Tempest and Harmony – An Underground short story by Dave Rochaon May 10, 2013 at 12:30 PM
As the sun began to cast its warm embrace over him, Raymus began to stir from his slumber. It had been three weeks since Raymus and his colony set up a semi-permanent bivouac to nest. He could sense that the pupal ants they have been sheltering were beginning to emerge from their cocoons and that could only mean one thing … The rage was about to begin anew.
A fire began to build within Raymus as he opened his eyes. Red was all he could see as he and his tribe-mates began to dislodge themselves from the massive ball of ants that was their encampment. Without being able to think or control his actions he was consumed by the co-ordinated fireball of rage that was their prime imperative. The rage directed him to follow his brothers and sisters until they were organized in a long column. As if he was a cell in the body of a large snake, the column surged forward and Raymus became swept up in the rush.
The surging river that was the Rapax colony swept through the forest like a tidal wave snatching up and destroying everything in it’s path. Nothing was safe as ants, spiders and all manner of bugs in their way were crushed into oblivion and then consumed by the living torrent. Raymus struggled to break free from the blood-lust in vain. His Queen’s pheromones had a death grip on his psyche that it was not about to relinquish until they had stopped.
A limb from some poor dismembered bug smashed Raymus in the face and instinctively he crushed it with his massive mandibles almost shedding a tear as he began to eat it without being able to stop or even flinch. This was almost too much for him to handle as his emotions were pushed aside by the compulsion of his Queen. He didn’t know why he was cursed with these emotions. It wasn’t fair or even remotely normal. What did he do to be cursed by nature in this way? The army ant that didn’t want to fight; he was the ultimate conflicted soul.
At that moment the ground gave way from the sheer weight of the Rapax swarm causing Raymus and a few others to fall down what seemed like a bottom-less shaft. Hitting the ground with a thud, Raymus’ world returned to the conflicted “normal” state of emotions he was used to. This distance from the Queen and the impact of hitting the ground were enough to break the spell. Raymus ceased to see red and shook his head to regain his bearings.
High above them, the mobile earthquake from below caused a leaf and its unsuspecting passengers to become dislodged and then gently float into the chasm created by Raymus and the Rapax column. The two silkworms munching away on the mulberry leaf began to realize what was happening.
“WHEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!”, they both exclaimed in unison, enjoying the ride as the leaf swayed to and fro, slowly drifting into the dangerous abyss below.
The other Rapax righted themselves and they all collectively watched the gliding silkworms touch down directly in their midst.
“This is not good”, the first worm said.
“We’re in big trouble this time.”, the second said with trepidation.
“I don’t think mama is around, we’re done for!”
As soon as that was said, all of the Rapax save Raymus continued their imperative and charged the leaf. Raymus was still clear headed and needed to do something quick. They were just defenceless children, obviously not a threat. Without thinking any more about it, he leapt into action. Landing in between his brothers and the larva, he stated his case.
“This is pointless brothers, we should rejoin the column at once.”
“After a little snack.”, one of them hissed.
“Pass me the little one Raymus, she looks tasty.”, another added.
“NO!”, Raymus snapped back with authority.
“Then you will join them in the void, Kaphak!”
All five Rapax were returned to the rage-filled haze of the imperative and charged Raymus. His mind was still clear and knew that he’d have to fight to the death to save these children and himself. He easily grabbed the first ant in his powerful mandibles and tossed him effortlessly into two of the others causing them all to land in a heap. The remaining two leapt over Raymus and landed on the leaf. The smaller of the silkworms gasped in horror as her brother was crushed into a gooey mess and quickly consumed. Raymus spun quickly and saw what was happening and was plunged once again into the rage-filled frenzy. There was something different this time though, he was in control of his actions.
Raymus snapped one of the ants in two and squared off against the other as a breeze hit them. They were underground and it was odd to feel wind. However it wasn’t wind at all; instead it was a majestic silk moth that snatched the remaining worm and quickly escaped to the surface. Raymus was soon surrounded. There was no escape and he fought valiantly, killing three of them before being beaten unconscious and left for dead. The two remaining Rapax climbed to the surface and continued on to rejoin their colony.
“Wake up gentle fighting ant…”, Raymus barely heard as he very gently woke up.
