The Reificant - Part One: Battle 02.03.12 - Zack - permalink
The living past. The burning bones made flesh. From water. From before. One now many.
You will listen. This is story of FLESH I have inhabited. Begins and does not end. Let it stand as warning to you and your kind.
I am not of your flesh, I have burned within it.
I am not of your place, I have walked its deserts.
I BEGIN. I AM.
I exist in flood of life through my QUEEN. By hundreds we adhere to the walls of the birth chamber. Our fruit ripens. Mammals are thrust into the world. They spill into existence. I devour my way into the world. I choose to live rather than smother within the membrane of my ovum.
Wriggling. Without context. Soft. My shell not yet grown. The winnowers scent my purpose.
My gestation is fortunate. My QUEEN imbues me with potential to be revealed in the hatchery. My plump, soft body lengthens, nourished by the milk of the secretors. The winnowers chatter with excitement above the entrance of the waxen comb.
I AM something more. I am a sunken monument revealed by retreating oceans, the weave of my tissues exposing the genetic monoliths of elaborate patterns and segments possessed only by the mightiest warriors of our spire. I exist not for worker's monotony or the short, brutal life of warrior drones.
I AM FOREVER AND WILL BE a guardian, thinking fighter, CHAMPION, wise as a learned devisor and the equal in battle of a formation of simple warriors of any spire. I swear a personal oath, with the loudest words of my quill, to serve the QUEEN until my death. I dip my antennae and lower my tarsi and, with effort, avert my gaze from the rapturous beauty of her majesty. My duty is etched in my body. My faith is etched in my mind.
MY QUEEN is the Ordinal and the Diviner, Regnant Queen the 888th, whose perfected physical body contains all distilled wisdom and strength of our spire. She is the largest of our kind, resplendent in her throne room, body iridescent crimson and golden and black, like polished stones. Nature could not devise a vision more sublime. No artist could assemble a sculpture more compelling. Her eyes that see me are like stars that glitter in the sky above at night. She is attended by the swarms of winnowers and secretors, advised by a chorus of devisors and shapers.
My QUEEN relies upon my ability. The scent of her favor fills my carapace to bursting. At her command I deal with deficiencies within our spire. I remove derelict workers and scour the lower levels for malcontents that might creep into our midst.
A hundred times I am dispatched as an emissary to upstart spires that threaten my QUEEN's preeminence. I am a jagged claw offered in friendship. I savor the sour odor of discomfort my presence causes in the meager throne rooms of bristling, lesser queens. War is always averted by such visits. Obedience is achieved.
Not this time.
The air is stifling in this lesser queen's chamber. She has many guardians. She refuses to hear my quills. She speaks with her pheromones and I am sickened. I return with words of war. Why has this traitor queen declared herself an equal to my own? Others align themselves with the betrayer. Preparations commence for a great conflict. The swarms of warriors begin the slow circle above our spire.
This serpent shadow falls upon the gardens built to honor my QUEEN. The memory obelisks of past generations are reduced to tombs. Their vast, silent halls of statues and desiccataphs echo with the distant thrum of warriors at wing. The beauty of our city is forgotten. None sit upon the shore and contemplate the dark tide of the Surata. There is time only for the present, for claw and HISS and hot beams that split open the shell of our enemies.
MY QUEEN pronounces a final hope. TREASON must always be answered with VIOLENCE, but in her wisdom She knows the horror of mass war can yet be avoided. I am chosen to lead the greatest of her champions and descend upon the enemy spire. I must locate the affliction, the renegade organ, and remove it.
I take wing with my brothers. Skirmishes begin at the limits of my QUEEN's pheromones. Distant fire touches a renegade spire. The beat of our wings is lost to the din of this battle. We swoop through the combat, enemy warriors small and under nourished, easily caught in our claws and split open. We divert their swarm, taking the enemy with us, turning them away from our spire and confusing their simple commanders.
