Ruth trudged along, pulling the cart to the Hive Vulnerado entrance. Her energy was perfect, she could have pulled the cart from one side of the Underrealm to the other.
L’yophin, however, was done for.
He was barely on his feet, skittering along. The shock of the fight, Ruth’s shapeshifting, the Ancath revelation had all sunk his body and mind to the depths. He needed rest, quickly. The long journey bore fruit as they stopped at the gates, which was the hangar bay entrance to the grounded hiveship. They stood one hundred and fifty feet high, and a quarter mile long. They needed to be large enough to deploy smaller vessels. L’yophin stood in front of the gate, in between the seams of the entrance.
Ruth was in awe of the massive vessel. L’yophin stated there were several throughout the Underrealm. That also implied the Underrealm was massive, possibly taking nearly the complete radius of the planet. She had little idea how they could have brought it down in the darkness. A possible story for another time.
The door cracked open with a shriek of metal, just enough for both to pass. L’yophin skittered in, and Ruth hurried along, not wanting to test the patience of the door handler. There inside, the green hull of the vessel stood out. It was coiled metal, everywhere. Bright lights shined on them, and a skittering sound came from beyond.
An armored mantis Scarabaeidae arrived with two large beetle Scarabaeidae.
It chittered a greeting to L’yophin, who responded in kind.
Ruth didn’t understand the language just yet, another task for digging into her memories of those she had devoured.
Maw! You’re awake!
“Did we win?”
Of course, where were you?
“Asleep. The pain was too much. That was a Daer-seehn? No wonder they were just scary myths. No one survives.”
“Yeah, there’s that. I still don’t feel too good.”
Well, then take care of yourself. Take as much time to rest as you need.
“This… This is Hive Vulnerado. Whoa,” Maw replied, in awe of the bizarre structures and creatures.
A beetle stepped up to Ruth while L’yophin was speaking. She could not tell it’s mood. She had zero ability to read Scarabaeidae body language. She rolled her shoulders, a Trow tell of nervousness. The beetle mandibles and eyes were impassive; she could gather no information base upon examining the towering being. It wore armor plating, holding twin energy cannons in two of it’s four arms. Ruth casually waved at the larger creature.
The beetle cocked it’s head.
Then it waved back with an empty hand. She waved again and this time it sat there, staring at her. The mantis came to the cart, inspecting the goods inside. It let out a chittering exclamation and whistle at the adamantite. L’yophin chittered an explanation of mining; finding ancient treasures and wanted to sell them.
Ruth felt the immense pressure on her at the sudden culture shock of seeing the alien creatures.
The mantis glanced Ruth with narrowed eyes. She could tell more of his body language and that he was weary of her. The mantis motioned at her to come over, which she obliged, seeing the massive beetles eyeing her.
“You. Trow. State business,” The mantis said in broken glossolalia.
“Me? Oi, this here Dugrum is payin’ me a good bit o’ treasure to pull his cart fing.”
“Weapon,” The mantis demanded, holding out a slender hand.
“Uh, these were me best- oh alrigh’. Don’ scratch ‘em. They’s my favorites,” Ruth said as she relented, handing the pulse rifle and partisan over.
“Demihumans cannot have weapons as dictated by law,” L’yophin explained.
“And they cannot enter without a Scarabaeidae chaperone. And they must pay for each non Scarabaeidae.”
“Tha’s considerate of them, eh? A Trow coul’ ge’ lost ‘ere!”
L’yophin handed a bag of rare gems, which the mantis inspected.
“Move,” The mantis stated curtly. The beetles stared on, with one of the beetles waving back.
“Uh boss? Where to?”
“Rest. Inn,” L’yophin murmured.
He skittered along, the crowds of Scarabaeidae began to thicken. It was strange to Ruth, she felt the crowds were thick but they did not run into anyone. Everyone moved with other Scarabaeidae in mind. L’yophin traveled along, know his way around the complex mazes of shops, signs, and Scarabaeidae. Ruth saw the skies were crowded as well with flying Scarabaeidae, yet not one collided. Where there were going or what they were doing, Ruth did not know.
A massive millipede Scarabaeidae cut a path through the mob as a worm in soil. L’yohpin and Ruth were forced to one side as the long creature skittered by.
“Oi, boss, where’s they all goin’?”
“Nowhere,” L’yophin said, exhausted.
He made several turns and spiraled down a ramp. Down to where the crowds thinned. There, an isolated cul de sac stood a series of strange scrap buildings. One of which had a lit sign with special designs. The whole area was completely out of place.
“There. Inn. Wait here,” L’yophin stated.
L’yophin scurried inside, a moment and chittering later he returned outside.
A small four-foot beetle, clothed in a peach dress with white apron and round bonnet exited out of the inn. She had large mandibles and yellow pastel eyes. She stood on two thick legs and sported four arms, all propped up on her hips.
“That’s it? Just the Trow?”
“And the Anform,” L’yophin stated.
Ruth understood why. Saying she was a Lambent was too confusing. L’yophin gestured at her to get the head.
“Anform, eh?” The beetle asked.
“Oi, boss, where’s ya want it?” Ruth stated, imitating Mik perfectly.
“In the shed,” L’yophin said as he gestured out back.
“L’yophin, you have help now! You always loner. Why get help now?”
“Heavy cart,” L’yophin said with a grumble.
Ruth could tell questions were just an annoyance now. Or more so than usual.
Ruth pulled the cart around the side, putting it in one of the many sheds. Ruth grabbed Soltana before the beetle closed it up, locking it in place before handing L’yophin the key.
“Good to see you again, L’yophin.” The beetle said gladly.
“And you too, Bird.”
“And you, Mr. Trow. What is your name?”
