A young woman ambled from the angled stones that towered into the sky, creating the eastern side of the Thrummed Mountains. Her clothes were torn, and she was covered in blood. Her short hair stuck to itself as the blood in it congealed under the relentless beating of the sun. She grabbed fistfuls of the viscous goop and tossed it to the ground as she walked, creating a small trail leading directly to her village. Upon entering the leaning walls of her town, she collapsed on the main thoroughfare.
When she awoke, she found herself cleaned and re-dressed with bandages covering the worst of her wounds. Slowly she climbed to a sitting position, groaning with every movement as she went. With each shift of her body, her muscles and bones ached and screamed until her face contorted, not to settle until a short while after she had stopped moving. She looked over herself and counted the wounds she could see; she then made note of the number of bandages that covered her arms and legs. Her skin was a stark contrast against the white bandages that had been woven around her. Before she could even think about trying to walk, an elderly man shuffled in; his right leg was missing, but he made do with a wooden crutch, one that did not appear to be too comfortable while it was wedged under his arm.
“You know you will get a belting if you don’t lay back down.” He said as he made his way to a small stool near her.
“You will get an even bigger one for not being in your cottage Mr. Parigate.”
“Now listen, young miss, we have discussed this. I am Sam, you may simply call me Sam, and in return I shall call you Charell.”
Charell turned her head painfully to view Sam from a better angle.
“I think you suit the name limp-y much better, or maybe one leg.”
“One leg? Feels a bit on the nose, and here I was thinking you were intelligent.”
“Oh, sorry. First name One Leg, second name, In the Grave.”
Sam grinned as much as his scowled face would allow. Looking over Charell, he tapped her on the leg with his crutch, watching her face as he did so.
“Think you got any venom in ya?”
Charell pushed away Sam’s crutch with a limp hand.
“If I did, I wouldn’t be here.”
“True.” He replied simply.
The two of them sat quietly in each other’s company. Neither of them was concerned about one another; they just sat as old friends. Charell tried on multiple occasions to rise from her bed, but each time she moved, she was caught by the crutch of Sam and a stern look but no words.
Echoing stamps of heavy falling feet started to be heard in the small cabin the two resided in.
“You better run or hop.”
“You think I can out-hop her? It is already over.”
The mass behind the footsteps squeezed through the doorway into the medical tent, looming behind Sam. He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise as the feet came to stop; two large hands fell heavy onto his shoulders with a tight grip.
“Why are you out of your cottage Sam? I told you that leg needs to settle, or you will get an infection and die, and I don’t let my patients die.” The nurse growled as she slowly brought her hands up, dragging Sam with them.
Sam propped himself up with his crutch and was led out of the room; the nurse turned around at the last minute to look at Charell.
“I will return to put you down; no more sitting up and no lying down without me. If you move too much on your own, you will die.”
The nurse turned out the door and started to usher Sam back to his housing as Charell sat in her silent room once more. She contemplated shifting down but feared the stifling grip of the nurse and the boom of her voice when she was angry. Charell tapped her hands on the coarse blanket to distract herself but found that it only made her more conscious of time not passing by, so she stopped.
“urgh god, what is taking her so long to get Sam away? He isn’t this much trouble.” Charell muttered as she tried to peer out the entrance of her tent.
Suddenly the loud footsteps started to thump again, and Charell was waiting for the nurse to come barrelling in again, but she didn’t. Charell listened closer, and the footsteps sounded fast and numerous. Much faster than any one person could run, especially the nurse. Her eyes widened for a single moment before she laid down in her bed; despite the agony she pushed herself through, she did not groan. Grabbing the nearest bottle of medicine, she dowsed herself with the contents, forcing her to stifle gagging reactions as she pulled the sheets up and over her head. His heart pounded as she listened to the stomping feet of the thing that was outside her tent.
Peering through the poorly crafted sheets, she watched the door with obscured vision and a knot in her stomach. She shifted the sheet periodically to change which part of the entrance she could see until eventually the curtain of the tent started to lift.
Charell watched as the large, clicking mandibles of a bull-sized Hornet walked in. Its antenna tapped around the room as its head clicked from side to side. The Antenna slowly danced their way over to Charell’s bed, seeming to take a long pause on her legs. Panic set in as she realized that she had not covered her legs with the medication. She held her breath on hoping for a miracle, watching them as the hornet slowly made its way up her body but recoiling at the smell of the medicine. It furiously rubbed its antenna and spat a blob of mucus out as it had run its antenna through its jaws. Shaking its head, it slowly turned around and stomped out of the tent.
