Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Encroaching Doom (part 3)

“A Locust?” asked Storm Wizard, surprised.

“I take it you wouldn’t get along with Locusts particularly", he added after a moment's reflection.

“No”, answered the young noble Aphid-Man, Kintin, with a grave finality.

“Locusts don’t tend to get along particularly well with anyone, do they?”, continued Storm Wizard thoughtfully.

“No, not really.”

“Why is he here?”, asked Juliette.

“We don’t know. He has demanded he be brought into the High Council with the Wise One.”

“Can we come?”, asked Storm Wizard after a pause.

“I do not see why not.”, answered Kintin. And so they all went together down the long dark passageways to the Great Hall. At the center was the Wise One on his stone chair, while around the edge of the enormous circular chamber milled the great throng of Aphids, twittering and whirring with a million whispers.

Between the Wise One and the assembly there stood the Locust-Man, his hands on his hips. He exuded headstrong pride and arrogant ferocity. He had long straight shining red hair, and wore a copper vest, leggings, gloves, and a long copper tinted cape. He was tall with large red-brown muscles. He was much like a normal Man, except he had shiny oblong insect eyes, and shining copper antenna, and copper tinted skin. He seemed almost metallic. And the way he stood so brazenly before the old Wise One conveyed a fierceness which was evident from the back of the chamber where Juliette had seated herself, with the rest of the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’ Adventure Group. All, that is, except for Storm Wizard who saw fit to make his way forward to a seat in the front, bringing Brian with him, the better to see the Locust-Man.

There was a hush upon the hall. The Locust-Ambassador spoke, “I have come from very far. From across the western desert. From beyond the mountains. My people begin to starve.”

At this all of the Aphids murmured.

“The Ants have stolen our food, and for this we demand Retribution,” the Locust-Ambassador concluded severely, pointing a finger at the Holy Aphid. “Wise One, with your help, with your support, then the Ants will have no choice but to submit to the will of the King, and our people shall not starve. Will you help us?”

“But what does this mean? Do you mean that I should tell the King that you deserve the food of the Ants because they stole it from you?” asked the Holy Aphid.

“Yes, that is exactly what you must say,” answered the Locust-Ambassador sternly.

“But that would be a lie!”, retorted the old Wise One. “I can not say it. The Ants have earned their food the way everyone else has, by working for it. They did not steal it from the Locusts.”

“Wise Aphid, beware that the decision you make today will impact greatly the future course of events for my people. We will not take this lightly. I leave you now. I give you three days to decide.” And with a flurry of his cape he turned and walked out of the Great Hall. Avast silence descended upon the crowded chamber.

Having made her way forward to Storm Wizard, Juliette commented saying, “He certainly didn’t seem very nice. Asking for help, but he never even said ‘Please’”.

“I get the feeling that people who ask the Aphids for anything rarely do say ‘please’,” Storm Wizard replied.

“Well, he should have”, answered Juliette.

“It probably would not make any difference, I think, even if the Locust-Ambassador had said ‘please’”, said Tinkin who had been sitting next to them.

“Well it makes a difference to me”, said Juliette.

“So do you know what that was about?”, inquired Storm Wizard of Tinkin.

“I only know as much as you do, more or less. This was … unexpected.”

“Do you actually know that the Ants have not stolen any food from the Locusts?”, Storm Wizard inquired as politely as he could.

“Ants don’t steal food from the Locusts.”, replied Tinkin.

“What if the Ants robbed a Locust silo or something?”, asked Storm Wizard.

“The Locusts don’t have silos, because the do not gather food”, responded Tinkin with a slight exasperation in his voice. How can humans not know the most obvious things, he wondered.

“They eat straight from the vine, as it were?”

“They do.”

“Could they claim ownership of certain plants?”

“That would go against the law of the Insect Kingdom”, said Tinkin. No further elaboration seemed to be required.

“So if he came from so far away, I don’t see how the Ants could have gone so far to steal the food”, commented Juliette, half to herself, as she stroked the back of Ember’s neck.

“Well, it was not his implication that the Ants in this region did the crime.”, put forth Tinkin.

“Its just … The Ants?”, she asked with a dawing realization.

“Yes. The Insect Kingdom spans the entire world”, he said.

