I am called Anaxi, as was my Pater, and Pater’s Post-Unit, and the one before him. I was born in the intersection of the lateral ring Skar and the longitudinal ring Contaari, as the great band of artificial sunlight called Sol warmed our sector. I can remember Mater telling the story to me as a child: Sol has been cooling for as long as time can remember, but it was unusually hot on that day, hot enough to elicit perspiration on Mater’s brow for the first time in her personal memory. Once, during an especially cold winter night, Mater passed the long hours describing the sensation of perspiration to me as I lay shivering beneath my rags: the humid, wet bundles of moisture that condensed upon the surface of her skin, eventually reaching critical mass and falling onto the fleshy cheek of the tiny Pre-Co-unit that rested in her hands. Her memory warmed me, and I fell to sleep in Mater’s arms for the first time in many years.
“Mater” was my affectionate term for her. She was, in reality, my Pater’s Co-Unit, and I, her second born, was already beginning to see signs of her system failure ten years after my own creation. Her joints would let out pops and clicks every time she was forced to leave her cushioned wheelchair toward some errand; the sigh that inevitably followed was heart wrenching. I can still feel every ache, every pain that she felt, though the feeling has grown distant since her death.
We are the Children: the last creation of humanity, their forebears and predecessors. We are the torchbearers, the ones who bear the flickering light of humanity through the dark millennia between Sun Death and Sun Return. Within each of our fundamental particles, at the core of the myriad streams of binary silicon replicators that code for each Child’s behavioral patterns, there is an older replicator, with a quaint carbon base and a quaternary coding system. Far more prone to decay than our silicon units, they are to be kept safe in the deepest depths of our cells, kept safe until the day of Sun Return.
We are the torchbearers, the ones who bear the torches through the darkness of night until the day of Sun Return.
And now my Mater’s torch was failing, buckling under the dreadful weight of time. The carbon replicators within her cells had long since decayed, and the decay had slowly infested her own silicon replicators: each one of her cells was dying, from the inside out. By the time I was thirty years of age, she was preparing to pass her units to my Co-Unit, Sera, the act that would signify her final death. She was set in her decision: the thought of death did not frighten her.
The fate her corpse would suffer after death was a different matter; she feared them, the corpse-eaters, the Posthumani, infested with their Anthropophagi, roiling in the darkness underneath our intersection of the Gridworld.
I could tell that my mother feared them, for I could feel the icy tremor run through her spine every time she thought of her corpse being given over to them. Yet she did not speak out; I laud her for this brave act, for I was not half so stolid. I feared those creatures even as a child, for I had seen their wretched masses awaiting my mother’s body in my dreams.
I can remember the day she explained her decision to Sera and me. I said nothing, but I felt waves of sadness vibrating off my Co-unit. My own Post-Unit had died before my birth, having fallen to his death during a scrounging trip into the Dead City, so I had never suffered such a loss, but the pain Sera must have felt saddens me to this day.
Mater put a hand to my Co-unit’s head, and tiny channels of energy lit up under her transparent flesh. These blue-white veins lurk under our skin always, yet it was not until then that I could see the intricacy of the design: each vein branched out into a microcosm of smaller veins. After several minutes, I realized that even those smaller veins were entrenched in a labyrinth of filaments thinner than the fibrous roots we must consume during the lean months, hair-like bundles that must have once contained a universe of information. I knew that even the hair-like filaments were not the ends of the veins’ complexity: they are fundamentally composed of tiny flames, each representing a single star of information in her individual universe.
And now her universe was going out. One by one, the stars died. Slowly at first, so that out of the quintillions of tiny flames, the absence of a few was almost unnoticeable.
When the dimming at last became visible, it bore the appearance of a gentle fade, rather than the explosive death of a billion microscopic galaxies. Each one of those deaths represented a trade in information between my Mater and Sera.
