K3. The Antlion

Faith lost count of how many times she’d wrapped the wide white wing across reality’s green circle. It took ages to cross, but the wing was so fluffy and sweet-smelling Faith didn’t mind the time. She flew with such ease she wasn’t sure if she dragged the wing behind her, or if the wing propelled her and she merely directed it.

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Each time she surfaced above reality, she admired the wing-wrapping she left behind her. Her arcs wrapped the white wing near the center, but not too near because the Heart had warned it might entrance her. Still, she could not imagine anything more ensnaring than the sweet scent of the fluffy white wing.

The Heart warned Faith the wing might speak. Faith never heard it speak but it was an excellent listener. When she whispered secrets into it, warm emotions washed over her.

“You know, you smell familiar,” Faith said through her teeth as she gripped the wing again. “What’s the name of your perfume?”

The wing did not respond, but Faith pretended it did. 

“I’m sure I’m hallucinating,” said Faith. “I’ll bet you’re a real person sitting with me wherever I’m tripping. Thanks for keeping me company!” The wing wiggled comfortably and cradled Faith as they wrapped the Wheel together. Faith kept wrapping until the Heart of the Mountain appeared with such swiftness her jaw dropped in surprise. “Bug Bird! What’s up? Is the Wheel still wobbling?”

“The Wheel wobbles much less, thanks to you. Progress has been made.” The Heart of the Mountain took the wing from Faith with ten human hands. “If you’d like a break, I have another favor to ask.”

“Anything, Bug Bird!”

“As I gathered worms, I met a visitor on the Mountainside in an awful state. I dare not grant them Zephyrhood in their current condition. Please take them to Anihilato.”

“Huh? Anihilato?”

The Heart of the Mountain swaddled Faith in the white wing like they were tucking her into bed. “Take them into the desert and leave them in a deep valley.”

The wing coiled like a carpet and spun Faith until she lost consciousness.

Faith woke on the Mountainside when she felt sunlight on her fur. She stretched and yawned and opened her eyes.

The visitor was a giant ball of shuddering teeth whose cracking crowns caused such cacophony that Faith cowered behind a rocky outcropping with her eyes closed and her paws over her ears.

When the cracking came to a close she peeked around the rocks. In place of the teeth, ten thousand earthworms tussled in a puddle. 

Faith wouldn’t tackle teeth, but she’d fought worms and won. She skulked behind them.

Just before the worms escaped off the ledge, Faith nabbed them at the nape of their neck. “Nice try!”

Faith turned into a cloud and carried the earthworms over the desert. Being a cloud was almost as fun as being a fox, but she had an errand to run so she didn’t dally with fanciful flights. She whisked the earthworms far from the Mountain and chose an inconspicuous valley between two deep dunes.

Rather than drop the worms from great height she decided to descend and set them on the sand, but when she looked down she shivered with fear of falling. The fear froze her into ice and she dropped like a hailstone. The fall felt like an ending dream, and she prayed to wake.

When she hit the sand she burst into snow. The worms scattered across the valley.

Faith’s snow collected and gasped for air as it shook out its limbs. “You little wormies doing alright?”

The valley collapsed into an antlion’s conical deathtrap. She kicked and shouted at the monster emerging from the deep center. It whipped unseen arms from underneath the sand and grabbed Faith by her hind legs. “Hey! Leggo!”

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Anihilato braced itself on twenty legs while twenty arms held Faith in place. “I’ve got you! You’re mine!”

“No! Stop!” Faith kicked but Anihilato mushed her into a shapeless snow-pile. This freed a few hands for Anihilato to eat worms off the sand. “Ew, gross!”

“Gross?” Anihilato licked worm-guts from its lipless mouth. “My insatiable hunger knows no disgust. I eat my own eggs just because the yolks are warm.”

Faith morphed around Anihilato’s fingers. Anihilato oppressed her with palms while it ate the last worm off the sand. “Uugh! Hey!” Faith steamed through Anihilato’s grasp. The more Anihilato swiped at the steam, the more Faith aerosolized and became ungraspable. She formed a cloudy fox above the monster. “You’re Anihilato, right? I figured you were something awful.”

“Awe-inspiring, you mean!”

“You inspire something in me, for sure.” Faith hovered just outside Anihilato’s grasp. “You’ve got your worms, so I’m leaving.”

“No!” Anihilato reached much higher than Faith had thought the monster capable. Its muscular back held it upright like a snake charmed from a pot. She still steamed through its fingers. “You belong to me! I own you!”

Faith climbed water-vapor like an invisible spiral staircase. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Your Eternity Card is in my box of souls!”

“Huh?” Faith sat well out of reach. “Bug Bird didn’t mention anything like that.”

“Mentioned or unmentioned, you have died and your soul is rightfully mine. Descend so I might obliterate you.”

Faith laughed. “I’m not dead, I’m hallucinating.”

“Oh, really. Is that what the Mountain told you?”

Faith said nothing.

“You wouldn’t mind descending to your obliteration, if this was hallucinatory.”

“Hm.” Faith sat on her haunches. “I guess that’s right.”

“So come to me.”

Faith considered Anihilato’s offer. Anihilato blinked with its six eyes. “No,” said Faith. “If I’m hallucinating, I get to go where I want. And I’d never want to be down there with you, ever again.”

“Where do you want to be, pray tell?”

Faith considered the dunes. “Mars, apparently. Interning for a Mountain.”

“You fool.” Anihilato smirked. “You—you frigid rat! You’re mine!”

“Keep talking.” Faith became more cloud-like as she ascended. “I can see why the Mountain keeps you all the way out here.”

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