My QUEEN's swarms are unmatched at battle, drilled to precision, festooned with the weapons of the past. The feeble enemy is torn to pieces. Yet, they come on, undaunted, unnumbered. How do so many come forth?
No time to continue fight. Warriors must delay the foe while my brothers and I execute our QUEEN's will. We detect the foul scent of renegade spire. It is sickly with growth. Disorderly construction bulges. The sky above teems with a vast host. Black swarms of warriors circle in final preparation for great battle. Impossible numbers. Many times more than should gather from the renegade's alliance.
GO. My brothers give their lives to battle. The HISS and CLICK is all around. Limbs are torn out. Heads split open beneath the blade. Softness spillsss.
I AM Her will as VIOLENCE. I honor Her with slaughter. My wish is to continue, my duty is to leave my brothers to work. They are unafraid of death. In time they will fall against this endless enemy. I must succeed. I must locate the renegade queen within tainted spire and answer her TREASON.
In throes of VIOLENCE to enter the enemy spire is to suffocate on scent of lies. My quills shudder with disgust at false queen's miasma. The cloying foulness is more than betrayal. The scent is corruption, as if the queen was dead and her pheromones were the wafting stench of her decaying softness.
I create VIOLENCE in great quantities. Her warriors and workers meet me in the renegade's tunnels. My old weapons FLASH and the enemy becomes steam. I take to wing so that I do not tread in their bubbling jelly. The traitors do not possesses these ancient weapons. They do not need such weapons. They are fearless. Through their numbers they exhaust these secrets and I am left with my jaws and forelimbs. The HISS and CLICK is all around. I bathe in the lymph of their softness. They hesitate. They are awed by my savagery. Their fear of death seems to return and I tear through their midst.
Down. I follow her scent lower and lower. This is no soaring queen of her spire. Bunker queen. Ashamed. TRAITORS await me in the false queen's chamber. Her numerous guards stand ready. Her chamber a smooth, barren cave. No winnowers. No swollen ovipositor disgorging her brood. I can sense her there. A void. A barren queen.
I ignore her guardians and taunt her. I strum a challenge. I wave my hind legs. Arrogant queen. Small and foolish. She heaves from her unused birthing cradle and waggles her abdomen. She pushes past her guardians.
ONE chance. ONE moment. She strums to me with the golden quills that glisten on her back.
your spire will fall she says and comes closer.
the ichor of your brothers will poison the garden she taunts and comes closer still.
your useless queen will lie broken upon her throne she taunts and comes close enough to touch.
My blade severs limbs. My jaws are strong. My tarsi pierce the collar of her shell. I taste the sweet flow of her lymph, her innards stain the plate of my thorax, my breath bursts through covered spiracles in a gory mist. TREASON is answered with VIOLENCE.
Her guards reel from her destruction. Recover. Surround me and strike me with claw and blade. They are able to subdue me. My shell is cracked. The dome of one eye is fractured. I am dragged away. Disorder does not consume this spire as it should without its queen. I find myself pulled deeper, my own lymph staining the floor. My life is waning. I accept this fate. My purpose has been served.
The traitor queen yet lives. She is smaller, her body still soft at its joints as if she is only just grown to her royal state. She rises, arrogant as before, her legs beating against the floor in exultation. The stone beneath my body shakes. I am too weak to face her again.
your spire will fall she taunts and parades around me i possess the water
drown him she commands and I am dragged deeper still, into the bowels beneath the renegade spire, past a steady marching line of workers and warriors, their bodies soft and new. The stench of this place is primordial. No pheromones dwell here, but something old and foul resides.
QUIET soon. Darkness comes and goes. I am beneath the spire, in a cavern so large its roof is lost to darkness. It is very hot. The guardians that have brought me to this place lift me up, my limbs dangling useless, my body broken, my softness spilling out. I can see the expanse of some great, white lake and from it, upon sloping shores of smooth rock, comes a wriggling tide of life. Workers, warriors and all other types, squirming up, wrapped in gelatinous fabrics, as if birthed from the water itself.