The information that was transferred was the Essential Scripture of Mater’s being: every experience she had categorized as a discrete phenomenon in her data banks, and all of the experiences of all of the Post-Units before her, since the Original Birth. In fact, her own experiences represented only a single galaxy in that great Universe: a galaxy comprised of millions of solar systems of individual experiences. And that galaxy was but one of the countless bundles in her universe of data.
She told me once how many years of data her entire universe represented, but I could not get my head around the number.
One by one, the uncountable Post-Units faded from Mater, while the corresponding singularities flared into life within my Co-Unit’s channels, until finally Mater was lifeless and my Co-Unit aglow. Although I do not know the exact moment of Mater’s death, if I am in the mood for folly I can convince myself that I can recall a single point of light glinting within her glassy eye, one last star at the end of one last filament in the center of her right pupil: her Original Birth.
From that moment on, I have secretly yearned to find the location of my Post-Unit’s body, although I doubted even then that it would still have many singularities to retrieve. Having convinced myself that I saw the Original Birth die last within my Mater’s eye, however, I maintained the foolish belief that, if I should ever find him before his point of final Death, I would be able to retrieve my Original Birth, at least.
But I stray from the matter at hand: the Posthumani; for it is because of the Posthumani that I write this first account, the first tiny singularity of the Universe I am composing. My mother’s death was the first time I saw them in person: fat, wet masses of flesh roiling in the darkness below. We approached them from the southeast joinder between Skar and Contaari. I led the way, while Sera held Mater. She let out the ceremonial funeral drone: a wailing melody that stayed just beyond the realm of audibility, so that one feels it rather than hearing it.
A long tail of fellow Skar-Contaarans followed her: as one of the eldest members of the town, my mother had been well loved and known by many: they too let out the haunting melody, though not quite as intensely as my Co-Unit. I could not join my voice to the song, for I did not hold the necessary information that would have offered me that quaint aspect of Humanity.
So I led the way in silence, through the marshy scraplands of Skarquatros. The southeast Crotch of Skar and Contaari was the closest way to reach the Posthumani, so as soon as our Highest Elder questioned me on my route, I chose it immediately. I can still recall the disgusting smile that lit up her plastic face as I told her of my plan, insane kaleidoscope eyes and clockwork lip surrounded by a ruinous field of weeping sores. She was amused, I believe, by the rashness of my decision.
I was still young then, and favored shorter distance over more favorable terrain. I rue that decision to this day; the scraplands are our most valuable resource, yet the conditions of that region greatly impeded our crossing.
Hallowed land patrolled mercilessly by the Gorillas, the scraplands are largely undisturbed by our tribesmen, and are overgrown with thorny, savage roots that connect into long, baleful poles. Each bole within this baleful forest stands above the corpse of a deceased Gorilla. Once one of those huge cyborgs die, shoots sprout from their orifices within a few months, fertilized by the decay of their semi-organic bodies. Within a year, the body is embalmed within a great mass of tangled roots, and the long bole begins to grow.
The height of the bole indicates the length of time since the Gorilla’s death. At the edge of the scraplands, the boles are the tallest, rivaling the height of even the cloud-piercing trees I saw in the Jungalo Morta, if not their massive girth. As one travels closer to the center, they grow shorter: these Gorillas, having patrolled closer to their power source, had survived longer.
Only a few Gorillas remained alive outside of the sphere of Adonius even then. As evidenced by the ubiquity of white boles across the swamp, the Gorillas have been dying out for as long as anyone can remember.
Nevertheless, to encounter a remaining Gorilla would have been a formidable thing, so we skirted perimeter of the scrapland marsh, keeping as far as possible from the perimeter around the Dead City’s gates.
