A Maiden fair...A maiden paints and sings the stars into Existence.
The lights blinked in time, pulsating in an almost frantic rhythm. Did that mean we were getting close? It seemed too good to be true—after all of this time of searching and watching my family waste and wither.
Nails clicked against the frail buttons with each key stroke, multiple fingers from multiple hands moving quickly enough that my mind barely kept up.
Please, this time let us drink the light.
The screen flickered—so long since we’d fed the ship, that even it was starving—and for a moment, I was afraid the power would fail us. I touched the location icon with a tentative finger and to my relief the quarry not only showed up, but was not a long travel from our location. We’d be there within a decade, of which most we could hibernate.
Gods, her lands are dark. My relief was short lived as I realized what it truly meant. Sure, there was twinkle—massive stars sung into existence and painted with the gentle hand and breathed life—but there was so much darkness between her creations. This was a young land—tender, but hardly a feast.
She would not last us long. This edge of the universe was small, puny, in comparisons of the others that had provided sustenance for my people for our long generations. She must have just left the melody of her gods—her paint brush must have recently dipped its first paint.
“If I could, Nimbus, I would leave this one. Give this one time—just a few centuries, even.” My companion frowned, large eyes drinking in the darkness past our shields. “This one has only begun to paint. My younglings won’t have even molted by the time we’ve drank the last of her light.”
I acknowledged my sister’s words with the barest nod of my head. I could not tell her the truth I’d realized. I would spare her the realization as long as I could. “I fear your younglings will not live past the edge of this universe we travel, and who knows if the next one has not already had its Artist consumed? Our brothers have been zealous of late.”
She sighed and glanced behind her to the hibernating forms. Even in their state of suspension, you could see the crippling effects of the hunger. Ribs showed, cracking the slick exoskeleton that protected the curled spines and legs. Their arms drooped—I feared the youngest would lose at least three—and the mouth opened and clamped, their teeth tearing pinpricks into malnourished skin as they consumed in their dreams.
“I do not want to lose them.”
I’d already lost mine to the starvation, so I understood the frustration in her voice. “We will be sparing,” I said, hating the desperation. I remembered times when universes blinked into existence and faded away faster again, so fast we could not eat them all before they died—but this bounty had made us greedy, soft and gluttonous. We had no one to blame but ourselves.
“Nimbus…” her words failed her and she hung one of her heads in shame. “Why should we even try?” She placed a hand on mine. “Perhaps we should die and end this endless search and suffering.”
“They still paint the stars, Zenith, and while they paint, we must devour their works.”
She sighed and looked away, taking her hand from mine. “Bring us there then. I will capture her and collect the ribbons.”
I clenched my fingers, feeling long tendons stretch and threaten to collapse. The hunger gnawed at me, and I was weak, but I was older—one of the oldest of our species. My sister was young in my eyes, and untried. The Artists could blind with their lights, strangle with the ribbons in their sparkling hair. Even though this one was young, it would still be dangerous.
“No. I will bring this one to us.” A moment’s hesitation where I glanced in Zenith’s eyes. I attempted to smile—and one mouth managed it. My sister did not return the poor attempt at solace as she sighed and looked away.
“A maiden paints fair,
A maiden in the shadow.
A maiden with the rainbow hair,
A maiden holds the barrow.
A maiden whispers,
A maiden sings,
A maiden seeking only a Sister
A maiden to which life clings.
A maiden paints and sings the stars into Existence.
My eyes blinked in the dazzling lights each of her brush stroke brings to the now breathing star. Our ship had approached from the back, so the Artist remained intent on her work, not knowing the enemy behind her.
She still sang her words, the paint flowing from her mouth in achingly beautiful notes to fill the paint brush her hand held in delicate power. Ribbons trailed from the bun of her rainbow hair, floating in the nothingness that surrounded her.
The heat from her artwork bathed me and it wasn’t until then that I truly realized the depth of my hunger. So long had I lived in the nothingness that our feasts left behind, that I’d forgotten the life the Artists provided.
I approached, arms stretched out to seize the ribbons when the words faltered and she looked over her shoulder.
“No…” She turned around, the folds of dress whipping spatters of paint against my skin and burning. “Leave my lands, Stalker.”
“Pretty words, for someone so young.” Even in my hunger I could admit the beauty of my pray. She was a frail thing, dainty and small. The dress blended into her artwork, wavering and almost nonexistent. Large eyes, dark and innocent met my own pale irises.
“This land is new, barely able to realize itself. You are not ready for this one yet. Devour another’s universe and leave mine be.”
“Yours is the last, for a very long time and a very long distance.”
“No…” She placed a hand over her heart, the paint leaving a glowing hand print. “Your kind have been greedy. My people have painted stars for the gods since they sang themselves into existence.”
“And mine have cleaned their canvases since they have died.”
“Then the times have met?" The words were whispered, pained. "This is the end?”
I glanced behind me for the barest of moments, making sure my sister and her younglings would not hear. “Yes, Artist. We are all the last. The beginning and the end have met.”
“I have not told my kin, and they only believe the meals to be sparse, but I am among the first of the devourers, and I can taste the finality of this meal. We will make it last, and your creatures and creations and works will survive eons yet, but in the end we will all die with you. Is that not some compensation?”
“Compensation…” the word brought tears sparkling down her skin. I could see the resolve crumbling in the corners of her expression. Her eyes gazed past me and to the massive, dying ship waiting. “I do not want to wither in that dank cavern only to watch your broken bodies consume my small canvas.”
I didn’t answer, didn’t need to. I knew perhaps even before she did what her intentions were. She turned her back to me and I did nothing except watch.
“A maiden paints shadow,
A maiden taints the light and fair.
A maiden breaks the barrow,
A maiden unties the ribbons, looses her rainbow hair,
A maiden screams.
A maiden speaks,
A maiden, of a Sister, dreams
A maiden to whom life seeks,
A dead maiden paints and sings her work to Nothing.
It was ungodly beautiful, each stroke of her paintbrush, each flick of her wrist, as she painted her last star—a yellow and orange thing so much smaller than her other works. Spatters of paint fell along the star, coalescing into gasses and soil that would circle her last work of art until I consumed it too.
When she finished, she dropped the brush and I watched it disappear into the nothingness she would never get to paint and realize. She did not speak or turn around as she untied the long ribbons in her hair. The rainbow locks fell with each knot undone.
“Does it hurt, to be devoured?”
My teeth click together from each of the mouths my heads had. I was the many-headed beast, the devourer the gods had created to keep their Artists company and in check. “Sister, you will feel each thing we take from you.”
She nodded and let go of the ribbons, allowing them to trail away.
Word Count: 1,440
Initially Submitted to: Genre Times Four (12/21/14). Prompt:Picture--Woman painting stars while sitting on a moon. (Not enough entries for contest, so no placings awarded.) Link to contest: http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1948893-Genre-Times-Four
Submitted to: Boy, Have I got a Story for You (1/6/15). (No placing). Link to contest: http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1848696-Boy-Have-I-Got-A-Story-For-Yo...
Submitted to: Supernatural Writing Contest (entered:8/19/15). Prompt:Story involving supernatural being. No Placing Link to contest: http://www.writing.com/main/forums/item_id/1771874-Supernatural-Writing-Contest