This article is part of the The Reificant series.
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.
‘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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