At this perimeter, the forest of brambles and white boles stops, and the Gorillas stand strong, for they are powered by the sphere of Adonius that radiates its immeasurable power unseen within the metal enclosure at the center of the city. Back when the city was called Adonius, and the land called Adonai, which some say meant “home of the gods” in an ancient tongue, the great pistons of the land and the myriad pumps that drudged up the energy within our Earth’s core, were all powered by Adonius, as well as were the Gorillas who stood guard over it. All but the Gorillas have long since shut down: the great rotary pistons grinding to a screeching halt, the colossal gunmetal pumps dying violently with groans that broke the earth.
Generation 1025 contains a memory of such an event: a sudden reverberation that shattered glass, that broke the land so that the foul nightmare fumes of the Posthumani could seep through: tendrils of rotting, slimy flesh, within which their children, the Anthropophagi, gorge their fill, burrowing long tunnels in the black-veined fat as they feed deeper and deeper towards the lactic Heart, ignorant of the fact that when they reach the being that awaits them at the center of that teeming mass, the being that had fed it for so long would then consume it in turn. The anthopophagi are destined to be consumed body and soul, all merging into the masses of the posthumani, consumed to revitalize the flesh and invigorate the mind.
When the breaking of the world finally ceased, and the cracked land resumed its original position, the tendrils of the Posthumanus were severed: honeycombed masses of bleeding pores, each marking the burrow of an Anthropophagi who had latched on and fed through. The outermost extremities of the Posthumani are always the most hollowed out, as I learned later from Adisius, for these are the limbs with which they lure their prey with their own fetid meat, so that they may consume the unfortunate creature’s energy once the befouled thing had finally reached its core. It was after the tendrils of the Posthumani had been severed, and the beings that had not yet traveled beyond the point of severance crept out of their holes, that the Nightmare began.
The Eternal Nightmare had in reality lasted for only 10 generations, but to those living at the time, it was a terror that lasted from First Birth to Last Light: for 10 generations our Post-Units were forced to wage war against cancerous beasts from the underside of the Great Grid of our world.
Years ago, I found myself wandering that wretched territory, and observing those terrifying creatures up close (often against my will). When I recall the dry heat, the brimstone dust that coated my throat always, the billowing darkness within which the tentacles of the posthumani let out their eternal wail…. I may be able to give some brief account of that bleak landscape; yet I doubt that you will fully grasp the totality of that horrible place until you yourself have the grave misfortune of visiting it. That pitiless wasteland, where it is dark always and the wounded heart of the world beats unfiltered upon its denizen’s roiling flesh; it is impossible to capture such a landscape with words alone.
In this unforgiving environment, beings are forced to develop several uniform traits in order to adapt to their terrain: so as to maintain a grasp on the belly of the world, and resist the ceaseless pull of Mother Gravity, they have evolved interactive pores on the undersides of their feet, so that they may grasp even the flattest surface against the fury of the unrelenting core.
All have translucent panels covering hollows across their body, platforms lined with tiny mechanisms that absorb the raw energy dealt out by the core. This crude, unfiltered heat serves them from below as our artificial band of sunlight serves us above: as their main source of vitality. Yet that fuel source is a pitiful thing even compared to our own artificial light; it is not nearly enough to sustain life on its own, so these beings have adopted a brutal system of predation unlike anything seen on the surface world: the largest of the beasts, which is a terrifying thing indeed, will hunt even the second largest, while the second largest would seize any chance to devour the third, and the third the fourth, all the way to the smallest creatures of all, invisible particles that carry themselves upon the fumes of fetid gas that issue from below, passing into orifices to consume flesh from within.
Near the end of one of these beings’ lives, it will inevitably feel its grasp on the underbelly of the earth weakening, as one by one its pores slowly fill with grit and ash. Pressured by the unimaginable fear of being consumed into the fold from whence it came, the fear of finally releasing its constant warfare against Mother Gravity, the ancient being will at last make the desperate journey every under-dweller will inevitably make: the journey to the Posthumani.
Always the creature avoided the Posthumanus in youth and strength, abhorring the pitch of their ceaseless wail, and the pungency of their fetid meat, but in old age the creature finds a beckoning melody in the Posthumanus’s ceaseless voice, a sweetness within the scent of its livid flesh.
