Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Insect War - Part 1

Having decided to take refuge in the dark and frightening spider nest for a second time, the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ huddled at the tiny entrance trying to catch sight of what was going on outside and above them. Laid low by a stun beam from Storm Wizard’s still smoking fingers, The Red Locust Ambassador was quite unconscious, way up on top of the gigantic twig that was towering over the adventurer’s heads. They watched from the shadows as Rohar, the Silver Locust Prince, marshaled the Mosquito Squadron into a fighting formation above him. This was, in fact, the very same Crimson Heart Squadron that had attacked the Hamfest Hellhouds on Sky Raft, not so long ago, for those who might be acquainted with that story. The mammoth mosquitoes formed into a diamond pattern and hovered in place, awaiting the arrival of another Squadron that was fast approaching from the south east.  The air filled with the horrible mind numbing hum of the mosquito’s buzzing wings. And the green and crimson auras of their eyes, pulsating in unison, touched everyone's nerves with a nameless fear. As the second squadron approached, even before they could be seen, the droning of their relentless mental commandments tugged at the edges of their hearts and minds.  The call to "Obedience" and "Self-Sacrifice" for "The Great Cause" was almost too strong to resist.  They all felt the cold fervor that attended those commandments, and shuddered as they shook one another free from the hellish clutches of the Crimson Heart.  The Bellowicks and their friends, fortunately, were brave souls, and stood against the threat by remaining calm and observing carefully everything that happened. 

At that moment Storm Wizard was feeling rather proud of himself, actually, as he reflected on how he laid low such a fearsome opponent as the Emmanuel, the Red Locust Ambassador. Some might say it was a lucky shot, others that it was a skillful display of mystical prowess, but either way, one blast of his Stun Beam Spell knocked the overbearing copper clad brute unconscious, and that was a fine thing indeed.

He deserved to be proud, thought Juliette, who was further back in the spider hole, using the eye-stone to see through the dirt and beyond the grass blade forest above. She noticed again how the spider webs seemed to form a kind of cloudy barrier though which the eye-stone had trouble seeing, and how some patches were too thick to see through at all. Magic, she thought again. To the rear of the cavern was the dark web-shrouded tunnel that she preferred not to ponder on. But even so she could view the scene above as though looking through clouds of mist. What she saw was alarming her greatly.

A huge black and blue striped Wasp, to the adventurous children the size of an elephant, buzzed the tops of the grass blades overhead, and whizzed past in a long loud screaming streak. Another one flashed by from another direction. Juliette noticed that not far in the distance there was a small puddle the size of a shoe, which to Juliette seemed the size of a lake. On the lake she saw several long-legged Water Bugs skitter across the surface of the brightly shimmering water toward the shore. These monstrous beings were moving closer in a well formed line, like a fleet of battle ships. It seemed to Juliette that Rohar was commanding the Water Bug Fleet with one hand, and the Mosquito Squadron with the other. She felt, she admitted to herself, somewhat bewildered by the situation, not knowing what the right course of action might be. The circumstances were complex, after all, and the situation dire. They could all very easily die in this conflict. She felt flustered, confused, and disoriented. And far below deep down in the spider hole, hidden in the darkest shadows of all, a smile crept onto the face of someone who had been waiting there very patiently for a very long time.

Morgana was tending to Brian who had become somewhat delirious and was mumbling about shades of things that could not possibly be hovering in the the webs all around them. He was sweating profusely and shaking. He began to hum an old nursery rhyme to himself. She swabbed his face and neck with a cotton cloth. Lady Isabella was tending to Ferdnando, her blue and black clad warrior, in much the same manner. He also was slowly becoming delirious under the influence of the poisonous spider bites.

“The salve we gave them will serve to keep the poison from spreading further, for the time being, but I’m afraid it can do little to help them through the delirium they will suffer,” said Lady Isabella to Morgana in a whisper. Neither of them liked being back in the spider lair one tiny bit. They both eyed the large glistening sacks of spider eggs attached to the far wall near the mouth of cave. On their faces were expressions of grave concern. Three of the black eggs had dark juices dripping from the holes Storm Wizard had carved through them earlier with his dagger. The rest seemed to be writhing black circles inside their translucent pale green cocoons.  Isabella estimated there were about a hundred eggs bound to the wall by strong silvery silken webs.  One hundred minus three.

