The Reificant - Part Eight: Reprise 03.23.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. I return.
Witness to endings. Failed protector. Wayward servant of a dead Queen. I am torn from my shell by the hands and jaws of the pale men who are not men. I become the static charge whispering through water. Crossing the gulf. Traversing by will the branching rivers through the black. I am made whole. I am ejected from the water with great violence, landing upon the surface of cool metal, my cowl-wrapped limbs in the stroboscopic relief of flashing machine lights. My body is heavy as a leaf tossed by the wind.
I am one of many...
Rising on new limbs and ascending a hill of discarded wrappings. The soft-meat stench of the water is all around me, suffusing the air with its fetid heat. Moisture beads upon the dark surfaces of this spire. The flashing lights high above are disorienting to me and I seek an escape. Emerging into a corridor I taste the scent of battle. The acrid odor of the old weapons and the cooked-meat stink.
Stretching before me is a great, gory carpeting of looping innards. Limbs and heads piled up and steaming. Hundreds of the pale men died in this corridor, their bodies transformed by great violence into a singular horror of viscera and bone and dead-eyed faces.
I gingerly navigate through this slaughter until I come upon the source of the violence: a huge, oblong device of arachnid appearance, its hull seemingly carved from black stone. Dozens of the pale men, dead, are clinging to the device's inert body. Its golden limbs are deformed, its crystalline eyes broken and weapons torn from their moorings. By will and weight of numbers the pale men must have overwhelmed this sentinel's potent weapons.
Continuing past this wreckage I follow a distant sound, like a vast and slowly beating drum of River Stone's tribe. This steady throb echoes from corridors lit by softly glowing strips of golden light. When corridors intersect I instinctively know which path to follow, drawn inexorably towards the sound.
The corridor I am traveling opens into an immense chamber, so large that the opposite sides can only be seen as faint lights. A golden edifice stands in this cavernous room and the open corridor passes through its shadow. The sculpture depicts a serpentine being with powerful limbs, the details of its bony face lost to pools of darkness. Around the coiled base of this statue there is a great mound of debris. Something is moving on this hill.
I climb from the corridor and leap, spreading my wings to glide down gently into the debris-scattered plaza surrounding the statue. That debris crunches beneath my limbs and I see that it is a great ossuary, piled high with ancient bones. These crumbling skeletons are unfamiliar to me as are the markings upon the golden cenotaphs arrayed among the remains.
Nearby, a small, golden obelisk I had not noticed emits a shrill tone. I shuffle aside as red light blooms from its cap and a translucent form resolves. It is a being similar to that depicted by the statue, it begins to speak in sibilant tones, seemingly addressing me. Its voice echoing loudly in the cavern. Startled by the sound, small white crustaceans scuttle fearfully among the bones.
I try to quill to this phantom in the languages I have learned, but it does not respond and I become distracted. The movement that originally drew my attention appears once more. A number of my kin are here. They are simple workers, wingless, short-bodied, their heads broader than my own and their limbs suited to hard labor. The translucent red serpent turns to regard them as they approach.
"It is good to see you," I quill to these lesser workers. They do not answer, but continue towards me, drawing into a loose semicircle. They stop short of me.
"What has brought you here?" I ask.
By a process I do not comprehend my dull-eyed kin reveal their truth to me. There is a flare of light within each. Burning, ghostly shapes appear curled within their bodies as if a swallowed fire glows within them. At first I do not recognize these shapes. They are anatomically exposed to reveal layers of tissue, organs, glands, bones and the steady, translucent pulse of lymph.
It is their bulging eyes and the curving dental plates attached to the jawbones of their flattened skulls that I finally recognize. These spectral beings are the pale men, lambent within the host of my kin. As I once slipped into the flesh of the Mummon, so these foul parasites burrow into the flesh of my people.
"I do not fear you," I quill.
They attack in unison and I expose their folly to them. I was raised from hatchery softness to destroy my own kind. I am a warrior champion and though I could not protect my Queen, my ability to destroy my people has not diminished in strange times. In moments, fourteen headless bodies lay around me, the ink of their lymph staining the fragile bones spread beneath them. The embers are gone within these bodies. The pale men dispatched along with their hosts.
