I couldn’t do it. I’d decided to join the crusties to infiltrate the kazhasha hives, and it made bile rise in my throat and my legs tremble, terrified that it would turn me into someone or something other than Mallocrest.
The crusties ‘fed’ with ikborlas, reptilian rats, brown, rotting scales covering them, they clenched wide open jaws, shaped into an oval with fangs, digging into the crusties’ flesh to give and take blood and deenay. The vermin hopped from crusty to crusty, surrogate feeders for these lost human beings.
I’d chosen the crusties because I saved a man from them, once. The only man I’ve known to get free of any kind of feeders. But in the end I could not lie down in their piles, the ikborlas jumping from person to person. This is my great contradiction. The things I would do to save Enta, yet her sanctification of this world prohibits me from doing anything that would disgrace it any more, regardless of the purpose, even intending to save her and even at this extremity of perdition—maybe especially for it.
I know I keep repeating such things, as if repeating them will make them true and justify my inaction. My thoughts inside my head condemn me, enraged at my impotence. I don’t understand any of this, but I live it and know it.
I cannot describe the sensations after turning over my decision. At once I felt cowardly and unfaithful, ashamed at my relief, yet strengthened in a mysterious shroud of grace that, instead of contempt for my reluctance, lifted up the profound sacrifice I would pay to keep her inviolable. Yet what could I do?
Desperation drove me. I studied the hives, searching without pause for a way to explore them or flush the kazhashas out, when I spied true children of the Desiderasha. They mimicked humans, even down to the clothing, upright on two legs, but their extremely bowed legs carried them with an exaggerated swagger, making them always look like they were approaching to pounce. Their tree-bark skin oozed puss and blood. They were extremely difficult to kill.
Sleemerins, they were called. Five of them. As intelligent as men, but without any will of their own, driven by their sole purpose to serve the Desiderasha. I didn’t know if they’d slipped into the hive without me seeing or had hidden within the entire time. One of them effortlessly dragged a scruffy man in tattered cloths behind him by the hair, the man kicking, trying to stand up, but unable to. The Sleemerin flung him forward, and the man hit the ground hard, then scrambled to his feet.
They pushed him along in front of them and left the hives, heading in a direction I hadn’t yet observed from the kazhashas.
Many things went through my head as they pulled him away. Where did this path favored by the children lead? Had Enta been taken on this path, or did she still remain in the hives somewhere? What was special about this man that he is singly taken by the children of the Desiderasha?
In five weeks I had not seen a sign of my beloved, but what if she emerges while I chase this man down? It seemed improbable to me that she would, and the man leaving may have answers to all these questions. I grabbed my gear and sprinted the first leg of a foxtrot that would put me in front of these abominations and position me for an ambush.
Still. Fear crept up my spine, not for the creatures I was chasing, but for the possibility that I might be going farther away from my Enta and that she might be snatched away to somewhere unknown in that time. From the core of my heart to the twists of my bowels I underwent a deep awareness of the hell that is this world.