This article is part of the The Reificant series.
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 I 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.
Not what I had in mind when I ordered an Italian gondolier. This is literally just a tiny toy. Needless to say, the Italian businessmen were not impressed and I looked like a damn fool. We lost the pizza pie account and will have to lay off half our factory.
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