by Amy Allworden
The first two Collectors popped and shuddered without so much as a whimper. Well done. Don’t give that bloated driftwood the satisfaction; I thought. Vilithii lazed on the hard packed dirt dais and another Collector was brought within reach.
This one pipped a small frightened sound when Vilithii’s rough tipped tentacle clung to its soft trunk. In response, Vilithii wrapped it tighter. Its energy oozed out for several agonizing minutes. Finally there was no more and Vilithii tossed the blackened husk down the ramp. Brave show little soldier… brave show.
Well, Setting Sun… What do you have for me? Vilithii’s song reverberated in the air. I hurried to the top of the dais, making sure I was well out of reach.
Manipulators and Collectors gathered for the annual celebration of Vilithii’s blessing. My leaves stiffened and I waited another few moments but Vilithii looked no different. I silently cursed myself for not converting more Collectors.
Blessed Vilithii, I waved towards the dais and projected my song to the crowd, May your light shine forever upon us… My pause this time was long enough even the Barons looked awkwardly at each other. Several silent moments passed before I stole another cautious look. It had begun.
Vilithii’s top leaves were turning brown and dry; it wouldn’t take long now. I sang out clearly.
We are here to honor Vilithii; The First, the Life Giver and Transformer. I stole another look and was rewarded with the sight of a second swath of dry leaves. It was time.
But this DECEIVER… I leaned away and pointed at Vilithii. …is not God! A gasping cry burst from the crowd.
What have you done? Why are you saying this? Stop!
Vilithii snatched the husk of a consumed Collector and ripped into it. Sticky red ichor dripped from its veins and let out rank odorous poison.
I will tear you apart, Vilithii rumbled. I signaled and several Manipulators raced from the crowd to ascend the ramp; each one hacking and stabbing. The Barons fled and I instructed for them to be followed.
Vilithii was strong and deviously smart but the Manipulators were modified with branches twice the normal length; each one capped with a steel edged spike. Leaves rained as they attacked Vilithii’s many branches; splitting them apart and shredding them down to stubs. They threw their weight against the trunk and stabbed their sharp points down through its mass of roots, staking Vilithii to the dais. A roar of pain and anger erupted in the chamber. As planned, the assassins were consumed until all that remained were cracked husks restraining Vilithii.
I waved towards the back hall and Dust on the Pale Grass rushed through, holding aloft a burning stick. Dusty moved quick, keeping the flame as far as possible away. Vilithii withered.
NO! No, I beg you…not fire. Vilithii extended the pulpy remains of a branch to me. Consume me…do it yourself. It can be yours, all my power; everything I know will be yours. Just think what you can accomplish…these fools will tremble before you. I beg you…Not Fire!
With my signal, the fire was tossed onto Vilithii’s dry leaves; they burst at once into an orange fireball. The false god howled and screamed and beat at the leaves with shredded limbs but the hungry flames were only encouraged to move faster.
Do not leave us Vilithii! Consume the Blasphemer!
A Collector charged up the ramp and threw itself onto Vilithii. The flames eagerly licked them both. Two other Collectors and one Manipulator joined Vilithii in the fire, together their screams echoed in the vast chamber. I turned to the congregation.
This was no God…it was all a lie…
Several prayed and sang, many wept openly. This time my song of speech was gentle and comforting.
Strangers, aliens from another world, visited our city and from them I learned Vilithii is neither almighty nor all knowing. The light brings us life…let us turn our faith to the everlasting light. From this day forward, Husking; the holy ritual of consuming and draining till death…will be forbidden. They began to listen as the flames behind me cast looming shadows.
It will be up to all of us to create a better life. I have seen this better life and I know we can achieve it.
In amongst the mass of roots, in the dust of Vilthii’s ashes, I traced an outline. A simple creature with only two branches that walks upright on only two roots. Humans.