Lugah feral intent, p.2
Lugah - Feral Intent, p.2
Lugah crashed through the dense forest on Ketu. Although he had a sword strapped to his back, his sharp, feline claws made quick work of the vines that attempted to entrap him. With one swipe, he severed a low-lying branch. He stopped to catch his breath, shaking his head and muttering at the three planets in the sky. He reached into his pocket and retrieved a picture of his son, Lucas. It was tattered at the edges, but the image of the boy was still clear. Lugah smiled, kissed the picture gently, and returned it to the safety of his pocket.
“Sure, Dalynia, I’ll go and help the Druids fix another Aazronian problem. No need to wait for another moon to go home, I’ll just use my own portal.”
Forlorn, Lugah opened his palm and stared, irritated, at the broken portal stone. “This thing needs to be more robust!” he shouted.
He crushed the small, marble-sized sphere in his hand as though it were dirt, and threw it into the brush. He looked up again at the planets. Their gravity captured nearby meteorites that sped towards them with destructive force.
“I should be up there!” he shouted, pointing at the sky. “Where did you come from anyway? Just popped up out of nowhere, did we? Stupid portal!”
He didn’t notice the log in front of him, covered in slimy, wet foliage, and lost his footing. With agile reflexes, his feline grace took over, preventing the fall as he righted himself on his feet.
“And what’s with these stupid boots? What sicko makes a cat wear boots?”
He arrived in a small clearing and took a moment to get his bearings. Lifting his head, the pupils in his eyes changed shape, replacing the darkness with a dim green.
“Let’s see where we landed then.”
He paced back and forth, trying to orientate himself to his surroundings. Every time he thought he knew where he was, he would shake his head, then go back to pacing.
“This doesn’t make sense at all.”
Leaning down, he extended one claw and drew a small map of his surroundings in the dirt, then several straight lines. He lifted his claw, blew out the dirt trapped there, and then continued his calculations.
“How did I end up here?” he asked himself.
A twig snapped in the undergrowth behind him. Shaking his head, he grumbled, “Great…no silver.”
Werewolves leapt from the dense bush at Lugah, lashing out with their sharp claws. With minimal effort, Lugah avoided their lunging attacks. His sinewy legs propelled him high into the air and onto the trunk of a large oak. Another short jump thrust him over the heads of the werewolves and into another tree. Without touching the ground, he disappeared into the darkness of the forest. The werewolves pursued him on the ground, following his scent with unerring accuracy. One of them howled and leapt into the trees, its agile human feet propelling it up into the canopy.
Another werewolf gave chase under the low-lying branches. Dust and dirt flew into the air as it slid, almost losing control. It didn’t lose sight of its prey.
Lugah grumbled as his keen eyes searched ahead for his next step. “Damn wolves. This night is never going to end. What could possibly be next? This couldn’t get any worse!”
The small limb beneath him sagged under his weight to reveal a clearing in front of him. Large mounds of earth protruded from the ground like small volcanoes. Lugah shuddered at the sight, and turned to face his attackers.
“Well that’s just great!” he muttered.
A large werewolf pounced from beneath the foliage. It smashed into Lugah, knocking them out of the tree. As they fell, Lugah’s instincts took over, twisting and contorting his body. He broke free of the werewolf’s hold. It was under him, now. He lifted his knees up and pressed his feet against the stomach of the thrashing werewolf, propelling him into the air. A howl of pain followed a muffled thud, as the werewolf’s impact with the ground snapped its back.
Lugah unsheathed his sword and retrieved the small round shield hanging from his back as he landed beside the werewolf. It had already begun to heal. Without hesitation, Lugah swung his sword in an attempt to behead the creature. It was too fast. It rolled to one side and crouched on all fours, growling at the Feral. The other werewolf arrived—a taller female—calling to her injured mate. Lugah charged forward, feeling the rush of air as several spears flew past him, missing the werewolves by inches. Yelping in surprise, the werewolves scurried off into the forest without a backward glance. Lugah raised his arms in surrender.
“A mammal trespasses on our land!” came a broken voice behind him. The sound of small clicks filled the night as more Feral ants exited the mounds.
Lugah turned to face the hybrid ant and replied, “Well, not intentionally. I did bring her Royalty a gift of two werewolves.” He scanned the area. “But it seems they got away.”
The ant approached Lugah. It moved on two legs. Its middle legs served as an extra pair of arms, with stumps where one would expect hands. Only the top pair had hands. Its exoskeleton acted as natural armor, covering it from head to toe. This particular ant’s head was distinctly human, indicating it belonged to the worker class. The human head gave them greater intelligence, making them better suited for being diplomats, military commanders, and engineers. The larger army ants sported mandibles and lacked human features and intelligence.
“I don’t believe you, cat! You’re lost, aren’t you? I can smell your travels all over you. You stink.”
“Do I?” Lugah replied.
“Yes. Yes, you do. Human casters and Druid magic. You’re not here to see the Royalty!”
