The gray ape scurried across circles, spins, and spirals, the feral geometry of a temple that once gave her the shakes, once reminded her of mournful teeth.
Now the architecture was as familiar as her mate, although there was no time to admire the fractals, to run her hands over the pillars. She was in a hurry.
She was expected.
Before the statue of Ezum, the ape kneeled, said a well-practiced prayer, and unsheathed fifteen arms, revealing parchment and bottles and green-yellow feathers from her sleeves. Every circle priest wore the robe. It was useful for implements and unflattering bodies.
Ezum would arrive. Somehow, someway, through its temple effigy, Ezum spoke, and the priests listened, and replied, and scratched the words into the Elegy of Entrails.
The voice, not really a voice, not sonic, not audible, something like a laceration across the folds, whispered her name.
you are late
Admonition. D’il recorded the Words, and imagined with a whit of amusement the prophecies that would spring from a god telling apekind
you are late
you are late
The ape stayed still as the effigy itself, except for the flit of her fingers, all one hundred and four of them. These she flung over the parchment, capturing every color and contour, mood and moan, of the Voice of Ezum.
Because who knew what was impatience, what was prescription?
After a long pause, the ape recorded the Words.
And felt relief, some bubble of luminescence.
The circle priests had long realized Ezum spoke in three genres: Murder, Madness, and Mystery.
Sometimes Ezum was belligerent, describing for hours the torture it would inflict on the priesthood. These were episodes of chaos, of abomination. The priest-interpreter might succumb, the autopsy revealing deep scratches inside the skull.
Mystery was milder. More common. Inquiry. Obsession. Wonderment. Revelation in a language that scurried over meat and refused total understanding.
D’ilehpor had long noted the vulnerability of Ezum. Its unknowing gaps. Although apekind praised Ezum as endless, eternal, the god-thing was young compared to its siblings—other parasites covering other planets. It had received no parenting; was effectively alone.
She might have felt pity on the cosmic orphan if it didn’t prey on her people, sucking sensations, eating their dreams, draining the apes of color. Of hope.
D’ilehpor wrote the word, then said, “It is not pleasant.”
Few knew the Elegies were dialogues. Scholars studied the holy texts, seeking revelation. Only the priests knew they were the Unwrit response. Defenders of life and freedom.
“Most put those thoughts aside. Death is not pleasant.”
The pain was returning. Like a hand on her mind-clot, squeezing.
She wrote this down. Here was another whit of wisdom. The kind her kin preferred. Non sequitur about sex and mortality.
“Breeding is an old habit. A biological compulsion.”
The gray ape nodded and released a scream. Ezum was gripping her clot now. She should not stay long. The genre was shifting from Mystery to Murder.
A priest had taught Ezum that word, about those who turned to chemicals for pleasure, burning their lives.
“It is not craving that makes me love my pupae. To coddle them in their sacks; to release them in the air when they’ve molted. I love to watch my children shed, to pull out their fading eyes so the new ones can grow.”
“Because they are my creation. They are me.”
It was unfortunate the priests never recorded their responses. How her kind’s morale (dimmed by a sky of tentacles) might be improved by rationale argument. An Elegy of Existence.
As soon as she thought this, the clot-squeeze tightened. She released another scream, fell from her knees to the floor. Of course—of course. It not only manipulated the patterns of thought to speak to her. It could read them, like she might read the Elegy.
“You converted our species.”
The shaman just missed perverted.
Ezum had found their planet sunless, sinless, rogue from any orbit, blue from grime and germs. Onto that nasty bliss, it descended, a thousand tendrils, writhing clouds of black-blades, eyes like green flies, the umbra of shadow, a toxic perfume.
Ezum had found worms with sparks in that fungal clot. These it chewed in the labyrinth of its body, but the worms survived, mated, repopulated, evolved. Fed on the fogs. Avoided trails of hungry teeth. Learned.
Impressed, Ezum blessed them into many-limbed servants. For better meat than worms were dreams.
“Great Ezum, we have never asked you. Does your kind love?”
“But you mate?”
That was her err. Yes or no questions. Too vague on paper.
“Have you mated—”
“Have you thought of your children since?”
A chance for the swelling in her brain to go down.
“You loved them, maybe,” D’il said. “Let me ask you. Do you feel as if you’ve been tossed into the wilderness between novas? As if only they were here, the path would be as predictable as moon-road?”
The gray ape surprised herself. Not at her poetic license. At what she’d written in the scroll. For there, unearthed, were her words.
Blasphemy, to put ape words beside the unfolding of Ezum. And very apparent blasphemy. These words were developed. Eloquent. Forcefully, she slid away the paper, cleaned up her mind mess, before the thing perceived it.
“Why have you been thinking about death?”
“The apes dream of death?”
“You understand death better than you know. Think now of your children. Your suffering from the loss.”
“That is how we feel about death. This aching, unknowing—”
“Like poison in the wires. Calling for them.”
But D’il was saying these things as distraction—to divert the god-thing from an undercurrent of blasphemy. For down there, one hundred and four fingers were dipping yellow-green feathers in black tar, converting the Unwrit into scripture.
A conceit had formed. Revolutionary, but dangerous in proximity to the god-thing. The conceit was this—
For centuries, the circle priests had failed to prove their little lives and little thoughts. Ezum remained hungry, uncaring. Like a scientist examining her steak. Words left no impression. Argument, no conviction. But if she miswrote — If she defended the arguments of mad little worms, the visions of many-limbed apes — Who knows what they might do?
Ezum spoke more of the long dark, of its lack of concern for spawn, those world-coiling hydras. The ape no longer listened. Among those maddening green circles, she was putting to paper a long list of words as familiar as the body of her mate. Hurrying, as the defense of love and life swept into half-facts and half-fears down into the Elegy of Entrails.
For the Elegy must be written. And the Elegy must be read. Every ape would study the Word for insights on the sky-form, that haze-glory. To better understand those pillars from cloud to earth, organic and obsidian and alive.
To know the green flies that replaced the stars.
And when the time was right, the apes would sleep, their dreams devoured.