Charell felt light-headed for a moment, then, with sudden exasperation, she took a deep inhalation of air. Her breathing was intense for the next few moments as she recovered herself.
“How did it survive?” She called out in hushed tones as she clambered to her feet.
She kept one hand firmly placed under her ribs as she struggled to the edge of the tent. Peering out cautiously, she watched as the gigantic wasp would stomp around, sniffing into the air and its surroundings. The wasp found a fresh carcass that was being worked on by the butcher and started to feast with a ravenous hunger. Looking around, she spied several others doing the same as her, cowering in the safety of their homes, peering out of windows and cracks in doors. After eating its fill of meat, its wings started to thrum as it took flight, displacing all the dirt and dust, sending it flying into the air under the intense power of its wings. It flew back to the mountains, leaving the town in eventual silence. Everyone started to sheepishly step out of their hiding places to gather in the main courtyard, all staring towards the wasp as it disappeared into the distance.
Everyone slowly turned to face Charell as she stood leaned to one side with her hand wrapped around her ribs for support. She looked panicked as her mouth opened slightly to give answers that failed to come forth. The leader of the town stepped forward from the crowd and stood before her with an ornate spear that was topped with the stinger of a giant wasp.
“You were given a choice, the same one as all the others that left the town to enter those mountains. Exile, or redemption.” The leader slowly started to walk to Charell as she continued to speak. “The charge was to rid the mountains of the nest that raids this area, one small nest of four, and your prize was the ability to return to our village, to live among those you love, to receive the medical care that would otherwise be denied to you.”
The leader loomed over Charell with a terrible scowl.
“So tell me, if the nest is still active, why have we treated you? If your charge is incomplete, that means that you are still a criminal, and we do not treat criminals as we treat our own.”
He growled as he grabbed one of the wounded parts of Charell’s shoulders and pressed his thumb into it, causing her to scream and fall to her knees. She looked back up with hatred in her eyes as tears slowly fell from the corners of her eyes.
“Do you think we went in there to kill those wasps?”
The leader turned his head slowly as he waited for Charell to continue.
“We started our journey into the mountains with the idea of retaining our place here. But after a very little conversation with one another, we managed to piece together information that was too spread out to be seen before. We know everything.”
Charell slowly stood to one knee, then pushing against her knee, she groaned as she stood to her feet, staring up at the leader’s face as this face of rage had a veil of fear hiding behind his eyes.
“We figured out what has been happening with the local towns and how you are responsible for…”
With a loud crack, Charell was struck down to the ground by the Leader.
“Silence your mouth, criminal; we won’t believe your lies here.” He screamed, spitting on nearly every word.
“What’s wrong? Thought you liked it when your girls defied you. Doesn’t it make it more fun?”
“You are going to die a no one, no one will miss you, and our lives will go on. You have done nothing with your life.”
The leader rose his spear above his head and was prepared to lung, but stopped as the air started to come to life with vibrations. Charell smiled as those behind the Leader started to look around in confusion.
“What is wrong? Never heard the sound of a hundred hives all coming out at once?”
“What did you do?” The leader said as he lowered his stance and aimed his spear towards the mountains.
Charell coughed blood to the ground with a grin.
“Turns out, the workers may seem like dumb insects, but their queen is beautiful; we found her inner sanctum. We met her, and she spoke with the soft words of a mother; she told us about her struggles, and we listened. We heard her words vibrate in our skulls and could not help but help. The All Queen has ruled for too long, the Hive Queen shall rise, and she shall take the throne that she is owed.”
Charell stood tall with her arms raised high into the air as the townsfolk started to run. But before they could even reach the walls of the town, a roar of wings resonated above the town, hundreds of gigantic wasps descended upon the town and started to consume everyone. Those who evaded being grabbed were quickly stung and carried away as limp bodies, while those still alive were carted off, wriggling and screaming.
“Can you not feel her glory Leader? Her voice, I can still hear it in my mind; it is soft and caring.”
“Caring? You have killed us all. Do you think she will let you live? You are nothing but feed, you fool.”
Charell started to laugh and cry, a forced smile as she was lifted from the ground by one of the wasps. She watched as her Leader was struck down by two wasps and carried away as a corpse. Charell looked up to the wasp carrying her; she felt it curl her up with care and press her into the soft fuzz that lined its carapace. Warmed by the fur and cooled by the rushing air, she found herself slowly falling asleep, not sure if she was ever to wake up, but not really caring.