“So who is the King?’, asked Storm Wizard as they walked slowly toward the center of the enormous stone Hall. All across the ceiling Ben was noticing the intricate patterns which formed a vast geometric design. He could not comprehend it’s meaning, but felt quite sure that a meaning it had, and a very deep and ancient one. He pointed up at one particularly beautiful area to Morgana who was ambling along in her own melancholy world. She smiled wistfully.

“He is the Lord King of the Insects”, answered Tinkin.

“What species of insect is he?”, inquired Juliette.

“He is … a unique person.”

“Aren’t we all? Or so our mothers tell us”, said Storm Wizard with a wry smile.

“So your mothers tell you”, repeated Tinkin with a wry smile of his own. He was of course aware that Aphid mothers tell their children quite the opposite, and that there is no greater virtue for an aphid than to be exactly like his brothers.

“I don’t trust him”, said Juliette finally.

“I don’t either”, replied Tinkin, “Nevertheless his demand is very threatening.”

As they approached the base of the circle of stone upon which the old Wise One paced in a small circle in front of his tiny throne, they found him scratching his whiskers and whirl-clicking to himself. He was deep in thought.

“If it comes to war between the Ants and the Locusts, who would win?”, Storm Wizard asked.

“The Ants would surely lose. But it would not be not a war between the Locusts and the Ants. It would be a the war between the Locusts and all of us”, said Tinkin gravely. “When the Locusts come, they destroy … every green thing. There shall be nothing left. Nothing. And that is the conundrum for the Wise One.”

“Because if he denies the Locust’s claim he will bring down destruction on us all…”, Juliette thought out loud.

“He’s not really one to give into bullies then?”, asked Storm Wizard.

While the 'Steel Wool Sheeps' considered the facts the aphids in the hall sat quietly listenning. One could have heard a pin drop in that august chamber.

“It sounds to me like you have to meet them on open ground, like the desert he spoke of, rather than let them come so far as to destroy your crops. You could use some sort of flame thrower perhaps.”

“Well, perhaps, but we would need one that could spew a ball of fire five miles wide and eight miles long.”

There was another silence for a while as everyone mulled things over some more. Walking to the front of the hall, Tinkin said, “Wise One, we must make a decision.”

“Let us hold a The Grand Council tonight. Summon the all of the Aphid Nobles here and we shall discuss the matter.”

“It shall be done”, said Tinkin, and turning, he exited the hall, his green cape fluttering, his right hand over his heart, and storm clouds brewing in his dark eyes.

The Aphids began to migrate in a large unruly mass out of the Hall. They were all terrified and trembling. There was no whirring or clicking, but only the hushed shuffling of Aphid feet across the stone floor.

“Meow”, said Ember. Juliette scratched her behind the ears, and so the kitten began to purr.

“Is there a library of any sort here? I’d be curious to know if there is any history of the Locusts we could read here”, asked Juliette of Kintin who had joined them.

“There is a library. I could take you there. I will need to translate the writings for you, but I am versed, and can do so.”

Down a long wide corridor, through archways and around several turns, and through towering halls they eventually came to a long narrow stone chamber whose walls were shelves upon which were many thousands of scrolls made of barkpaper. The chamber was silent, and there was a certain musty smell there. They soon found a librarian, who was sitting at a small wooden desk piled with scrolls. With her assistance they collected a number of scrolls which Kintin rolled out onto the broad reading table.

“Here is a scroll from the early days that speaks of the first coming of the Locusts”, said Kintin.

“Originally the Locusts were Grasshoppers and they lived alone. They dwelled by themselves as individual heroes. But at some time in the distant past the region they lived in became scarce of food, and they became more and more concentrated into a small area where there was still vegetation. They competed more and more fiercely for the food and became more and more aggressive, and transformed into beasts who tore one another from limb to limb and devoured everything in their path, and then they banded into a gigantic swarm and flew into the sky. At this time they transformed into the Red Locusts and they came swarming out of the mountains and devoured everything in their path, including each other. Most forms of life in the region died of starvation after the Locusts came. All that was green had been eaten away down to the roots. And the world turned grey and brown.”

Kintin went on to read that the swarms occurred every few hundred years or so, the last swarm having occurred 800 years before the current day. Kintin also mentioned that the Locust-Ambassador that they saw was a Noble Locust, a human manifestation of his race. A Noble Prince among the Red Locusts.

“If the Locusts swarm in the direction of this valley, there will be nothing left. No green thing will survive. Ten billion Locusts will come in a great black cloud upon the winds.”

