Rise of the Antanoid - Chapter 53

Published at 24th of November 2022 12:34:10 PM

Chapter 53

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Announcement Heya everyone, just wanted to give you heads up that I will slow down my chapter releases to once a week going forward. I'm not abandoning this series or something, I just want to try out a few other story ideas and need some time for that. The chapters will be a bit longer as a result though, since I get more time to plan a few things, include egg laying scenes and what not.
Thanks for reading!

Somewhat awestruck, Sveck stared at the scene in front of him. The giant tree in the center of the clearing was one of the odd ones that had roots visible above ground. These trees normally had them underground and the sheer number they grew was also the reason that no other trees grew in this forest.

A massive structure made of some white substance was nestled in between two of the giant roots. The building stood about 13 meters tall with a flat roof that was adorned with thick wooden spikes and had to be at least 50 meters long. Tunnels let into the chunk of building material in regular intervals, forming grand hallways that sadly didn’t offer a view of the interior as they were barricaded.

In front of the large building and to the left of the left most roots stood more buildings made of the same white material that looked like large eggs. At a height of about 10 meters they were a bit smaller than what Sveck assumed to be the main building, but made up for it in numbers. To top things up, everything was connected by orderly roads that were generally wide enough to allow two carriages to drive next to each other.

That wasn’t what left Sveck in awe however. He had seen buildings grander than this in his days as adventurer, especially in the capital of the kingdom.

No, what left him so speechless was the violet glow everything emitted, the glow that tinged the surroundings in the same color, locally overpowering the light of dusk and how everything seemed so, so alien. 

He couldn’t exactly put his finger on the reason, but maybe it was the absence of edges and nooks, of anything not round, really.

Sveck took this all in and described what he felt in a single word. “Ominous.”

Miss Antana turned to him seemingly offended. “Really, that’s how you would describe it?”

He was just about to offer an apology, but she waved it off. “It’s how we like it so it doesn’t really matter what outsiders think about it.” And she left it at that.

Sveck’s intuition told him that he had just done something wrong, but he couldn’t think further about it as they fully entered the clearing and walked towards the main structure.

It was only now that he saw the rest of the settlement. There was a group of the ant people, Antanoid, that was merrily laughing and dancing around wildly. They were swinging around some kind of elongated instrument, creating humming sounds with each movement. Beyond them, other groups were working on hides or crude tools.

More of the weird Antanoid drones that were somehow a part of this settlement were busily scurrying around, transporting one thing or the other to storage locations. They somehow broke the idyllic scene of this village and made it something not human, which was strange considering that humans used all kinds of pets too.

As the group walked past the egg-like buildings a different drone, one easily the size of a horse lumbered past them with heavy steps. It made a chirping sound when it came across the two guards behind him and one of the two happily recreated the sound and patted the drone.

Sveck couldn’t help but stare at the thing the whole time, realizing that they might pose a threat to his escape plans, not that he could back out now. He didn’t believe the Antanoid would let him leave in such a suspicious manner.

He also realized why he found the drones so disturbing. They weren’t like domesticated animals, no, they were literally a part of this society and they knew. The drones might not be smart enough for rational coherent thought, but they were intelligent enough to be aware of their role and they followed their purpose happily.

Sveck was interrupted when the group reached the barricade in front of the middlemost tunnel. He stopped there for a moment, appreciating how much more imposing 10 meters were from up close.

Then Miss Antana led the way into the structure through a small gap in the two walled barricade and Sveck found himself in a dimly lit hallway that didn’t have much in the way of decorations and led all the way to the tree trunk. Much to his relief, the tunnel was also permeated by a nice fruity smell and not the rotting stench from outside.

Side tunnels crossed the main one in regular intervals and when they reached the first of them, he realized that they led to housing quarters and rooms.

Miss Antana made a strange rasping sound with her mandibles that caused the drones to disperse and pointed down the side street. “You will be staying in one of those rooms, Mr Sveck. But before that, I think we have a few things to discuss and I am sure you are hungry?”

He wasn’t, but nodded nonetheless. Considering that he would stay with the Antanoid for the night, getting to know them better didn’t seem like a bad idea. There was one thing he had to make clear though. “That is okay Miss Antana, but please just call me Sveck. I’m not old enough to be called Mister yet.”

She inclined her head with an amused smile and walked deeper into the building. At the last crossroad before the tree trunk they turned left into a tunnel with a bit more activity. In one place the wall was also open, giving view to something that looked like a tavern only with pillows instead of chairs.

A few Antanoid were sitting in groups and after greeting Miss Antana with respect, eyed Sveck curiously when the group entered. One of the girls was noticeably different. For one, her fur was red and not brown like that of the others and secondly, she had been staring at him intently.

The girl suddenly stood up and rushed towards them, towards him, but Miss Antana caught her before she got close to him. “Ember, I’m pretty sure I know what you want to do and I can tell you that now is not the right time.”

The girl, Ember, continued to struggle for a moment before she gave up with a pout. “But mom, he has clothes! I have to take a look at them!”