I do not understand this place. I am cast down, into this water and my shell boils and breaks and is pulled apart by unseen tides. My softness empties out into the water. I exist in darkness. I see the dusty halls of ancestral obelisks, long forgotten. The statues have been pulled down. The desiccataphs are broken open and scattered. The monuments of my spire's history - of the history of all spires - has been ransacked.
MY QUEEN is there, alive, but she will only show me her back. I try to circle around her. She turns away. She will not look at me. The shame I feel is such that I am glad to be dead.
Impossible. I rise on rocky shore, buffeted on all sides by those heaving up around me. I emerge from the water and tear at the membrane that encloses me. I am within a cavern, surrounded by the workers and warriors of the traitors. They are fearful. The spire shakes above us. Huge stones break loose from the ceiling and plunge into the water.
They flee all around me and I am in their midst, dragged along into the collapsing tunnels and out, into the garden and the boulevard beyond the spire, to witness the last battle of my people joined by things I do not recognize.
I AM AND FOREVER WILL BE watching as the spires begin to fall.
The Reificant - Part Two: Collapse 02.10.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
Thought into being. Manifested like morning's frost.
The golden fire of my inner being spreads to new flesh. It motivates new limbs.
Before you now as this luminous husk, forever as you will be, doomed as you will be.
To warn. To recall.
I AM prisoner of the many surrounding me. Weaklings. Traitors. Their numbers carry me from the depths of the traitor queen's spire.
The sky above is smoke and storm pulsing with the crackle of violet lightning. Distant mountains split with fire. I take wing, drunk on the pheromones of my enemy. I rise above the press of workers and warriors. I cleave my freedom from their fragile bodies.
Higher. Above the stench of TREASON. Beneath the rolling smoke. Battle is above. I can feel it in my lymph. Burning foes plummet through the umbral ceiling by twos and threes, in whole and in pieces. They light this world like dropped candles in a darkened chamber, landing among the teeming masses that fill the boulevard.
My wings trail smoke as I beat through the haze of mountain's fire. I must know. I must confirm what I fear. My QUEEN...
War is the assertion of two realities that cannot coexist. War without victory is madness. The last of my QUEEN's swarm is in disarray. The marshals are dead. Confused by the abundance of enemy pheromones, the scattered survivors are retreating to the great spire. I can see it looming in the distant haze. A shadow redoubt.
The enemy is not in coherent pursuit. They battle one another or find combat with small, black-winged creatures I do not recognize. These beasts are an annoyance to me. I swat them away and split open their screeching bodies. To the lesser warriors they are a danger. I watch as the pale body of an enemy is caught up in a whirlwind of snapping jaws and flapping wings. The panicked song of its quills ends abruptly. Its spiracles whistle with the pain of its death.
The closer I fly to the great spire and do not scent my QUEEN, the greater my fear. Without the beacon of her pheromones, my lesser brothers collide with one another or with the upper levels of the spire. They fall in tangled groups and leave smears of softness upon the once-pristine stone. The spire quivers from the movement of the earth.
My QUEEN is silent. Her odor is like dust upon the floor. Her spire is violated. Her chamber crawls with the lounging grotesques of the traitor's guards. Their abdomens are distended. Their segments bulge. Some wriggle upon the floor. Some amble slowly among the comb, seizing the soft bodies of the young and devouring them.
TREASON must be answered with VIOLENCE. There is no great pleasure to this task. The foe is languid and unconcerned. I dash their heads upon the decorative stones. I spill their softness into the comb. They roll about like disobedient workers drunk on the honey of the secretors. Their quills mock me with laughter at their own deaths. I disarticulate their limbs. I crush the hemispheres of their eyes.
My QUEEN is dead. Her beauty is scattered and befouled. Her split extravagance is host to the vilest of these traitors. They lie in her hollowed shell, bathed in lymph, gnawing the last, hanging scraps of her meat. Such is the violence I inflict upon them that I cannot even recall it clearly. I am only violence. There is no mind to it.
