The morning was bright and cheerful, and all of the adventurer’s came out of their rooms healthy, well rested, and refreshed. All except Morgana, who though rosy cheeked and healthy, still showed signs of melancholy, nevertheless. Poor dear. She was still thinking of Mr. Montague who died for love of her. Juliette, presenting her most cheerful face to try to help lift Morgana’s spirits, was eager to leave the Temple of the Aphids and continue on their journey home.
“Have you noticed that it’s spring now?”, asked Juliette looking out across the pine forest which no was longer covered in the heavy snows that it had been when they came to the tower the day before. A sense of trepidation was in her voice.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if it is always spring here”, commented Storm Wizard absently, as though it might be perfectly normal.
“I think we should go home now”, said Juliette quietly, almost to herself.
“Let’s not rush,” her brother suggested. “Maybe we could stay here for a little while longer.”
“But I’m worried about the black seeds and I want to get home. I mean what if they grew into some sort of man eating monstrosity in our absence and devoured the barn, and the house, and mom and dad?”, she asked suddenly raising her voice with anxiety. “It would be my fault!”
“Well, if so, our arriving one day later isn’t going to make any difference will it?”, Storm Wizard countered.
“Well, what if it would make a difference?”, she countered again. “Besides, we’re so tiny it’s absolutely frightening! Even mosquitoes are gigantic monsters to us now. What if we ran into something gigantic like a hamster or a cat?”
“Well, we’re completely restored now, remember, and we have all of our powers again, so that shouldn’t pose too much of a problem.”
“A hamster would be much larger than the size of a barn to us at the moment”, Juliette pointed out waving her hands high in the air. “Even your magic spells won’t be much use against something that large.”
“Well, I can fly”, stated Storm Wizard triumphantly.
“I can’t fly”, pointed out Ben.
“And neither can any of the rest of us”, Juliette concluded. “And besides, I feel we should be putting as much distance between ourselves and Thurwulv as possible. He does want to kill us, after all, and if that man who came out onto the parapet of the tower last night was him, then he is close by, and a serious danger.”
“Well, even so, he won’t see us at our current diminutive size, will he? I mean we’re all nestled up in a tiny crack in a stone wall on the highest point of the outside of his tower. We’re small enough for us to ride on the backs of aphids. I’m sure he’s not going to see us.”, Storm Wizard stated calmly.
“Well, what if he can also shrink down to tiny-size, just like we did, and is hunting for us that way right now?”, Juliette persisted.
“And, I’m sorry, but what was that about black seeds?”, asked Morgana. “Did you say something about them devouring your barn, and … parents?” She looked as though she only half believed what she heard.
“Oh, well, that, yes, um, well it’s nothing really, I guess” said Juliette. “Well they were just tiny seeds when we left them.”
“And they didn’t devour the McFearson barn”, added Storm Wizard.
“Well of course we don’t know if any had ever been planted there”, said Juliette. “But anyway, that’s another reason for us to head home right away.”
“Also, didn’t Biddy Mable warn us not to leave the Ivy Way, no matter what?”, said Ben. “I mean we’re already pretty far off the track as it is.”
“In for a penny in for a pound?”, offered Storm Wizard cheerfully.
“Noooo… that’s right, Ben. Biddy Mable warned us not to leave the Great Ivy Way and we should go back to it as soon as possible.”
“Maybe, Juliette”, put in Ben, “but my point was that we’re already off the path, and so it’s a moot point, I think. And as it happens, I wouldn’t mind staying at the Temple for a while. There is so much to learn here! And we may never have another opportunity like this again! Seriously. We should try to learn everything we possibly can here.”
“Meow”, said Ember from Juliette’s lap.
At that moment out from the corridor came the two aphid-men Tinkin and Kintin, leading the two large aphids packed with boxes on their backs.
“Good morning people”, said Kintin amiably. “We bring breakfast! Anyone hungry?”
And to that everyone gave an eager reply, and so they all sat down in Ben’s room at the large wooden table at laid the board out. There was plenty of vegetable foods, and a kind of honey flavored milk, and fresh rose water, and it was all very tasty wonderfully nourishing. As they ate Storm Wizard struck up a conversation with their two Aphid Guides.
“So I notice, if you don’t mind my saying so, that you two are human in appearance, and yet you seem to be one with the aphids. Is it the case that you are somehow aphids in the form of humans or something like that? Can you change form back and forth, and can all aphids change form as you do?”, he asked.
