This article is part of the The Reificant series.
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.
‘Toad coin?’ wondered the traveler as he examined the pebble. It did not look all that different from any other pebble, and certainly nothing like a coin. ‘What manner of coin has no head or tail, and bears no seal or flag? Who backs this toad coin, the toad bank? The toad treasury!?’ The traveler laughed, but the toads croaked sternly back at him.
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