The Reificant - Part Seven: Urge 03.16.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
I have fed the fire with the bodies of men and women I called friend. I have sealed the water beneath a golden lid and denied its triumph. I leave my shell in the cave in the mountains of black rock and return to the cold and dark place. A suggestion, electric, transmitted over distance and given flesh. To the creaking, rain-lashed debris of a past civilization, teetering on the brink of final dissolution, the water chewing up the legs. I am not alone.
I am not welcome...
I emerge from the wreckage of the iron tunnel into wan daylight and a driving, torrential downpour. I stand amid a once-great city of metal and glass, polymer and brightly-painted surfaces, eroded and collapsed to heaps. Leaning towers and scaffoldings rise high above, swaying amid the steady wrack of the unnatural ocean waves.
This is no place by the sea, no dockland, it is an island built upon gargantuan pylons of iron, eroding and sloughing off by hundred-ton panels into the rippling tides of the water below. The pale sea collides in thundering waves and steals away pieces of the platform. It is hard to say how long this process has been going on, but it is clear that it is nearing its end. Soon the ocean will weaken the massive pylons and this island city will begin to tilt and spill into the sea. It will be consumed and forgotten. As if it was never here at all.
I search the ruins of this place, climbing over fallen shelters and entering those that still stand. The wind is too powerful for me to take flight. Doors bang open, sheets of plastic billow out from damaged structures. The rain drums against roofs and spills down the sides to form streams of rust-red water that flow out to meet the sea.
I step beneath the sunken dome of a long-ago amphitheater. Faded images depict isopods standing on four legs and manipulating various objects with their many forelimbs. Water pours into the amphitheatre from the cracked dome.
A phosphorescent ecosystem exists amid the heaps of masonry and tangled support beams. Gilled fungi sprout high into the air. Glowing blue fruits sway atop long, pale stalks. A familiar white grass clings to huge, rectangular stones and the surrounding floor. Red light pulses from speckled fruit growing against the floor. Small crustaceans scuttle among this fungal forest.
I explore the amphitheater and beyond, encountering more and more of these fungal oases, always hearing the chatter of unseen animals and the quiet snap of jaws. I encounter crude sculptures of more recent design. These black symbols are made from crossed metal beams lashed simply together. They have been placed in odd positions - in vacant windows, leaning against structures. They remind me of the black, cruciform shapes the men painted upon the ceiling of the cave.
I come to a place where the city has fallen into total collapse, breaking open in an artificial canyon whose walls expose strata of levels, tunnels and pipes, plunging into the poisonous sea. Shaking walkways are suspended across this yawning gulf. I hesitate, watching the swirling water below. Its surface bulges and the water emits a series of bubbles, shedding envelopes, revealing themselves as a collection of dozens of translucent spheres. They rise up from the canyon, each bubble containing a green nucleus and tiny organelles. The bubbles swirl around one another, drawn together as if by magnetism, becoming a rising serpent amalgam that wriggles up from the canyon, colliding with several walkways, parting the fragile structures as easily as threads.
The walkways plummet into the canyon, disappearing into the water. The bubbles rise above the slumping spires of this wretched city. The bubbles break apart again into individuals, still rising, swallowed by the rain clouds above. I am alone. A single walkway remains to span the chasm.
Across the canyon, within the carcass of a manufacturing hall, clambering over the spill of forgotten machines, I discover a single, bloody footprint. It belongs to a man. I am tempted to call out, but I do not. I search the fallen machinery and discover a bloody clump of hair stuck to the corner of one of the rust-eaten machines. More blood, fresh enough to still be dripping, falls down the side of another machine.
There is little warning. It is a wonder that things with flesh so pale could so easily conceal themselves in the shadows. They hiss and click their jaws, leaping out at me from several directions at once. Their eyes are shocking blue, bulging from either side of flattened, oval heads. They are bipeds, but not jointed in the same way as a man, and their long forelimbs are viciously clawed. It is only their diminutive size that saves me.
They are smaller than a man, but more agile. They leap atop me, stabbing their claws into the soft flesh of my joints and tearing at my shell with their fingers. I am able to fling them away, breaking their bodies over the machinery, seizing them and tearing out their limbs with ease.
Many scuttle out of the shadows in ambush. They are fearless, but not foolish. I cleave through their bodies and flop their horrid entrails upon the tilting floor. They pause, circling me, baring their translucent teeth and snapping their jaws at me. They retreat into the darkness again, their blue eyes visible in the black longer than their hairless white bodies.
