The Reificant - Part Six: Exile 03.09.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
I have traveled across the darkness. I walk among the bipeds of soft flesh and they are called men. Their place is warm and sunlit and there is no sea. The sand is white and the mountains are made from black rock and red and crumbling, rusty brown. Among them I am alone...
Silence. The village is quiet without the children. None of the remaining adults speak unless absolutely necessary. There are no more barks of laughter. No more games of climbing ladders or chasing after the animals they call dogs. No more cries of, "Winged Brave, what did you bring us?"
The juvenile humans departed with those adults who did not bathe in the waters of the pool. I scouted a path for them to the nearest river, but even still there seemed little hope among River Stone and his brothers that this group would survive.
"It is the end of our tribe," spoke River Stone. Most of the adults had succumbed to the waters, believing the regenerative process was a blessing. They remain with me.
"We are alone," one of River Stone's brothers says to me. "What will you have us do now?"
I help them find a rock large enough to cover the pool. It is very heavy, but with my help we are able to move it into the cave and position it near the pale, stinking waters.
"In time the water will eat the stone," I quill in their language. "We must make this better. Do you have the means to take gold from the mountain?"
They do not, but they have traded longer ago than any can remember for necklaces and bracelets of gold. These are old treasures of their people, though they do not seem to place much value upon them. They pile them up for me and do not seem to care that I begin to melt them in a clay bowl set over a fire.
It takes me three days to prepare the rock with the gold. I do not know if a certain thickness will be required to resist the corrosive effects of the pool. I can only hope it is adequate to seal the waters within the mountain.
"It is ready," I quill to River Stone.
When darkness comes to the village the men and women build a large fire on the highest outcropping. The walls of the canyon are lit red and seem to squirm with the moving shadows produced by the firelight. The tribe dances in a ritual circling of the fire. As they do, they raise their voices, making sounds, but not words. Some embrace in mating rituals. Some sit alone and look up at the sky, dappled with ten thousand stars.
They laugh and make merriment long into the night. When I rise I find them slumped upon the bare earth, their bodies damp with dew. Only River Stone is awake to greet me. He rouses the tribe. One by one the men and women lift their heads and slowly, stiffly, come to their feet.
"It is decided," says River Stone. "We wish to see you in the sky once more this day."
My wings open with a snap, shaking loose the dust that has gathered during the night. The morning light beams through the translucent inner wing. I beat my wings and rise into the blue, circling higher and higher above the canyon, catching thermals and rise until I cannot even see the buildings of the village below. I can see the curve of the planet and the distant, silver meander of a stream passing through the tableland.
I dive lower, swooping through the canyon, close enough that my beating wings stir the hair of the men and women gathered upon the tiers of canyon rock. I repeat this several times, swooping closer and closer. My legs unfold from my body and, with a last beat of my wings, my weight settles back upon the ground.
"You will remain here when we are gone," says River Stone, repeating my plan. "So we have prepared a room for you to wait."
He takes me up to the highest outcropping and shows me the narrow entrance of a cave. To my surprise the chamber opens up within, the walls shaped with flint chisels, reaching up as a dome that is colored white with some pigment. Upon the white surface of this dome are hundreds of black cruciform shapes.
"This is the shape of your body in the sky," says River Stone's brother.
From wood they have made a platform large enough for me to sit upon. Around the walls the others have left images, simple, but depicting the water and the danger it poses to any who might come upon this place.
"Thank you," I say.
"Hmm," says River Stone and I do not know what this means.
The tribe files out of the cave.
Later, after the meal, the men and women of the tribe lay down upon the ground. They place their bellies against the rock and their faces into the stone so that only their backs and their black hair shows. I scuttle into the cave containing the pool and, with a straining effort, I roll the gold-sheathed rock into place atop the pool. The seal is not so perfect as I would have hoped.
"It is time," I say, emerging from the cave.
The axe is made from black rock and a length of timber. River Stone heft it in his hands.
"I am long in years and this will be unpleasant work. Will you help me?"
"Yes," I quill.
The stone axe cracks as it is brought down against the back of the head of the first man lying upon the ground. The skull gives and the man's red lymph runs out. I use a large stone, held in the claws of my forelimbs, lifting it and dropping it upon the heads of each man and woman in the line. In this way, after only a few difficulties, River Stone and I slaughter the entire tribe.
We wait to see if any emerge from the pool. We listen for cries that might indicate they are trapped beneath the stone. Our arms are stained with red lymph. River Stone is shaking with exhaustion.
"It has worked," I quill to him.
"Has it?" he sighs. "Do you know if we rest at last or if we only have gone to some other place?"
"I cannot know this for certain," I reply. He seems satisfied with my answer.
"Then it is time for me to go as well," he says.
I grasp River Stone's head in the claws of my forelimbs. His eyes are dark and unafraid.
"Carry me to the night," he speaks to me.
With a quick motion I detach his head from his body. Red lymph pours upon the stones in a great quantity, mingling with that of all the other slain men and women. I drag their bodies into a fire pit and I make them burn. The smoke is thick black.
I take one last look at the village, recalling the many days I have spent among the humans. I climb the canyon face to the upper cave and take my place upon the platform the tribe has built for me. I steady myself and place my claw against the flexible gap between my prothorax and head. The serrated edge of chitin easily passes into my softer tissue and opens up my circulation to the air. My lymph flows down my thorax and spills onto the ground at my feet. There is some pain, but it is over quickly and I inhabit darkness.
I arrive with the booming of a titanic storm muffled by the fluid surrounding me. I rise within the water, my body dragging against joints of metal, tearing my cowl, exposing me to the boiling liquid. I am heaved upon a ramp, tilting as if the surrounding room has partially collapsed. I am within a spire of unknown construction, gray light and storm clouds are visible through a hole in the ceiling. Nearby, an unseen ocean crashes.
The hole in the roof is too small for me to escape. I climb, instead, through a jumble of collapsed tunnels and abandoned rooms. Moldering signs and peeling posters depict six-eyed quadrupeds resembling isopods. Water spills into the hallways and slicks the rusted iron of the floor. I emerge upon a rain swept platform of immense scale. A profusion of metal structures, including habitats, towers and finned poles, cover the sprawling surface of the platform. The ocean crashes and drums beneath my feet, but I know without seeing that it is not the sea at all.
The air is thick with the smell of rotting soft meat. The sea of this place, like the Surata, belongs to the water. Something breaks in a nearby building. Animal chattering echoes deeper in the tangle of sagging, metal shelters. Whatever has happened to this place, I am not alone.