The Human sat (and oh she hated him, and oh she lusted for his destruction, and oh her children were mad to love such filth) on one of her precious exposed mounds and argued about splashes of artificial color.
Her children would never be the same. It was the humans’ fault. Maybe her fault, too, for making them like sponges, but she hadn’t known what could expose itself to them like lewd and squalid garbage.
Aakesh knew she hated them. Of course he did. First, closest to her (closest to the humans, too, but that would not be considered), more vast than he had any idea – she had made an equal in him alone, and he did not know. So he had decided all humans would not die, and they did not all die. He had decided to claim this one Human and link it to himself, and she had not overruled him. Madness. The humans poisoned everything.
The children could keep their few stupid human babies. They could keep that Human (who’d dared own her First, who dared be owned by him) as long as they wished, but there would be no future invasions.
The echo of her rage (weeping mourning grieving for twelve of her children could not wake) rippled out like a gong in a distant valley, but it did not change their minds.
Second-born grew more vicious and then turned it into wilder play, and third briefly regretted kindness and then remembered its beauty with renewed compassion, and fourth turned detailed art from intricate to nightmarish and then smoothed it back to dreamlike once more, and fifth considered for a moment – only – a moment using their great strength to smash… something… and instead resumed playing with her bones.
They fed off each other and filled each other and gave one another peace and consolation in ways she’d never dreamed, ways learned over four hundred years of being unable to love as they wished.
Greatest comfort born of greatest suffering.
On the little island with the Human, Aakesh startled slightly, so slightly, as if a cold drop of water slid down his spine.
Harry glanced over. “What?”
Aakesh met Harry’s gaze with his own, forge-fire orange challenging muddy green-brown. “Nothing.”
Harry raised one eyebrow (an expression learned from Aakesh, though he did not know it), but when the other did not elucidate, he let it go. “So you really want me to paint.”
Aakesh did not gloat, but he did permit himself a small and perfect smile as he waved his hand.
The water trembled. Deep and frightening vibrations rattled through the landfall and through Harry’s bones and into his teeth as something rose, rose, rose from the water like the dawning sun, smooth and long and as tall as Harry could reach. A wall, but not a wall: a canvas, huge and smoother than mud had any right to be and achingly perfect for painting.
Aakesh’s too-hot hand closed around his, over the brush. “Paint something,” he whispered against Harry’s ear.
Harry shuddered, but did not shove him away. Aakesh could command this, but he wasn’t. He was asking, cajoling, suggesting. It was still Harry’s choice.
He stood. The jars of paint rose in the air to follow him like trained puppies, but he’d seen too many wonders today, and ignored that with a shake of his head.
The wall was smooth to the touch, but slightly textured. Perfect. He sighed in surrender. “Okay,” he said, and reached for the orange paint. “Okay. I will.”
There would be no future invasion. Humans still existed in the universe – she could feel them like crawling fungus. She knew how humans worked. When an assault failed, they rallied and came back for more. They would not come back on their own terms with more machines and further heinous surprises. She would go to them.
Jason Iskinder’s knowledge had surpassed his understanding of it. He’d observed magical travel between worlds, though he’d rejected it and never taught his descendants. She knew all she needed to know.
She’d track them down.
She’d hunt them.
She’d go to their dead world, the world they’d murdered, and her children would have all the toys they wished.
There would be no mercy this time.