K3. The Antlion

Faith lost count of how many times she’d dragged the wide white wing through the great green gulf of reality. It took ages to cross that gulf, 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 and saw the black oblivion above, she admired the network of wing-wrappings she left behind her. Faith tried to wrap the wing in a way which would best wrangle the wobble. She didn’t know how to do that, but she certainly tried. Her arcs wrapped the white wing near the center, but not too near because the Heart had warned her the epistem might ensnare her. Still, she could not imagine anything more ensnaring than the sweet scent of the white wing.

The Heart had also warned Faith that the wing might speak. Faith never heard it speak, but it was an excellent listener. When she whispered secrets into it, warm emotions emanated from the wing like water-jets in a hot tub.

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

The wing did not respond, but Faith pretended it did. The warm emotions from the wing grew warmer.

“I’m pretty 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 wrapped the Wheel with the wing gripped in her teeth 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 than before, thanks to you. The task is not complete, but progress has been made.” The Heart of the Mountain exposed ten human hands from their sleeves and took the wing from Faith. “If you’d like a break, I have another favor to ask of you.”

“Anything, Bug Bird!”

“As I gathered worms, I met a visitor on the Mountainside with something of a condition issue. I dare not grant them Zephyrhood in their current state. 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. “Just take them far into the desert and leave them in a deep valley between two dunes.”

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

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

She saw the visitor immediately. It was a giant ball of shuddering teeth whose crowns’ cracking 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 battled for dominance. They wriggled and wrestled, and when one wrangled another, the worms merged.

Faith wouldn’t tackle teeth, but she’d fought worms before and won. She waited until all ten thousand worms had combined into one. Then she skulked up behind them.

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

Faith turned into a cloud and airlifted 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 a great height she decided to descend to the desert floor and set them on the sand. But she didn’t know how to descend slowly, and when she looked down through her misty body she shivered with fear of falling. The fear froze her misty form into crystals and she dropped like a rock. The fall felt like the end of a dream, and she prayed to wake when she hit the sand.

When she hit the sand she burst into ice-powder. The worms scattered over the valley.

Faith’s powder rolled down the slopes of the dune and collected in the valley’s center. The powder made a snow-heap which opened its mouth to gasp for air as it shook out its limbs. “You little wormies doing alright?”

As soon as Faith spoke, 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 ambled on ten pairs of legs while its ten pairs of 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 before they hatch just because the yolks are warm.”

Faith morphed around Anihilato’s fingers trying to escape. Anihilato oppressed her with palms while it ate the last of the worms off the sand. “Uugh! Hey!” Faith steamed. The steam slipped 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 leapt vertically and hovered just outside Anihilato’s grasp. “Well, 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 its whole front half upright like a snake rising from a pot. Twenty arms grasped at Faith, but she still steamed through their fingers. “You belong to me! I own you!”

Faith climbed an invisible spiral staircase of water-vapor. “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 at her with its six eyes. “No,” said Faith. “If I’m hallucinating, I get to go wherever 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 ignorant, mindless fool. You—you frigid rat! You’re mine!”

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

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