It turned out that most of the stuff the Production Drones produced was perfectly safe for human consumption. They had tested this on volunteers from the human villages, and there were no lingering issues. That took a weight off Regina’s mind. Of course, since they didn’t know their caloric load or their nutrient composition, they couldn’t assume the substances would work as exclusive provisions. They probably lacked critical vitamins, amino acids and whatever else.

Beyond that, Regina knew they had basically only tested the short-term safety. It was entirely possible the stuff could cause long-term issues. Maybe it contained something that would lead to problems later, like blocking certain enzymes, or carcinogens.

But she figured that if the Cernlian rebel soldiers were desperate enough to need the food from the hive, it was probably worth the risk. It didn’t matter much if you had a higher risk of cancer in thirty years if your odds of receiving sharp pointy bits to the body in the more immediate future decreased greatly. For that matter, malnutrition could kill more people than actual weapons of war, directly or indirectly.

Actually shipping those food supplies to the marquis’ army still remained a challenge. She could make use of Winged Drones for supply drops, of course. The Workers were already making crates and barrels from the particular Production Drone substances they generally used as a replacement for ceramics or plastic. Using some wagons would probably be better, though, especially considering security. Plus she didn’t want her Winged Drones occupied with something like this when they might be needed elsewhere.

Regina was also considering sending some captured weapons and equipment from the gnomes along. The hive had taken some, of course, and they’d tried to refurbish some of it. Unfortunately, that effort didn’t yield much success, especially for the more complicated or finicky things. War Drones weren’t really capable of repairing crossbows, for example, at least without detailed enough oversight that a sapient hive member might as well do it themselves. And the hive didn’t even have any proper blacksmiths or anything. It would be easier to just send them to Lyns and have his own smiths adjust the armor and weapons for human frames, if possible. Or just melt them down for the metal. The hive would keep some, though, and they’d already refurbished a few things for their own use, as well.

Luckily, she didn’t have to personally worry about most of that. Mia, Tia and the others had things well in hand. Regina stayed in Forest’s Haunt for a while, after the Lyns women’s arrival, but it didn’t impact her productivity much. After all, with the psychic link, there wasn’t really a pressing need for her to be in any particular place to talk to specific people. It did make paperwork easier, though, not to mention her own direct contributions to the hive’s growth. It was definitely a minor headache to organize the transport of any new eggs, or even new hatchlings.

Regina had talked to June and Florance Lyns a few more times, and conducted another short session with June. She still wasn’t quite sure what to think about her symptoms, but that was par for the course. She was more frustrated with her inability to get any substantive diagnostics she was familiar with. I’m not even asking for a genome sequencing or proteome assay, she thought grumpily to herself. It’s not like I’d know how to analyze them by myself, even if we somehow had computers. But still, I can’t even use simple diagnostic assays. I suppose I could actually do a biopsy. Regina frowned, then shook her head. My magic is probably a lot more useful.

The same disease and even the same general symptoms always showed individual variations, so relying on conventional diagnostics wasn’t going to get her too far. She had a sense of the workings of June’s body and where they failed, though, if she was using her magic. It was probably abusing her Spell, since Greater Heal wasn’t really designed for that, and more of a use of unstructured magic as well. It was also why Regina was confused, though, since she could tell there was something she was missing. Sure, there might be a few issues in June’s respiratory system, and maybe her gastrointestinal tract, but Regina couldn’t sense any deeper problem. Even if it was hard to get a good impression of her blood or bone marrow, and she might miss something there. For now, she was just going to do her best with what tools she could make herself.

Both of the humans were surprisingly cooperative, though, and Regina could tell that Florance was nervous about her pregnancy, even if she was trying not to show it. She attempted to reassure the woman that everything would be fine, although she wasn’t sure how well she succeeded.

Marianne and Elric Neralt actually seemed happy to host them. Regina supposed that their social life had to have been stifled recently, since they couldn’t exactly have visited or received visits from other nobles. She decided there was no harm in letting the Lyns ladies stay here for now, as long as her drones kept an eye on them.

