Chapter 995 – The Return

The justice of the Colony is possibly one way in which they are more alien to other sapient races than any other. What is important to them, what is not, where they are harsh, where they are lenient, doesn’t always make sense to the outsider. Some of their penalties could be considered unspeakably cruel in some circles, but the ants don’t so much as twitch an antenna.

Their view on forced labour, a common enough practice in the Dungeon, is strangely reticent. Perhaps that isn’t speaking strongly enough. They hate it. The idea of ‘forcing’ someone to work is completely alien to them. After all, why would anyone need to be forced? And if you did force them, would the work produced be any good? Having unwilling workers, producing faulty work, is only decreasing overall efficiency. A waste of time.

No slavery. No indentured workers. Some might say they are a lenient race and try to take advantage of them. Those people would very quickly regret making that choice. The ants themselves do not transgress upon each other, their social cohesion is perhaps their greatest strength, but when others do, their fury is total.

  • Excerpt from “Collective Justice: A treatise on the Laws of the Colony”

Yesssssss. I can feel it! I can feel the hate flowing through me. It burns… it burns so good! After being suppressed for so long, it is now the time, the rise of Dark Anthony! Finally we have him, the egg-killer, dancing about like a guilty worm full of guilt, pierced by the sweet hook of justice. Everything is now in place to catch the elusive, juicy fish of revenge.

I’m so delighted, I’m not even bothering to mask my mental assault on Jim, broadcasting my descent to all and sundry.

[How do you taste, Jim? Are you delicious? Will the grubs who feed on you grow up big and strong? I want to be sure they won’t be tainted by the nutrients of betrayal that are riddled through your entire, corrupted, body.]

[What is wrong with you, Anthony?] the worm dares to lash out at me. [Are you crazy?]

Such impudence!

[You do not speak with Anthony, but Dark Anthony! I will not yield, rest, relent or abide until every ounce of your crimes has been wrung from your evil flesh. One ring at a time!]

[Are you even human?]

[Of course not! I’m an ant!]

Such a foolish question. Does he think the conventions of humankind can protect him? Those things are fragile. In truth, life on Earth was much like life in the Dungeon, if you ask me. The powerless were subjected to horrific treatment in the dark, but most didn’t notice because it wasn’t directed at them. Similarly, inside the Dungeon, the weak are food for the strong. There is no fear at the top of the chain.

A place that this wretched, wriggling, portent of cowardly doom will never reach!

[Hey, Jim? I hear you wretched worms, with your hearts filled with wretched evil and wretchedness, can regrow when you’re cut in half. Is that true? Can we turn you into a Biomass farm and feed our grubs on you forever? Considering what you did, that’s almost poetic, Jim. It’s so beautiful that I might just cry. At least I would, if every tear in my soul hadn’t been cried out after your betrayal!]

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I continue to circle and prod the enemy with glee until something breaks into my mental broadcast, shocking me out of the cycle.

[Anthony? What are you doing?]

Sarah sounds absolutely aghast at my behaviour. Not surprising, really, she hasn’t been exposed to the Dark One before. The darkness cannot be contained! Not in this, my moment of triumph.

[I am giving this… creature… the treatment he deserves! After the evil seeds that he has sown. Seeds of evil, mind you! He watered them with the rich, foamy water of betrayal and they germinated, oh did they germinate, into little sprouts of murder and death. Now, the time has come to reap the harvest, the doomed harvest, of doom! I won’t avert my gaze from the terrible acts he has committed, nor will I shrink away from the punishment. It will be equally harsh! If not harsher!]

[Sarah!] Jim cries out, his mind riven with desperation and fear. [You can’t leave me in the hands of this madman! Listen to him. He’s insane!]

[Jim….]

I can see the hesitation and confusion in Sarah, she’s torn in multiple directions and it’s written all over her bear face. The mammals, with their soft, readable facial expressions and internal bones… so transparent.

In a way, I almost feel for Sarah. None of this is her fault, not her responsibility. And yet….

[Don’t let them do this to me, Sarah!] Jim pleads. [I did all of this for you! I wanted to save you!]

And there it is. He still clings to this presumption that he did not act selfishly. Such pish! The darkness within my soul only stirs the stronger at this outburst.

[You snivelling sack of sick! You’ll never take responsibility for the murder you committed.]

[All I did was dig a tunnel!]

[And what were the consequences of that, you moron?! Innocent grubs and eggs, destroyed! And for what?!]

[Those were just monsters. How is it any different from you annihilating hundreds and hundreds of them?!]

[You better be quiet now, Jim, or I’ll bite you,] I warn him. [You are treading dangerous ground.]

Luckily, for his sake, the worm falls silent as Brilliant continues to poke and prod him whilst skittering across him. I turn to Sarah.

[Sarah, I know you are feeling torn. I know that this situation sucks for you. I know that none of this feels right, or good, or comfortable. But I have to make sure that you understand something.]

She hesitates. The normally cheerful and steady presence that radiates from her is completely muted, replaced by grief and fear.

[What is it?] she eventually asks.

[This is going to be tough to hear, but I have to say it… There is nothing that you can do here.]

I stare at her to gauge her reaction, but all I see is confusion. She doesn’t understand.

[I can’t just abandon him…] she whispers.

[No, you aren’t listening. You. Can. Do. Nothing. This is out of your claws, now. Jim will receive the Colony’s justice, and even if you can’t stand that thought, even if you fight to the death to save him, you won’t succeed. It’s over, Sarah. There is only one outcome, now.]

She’s beginning to see what I mean, and tears well up in those giant bear eyes. Is it sadness? Is it relief? Perhaps a mixture of both?

[Please…] she says. [Just don’t be cruel. For me. Just don’t be cruel.]

No cruelty? Noooooooooooooo! NOOOOOOOO! Those words are like poison to Dark Anthony, a knife wound straight in the heart! I can already feel my power weakening. The darkness, it’s receding, its fading! It’s not fair, the time was so short!

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[Fine,] I tell her begrudgingly. [It won’t be cruel.]

She nods, two great drops fall from her eyes to the ground. Without another thought, she turns and walks away.

[Sarah? Sarah! Don’t leave me here! Save me! YOU OWE ME!] Jim screams, but I wall his thoughts away from her and then barricade him in his own mind.

I look up at Brilliant.

“Take him away,” I tell her. “Contact the council and get it done. I never want to see this creature again.”


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