The humans removed me from the village. Perhaps this should not have surprised me, but it did, at the time. Rystala stormed off after my proclamation, but I simply sat and waited for her, expecting that, as this was her home, she would be forced to return eventually.
She did return, with several strong-looking men at her back, including Nash. Rystala pointed at me, though she didn’t need to. They were already stalking toward me with an intensity of purpose that would have brought me fear, if I were a lesser being.
I stood. “What are you doing?”
“I want you gone,” Rystala said. “You don’t belong here.”
“I do not want to leave,” I said.
“I don’t care.”
By now the men had their hands on me, two on each of my arms, with the other three behind me, ready to assist. Nash growled in my ear. “I knew you were trouble from the start.”
I resisted as best I could with my stiff, frustrating humanoid body. I didn’t want to give up my nature yet, so I dug my heels into the ground and pushed back against the men attempting to drag me away.
“Do not remove me,” I said. “Rystala is going to teach me how to read.”
“No, I’m not,” she said. “Get him out of here. I don’t care where he goes, but he’s not welcome here.”
“He’s heavy,” grunted the man on my left, the one who was not Nash. “Heavier than I thought he’d be.”
They had not succeeded yet in moving me very far. That changed when two of the men behind me came around, each taking one of my legs. I twisted and wrenched, but they were hardened by years working in their fields and on their homes and in the woods, strengthened by manual labor. They lifted me and carried me despite my struggle.
“You do not want to do this,” I threatened.
“Oh yes we do,” Nash said.
I stopped struggling, feeling that I was wasting my energy. I turned so that I could meet his eyes, though I let the rest of my body go limp. “You will not be pleased with the result.”
I could have killed him then. I had enough mass, and I moved quickly enough at this point, that I could have dissolved my simulacrum and attacked with a more fluid, flexible body. I considered it. I decided not to take the risk. I had little fear that these simple people could harm me enough to destroy the consciousness I had invested in this body, but I did worry that the might try to flee, in which case I would be unable to catch them.
I did not speak again until they brought me to the edge of the forest. “Put me down,” I demanded. “I will walk from here.”
“You act like a damn prince,” Nash said. None of them made a move to release me. “You don’t get to make demands.”
We had now passed the edge of the village. They carried me down a path that had been worn into the forest floor. The dense trees soon hid the village from view. “Where are you taking me? We have already left the village.”
“We’re going to make sure you don’t come back,” Nash said.
“Are you threatening me?” I asked.
“Is this guy thick?” said the man on my left.
“Yeah, or something,” Nash said. “He’s not right in the head.”
“It is not wise to threaten me,” I said. “It will not work out well for you.”
The men laughed. “Now you’re threatening us?” Nash said. “There’s five of us, man, and you’re unarmed.”
I didn’t answer. Their words were no longer worthy of my attention. I let them carry my further into the woods. My main body was still too far away to be a threat to them, and I hadn’t yet developed a way to communicate with it when my two bodies were separate. That didn’t matter.
They took me off of the path, bantering amongst themselves about my foolish bravery once they realized I wouldn’t be responding to them any more. I paid them no mind. I just planned out my actions in my head.
The one walking behind us, the one who didn’t have a hold on me, had a metal implement in his hand. I had seen some of the others using it in their fields. It did not concern me. It might break my bones, but it was no real threat to me, and I would have access to five new sets of bones once I was done here.
The men stopped. They moved to toss me to the ground, but I reacted. I peeled back the parts of myself that covered the bones on my arms, liquifying them and turning them into tendrils which pushed back my sleeves. I snapped these tendrils upwards and around the necks of Nash and the other man who had been holding my arms.
They recoiled, shouting, as they suddenly found themselves holding bare bones where one of each of their hands had gripped my simulacrum’s arms. They let go immediately, but my torso remained suspended by the tendrils I now had wrapped around them. They clawed at the tendrils with their fingers, to no effect.
I worked the tendrils around their heads and into their mouths. I began pumping the air out of their lungs to suffocate them faster. Meanwhile, I pulled myself loose from my leg bones, as well, letting them drop to the ground. I formed two more tendrils in the time it took the men who had been carrying my legs to react.
By the time they turned to see what was happening behind them, I had already enveloped their arms. I reached up further, thrusting the tendrils into their mouths, where, like their companions, I began to suck the air from their bodies.
All four of them were so occupied in trying to pull me out of their mouths that they had no time to coordinate or resist. That left only the fifth man behind me. Shouting, he rushed forward, implement held high. It crashed down into my skull, fracturing it. It would surely have been a lethal blow, were I susceptible to such tactics.
I built a tendril from the mass of myself that had made up my torso. I hardened the tip of it into a sharp point. It was not as sturdy as stone or would or even hard-packed clay, but I put as much force behind it as I could muster. In a mirror of the man’s own action, I thrust that spearlike appendage forth, slamming it through his eye and into his brain. It branched out once it was inside, scrambling and destroying the contents of his skull.
