257 pebbles sat in the chamber of awakening at the time of awakening. At first there was nothing to disrupt the peace it had experienced for a thousand cycles. The last time anything happened, the pebbles had been placed. Chromium flakes and crystals lined the chamber’s dome ceiling. There was no light to make the flakes sparkle, but they would have; they were still wet with dew from the last time the waters came, far before the arrival of the pebbles.
When the light struck its closest, when the faintest wave of its heat reached the chamber of awakening beneath a thousand layers of metallic dirt, ore, water, and ice, the pebbles stirred. Their mineral yolks had slowly, over the cycles, turned to fluid and mind. The pebbles, protected by their inanimate composition, had finally shifted to the semi-organic state necessary for life. Each one held a young Vomagyyn: eight legs, two eyes wider than their perception and blue-purple like frozen amethysts, and heads tipped with hairy barbels for anchoring themselves in the rust and mud above.
The Vomagyyn hatched, their shells tinkling like bells and breaking to dust upon any touch of their exterior. Only most emerged. A few, upon sensing themselves, had retracted back to a mineral state and calcified. The Vomagyyn did not take their first steps before mourning their timid brethren. All they could be now was the foundation.
The chromium flakes, some of them, would have to come down. The Vomagyyn would need a tunnel if they were to make it to the surface. Their mineral yolks, and the whisperings of their ancestors, could only give them so much energy though. They scraped their way over to the thinnest spot in the dome and paused. They reached an agreement the same way every generation of Vomagyyn had. The closest was responsible. The closest was the hero. The Vomagyyn nearest the wall began striking the chromium with its pick-like pedipalps. Sparks flew. Ferrous chitin chipped away. It used up its pedipalps and its first sets of limbs. When the hole was done, when it was just wide enough for them to scrape through, the digger let itself die. There was not enough energy to make it to the surface and they saw no point in using the time.
The tunnel took them to the next stratum, the mudstone of which still held the footprints of their mingled parents. They used them as ladders to climb the glistening incline. Ice had struck there. Frozen vapor from forty cycles ago. Two slipped and cracked their heads and eyes on the chromium near the entrance. They stopped the climb to mourn. Perhaps their fossils could warn the next ones, if the chamber still existed.
The brood traveled a long way. They had no lungs or mouths to share songs with, and they had no ideas of rhythm beyond the flow their internal fluids, but they had each other. Most of the time they traveled in straight lines, staring at the backs of their siblings’ shells. As long as they didn’t hit the shell in front of them, they were getting closer. Their family was their horizon, the infrequent ringing and vibrating of the metal strata their song.
The Vomagyyn world was one of layers: metal upon water upon metal upon ice upon the like. Only at the end of it was there light. The Vomagyyn thought they were close, they thought they heard the light coming to them, but it was only a tidal pocket ruptured by a slab of cobalt moving by a slab of electrum. It had torn its way to them, but they could not see it yet through the thin wall of rusty frost ahead.
They stopped moving as the sound grew. It shook the chamber. Some of them felt hope. The light was here. There would be no more struggle. Then a roaring wave, red with rust, shattered the ice and raced toward them. Most didn’t have time to respond. Broken icicles and rusticles beat the water to them, impaling vomagyyn in the eyes. What thoughts they had left before the wall of frothing water struck turned to their old forms inside not eggshells, but pebbles.
Defensively, their skins mineralized. The water hit. Any that hadn’t bonded to the ground were ripped away and swirled around. They would not have the energy to resume. The water drained all the way down to the chamber of awakening. A new one would have to be formed, if any Vomagyyn were left. They knew from ancestral memory that brood used to join up in tunnels and travel together, but they found no others. Perhaps they were last, or perhaps their group was meant to be alone, isolated in an attempt to adapt.
The water drained. It took a cycle, but the recovering Vomagyyn demineralized. They marched forward, leaving tiny metal extrusion in their footprints as the only sign they were ever there.
They made it to the titanium layers. They were flooded, but the waters were calm enough to swim. They removed their shells to lighten the load. They could not be donned again, so they prayed to the light above they would encounter none of the crushing forces that defined half their world.
A predator came for them only once, but the creature ate its fill. It was Greyyn: jellied in body, electric in teeth, and endlessly patient. It had bitten the metal and sensed the biorhythms of the Vomagyyn from a continental shelf away. Its life would be even longer than theirs, and it could go an eon crushed by slabs of iron or frozen in ice without suffering death… without suffering at all. They could not fight it. They simply marched and swam. They were not mourned. At least they were taken by life, and not by core or tide. Being eaten was almost as serene as seeing the light.
The last layers were ice and water, thick with metallic salts. They swam up through narrow white tunnels and shimmering bubble plumes of mercury and gas. The last traces of the soils below oxidized off their rapidly softening bodies.
The Vomagyyn broke the surface. They saw the light. Their eyes were instantly blackened. Their eye stalks retracted back into their head. The giant eyes, with their view across the spectrums, were for seeing the way up in the extreme metals of the depths below. They could only handle the star’s pale light for a moment.
The Vomagyyn had succeeded. Their minds matured, just as their embryos had moved from mineral to organic. Their spirits transcended, controlling their waning bodies like marionettes with strings of starlight. They mated. Vomagyyn never wondered why the journey to the surface was necessary for their life cycle. It was the light. No spirit could be fueled that deep under the metal and tides. They needed to take in some of the light. They needed to pass that bright hope to their pebbles. For many, the joy of it was too much to bear. They could not take it back to the depths or use it to build a new chamber of awakening. Only the solemn, only those who had mourned the others the most, could hold the hope and remain in the world.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by xenonquark996 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop bytwitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!