Intermission ٢ – Given Form

Strange singing metal was cold against its skin. It hadn’t experienced ‘cold’ before. It regarded the object – an open-ended cylinder wrapped around the end of its limb, just below the manipulator. There was another one on each of its other three limbs, and between them, a song pinned it. It didn’t understand, but none of its attempts to escape were working. When it tried to extrude acids, to eat away at the cylinders or the inner surface it was contained in, nothing happened. When it tried to move and twist its bones, so it could slip out of the cylinders, it only managed to make another unfamiliar sensation, pain, happen in its manipulator.

The only shapes left that responded to the wish to change were small things beneath its skin, that could shorten to drag around the rocky scaffold on which the flesh sat like a puppet, ungainly and strange. With only that force available to it, it couldn’t break the cylinders, or claw through the inner surface.

More unfamiliar things moved through its mind. ‘Frustration’ and ‘confusion’ were chief amongst them, along with a bizarre notion that it might not ‘like’ what was happening.

It was strange to look, to point its eyes in different directions, rather than just budding new ones, but when it heard the rattle of the door, it looked up. As the door moved away from the space it had been, it put down its latest attempt to use the sharp, hard stones connected to its jaw to chew through its limb and allow it to remove the cylinder. It watched carefully as the entity moved through the door, balancing on two of their limbs, and in a similarly-shaped plan of form to it.

It instantly lunged, but the sharp edges it wished to attack the entity with and the long spikes of bone that it would drive through the entity’s information centre didn’t form, and the shapes of its limbs remained the same despite all expectations. Combined, this meant that it tried to raise itself upright, tripped over its own lower limbs, and came crashing down on the side of it that bore the eyes. ‘Pain’ burst across its anterior surface, and it felt as small structures near its eyes broke and didn’t instantly join back together. It fumbled forwards, in a faint attempt to destroy the entity, but had barely started to move upright again before the entity reached down, seized it around one of its limbs, and dragged it upright. Their grip was unbreakable, even as it tried to mount an attack with one of its other manipulators – the other one couldn’t reach, bafflingly – and with their other manipulator, they grabbed it on the eye-bearing extremity, and a flash of thaumic light shoved into its brain, bringing concepts with it that it suddenly understood.

Where there had previously only been shape, space, form, the flows of matter and energy and the destruction of information sources, there was language. Words filled its… its brain. It understood what that meant! It bought its hands to its face and they came away black with blood, an internal fluid that became external when it dribbled out of its nose, damaged when it had fallen and hit the floor. It stood there where the entity had released it for a while, swaying gently, face showing nothing but an expression of pure wonder as great vistas of words and abstraction grew and flowered within its mind.

The entity stood still, watching as it twitched with growing conceptual self. They watched as it reached a state of relative new mental stability, and then held up a hand, slowly taking in and analysing the bracelet – one of the four that restrained its ability to change – with an entirely new depth of understanding. It reached up with its other hand, suddenly more dexterous now it understood what it was doing, and unhooked the simple latch holding the bracelet on.

The change was immediate. Its entire form rippled, flesh almost effervescent with new form, and it lunged at the entity, its freed limb surging with spikes and spines of bone and keratin. This attempted goring implement shattered on an invisible wall, and the creature was left to strike futilely at the barrier with its left arm – the other arm and both its legs still contained in humanoid form by the other bracelets.

“Fear not – I mean you no harm.” said the entity, and the creature understood.

It stopped beating its twisting, changing, shifting arm against the barrier and leapt back, its face bubbling with eyes, antennae and other, stranger senses as it attempted to take in and analyse this new information.

Moments passed, and then a rip of a mouth slowly peeled open beneath its eyes. “Is,” it said softly, a throat wheezing air slowly through newly-formed lips in a way unaccustomed.

“You were made for destruction,” the entity said, “and, while you will understand the hows and whys later, I will state some of them now. The Demiurge of Blasphemy created you, a weapon that could destroy any of their enemies, could defeat any barrier, could never be stopped. They were the first victim of their greatest success.”

Memories surfaced. A tank, filled with liquid, and cruel eyes watching it through the bubbling blue fluid. Darkness, light, then an overwhelming hunger, fear and singularity of purpose. A crack and a pop, and the cruel eyes were no more, and then there was hunting, chasing, destroying until a thing of purple seized it with an invisible force, sealing it in a metal box and then… darkness.

“You were beneath the Atrament for nine centuries, give or take, until the container was dredged up. By now, I suspect, all the damage you did upon emerging has been undone by Third Uriel, and according to my conversation with your first victim, post-sealing, once she’d been resurrected, the wards failed on their own due to sheer age and sudden change of environment. I had always suspected that a creature capable of such bodily mutability would have a remarkably powerful mind, so earlier I forced a good deal of knowledge of the Trada Lingua – trading language – into your mind. I hoped that it would only take a small introduction of self-awareness and expression to stay you from your omnicidal course.” The entity paused for a long moment. “Did it work?”

It looked back at them, through the invisible field its other senses were detecting no flaws in.

Words it had never known swam through its mind in an endless sea.

It selected one of the many, plucking it from the stream and finding the shapes to form the noises. “May… be?

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