Ruth was flying along in the Shell Shop, her first flight since her transformation. She was on the bridge alongside Zenner and Onsort. The Shell Shop was a nautilus-shaped, transport sized vessel. The green plating glinted in the glowshroom’s light. They had gathered their belongings from Bird’s Inn, collected the parts they needed, and had the transportation to travel back to the estate. Onsort and Zenner enjoyed the payment through equal trade of precious bars, gems, and treasure with a few adamantite pieces thrown in. Onsort was in the piloting egg, suspended in the center of the bridge. The green twisted coiling of metal met at a shiny egg-shaped pilot seat. There inside Onsort had complete control of the vessel and all sensory input.
Zenner eyed Ruth wearily, she could feel his eye stalks burrowing into her. Her diminutive goblin form did nothing to help him forget the body terror phantasmagoria of her shapeshifting. In some cases it may have made it worse, a cute goblin hiding a horrifying monster just under the surface.
That was what Ruth felt like.
“Don’t think such things,” Maw chimed in.
Why? Is it not true? You saw their expressions.
“Ruth, all I saw were Scarabaeidae and a Lambent. I can’t tell what they’re mood is from their expressions. At all.”
They feared me.
“Yes, they did.”
“Yes, they feared you. They still do. But I know half the group trusts you. The important ones at least.”
L’yophin and Soltana.
“Exactly. These other Scarabaeidae may just drop us off and run, or stick with us because of S’yliska. In the end, we have the parts, we can flee the planet, and move on.”
“In the end, all that matters of these two is what they can do for us.”
That is a cold way of putting it, Ruth replied, feeling sourness spring up over Maw’s comments.
“Would we have met them if they did not have what we needed? If we were asking for charity, would we even know them?”
You do have a point, but they are more than what they can do for us. Thinking otherwise will you leave you isolated and alone.
You need to hold fast to that, otherwise, I am just a body you are occupying.
“I would never think that of you.”
“Are you sure?” Ruth argued.
“Ruth. Please don’t say that,” Maw implored with hurt before going silent.
Ruth attributed it to the growth of the being inside of her. Every Wake, she could feel Maw inside of her growing. Not physically, but latched onto the very theonic half of her being. Ruth hoped Maw would gain in wisdom and empathy. She hoped her rebuke would cause the being to think of her words and actions. Whatever she was, treating others as useful fodder would be the worst outcome.
Whatever Maw was, Ruth would mother her as her calling demanded. Whoever did this to her, she would strike back by having the situation temper her as opposed to molding her. She would strike back again by caring for Maw in the hopes it wouldn’t do as the being that hurt her did. Whatever Maw was, she was an entity all her own.
Or Ruth was insane.
In the end, this would not break her.
She thought back to her dreams, seeing the elderly nun and the trials and failures she went through. She knew in her heart that was her old self. A Faithful One well versed in magic and a leader to her people. Now she was the opposite. She was now a monster without magic apart from the Soul Cairn ability, a loner of a new hybrid race, and no one to lead. And a mother to a budding insanitarium.
She hoped she would never meet the one who did this to her.
She would definitely eat them out of principle.
“Ruth, my goblin, what is it like?” Zenner asked, breaking her out of her thoughts.
“Being a shapeshifter monster with an Ancath implanted in me?”
She turned back to Zenner, giving him a snide look. His eye stalks blinked impassively.
“It’s not bad. If you like being alone, this would be the way to do it,” Ruth remarked.
“I didn’t mean to intrude. It’s just. Ancath. Unbelievable! I lived for so long thinking they were gone,” Zenner replied.
Ruth absently scratched at her throat; at the Seal just underneath the turtleneck.
“It would be like me suddenly having the full Spirit of Adonai within me,” Onsort rebutted over comms.
She had only recently met Adonai, which felt like the first time. Soltana had mentioned Him briefly.
Ruth nodded her head, accepting the answer.
“It feels strange, she’s the only soul that I can communicate with so far. She’s aware of what is going on, and can speak through me.”
“Wonderful…” Zenner murmured.
“That wasn’t you?” Onsort asked.
“Part of it was. Part of it was her.”
“Is she in… Pain?” Zenner timidly asked as he clapped his legs sequentially on the floor; a sign of nervousness.
“What? No- No. She’s actually calm right now.”
Ruth began to smile at that.
“Like a beacon of light.”
Zenner blustered a sigh of relief.
“You both have nothing to worry about. When and if we can restore her, we will,” Ruth promised.
“In the meantime, I’ll keep her safe, and she will return that favor.”
Zenner’s eye stalks bobbed in a nodding motion.
