The softskins broke our slumber of a thousand spins.
For many long ages, I sensed the world’s dizzying movement. Stars exploded and died above me, though I did not see them. I felt the warmth of the sun flood the sand with life.
When my heartpulse slowed and I curled in the dry sand to warm my body for longsleep, I thought my time below would be lonely, that the earth would not respond to my touch. But all around me were kin. I sensed them rustling in their slumber. I listened to their silent murmurs reaching for my mind. I heard their dreamsongs of worlds upon worlds. A place without softskins, without fear or pain or doubt. A place of great peace.
In the sand, we were all connected; we dreamed as one. Not just the singers, but all living things; the worms curling around smooth rockgrains, the molerats burrowing tunnels to birth their young, even a family of fur-soft spiderlings who rested for a night in the deepdark.
I thought the rocks would be immobile, cold, uncaring. But they, too, were part of us. The stones were warm, and the deeper we burrowed, the closer we got to this world’s wombfire. Each time the underground boiled in rage, I was there; its tremors shook the sand until I sang back with my own anger. We are one, we are all. Your anger is as mine. I heard its gratitude in the raintime when wet drops soaked the sand and the earth grew fat and full.
When the softskins came, the ground knew only pain. Our songs became cries as we were torn and broken and scattered. I heard the sorrowsong as the softskins unearthed my kin. They tore crystal namestones from our bodies as we screamed, louder than earthshakes, and stole them away. I sang long into the many nights, sang until my heart was empty and cold, but they did not return.
Today, I am alone in the aboveplace. Today, the dry wind burns my skin. With every step, the sand grinds against me in protest. I fight my urge to bury myself down, down, to go inside the earth’s deepdark. I am not apart. I am part of the one, not beyond.
From far away, a song of painfear reaches me. The tone is faint, but I recognize the melody, and I send out a song of my sorrow. A note of hope rings back in my mind, clear and fine. Almost, almost.
Another set of stars whirl overhead, and again. The endlessly blinking universe stares down at me. I feel moltenheavy with the weight of above. I should be down, but I am here, alone in the cold air.
I have been above for three moons. A blink of an eye, a sliver of existence. A warming murmur passes silently underground — yet in the aboveplace, I feel the eternity of alone.
Ahead, I hear softskins. They do not sing, they shout. Their tones scratch and clash without melody or cohesion. They burn meatflesh over a falsefire. Its fat smokes the air and I choke on the stench. Why would they do such a thing? The ground is plenty, plenty for all.
The melody calls to me weakly. Almost. The namestone is close.
I must explain; the softskins do not understand. Their race is but three turns young; they have only begun to dig; they have barely uncoiled the beginnings of underneath. They speak, but I have not yet heard them sing. They will learn.
I sing in their minds a song of the calmland, so they feel the great beauty that awaits us when we sleep. I sing for my dead kin, so they know what they stole.
The softskins do not sing back. They do not seem to hear me so my voice grows louder in their heads. I sing for our namestones, wrongfully taken. Bring them back, they are ours. You murdered one cluster already. Do not deny our future also. I sing a plea. Let me carry the crystals to the deepdark, so they can bind with us again. I sing to heal this tearing wound.
The softskins are still shouting to each other. One of them releases a rhythmic sound… a laugh? I feel as though my body is being crushed by the air, so I burrow. I am comforted by the weight around me.
How can they not see the ruin they’ve caused? You are heartless, you are crude. How could you sever us like this?
My husk glows skywhite with rage. I will not let these softskins destroy us.
I hear them scream as I erupt from the sand. I summon energy from the ground and store the power in my namestone. A softskin throws a splinterblade and it hits my leg, shattering on my lucent shell. You sing only death. I, too, can sing this song. I release sunbright energy and sharp crystals burst from the ground, impaling flesh and cracking spines.
The falsefire spreads in their panic. Their crude structures of twig and hide burn through the darkness, carrying softskins into the flames. Smoke rises in an offering to the blinking stars. Softskins run from the chaos, but I am faster. I circle around them and lash out at a straggler, slicing his middle apart with my claw. I crush another underfoot. Lifeblood stains the sand. I roar in grief, not a song but a cry. Your blood is not worthy to touch the one and the all.
My tail lashes left and right and I knock the softskins down. I summon the sunbright once again, and more crystals spike from the sand to pierce flesh. So you can hear my song, after all…
I am crude like them. I am violence. I am death.
When I dream I see only rage. I am no longer worthy of the deepdark. But I cannot stop.
Only one remains. The softskin fumbles with a glowing thing of wood and metal. She means to kill me. A false sun blazes from the thing and punctures my hardshell, burning my insides. The light reflects inside my crystal, paralyzing me. I stagger in agonizing pain. I cannot move. I am broken. I am ended.
A fading song rings in my mind. Almost, almost. We are one.
She aims her weapon again and I shake with horror as I see the paling namestone strapped to it. Her weapon drains our life energy. They are wasting crystals to power their terrible song. I feeI I will burst in fury and pain, but instead I pull strength from the ground. I cry out and lash with my sting, impaling the softskin as she writhes like a worm. I grasp the weapon and crush it with a claw. It crumbles to dust, leaving only the skywhite namestone.
I hold the crystal in my mouth where it will be safe. I am here, we are one.
I curl my stinger and she falls. Do not return. Do not take our namestones. We are not yours. We are all. We belong only to the deepdark.
I leave her alive and she runs. She lives not with my mercy, but because I know she has heard my dreamsong, and she has no choice but to sing.