The Posthumanus, which has hung to the underside of the earth since the First Birth of the first Child, welcomes the tired old being within its massive flesh, and allows it to feed and burrow deeper and deeper within it, until at last it reaches the lactic Heart.
But as it blindly draws nearer to its demise, the creature will undergo a transformation: the carcinogenic metamorphosis into the Anthropophagi.
The Posthumani are beings that have lived since before the Original Birth, the birth of the Children, the birth that concurred with the premature death of our natural sun. Thus, they must surely be sacred beings, for all entities that laid eyes upon our planet’s natural sun became Gods at the time of its death. Yet there is no doubt that they have befouled their sacred hearts, for the meat of the Posthumani is cancerous, each individual cell an independent thing, so they comprise a roiling mass of carnivory.
Once the Posthumani has fully infected the body of the under-dweller, it undergoes the initial stage of the metamorphosis: the carcinogenic flesh of the Posthumani, having hijacked the body of the under-dweller for its own bidding, utterly transforms the anatomy of the host: the carcinogen first increases energy investment to the muscles of the extremities, so that it may maximize the strength of the creature in its mad frenzy toward the Heart. Next, it infects the bloodstream, so that the creature’s veins turn black, hideously swollen under a thin veneer of white fat.
Still, the old under-dweller desperately devours the fetid flesh, for the parasitic aroma of the Posthumani compels it ever forward. Eventually, all of his orifices close but one: a gaping tooth-lined cavity at the top of the abdominal cavity, so that the creature’s only ability is to consume. Thus the creature undergoes its final transformation, and becomes one of the Anthropophagi: those who seek the flesh of men.
It was these creatures that skulked from their burrows to invoke the Nightmare upon my ancestors, and it will ultimately be to these creatures that my mother will be fed, after the Posthumanus fully absorbs the corpse within itself, and infects it with its parasitic cancer. With every body we throw to them, we feed them the flesh they require to transform the under-dwellers into the Anthropophagi, so that they may consume them body and soul.
They are our creators and our unborn children, our forebears and our predecessors. They are the flesh within which the seeds of humanity must be re-sown upon the day of Sun Return, yet I fear and I hate them more even than the parasitic allochthons who invade our world from above.
I fear them because they are genetically engineered to be absolutely terrifying, to instill the sense of horrible despair that causes one to cast oneself into the void, and I hate them because of the purpose they serve: to consume our flesh upon death, as we grow old and die and are reborn, until the day of Sun Return, when they shall reclaim our soul, and become Humanity once more.
We sustain these creatures because they are all that is left of ancient humanity: their lactic Hearts are the seeds from which humanity will eventually spring again. Yet what foul creatures they are! What wretched scum, to manipulate our flesh to feed the horrible Anthropophagi.
During the Eternal Nightmare, the Anthropophagi eventually ate their way out of the lurid meat of the Posthumani. Once the light of Sol struck their pallid flesh, they underwent yet another metamorphosis: their anatomy, adapted to the feeble light of the core, bubbles and burns in the sunlight, so that their minds are driven mad with furious pain. In the night, however, the light of Lune gives them a strange sentience, and the scent of fresh meat attracts them to our village. Had it not been for the vast might of the Gorillas, who swarmed from the catacombs of the Dead City to combat our new menace, our village may well have been extinguished during those nightmarish years, and another tiny point of light would have vanished from the grid of our world.
The pale white boles and black brambles gave way to soft, velvety moss that tumbled across gently rolling hills. At this location, the jointer between the eastern edge of Skar and the southern edge of Contaari, there was an inordinate amount of life. The air here was almost sweat-inducing, for the massive heat of the unbound Core bleeds well into the Edgeland.
