To articulate the good—this ambition drove the founders of the Cult of the Worm.
The source of the moral order has provoked philosophical debate for millennia and will continue to do so for millennia more. Accordant to this are debates on what is good and what is not. Such matters did not interest the founders of the Cult.
Their interest lay in the substance of good; the qualities it possessed; its location, its nature, its composition. Their study was quintessentially semantic.
Unfortunately these men and women who pursued this work were damned.
Students of an absolute philosophy must therefore regard the conclusions of the Cult as flawed. To a God-fearing person, as a matter of transparent fact, those blinded to the Lord cannot see the good. Whatever virtue or vice they witnessed in the eddying bulk and power of the worm must articulate only the perversion of the Cult. To pursue a moral philosophy in such a state is like studying one’s own closed eyelids and declaring, “Look, I see the world.”
But where exactly is their flaw?
Where did they deviate from the truth?
It is unanswerable; it is a mystery; and so it is cold comfort with the coming of the worm.
In the principality Steadfast, in Calandra’s time, the word for “fruit” and the word for “have sex” were the same—scham. In practice, when one spoke of scham, confusion was rare. Unless one verbed the fruit or nouned the action, the grammar of the word protected most people from unexpected delicacies. In some short sentences or contexts the meaning doubled; this was a popular subject for low comedy. Even here malapropisms were rare; to more clearly articulate a desire for sex one could say “body scham (body fruit).” To more clearly specify fruit, one could say “harvested scham (harvested sex).” If one were indifferent between the options, of course, desirious of either fruit or intimacy but without a strong preference, the unmodified “scham” sufficed.
Calandra has conceived the notion of killing Sapphire’s great-grandson, Aton-Re, and bringing an end to the Sapphire tribe. This will revenge her for the death of her family.
She does not begin immediately.
Even after the Tribe has taught her everything she needs to know, even after she has left their care, Calandra procrastinates.
Calandra fights the great mud-beast that threatens Steadfast. It breaks her sword and nearly kills her. Then in a secret grotto she finds an ancient virus and uses it to corrupt the insane nanomachines that give the beast its life.
Calandra drives the Sapphire Tribe from the western lands. She duels the man Zachary who’d kicked her at her parents’ farm, breaking his arms and impaling him on the rib of a dead behemoth. She uses the shielding device of the Silver Temple to melt the guns of the end and sends the leaders of the Sapphire Tribe staggering away in defeat.
People call her a god of death.
Calandra’s companion for a time is a smolderingly attractive man named Remus. His charm fades when he betrays her and drugs her and sells her to the gladiator pits beneath Firstland. She struggles her way to freedom and drives a double-handed knife into the heart of Firstland’s King.
Nor does Remus escape.
Calandra roams the savage world, a hero and a killer, telling herself that she is practicing the skills of battle, but it is not so.
She is stalling in her purpose because at night she dreams sweet things—such sweet and unforgivable things!—of Aton-Re.
But procrastination ends.
In the snow-covered hills by Northon she finds a man named Stefan who is dying of the worm. He is host to the tiny lethal parasites that are the worm’s precursors.
He is naked. He is feverish. He is in agony on the snow.
Calandra blanches. The mark on her forehead stings. She says, “Aton-Re is summoning it back.”
Calandra draws a thin sword of the old metal. She cuts off Stefan’s head. She is hoping to save him future pain, but the infestation has come too far for that.
Stefan’s head lives on in pain until she burns it.
Calandra’s heart grows hard. She stares off to the south and east. Then she sets out for the land of the Sapphire Tribe.
Calandra’s target is Aton-Re. Her strategy is succinct and practical. She ignores the defenses of the Sapphire Tribe. When someone questions her identity or purpose, she kills them. If there are witnesses, she kills those too. If they have steel, she kills them with her sword. If they have guns, she slaughters them in stealth. If they have the weapons of the end, she induces a misfire using the shielding device of the Silver Temple. They become pyrotechnic for her pleasure.
Thus, without notable incident, she makes her way to the public chamber of Aton-Re. Before her, a horde of killers and acolytes stand. Beyond them, in purple robes, and on a wooden throne, sits Aton-Re.
The Sapphire Tribe draws steel, but Aton-Re holds up a hand.
“Let her pass,” he says.
The acolytes and killers move aside.
Quietly, Calandra walks towards the throne.
“I have dreamed of you,” says Aton-Re.
His eyes are amazing.
“Dreams are a weakness,” Calandra says.