Her last brood is dead. Her winnowers helplessly slaughtered. Her jelly eaten. No new queen can be nurtured to take her place. Though it yet stands, my spire is at its end.
I find myself descending back through the smoke. The smell of the traitor queens is everywhere now, as if carried by the fires. The garden is dying. Unhealthy white grows upon every branch and flower. The fleshy fruit the workers once harvested is now putrid. Things I do not recognize scuttle among the dying groves, like crustaceans of the sea, jellies and creatures made from black wires that stalk among them, so slow they almost do not move.
I discover a great heap of dead workers. I do not know if they are from my spire or another. Their bodies are covered in soft, white moss. Pale stalks rise from their spilt shells, topped with luminous, blue fruit that gently pulses all around me.
I come across warriors of a spire that fought on the side of my QUEEN. This white moss clings to their shells. They lift their heads at my approach and plead for help. The sickly dirge of their quills is repellent. I give them the mercy of swift death.
The sound of battle recedes to nothing. The world is muffled. There are alien calls through the smoke. Vast shapes move and scatter the monuments built to honor past queens. I am alone with this strange place.
I am too weary to take wing. I walk through the dead groves and flowers and I am drawn to the soft lapping of the Surata upon its shore. This familiar sound is all I have to guide me. I emerge from the smoke and to find that the coastal spires are gone. These were the homes of lesser queens who gave their labor to the Surata and brought back its bounty to trade. They are no more and the stones of the dockworks are fallen to ruin.
I often contemplated the dark waves of the Surata. I imagined its surface as a door and on the other side another place existed, like my own, where soft-bodied swimmers and glowing jellies obeyed the commands of the unseen queen of the depths.
The Surata's waves are no longer dark. The foulness in the air belongs to inner softness. Pierced shells. The waves are pallid. The water is like that of the cavern beneath the traitor's spire. The tide breaks against the corroded pilings of the dockworks, uprooting octagonal paving stones like loosed teeth of mammal stock, frothing fingers scouring away decorative pillars.
Pale, fleshy things roll upon the tide and are deposited upon the shore. These are like organ sacs and they move and change shape with inner life. Clawed hands tear open these membranes and from within, a clattering call. A slender, pale-bodied biped rises from this discarded membrane. It is joined by others, snapping jaws, swinging their heads from side to side as their bulging blue eyes absorb their surroundings. They move swiftly and as a group, up from the fallen dockworks, into the corrupted brambles of the garden. Their unfamiliar gait is disturbing. They see me, but do not seem to care.
A host of unnatural life is being birthed. Not only these pale bipeds, but other things, slinking, crawling, unraveling upon the shore. There is no limit to their numbers or variety. I feel hopeless in the face of such an ending. My QUEEN is gone. My spire is fallen. I want to throw myself into the Surata and drown.
One of these organ sacs rolls in upon a wave and adheres to the stones near to me. It is large. Limbs stretch the surface. Tears appear. Hooked claws like those at the end of my own limbs widen the tear and allow for a creature to wriggle out. I see it is a warrior of my kind. I do not recognize the markings of its spire, perhaps it is from a much lesser or distant spire, but by its pattern it is a scout.
I strum my quills in challenge.
"Who is your queen?"
It cocks its head, studying me, and then strums a reply.
"She is Queen. Who is your queen?"
I do not answer. I strum another question.
"How did you come to be here?"
"Died! Died. Died." It answers me quickly, as if annoyed, and beats its legs against the stones for emphasis. "We find water. We bring to Queen. One of many, now many of one. She true queen. We destroy all weak spires. Like yours."
I am not angered by his simple strumming. I quill a reply, beating my limbs only once for emphasis.
"Look around you," I say. "This place does not belong to you any more than it belongs to me."