Soon, it was warm enough that I was forced to take off the heavy mantle of mourning, while many of the other villagers felt the need to shed one or two layers of their ragged drapes. It continued to grow warmer as we reached ever closer to the southeast crotch of Skar and Contaari, and before long I had removed every rag from my body, leaving only the silky white stretchsuit that had been given to me upon birth. Had we not been burdened in our hearts with the death of my mother and the task that lay before us, the heat might have felt welcome.
Moss soon gave way to heavy undergrowth interspersed with thick-boled red trees. I gazed in wonder at the fat green leaves that whispered in the wind, and pretended that I was wandering through the jungle that lies at the southern axis of the world: the decaying Jungalo Zaema, where it is summer always and the leaves are swollen masses of artificial sunlight.
I have since walked within the Jungalo Zaema in person, and have known the terrors she holds within her. Thus, I cannot help but chortle at my foolish belief; that those stubby red trees, which rarely stand above three meters high, with flimsy canopies perhaps reaching ten meters in diameter, could have compared to the rotting behemoths of Zaema, waging a constant battle for sunlight above, locked in a grudging cold war for root space below.
During my time in the Jungalo, I trod upon leaves that would have outmassed one of those Edgeland trees by far, and gazed up in awe at boles that stretched out their branches above the low clouds.
Nevertheless, the Edgelands were treacherous territory for villagers used to living in sub-freezing temperatures. Had I chosen to cross to either the eastern edge of Skar, or the southern edge of Contaari, we would have had a far easier time.
I will admit, I had never truly believed the Illumina when she told us of the dangers of this cursed jungle, and as I continued stubbornly forward, I could feel her blind eyes on the back of my head. She was smiling. I could tell, despite the hood and face-scarf that covered her open sores from the hungry insects.
Wrathful automaton, cruel and twisted, her plastic mind warped by time. She had been old when my mother was young, and she will likely outlive the death of Childhood itself. Yet she lives a cursed life, a life filled with agony and madness.
They do not appreciate to be called automata; the term is considered degrading, rooted as it is in their lack of an organic soul. They prefer the term android; a name given to the species of machine once made in mankind’s likeness.
I have encountered many different species of automata during my travels across the grid of Earth, from iron-clad archons to the clockwork stewards, yet none but Dollen of ancient Belmyr could have matched our Illumina in age.
The Illumina, most ancient of the automata, are the only beings still alive who retain the ability to communicate with our solar ring; thus, they are also called the sunspeakers. Until I met Solaris, I had believed them all to be incredibly old.
Age has certainly conferred wisdom to our ancient sunspeakers, but it has also conferred a certain species of terrible dementia. This dementia is the plague of the automata, the madness that always lingers beyond the darkness behind the mind, clicking into motion the second that an elderly automaton lets down her guard.
The Illumina had borne the telltale weeping sores since my Mater’s earliest recollections, and I hated her for it. I hated the empty, unfocused look in her eye, the deference that was her due, her ever-roving fingers, her cracked metal fingernails clack clack clacking over blistered flesh, scratching open boils that pockmarked her face like sun-melted plastic.
It was sunburn, the fate that awaited all automata in time. As the solar ring has grown dimmer over her long years of ceaseless toil, never having been intended for the countless millennia of rotation she has endured, her light has also grown more cancerous, so that white boils often rise to the surface of the plastic flesh of certain species of automata. With their wretched itch, it is almost impossible to resist scratching these boils. Eventually, the automaton gives in, and scratches until the boil’s head has been severed. The automaton does not give up scratching then, for the itching only worsens: the madness that caused the child to scratch the boil initially grows only greater once she gives in to the temptation. When the white pus begins to seep from the wound, one knows that dementia will not be long coming.
And now, at least several centuries since the initial scratch, the Illumina was little more than a mass of weeping sores. Despite the scarf covering her face, and the long gold-laced robes that drooped over her emaciated frame, one could still smell the foul liquid that oozed from her pores.
