This is where it ends but more importantly, where it all begins.
Faul believed this to be very true. The chamber was dim, lit softly by amber lights that seemed to defy explanation. They clung to the barren earth walls and followed him as he proceeded deeper. The ground was rough, loose, ancient. It spoke to him as he ran his scabbed fingers through the dirt, letting it seep between his hands. It changed him even then, each particle of terrain leaving behind a speck of altered flesh.
He was where he needed to be. He raised his hands towards the vaulted ceiling in quiet triumph. The arches loomed above, carved stone supplanted against the bare earth to provide support and even more. At the apex of each arch, a basin was supported by Rusted metal chains interconnected with strands of pale fiber and snaking cable. It was in these basins that the Rust collected, dirty liquid from the harvest fields above. It seeped down from above, lapped up by a thirsty world and recycled into these underground chambers. They were beginning to overflow and Faul was exactly where he wanted to be.
He thrust off the bare remnants of his tattered clothes with a flourish and let the Rust drip down. He sobbed quietly among the living torches and extended his tongue to let the brownish fluid fall into his brackish mouth. It tasted metallic and salty, not unlike the blood of the harvest and he could not ask for more.
But yes, he needed more. So much more…
The world above belonged to them, an incursion that occurred without warning to the cattle and certainly without mercy. If one were to venture among the bruisefruit and gorewood high above, they would find the agriculture that festooned the fields. Each body of those from before provided sustenance for the dirt, for the field, for those below who dwelled now as above. Those who had lived here prior to their settlement had not been harvested quietly but Faul and the rest of his ilk knew they were secretly grateful. What better honor could there be?
The Rust fell freely now and Saul ran his tattered hands wildly across his hairless scalp, accepting the gift so readily provided. It felt so soothing, so calm here in the chambers. Each splash of this sacred gift coated his lithe body in a greasy sheen, slick to the touch but nigh impenetrable; living metal. It would do well to help combat any attempted resistance but he knew these chances were slim. These were the gifts bestowed by the Matrons.
The Filth Mothers were good to his tribe. They had gifted them the Life-After-Life, to crawl forth from decay choked crypts and ascend, ascend as they were always supposed to. These Matrons existed in sacred locales in the new world and with each flick of their Rust coated nails, they would provide more of this altering drink, more so than the cattle could ever provide.
For now, Faul needed only a small taste. A short, sustaining bath to slake his thirst until his journey ahead. After his decrepit baptism, he would emerge up the sloping, gilded hall that lead out into the world above. He would collect a bruisefruit to snack on and tiptoe carefully among the harvest and the still living cattle. From there, he would collect the ash that rained down from the grey sun above and coat his body with it. He would paint it across his bare chest and face in the sacred designs called upon from those eternally encrusted with dust and grime, his forefathers. And then he would begin his pilgrimage. He knew a Filth Mother was close by and, although Faul knew himself to not be worthy of her presence, he would still seek her shrine and bask in her Rust ridden glory.
The Mothers were beautiful to behold, shining red flesh and Rust coated gears that propelled their nails mechanically forward and down, across swollen midsections to release their gift. Salted red ambrosia, flecked with grime ; the most beautiful thing anyone could behold. They were anchored into their shrines, held fast by cords and cables until the appropriate time. Faul longed to insert the gears and screws into his own flesh to be one with those others who had made the pilgrimage. Upon arrival, those chosen would clamber into the Matrons and combine their gears and pistons, a communal, beautiful combination of skin, bone and rusted metal. And then these mighty things, these glorious communal sacrificial constructs would let loose from their anchors and parade across the ash ridden world. Where they went, Filth and Decay would follow, exhaling Ash and Rust into an increasingly grateful world.
Faul wept red tears at the thought and only wished that it could be happening now, right now. For the time being here, in the quiet chambers, he would sip the Rust in silent acceptance. But his time was coming. The Mothers were calling, a mighty yet feminine bellow echoing across the gorewood and the Rusted harvest fields. And he would answer.
They had come from below. They reclaimed their land. They harnessed all that stole life and yet born life anew beneath a blotted sun. They took the metals that had been enslaved by the ones before (now reduced to mere stock) and combined them with their own flesh, together as one where things should be.
This was Faul’s lot in life and he had a wonderful existence.
The basin above dripped dry. He was disappointed but that only meant he could begin his pilgrimage even sooner. Faul collected a ceremonial staff from their sockets on the wall and tested its heft. It was strong, powerful, a symbiosis of muscle and metal. It would double as a support for the arduous journey, as self defense and as a good tool to inscribe the Ash upon his skin. It was time to leave.
He slowly made his way up the slopes, marveling at the craftsmanship in the Rust inlaid floor tiles. His tribe was truly special, the artisans gods among fools. He could only hope to be like them some day. Finally, he reached his apex and emerged upwards into the world of grey, red and black.
He breathed deep, inhaling smoke and grime. His slitted nostrils flared and he flexed ropy, powerful muscles in the dim lighting. It was a beautiful day to begin his holy journey. Faul turned away from the harvest field behind him, ignoring the quiet pleas for providence. It would all be silent soon, no matter.
The gorewoods lie ahead, each tree a writhing marvel of intertwined cables, tendons, sprockets, bark and arteries. He sighed contentedly, reached up to the first tree he found and plucked down a bruisefruit. It squelched softly in his hands, purple-black juices running down his hard tinged skin. He bit into it with well worn teeth and savored the taste. A droplet of it ran down his chin, carving a trail in the Ash that softly fell upon him.
He looked forward into the forest and listened for the calls of the Matron.
Faul would heed the call.
It was there that another life would end and a new one would begin, among the jubilant throngs.
Faul was ready and he took a confident step forward into the new world.
A world coated in grime, one that was Filth to some yet glory to others.