Alone again, my breath hissing through my spiracles, I feel the damage they have done to me. I am no longer sure-footed. Many small injuries are spilling out my lymph. It is not enough to kill me, even with time, but I will be slowed if they attack again.
I do not care. Even before I did not fear death. An end reached in battle was a glorious thing. During my travels I often envy my brothers who perished in the fight against the traitor queen. In death they became heroes, and I remain as flotsam, forever alive and adrift in this terrible water.
I track the creatures to an upper level of the manufacturing space. Narrow hallways covered in sodden blue cloth, decorated with oxidized fixtures and hollowed lamps, rotten doors hanging open. I can hear their jaws working. Snapping. They hiss and grunt at one another. They have some feast and I suspect I will not like what it is.
Ducking to enter the doorway I arrive in their nest. Twice the number that attacked me among the machines gather around the bloodied body of a man. His dark hair is peeled back with his scalp. His face is disfigured, his limbs and abdomen torn open. They are feasting on him. Some tear out chunks of his flesh. Others lower snapping jaws and press their snouts against his bloodied flesh, stretching and pulling the muscle, tearing out his tendons.
I kill them all. It is not a long battle. I divide them into pieces with my claws and discover their anatomy in sudden, violent motions. Their nest is drowning in their sour lymph. My body is draped in their innards. I live, my breath misting through the ichor that drips from my many wounds. I will perhaps not survive these injuries. I have at least avenged the human and--
"Winged Hunter?" moans the human.
"That is what I was called," I quill, though it pains me to do so.
The faceless, dying man sits up. He touches where his nose should be with the stumps of his fingers. He lowers the hand and turns his lidless eyes to me.
"Where is this place?" he asks.
"I do not know," I reply.
"I saw them," he says. "Beside the sea of white. They know...its shape. They gather there and...come from within it."
"You know these things?" I ask.
He shakes his head. A gesture I know to mean a negative response.
"This is not their place either. They are like us, Winged Hunter. They are an urge...within the...from within her..."
He is dead. I feel terrible guilt. I have caused this man, perhaps River Stone, to meet this terrible fate. My actions have brought him here.
Aimless, dying, I wander the ruined streets of this place. The rain subsides and the roar of the ocean seems to grow to fill this relative quiet. I stumble closer and closer to the sea, recalling what the dying human said to me.
I find them in a great multitude, perhaps thousands, crawling over one another, climbing out onto a fallen strut over the ocean, like caterpillars upon the branch of a garden tree. There is some form of terminal below, bent towers and the draped fabric carcasses of aerostats, torn and flapping in the wind. The pale creatures clamber over this and each other, reaching out, reaching for a cruciform shape like those I discovered before, held upright, presented to the crashing waves.
They sway in unison and the terrible sound they make, the rising and falling of their bestial voices, reminds me of the sounds the humans would make as they circled their fire. They see me, stumbling closer, too weak to challenge many of them, but they do not stop in what they are doing.
A dark shape resolves beneath the water. Large, but not vast. I can feel it as well. An oppression. A magnetism like the charging engines of my people's old weapons. It is an idiot voice, as potent as my Queen's pheromones, but with no pleasure. No guile. It is pure, mindless, fathomless yearning. It is abhorrent birth, a living forge. A Mother.
I scream. Not of my quills, but in an animal cry from within my throat. I fall to my abdomen and writhe in helpless agony. Hundreds of pairs of blue eyes are fixated on me, and through them I can feel their hunger. Their urge to dominate and consume. Are they of the water or do they only fill it? What is this presence that dwells within the water?
These creatures will not furnish me with answers. They pour over me in a tide. They are inhospitable to my shell and soft, inner flesh. Though small, they are surprisingly strong, with powerful fingers that pry up segments. I am unable to fight them. They tear me open and scoop out my life.
I return once more to the darkness, not silent or alone at all, but luminous and tangled in the lives of countless others, with minds like and unlike my own, with their own stories and eternities spent within the water. I can feel the Mother pulling at me, a heaviness, a desire to keep me from finding new flesh. By my will I am strong, seeking the place it does not want me to travel, a place of secrets and long-ago enemies of the water's unspoken purpose.
I spill out, into a place with no roots, into the void itself, wandering within a spire with no more home. As sure as the pale savages were the desire for violence and flesh I am the desire for truth.
I will know the water and why it is. It cannot stop me.