like the Mummon. Mine is crude and misshapen. A slender Mummon approaches and assists me in constructing my abode.
"Mummon," it says in a tone and volume I recognize as friendly.
"Mummon," I reply, trying to copy its tone. It seems baffled by my response and slowly retreats.
I encounter this individual again. I watch it melt golden ore from stone and forge it into hooks. I learn by observing that these implements are used in the water because, unlike all other stones or metal, they do not corrode.
Later, I do not know how many days, I purposely stand beside this Mummon at the warming mouth of the tunnel.
"Mummon," I say in a tone I hope is friendly.
It looks at me for a moment and then replies, "Mummon."
Kinship wells within me. To be understood, to connect, is the greatest imperative of all living things. Without my Queen I was without meaning. Now, for a moment, I think I might find new purpose. I have observed the forging of the golden hooks. Perhaps this is a task I can perform.
There is a greater concern. I know the danger the water presents. I want to warn these creatures of the threat in their midst, but this idea is far too complex to communicate in their language. I am trying to speak these concerns to the slender individual when I learn of another ritual of the Mummon. The earth shakes, gently at first, but with increasing violence.
My companion loudly says, "Mummon!"
It ambles to its shelter and ducks inside. As I watch my companion seals the entrance with its hands, cocooning itself completely within the bulbous chamber. All of the Mummon in sight are following this example, ambling at their best pace towards their shelters. I amble to my shelter and enter it. There is nothing here. I have not collected any rocks nor have I made any hooks. I squat inside the bulbous chamber. I do not seal the entrance. I know that my body wants to, but I want to know the purpose of this act.
For a long while it is silent except for the fitful rumble of the earth. Then I detect a distant cry from above. It grows louder quickly and becomes a multitude of screeching voices. In a sudden torrent, black, leather-winged creatures pour into the chamber, flowing down the tunnels that provide access to the outside. Their shrieks become an echoing cacophony within the cavern.
There is something familiar about these creatures. They are as large as the Mummon. They are drawn immediately to the roasted corpse of my previous body. Dozens of them land upon it, unhinging long jaws and snapping at the cooked flesh within my former shell in a frenzy.
I seal myself quickly into my shelter, but not before they notice me observing them. They squawk and beat their bodies against the stone shell of my shelter. Their claws scratch and their jaws snap. They cannot get inside.
Alone in the darkness I can only wait for the swarm to depart.
After many hours my body instinctively knows the danger has passed. I open my shelter and emerge. My former body is gone. Not even a smear of it remains on the stone. The shelters and floor of the cavern are covered in a thick layer of guano. The Mummon set about clearing this filth and pushing it into the pool with more tools forged from gold. They work slowly and in shifts, handing off the tools to retire to the tunnel entrance and bask in the heat of the flowing magma. I take my turn alongside my slender companion.
"Mummon?" it inquires.
I do not answer with a word. I stop shoveling the guano and turn the handle of the implement in my hands. I place the tip of the handle into the filth and begin to draw the outline of my former body. My limbs are awkward and ill-suited to the task, but what I create is recognizable. My companion stares at me. I gesture down at the drawing in the muck. It finally looks down. After considering the image it runs its rake over the depiction and destroys its lines.
"Mummon?" I ask.
It abandons me with what haste it can muster.
I feel alone, but continue to reach out to the other Mummon. Though they might temporarily accept me, any attempt to communicate with an image is met with similar rejection. Finally, the slender Mummon and several others use their golden rakes and destroy my shelter. It crumbles beneath their slow swings.
"Mummon!" my former ally says with anger when I try to approach.
I am rejected by the Mummon. They send me to the other side of the water along a narrow strip. I can only watch from the cold as they go about their work and rescue newly emerged Mummon from the pool. I feel myself growing weak, but they will not allow me to approach the warmth of the tunnel.
My body feels on the brink of death when the rumbling commences again. It is prolonged and constant. I am too weak to even close my shelter. I retreat inside it and watch as the Mummon cocoon themselves safely in their own.
The shaking begins to breaks loose small rocks from the ceiling. A boulder crashes down upon a Mummon shelter, flattening it as easily as an egg. The chamber booms with a roaring sound. It reminds me of the rush of a waterfall. It grows louder and louder. Darkness covers the channels that normally light the cavern.
No flying creatures enter. Instead, black serpents slither down the channels, long and muscular, probing the interior, so long their tails never even enter. They have heads barbed with hooks and no apparent eyes. They quest among the shelters and curl around stalactites and stalagmites. One black serpent coils around the bulb of my former companion's shelter. It tightens, flexing with obvious muscular action, and uproots the bulb from the floor of the cavern. The shelter crumbles in its grasp and my companion tumbles out.
"Mummon!" he cries with alarm. The serpents wrap around him and muffle his panicked cries. There is a wet tearing and the serpents pull my unlucky friend apart in a welter of pale green fluid. Several serpents curl around limbs and body and drag him up through the channel in pieces. A membrane-wrapped body immediately heaves out upon the shore of the water.
There follows a roar so loud it shakes loose a massive plank of stone that crashes into the pool, releasing a tidal wave of liquid that coats and dissolves a number of shelters. The unlucky Mummon killed are also reborn in wriggling packages.
Their new lives are short. More and more stones are plummeting into the Mummon village. Fissures split the roof of the cavern. The channels to the surface, choked with black serpents, begin to break open. Like talons lifting the lid of a cage, the serpents cover the roof of the chamber and peel it back in a shower of debris.
The sky appears above, purple-black, like the sky above the Surata, Grasping and discarding the roof of the cavern is an immense beast, balanced high above on towering, emaciated legs. It is the source of the serpents, served by a beard of black tendrils. In my horror of recognition a new horror: it begins methodically breaking open the shelters and devouring the Mummon.
This body is ill-suited for climbing, but I attempt it anyway. I scale to an upper fold of the rock where the serpents have worn away the stone. My hands at least adhere easily to the stone and, though weakened, I am driven by the piteous cries of the dying Mummon. When a searching tendril passes near to me I press myself against the rock and remain perfectly still. The serpent's barbs prick at my flesh, stinging me, but I remain motionless. I am not recognized as food.
My escape from the ruptured cavern only deepens my despair. Beneath the familiar pyroclastic skies lit by flashes of static lightning I see a vast plain dotted with the broken domes of caverns, each a discrete world, ruptured like pustules, drained of their contents by the stilt-legged giants slowly patrolling the smoky wasteland. Within each hollowed cavern is the milky gleam of the water. My hopes of saving this place were misbegotten. This place belongs to the water.
I do not want this body to nourish these beasts. I will leave this place. I will return to the water and never return. I look down at the perilous fall to the cavern floor below. With my strength fading, I cast myself from the rocks and into the churning waters of creation.
I slip free from this body and I am the lightning within the clouds. I cross the yawning black. I emerge within a cavern. Shafts of crystalline light penetrate the darkness. In the body of my birth, with the claws of my people, I tear at the membrane of my resurrection.
I rise slowly. It is unpleasantly hot, but not dangerously so. I stand within a cavern. The air is thin, but I can breathe. I take in a whistling gasp through my spiracles. I flex my palps. My familiar eyes adjust to this unfamiliar place.
A bipedal creature stands before me. Its flesh the color of stone, its hair long and black. Its face is marked with a line of red pigment across its snout. It has two large, dark eyes. It recoils from me. Cautious. It does not flee.
I am much larger than it, but this creature is courageous.
The fleshy parts of its mouth move and it speaks in a complex language.
"What are you called?" I quill.
It does not understand my words any more than I understand its words, but in time I will learn what this animal is called.