“Brian seems to be caught in some sort of childhood dream,” Morgana said in response, not taking her eyes from the egg sack.

“Indeed, that may be the nature of the poison,” said Isabella as she wringed the sweat from her handkerchief, also watching in fascination and horror as the dark fist-sized shapes inside the eggs wriggled in tiny circles. It seemed to her that when they first saw the egg sacks the shapes had not been moving.

Juliette watched with growing alarm as wasps flew by over head, and a battalion of Black Ants began to climb in lines up the giant blades of grass all around them. The Mosquito Squadrons coalesced into a single diamond formation over Rohar’s head.

Storm Wizard took out the red pearl from his pocket and held it up in the pale light. It seemed to glow with a faint red fire from within. He wondered if he would really be able to use it to bring all of the tiny adventurers back to normal size. Cowering in some dark shrouded spider hole seemed as grim a situation as he cared to ever be in. He noticed that the pearl seemed to have lost a certain amount of its luster and color, and he wondered if that was an indication that the powers within it had been used up to some degree. If so, he speculated, it might mean that the pearl was limited in its powers, and could be used up completely. He hoped there would be enough power left in it when the time came… otherwise they all might remain tiny-sized forever. And forever, for them, might not wind up being very long, since the tiny-world, they discovered, was exceedingly dangerous. The thought filled him with a grim foreboding.

Meanwhile above them the mosquitoes had entered battle formation, and had begun to engage with the Wasp Squadron. The Wasp Squadron was Isabella’s personal bodyguard called ‘The Moon-Tiger Squadron’, the Captain of which was Ferdinando, though she didn’t mention that fact to anyone. Storm Wizard, who was watching from behind a root as the Wasps began to engage, thought that he wouldn’t mind very much if the Wasps killed all of the Mosquitoes.

“Isabella, since Rohar who is helping us to escape is controlling the mosquitoes, and I’m pretty sure the Wasps would listen to you, is there any way you might be able to cause them to stand down?” asked Juliette of Isabella.

On the other hand, thought Storm Wizard to himself, if the Wasps die then they would be able to speak with Rohar again as the battle would quickly be concluded. Juliette was thinking along the same lines, but considered that it would be even more convenient if the Wasps happen to kill the unconscious Emmanuel before he woke up. Then, she thought, Rohar would not be able to blame them for his brother’s death. But this, she suddenly realized, was an evil thought.

“Well”, thought Juliette to herself, “it seems I’ve lost a bit of my naivete.”

Deep in the shadows far below them a second smile crept onto the face of one who had been waiting patiently.

Flying in low toward the Crimson Heart Squadron, one of the Wasps was suddenly struck from the side by a globule of water that burst out from one of the Water Bugs. The globule hit the Wasp with force sufficient to cause it to slam full speed into a grass blade. The great green tower shuddered with the impact as the thunderous "Ka-Thwam" echoed in the air.

Ferdinand and Brian were both talking to themselves. “No I can’t read. No I don’t know where I am anymore. Where is candyland?” asked Brian of no one. Morgana swabbed is forehead looking at him pitiably. Laraby, though shaken from the previous battle, held the Ambassador’s silver bladed sword in his right hand, and stared up through the entrance at the battle being waged above. He felt confident because the sword conveyed to him a sense of peculiar power. He occasionally glanced toward the back of the spider hole where the tunnel opened up from the darkness below. He gave Morgana a reassuring smile, though it didn’t help very much to assuage her fears. Juliette was giving a running account of what she could see of the battle through the rocks above, trying to be encouraging as possible.

“I hear voices”, said Morgana.

“So do I”, said Ferdinando.

“I hear children singing”, said Brian.

“Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream”, the three of them chanted in harmonic unison. It suddenly became very eerie in the dark spider hole.