The glowing serpent turns away from the carnage and regards me impassively. It makes a new sound with its mouth and blinks out of existence, the obelisk's shrill tone attenuates and fades into echoes. I hear again the steady beat of the distant drum and I heed its call, passing out of this vast chamber, leaving behind the semi-circle of headless corpses kneeling before the obelisk as if in worship.
The corridor takes me to a place filled with golden obelisks and the glowing red ghosts of the serpents. These projected spirits move from place to place, trailing glowing beams of light back to their obelisk of origin. They ignore me, so I observe. Red-hued panes manifest from solid black stones, projections that squirm with glowing symbols and shapes and diagrams. It is some form of information display, but it flickers by so quickly it is difficult to perceive meaning or detail. Looping, organ-like structures are superimposed over glowing dots. A map? If so there are more stars than my people ever observed. Various swirling diagrams of conical shapes connected by their tips flash by, faces of serpents appear and disappear on the flat displays.
A resounding boom interrupts the steady drumming and instantly every obelisk and projected display disappears. I am alone in the gloomy chamber of featureless black stone. The drumming resumes, but it is arrhythmic, pained. Whatever truth is to be found in this place must reside with that beckoning sound. Louder and louder. Straining until I can feel it reverberating in my cavities.
Here. A chamber as large as that which contained the statue. Larger. Stretching into an eerie green distance, interrupted by tilting pillars of faded gold. Every surface, every wall, shrouded in a layer of protective gold and the symbols of this people.
Machines like the destroyed device I encountered in the corridor are at work, moving through the air with their legs folded beneath them, spiraling around a great, infinite serpent of white. Like mercury flowing through water, the milky liquid is contained by pulsing meshes of hexagonal energy. The water is imprisoned and these devices are prodding and torturing its surface with lances of glowing white. The source of the drumming is a massive piston, sheathed in gold, slowly working up and down. Each descent of the piston releases a gust of steam and the hexagonal patterns surrounding the water pulse brighter for an instant.
A gallery of crimson ghosts watch this titanic vivisection. I cannot say if this is some strange echo of past events or if these non-beings are interacting with the water in a new way. One of the spectral serpents turns to me, speaks in its hissing tongue, and then points one of its forelimbs across the space to a gallery adjoining the piston.
There is a burst of actinic light followed a moment later by an explosion that shudders the walls and floor. One of the arachnid machines falls from this gallery, burning, shedding dozens of bodies of pale men as it plummets and strikes the glowing hexagonal mesh surrounding the water. It, and the creatures clinging to it, disappear in a flash.
The piston wines and slows its descent. Another arachnid detaches from its position straddling the water and glides through the space towards the gallery. It is too late. The pale men are scaling the walls and climbing towards the piston. Blue pulses of light incinerate the pale men where the arachnid can reach them, but they are too determined and too numerous. I can only watch as they begin to jam their bodies into the piston, reduced to paste, but slowing the progress of the titanic machine. The hexagonal field flickers out for a moment and the floor heaves beneath my feet.
The hexagonal patterns reappear and the nauseating heave ceases. I have no choice but to intervene. I leap from the gallery and spread my wings. Taking flight in the midst of this strange place is disorienting. Above and on every side are galleries filled with red ghosts and the snaking, shimmering body of the water contained, only barely, by the flickering walls of energy. I dip beneath a branch of water and dodge out of the way of one of the flying machines.
There are hundreds of the pale men crawling towards the piston. Each moment that passes another ten hurl themselves into its machinery. Their gore smears the walls of the engine and the gusting steam is fouled with their cooked stench. I join the arachnid machine, diving in a practiced maneuver and raking my forelimbs across the backs of as many as I can reach. Limbs detach and bodies fall away. Whether up or down I cannot be certain.
Another pass and another rain of bodies. The arachnid machine pulls away, its weapon pods glowing white-hot from firing repeatedly. I cannot make up for it alone. They overwhelm me with their numbers, ignoring my swooping attacks, more and more dying in the piston. The machine grinds, the piston shakes, descends, and then stops. The steam device bursts, catching the nearest arachnid machine in a ruinous storm of shrapnel.
The hexagonal blue energy disappears. The spectral red serpents vanish from their galleries. Only the faint green glow and the lamps attached to the arachnids remain to illuminate the vast chamber. Freed of its confines, the water falls in every direction at once, flooding the galleries in a great wave, swamping the arachnids and destroying them. A single shape remains, rotating slowly like a planet in the center of the chamber, an irregular sphere of white material.
