Mild Dermatographia

The First Akumaic Hunter


Chaos. Caretakers ushering the young to the upper levels. Sentinals guiding builders to the lower levels, to the hungry darkness, swallowing them whole, creeping ever forward. The hive is compromised, a force incontestable. Faint visions, smells, the descent, something awry, then fear. Terror. Senseless, turning, bumbling. Something is here. Something is hunting.

Here. Away, drifting from the whole, to the part. Forest, and ahead, a human. Their arrival, silent. Curious. Shared hunger with companions, a suitable meal.

“I presume you’re from Akulai? Jako sent for me, on behalf of the Hunters in Ethir.”

Ethir. Recollection, stitched across parts. Approach, delicious flesh hidden behind broken earth. Then scents of anger, fear, delicious fear. Appetite pushed aside, bowing of head, antennae equally prostrated, a sign of goodwill. In response, buzzing and sharp pains, soothed by kin. Then speaking in harsh tones.

‘What do you want, Hunter?’

‘It seems they have a contract for us.’

‘By the Ephemere they do! Those things aren’t getting inside the city’

‘No need, I’ll talk to them outside the gates. Keep your weapons trained on us if it makes you feel safer.’

‘You can’t be serious! After all they people they’ve slaughtered, you’re going to help them?’

‘A contract is a contract Gole. If they have a job and coin, then we’ll oblige them.’

Tonal shift, querying the hive. Defiance, deviance?

‘And what if I decide I don’t want you leaving the city, hm?’

‘Well, then there’s not much I can do in that case. They’ll just have to make do by themselves.’

Realization and alertness. Welcome overstayed. Quickly, reversal, across baked earth and back under cover of trees, more bites. Behind, outrage, an brewing storm. Whispers from the hive. Food.

Deep into the forest, pursuers drawing near. The trap is set. Humans, closing on kin on horse, weapons ready. Mandibles close, outer beasts and humans fall under crushing weight, quickly dispatched, then swarming over next, sweet juices filling mouth to…

No fluid, no humans. Plans wasted, humans have grown wary. Instead, this one, standing in moonlight.

‘What’s the job?’

The job. Forest suddenly illuminated, details sharp, motion deafening. Alertness. And fear. Recollection. The hive, oh the hive! The hive sooths, calms, then come the memories, neatly organized for the human, who opens their mind as if having shared thoughts before. Curious.

Two cycles past. In the deep tunnels, digging deeper yet, a vast wellspring of spongiform flesh. Hands plunge once more, feeling weakness. Opportunity, kin arrive and draw back earth. An opening, then a stench pours forth. Unatural, necrotic. Evil. Earth crumbles away, revealing a vast chamber, faint aura of vaulted ceiling, crevasses, hewn stone. A moment of uncertainty, then arrival of sentinals, moving into the unknown. Emptiness. How many were there? Less. And less. What’s happening? Pain, then nothing. Turning, kin dragged into darkness. Darkness? What is darkness? Blind, can’t see, where was the entrance? A presence looming, try to fight. Loss. Sentinals gone.

One cycle past. War, against an enemy the hive cannot see, cannot possibly fight. Sentinals and buiders giving for the hive, buying time, erecting barriers. Frygian, questing outwards, dissolving from the inside, power turned against themselves, gouts of black spreading outwards, kin drowning, terror spreading. And darkness creeps ever upwards. Abandon the lowest levels, the lower, the middle. Pupae moved to warmer earth, a necessary gamble. Will not, can not, leave a generation to the darkness. Need help. Hunters, humans, useable, necessary for the hive. Delegation selected, kin depart with haste to human hive, cries and the pain of a world pursuing.

Now. The link closed. Coarse mouth-noises once more.

‘Very well, lead the way.’

Acquiesence, then movement, past the human, towards the hive, footsteps indicating pursuit. Moonlight passes, raging flame on the horizon. Into the shadow of the spire, oh how beautiful it is, drawn forth by the Akumaie themselves! Into the shadow of the spire, what is this sensation? Antenna shiver. The shadows are cold. The hive’s presence now audible, unified fear.

Through gates carved generations past, down, into warm earth, down, towards darkness. Caretakers, Frygian, occasional sentinals. Cooks, dicing fungi and slicing throats to drain, livestock begging for freedom. The Hunter, white-faced, unperturbed? Reconsidered, haunted. As the hive is. Akumaie leads down to the middle levels, cold earth, fear rising, unity shattered, a tiered city now.

Sentinals at the edge of the darkness, the human is approaching. Stops between, staring into the abyss. Whispers. Madness. Death.

‘It’s beyond here.’

Rough, uncultured. Tilt the head, indicate assent. The hive shivers with shared memories. The human draws a gourd, drinks, throat bobbing, delicious flesh so close- Stop, a necessary aid, the hive’s existence is threatened.

Now calm, almost bored. Appalingly competent, or overconfident? The human stretches out, oh so teasing, mouth-watering, even Akumaie salivates at such a sight. Then strides forward into the darkness.

Silence. Waiting. Held in place, muscles aching, antennae frozen. A pupae shivers in sleep. Waiting. Heat wavers, moonlight returns. Braying of livestock ceased. Waiting. Breath and shadows, held in place. A world on the brink of extinction. Waiting.

Finally, footsteps approach. Uneven, previous delicacy replaced with uncoordinated bumbling. The human stumbles from darkness, coated in fluid, leg barely holding weight. Easy prey. Akumaie approaches, hive opens mind. Memories of youth, of rites of passage, of happiness, of the hive, of death. You have given us life. Taken aback, demented grin, wild eyes, queried and found madness or satisfaction. Both?

‘I don’t know what that was, but it wasn’t happy you found its lair. Still, it won’t be able to complain much anymore. You should be able to repopulate the lower levels. The Hunters in Ethir and I will try to figure out what it was, and get back to you.’

Overwhelming happiness, sorrow for the lost, bittersweet victory. Honorary member of hive. Shaking head, disagreement?

‘No, Hunters don’t have loyalties beyond the hunt.’

Useful skills, unreliable method. Querying, a suitable part? Paint a picture, Akumaic join the hunt. Necessary independance. Temporary independance. Loss of connection to the hive? Required. Offers self to hunter, nod, assent. Climbing up through layers, warm earth, up to exposed rock, finally gates. The hunter and a part. An Akumaic? Where is the hive? Where is the whole? Cut off, lost, oh so lost! The human, strange expression. Querying. Unfound, shared knowledge gone.

‘I won’t pretend to understand what’s going through your mind right now. If you need something though, I’ll do what I can.’

Emptiness, a vessel with no contents, a broken shell. Push these aside. Focus. The hive has spoken, there is a task. You have a task.