The morning sun was just beginning to rise above the crowns of the forest, slowly scaring away the delicate tendrils of fog, uncovering an huge structure. Resting on the branches of one of the largest trees, this mudbrown, roughly ovoid form, littered with a multitude of recesses, makes for a bizarre sight. Even more curious are the lights, tiny by comparison, darting around, constantly changing their color, flashing in and out of existence.
Having gazed upon this, one might be confused at first and look for the key, that special detail, which might make this construct either an obvious figment of the imagination or, shockingly, real. The paths of the lights are hard to track at first, but gradually, as the eyes grow accustomed, it becomes apparent that the object is important to them. Some flit away, disappearing into the remaining fog; Some crawl around its surface, eventually disappearing in one of the recesses; Others appear to dance with each other in close proximity of it, as if they were swarming.. .
The word hive comes to mind.
The dwellers and creators of this impossibly large nest would then be..
The hive smelled of unrest.
Since a couple of days ago, when some scouts brought news of an tribe of driver ants heading toward the hive, the wisp flies were busy with fortifying their nest. They had closed most of the entrances by filling them with rubble and cementing them with resin. They had moved the queen, the drones, the larvae and most of the stock into the upper part of the hive, leaving the only ways remaining to exit or to enter at the top, far from where the ants would probably strike. Nevertheless, the lower part was not void of life. A few Workers - the old, the weak, the infected - had been ordered to keep guard, and, in case of an invasion, to sound the alarm. Having done their duty, they were ought to sacrifice themselves, throwing their weight against the enemy, clawing, stinging, biting until either wisp fly or ant would perish. The scale of fortune would probably tip towards the bulky ants.
The smell didn't come from these wisp flies.
They knew from the very first moment of their life, instinctively, that their fate was to serve. The queen mattered, the drones mattered, the larvae - as a group - mattered.
An worker did not. Especially not when old and infected by the plague. So, especially, not this One.
Despite its fate, this wisp fly was hanging onto a wall, resting on its two rear leg pairs, its wings folded up, its head tilted, dimly illuminated by the orange glow of luminescent moss, seemingly unaware of the black rimmed sores at its abdomen.
Without a move.
A faint vibration shook the tree.
Slowly, It became more and more intense, until it had turned into an audible roar.
Suddenly, They reached the hive.
The impacts of countless ant feet on the walls of the hive sounded like a once in a millennium downpour, destined to flush away the hive. For endless seconds, this was the only sound audible. Eventually, another supervened it.
The faint sound of mandibles trying to bite through hardened resin.
The worker issued a series of short piping bursts, hisses and clicks.
It appeared to change its stance in an instant: The head jolted up, compound eyes fixed on the barrier; The wings and shards unfolded halfway and quaked; The whole body lowered and leaned backed back on its hind legs.
Vague shadows moved behind the barrier. It crumbled.
The very moment an ant poked its head through the hole, the Worker pounced, folding up its legs and wings midflight, propelling itself down into the breach, while simultaneously letting off an explosion of pipes and hisses.
The ant recoiled, uselessly though, as the wisp fly's shards and fiery glowing wings blossomed in front of its head.
The impact robbed the ant of its foothold and both of them began to fall towards the distant ground. The wisp fly tried to take flight, but the ant had bit onto a wing. As they tumbled, each tried to get an advantage over the other. The worker saw an opportunity to rid itself of the ant and took it.
Abruptly, it was free - a branch had stopped the ants fall rather suddenly. Unfortunately, that meant that the Worker now lacked a part of its wing, leaving it only just capable of controlling the fall.
Miraculously, the worker cleared the branches and found itself race along the stem.
Something strange happened: the Worker corrected its fall in the way that it was now falling head first, its wings folded up, as well as its legs.
Accelerating further, it was only seconds before the inevitable would happen, yet somehow, the wisp fly, as alien as it was, looked...
peaceful. Almost like it was enjoying itself.
Certainly not an impression one would expect from a mere insect.
It continued to fall, eventually disappearing between the gargantuan roots of the tree.
For aeons, the spirit had watched her tribe slowly descend into what it had become now. In the first few millennia, she was able to hold off the erosion of their culture, defending them against the evergrowing forces of oblivion. Eventually though, her powers decaying with the Magic seeping out her world, she succumbed. Bound in her eternal prison, the spirit was forced to witness everything fall apart she valued, everything what had led her to sacrifice herself in the first place. Her sorrow was endless. In her last effort to remain sane, she closed herself off from the world, unable to watch any longer, curled up on herself, vegetating along as time went past, alone and forgotten.
