Beneath the Moon

Mouse creeps through the ruins on wary feet, careful of each step. There is so much here that she does not understand; so much that she has always been taught to fear. Etched plastic and fallen glass, the reaching bones of long-dead godlets—

Stillborn, or so she's always been told. Pathetic things reaching up towards the unattainable.

It doesn't matter to Mouse, not really; that was all long ago. All she needs to know is how to slip around whatever ancient hunger might yet linger within them—and that's so easy!

Dead things can't touch her, can't catch her hide; even her shadow slips lightly around their reach. Her progress is easy, as easy as it's ever been, deeper and deeper into the ruins—

Mouse's view of the ruins is ground-level, foreshortened; she barely understands what they are. When she reaches their heart, a vast open-air theater (its ceiling caved in), she sees it as merely a clearing among the maze's bleached-bone walls, an emptiness bereft of the lingering dead.

Not safety: a different kind of danger. Limned in moonlight, rubble swept aside—

And there, sitting where the operating table once would have, waiting at the conflux of every line of sight, the lurking source of every sound that echoes so freely out through the ruins: a wide brass bowl.

Mouse regards it suspiciously.

It shouldn't be there.

It certainly wasn't there the last time she came in this deep, all those months ago when she claimed a bounty of engineered seeds from the vault not far beyond, a treasure that kept her stomach full and her family happy through the blistering summer all the way up until those seeds began to fail, deprived of whatever esoteric signals were meant to seep into their roots from tailor-made fertilizer that hasn't been made in longer than Mouse can understand.

It's new, and new things are dangerous.

But, but—! That smell, that seeping scent! Mouse can't say for sure what it is, can't find words to describe it. It's rich and sharp and pungent, just on the edge of tolerable, a smell like a fire's glow in the depths of winter and the sunlight breaking over a forest's flowering canopy—

It fills her nose and she's lost.

Mouse can't help the way her body's moving, can't help that her feet are leading her closer; step after step her mind fades away, dissolving into that thickening smell's profane glory—

She kneels before the bowl.

She drinks.

And only the moon sees what it does to her.