Grandmother Cockroach

In the beginning, before the People descended the Spire Unending, they lived in a Great City ruled by a cruel god-king named Father Eagle. It was a city of alabaster towers, of golden palaces and cathedrals of beautiful glass and ebony with gems like stars in the sky adorning the homes of the mighty and the rich. The murals of the god-king’s conquests were resplendent and vibrant in exotic hues, showing him and his soldiers as conquering beasts, eagles, lions, tigers and mighty elephants.

It was also a city of hovels and dirt and suffering. Father Eagle demanded that the People work themselves to the bone day and night, and those that he suspected of failing him were beaten and flogged or worse. Even if you pleased Father Eagle and worked as hard as you could, he still might swoop down from his tower one day and snatch your children for a sacrifice.

The suffering of the people was unspeakable. They cried and pleaded, but did not know to who, for their god was their oppressor.

One day an old woman came to the gilded and incensed court of Father Eagle, asking to be heard by the god-king. This amused the despot, for his people were so afraid of him that he could not even remember when any had come to ask for court.

She walked in slowly, hobbling on a cane, and did not bow. Nor did she stop at the entreating floor, but continued straight to Father Eagle’s ivory throne. He ordered back his guards and, amused, let her approach.

Then she reached him, lent into his ear and whispered. Father Eagle’s face went pale as the throne he sat on, and he struck down the old woman, cutting her throat open from end to end with his talons. He ordered the guards to toss her body from the balcony where he fed, overlooking the Great City, where it landed among the bones of his many sacrifices in a fetid and shallow lake.

In the Great City it was common to see men and women around this bloody lagoon, searching for the remains of their taken children so they might give them a proper farewell and set their ghosts to rest. This is how the People know what happened next.

The body of the old woman fell among the vermin who thrived among the carrion – the rats the crows, the flies and beetles and gnats. The vermin, as one, scurried from their muck, their hiding holes, their feeding, and swarmed around the body, a pulsing mess that repelled even those of the People who had hardened themselves to this grim place.

Within moments the old woman rose, healed, and the vermin receded. She did not speak to anyone or seem to see them as she climbed from the pool to the bank, then as she took the high point she turned and addressed those gathered. “Return here tomorrow. Bring others.”

On the second day, Father Eagle was less pleased to receive his visitor. He ordered his guards to slay her as she stood, but they found themselves strangely slow and weak of arm, and she was once again able to reach the god-king and whisper in his ear. Once she had reached him, their strength returned and the old woman was hacked to pieces, and the pieces thrown to the bloody lagoon below.

Those who had witnessed the previous day’s events had indeed brought others. They saw the vermin once again swarm, pulsing around each piece of the old woman and coalescing into one body of chittering wings and teeth, then receding and leaving the old woman, once more climbing the bank.

For one year and one day this continued. Some days he tried to fly away, but when he would return he would find her at his back. Some days he ordered her body burned, and beetles and crows would flood the chimneys and flues, gathering her ashes. He would order his guards to bury her body and the hole would fill with swarming rats as soon as it was dug.

The god-king grew paler each day. Each day he would employ his magic or guards or might and try to stop the old woman from reaching him and whispering in his ear. Each day he would fail. Each day, the woman would die and return. Each day the People waiting at the bloody lagoon grew more numerous.

One year and one day after she first appeared, the old woman approached. Father Eagle, weak and faltering, wordlessly jumped from his balcony. He shattered among the bones below, and with him went the magic of the Great City. The alabaster towers buckled, the golden palaces crack and the cathedrals of ebony and glass shattered and screeched, their gems falling like rain and cracking on the pavement. The murals of conquering beasts flaked and crumbled into dust, choking the streets.

As the fire started falling from the sky, Grandmother Cockroach descended from the god-king’s chamber to the People below. She waded into the middle of the lagoon and the water and muck parted for her. She cleared away the mud and revealed a spiral of steps leading down. She motioned, and the People followed, leaving the Great City of Father Eagle to its doom.

Grandmother Cockroach

The Omphalos MattElgin MattElgin