“If the Wise One lies to the King then the Locusts won’t come?”

“The last several times the Locusts threatened to come such tactics were used by the former Wise Ones, and this is why it has been 800 years since the last swarm”, replied Kintin. “One might be tempted to think of it as a form of blackmail.”

“I see. So if the Wise One tells the truth, the land will be destroyed, but if he lies then he saves the valley but destroys his own soul. A terrible choice”, said Ben with a frown.

“Isn’t it indeed? Terrible”, added Morgana.

“The difficulty is that the Ants are a very proud people, and do not give away their food lightly to anyone, ever. Without it, they will starve”, Kintin went on. “Of course, to a large degree it is Aphid labor that supplies them with the food, but from their point of view it is still their food.”

“If we were to get big then it would be pretty easy for us to get enough food for the Locusts, since they are so little. We could cut down grasses from the meadow and till the fields and bring them the food”, said Juliette with sudden enthusiasm.

“I don’t think that will be enough for them”, replied Storm Wizard shaking his head.

“Indeed”, added Kintin, “the Locusts are demanding that the Ants give them ALL of their food.”

“But what will the Ants eat then?”, continued Juliette.

“Nothing. That’s the point. The Ants would all starve”, said Kintin.

“Ah. That’s not going to go over well with the Ants, then, is it?”, asked Storm Wizard rhetorically.

“That is why the Ants will not take this lightly”, said Kintin. “This is why the Locust showed up here. They know that the Wise One of the Aphids has great influence, perhaps the greatest, with the King of the Insects. And if he can be persuaded then the Ants will obey him.”

“What influence does the King have on the Locusts? Any?”

“Well, um, the King has some influence, but he can not force the Locusts to do something against their will without a great deal of force being involved. He could rally the rest of the Insect Kingdom, but he has not done that before. It would amount to a great war of the Insects, and there are Many who would very possibly rally with the Locusts against the more peaceful Insect Races, such as ours. In the past when the Locusts have been appeased they remained beyond the mountains. But when they have not been appeased, as happened in the past, then they form their Great United Army, and in a huge black cloud descend upon the land and devour everything. In a few days the whole of the land is picked clean of every green thing, and nothing survives”, pronounced Kintin grimly.

“The King is like a sacred figurehead. He can announce decrees but they are not necessarily followed. He does have loyal followers who will do his bidding. Such as the Ants who believe strongly in Law and Order. But whether they could stand against the Grand United Army, it is improbable”, he continued. “The Locusts are too large and too fierce.”

Kintin continued reading the scroll before him, unrolling the pages slowly, he recited, “When the Locusts came 800 years ago, it took 10 years for them to arrive after the Ambassador his Ultimatum was delivered. The Locusts have Seers who foresee the famines before they come, are forewarned in this way by the Elkron. The distance through time that their Seers can see depends on the conditions of the era. The least is one year. The most is ten years.” Kintin stopped reading there and thought to himself. Then he continued, “Either way, the scribe informs us that the Grand United Army of the Locusts will come on the winds sometime after they deliver their Ultimatum, unless they are appeased. There is nothing else written.”

“If there was some way to prevent the drought or famine then there would be no need to appease the Locusts”, thought Storm Wizard aloud. “So what you really should be doing is building an irrigation system rather than giving them all your food. At least then you do it once and your done.”

“That’s not a bad idea, I guess, but frankly, I don’t know how we would do such a thing. We are insects, not humans who build things.”

“The Ants are marvelous engineers, though”, said Storm Wizard hopefully.

“In any event, I don’t know that the Ants would agree to do it. The Ants and the Locusts have been traditional enemies for many thousands of years. It is hard to imagine them volunteering to build an irrigation system for the Locusts”, commented Kintin.

“Even if the result is that the Ants must give the Locusts their food?”, furthered Storm Wizard.

“Well, their response will probably be simply to refuse”, said Kintin.

“But then everyone will die because of the swarm”, said Juliette dismayed.

“The attitude of the Ants is that if they don’t get to have food, why should anyone else?”, said Kintin. “After all, they expect the King to defend their Right to keep the fruit of our labors. That, they say, is what a Just King should do. So it is not so simple. If the King fails to execute Justice then those loyal to him may lose heart and reject his Reign. This too has happened in the past.”

“So what would happen if their Locust Ambassador never came back?”