My point is proved that very moment. A thing weighing many tons heaves up from the putrid water, shedding its membrane with a great splash. It strides ashore on long, thin limbs. It is so tall its body, bearded with tendrils, is barely visible in the smoke overhead. I can feel each step it takes in my antennae.
I begin to walk to the Surata.
"Where are you going?" asks the scout.
The water burns where it touches my feet.
"I do not want to be here any longer," I say and submerge myself in the water.
For a moment there is agony. For a moment I am with my QUEEN and all is forgiven. For a moment all of my failures are undone and I have another opportunity to save her.
For a moment, I am no longer.
Only for a moment.
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.
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.
The Reificant - Part Five: Brave 03.02.12 - Zack - permalink
I AM. again.
Witness of the downfall. Failed champion of my Queen. Spilled out into places that are not my own. Becoming flesh that does not belong to me. Restored to the shell of my birth. I am no more able to stop the water than a stone might halt the tide. But I must try.
Slithering upon smooth, warm stones. Freed from the membrane of my resurrection. I rise into a new place, a new air to passes into my lungs. It is humid and stinking of decaying flesh. Light penetrates into this underground place by channels of color crystal.
I stand before a two-legged animal of soft meat. Its head is supported on muscular trunk, it possesses dark eyes and short snout marked with a band of pigment. Its mouth is fleshy and it flaps when it speaks to me in strings of barking sounds. I am much larger than this creature. It is wary, but does not flee. I cannot understand its words and it cannot understand what I quill upon my back.
The sound of its cries draw more like it into the chamber. They are all of similar composition. Taller and leaner than the Mummon, their bodies more defined by musculature. They wear simple animal pelts around their midsections and their faces are painted with different pigments. Some brandish crude weapons, wooden poles with tips of sharpened bone or flint. I do not fear their weapons. I advance, ignoring them as they prod my flanks with their weapons, testing me but not attacking.
They retreat in a ring around me. I follow them out of a tunnel, slowly, my claws finding purchase on the damp, heated stones. Gradually the air becomes cooler, the tunnel narrower. The creatures crouch and I am forced to crawl upon my belly. I squirm like a larvae. It is as tight for me as the comb of my soft time.
After a long struggle the tunnel widens and I am able to walk again. Still surrounded by the upright bipeds, I emerge into a wide-open cave. Bright sunlight and the cool darkness of the shade are determined by a rough ceiling of black rock. This cave overhang is large enough to contain an entire settlement of these creatures, complete with blocky houses constructed from mud bricks, wooden beams and straw. Many walls are marked with shapes that must be depictions of local animals. Ladders connect the various tiers of structures, rising to the highest plateau upon which I now stand.
A disorganized rank of the bipeds awaits us. These are different. Some are small, juvenile possibly, others shriveled with age, still others are softer-bodied with fleshy torsos. The black hair that flows behind their heads reminds me of the banners hanging behind the desiccataphs of the ancient queens. These are not battle flags. This is the sign of mammals.
It is very quiet. I can hear my spiracles venting and the soft flap-flap of their hair in the wind that dips through the yawning cave. The discordant wail of a juvenile is shushed by an adult. I wait patiently, surrounded by the threat of their fragile spears. A shriveled biped shuffles forward. His hair is gray and not black. He is assisted by two younger individuals.
He opens a pouch of leather and empties pebbles upon the earthen floor. They are smooth and light in color as if plucked from a river. Crouching, he carefully arranges these stones into a shape of a circle surrounded by waving lines. When he has finished he points to the image and points beyond the open cavern space and to the daylight star in the sky.
"Una," he says and points to the shape in the sky.
"Una," he repeats and points to the pebble-shape on the ground.
I slowly move my foreleg, brushing a killing claw gently through the stones. I tap my foot for emphasis and, with great care, form the sound of their awkward word with my quills. The mammals gasp and murmur to one another as I repeat, "Una. Una. Una. Una."
"Una," says the gray-haired mammal.
