I had to think fast. If my conjecture was correct, then I currently did not have an identity within the hivemind that was linking the army together. If I waited too long, though, that might change. And, once they ‘remembered’ me, they would be able to make me into a chitinite in the eyes of the rest of the troops.
With that being the case, it was clear that I could no longer remain behind within the army. My time here was over. “Read the Legion Commander reports!” I shouted towards Beth, turning to leave in a hurry. If I wanted to survive out here, I’d need some things.
To find what I was looking for, I had to forget what I knew about the layout of the camp. I had to forget which tents were meant to be there and which ones weren’t. I found two unoccupied tents, torn apart by battle, and grabbed a single scabbard from each, before immediately heading west. These scabbards should be the storage items of two of the lost soldiers, containing their food reserves.
Moments after I left the camp, I heard Beth ordering my capture, her voice booming from her tent. I pushed my ki into my legs, accelerating far beyond normal to escape into the horizon. I knew that they were able to track me, to follow me if they wanted. But, to do so would be foolish from their perspective.
For weeks, the camps have been attacked countless times by chitinites, to the point where we had become a shadow of our original glory. Spreading our forces even thinner to chase one desserter… no proper general would make that decision. ‘Let them die in the wastes’, that is closer to what they would be thinking.
However, I now knew something that they didn’t know. I knew where to find more food. All along our journey, we have been leaving the bodies of the chitinites in our wake. We had been unable to see them for what they were, so naturally we had been unable to retrieve their equipment. And because they had been forgotten, nobody even realized that they were there…
A sad death, alone and forgotten by the world. And now, it was my life.
I ran for six hours straight, far faster than a normal march. By the end of the six hours, I had backtracked along our path and found our last camp. And it was here that I saw them… the bodies of herocs, of humans and elves, kitsune and dwarves. Their faces feral as they were scattered around.
“I’m not infected anymore… they can’t control my perception.” I muttered to myself as I walked through the cluster of bodies. Some had been picked clean by the wildlife, the chitinous beasts that ran away from my presence. But that was fine. I wasn’t about to become a cannibal.
As I found each body, I inspected the contents of its storage space. If I found even a single trace of those larva, I immediately discarded the entire batch. There were some who had stored extra grubs, planning to save them for spare rations. But to me, that was the same as poisoning their entire food stash.
For those that were ‘clean’, I transferred the contents to my own storage space. Over a dozen bodies, with ten usable containers. Each container held two weeks worth of food… so I was now set for a few months.
I could continue to backtrack, to gather up more food from our next camp, but I quickly shook my head to remove that thought. Five months was already more than I could hope for. Even within the storage space, much of my food would have rotted by the end of that period. It was unlikely, but also my only choice. I had to either find another source of food within five months, or kill the enemy commander.
Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and focused. We were told that the enemy would likely be an ‘exceptional’ specimen of the dominant species of this world. At first, everyone assumed that the Ancestor Fox was referring to the chitinites. They were a clear, obvious species that seemed to dominate the world. But the truth was not so simple.
The real rulers of the world were the grubs. Everything else was a simple smokescreen. A trap to bait us in. By that logic, the ‘exceptional specimen’ would be the controller of the hivemind. Even if I was wrong… even if it truly was a chitinite that I should be killing… there was a chance that killing the hivemind would free the survivors of the army. However many were still alive at that point, at least.
While thinking about this, I felt a wave of exhaustion sweep over me, reminding me that I had not slept properly for several days. And now, now that I was on my own, sleep would be even more difficult to come by. It wasn’t impossible, but I would have to take several precautions.
First, I needed a safe sleeping area. For that, I focused upon the natural elements, causing a block of solid stone to rise up from the ground. I could already see grubs clinging to its side, brought up from the block itself. To deal with those, I tapped into the water deep beneath the surface, washing over the stone block and wiping them away.
This water then formed a small moat around the block, with the goal of making it more difficult for the grubs to climb up while I slept. If there was even the slightest worry that they might slip into my mouth while I was unconscious, I needed to take every precaution I could.
Next, I focused, laying down an alarm spell over the area to let me know if any beast appeared. The grubs were far too small to trigger the spell’s effects, but at least it would allow me to defend myself against other creatures.
With that taken care of… I opened the book, and began writing again. From now on, this would be my personal log. A way for me to ensure that I remained ‘clean’ by regularly testing my memory and reminding myself of my goals.
First day away from the army. I managed to kill the grub infecting my brain using a jolt of spiritual energy. In doing so… everyone forgot me. I’ve determined that the target for our mission in this world is likely to be the hivemind that has been causing the mass memory loss within the army.
Unfortunately, I can’t bring anyone else with me for this mission. By now, they will surely see me as a chitinite. In order to save them all, or as many as I can, I have to find the source quickly. It is my hope that killing the hivemind will free them, as opposed to making everyone forget themselves. However, it is my only option at this point.
I’ve been away from the army for six days now. It’s funny… I set off on this journey, and forgot the most basic question… where is my target? I know what it is that I have to kill… but how do I track it? Lately, I’ve started to think about that more and more. If I continue to wander aimlessly through the world, my food supply will run out long before I am able to complete my mission.
To answer my own question, I’ve begun experimenting on the larval form of the insects. I am trying to use my own energies in order to forge a connection between the larva and the source. So far, I’m not having any luck… but it’s the only path I can think of. My only way forward.
Two weeks now… I think. It was hard enough to track the days when we were all moving as a unit, measuring the time in shifts. Now, I only have my own body, measuring the cycle of my hunger and exhaustion.
I think I’m making progress. I saw members of the Eighteenth Legion in the distance today. They had moved off their scheduled course, and were moving towards my location. Those poor fools… they couldn’t even tell that they were down to barely a hundred men.
The fact that the hivemind is directing people towards me shows that the connection is forming properly. I just need a way to trace it. I’ve already moved to a new location to continue my experiments.
I’m seeing them more and more now. Today, the Thirty-Second and Fifteenth Legions almost crossed paths, pincering me from both sides. I had to move carefully and hide my presence to avoid them spotting me. I wonder what would happen if they met? Maybe they’d be able to realize something was wrong, given that they were supposed to be moving in different directions?
I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry… I shouldn’t have hoped for such an easy solution. The Thirty-First and Twenty-Third Legions are gone. As soon as I led them towards each other, both sides began attacking the other in a fury. Clearly, they each saw the other party as a chitinite pack. When the Thirty-First Legion won, they began fighting amongst each other, until nobody was left.
May you rest eternal within the arms of the ancestors.
I think I have it. I managed to trace the connection today, if only for just a moment. From what I felt, it was sending me north. Tomorrow, I’m moving out. Still no sign of any safe food sources. And, I haven’t seen a Legion tracking me for several days. I should expect that there is going to be a surprise waiting for me after I get moving.
Roughly half of my food is gone. I suppose that means that it’s been almost three months now. I’ve been moving north for… at least a month, going by my logs. Every time I stop and trace a new connection, I get the same result. North. I’ve got no choice, I’ll keep moving forward…
I think I found something! On the horizon, I see a tall mountain. The sides of it are full of holes, like a giant ant colony. I jumped up a bit to get a better view, and I saw them. All of them, probably. All of the Legions are waiting for me, standing in a formation around the mountain. I wonder if they even remember why they’re here… maybe they think that this is the forward base, and that the enemy leader is on his way…
Maybe they don’t think anything anymore, except for what they are told to think… I saw the Twenty-First Legion in the group… but Beth wasn’t there. They were being led by a Commander… how do they even think that’s normal? Only a General can lead the Legions. But all of their Generals are gone. Gone and forgotten.
No more. This ends now.