As if the light of a thousand suns shone on him, he opened his eyes widely and then shut them abruptly, wincing in agony. He was in bad shape but not dead as he had hoped. Slowly opening one eye he gazed upon his rescuer with contempt. Before him was a beautiful and elegant silk moth. The light was shining through the forest canopy, seemingly just to highlight the serene and awe-insipiring sight.
Raymus managed to bite a greeting to the Moth, “Why did you save me? Now the Rapax will follow the Kaphak here and destroy this place in order to finish me off.”
“My name is Gretta, Raymus. The other fighting ants won’t find you here. I took you high into the sky before bringing you here. There are no scent trails to follow. You are too far from your former Queen. Raymus you are finally safe from the rage.”
“Why did you do this me? I am Kaphak and deserve to die”, Raymus exclaimed as he tried to stand. He then collapsed from both the pain and clumsiness due to the splints and strong odour from the herbal salves that had been applied to him.
“For two reasons, you saved one of my children.”
“I also allowed one to die.”
“The second; You resisted your Queen’s imperative, Raymus.”
“How do you know my former name? And stop calling that, I am now Kaphak. I am a pariah and they won’t stop hunting me until I am dead.”
“You are now and will always be Raymus, gentle soul.”
Raymus managed as much of a laugh as he could before Gretta continued, “There is great potential for good in you Raymus and I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet you, especially to be given the honour of saving you.”
“You are to become a great protector of the innocent, Raymus. You will see, you cannot escape destiny.”
A leaf across from Raymus shook as a silkworm that was feasting on it came in view.
“Raymus, you were awesome! Swingin and jumpin and mashing em with your mandibles! Way too cool.”, said the small female silkworm with way too much excitement from one who just had a near death experience.
Raymus smiled at her and continued with Gretta, “I won’t be able to escape the Rapax. How do you suppose I escape the smell I leave behind?”
“You are a smart bug Raymus, I will take you to a place where to you will find the missing pieces to your puzzle. For now you will stay with me until you are healed. I will teach you how to master yourself, for that is the key to your survival.”
Meanwhile the Rapax tide continued to sweep the forest looking for the missing Kaphak. “It must be destroyed for that is the will of the Rapax” repeated continually in their collective rage. The consciousness of the rage would not stop, it is eternal. The search would not end as it’s death could not be tasted from the air. They could not smell it any longer as the trail went straight up and then vanished. The Kaphak managed to disguise his trail somehow, but how? It was no matter, the imperative had tasted it’s scent and it would be remembered. They would continue on without him but if it is found again, it will be destroyed and consumed lest it recur. The Rapax continued on.
Several weeks had passed and Raymus’ Rapax physiology had served him well. He had completely healed himself in no time at all and was practicing some martial arts routines that Gretta taught him to help him center his spirit. When he performed the slow gentle sweeping movements of the routine, he did indeed feel at peace. This coupled with some breathing exercises should be enough to help him resist the imperative should the rage return he thought. He is healed and at peace, it is time he move on.
Rhi Xin, Supreme Leader of the Termite Empire stood tall on his steed as he inspected his army. He was decked out in his finest silk and scale armour. A pike was strapped to his back and his sword dangled from a clip on his left side. Pointing at one of the thousands of Chi Drones standing before him he spoke in his most commanding tone, “My loyal soldiers, the forest is ripe for plundering. The only obstacle before us is a measly Rapax nomadic fighting colony. Our goal is not to wipe them out completely, although … I’m not against that either.”
He paused to allow some of his troops to snicker and giggle before continuing , “The queen’s bodyguard and brood will fight to death to ensure the colonies survival. All I require of you is to ensure that they are trapped and destroy each one of the soldiers to the last. If the Queen and her entourage decide to flee at that point, let them. Not a single soldier left though! Kill them all!”
The cavern in which they were assembled in roared with battle cries. The army then began their long march from home. For those of whom that will return, victory is the only option. They shall be victorious or they will not come back. To die for Rhi Xin is their duty. To win for him is their birthright and their highest honour. The army was ready and the enemy would regret being ants soon enough.
Not wanting to risk attack above ground, Raymus took to digging his way to the settlement. Not a usual task for a Rapax soldier but nonetheless being Underground felt right. With dirt and stone all around him, he felt secure and unable to be surprised. By his musings Raymus felt that he was close to the ladybug settlement Gretta had described. A few more meters and Raymus would test his luck with these peaceful bugs. Could they possibly accept him? He was about to find out.