Tia had started construction of an improvised prison camp a short distance from the main hive base. It would be far enough away to limit what they could see, but close enough to make organizing and supplying it simple, while being isolated enough from anywhere else that the prisoners would be stranded if they somehow managed to escape. The construction was going well, but even with a few Workers and a lot of War Drones providing the labor, it would take more than a day or two to put something like this up. Regina had told them to make it with room to spare for new prisoners and with a plan for expansion. Meanwhile, a few Keepers and Scouts were starting a systematic interrogation of the prisoners. Regina left that in Ace and Jem’s hands, though. She didn’t feel like she could contribute a lot to it.

Instead, Regina focused on what she could do. Which meant growing her hive, making sure all of her drones were focused and coordinated, and, to her own surprise, diplomacy. She postponed a trip to the elves, but consulted with Ray, who by this point had basically become the hive’s official ambassador to Ariedel. She also sent Janis back to try and wrangle the elementals, which was harder than it sounded.

One of them simply wandered off. According to Volance, he’d said that they should call him once they had some actual work, or rather fighting, to do. Regina wasn’t exactly happy about that, but at least Scaldrise didn’t create more issues. Volance was also remarkably blasé about everything. Regina wasn’t sure if she was just that patient, compared to her fellows, or if she just wasn’t very interested in fighting the gnomes in the first place. To be fair, she’d already gotten her payment, so Regina should probably count herself lucky that the air elemental was still helping them. She might not if it wasn’t for Janis. Or if Regina didn’t still have knowledge she wanted. She deliberately hadn’t put everything into those booklets, not that she’d had the time or space.

The gnomes didn’t seem very inclined to venture out into the mountains. That was probably a good thing, even if Regina didn’t like giving them time to prepare. But the hive’s forces would have needed to reorganize, anyway, even without the new war against the Cernlian king. Most of her drones were currently somewhat scattered, in the process of being redeployed. They’d chased down escaping gnomish soldiers and small units, and retaken and rebuilt outposts Regina had sacrificed on their way toward her. The largest single part of her forces, if you could call it that, was at the mountains, building fortifications and making slow preparations for an assault on the gnomes’ territory.

For when she decided to launch one. It wouldn’t be now, in any case. She agreed with Ben that they didn’t have the numbers available to press into the gnomes’ tunnels and attempt to attack their cities. They had to expect heavy losses. But her hive’s numbers were still growing, and the gnomes probably weren’t an immediate threat, anymore.

Regina wondered how much their experience against the gnomes would actually help in this new conflict. Obviously, there would be differences. Humans were individually stronger and faster, at a baseline. Her drones would no longer have an advantage in reach, height and weight. But it went beyond that. They would have a different organization, different equipment and doctrine. Plus, the circumstances of the war and the terrain in which it was fought would be different. Unlike the gnomes, the Cernlians were accustomed to waging war, too. And the hive would be fighting with allies instead of on their own.

Well, she supposed she would find out pretty quickly. There was no point in delaying their own entrance into this war too much.

For the first ‘supply train’ that she sent the marquis, Regina had a few volunteers from her hive’s Drone Attendants, Drone Witches or their Evolutions join them. Actually, it ended up being mostly Attendants and their succeeding Classes. They were healers, sent to both build goodwill with the marquis and his followers, especially the common soldiers, and patch them up so they could keep fighting their enemies. It was also a good training opportunity for her drones, although Regina limited how many could come at first. Most of them with any skill in healing magic had volunteered, or at least said they would go if she thought it was a good idea.

Be careful, and watch over them, please, Regina said to Via, who would be leading them.

Don’t worry, my Queen, she responded with a smile. Regina wasn’t currently watching her directly, but she could still tell that she felt relaxed, flying on Thor’s back and being carried to their destination. Regina had sent Thor along not just for transportation, but as a bit of additional muscle if things went badly. Not that she expected them to.

