Author’s Note: This story was written live on stream with the audience bidding tokens (earned while watching) to determine the path of the story. The underlined phrases in the choice of three were the winning pathways. Stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade if you’d ever like to participate in our interactive fiction.
This adventure also started as a continuation of this story, which was written on stream as well for one of our viewers.
Millipedes House Centipedes Velvet Worms
There wasn’t a single thought in the empty husk of a head belonging to B’zz B’zozz. It was barely connected to the rest of her exoskeleton after all this time. There had been rain, tiny squatters using it as a nest, and industrious collectors snatching pieces here and there to enhance their décor a few stumps and logs away.
There was no chance for thoughts purely belonging to B’zz B’zozz to ever return, but nature provided tools, some practically arcane, for bringing things back to a semblance of life. B’zz’s husk was positioned at the edge of a pile, a vast distance below the hanging hive where she was born and eventually murdered. What was left of her stuck out because she was the only bee in the pile. All the others were invaders, shield bugs, black wasps, and nettle-coated caterpillars, while she had been a traitor.
There was no flesh left in any of them to pick at, so the husk pit was devoid of scavengers. The group of nine velvet worms that approached it had other business there. They wriggled out of the grass and into the open, keeping glued cloaks of dead leaves held over their heads. It was the middle of the night, so two carried lanterns made from smashed lightning bugs. They searched through the pit, husk by husk, looking for something that could serve them well.
“Ooh!” one of them squeaked when a few of his back legs crossed over B’zz’s remains. They all gathered around, one of them lifting her by the head. The bee’s eyes were empty and gray. There were cracks and chips missing everywhere, but the husk still held together. “Quickly. Who has the corpyceps?” One of the other worms passed a small ball of glued leaves from its lower limbs to its higher limbs, and then to the one that held B’zz.
He peeled the ball open, revealing its sticky bubbled contents. The other worms leaned their heads backward, unwilling to even look at the vile stuff. The fact they needed it at all testified to their desperation. He stuck one nub of a limb inside and scooped out a small glob. Swiftly as he could, he jammed it up into the hole under B’zz’s head and wiped it around the interior. He only stopped when he saw it coating the transparent eyes from inside.
He lowered it back to the muddy Earth as his friends scurried away, and then he joined them, careful to seal the ball of corpyceps back up and wipe his hand across the ground until there wasn’t a trace of it left. Then they waited. B’zz’s husk twitched. They recoiled, wishing they’d wiped their footprints away. They didn’t want the creature they were creating to have any contact with anything they’d even touched.
The husk twitched thrice more and then shot up onto its legs. Its wings were long gone, but the shredded stubs of them buzzed weakly. B’zz’s head cracked back and forth until it mostly straightened out. The fungus the velvet worms had used spread throughout her body, fruiting into her limbs and recalling the structure of a lost mind.
“Whhhyyyy?” the bee asked the darkness. The velvet worms emerged, giving the shambling corpse something to stare at. The leader took one of the lanterns and bravely drew B’zz’s attention. He rubbed several pairs of feet together, nervous. Their creation seemed to stare into his soul and see sweet rainwater.
Hive Infiltration Flower Seeking Swarm Building
“Who are you?” the worm asked.
“I am…. excellent queztion,” the bee buzzed as her head clicked back and forth a few more times. Her wings stilled. “Thiz,” she gestured to her exoskeleton, “waz B’zz B’zozz, but I don’t believe I am her.”
“You are not,” the lead worm explained. He shuffled a little closer. “I… am Pyrif. These are my loyal worms of the Moss Cushions. We have come here, instilled you with new life, to seek your aid.”
“What am I?” the bee took a step back, one foot touching the husk of a shield bug. She nearly tripped over it and sent it spinning. Suddenly the worms were twisting, pulling things out from behind them. She saw the hilts of grass rapiers and split-tip splinters.