It was a sunny and serene day in the ladybug trading post of Suncalf Harbour. Well as serene as it gets considering the circumstances. The settlement was abuzz with activity as preparations were being made to evacuate should the need arise. Captain of the guard, Ashur, a look of worry on his face turned to his second in command Darius and addressed the current situation, “Darius how much of the harvest were we able to prepare for transport?”
“Only about a quarter, Ashur.”, Darius replied looking despondent. They had been preparing to leave since the termite envoy detailed their plan to trap the Rapax the day before. One day was not enough, but they both believed the stark warning and needed to get out as soon as possible.
Their conversation was interrupted when the ground beneath them began to quiver. Both bugs took to air, hovering just above that spot. Drawing their spears, they began to circle the disturbance just as Raymus came out of the ground shouting, “Wait … I come in peace! I wish to help. I am NOT an enemy.”
With Ashur pointing a spear directly at his throat, Darius began to bind Raymus. “If you actually think a lone unarmed Rapax is going to lull us into complacency, you are sadly mistaken. We know that your clan is headed this way and that there’s no stopping them. We will fight!”
Raymus began to laugh from the bottom of his Thorax. In between laughing fits, he managed to retort, “YOU? HAHAHA , LADY …. HAHAHA …. BUGS, FIGHTING THE ….. RAPAX, HAHAHA.”
Managing to compose himself he got serious, “No you must escape, they will roll right through here destroying everything.”
“That’s not gonna happen, Rapax!”, Ashur screamed at him, venting his anger and hatred at his prisoner by jabbing the spear just a touch. Raymus leaned into the jab until a trickle of blood began to run down his neck.
“I am not Rapax, I am Kaphak. I am being hunted by my people for not wanting to fight.”
“HE’S THE BAIT!”, both ladybugs screamed in unison and began to whisper to each other. Ashur lowered his spear to help Darius untie Raymus. Darius stood face to face with the very confused ant and cleared up his many unasked questions with one sentence, “Rhi Xin of the Termite Empire has somehow acquired prior knowledge of your presence here and had laid a careful trap to destroy your former clan using you as bait.”
“Such a plan can’t possibly succeed!”, Raymus exclaimed. “Oh but it will and there’s nothing that can be done. We don’t even have time to properly to evacuate.”
“The Termites are quite resourceful and have spent quite some time preparing this plan. How they acquired this fore-knowledge is unknown and of no consequence anyways. Our settlement is doomed.”, Ashur felt the need to add. He had seen the plan when Rhi Xin came from the underground to warn them of their defensive preparation. His plan was sound and he himself was unwavering in his ambition. The ladybug’s escape plan was far more hastily planned. Darius and Ashur both agreed to evacuate the population by air as soon as the first termite garrisons arrived carrying as much of their harvest as they could with them and scatter with the hopes of finding a new home eventually. Darius, Ashur and their small group of warriors would stay behind to fight and cover the escape. It was a suicide mission but one he gladly volunteered for. His people would live but he would die.
“Raymus my people will be evacuating soon but our warriors numbering but a handful would like to join you in attempting to repel the Rapax before they reach here.”
“My people cannot be stopped. They will plow right in here if I am allowed to stay; I must be allowed to go far from here as they will track me wherever I go.”
Darius knew that was a useless idea. The Rapax were already here and if Raymus was here, the Termites had drones patrolling the underground in vast numbers to prevent Raymus’ escape. There was no margin of error in their plan except one. “Raymus, I have a better idea.”, he interjected.
“We shall form a protective barrier around you and fly into the Rapax BEFORE they reach here. It’s the only way.”
“I like your thinking Darius, but why not just launch me by catapult?”
Neither ladybug had anytime to counter as the rumble of the Rapax swarm began to shake the ground like a rumbling earthquake. “Launch the evacuation!”, Darius screamed and took to the air as a stunned Ashur and Raymus stood before a surging wall of ants that began to pour into the town.
In the underground the first stage of the termite plan was underway. Numerous tunnels had been carved into the ground, softening it to create a giant pit where the town once was as soon as the weight of the Rapax was thrown upon it. The Autothysis suicide soldiers standing by to seal any escape tunnels moved into position waiting for the imminent springing of the trap.
