The Tale Of The Underground War

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Cover image: pixabay.com.

The Tale Of The Underground War

The figure sat in the dimmest part of the tavern, a mug of ale on the table in front of him. His cloak was dark grey, and he wore a large hat on his head. The two together made him blend even further into the shadows, and yet he drew attention.

He was a stranger to the tavern, and to the town itself. Just that fact alone would have singled him out for the town was not one that attracted travelers. The announcement, made by the barkeeper, made him even more interesting, for there was the promise of a tale to come; just as soon as the stranger was ready.

Keeping his eyes downcast, the stranger cleared his throat, signifying that he was about to begin his narration. All the men that had gathered in the bar, and the two serving wenches, stopped what they were doing and prepared to listen.

The man's voice was low-pitched, and quiet in volume. In spite of that, each turned ear could catch every one of his words.

 

I'm going to tell you a tale of war, he began. Not just any war but one that took place underground. While you were all going about your daily lives, oblivious, a ferocious battle was being fought right beneath your very feet.

Did you feel it? Of course you didn’t, because the ground is deep and the tunnels are deeper still. There were no men involved so why would you have even cared? No, this was a war between insects; beetles and ants, to be precise.

Would anyone care to wager on which insects won? No? Fair enough, then I will continue.

The ants were many. For each beetle there were one hundred or more, and the ants were used to working together. Have you ever watched them as they forage for food? They are disciplined and work together as a community, unlike the beetles who were far more familiar with working alone. The ants believed that they had the advantage, and many a war-lord would agree with them.

 

There were a few mumbles among the audience. Men were beginning to reach for their purses or pockets, for it was true. Discipline was one of the major advantages in waging a war. Plus there was the added advantage in their numbers.

Bets were placed, and very few backed the beetles.

The man had paused in his story-telling until quietness once again resumed.

 

Now let us consider the beetles. They were fewer, and had no apparent leader. Their roles in the war were undefined, being simply to attack any ants that came near. The beetles came, as though a call had been sent out. Perhaps they heard the screams of the first victims, for the ants had simply swarmed together and over-powered the beetles that were first on the scene.

The ants became sure of their victory, but they had forgotten to take in to account one thing. The beetle’s bodies were hardened, as though they were clad in armor, while the bodies of the ants were unprotected. As more and more beetles answered the war cries, the ants found themselves losing ground.

There was slaughter on a scale that you would not believe. Not unless you were confronted with the bodies. But even then, the true scale of the devastation would remain hidden for many of the dead were consumed to provide the soldiers with the strength to carry on the fight.

All the screams and cries echoed through the tunnels, and through the earth, and yet I am certain not one of you heard a sound.

 

Heads were shaken, bodies leaned forwards eager to hear about the outcome.

 

Would anyone here like to make a guess as to what these insects were fighting over? No? Are you sure?

Well, I will tell you. They were fighting over which species would be allowed to take the way out, up from the underground to the overground, where men lived. Of course you might wonder why they would wish to show themselves, for mankind would simply destroy the victors as soon as they set eyes on them.

But the desire was stronger than the fear, for one thing that overground provided was a wealth of food just sitting there for the taking. It would be so easy for either ant or beetle to make their way into the pantries, the storerooms, the cellars. And once there, they could both easily find their way into the sacks that held provisions.

Now, before I tell you of the outcome, would any of you like to change your mind about the victorious? I can see that most of you have backed the ants as victors. I’m not saying that’s wrong; just giving you a moment to reconsider.

 

A few looks were exchanged but nothing more.

“Get on with it, man,” a voice called out. “My throat is dry and my mug is empty.”

No one else called out, but there were a few mutters of agreement.

 

The thing about the war was that the insects tastes had altered. They had feasted on the bodies of their victims, after all, and for many that was their first sip of blood.

I’m not going to tell you of the outcome...

 

This was greeted with boos and hisses.

A load of fanciful nonsense,” someone shouted but the stranger seemed unmoved by the outcry.

 

I am not going to tell you, but I will show you instead.

 

Almost every pair of eyes turned down towards the ground, as though expecting the victorious insects to push their way up through the tavern floor. Only one man kept his eyes on the stranger and saw him begin to collapse into thousands of beetles. This one man leaped to his feet and dashed to the door, trying to deafen his ears to the screams as the beetles attacked, intent on replenishing their diet of blood.

He struggled with the door as he heard the gurgles of people choking on their own life-fluid, as the beetles feasted on their flesh, and he ran until he could run no more.

The man placed a hand to his side and stood panting, still incredulous at the slaughter he had witnessed. It was not possible, was it? Perhaps it was no more than an illusion. Now he was away from the tavern, the man began to feel foolish. He would return, he thought, and prove to himself that it had been nothing other than trickery.

His breathing now steady he turned and took one step then another, heading back along the path which he had previously fled.

The ground moved. He was sure of it. But that was not possible. There had to be something off with the ale. He’d have a word with the bartender when he arrived back at the tavern.

Except he never got there, never even got to take one single step further, before the ground erupted in a seething mass of beetles. No one heard his screams and cries as he became consumed.

 

 


Submitted: May 18, 2020

© Copyright 2021 hullabaloo22. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Mike S.

You've got to watch those damn beetles, never trusted them, excellent, Hull!

Mon, May 18th, 2020 7:19pm

Author
Reply

Ugh. I hate the things, but then again I'm not too fond of ants either.
Thanks, Mike!

Mon, May 18th, 2020 12:20pm

Vance Currie

A beetle battle! Your wonderful imagination strikes again, Hully.

Mon, May 18th, 2020 8:32pm

Author
Reply

Thanks so much, Joe.

Tue, May 19th, 2020 12:59pm

Sue Harris

You never cease to amaze me, Hully. This is so unique and entertaining... and what a twist! No spoilers! Great writing.

Wed, May 20th, 2020 3:13pm

Author
Reply

Thanks so much for the encouragement, Sue.

Thu, May 21st, 2020 11:52am

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