Suddenly, the spirit sensed something. Another mind, seemingly alien, but strangely familiar, grazed hers. She examined it. A veritable flood of impressions poured into her, almost stunning the Spirit.
Weakness, Plague, Death, Haziness, Attack, Ants, Commitment, Ants, Pain, Leaves, Branches, Water, Darkness, Hive, Lights, Awe, Sky, Flight, Serenity,... Spirit...
'One of mine', she realized.'Dying..'
Emotions she thought to be long gone and never to return welled up inside her.
She hesitated. A manifold of considerations crossed her mind.
Ultimately, the spirit decided to take her chances.
Cold, smothering darkness surrounded her.
As she waited for the end, bluish glowing stars began to appear all around her, growing stronger by the moment.
'The Ones-from-before have arrived to guide me', she thought, rejoicing.
All the greater was her disappointment when the lights suddenly vanished.
Confusion seized her mind. This wasn't supposed to happen.
'Am I not worthy?', she asked the darkness around her.
Underneath her, far down, a flash of light erupted.
It soared up, scaring away the darkness, blinding her, permeated her entire being.
For a very long moment, she was not just one, but two distinct individuals, unbelievably vast and tiny at the same time.
She saw her own memories, from her birth, over her strangely repetitive seeming everyday life, briefly hesitating at the moment where her infection with the plague became apparent, right to the moment were she plunged toward the ground; Next,
she saw her people how they once were, each one distinct, valued, unique; Not slaves in the battle for survival, but part of a community, led by wisdom. She saw huge ugly creatures, giving to her ancestors and receiving something else in return.
She saw how the Magic began to disappear, how her people grew infertile and dwindled in their numbers and how the last of the Wise were forced to change them and themselves, hoping one day Magic would return. She saw the other mind, waiting for a moment that would not come.
As quick as these memories had assailed her, they stopped. Two questions formed in her mind.
'Do you understand? do you accept?'
It took her a moment to realize that the questions were addressed at herself and a few more to realize what they meant.
'Yes, but...how?', she asked.
Instead of an answer, the light grew dimmer. She could feel something lift her up, right before she lost consciousness.
Her body felt far away, almost like she was controlling it from a distance. She drifted closer. The first thought entering her mind was detritus.The second inquired what detritus might mean. The third answered in detail.
She paused, baffled.
She stood up and examined herself.
The signs of the plague were gone, her previously damaged wing healed and the colors of her carapace were of an intensity that they never had before.
While examining herself, she noted incidentally that she was on a small beach in a cave, lit by moss and a lance of light originating from one small ragged hole in the ceiling. An inky body of water took up most of the space. Her eyes fixed themselves on the hole. She could hear herself think:
'The water probably broke my fall as - Well, that and I.'
Dazed, she asked:
'Are you the one who helped me?'
Just for a moment, an unreal mixture of confirmation and sleepiness overcame her.
'I gather you're are exhausted, then. I'll let you rest.'
Gratuity. An image of her hive, underlined with urgency, then silence.
She rose into the air and , having cleared the hole, began the ascend to her hive, both ecstatic about being able to fly and concerned about the outcome of the battle.
Just as she reached the first branch, the other mind stirred.
Surprised, She didn't see the net swoop down. She tried to wriggle out of it, realizing to late that this only entangled her further. Suddenly, something shook her and she fell.. right into some kind of container. Something slammed onto it, blocking her way out.
A monstrosity came into view. A hole in the front opened and showered her in spit and odd sounds.
"Hah! Hello there, beautiful!" It roared.
Another joined it, at least as ugly as the first. It grunted some weird sounds:
"Great catch, Asander! It appears, we have our specimen!" They disappeared.
A thud could be heard, and a number of choking noises.
Apparently they were fighting over their prey.
Terrified, she tried to escape her prison, but to no avail.
The second head reappeared. She rampaged.
"Relax, cutie, we don't want to harm you." It sticked some kind of claw through one of the holes in her container. Cursing, she tried to sting it - successfully.
"Ow!" It screamed and put the appendage in its mouth, making slurping sounds.
"treacherous little... beast!" it exclaimed.
"Well, i let you calm down, then. At least, I have a name for you now - Kiki." It disappeared.
The last part of that growl sounded remarkably familiar, she thought, as she had cooled off enough to think straight.
'Humans.', the other mind said to her. 'Male'.
'What do they want from us?', she fearfully asked.
After a while, the other answered.
'I don't know.'