This article is part of the The Reificant series.
I free myself from the membrane of my unnatural creation. I inhabit the bottom of a deep shaft in the earth. It is lit by the soft, blue glow of fungal fruits atop swaying stalks. Larger caps pulse with hypnotic life and tiny crustaceans move among them.
High above, a wan crescent of light breaks into the shaft. The screaming I hear is the wind against this opening. It is cold. My joints and mouth steam and I exhale in boiling gusts. I beat my wings and rise easily, as if I weigh very little, ascending the shaft and emerging into a desert of ice. The pitted face of an unknown moon looms in the starry night sky. The wind trails snow from the peaks of folded mountains.
My body is not made for this cold and my joints become stiff, the air sharp in my lungs. I take wing above the mountains, buffeted by the snow, the cold digging its talons into me inexorably. My shadow glides across the white peak of a mountain and I soar above a trackless valley.
There, in the midst of the ice and snow, half lost to the pitiless winds, are the metal ribs of a fallen spire. I descend with a last beat of wings, kicking the snow into my ice-touched face. This is a long-ago place. The rings of support beams curve high above me. Walls and struts have been stripped away leaving only an ice-hung skeleton.
No, that is not entirely true. Walking among the abandoned spire I see signs of more recent activity. Perpendicular pieces of metal have been lashed together with black ropes torn from inside the walls of the spire. These strange icons have been placed throughout the spire. Near the far end of the gutted structure lies a machine too large to be stripped down by the pitiless wind. Central to this device is a huge column of metal descending into the frozen earth. I take it for an excavation machine.
My limbs fail to move. I am able to beat my wings enough to rise into the air, but I cannot fly for long. I clamber on my six limbs. I can feel the ice in my lymph. I have only enough strength to push myself over the mouth of the shaft and fall directly into the Pool.
I am born once more upon the shores of the Surata. It is apparent I was deposited here on some whim. I did not wish to ever return to this place. Much more time has passed than I anticipated. The garden is completely gone. Many of the spires have collapsed or burned out. The rain falling from the smoke-black sky stinks of ammonia. Beneath that, too potent to be smothered, I recognize a confusing, sickening smell of desperation. It is the cloying perfume of the traitor queens.
I search my spire, but there is nothing left for me there. It slumps against a lesser structure, the tunnels and floor at uneven angles, serving as a tomb for the desiccated remains of dead warriors. A slow-moving animal seemingly made from bent wires begins to devour a faintly luminescent jelly. The small, pale bipeds with blue eyes gather in the fallen spire's dark corners and watch me furtively. A towering beast lies dead, half-eaten, in the boulevard just beyond.
I cannot stand to remain in this unfamiliar place. I return to the sea. As I approach the churning water, intent on my return to exile, a creature is heaved upon the shore at my feet..
It struggles with its cowl, clawed limbs stretch and pierce the membrane and tear open the mucilaginous tissue. Hard limbs emerge, awkward, but quickly it finds its balance and stands in much the same posture as I. No, not much the same. Its posture is identical. Its face is exactly my own. It reacts with the same hissing sound and draws back from me. Its black shell is flecked with red. The patterns upon its folded wings are too exact to be chance.
There is no denying what my senses confirm: by the sickening caprice of the water, I have multiplied.
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