“I would love you,” says Aton-Re, “and from that love take a child; and with the death of that child, I would open the gateway to the worm.”
It is tempting in ways she had not imagined anything could be.
Calandra stops before his throne.
Aton-Re rises. He steps forward. He reaches out, confident.
This is the culmination of dreams and destiny. The knowledge of it exalts her. Her heart is fluttering. She cannot look away from his eyes. But she ignores his hand, because she is also Calandra.
“I’m thinking,” she says.
Aton-Re is briefly angry. Then he releases that anger. His face grows gentle. “You are beautiful,” he says.
She forms a compromise of two desires. She says, “I would love you; and from that love take a child; and then I would kill you and everyone here who does not acknowledge that child as their lord.”
Miracles most often happen in strange and poignant manners, so Aton-Re is not entirely surprised.
“Well, then,” he says. “On the first two steps we are in accord.”
He takes her hand. He draws her into his chambers.
For ten months after their love is a thing of fire; and on occasion, as they lay in happiness afterwards, one asks the other,
“Perhaps, could you consider leaving our child to live?”
And Aton-Re withdraws somewhat and grow distant in his thoughts.
“Perhaps, when our child is born, could you leave me and mine to live?”
And Calandra’s warm body grows still and she steps in her mind through the paces of the sword katas that she practices each day.
Slowly, their love becomes awkward and more rare with the largeness of her. Finally she is chained down in the birthing chamber with seven midwives and twenty guards in attendance. She gives birth. Two guards take the wailing child from her and offer it to Aton-Re before his throne.
“Bring me the knife,” he says.
And the priests bring him a knife.
“Now,” he says.
His child coos. But Aton-Re does not relent. He raises up the sacrificial blade.
There is a commotion in the back of the room. Calandra is there, scarcely dressed, with broken chains on her arms and legs and the blood of midwives and guards fresh upon her.
“Aton-Re,” she rasps, “we are not done.”
A thousand acolytes and killers move between her and the throne, seven with old weapons and the rest with new. More than eight hundred die when Calandra invokes the shielding device of the Silver Temple and the old weapons burst and shrapnel and spurt flames.
Calandra moves among those who still stand and she begins to kill.
They fight: oh, they fight, but five and six of its members at a time, the Sapphire Tribe dies. Calandra is relentless and Calandra is remorseless and Calandra no longer has any reason whatsoever to hold back.
While she fights, Aton-Re attends to the business of their child.
She does not watch. She simply hopes that when she finishes with the obstacles her child will have life remaining.
Then there is a noise, and the Sapphire Tribe casts themselves prostrate. The gate is open. The air is full of light. The floor at Aton-Re’s feet is covered in baby’s blood.
Calandra looks up with a snap towards Aton-Re.
“I have won,” he says simply.
Her eyes are like the abyss. With a sound halfway between terror and remorse, he drops the corpse of their child and draws his sword.
“Calandra—” he starts to say; and then she kills him and sends the pieces of him to each side and she howls as she kills and that howl carries the rage from her to the corners of the world.
She stands there, then, limp. She is frozen. She is empty. She has shrieked out all her pain.
Mechanically, she turns. She looks at her child. She waits.
“I will kill the worm,” she says. “Or I will die.”
But it is not the worm that rises from the gate Aton-Re has made. It is a pattern of pink and purple light. In that radiance, Calandra recognizes shapes she thinks are wings, and hands, and soft and gentle eyes.
And with a terrible grief Calandra says, “You are not the worm.”
It will be called the nymph of sighs, or the builder. It grows to encompass the world, and where the light of it falls there is brightness and there is calm.
Calandra stands before the greatness of its core. She is trembling.
“Why aren’t you the worm?” she rasps.
“I am that principle that was articulated in the worm,” it says. “I am that timeless word that has been spoken as savior, worm, and spirit.”
And so it ends.
There came from that day a time of great joy and healing upon the Earth. There came for a time the pleasantness of love—full and unflinching, granted by the timeless word onto the world. There came a time when there was no child born that was not wrapped in the wings of the nymph, with that solace and that recourse from the cradle to the grave.
And such is the nature of the language of that time that we cannot say if the nymph would claim the worm. We cannot say whether the worm was a true articulation or a false one: only that that yearning for the good at one time had the worm as answer, and another time the nymph; only that the thing Aton-Re reached for was a thing that Aton-Re could not comprehend.
And were worm and nymph God, or were they mortal things?
Was it the Eloah of the hierarchy who came to us in such great forms, or were they flesh?
It is a mystery. We cannot know.