I can feel its presence, a disorienting pressure within my head. It was beneath the water. It knows me. It knows I am here. The galleries themselves are disintegrating, leaving behind drifting pieces of gold shielding. The pale men are trying to lift up their crossed beam symbols, but the center of gravity is changing from one moment to the next. Each shift of the axis of gravity and more pale men are loosed from the walls and plummet away, to break apart against the crumbling spire or to fall into the water. Those that fall towards the sphere seem to rupture into a cloud of curling smoke.
I do not know why, but it permits me to live, at least for a time. I do not sense a voice or a message. It is mindless, heartless and thoughtless, but it is filled with urges, compelled by what resides within it. It is a vessel. And we have filled it.
The spire without a home is destroyed and we are in the cold black, far from any planet or star. In this deep void even the water cannot last. It is becoming slow and cold as it surrounds me in a vast bubble. The sphere is pulling me towards it. Reminding me that I am only a thing now. Only a memory contained within it. Only a storm of electricity and intent. I cannot breathe. I am alive, but I cannot breathe. I am cold. I am close to its surface and I become smoke.
I travel many places. I become many things. I do not succumb to the will of the water, to the will of this unnatural Mother. I continue, determined.
I am reificant.
I am crystalline, one in a chiming field that moves by mineral expansion, communicating by tone. As old as any living thing, but with fleeting memories. I cannot stop the water. I cannot stop the crashing sea that reduces me to nothing.
I dwell in the sky, in a coven of my kind, red-crested and brilliant. Spiraling, chattering, through phosphorescent clouds and above undulating fields of scarlet bacteria. This language is difficult. I am slow to learn. I tell my coven but it is too late. The earth is cracking, the mountains exposing their marrow of fire. I can only witness an ending.
Again and again. I will not be stopped. I am aeroplankton, cohering mind of a moment. I am a starving beast of the muck. Hate-filled until the water drowns me. I climb the continent tree. I can only watch as it is consumed by fire.
I cling to my memories. I retain my will. I am reificant. I will not be stopped.
A crack opens in the lid. The water is exposed once more.
I take the shape of a four-legged mammal, covered in hair, with a long snout and prick-ears. I know this thing. I know this place. A cave lit by shafts of crystalline light. I tear away my cowl with my teeth and emerge in the empty village of River Stone's people.
How can this be? Much time has passed. Dust has gathered on my shell. The wood that once made the ladders has fallen to ruin. There are prints in the dust. Feet like those I wear now, belonging to the animal-things of the men. Their companions. My fur is black. My tongue dangles from powerful jaws.
There is a booming sound beyond the canyon. I long to take to the sky, to soar above this place and find its source, but instead I trot on clawed feet. I cross from the black rock into the white desert, over humpbacked hills and barchan dunes. The booms repeat and I recall the piston. Have the serpents built their piston here as well?
No. Smoke curls into the blue sky. Figures, familiar, but different, labor beneath the heat of the sun. Men in a great number are lifting lengths of iron and heavy blocks of wood. They wear cloth upon their flesh and some are dark and some are pale, but they are not as the men I remember. They have large animals to pull their wheeled machines laden with material. They are building something.
There is another explosion and a great shower of stones falls from the mountainside. They are cleaving the mountain itself and laying iron where they have blasted. It is still early. The water has not yet taken hold here. I can warn them. I can...
There is a growl behind me. While I watched the laboring men I was approached by undetected enemies. There are five of them. They inhabit bodies like mine, but their fur is white and their eyes are a familiar, piercing blue. They lower their heads, their fleshy lips curling back from rows of white, curving teeth.
They leap at my throat. There are five of them. I am fierce and strong. I will not be stopped. I am reificant. I am a champion of a dead Queen. Hero of a lost people.
There are five sets of snapping jaws. Five pairs of hateful blue eyes. Five snarling voices.
I silence four.
Lymph pours out, spilling between the throat-clamped jaws of my foe. I am hurtled away from this place. I am defeated. Cast across the darkness by force of malevolence.
I cannot be stopped. I will thwart the water. I will find my way back.
I am reificant.