Chapter 664 – The Siege pt 10

 Despite being surrounded by hostile monsters who, quite rightly, were more than a little suspicious of her, Morrelia felt more at peace than she had in a long time. The Colony weren’t in the wrong, she’d known that all along. The problem was, she wasn’t sure that her father was wrong either. In the end, she decided her conscience would not abide sentencing Anthony and his family to death on the grounds that they might do something in the future. So far, they had only been a force for good and until that changed, they did not deserve to be exterminated.

She knew what this would mean should the Colony turn against the Sapient races in the future. Given enough time, the ants would amass unfathomable strength and should they attack, Pangea would be devastated before they could be stopped. In the end, she had decided it was a risk she was willing to take.

[You really don’t seem to care,] she said to Anthony, [it doesn’t bother you that I betrayed your trust and joined an army that was fighting against you?]

The giant ant looked at her quizzically, his antennae twitching in the random way they did whenever he was confused.

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[No?] came his voice in her mind. [Should I be? I mean, from what you’ve said, you haven’t personally fought us, didn’t pass on any intelligence about us and have given us  a potential key to survival in this conflict. Rather than be mad, I think I ought to thank you.]

Those jagged mandibles clacked happily and Morrelia knew he was about to do just what he’d said he would and thank her. For some reason, she was unwilling to hear that.

[I didn’t even tell you I was going!] she burst out. [I just straight up abandoned the village and the Colony! And for what? To turn around and attack the people I had wanted to save?]

All the guilt that the proud soldier had been suppressing came flooding out, surprising her with the intensity of the emotion. She seethed with rage and self-loathing that had piled up over the weeks as she’d supressed her doubts and fears about her chosen course of action. She felt so stupid now. The indecision and hesitation that plagued her seemed so foolish now, as if those feelings had belonged to another person. She realised her hands had clenched into fists that shook with the strength of her anger and she struggled to release the tension in her body.

[Sigh. Let me just roll over here a bit … Ahhh. That’s a bit better.]

The giant ant in front of her scrabbled in the dirt with his still undeveloped right side legs until he’d managed to tilt his carapace to present his wounded side to the roof.

[You gotta keep the dirt out of it, you know what I mean? Clean wound is a healthy wound. I mean, not healthy, but better. Actually, can monsters even get infections? Is their bacteria in the Dungeon? I’ve never thought of that. Is there monstrous bacteria?! That would terrifying, holy moly!]

[What were you saying again?]

It was infuriating, the way he always turned the conversation away from the darker paths. It was particularly maddening because even now she couldn’t be sure he was doing it on purpose. He was so young. It was easy to forget that some times. The voice that echoed in her mind whenever they spoke belonged to a boy not yet in his full growth. She didn’t know why she always forgot that about him.

[Oh, right. I remember now, the abandonment thing. Look, I really think if you want to make that argument, you’re talking to the wrong species, if you take my meaning.]

He gestured to himself with all six legs, though three of them were smaller than the others, making the motion rather lopsided.

[I’m an ant. Well, I’m an ant now, I suppose. Family is everything to us. I mean, everything. If you told any ant here that you walked out on the village in order to be with your family and you felt bad about it, they’d look at you like you were defective. Then they’d probably insist that you get some sleep. We’re big on that here. Which reminds me.]

There was a brief pause in the conversation as Anthony grew still, his antennae sweeping around the swarming ants around them. Then each of those ants froze in place for a fraction of second before resuming what they were doing, except now with a good dose of nervous energy added into the mix. After spending enough time amongst the ants, it wasn’t too hard to pick up on a few of their emotional tells. The erratic, soft clacks of the mandibles, the incessant antennae cleaning and frequent flexing of the legs were all tells of a nervous ant.

[What did you say to them?] she asked.

[Just reminded them that rest is mandatory.]

Morrelia felt a laugh bubble up in her chest.

[You have to mandate rest periods?]

[Absolutely. Even then we get rebels who try and skip it sometimes.]

[What happens to them?]

[Dark things. I would rather not speak of it. Let us get back to your problems. You went to be with your father and mother. That’s fine and totally the right thing to do. Could you have asked your dad to not almost cut me in half? Sure, I’d have liked it if you did. But you’ve done the next best thing by the sounds of it. You’re absolutely sure he won’t take the field if you’re our prisoner?]

[So long as you get the message out that I’ll be killed should he do so. My mother ordered that he bring me back alive, which means he can’t take any action that would get me killed.]

[Because it’s an order? You don’t think he’d refuse to take the field just because you’re his daughter?]

She hesitated, which told Anthony what he needed to know.

[Yeouch. That’s rough.]

[He might and he might not,] Morrelia slumped over. [His duty is very important to him. I’m not saying that family isn’t, but he has thousands of people, thousands of families to consider when making decisions. He takes that seriously.]

The ant nodded.

[A lack of selfishness. A strong ant-like trait that we respect. I suppose that order might turn into a relief for him. Now he has no reason to refuse to accede, given that it allows him to spare his daughter as well as follow orders. Wait a second… did you say your mother gave the orders? Your mum is even stronger than your dad?! What is up with your family?!]

Morrelia could only shrug helplessly.

[I didn’t even realise how strong they were growing up. It just seemed normal to my brother and I.]

[You have a brother?]

The old and familiar pain stirred up.

[I had a brother.]

An antenna came down and patted her on the head.

[I’m sorry for your loss. The loss of a sibling is a painful thing. I have lost many in this lifetime and each of them stings in their own way.]

[I suppose I never thought about that. Each of you are related, aren’t you? Siblings from the same parent.]

[Technically some of the Colony members are my nieces now that we have more than one Queen, but I rather just think of them all as siblings. There’s no need for a generational hierarchy in the Colony.]

Morrelia was sceptical.

[Don’t they call you the ‘Eldest’ and listen to you because you’re technically the first of them? Sounds like a hierarchy already exists.]
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[That’s on them! I had nothing to do with that, and frankly I regret that it turned out this way. I was just a regular ant back in the day, one face in the crowd, and I liked it. Now I have all sorts of nonsense to deal with.]

For some reason he glared and snapped his mandibles at the roof as he spoke. It was a little ridiculous and Morrelia felt the tension drain out of her.

[I’m ready, you can take me to my cell now.] She levered herself to her feet.

Anthony flicked an antenna.

[Meh. We’ll put you in Enid’s rooms. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see you. She brews a good cup of tea as well, or so I’m told. Nice to catch up Morrelia. Don’t be a stranger. Provided your family doesn’t keep trying to kill us, I suppose.]


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