They are angry gods.
No one knows why, but they have hunted and exterminated us since time immemorial. They are colossal beings too large even to comprehend, let alone hope to contend with.
But we are sturdy, we are stealthy, and we are many.
The nooks and crannies are our home. The gods can end our lives without a thought, but they cannot end what they cannot see. We hide from them, and when they are away, we subsist on what they fail to take from us. Nevertheless, a single misstep and we feel the loss of a brother or sister.
There is a saying passed down through my people: lose one leg, and the other five shall scuttle on. So we scuttle on. They smash us, drown us, suffocate us with poison gas, but we scuttle on. No gods protect us, we must look out for one another.
I dart out in the darkness. This is a small safety as the gods command the sun. The white mesa lay before me, dotted with the four coiled hills that mark the holy land like black oases. The gods regularly set fire to these hills in their wroth, but below them and around their base sweet nourishment collects in a thin film.
My love is at my back. I hate to bring her, risking not only her own life but those of the children inside her as well. But I know that for that very reason she needs the nourishment more than I. I hurry to the base of the hill – Ecstasy! The taste of grease and salt at my feet floods my brain, but I must maintain my focus. At any moment our cover will be blown.
My sweet darling takes my side and takes deep gulps of the filmy, delicious slime on the mesa, clicking with pleasure. It fills me with a fleeting pride to see her so happy. I steal a moment to enjoy the gentle rise and fall of her long, smooth shiny wings pressed against her back – the same wings I had fallen in love with what seems like so many years ago. Then I come back to reality. I can take only sips, looking up spastically as if I will be able to do anything to prevent our deaths by seeing it coming.
Sure enough, in moments the sun flickers to life. I feel the vibrations of a terrible shriek, and a lumbering god glares down at us in murderous rage. I am off, underneath the fiery hill, around another, to the back of the mesa and up into the safety of the outcrop. I look behind me to comfort my love – but she is not there.
I see her underneath the hill, paralyzed with fear. She cannot be crushed there, but what of the fire? Our ancient foe has a long shiny blade that it pokes under the hill to crush my love by proxy – but the giant is clumsy, and the blade is easily avoided.
Then the moment I have dreaded – the god reaches a hand out to light the coiled hill. The process is slow, but I see my darling shy to the center of the depression under the hill, tucking her antennae down in anticipation of the heat. I can’t think what to do but watch her die. If she could just get the courage to make a break for it, maybe… As my mind races, the spiral hill begins to glow red with the same awful magic I had seen time and time again, though never like this.
Suddenly, a madness overcomes me. I would rather die myself than stand by as my love suffers a hideous fate. I bolt out to the hill, my legs slipping and sliding on the grease as fast as they can take me. I can feel the heat taking my body as I plow forward, but none of it matters anymore. I feel the vibrations of another shriek, and a hand slams down behind me, managing only to remove a leg as I join my best friend in Hell.
Then something surprising happens. With another shriek, the hand whips back as fast as it came. I squint out at our enemy and see it cradling its weapon of terror. What? The fire! The thing has burned itself! I look back at my love. The wings on her back have curled into a hideous shape from the heat, and only one of her eyes seems to see me. My nerves are steel. We will have time to mourn after we escape – we must flee now.
She follows me out from under the hill and we dash to the outcrop. I lag behind my love, the climb disproportionately more difficult for the loss of a leg. One second in plain view… two seconds… As I rise and fall on the cliff face, my legs struggling to keep enough purchase to get me to the top, I feel like I have fewer than even the five feet I expected. At five seconds, I cannot believe my luck that the giant still has not noticed my vulnerability. I dare not turn back and look, but I continue to feel high-pitched wails washing over my sensitive antennae.
It is only after I finally manage to scale the wall and scramble into the outcrop with my love that I can confirm my fear. In addition to my hind leg, a middle on the opposite side must have fallen off in the heat and chaos. Still, I made out better than my love, who I can’t imagine will ever be able to move the right side of her face again. We will have to remove her hideous curled wings, I suspect. But she will live. And our children, I hope. We must look to the future.
No matter what, no matter how, we must scuttle on.