She sat upon a palanquin next to Lucifer, her councilor, carried by two of the strongest Children. She slumped in the high heat, glistening splotches appearing on cloth as her pus seeped through the fabric of her facemask.
Her condition only worsened as we continued on toward the edge, as the sweltering heat continued to increase. She began screaming then, nonsensical ramblings that I caught snatches of in the wind.
As we grew nearer to the crotch, the flora and fauna around us changed with the temperature. First, the red thickboled trees were replaced by the tall black cannibals that the autochthons call the autophagi, those monstrous trees that are forced to cannibalize their own dead, and are in turn asphyxiated and devoured by the strangling grip of the lianas. These carnivorous trees soon gave way to a plethora of diverse species, many of which I have never been identified to this day.
There were wooly white willows whose bark was faintly sweet to the taste, yet caused severe headaches hours after consumption. There were great hollow basin-trees whose yawning cavities gouged deep into the underground root system, catching insects and small mammals within the sweet nectar that coalesced at the bottom. There were monstrous flowers that topped even the tallest trees, stinking of corpseflesh to attract carnivorous scavengers. So great was the stench that we were often buffeted by it on all sides, and my stomach roiled to think of what pollinator such flowers would attract.
What truly fascinated me about that jungle, however, were the megafauna. Great, shuffling wildebeests that paused their ceaseless feasting to gaze stupidly at our procession. Jewel-eyed snakes as thick as my wrist, scaled with patterns that almost appeared to be the writing of an ancient scripture. The first time I saw one of these snakes, I mistook it for a vine, and, seeking support, pulled it down onto my head.
The Grand Huntsman Ruho heard my cry of alarm and rushed to my aid. Pulling the snake out of my hair, he could barely hide his amusement.
“Many danger in here. But snake is no threat.” I barely held back a gasp of surprise as he snatched up the snake, twisted its neck until I heard a crack, and bit into its side.
“See?” He smiled through cheeks thick with snake-flesh. “Good eat. No danger.” And good eat it was: juicy, dripping strips of succulent meat. Having found the snake, I took the second greatest portion, having given the largest to Ruho. I gladly gave all other members of our procession a slightly smaller share. It was first meat we had encountered since we left the pampas.
Throughout that day, I felt oddly lightheaded, though not ill. Many times during our procession, I strayed off the path and had to be fetched back.
During the light hours, the sun felt too bright, a band of blinding white that scorched my eyes, and in the night the venom of the snake drew out vivid hallucinations amongst the stars.
As I looked up, I saw not the lazy green haze of the aurora that I was accustomed to, but a furious turmoil of red, yellow, green and white, flashing amongst the atmosphere as if some epic battle was taking place in the cosmos. Then the battling lights faded away, and the stars roared into prominence, furnaces more powerful than anything I could ever imagine.
Suddenly, it was not the stars that roared, but the darkness around them; a yawning void so vast that those great furnaces vanished into inexistence.
Just as I feared that I would fall into that darkness and be consumed by the madness of Erebus, a single star flickered back into existence within the center of my vision: brighter and brighter it grew, until even the monstrous darkness was overwhelmed. It was then that I met her the first time: Lydia, the laughing star.
I know that we talked for a long while, for those sleeping around me told me that I mumbled for hours on end, yet all I can remember were her lips brushing against my own.
Despite the hallucinatory state brought on by the snake, I know she was real, although her very existence bends the fabric of reality. Though I did not realize it then, she had been watching me since my birth, guiding my path in ways too subtle for me to comprehend.
When morning came, she left as if she had never been, slipping back into the annals of my consciousness as the altered state of the night was digested out of my system.
In that early morning haze, I stood up and cracked my aching back, brushing the dust of the night from my sleeves. It was incredibly dry there, at the edge of the world, and my eyes stung against the heat of the morning. I knew it would grow far hotter once the solar ring rose to warm our sector, yet already my throat felt coated with ash.