When they died, I left their bodies. I abandoned my bones and my clothes as well, for the time being, keeping only the eyes as I returned to unify with the rest of my body. I slid swiftly through the woods, like a trail of water travelling upward along the slope rather than down. I had a simple goal in mind. The village would become a feast like no other.
I reunited with the bulk of my mass. It took longer than I had expected to find it. I should have left it with a more specific position in mind. I did locate it, though, because once it saw me, it drew toward me as well. Our experiences became one once again: two sets of memories occupying the same period of time.
One set was boring and mundane. My main body had just stayed in one place and consumed any animals hapless enough to draw close enough. The feeling of being larger once more, and far less limited, brought me a pleasure I hadn’t known I was missing. There was a certain draw to imitating the humans and walking among them, but the human body was so cramped and limited by comparison to my own.
As a whole, I returned to where I had defeated my would-be murderers. I took back the clothes I had worn and I took their bodies into myself so that I could begin to consume them. To my displeasure, their energies had already dissipated into the aether, meaning I gained only caloric intake from them and not what I truly craved, the mind-power that had slowly built up my consciousness over the decades.
I consumed their bodies anyway as I waited for nightfall. Even if they weren’t providing me with improved consciousness, humans were still a healthy meal. I decided to approach the village in the night so that I could consume as many villagers as possible without them noticing my presence.
Dusk approached, and with it I approached the border of the forest once again, where it gave way to the fields. Something had changed. There were people on guard a the edges of the village, in groups of twos. In each group one man carried a bow, while the other carried a lantern and a spear. Ah. The men they had sent away with me had not returned. It made them wary. They were wise not to pursue me.
I took one set of watchers first. It was easy. Knowing that I had to quiet them first, I sent a thick pseudopod behind them. It arched up into the air, then split, covering their heads and muting them instantly. I caught the lantern as it fell from the spearwielder’s hand, lest it strike the ground and make noise or fire.
I pulled them inside of my body, where they perished. As soon as I felt their energies enter me, I dropped their bodies to the ground, where I would return for them later. For now, the extra, immutable bulk would only slow me down.
Group by group, I eliminated the watchers. Then I moved onto the houses. I chose first a house on the edge of the village, scouting it first with an eye at the end of a long tendril. It house a single young woman, who was curled in a tight ball in the dark upon her bed, weeping. She did not notice as I brought a good portion of my body into her house.
The whole of me wouldn’t fit inside, but that didn’t matter. I kept about half of my mass spread out low to the ground further out in the village. The rest of my I sent in a stream through her window. I engulfed her. She barely had time to struggle. Truly, she struggled little, so caught up was she in her grief. Once I had her energies, I pulled out.
This process repeated through the village. I began at one edge and worked my way through it. By the time I had finished with the houses on the edge, night had truly fallen. Many of the villagers sat awake in their beds. The taste of fear was strong upon them. I allowed none of them to make a sound that might alert their neighbors.
As I moved toward the center of the village, I began hiding my mass — or as much of it as I could — in the homes of the last family I had vanquished. I still did not want to be detected. Not out of fear of reprisal — I worried instead that precious morself of consciousness might escape me. This was a chance I had never before taken. It was far easier than I could ever have guessed, and more rewarding than hoping to happen upon lone travelers or small grounds in the wilds.
Only in two places in the village did I hesitate. The first was when I happened upon Cela’s home. Something like sentiment welled up inside me. Perhaps it was the fresh shards of consciousness from all of the villagers I had already eaten. Perhaps it was because my emotions were becoming closer and closer to those of a human as I progressed along my chosen path.
I decided not to consume Cela. She had not been cruel to me. Indeed, she had been more welcoming than any of the other villagers. She had trusted me well enough to draw me further into the village, and had brought me to the only person she had believed could aid me. As a reward, I left her with her life.
I did not know the others in her house. I divested them of their lives, though I let their bodies be, so that she would take longer to become suspicious of my visitation. I left her curled up next to the body of the man with whom she had shared her bed.
I kept Rystala for last. I formed my pattern through the village with that in mind. By the time I reached her home at the water’s edge, the only other person left alive out of all the people she had known was Cela.
I pushed into her house, past the familiar space with the hutch, past the stone-lined alcove, where the last embers of a dying fire still lit the room with a faint orange glow. I opened one of the doors, and there she was, covered by sheets in a bed built to fit only one person.
Here is the second place I hesitated. I had intended to consume Rystala as well, to punish her for refusing to teach me. But no, I thought. Perhaps there was a wiser course of action. I decided that, as I had done with Telan, I would bring her with me.
“Rystala,” I said, forming an imitation of a mouth in the large, unshapen mass I had pushed into her room. She stirred in her bed.
“Rystala.” This time I spoke louder, forcing more air through my speaking apparatus.
She bolted upright. I could barely see her in the faint moonlight coming through her window. I knew she could barely see me, as well, but sometimes vague impressions lend even greater terror to an already frightened human. She screamed.
“You sent me away, Rystala,” I said. “I have come back for you.”
“What are you?” Her voice came out so shrilly I wondered if it had torn her throat.
“I am myself,” I said. “You are mine now, as well.”