Fly’s buzzed as they tried to land on Aranid’s sweat-covered face. He swatted them away as he made his way through the water-logged swamp. His footsteps fell heavy into the loamy soil, a sucking noise sounding as his feet fought to leave their muddy embrace. He palmed over a soiled piece of cloth in his hand, a small verse written in a foreign language. He constantly looked down at the fabric, reciting the words under his breath before looking to the canopy of the swamp. Distracted by the canopy, he failed to see a protruding root and fell flat onto his face, dropping his fabric into the waters.
“Oh no, no, no, no. Where did you go?”
He drove his hands under murky waters and violently searched for the fabric. Pulling a clenched fist from the waters, he had the fabric in hand. Wiping the clingy weed from his face, he looked forward and found himself facing a large gaping hole in the swamp.
“I am here. Finally.”
Pulling an amulet from his pocket, he carefully got back onto his feet. Making his way into the mouth of the cave, he pulled out a vial with a liquid in it. Shaking it vigorously, it started to glow with a pale light. Taking corner after corner, Aranid made his way into the refined cave that wound its way into the planet.
“I think I may be further in than I want to be; I should probably head back.” He said as he looked around at the still continuing caves.
He spun on the spot to ensure he was not being watched. Before taking his first step, he stopped, looking upwards. Above him, a large and walked cautiously along the ceiling of the cave, facing Aranid while adjusting its footing. Aranid took a quiet step straight onto a loose stone, creating a slight commotion. The ant dropped with haste onto Aranid; he instinctively fell straight onto his back, narrowly avoiding the initial strike.
“Ke asc ei keskra keires.” Aranid yelled as he held the amulet above his face.
The large form of the ant straightened its legs and moved off of Aranid. Inside his mind, he could hear a voice speak to him.
“You do not look like royalty; has my solitude made me blind to my kind? You do smell of a king.”
Aranid spoke through his mind.
“I am not, but I have the fertility gel that could make a queen if you were to ingest it.”
Aranid waved the amulet again; the ant watched as a liquid started to swirl in the glass orb center of the amulet.
“Judging by how barren these caverns are, I say your queen has since died. I offer this collection of male elate liquid in return for a favor.”
The mandibles of the ant clicked together as it stared longingly at the amulet. It stepped forward slightly and looked up at Aranid.
“What, what do you want?”
“I want your children to be my army; I want to conquer the goblin kingdoms that reside in the Flayed forest.”
The ant stared longingly at the amulet.
“All I want is my sisters to roam these caverns once again; you give me that, I will give you them to slaughter the squishy goblins.”
The ant started to move forward, but Aranid raised it away from her.
“I want this to be clear; I do not want to slaughter them. I want to conquer them. You are to be the start of my army; they are the next additions.”
Aranid lowered his arm and tossed the amulet onto the ground between him and the ant. She quickly scurried over and picked it up in her mandibles, and rubbed herself up against Aranid.
“This will give you my smell; my sisters shall not touch you.”
Aranid grabbed her head and pulled it close.
“These shall not be your sisters; they will be your daughters. You are queen now.”
Aranid kissed her forehead before bowing to her. Her body twitched with excitement. She turned and ran down her caverns.
“Go now, my ant queen, retreat to your royal chambers; together, we will conquer this land.”
Aranid looked around at his surroundings. “I have a lot of work to do to make this suitable for me. Goddamn, this would be so much easier if the others were here. Mainly, Dell, I wish Dell was here to do all this sodding labor I have to do.”
Aranid made his way back up to the surface, being greeted by a party of gnats that sucked at his blood and buzzed around his face. He slapped at them, crushing their bodies against his skin. No matter how many he killed, more seemed to take their place.
“Of course, I get the swamp; the others probably investigating a whore house, or a bathhouse, or just not a gnat-infested swamp.”
Already able to feel the poison of the bite forming red itchy lumps on his skin, he gave up fighting. He took off his bag and pulled out a small hatchet. He started to hack away at the protruding roots and started his pile of water-logged kindling. Hours in, and he had a pile of wood that he transported back into the ant lair. He picked the highest chamber and started to make stockpiles of resources.
“Wood, food, soft moss for bedding. I just need water that isn’t infested with insects and muck.”
Aranid sat down, tired from working the last few hours.
“Shia, if you could just use your magic to somehow teleport me some fresh water, that would be appreciated.” He waited for a moment, lowering his head in frustration. “Yeah, I thought so; I guess I am back to it.”
He went to head back up to the swamp but stopped; looking down into the caves, he decided to descend. Heading to the furthest chamber, he found the new ant queen, already starting her egg-laying process. Looking around the chamber, he noticed a spring of fresh water.
“Ah, just as I thought.” He turned to the queen. “Do you mind if I tap from your water?”
The queen was straining in the corner of the chamber, already amassing a pile of eggs.
“Bring me water. Then take for yourself.”
Aranid grabbed his water container and brought it over to the queen; she quickly lapped up what she needed before continuing her efforts.
“Stay steady, my queen; I don’t want you to die before you have made my army.”
Aranid made his way back to the highest chamber, storing his water away. Sifting through his bag, he grabbed a chain of mouthpieces for his flute that all had unique designs. He sifted through them till he found one he deemed to be useful.
“This one should be what I need.”
He attached it to the end of his flute and walked out of the cave, once again submerging his feet into the ankle-deep marsh waters. Closing his eyes, he started to play, the tune vibrating the air as it made its way across the waters. The waters bubbled and stirred as multiple swells started to appear, all traveling towards Aranid. Surfacing, three large alligators emerged and stood before Aranid, hissing with the sound of a thousand snakes. Their eyes grew dull as a sheen of black covered them.
“You are a start; I am a little disappointed that in the radius this thing sounds, I only got three of you. You three will have to manage patrolling this cave mouth. No one enters besides me or the ants that reside within.”
The alligators started to disperse and patrol the entrance of the cave. Aranid changed his mouthpiece again and began his song once again. This time a cloud of bats started to swirl above, their eyes glazing over with the same black glow as the alligators.
“Patrol the skies and the surroundings, spread yourselves out through the trees and be my eyes. Contact me if you see anyone who approaches this cave.”
The cloud of bats swirled a little longer before spreading themselves around the area. Aranid closed his eyes once again, grasping the mouthpiece tightly in his fist. He concentrated. Opening his eyes, they shone black, and his vision faded. Vision returned to him, but not his own. He peered through the eyes of the alligators, shifting his focus; he cycled through the eyes of the bats that scattered themselves through the trees.
“This coverage should be suitable; now I just have three months before my army starts to spawn. Until then, I guess I will wait.”