Lugah’s smile disappeared as the ant shouted, “Guards! Guards!”
“Look, I landed in the wrong place and these werewolves attacked. Instead of killing them, I brought them to the Royalty.” Lugah paused. “If you let me go, you can lead your companions in a hunt against those werewolves. You know she will just send me away anyway, but...”
“But?” replied the ant, his eyes seeming to light up.
Lugah whispered, “But if you were to bring back two werewolf heads, you would prove your worth to the colony.” Lugah waited for his words to sink in as he scanned the mounds for signs of the army ants. “I suppose you’re on guard. Proving your worth while the big guys are enjoying a bit of the mead?”
The ant looked at his colleagues behind him. They chattered amongst themselves, holding their spears in an awkward fashion.
“What if you’re right? How does this help me?” the young worker ant replied.
“It may be enough to ensure you are not recycled.” Lugah grinned.
The worker ant thought for a moment and raised his spear. “After the werewolves. This Feral has brought us the gift of the hunt to prove our worth!”
The sound of chatter filled the air as the worker ants charged into the bush, chasing the werewolves’ scent. As they passed Lugah each ant saluted, to which he responded with a haphazard gesture. Moments later, the area was empty. Lugah turned away from the mounds and headed back into the forest, very pleased with himself. As he ducked under the branches, his feet gave way and he fell to the ground. He twisted in pain as two large army ants grabbed his ankles and hauled him into the mounds. He tried to find purchase on the ground, perhaps a stray root or a rock, but the area was well worn.
Lugah protected the back of his head as the army ants dragged him down the long tunnels of the nest. As they traveled deeper underground, the tunnels twisted and turned at severe angles.
“Come on, guys, easy on the coat. I just cleaned that.” Lugah grumbled. “You’re matting up my fur!”
One of the guards looked at Lugah and snapped his mandibles. A large stinger at the base of the tailbone glistened with poison.
“Careful where you’re waving that thing.”
Lugah sighed. His brand of humor was clearly lost on his captors.
A short time later, they arrived at a large door. It dwarfed all the other doors Lugah had ever seen. His jovial chatter ceased upon seeing the two guards at the entrance. Unlike the other ants he had encountered, they wore thick plated armor stained blood-red, and stood over ten feet tall, dwarfing his impressive eight-foot height. Two long swords no human could ever wield hung at their sides. Lugah frowned down at his own sword and immediately coveted theirs. Each guard held a spear barring the entranceway.
They spoke with short, sharp clicks. One of the guards looked at Lugah and asked, “Are you sure you want to go in there?”
Lugah shook his head.
“Very well then,” said the Royal Guard. “You were warned.”
“Hey!” Lugah protested as he disappeared into the large, oval, antechamber.
Rows of wooden tables and chairs, intricately carved, lined the room. The room was so immense that the light did not reach the other end. Lugah could only assume that there was a ceiling. It, too, was so high up, even his keen eyes could not see it. Lugah looked around, amazed at the workmanship required to create the room. On closer inspection, the walls revealed themselves to be the interior of a gigantic tree. Maybe formed at the beginning of Ketu, thought Lugah. Finely interwoven roots made the floor, completing the architecture of the room. So complex was the weaving, that to a human eye, it appeared to be a wooden floor engraved with whorls and patterns.
Strange symbols and forest imagery etched into the table legs made Lugah’s mind wonder. He looked up from the ground as he passed each chair, their high backs extended past their headrests. At the top of each chair, the owner’s name was carved in fine calligraphy.
Lugah pointed up at the chairs and asked his captors, “The names on the chairs. Tell me, do you do it because you all look alike?”
One of the ants tugged hard on Lugah’s ankle causing him to wince.
“Easy. It was an honest question. At home we know each other by, well, our faces.”
The guard’s stinger flicked through the air and stopped inches from Lugah’s nose. He didn’t flinch as he stared at the guard. A grin appeared as he contemplated his victory.
“Sorry,” he replied. “I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Enough!” shouted the queen, as the doors at the back of the room flung open.
“Bring Lugah here without delay.”
The guards chattered in reply.
“English!” she shouted in return.
The guards proceeded towards her, still dragging Lugah.
“And he has feet! He’s a damn cat, for crying aloud. We are not an inn offering a porter service!”
The guards dropped Lugah’s feet. As soon as he was free, and before his feet touched the ground, Lugah placed his hands underneath his shoulders and propelled himself upwards. Amazed, the guards were caught unprepared, as he landed on his feet, the sharp of his blade against the head of one.
Unimpressed, the queen turned away. “See? They do land on their feet.”
“Yes, we do, Your Majesty,” Lugah called out in triumph.
“Yes, yes, but do you know what really intrigues me?” she asked, turning to face him.
Lugah smiled at her immaculate features. Tall and slender, her ant carapace formed perfect armor over her feminine figure. Her violet eyes lit up against her pale, human face.
“No, I don’t. But I’m curious now,” Lugah replied.
