her mouth is an insect
dirty with hymns
drunk on the soil of her eyelids
in pestilent armour
the veins drink her mirror
dusting her sleeves with their wings
-- Insect, by Claine Kelly
In the longest agos there were wings; she feels their ghost beneath the thin, fragile bones of this one, this Earther who is different now but the still same, this one who is so very afraid but even more angry. She leans in and scentpockets flare wide and gather the essence of his hatred. "One Sulum it would have taken," she says and her tongue slips out to taste the air around him. "One Sulum is precious, for one Sulum is All."
"You're insects," the one says from across the room, it says, desperate for her notice. This Sulum need not flare to catch the fear and the despair and the scent of something sweeter. "You're a hive. But you're us, too," and it wants her eyes, it does, because its scent is all over this one who hates her so.
"One is Sulum, and One is precious," she says. "It would have stopped One and it is nothing, not even Slalen, not even a flickering to feed us." She leans down over the one who hates. "That is arrogance," she says, and her talons curve along the cage where the wings beat, slice deep enough so that there is copper with the fear.
She lets tendrils uncoil and hook and draw just a little shimmer out, a little taste, and then leans in to lick the wounds shut. It makes no sound but its body shudders and falls, twitching.
"Fucking bitch," the other says and lunges, body hitting the cage walls and rattling, battering again and again and she laughs.
"Who is the insect?" she mocks, and then smiles to show her red, red teeth. "Do not worry, little thing, do not worry. One is not hungry enough. One wants to learn the ways of insects still."
"Fucking bitch," the breaking, battering one says and she smiles, touches it almost gently.
"Is it hungry?" she asks. "This Sulum will feed both, and we, Sulum and Ehlem, will watch both and we will learn and when we have done learning the ways of insects," and the word is said like snapping teeth, "the ways of Earthers, this Sulum will feed and One will Be Many."
This Sulum is not like the Other, this Sulum is hungry for things like wings and thoughts, not meat and gristle. And what she learns the Next will know, the Sulum and the Slalen and even the white, white Ehlem who will slip out from her body small and fragile and quick to drain her pale so that her knowing is never lost and this Sulum will be forever.
"Oh dear god," it says, the one still speaking. It reaches through to touch its other, the one that is its own and will be hers. "She's a breeding queen."
This Sulum laughs because they are such small, weak words and she knows it is so much more terrible and beautiful than they can ever grasp. She wonders if she will tell them, as they wither under her touch, that they will be bound up in her body, and they will feed the next breeding, and they will live forever in those bodies: the muscle and bone, and the pure, pure white, and the red, red smile.
She thinks she will, when she feeds, so that they understand there is no ending, that they are forever just as Sulum, small as they flicker and quick at they otherwise fade.