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