“I do not know”, replied Kintin thoughtfully scratching his chin.

“Probably nothing”, thought Storm Wizard.

“Could well be”, concluded Kintin.

“If that one fails to come back, they would probably send another, and another, and so on. Eight billion Locusts could probably send a lot of Ambassadors”, Storm Wizard continued.

“And their Seers might see it, too.”, pointed out Juliette.

“Possibly. But I do not think their Seers can see everything everywhere.”

“But, you might not know if they could”, replied Juliette.

“We Aphids know more than most”, responded Kintin with a bit of annoyance in his tone. It must be difficult for aphids to endure, but most people quite underestimate the tiny little farmers.

“I see”, said Juliette and went back to cuddling Ember who was purring happily in her lap.

Kintin spent the rest of the evening in the Library speaking about these things with the ‘Steel Wool Sheeps’. They learned that the Locusts were not very intelligent, and perhaps could be tricked in some way. Storm Wizard supposed that if the Locusts ate each other, then perhaps if they could be induced to circle around in the desert they might wind up devour one another and eliminate themselves.

“A fascinating proposal”, said Kintin.

That would require a lure, of some sort, suggested Storm Wizard. However, the problem, they realized, was that the Locusts travel on the winds from the East to the West, and so luring them off that path would be very difficult, even if they had such a lure. Perhaps, they considered, they might be able to some how turn the winds so that they would circle around the desert, but this seemed to be something that required a power they did not possess. Perhaps they could pray to the Elkron, but there was no guarantee that this would work. It was then suggested that they might lure the Locusts elsewhere, to another valley perhaps, but this suddenly struck Kintin as somehow immoral, and he was opposed to the idea. He found some sense of justice, however, in the idea of the Locusts devouring themselves in the desert chasing after an illusionary lure. He would, he told them, bring this idea to the Wise One.

They also learned that the Grasshoppers, as individual heroes, are a great people with whom the Aphids got along very well. They are great poets and warriors, Kintin explained. They have great tales of adventure always exploring the world. Sometimes they even help the Aphids. Not to mention, but the Grasshoppers are really very funny people, too. Always quick with a witty line, or a silly limerick. It’s just that when they turn into Locusts they become the threat of the world.

“Why”, said Kintin. “Why this very Ambassador might be someone whom we knew a year ago, but in his Transformed state we do not recognize him, nor will he remember us. He might have saved countless Aphids over the years. It would not be a surprise.”

Juliette suggested that since they might be able to create a large Locust cage in the path of the Locusts and trap them in it. This was mulled over but they decided it might not be entirely practical as the cage would need to be five miles wide and eight miles long.

The notion of burning a great fire in the path of the Locusts was suggested, but how they would get enough wood into the desert for that baffled them. Kintin drew a map of the region for them showing where the desert, mountains and forest were located. They realized that the Locust Grand United Army would in all likelihood swarm over the Black Forest, which is where they happen to be at the moment, standing inside a stone on the top of a ruined tower at the top of Black Hill, which was situated at the far Eastern edge of the Black Forest. It was briefly noted that they could ignite the entire Black Forest itself on fire, in order to save the valley. This was suggested, but quickly put out of mind, as the forest was right there, and for all they knew it might perhaps be listening. And as Kintin said, “The Forest doesn’t necessarily *want* to be lit in fire.” The forest, they realized, would most certainly not take kindly to that plan. An effective lure would be needed. Other plans of varying practicality were discussed late into the night.

“The duty of the Wise One is to tell the King the Truth. And because he does so, this is why the King trusts the Holy Aphid. Thus, you can see the difficulty of the decision.”, Kintin said.

“So essentially it comes down to the Wise One’s word whether the Ants will act or not”, concluded Storm Wizard. “It seems like Appeasement is the best choice, as the only alternative is for the valley to be destroyed.”

“Perhaps”, said Kintin, “But not with this Wise One. The Wise One you met tonight is the greater than all of the Wise Ones that have come before. He knows more of the lore of the plants, and more of the Celestial Song than any before him. Nor will he likely tell the King a lie. Whether it brings down the doom upon us, who can tell? We must wait and see!”

They suddenly realized that quite a long time had passed and remembered the Council Meeting. And so they thanked the Librarian, and departed hastily toward the Great Hall.

And so we leave our heroes as they hurry off to make it to the council chamber on time...

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