I have to admit I’m eager to see how my magic stacks up against that of human healers, and to try it on new subjects, I mean patients. She grinned at her self-correction, and Regina knew she’d only been half-joking. But I’m not going to forget that there’s a war going on, and none of us is going to trust our allies blindly. You can leave this to us.

It’s not that I don’t trust you to handle it, Regina replied, a bit embarrassed. I just worry a little.

I know, and I appreciate it.

With a bit of reluctance, Regina turned her attention to other matters. She did keep half of a metaphorical eye on them, though, and she paid more attention once she realized that the group of Winged Drone Mounts carrying the healers was arriving at their destination.

The Lyns March was pretty big, one of the biggest regions in Cernlia. It also stretched farther to the west and east than north and south. As such, even if the king’s army had started to push into it, they still weren’t really close to the hive’s territory. At least not close enough for an immediate threat. And the marquis had not been pushed back enough to reach his capital. Instead, the main part of his army was currently encamped at the castle of one of his eastern vassals, another baron, at the crossing of two small rivers - more like brooks, really - beside a small village. The camp sprawled far more than the village itself, but it seemed reasonably well-ordered, this time, and the army had put up palisades and ditches around it. Regina presumed that they wouldn’t all fit into the castle itself, which was on the small side.

Via and the others still headed for the castle. Thor descended first and drew a few circles above, to notify them of the drones’ presence, before the group touched down in the courtyard.

A familiar face waited for them. Lady Margaret stepped forward and offered a polite bow of her head. “Miss Via. Welcome. To what do we owe the honor of this visit?”

“We have brought some supplies,” Via responded with a smile, gesturing at the crates. “More are on their way. Also, myself and a few others are healers. We’ve been sent by the Hive Queen to help your wounded.”

The young noblewoman’s eyes widened slightly, before she returned the smile. “Well, that is certainly a pleasant surprise. Please convey our thanks. Lady Kiara is occupied by a pressing matter, I am afraid, and Lord Lyns and my father are currently absent. They should be returning tomorrow. I will take you to the healers, if you please, and I am sure Lady Kiara will greet you, as well, as soon as she is able.”

“Thank you,” Via responded. She directed the other drones, watching while humans assembled to unload the crates they’d brought, and the other magic users gathered around her.

There were several big tents as well as a big building inside the castle walls which the army used to house their injured. The smell would have made that obvious immediately even if Margaret didn’t lead them there.

“May I ask where Marquis Lyns and Duke Bluegrass currently are?” Via asked. “I’d have expected them to remain with their army, considering the situation, so it must be something serious.”

Margaret hesitated, then sighed. “I suppose you will hear of it soon enough,” she said. “They had to deal with an unexpected source of trouble. Two of the marquis’ vassal barons tried to turn their coats and flee back into the king’s camp. One of them managed to escape, and they’ve apprehended the second one. My father and Lord Lyns were leading expeditions to both of their domains.”

Via blinked, and Regina almost swore mentally. That doesn’t sound good.

“I see,” Via said. “That … sounds like a problem. Did anyone else join them, or attempt to?”

Margaret nodded, still grimacing faintly. “Several other noblemen who had pledged to support Marquis Lyns,” she said quietly.

Via whistled silently, and Regina felt her own annoyance increasing. That was bad news, especially given the situation with the two factions’ current military strengths. Though that was presumably why some of Lyns’ supporters had done this.

I suppose we weren’t the only ones to get a letter from the king, she reflected.

Well, at least any fighting here in the camp had already stopped, if there had been any, and it sounded like Lyns had things under control here. She must have missed most of it. No wonder Kiara was busy, though. Regina would have to consult with Ben and decide if there was anything they should do in response.



Support "Path of the Hive Queen"

About the author


Bio: A reader and writer, mostly of science fiction and fantasy. I'm currently trying my hand at writing web serials, though I've finished several novels offline. English isn't my first language, please point out any mistakes you see.

Log in to comment
Log In

Log in to comment
Log In