“Easy,” Pyrif told his war worms. The hilts disappeared once more. “We brought you back with corpyceps. It is a fungus from our land. It controls the will of the living, forcing them to spread spores. On the dead, however, it produces life like yours. We’re hoping you remember that.” The nubs on the left side of his body pointed straight up. B’zz followed them and saw the looming shadow of the hive.
“Killerz,” B’zz told no one in particular. The wind whistled through the lost lives of the husk pit as if to confirm what she said. “I remember. I remember a zip… juzt one. A zip of wild truth… They ended… thiz huzk over it.”
“You’ve… tasted the honey? The pure honey?” Pyrif asked, his antennae perking up and wiggling.
“The wild honey,” the bee answered. “None of the rezt. I zenzed the wild waz the greatezt of all. Thiz zpirit iz not free.” Suddenly there was anger in the bee’s voice, hostility in the buzz. “Why? You took the wildnezz from me? You zhackled me?”
“No, not exactly,” Pyrif calmed. “The fungus is trying to drive you somewhere. You are mostly it, but the talking parts belong to B’zz. We need your help because you have been up there. We need to reach it and take the bleeding heart honey kept there. Without it, we will lose everything. We thought we would be forced to enlist the help of a hive trespasser, but then we found an actual bee! Your short life, your fruiting time, can be spent doing good at our side. Will you take us up and help us retrieve it?”
“There are three pathz to the hive from the ground,” B’zz said plainly. Dark thoughts shifted around in the back of her temporary mind, like a trapdoor spider scuttling under a blanket of fog. She wasn’t sure if she was the fungus. She wasn’t sure what it wanted, now that it knew its host was but a desiccated shell. “I zee no reazon to move from thiz zpot.”
“We have no prize with which to tempt you,” one of the other worms said, finally taking some of the burden from their leader. “You seem to miss your wildness. Perhaps another sip of the honey could bring it back? We can work together, protect each other until we’re there. Then we may split, we for the bleeding hearts and you for the wilderness.”
The bee stood there, no body language to read. The dawn approached. There was enough light to see the fungus spreading behind her eyes. Once it fully clouded them, once the dew was sparkling, she spoke again and presented the three paths to the hive. Their quest would begin with the new day.
The Dead Leaf Moth The MausoleumWeb Aphid Stampede
B’zz observed that the war worms were capable fighters. Their squishy appearance hid it well initially, especially since their weapons were out of sight in the folds of their backs. The fungal bee observed their strict rituals once they were near the gnarled base of the hive’s tree. They used their natural glue, the same substance that contained their supply of fungus within the leaf ball, to quickly and neatly construct an idol as tall as they were out of twigs.
They prayed at its base, to which god she did not know. Certainly it wasn’t the hive’s. What use did they have for bleeding heart honey? The idol resembled one of their own more than a flower. She felt a lurch in the back of her head. One antenae twitched. She didn’t have long before the fungus went inert. It could only do so much with dead material.
“Any time you are ready,” she buzzed tersely when they were all kneeled. They rose at the sound of her voice, but most still would not look at her.
“Where is the moth you spoke of?” Pyrif asked. B’zz strolled up to the wall of root in front of them. She placed one hand flat against it and buzzed her wings in a rhythmic pattern. The wall responded by moving. The war worms stumbled backward as a massive shape, camouflaged into the wood, revealed itself: a moth large enough to carry them all, its wings thick as human cardboard. It turned around, bringing its giant eyes even with theirs.
“This is a friend of yours?” one of the worms asked.
“Thiz iz the dead leaf moth,” B’zz said simply. “Zhe iz an ill omen. Zight of her meanz inevitable death. Thiz zhould be fine for uz, az we will not all ezcape the hive alive.” The worms were not pleased. The bee turned back to the moth. The creature groaned something, the creaking of its wings a language the worms could not understand. Only fliers knew it.
“What is it saying?”
“Zhe wantz a zacrifice,” B’zz said simply. “Zhe doezn’t like the look of you. One muzt die to earn her truzt.”