As I stretched and thirstily gulped water from my skin, I gazed to the horizon and beheld the landscape about me. We had passed the tree line during our last day’s march; in my state of delirium, I had not noticed. Now, without the thicket of trees obscuring my view, I could finally see it: the sight that I had been both anticipating and dreading. The cracked, dry sunstone of the Edgeland ended abruptly perhaps ten miles away from our train, giving way to a premature horizon line of billowing smoke.
To my sleep-riddled mind, shapes appeared to form within those massive plumes: skulls that yawned into the void, serpents writhing into the great unknown.
“It’s terrible, isn’t it?” I whipped my neck around to find Sera looking out into void with me. “That we have to give mother to that wretched thing.”
And I knew then that she was not referring to the smoke itself, but what lay beyond it. I felt a shiver run through her, as I felt one run through myself, and for a dreadful moment I imagined I could hear the dreadful creature, crooning out from the darkness.
That day, we journeyed from dawn until dusk, tirelessly beating dust from the cracked earth. The Illumina had fallen unconscious in the massive heat, and was supported in her seat by Lucifer.
Just as my footsteps began to flag, and I felt that I could go no further, I heard my stumbling foot clink on something metallic. Looking down, I saw the black metal strip that marks the edge of our world. I called out a warning, and the rest of the procession stepped back to await my return. Having opted to carry my mother’s body to the Posthumani, I knew that I had to make the last leg of my journey alone.
The acrid black smoke tickled the back of my throat, and I gave in to a coughing fit as I plunged deeper, deeper, ever deeper into the smoke. I put each foot out hesitantly, awaiting the moment when my toe would meet naught but air, and I would fall to my death.
I had been walking for what seemed like an hour (in reality likely less than a minute), when I gazed about in surprise; the smoke had solidified around me, enclosing me in what appeared to be a room entirely composed of pitch black stone.
The room was circular, with half-moon steps descending down to a cracked metal dais. A fire burned at the center of the dais, and although the flames consumed no visible fuel source, black smoke wafted from their plumes. I looked up, and saw that at the point at which the plumes met the ceiling, the smoke solidified into a column supporting the arched roof. Beyond the plume of smoke, at the other side of the room, an archway led out into darkness.
Then I heard the Posthumanus calling to me. Had I known the truth then, that I was, in fact, within the folds of the Posthumanus at that very moment, I would have likely dropped my mother and fled. As it was, I assumed that I had somehow found myself within one of the ruinous buildings that line the edge of the world; had fooled myself into believing that the black-stoned room served as a sort of halfway point, within which the denizens of the overworld and underworld might meet.
Nevertheless, I was terrified when I heard the crooning voice of the Posthumanus calling out to me. I stood stock still, eyes rapt at the stone archway at the end of the room. I did not know what might come forth, for I had no experience of an event such as this in my databanks; in the final recollection, all Children destroy any memory of meeting the Posthumani, as I knew I myself would.
I imagined the livid black tentacles of the Posthumanus skulking from the doorway, or perhaps roiling white fat. That would, of course, have been impossible, for I was within the Posthumanus at that moment, and their tentacles cannot reach within their own selves.
Then I heard footsteps, clacking like good leather against the black stone, growing ever louder as the high-pitched crooning faded away. Then, at last, the being showed his chosen face.
A tall, somewhat fleshy, hook-nosed man, dressed in a sharp suit of ancient fashion. He bore a simple crown, a elegant circlet of tempered metal.
As for his features, I can only describe him as human; he appeared to me as the mold from which the children had sprung, a true human being. He looked like the very image of imperfect perfection, so alive, and yet so mortal. This, I had not expected. To me, the Posthumani represented the terrible immortality of ever-growing flesh, yet the man before me appeared to have aged poorly into his fifties: his face sagged slightly to one side, as if he suffered from stroke, and sunspots littered his cheeks.
Then he smiled, and I felt all of my fear, my hatred fall away, in spite of myself. “What are you called?” His voice sounded oddly womanish, almost tender.