I step forward and the bipeds part, fearfully, allowing me to walk slowly to the edge of the plateau. It overlooks their entire civilization of ladders and tiered houses hiding in the shadow of the cave.
"Una," I say once again and I gesture to the sky with my forelimb.
They shriek with alarm as I take flight, my wings beating the air and carrying me beyond the mouth of the cave and into the heat of the day. The daylight upon my shell warms my inner meat. Though the air is thin I am rejuvenated by this foray beneath blue sky.
Whirling, I see the folds of mountains and streams, white sands and table land untouched by settlements. Trackless desert and cloudless skies only occasionally spotted with the dark shape of flying creatures, far too small to be relatives of those that attacked the Mummon.
There are no other groups of these bipeds in sight. Only here, through a narrow crevasse, in the shadow of the overhanging rock, have these creatures built any civilization. Their isolation gives me hope. Perhaps the water's hold is not absolute upon this place. I circle back and buzz down into their canyon. The largest of their kind appear along the precipices, brandishing their spears, running alongside me as I slow and descend onto the rock.
"Ho Acha!" shouts the biped nearest me as I touch down. He flashes white teeth and the red of his tongue.
"Ho Acha!" I reply, mimicking his tone. He closes his mouth. Recalling my unexpected rebuke by the Mummon, I do not repeat this phrase again. I fold my wings upon my back and wait for the bipeds to surround me once more.
I hope the elder will pour out his stones again and attempt communication. Instead, he stands by and watches others bring forward a cloth heaped with something. I detect the savory aroma of cooked flesh, succulent, browned meat. Do they offer one of their own to me in sacrifice?
Unlikely. There are small animals running among them, barking at me. The pelts they wear suggest the presence of still more beasts. The bipeds, murmuring to one another, fall silent as the offering is place before me. Not just cooked flesh, but also a mash of grains and vegetables. A large clay pan of water. They fall silent once more, watching me expectantly.
I spear the steaming carcass with a claw. Their awestruck gasps are endearing to me. I must terrify them to some degree. I doubt they could stop me if I wished to slaughter them all and yet, their curiosity and confidence are such that they do not see reason to hide from me. I lift the dripping meat to my palpi and feed upon it, turning the carcass and separating the bones within. I had not considered the depths of my hunger. In moments I have stripped the carcass to a few tendons and a spinal column.
I drop these with a clatter upon the stone and in a few more moments I have devoured all they have laid before me. At last, I lift the clay to my face and drain the water. It tastes heavily of minerals, but does not bear the taint of the water that has brought me to this place.
There is no hesitation to learn and communicate with me. Before the light of day has fled I have learned a dozen words of their vocabulary. As darkness comes they create a fire from pieces of fragrant wood and I sit upon my belly and listen to their voices. They raise them in a peculiar way, in unison, the sounds rising and falling. By the firelight I am nearly hypnotized by the sound and the soft detail of their faces.
I sleep among them, on the stones, awakening to find a new offering of food laid out before me.
These bipeds are called men. They are male and female, equals like the Mummon, but with deference to age and wisdom. They are peaceful but have not always been so. They tell me there are others of their kind far away, beyond the sands and in different places.
I take wing in daylight but I discover no trace of these other people. I do discover an animal in the mountains during my exploration. Seeking to repay the generosity of the men, I swoop down and seize this animal. It is long and covered with hair, its body muscular and powerful. I snap its neck quickly. It dangles limp from my killing claws. When I return to the village with this creature I am met by the men. They seem impressed with the animal I have brought them.
"Cougar," says the elder. I repeat the word. I soon learn that this animal is the most dangerous predator of their environment. They do not hunt it out of both fear and respect. The elder calls me "Brave" but decides this description is inadequate.
"Winged Brave," he says, daring to touch my wings with his hand.
I am lured into a sense of community with these mammals. They teach me the words and syntax of their language, I teach them pieces of mine. I help them hunt, spying animals on the table land and reporting its location back to them.
"Winged Brave," their juveniles - children - call to me as I return from the hunt. "What have you brought us?"
