This article is part of the The Reificant series.
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.
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