A skittering headless corpse breaks the silence. My forelegs grip it. I can’t stop myself; she is the softest of them all and her body drips with juice as I hold her. But why does she move headless? I have answered her most twisted prayer, her children I will bear. And she has paid my price. So skitter she may.
Something stirs and urges me to follow. As if I were hungry, but I am a god; I do not hunger. And behind me lies a host of husks, my latest congregation, I need no food. But I follow. I am but a small god rarely graced with direction, so I will accept the offerings given and I will answer the prayers offered.
She came to me as Sirica, I always keep their names. She moved bulbous and writhing. New to life, used to comfort, in the midst of a withered congregation that had little to offer and less to pray for. The husks that remained were barely recognizable from their living forms. There, beneath my reticulated crystalline altar, she prayed in the manner my mothers would, imitating the twisted light of the Garden.
I don’t remember stirring to her life as I do to her husk, I remember duty, not this… this craving that moves my forelegs without my permission. Just one more grab. Not. Let us see where her body leads.
She plays dead, headless she does a better job than any. I need but to poke and she jumps moving forward. At first, as I make my way outside the shrine I see eyes hide into nearby crevices or sneak and pretend to be pebbles. They are right to fear. But had I wanted them, there would be nowhere beyond my reach. I never seek my congregation. They come to me willingly, I will not force my gifts.
Something lurks in my very body that I fear… Would I gorge? No. I am not like the other gods. I don’t just take. I answer prayers, and some pray twisted things that remain in their bodies after death. And thus I don’t trust myself to poke her, yet move we must. I am gentle in my touch, and she skitters ahead.
The walls around us are old and familiar, I greet them as such. And various eyes approach, not in reverence to the pilgrimage but in hunger. These are young. My flock has not been teaching their children. I allow them to watch, but though young, they know better than to tempt a god. Even one as kind as I.
I reach a new place. My last congregation would have great-grandchildren by now, none would know of me anymore. Here I see no congregation, the husks are more stone than skin. Sirica pulses in different textures crackling layers, iron-hard, soft as flesh as if in contempt of the silence around us. In me, something lurks and it gets harder to rein it in. I think of my shrine. May it lay vacant. May it wait for my return. I miss it so. Yet still, I follow.
The Stone calls me to join her, a god greater than I, she too gives nothing. I pay my respects, but I have a gift to offer, I bear children. My forelegs spread.
In pilgrimage I have moulted twice. And Sirica now looks obsidian and topaz. Cracked glass. The tones of my very skin. Only her lights remain soft. Warning Lights. Lights from the Garden my mothers ran from.
The sound of a congregation greets me. I can feel their prayers. Louder, greater. Something stirs and my forelegs spread. From the walls, eyes approach me. And oh, how I wish they would pray. I would answer. No matter their size, for I once answered even a Garden god. Oh, how we had feasted. My name, forgotten now, was known for generations then.
The god was a slithering and green thing and she prayed for light, a prayer most twisted. These forelegs could grant it, for my mothers came from the light and they taught me what it looks like, and not to seek it. ‘Secrets are kinder,’ they said. But the god begged for illumination for she could no longer find it alone. And with a strike on flint, I brought it. For a moment.
The husks turned to dust before me, and my altar glimmered, and I only saw two eyes encrusted in slithering green, a god most twisted. I released her from them so that she would go with the light, where they both belonged… Away. Her body moved for generations, fed generations of my disciples. All forgotten now. Never even heard of here. Not even fear greets me in this place.
The Stone calls for me louder. I realize what it offers now. She is a kind god. But I will not offer my body, nor will I beg this place for prayer. Not while I have children to deliver. I poke the topaz obsidian and she jumps once more, this time deeper into the eyes around us. Who looked with hunger, not at her but me. A god! They can watch, so help me if they tempt me for I forgot how to be kind.
Is it pity I hear from the Stone? Over me? How dare she disrespect my company! I push the call away, sorrowful call, pleading call. I have Sirica to guide me. She shines in new tones. The pearly blue of wings.
As she skitters forward I see the colours again. I see the light. I remember the words of my mothers. Something stirs right beneath my eyes, pushing the memory away. Here is the entrance to the Garden. Where live twisted gods I cannot kill. I see their shadows and feel them waiting beyond, eyes larger than my body. Soft wet, new to life, used to comfort. I’ve no prayer.
Something in me stirs, to fly into the light. But these gods will end me! It stirs me further, I can smell them. They smell like danger. I want them, what prayer can I offer? What do I desire?
I fly to the light. These eyes tempt me. And do more than watch, beneath, around and above me.
I am snatched from the air, the colours spiral, many greens, and browns and a vast blue. These gods only take, and they force their gifts on me. And the place they take me to is dark, but it is the softest. New to life, used to comfort. Here my forelegs snap and I drown.