The beetle eyed Ruth, the gesture of suspicion obvious, even for one who could not read the Scarabaeidae body language.
“Name’s Mik, Miss.”
“Mik-miss? Strange name.”
“No is jus’-”
“Names Bird, don’t cause trouble,” She replied curtly as she walked back inside.
They must either dislike Trows or demihumans. I must be careful, Ruth concluded.
They made their way inside, Ruth felt the floorboard giving due to her bulk, the mushroom wood creaked and groaned with each footstep. A five-foot grasshopper Scarabaeidae gazed at the newcomers with a perpetually wide-eyed look before going back to it’s soup.
“Business been slow. Not many travelers.”
“Dangerous,” L’yophin stated.
“I just need a room. Now,” The Dugrum added.
“Verywell, verywell. Wanting to catch up. Have good Twilight,” Bird replied with a wave.
She then chittered something in their language.
L’yophin grunt and chittered something back, waving to Ruth.
Ruth felt Bird’s eyes staring hard at her for a moment before stomping back to the kitchen with her large rubber boots.
L’yophin waved to Ruth, skittering upstairs. Ruth followed with Soltana in her arms.
She’s heavy, Ruth stated the obvious.
Even for a Trow, Soltana was a deadweight.
L’yophin stopped at the room and opened up. Ruth peered inside, seeing several beds, enough for all of them.
“Boss, do I wait outside?” Ruth asked as it might have been awkwar for others to think of a Scarabaeidae and demihuman sharing a room. Racial tensions may be high.
“No, don’t worry. Said you were old war vet.”
L’yophin skittered inside and shut the door as soon as Ruth entered. Ruth propped up the deactivated Lambent on one of the smaller beds. L’yophin went to her, worrying over the fallen Lambent.
“What do you think?”
“Don’t know… She should wake up.”
“I hope nothing is internally damaged…” Ruth prayed.
“We’re so close… Can’t end like this.”
“We have to believe she will be fine.”
“I know… First time replacing her power pack, she shut down for a time.”
“She survived much.”
L’yophin skittered to his bed, nesting down atop it.
Her flesh flowed taking the form of a familiar red-headed Goblin, pre-clothed using her silk ability she took from L’yophin.
“That will always be horrifying,” L’yophin dryly commented.
“You’ll get used to it,” She stated flatly, jumping to a bed.
Ruth felt his eight eyes weighing her. The spider’s brows furrowed as cocked his head left to right.
“So? Who are you?” L’yophin asked, weighing each word.
“I know what I was… What I am now is-”
“Don’t say it; you’re not a monster!”
Ruth shook her head but continued.
“I am a shapeshifter; a chimera. Going by what Basil said, a particularly strange and vicious kind.”
Ruth glanced down, her eyes darting, trying to gather her thoughts.
“I was human, from up above.”
Her heart lept at saying that.
L’yophin’s eyes grew wide.
“I don’t know? Maybe? Yes?”
L’yophin folded his arms, quietly listening.
“I was Abbess. I was caught up in some conspiracy. I was unfortunate.”
“Because I survived.”
Ruth glanced back to the spider, pain evident in her eyes.
“They changed me, implanted these souls into my being. Only through the fight with the Daer-seehn did I find S’yliska. There are more, perhaps.”
“Uh, yeah! Me!”
L’yophin nodded as he relaxed. She could tell his mind was turning over the information.
“Why not eat me?” L’yophin asked bluntly.
Ruth blinked at that, trying to process the sudden pointed question.
“I was tempted to, when I was enroute and when you had caught me as a gob. But then I met you and Soltana… I don’t want to eat others. The Trowform you saw? They gave me no choice…”
L’yophin nodded at that, glancing away.
It was a gesture of knowing. Knowing what it is like being backed into a corner.
“Why are you… Alone?” Ruth asked.
“Scarabaeidae… Are…” L’yophin began, trying to think of the word to say.
He chittered something his language.
“They move, trade, live. But not. No purpose. Empty.”
“The Ancath gave them purpose?”
L’yophin nodded at that.
“Noticed it when I returned. Same questions. Same stories. Vacant Baeidae.”
“This place is… Odd compared to all of the tech in the Hive,” Ruth commented.
“Mm, Bird was a fellow traveler. Saw humans. Learned from them. Good food.”
“Some Baeidae are awake. Most not.”
“Like you? Like Bird?”
“Like all Dugrum. We are… away from- free of- independent of Hive.” L’yophin stuttered, trying to piece together the correct word.
“Dugrum are free thinkers.”
“Ancath’s presence guides us, makes us aware. Drove us farther. And then they didn’t…”
L’yophin closed his eyes, breathing in deeply.
Ruth knew what that meant. She too had lost her people.
And the memory of them.
“L’yophin… I’m sorry. I don’t remember what my people did. But now we have one Ancath again.”
“Happened millenia ago. No longer matters.”
“It does matter. Your people were destroyed. S’yliska-”
“No.” L’yophin stated firmly.
Ruth nodded at that as she glanced away. A sensitive topic needed a sensitive balm of discussion. She hit her wall with L’yophin.
“Good Twilight, Ruth,” L’yophin said as he crashed onto the larger cup-shaped bed.
“Good Twilight, L’yophin,” Ruth state as she stared at the ceiling, pondering her future.
A grumpy grunt emitted from a tired Dugrum.
“Is this what you want?” Ruth asked. She knew it was a hard question, but it bore down on her.
“No,” L’yophin stated flatly.
He didn’t even pause!
“Didn’t know what I wanted. But it is what I need,” L’yophin followed up.
“L’yophin?” Ruth asked again.
Do you like having me here?
She would have asked.
Her body shut down, going into stasis mode.PAGE_BREAK: PageBreak