Miss Antana gave the girl a friendly head pat and shot Sveck a look. “I know, I know. Normally you ask someone for permission however and not just rush them. I’m sure if you ask nicely Sveck will let you take a look and answer your questions after we had dinner.”

Ember turned to him in excitement. “Really?!”

Sveck swallowed hard and nodded. He had the distinct feeling that his opinion didn’t matter in this regard and decided that going with the flow couldn’t be too bad. At least discussing clothes sounded a lot more inviting than being eaten alive or offered as sacrifice in some ritual. He hadn’t put the possibility of something like that happening away just yet.

Ember jumped happily and rushed past the group. “Yay! I will wait for you outside!”

With the bundle of excitement dealt with, they sat down at one of the tables and Miss Antana smiled apologetic towards him. “Sorry about that. Ember really enjoys everything that has to do with clothes and sewing. I’m sure the girl has multiple of our storage rooms filled with moth silk by now.”

Sveck was still occupied with the pillow, realizing that they made sitting a lot more comfortable for people with tails than chairs, but hearing the last sentence couldn’t help it but burst out. “She what?!”

Xanai silk was a luxury resource used for high class clothing and could be sold for quite a lot. Having multiple of those egg-like rooms full of silk would give them enough money to buy enchanted custom made gold rank equipment to outfit 2 or three people.

Miss Antana shrugged absentmindedly, watching another girl approach them. “We have that much of the silk, yes. From your reaction I take it that it is worth quite a lot for your people?”

Sveck straightened his back and nodded. “Ahh, yes. Xanai silk is worth some good coin.”

Miss Antana turned back to him curiously. “And why is that? We have been fighting the hell moths, I mean Xanai, for quite some time now and it doesn’t seem like an impossible task for a group of fighters with your strength to kill and loot a few of them.”

So they knew he was stronger than most of them, which meant they were either still confident in defeating him or they needed something from him, though he wasn’t sure what.

Sveck scratched his cheek and answered while he thought about this. “Hunting the Xanai is outlawed and for good reason, because they always come swarming when they find something that can beat them.”

Miss Antana cocked her head questioningly so he chose to elaborate further. Still, it was weird they didn’t know about this. “The Xanai work in swarms of at least 30 individuals. Every Xanai nest has at least one elder swarm, a few guardian swarms, some adult swarms and a large number of youngling swarms. Since they are so large animals however, there isn’t enough food around for all of them. Most of the food goes to the elders and guardians, with the remaining food being left for the adults.

“The younglings don’t get to eat what they hunt and are often left starving. To remedy that they attack enemies that are able to kill them until either they or their foe lies dead. That way they eliminate threats to their nest, kill off their competition and can eat the bodies of their dead afterwards.”

Miss Antana frowned. “That’s disgusting, but I don’t quite get why that makes hunting them illegal.”

Sveck gave her a rueful smile in response. “Just because they are attacked by humans doesn’t mean they know how to distinguish between their attackers and other humans. That means if someone kills or even injures one of them, they begin to search for the attacker and that in turn means a few villages are going to disappear from the map.”

Miss Antana nodded, having seemingly understood what he said despite his broken ancient. Then she turned to the girl that was patiently waiting for them to finish their conversation. “Hello Lena, would you be so kind and make us something to eat? Oh, and please show Sveck the ingredients first. We don’t know if he can digest the same things as us.”

Lena smiled and nodded. “Of course mother, I will be back in a minute.”

After that they spoke some more even after dinner was served. He was especially questioned about his purpose in coming here and how it had first been assumed something strong had come out of the dungeon. Miss Antana asked him a lot about that, but also about the adventurer guild and the kingdom of Ver he had come from. He couldn’t really answer everything since he only knew the basics, but the woman seemed pleased nonetheless.

Sveck asked his own questions of course. He was mainly interested in their origin, but he only got vague answers and that Miss Antana had had to flee from something with her daughters so he ended up asking about their plans for the future. 

He wondered if their flight had something to do with the falling stars that had been seen nearly a year ago.

From what Miss Antana and the girl Anna told him it was clear that they wanted to rebuild what they had lost here. He didn’t know what that entailed, but it sounded like a grand undertaking, like they wanted to create their own kingdom.

Sveck wasn’t sure what to think about that. The Antanoid seemed like good people from what he had heard and seen so far, but their settlement made his neck tingle. The drones disturbed him even more, not speaking about the fact that Miss Antana seemed to be the only adult here and everyone was female, even the damn drones. This all didn’t seem right to him.

Sveck knew better than to judge them immediately though. He wasn’t some loyalist of the kingdom that feared change and didn’t think the 50 or so people here could do much harm. As long as he was left alone after giving his report to the guildmaster and the Antanoid didn't threaten his species he didn’t really care.

When they were finally done talking it was long since night and Sveck was thoroughly mentally exhausted. He had been worried about the Xanai attacks at first, but after they didn’t manage to get any headway on the Antanoid he managed to calm down somewhat.

Now however, he would finally get a break to process all the things he had just learned, or so he thought as he stepped out of the tavern accompanied by three of the guards, only to be assaulted by an ember-colored midget.

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