“Well, some of us can change form. We of the upper class can do so.”
“So you are a kind of nobility among the aphids then?”
“Yes, that’s a good way of putting it, I suppose, though others of the insect kingdom might disagree.”, says Tinkin with a sigh.
“Like whom?” asked Storm Wizard.
“Like pretty much everyone.”
“Ah. I see.”
“We aphids are not exactly top of the pile, as it were.”
“Well who is top of the pile?”, asked Juliette.
“Oh well the Wasps, naturally! They’re way up there, and the Ladybugs of course, are our liege lords. And the ants, they rule over us with mighty hand…. And well, pretty much everyone is above us, actually… that’s the way it is, you see.”
“Would you like it to be different?”
“Oh it was different long ago, before the Ladybugs came.”, said Tinkin enthusiastically.
“What was it like back then?”
“Oh in those days it was grand. We aphids had rule over all the plant kingdom. There was great wisdom and peace in the land. It was wonderful. We had free reign, and no one told us where to go or what to do… it was all sweetness and light and wonderful.”
“What kind of things do they make you do?” asked Juliette.
“They send us out across the plant kingdom to farm them of nectar, and we transport the nectar of the plants to the silos of the ants, and sometimes the Ladybugs come and devour us.”, he said with a shudder.
“Oh my”, exclaimed Juliette quietly. “Aren’t the bees more capable of transporting the pollen and nectar around than you aphids?” she asked.
“Well of course, the bees are absolutely fabulous at that. But the Ladybugs can’t control the bees, of course! Haha. The bees are powerful, being much larger than the Ladybugs, you see, and they can sting them too! The Ladybugs can, however, control us without any difficulty because we’re so tiny.”
“So you have green aphids, and your nobles that can turn into humans. Are there any other kinds of aphids?”, asked Storm Wizard chewing on a nice bit of salty bark.
“Oh yes, there’s yellow aphids, and grey aphids and … black aphids.”
“These are different classes?”
“No, we would say that each are different races, rather than classes. Each of our races has it’s own noble class. There are very few of us, aphid nobles left, you know. It’s supposed to be a great secret that we even exist at all. None of the other insects are supposed to know about us. We were all supposed to have been wiped out long ago, and nearly were, honestly,” said Kintin gazing out through an archway.
“Killing your noble class would make your race easier to control, I take it”, Storm Wizard deduced.
“Precisely. A great deal of wisdom was lost when the LadyBugs came”, said Tinkin ruefully.
“The wise one, is he like you?”, asked Storm Wizard.
“He is the most noble of all, except for the King.”
“There is a King of the aphids?”
“Yes indeed. He is very wise and mighty. He rules over all the aphid races, and all the aphids revere him.”
And so the breakfast went on in this fashion until all of the food was gone, and all of the milk and rose water had been drunk and all that was left were empty bowls and pitchers.
“I take it you will wish to be moving on soon?”, asked Tinkin.
“Yes!”, chirped Juliette.
“Eventually…”, said Storm Wizard.
“We sense some … difference of opinion?”
“We have some desire to remain here to learn more about your culture”, said Storm Wizard. “I’m wondering, is there anything we might be able to do to help you while we’re here?” asked Storm Wizard.
“I’d be willing to stay to help, if there is something we could do that would help you”, agreed Juliette reluctantly.
“I can’t say off the top of my head at the moment, but I’d be happy to speak with The Wise One, and I’m sure he will have a good idea. Why don’t you wait here for a few minutes… I will go and inquire.”
“Thank you”, said Juliette as Tinkin walked off toward the corridor that lead to the inner chambers of the stone block that housed the Temple of the Aphids.
It was only a few minutes after he left when Ben and Morgana began to notice that a number of aphids, and then a crowd, and then a horde had begun climbing in through the archways and heading into the corridor that Tinkin had disappeared into. This commotion became quite intense as the aphids began to climb over one another to gain entrance to the corridor. The aphids were all abuzz with their clicking whirring speech, and it sounded like a great hum as the great churing mass of green bodies crawled into the corridor. Breathless, Kintin stood up and spoke to the companions in a grave tone.
“The Council of Aphids has been summoned! I must go to the Great Hall with my brethren.”
“What has happened?!” asked Juliette excitedly.
“An Ambassador has come. And we must hear him.”
“Who is it?!” asked Storm Wizard with a sense of foreboding.
“It is the Ambassador of the Red Locusts."
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