And I have brought them something. I return with unusual stones or strange birds I have caught in the air. They repay me with more words and, eventually, with stories of the great beasts that have created this place and their people. Their stories are incredible, but I have seen strange enough things to believe them.
"I will tell you of White Painted Woman," says the elder, who is called River Stone for the way he is untroubled by difficulties. "First there was woman, who came to be filled with child by the rays of the sun and her child was called Killer of Foes. And she became filled with child by the drops of rain that fell upon her and she gave birth to an entire tribe. But there was a great evil stalking her sons and daughters. Killer of Foes went out to battle it."
The story, like all of their stories, is filled with layers of meaning difficult for me to decipher. River Stone tells me of the battle between Killer of Foes and a giant who fed upon his people. Killer of Foes was victorious and his people lived in peace. White Painted Woman became old, so she taught her daughters to give birth.
"'Do not leave us,' pleaded her daughters and sons. 'I will not,' said White Painted Woman. When she became too old to go on, White Painted Woman went towards the sun. On her way through the desert she came upon herself as a young woman. She took the hand of her younger self and they became one. She returned to the village a young woman and was greeted by her daughters with great joy. Whenever she grew old she would always return just the same."
I do not like this story very much. Though I suspect it is a tale meant to describe the natural lifecycle of these mammals, it reminds me of what must be done. The next day brings another reminder. I am using my killing claws to remove the pelt of an herbivore when a young man approaches me.
"Hello, Winged Brave," he says. I do not know him and so I quill that I am sorry, but I do not recognize him.
"I am River Stone's brother," he says. "I hold his memories. I come from the water."
"This is not good," I say to him.
"The water has given us many brothers," he says and gestures to the village.
I admit to difficulty telling one man from another - only the handful of juveniles are easy for me to distinguish because of their size. The adults have no fixed patterns and rely on temporary items like feathers and beads and bands of dyed cloth to distinguish one from the other. Now, surveying the tribe, I realize that this difficulty is not merely my unfamiliarity with their species. At least half the tribe seems to be duplicates.
That night, I seek council with the elder River Stone.
"Tell me how you found the water," I say to him.
"I knew you would ask this," he answers. "Very well. Sit down."
We sit beside the fire and he ignites a long pipe filled with fragrant herb. The cup glows orange with each intake of breath. After several long inhalations, he offers the pipe to me. I have no means to smoke this substance.
"Many years ago, when I was young and strong, I was a scout for my people. We were seeking better lands. We had been defeated in battle by the Red Rock tribe and many were hurt among us. I found this place by reputation. We were told to avoid the black rocks here, but it was desperation. My people were dying."
"You were their champion," I say.
"There seemed to be no hope, even here, until I saw the white dog. It came out from the mountains and led me straight to this place. I often wonder what spirit lived within this animal. Its eyes were blue as the sky. It took me into that cave and...it was many days in the desert. I had to have a drink."
"How many have been in the water?"
"Most," he admits.
"You must prepare your people for a grim task," I tell him. "You will continue to pollute this place with all who have been in the water. It will corrupt you until terrible things emerge from the water."
"Winged Brave comes from the water," he says. I feel chastened, but do not surrender the point.
"I have seen what other things will come. Every living thing will be their prey. The sky will turn black and the mountains will break open."
"It has happened to your people?"
"Yes," I say. "Any sacrifice is worth preventing this fate."
"What sacrifice do you ask?"
"It will not be easy. You must trap yourself in the water and never return. I think there is a way."
He exhales a long stream of purple smoke. His eyes are heavy with its intoxicating properties.
"This is a terrible thing you ask of me," his words are slow. "There are animal places in the darkness of the water. Spirits of great violence in my dreams of death. To condemn my sisters and brothers to this is a great evil. It is a greater evil to go on as we have and bring destruction to this place. What must we do, Winged Brave?"
I do not want to answer him.
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.
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.
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.
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