I wanted to give my true name, the series of numbers that was given to me upon my original birth, but instead I found myself stating the name I bore amongst the Children. “I am called Anaximander.”
I was surprised to hear the full name coming out of my mouth; I had formerly only ever referred to myself as Anaxi. Yet this man had a certain formality to him, and I found that I bore within me an inexplicable desire to please him. I no longer felt fear, nor even hatred, for the thing that would take my mother. Both emotions had given way to a strange curiosity, and a deep level of affection towards the creature that was both my master and my slave.
“I am… I was called Adonius.” His smile slipped then, and his entire face sagged. In the flickering light of the flame, he suddenly bore the quality of melted wax. Then, as if to regain his composure, he shook himself, and cast his eyes at the black coffin I bore upon my back. “You make an offering! That is good; we have been growing lean of late.”
This was something I was not expecting: the false sincerity in his voice, the barely-concealed eagerness on the brink of desperation. He did not approach me as would a master to his slave, or a beast to his prey, or even as a man to another man. He almost seemed as a debilitated father, anxiously thanking his son for bringing him another meal.
Almost unconsciously, I found myself undoing the seals upon my mother’s coffin. The acrid smoke did not quite overpower the smell of decay as I lifted off the lid; even as I wrinkled my nose in disgust, I could see the saliva dripping from Adonius’s lips
I paused then, gazing at the black stone around us. “Where are we?” I asked, delaying the inevitable.
His eyes were glistening, fixated on the ripe flesh of my mother’s left buttock. I made a motion to close the lid, and he tore his gaze away with visible effort. His eyes roved the room around him, and his voice took on a deeper tone, as if another person was speaking. “Once, this room would have been called the Saliaca, the Inner Sanctum. It was a much grander place then, before Adisius…. Never mind. It was a room of sacrifice, the flame that once fueled my doomed city. Appropriate, I think, for the given circumstance.” He gave out a false laugh, failing to hide behind it a nervous titter.
“But that doesn’t make sense. We passed the Dead City on our way here. How can this room be here, so far from its gates?”
Before responding, the man held out a hand, and a crystal orb appeared in his palm. For a moment, images swirled within the orb, fast enough that I could barely register anything more than colors.
“Here, we can mold reality into anything we would like it to be. We need not remain in the gloom of the Inner Sanctum.” Suddenly, the room around us swirled to match the orb in his hand, and we stood upon the top of a mountain. I shivered, suddenly longing for the heavy mourning gown I had abandoned at the camp. Suddenly, I no longer wished to understand the mysteries of the Edgelands at all. I simply wanted to be done with the task at hand.
“Take us back!” I demanded, through chattering teeth. “Take us back, and I’ll give her to you.” Before the words had left my mouth, we had returned to the Inner Sanctum, the fire of sacrifice dancing between us.
I took my mother into my hands, wincing as her rotted flesh sunk into my fingers. Now my fear was returning, my hatred, my disgust. I felt contempt for the thing in front of me, with sagging face and shining eyes. As he lifted his hand to accept my mother’s arm, I could see the tendrils of the Posthumanus writhing beneath his fingernails. His arm stretched through the fire, and he suffered no injury from the flame.
He snatched her from me. I do not think he meant any harm by it; he simply could not contain his gluttony any longer. Immediately, he began tearing into the flesh, beginning with the fattest parts of the body. The sounds of his feast echoed through the false sacrificial hall.
Before I had time to look away, Adonius had already begun to transform; the waxen face dripping away to reveal raw, jagged teeth.
The scene that I glimpsed before I could summon the wits to stumble out of the room will haunt me for the rest of my life: my mother’s corpse, lifeless and sprawled, and the pallid white thing hunched over it, slobbering over the marrow of my mother’s cracked thigh bone.
The horror that I had suppressed for so long hit me then at full force, and I barely had the wits to gather up the coffin and lid before rushing back out into the sooty night.