Ruth stared out of the front viewport, the shining lights doing a good job of illuminating the space in front of them. There was a second viewport behind her, showing the bottom of the vessel. Even at their height, the Underrealm ceiling was still far away. She still didn’t understand how it didn’t collapse. They caught sight of fluttering and glinting of wings. Green patterned wings fluttered along, keeping up with the vessel. There it flipped over on it’s back, seeing them. Its masked face was made of white chitin resembling a hollow smile. The wings were a gorgeous green and white paisley design. Its carapace was a white-green of layered chitin. It briefly waved with one of its six limbs before ducking back under the vessel.
“What was that?” Ruth asked.
“That was a betafly. A pretty aloof species of Scarabaeidae. They are a borderline fourth species.”
“Yes, quite. They are the only Scarabaeidae to spend an elongated time in the infant stage. They are also the only group to metamorphose. It changes into either a betafly or rhomoth. That was a betafly!”
Ruth thought back to the dekapillars. They appeared to be sentient, if not simple species. It made sense they weren’t simple, but infants.
“Beautiful creatures. They were once our messengers,” Another voice interjected inside Ruth.
“Ruth?” S’yliska responded with humor.
“She can speak! It’s not going to be just us!” Maw said excitedly.
“And I’ll be able to assist,” S’yliska began.
“Maw, let us speak alone for a time. I wish to understand you.”
“Eep!” Maw squeaked as her being was taken away, deep inside of Ruth.
Ruth stared deadpan at the view screen at what just unfolded in her head. Her hand slowly went to her temple, massaging it at what she just heard. There were now three voices inside her.
She just needed one more and then she could be a quartet of crazy.
An insanitarium of one, Ruth bantered.
“We are almost to the destination,” Onsort updated through the vessels communication.
Ruth went to go look for L’yophin, he would know more about betaflies and rhomoths. The vessel itself was small, with only a dozen rooms. With the Nautilus design, the hangar was in the entrance. The vessel itself flew with the entrance to the shell beneath them. It was a strange vessel, in that she and Zenner were technically standing on the wall. The antigravs of Scarabaeidae vessels were quite quixotic. The vessel would land on its side and would tilt when it took off.
She left, going down the main spiral, which was one long left turn with doors to her right.
L’yophin and Soltana would be in the main hangar, prepping for her chrysalization.
Ruth kept walking along the spiral until she hit the hangar bay entrance door. The door slid open like teeth to a predator, letting her inside. It took her a while to get used to the open space of the hangar. Onsort had stored his shop front into the vessel’s quantum storage drive, apparently one of his many new additions as a mercenary with Zenner. Ruth was happy getting to know the new Scarabaeidae.
“Ruth, how was the view?” Soltana asked from across the hangar.
She was propped up on a pile of crates, her eyes glowing intently. L’yophin had threaded a cocoon that would fit Soltana’s large size and had thread it through with the conductive material. He was now beginning to attached cabling to the different sewn in diodes, which would feed the cocoon power.
Ruth stepped to Soltana, her short legs making the journey far.
“Did they convince you to start chrysalization?” Ruth asked, peering from Soltana to the silk cocoon.
“Yes. However, I do admit I am worried about the dream. Lucifer,” Soltana said, her voice edged with fear on that name.
“Did she give you any indication on how far away she was? She could be anywhere in the galaxy,” Ruth inquired.
“She was on a developed planet, the work and architect spoke of an advanced people. She was frustrated when I told her. But it could be a lie. You said she attempted to subvert the Underrealm in the past. Her forces may never had left. Or she is here, and the dream was beyond the realm of time, like another.”
“A dream outside of time?” Ruth asked, furrowing her soft goblin brow.
“Yes. I haven’t told you yet, but we dreamed of each other recently. You were in the past, as I suspected the Seal holder Gideon was.”
“How do you know I was in the past?”
“I asked if you could shapeshift, a naive but effective approach. You were confused by my questioning.”
“Did I look elderly?”
Ruth looked down concern on her face. She looked back to Soltana. It confirmed it for her that it did happen in the past, coinciding with her fugue stream of memories of herself.
“I have no recollection of these dreams, just a stream of events that took place on this planet. Anything before that…”
“Ruth…” Soltana began.
“Ruth, we will recover from this. That was what convinced me to chrysalize. I need to grow as quickly as possible. We have a time of relative safety for now. I may not have a better chance.”
“I need to protect you all.”
“Soltana, that’s a good thing, but don’t let fear be your guide. I can sense it, the confrontation with Lucifer changed something inside of you. The Soltana I know would not lose hope so quickly,” Ruth replied, gently patting her on her the head.
“Thank you. Adonai gave us all a calling or identity. Mine is the Guardian.”
“Makes sense,” Ruth said with a shrug and coy smile.
“I am the Matron. That was how I defeated the Daer-seehn. When I witnessed both you and L’yophin going down, it caused me to seek deep within myself. That was where I found S’yliska.”