“That’s absurd,” one of them shouted. He pulled his split-tip splinter out from his flesh and waved it threateningly in the moth’s direction. “You’ll take us or we’ll glue you to the ground and tear off those wings. They’d make fine tents.” The moth did not respond, at least not to them.
“That will be a zuitable zubztitute,” B’zz said, pointing to the wooden idol they’d erected. She moved to pluck it from the ground, but two of the worms stood in her way. “No?”
“Why does it want that?” Pyrif asked, trying seize control of the situation back.
“Zhe haz zeen your worzhip. It iz part of your zpirit. It iz enough life to zatizfy her.”
“We have come this far to honor the worms of the bleeding heart,” Pyrif pleaded with the moth. “We cannot dishonor them. We cannot break in our traditions. That idol was dedicated to our lords. Will you take anything else?”
The Idol A War Worm Ball of Corpyceps
B’zz did not understand it. She had the feeling that even if she was fully alive once more, she still would not grasp what motivated these worms. Rather than deface the idol, one of them offered the moth their own life, which the moth was happy to take. The fear in its flesh would be so much more pleasant to watch than their tears at the smashing of a twig.
They bowed their heads and prayed on the back of the moth as it flew towards the hive. B’zz watched as the volunteer stood, marched forward, and dropped himself off the back of the moth when they were high enough to ensure death. The moth circled lazily so it coul watch their descent. The worm fell silently, smashing onto a stone and leaving a stain of glue behind. Their prayers ceased.
They stopped only once before entering the hive. They clung to the moth’s stomach as it hung upside down from the hive’s lowest point. They had to wait for the bees to leave and gather the day’s pollen. The hive wouldn’t be completely abandoned, but they would at least stand a chance. They all flinched when the roar of their collective buzz streamed out of the hive’s holes. For a minute they clouded the sky. B’zz tried to feel something with the air around her full of their buzzing, but the fungus would not stir.
She wanted her rage back. She wanted to hate them, but all she had was the ache for more wild honey. The fungus grew lethargic and it was getting harder to turn her head. Once her kin was gone, the moth dropped them off at the largest entrance and fluttered away without so much as a goodbye. If they had turned back they would’ve seen it in the distance, circling the sacrificial worm’s carcass.
B’zz led the party deep into the golden catacombs of her former home. They all had their weapons at the ready, some of them wielding four or five in their extra hands. It was nearly silent, though they could hear the moan of fresh wax flowing. It was in this near silence that B’zz realized she had no idea how long she had been dead. Days? A generations? Five seasons? Hive chambers shift and swirl with generations, so perhaps she wouldn’t even be able to find the honey vault.
As luck would have it, not much had changed. The sanctuary where she used to preach was empty, all the zcrolls in their proper place along the walls. She stumbled forward, between the pews, and propped herself up on her old pulpit. A hymn buzzed out of her reflexively. It echoed in the empty chamber, unsettling the war worms.
“What is this place?” one of them asked.
“I waz the paztor here,” B’zz said. “Now I dezecrate it with my fungal mind. It iz fine.” She moved past the pulpit and pointed to the walls under the portraits of past pastors. She told the war worms the honey was just behind them. They began their assault, tearing and hacking away at the wax with their weapons. “It iz fine,” she whispered, “becauze I no longer worzhip beez. I am one no more. Honey iz god. Wild honey iz a beautiful zavage animal god. I will rejoin it before theze zporez fade.”
They had just broken through and flooded the sanctuary with the intoxicating aromas of the pure honeys, but it did not go unnoticed. Ten drones swarmed it, stingers at the ready. They crawled all over the walls and ceiling, cornering the party before they could scoop any of the precious fluid. B’zz could feel it. The fungus didn’t care what happened next. It was fine dying and shriveling once more. B’zz still craved the liquid wilderness. She wanted bee spirits spilled. Unwilling spirits. None of the pathetic resignation she’d seen in the worm dropping off the moth’s back.
There was no time. B’zz had to act alive in order to stay that way.