“Ok, *that* was Creepy”, said Storm Wizard. Juliette then began to hear the children singing. It sounded like a hundred children, their tiny voices floating around the cave. She suddenly let her eyes fall on the large sack of spider eggs attached to the far wall of the cave. Her eyes grew wide, and the eye-stone glowed with a golden-red fire as she peered deeper and deeper into the sack. In each egg she beheld a black-eyed child dressed in a black school uniform, singing the ancient nursery rhyme.

“You stabbed three of those eggs, Storm Wizard…” said Juliette with a growing sense of horror. The eggs writhed and jiggled in the faint light. “The children we hear singing are in the spider eggs”, she stated absently, her voice trailing off.

“Woopse”, said Storm Wizard. “Well, they looked like spiders. I don’t have an all-seeing Rock-Eye, and I didn’t know they were children. I take no responsibility for their demise. They looked like spiders to me”, he said finally.

Meanwhile Juliette was watching as the children sang, and in a strange sort of twilight way she seemed to follow the children as they picked the three dead children from the floor of the cave and carried them to a dark place and lay them down on stone slabs, all the while continuing the chanting of the rhyme. Now, all of ‘The Steel Wool Sheeps’ could hear the singing of the spider-children.

“This should teach you a lesson about indiscriminate killing,” said Juliette to Storm Wizard with a glowering tone.

“It was not indiscriminate. The spiders, if you recall, were trying to kill us”, he retorted.

“Not the ones in the eggs!” she whispered back fiercely.

“They could have hatched into something that would eat us. In fact I would be quite surprised if they did not hatch into something that would eat us,” said he. “I surmise,” he continued, “that these are indeed children who are somehow being transformed into spiders, and by the time they hatch they will be man-eaters themselves.”

Juliette searched her memory for any folklore that might tell her about the children inside of spider eggs. However, she could remember nothing to help from the stories she heard as a child or read in the monastery.

“Stay away from the children-eggs”, said Juliette to everyone.

“Isabella, do you know what this is about?” asked Storm Wizard.

“I suspect there is dark magic involved”, she replied unhelpfully. In fact her people never escaped from spider lairs once caught in them, and so there were few tales that spoke of the spider's secrets. And none of the ones she knew had mentioned anything about human children being inside of spider eggs. She shuddered.

Everyone herded to the back of the cave to get away from the egg sacks, which at that point had started vibrating in a disconcerting fashion.

Meanwhile above, the Wasps were making attack runs at the Mosquito Squadron, and one of the mosquitoes was hit with a loud ‘thwak’ and utterly destroyed. The other mosquitoes focused their pulsating eyes into a unified red and green harmonic, and Juliette sensed that they were trying to take over the mind of the Wasp as it passed by. They failed and the Wasp flew past without slowing, his eyes shielded by black lids.

“Isabella, are the Ants going to kill Rohar?” asked Storm Wizard.

“I do not know,” she replied as she swabbed Ferdinando’s forehead. She didn't know. But she suspected that they would.

Storm Wizard then got up off his haunches, and flew upward and out of the entrance of the cave into the air, still having the flying spell in effect from earlier. As he few upward he saw quite a bit more of the terrain than he had seen before. The Black Ants were taking up positions along every grass blade within several feet of their location, and on each blade there were 10 or more ants. It was an army. There was along the shore of the lake to the south a number of Water Bugs blasting out water globules from their mouths at the Wasps as they flew near. In the distance he could see a black Dragonfly with purple eyes perched on a blade of grass. And further away he caught site of the ladybug who had settled onto a leaf at a safe distance from the battle.

Rohar appeared to him to be in a state of meditation, but Storm Wizard said to him, “We need to get moving, Rohar.”

The Locust Prince was so focused on controlling the mosquitoes and Water Bugs that he could not answer. Storm Wizard doubted that Rohar had even heard him, so thoroughly absorbed as he was in conducting the battle. He thought he knew what Rohar would say. "Run, you fools! Run!"

Previous Episode: Down the Spider Hole - Part 2
Next Episode: Insect War - Part 2

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