“And…” Ruth began.
“I saw you both as a family,” Ruth admitted, turning away bashfully.
Soltana’s eyes flashed in thought. L’yophin ceased his work to listen.
“In the brief time we’ve been together, both you and L’yophin took me and the other gobs in. It was as if the estate itself was prepared for a family,” Ruth stated, glancing at L’yophin.
“Um, yes, I… Need to get back to work.” L’yophin flustered as he skittered back to his work.
“I too noticed that pattern. That will be our first task once things are set right.”
“What?” Ruth asked, cocking her head.
“Finding L’yophin a mate.”
A box of tools was knocked over, spilling the contents across the hangar with a stampeding clatter. L’yophin looked even more flustered as he went to collect the tools, grumbling the whole way.
Ruth let out a giggling laugh at the embarrassed Dugrum. The spider responded with a narrowed glare as he grumped about, cleaning up his mess.
Ruth turned back to address Soltana, energized by the laughter.
“I’m genuinely curious what will happen when you chrysalize. What will Soltana become?”
“I hope a Lambent with arms and legs,” Soltana replied.
Ruth let out another laugh.
“You better not come back as just a reshaped head!”
“That… is not impossible. I know nothing of the results of chrysalizing,” Soltana replied with thought.
“Ah relax, you’ll be fine, I’m just joking.”
“Oh,” Soltana replied, her eyes flashing in thought.
“Do you dream?”
“I have had one dream I remember so far. That was when I blacked out…”
“What happened there? We were worried about you,” Soltana replied.
“I dug deep into my memory. Borscha’s memory. He was there in the battle of Underrealm. Lucifer’s forces versus the Underrealm denizens and Diniel. Lucifer’s armies were routed by the Fae in the end, with Diniel being the only angelic survivor.”
“An angel by the name of Azazel saw me. He is a servant of Lucifer. He could act- he was sentient inside Borscha’s memories,” Ruth relayed with horror, remembering the encounter that had damaged her.
“The same as Lucifer,” Soltana interjected.
“He said she was coming for me- for us. That was when I fell.”
“What else happened?”
“I dreamed of Adonai. I was in among his courts.”
“What did he looked like to you?”
“To me? What do you mean?”
“He appeared as a white supergiant sun of a black corona. I was always in deep space with Him.”
“He appeared as though he were an angel clothed in glory. He had seven wings and the face of a father.”
Ruth paused, looking down.
“He was sad.”
“Sad that I was wounded. Sad that I had forgotten.”
“Then I awoke to the agony of the Daer-seehn.”
Ruth paused, remembering the pain. Soltana’s eyes flashed.
“You rescued us. You fulfilled our calling better than I could,” Soltana replied with a hint of bitterness.
“And how would I have fared against Lucifer?”
“The fact you are not a broken mess is a testament to your strength. I know I wouldn’t have done well at all,” Ruth admitted.
“I still battle with the choices I could have made. I may have just fled to protect what I could down here,” Ruth admitted.
“I led Lucifer to the Seal holder.”
“What??” Ruth jolted at that.
“I led her along, thinking she was a Seraphim without a name who was ordered to destroy the planet to find the Seal holder. I was trying to protect the people of the planet, thinking she would be satisfied in finding the Seal holder and leave. I failed to understand she was no ally and I blundered the whole situation for us.” Soltana explained.
L’yophin had stopped, listening intently.
“Soltana… I’m sorry,” Ruth said, patting the Lambent’s head.
“She lied to you. You had no way of knowing. I wouldn’t have, either!”
“Unless Maw warned me…”
“Who is Maw?”
“Maw is… Oh. Well…” Ruth began to stammer.
What was I thinking??
She went silent, her face blushing as she took off her hat to cover her face.
“Well, it’s out in the open now, might as well tell her,” Maw piped up
“It would be wise to share this information,” S’yliska added.
Did you two have a nice chat? Ruth chided.
“It was enlightening. I now have a good understanding of what Maw is,” S’yliska replied.
“And what would that be?”
“An infant god.”
Ruth was silent, her face twisted with emotion. She understood immediately what that meant. The truth weighed her down.
“Ruth, are you alright?” Soltana asked with concern.
“Maw is…” Ruth began, getting choked up at the realization. While she did think of Maw as a broken personality, she did not expect to be an actual being.
She knew she was something different than normal, but for Maw to be an infant god meant that whoever did this to her would most likely be keeping an eye out for her. That she may never be left alone. That she may be harvested for this being. That the torture would continue forever.
“Maw is a being that was implanted in me by the one who transformed me. The one who tortured me.”
She gasped a sob, her body wracked with sudden knowledge.
Ruth lowered her hat, covering the tears in her eyes.
“She is an infant god.”