Wild Honey Dive Bleeding Heart Dive Corpyceps in Honey
B’zz used the last of her energy. She turned and scrambled over the worms, getting her limbs in their faces and twisted up in their antennae. She broke their formation enough for the drones to move in, but it was not her concern. She’d held up her end of the deal. As she stood at the edge of the hexagonal cauldron she knew most of what she had done was out of convenience. She would’ve killed them all if it meant one more drop of the wilderness in her husk.
Death blossomed behind her, but she couldn’t look away from the reddish-gold honey. She immersed herself in it completely. As a living bee one drop had elevated her mind to a new plane, but she needed more to stimulate the emptiness inside her now. She could barely hear the battle as it raged outside the cauldron. None of it mattered. The wild honey poured into all of her husk’s seams. It drowned the fungus.
She saw everything once more. She saw how beautiful it was to disregard everything else and be a creature of freedom. Unfortunately, she also saw her fate. The sensation would not last long. Her mind was gold and crimson silk, her limbs cocooned lightning. She had power, but only moments to use it.
Her dwindling mind briefly considered the worms that had resurrected her. She never even asked why they wanted the bleeding heart honey, but she could guess. They were all about symbols. Surely the bleeding heart flower was the heart of one of their worms that had suffered greatly. They couldn’t gather it themselves because flowers belonged to the pollinators while they were mere predators of the detritus. They had looked up and seen the torn arteries of that pink bloom and decided it was their god watching and dripping over them.
She wanted to free them from that delusion. B’zz observed her cracked limbs. They no longer looked like the limbs of a bee. She saw the hooks of a praying mantis, the thorny flails of a house centipede, and the wicked claws of a whip scorpion. This was the wilderness she’d merely tasted in her regular life. She could only have this moment. She could only have this explosion at the end of her miserable droll existence.
She became rage. She became fury like the sharpest wind or the loudest rocks. So much power, so little time. She looked up in time to see the corpse of one of the worms hit the surface of her honey. She watched from below it as it sank slowly. His eyes were already empty. B’zz burst out of the cauldron, creating a gooey fountain that the drones had to skirt around. They were not allotted any of the pure honey. They had killed B’zz for sampling it the first time.
All eyes turned to the furious fungal un-bee. Her size was the same, yet she seemed to fill the entire sanctuary.
Kill the Drones Kill the Worms Kill Everything
Before her awesome power, none of them could do much. B’zz began with the drones of the hive that betrayed her. Her stinger split them down the middle, but didn’t separate from her body. All those tissues had dried up long ago. She broke their weapons in her hands and smashed them into the pews. Wax debris flew everywhere, tearing the zcrolls from the wall. B’zz plowed through them, incidentally trailing them like giant scarves.
When she was done with them she turned on the worms. She had her wild honey, her wild soul, but she wanted it forever. She didn’t want this pathetic day of fruiting and worrying. She didn’t want to die all over again. They had to suffer for their part in it as well. The sight of them ignoring her, using their glue to make bowls to store the bleeding heart honey, fanned the fires within.
She charged them, somehow hovering with only the barest wing structure remaining. They wanted the honey… and that was fine with her. They’d chosen the wrong one, but she gave it to them anyway. One by one she took the wriggling worms and dunked them into the bleeding heart. There. There was there epiphany. There was their god helping them drown and join the world of spirits.
“We’re not worthy of this!” one of them screamed, lodging a splinter spear in B’zz’s chest, but there was nothing to skewer. She held him under as well. Pyrif tried to reason with her, but you could not reason with the wild.
Nothing survived the sanctuary. B’zz pulled their supply of corpyceps from the cauldron. Yes. The fungus was purpose. The honey was power. They were meant to be together. She opened it up and added a generous spread of spores to each of the cauldrons, mixing them in so they didn’t stand out. The honey vault had been breached, but it was too much of an investment to discard. They would eat from their stores again.
They would all hear B’zz B’zozz’s final sermon growing in the back of their minds as devious mushrooms. B’zz buzzed the final bar of her favorite hymn and died once more. If she ever returned, she could buzz the chorus.