“Am I gonna make it, Ms Enid?” the boy begged tearfully.
Enid glanced down at the horrific gut wound the soldier had suffered, her face set in a calming smile.
“You’re going to be fine, soldier,” she soothed him, wiping the sweat from his face with a grimy cloth. “The healers will get to you as soon as they can.”
Fear boiled in the young warriors eyes as he clutched at her. He wasn’t going to make it. Black blood leaked from the wound in his gut. Monster claw, she guessed. She felt helpless, but continued to comfort the doomed lad as his lifeblood drained away.
She’d seen many things in her life, travelling the caravans hadn’t always been safe. On occasion, when her husband had caved to her pestering, she’d even been able to join him on a few delves. The danger had been real and many times she’d feared for her life.
But nothing could have prepared her for this. Even now, she could hear them. The roar, the screams and the clash of steel rang out across the clearing from the wall. Nestled against the side of the ants defences, the human wall had held strong, but the cost had been steep. The medical tent had seen a steady stream of wounded from the moment the battled had begun, and without any healing magic practitioners, there was nothing they could do for those with serious wounds but bandage and clean them. With that done, the injured could do nothing except languish on pallets alongside a growing assembly of their fellow warriors.
Enid had also been on the wall during the fighting. Not for long, of course. She knew she’d only be underfoot when the fighting got hot, however she couldn’t resist the need to see the fight, to share the risk, at least for a time, that her fellow villagers would undertake.
The sight would haunt her for the rest of her life.
As gruesome as it had been at the human wall, the monsters that were their neighbours fought a far more brutal battle. The sight of the monster versus monster combat had been horrifying to behold. Creatures torn to pieces and consumed on the spot, the wounded stomped underfoot or dragged away. The attacking horde howled and shrieked until ones ears rang with pain, but the ants battled in an eerie silence.
Only by their body language was it possible to get a sense of their emotions and that was almost impossible at the best of times. Only when the Queen had emerged had Enid been able to clearly sense their fear. Once that gigantic monster had made herself known and rushed to the front, the ants had become frenzied. Not with rage, or hate. Enid felt sure of it. They had felt afraid. When the lightning had fallen on their Queen, the thousands of monsters had become frantic.
Enid had been afraid at that point. Afraid of what would have happened if the Queen had fallen to the lightning and been torn apart by her attackers. What would have happened to the ants who remained? What would they have done, in their grief and rage? She shuddered to think of it.
“Mary,” Enid called softly to a nearby nurse, “could you get me another cloth, please? This young man needs to have his wounds cleaned.”
The young girl looked down at the suffering young man for a moment before she glanced back at Enid’s face and nodded quietly. The boy gripped her hand tighter.
“Do you know if my brother is okay?” he gasped.
“I haven’t seen him in here,” she reassured him, “I’m sure he’s still fighting.”
He relaxed back onto his pallet.
“I saw him fighting next to the beast,” he forced out, a rictus grin on his face. “He always looked up to her.”
Enid couldn’t help but snort at the use of Morrelia’s nickname. She didn’t know when they’d started referring to her as ‘the beast’ but she sure as heck didn’t want to be about when the young berserker found out. To Enid’s knowledge, Morrelia had been on the wall battling like a maniac the entire time. With her reckless, two handed style it would be a miracle if she hadn’t suffered major wounds by this time.
If only they had healers! Enid would happily cut her left arm off for a decent apothecary even!
Ultimately, Enid had begun to feel despair. What if, despite everything they’d done, it still wasn’t enough. Just like the young boy, who couldn’t be more than fifteen, she felt her hopes slowly dying. She would never let it show on her face or in her demeanour, but she was afraid. Not for herself, but for her people. They deserved so much better than this.
At that moment, she felt a stir run through the medical tent. A wave of energy that crackled in the air. Tension, excitement and fear, all rolled in one.
“Ms Enid!” Mary rushed back, a cloth forgotten in her hand.
“What is it child?” Enid asked, concerned.
“They’ve come! They’ve come to save us!”
It didn’t take long for the question to answer itself. From her position seated on the ground, Enid could see people shuffling to one side, trying to make space for something to make it through. She gasped when the first one came into sight.
Antennae twitched and mandibles clacked as a dozen monstrous ants pushed their way into the medical tent. Without a word or a sign, they split up and move about the tent, each headed to a different wounded. One came right next to Enid and brought its antennae down on the dying lad. When healing mana began to flow down the antennae and into the boy, Enid could hold her tears no longer. As life came back into his face, so too did hope blossom in again inside her.
She did not know where this strange colony had come from, but in that moment she had to admit that Beyn was possibly onto something. How could they not be heaven sent?