Kaphak . Kaphak..Kaphak… kaphak …. kaphak … KAPHAK!!!! The Rage had found the kaphak. There was something wrong though, something unanticipated. The ground beneath them was beginning to give way. They have searched for days and the moment of victory was upon them but the Rapax Queen suddenly had a bad feeling creep up from her engorged abdomen. HALT THE ATTACK and bring the kaphak to me!
Rhi Xin from his underground bunker felt the tremor of the collapse from below and raised his hand to indicate the signal to begin phase two. With a battle cry, the Rhi atillery commanders raised the Tersopults from their hiding places and began the bombardment. The Battle of Suncalf Harbour was underway!
As the Rapax shockwave hit them, Ashur spun, swinging his spear catching one soldier in the face and returning to a ready position in time to place a well timed thrust to another directly to the thorax. Raymus saw the move and swung back to back with Ashur, crushing an enemy to bits with his mandibles in the process just as they were overtaken by the swarm.
The ground gave way plunging the entire Rapax swarm and the town along with them into a giant crater. From pre-carved trenches and service tunnels, the Chi drones surrounded the Rapax ball to prevent escape. Behind them tunnel guards exploded themselves in a sticky goo sealing the drones and the Rapax in. The Tersopults also sealed them in with acid-napalm bombs raining from above.
Rhi Xin couldn’t help but smile. They were finished and the harvesting of this great forest could begin.
Raymus and Ashur were pulled into the living ball and brought deep inside, fighting back to back to stay alive the whole way. The Rage seemed muted and too easy to fight off Raymus thought. The Queen must have realized what was happening and called a halt. The individual soldiers making up the bulk of the living ball however had no interest in taking it easy on them and continued to take jabs and shots at them as they were herded still back to back into the Queens living chamber. The Chamber was large enough to accommodate the Queen, her brood, attendants and body guards. The walls were composed of a lattice-work of Rapax soldiers. Ashur and Raymus were dumped out, still back to back before the Queen.
KNEEL KAPHAK!, blasted from the inside of Raymus’ brain. The queen’s command screamed from the inside out threatening to rip him apart despite his mental training, Clutching his head with both hands he yelled, “Get outta my head!”.
Ashur looked up blankly and said, “What?”
“She wants us to show fealty Ashur.”, Raymus managed to get out despite the brain pounding he was taking trying to fight the imperative.
Ashur kneeled before her and presented an update of current events, “Raymus is no longer your pawn and in exchange for allowing us to live, we would like to help you survive.”
“Present your plan ladybug! Make it quick.”
“We will show the only weakness in Xin’s plan.”, Ashur stated matter-of-factly as he unfurled the copy of the battle plan that Xin had left them.
“You’ll see here that the line is relatively weak where you entered the trap. If you manage to take your brood and personal entourage back through the entry point, you may be able to squeeze out while the termites are finishing off the rest of your soldiers.”
“We will try your plan Ladybug, I guess I have no choice, if the Rapax are to survive. In exchange, I will release you and the kaphak if you both swear never to return here on penalty of death.”
“We agree, except for one thing, my name is Ashur, not Ladybug and this is Raymus, not kaphak.”
“So be it Ashur and Raymus. Rise! It is time to ….. retreat.”, she responded with disgust.
Above ground, the Rapax ball was starting to shrink as dead bodies of Rapax and termite drones began to pile up. Drones continued to pour in, in a deadly stream from all directions. The fighting was furious but extremely one sided as ant after ant were felled by termite swords or consumed by the constant sticky acid bombardment from above. Those who unlucky enough to survive the bombardment were picked off by the aerial components of the Termite Army, the Khal Beastriders. Numerous clicking cicadas and their Khal pilots descended from above picking off any ant not already engaged on the ground. It was a bloodbath!
The queen’s royal entourage emerged from the carnage and managed to escape through their entry point as Ashur had suggested. Xin all along had made it clear to let them escape if they tried. His goal was not genocide. He just wanted to make them a non-factor in his future harvesting missions. Having succeeded in his goal, he let them escape and after finishing the complete destruction of the enemy army, they packed up and headed for home.
Not far from the ruins of Suncalf Harbour, the Rapax queen deposited the pair on the ground.
“Now go, never come back here or we will find you.”, the queen said in parting as the Rapax survivors disappeared into the forest.
“Now what?”, Ashur inquired
“Now we find a new home.”