The city stretched on forever. It gleamed beneath the sunrise, replacing the continuous green of the jungle with a swath of gold that reached all the way to the horizon. The walls made a grid of identical rooms, a spiraling lattice of dried-mud that had no ceilings, only the perfect, repeating shape of each room over and over.
The truth is perfect.
Saku heard the angel's voice in his mind and believed along with her. Perfect. Everything about her people sang of that. His blood knew it, had filled with it via the angel's kisses. Now, she carried him higher, over her city in sleek black claws, and Saku heard the soft humming of her people in his bones.
The whole world buzzed.
Once you have fully healed, then you shall carry our message to your kind.
"Yes." Of course he would. "Will we land here, first?"
His eagerness pleased her. Saku heard it in the humming of her wings. Her city called back, an echoing drone. He wanted to see it, to explore the rooms and discover what more secrets awaited him there. His body burned still. He knew his wounds were swollen and toxic, but his thoughts were not on healing, even if the angel's were. He wanted only to serve the Truth.
Angel descended steadily once they'd passed the first walls. Her wings burred above him, red veils atop her black form. His head had vibrated along with them for so many hours now that he couldn't remember what silence felt like. The fire beneath his skin had burned for so long, that he couldn't recall what cool was. The flames carried Angel's gift, and his bloodstream pounded with it.
They will greet us now. Be still.
Saku stopped twisting and held his breath. The buzzing in the distance swelled to a roar. Below, the mud city grew nearer, so close that Saku could see inside the pattern rooms, could count the cells as they passed, one after the other. Most were empty, bare mud capsules with no roofs or openings that he could see. A few had occupants, and Saku's heart leaped at the sight of his own kind here.
"People!" He called to the Angel, but her wings and the coming of her fellows drowned his voice. It didn't matter. There were people here, others like Saku, and that fact both excited and disturbed him. The Angel had given him the Truth, but it seemed he hadn't been the first.
He bit his lip until he could taste the Truth in his own blood. This was only ego, the ache at the thought of others. Angel had lifted him from death, and he had no right to ask for special treatment. His task was only to be grateful, to obey her requests and follow the Truth.
Other people meat companionship. They meant someone Saku could talk to who would understand the fire under his skin. He focused on that while his ears flowed over with the humming sound of many Wisps.
They lifted from the golden city, a black cloud of sound with a red halo, many thousand wings thrumming. The skies filled with sleek black bees, and the jungle around their city trembled. Just before Angel banked to join the rest of her people, Saku caught the glinting of something far in the distance. The sea, perhaps, which meant the city stretched all the way to the edge of their lands, that he'd been carried far north, farther than he'd ever traveled.
Before he could be certain, they were inside the swarm. Black, shining black to all sides. Humming that carried many voices, all with the same message. Welcome, returning one. Welcome. Well done. Saku knew the congratulations were not aimed at him, and yet, he let the warmth of the greeting fill him with pride.
Angel dove through the swarm, and the throng divided to allow them passage. They slowed, just above the dried walls, and Saku got a closer look at the cells, the curved edge of the mud, the fine cracks lacing over the smooth surfaces. The ones they flew over now were empty but for a single, raised lump of mud in the center of each room's floor.
"Where are we going?" Saku noted the size of the lumps and swallowed a swelling of fear.
To heal, Saku. Be brave now.
Brave. Her answer confirmed the suspicion in his gut. The lumps in the cells were long, about as long as a man, in fact. There were people under that mud, plastered over and dried in place.
To heal. They will emerge fully converted.
He trembled despite his faith in her. The thought of it, of forced immobility, brought back his lucidity long enough for Saku to fear. How could they breathe inside? He couldn't do it, couldn't allow himself to be sealed up, buried alive.
Perhaps if I tended your wound again?
Sting him, she meant. If he resisted, the Wisp would reopen his sting, plunge her dagger end inside Saku and dose him with more of her Truth.
"No. N-not necessary." She was inside his head, inside his veins, and she would know he feared her now. Saku only prayed she also knew he didn't mean to struggle, not if the alternative was another sting. "I'm fine."
Good, Saku. The Wisp dropped like a stone into the next cell. The floor was smooth and hard, waiting for him. She settled his body gently in the center, and for the first time in days, her black claws released him fully. It is time to heal. Do not struggle.
He couldn't take another sting. Saku knew it, even if Angel didn't. He ground his teeth together and did his best not to panic. She had to feel it, to know how terrified he was now. More of her kind descended. They rested on the cell walls, walls just higher than a man could leap, and dropped moist cargo from their mandibles. Slick, gooey gold mud dribbled from each black face, and as soon as one of them had taken off, another replaced them to deliver more.
He is fighting. The voice rang in his mind, but it was not his Angel.
She answered, just as soundless, just as cold. I'm not sure how much more of the Truth he can take and survive.
"Please." Saku heard the terror on his lips and knew they heard it too. "No more."
Be still. Angel's abdomen shifted. Her dagger stabbed him and Saku felt the flame of her affection once more.
He felt the fires that tore him into pieces. He would die of them, he was certain. They could wall him up all they liked, but after this much poison, he would never heal.
The wisps hummed as his mind faded. The angel took the mud into her mouth and worked at burying him alive.