For Glory, For Empire
Son et Lumiere - Le Feu
Every few days, colonists ranging out from Westgate into the peripheral fringe of not yet tamed jungle find strange patches of incinerated ground. Silence hanging from the trees as the scent of sulfur and scorched carbon drifted upward towards the sun, the black scar spread before their feet on the ground. No larger than a campfire usually, and the jungle reclaims them quickly. Death is, as always, rich with plunder taken from those it has claimed, and the wilds are quick to cannibalize the calcined remains with new life: sprouting stems and frothing spreads of fungi. They feared enemies at first, careless scouts of hostile tribes, but no threat emerged and the unseen fire continued right up until the Grand Expedition returned to the colony.
In the deep jungle, one Bea’txo works a dying fire with a hot poker, coaxing a new burst of heat from cooling cinders and dormant coals. Far to the west and north, a hand of the same flesh and blood digs into a handful of grass and green plants, a spasming grip crushing oil and sap out of the cellulose as it begins to blacken, burst into flame.
Yes, the tall lady is seen more often these days, dragging that scholar behind her as always. People don’t like talking to her, no, despite her beauty, despite the strength of her personality. She turns the full weight of their powers into dominating people, or driving them away. She tries to take up all the energy and attention in a space or moment, spreading as fast as she can to consume it all. You try to grasp her, you get hurt, and if you don’t have the good sense to pull away – some people say she’d consume you too, right down to the bones. People think she’s evil. I watch her closely, from a safe distance.
You ever hear it, when she is around? Poetry. Language as music. A schoolteacher once told me that they thought that sound must be the first sort of magic, the thing that broke the great silence of before time, and bards the first kind of mortal spellcaster. I imagine the primal music sounds like that. Like the words she says when she thinks no one can hear or see her.
Burning. Burning. Burning.
Hurry up please, it’s time.
Burning. Burning. Burning.
Ever since the word, whispered so innocently into her ear. Her ear had begun to burn. Then her eyes. All the senses. Set aflame. Burning. All the time, burning. Sound and light, all around her. Burning.
Hurry up please, it’s time for a change.
Hurry up please, it’s still burning.
Hurry up please, I’m burning.
The crowd was gathered around the explorers, the clamor the closest thing the Grand Expedition would get to a triumphal parade. Mengzhi was eager to see them right away, to get their account of their journey before time made memory even more false and treacherous. He was surprised she was even awake, let alone that she came with him to see them. But he wasn’t going to argue with the fire in her eyes.