“Tell me, Lugah, how many lives does a cat have?” She grinned.
Lugah lowered his sword. She turned away again and walked into the Royal Hall toward the throne room, swinging her stinger behind her.
The two guards shoved Lugah forward in the direction of the queen. Suddenly, their antennae stood upright, freezing them in place. One of the guards pointed to the door and signaled for Lugah to move on alone.
“By myself?” Lugah asked.
One the guards looked down at Lugah, and in a deep gurgled voice replied, “Yes, mammal. The queen has an appetite for little kitties.”
Lugah lifted his hand and presented a mocking salute. He turned and arrived at the doorway in one leap.
Bored, the guard gave a deep sigh and followed. He stopped at the doorway, using his spear to block the entrance. Shaking his head, he gestured at his partner to join him.
Lugah taunted the guards and then entered the queen’s throne room. It was much smaller than the previous room. Its walls, ceiling, and floor—all one piece—were carved from a smooth, grey, magical ore that possessed a natural luminescence. Semitransparent dyes, which ran in lines around the walls, created vibrant incandescent light. He marveled at the symbols engraved upon them.
The queen sat on a large throne in the center of the room. Carved from the same piece of ore, and dyed the same red as the Royal Guard wore, it appeared to grow out of the floor.
Unlike her native cousins, the queen was much smaller than the other Feral ants. Standing at only six-foot, she appeared more human than ant, lacking the extra appendages of her kind.
“I see you appreciate craftsmanship, Lugah.”
Lugah approached the throne. “Where I come from, it’s impolite to call one by name and not introduce yourself.”
“You are a cute kitty, aren’t you, Lugah. Let me introduce myself, just in case you missed it the second time.”
The fur on Lugah’s back bristled at her sarcasm, but he forced a smile and nodded.
“I am the queen, and you are the fool who sent my children to their deaths against the werewolf infestation.”
Lugah’s smile dropped. “I believe you are mistaken, Your Majesty. There were only two werewolves and many armed—”
“I believe I was introducing myself,” she interrupted.
“My apologies.” Lugah bowed.
“Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? You sent my young workers deep into the werewolf-infested forest to chase down two of the strongest wolves we have encountered, on the premise that they would win and prove themselves before… what word did you use? Oh yes, the Recycling.”
“Well, that isn’t how I would see it,” Lugah replied, shrugging his shoulders.
“That’s because you don’t see through my eyes. Eyes that see through every worker, every soldier, and every caretaker. I feel their terror, their pain, and their hope—hope you have falsely given them.”
Incensed, Lugah raised his head and argued, “Come on now, Queen. Giving them hope is hardly a crime when compared to the finality of the Recycling.”
The queen stood up. “What you call the Recycling is their chance to prove themselves worthy of this great dominion. We have no place for the weak, belligerent, or undisciplined.”
“So you get rid of them.” Lugah leant forward. “You recycle them and feed them back to the colony.”
“What are you talking about? You ramble like a fool. We do not feed them back to the young. They are assigned their duties for the rest of their lives, lives that you have put in danger with your ignorance.”
Embarrassed, Lugah stepped away from the queen. “Duties?” he asked.
“Yes, duties! All ants are born the same. At the time of the Recycling, the old are retired to teach the young. The young are taught the ways of every other order within the colony.”
“The same?” he puzzled. “But how is that possible? They are all so different.”
She sat down and tapped her heels. “Do I look like a tour guide? Perhaps you would like some milk?”
“My apologies. I just never imagined—”
“That’s the problem. You did. You judge us, and yet the mammals send their unwanted offspring through the portal to die.”
Lugah snarled. “Who’s imagining things now, Your Majesty? Wildlings go to the nursery on one of Ketu’s moons. They are well looked after, and left to roam as their animal desires dictate.”
The queen laughed. “Is that what they tell you?”
Caught off-guard by her laughter, he replied, “It is an uncomfortable truth that we do not speak of.”
“Yes, yes,” she goaded. “The most sacred and dutiful decisions a good parent must make—to preserve the integrity of the intelligent, while sending away those that are more animal than human.”
“It is a harsh truth. The wildlings cannot be trained, and, therefore, do not belong in society. Even I had to struggle with such a task—a task that haunts me still to this day!”
She smiled at Lugah, waiting for him to calm. “Don’t struggle too much. From what I hear, you have a most original son. Lucas, isn’t it?”
Lugah stepped back in shock.
The queen nodded to herself. “Yes, it is Lucas. That is one child with his head in the clouds. Our world’s future bard and, if the prophecies are true, possible savior.”
“Lucas is no threat to anyone. He will grow out of it soon enough.”
“I see. But what about Defh? The twin whom you sent away to the-what was it?” She paused as if recalling. “Ah, yes, the… nursery.”
Awash with emotion, Lugah’s claws extended, but retracted just as fast. “How do you know this? What do you know of my son? What kind of trick is this? I demand an answer!”
The queen smiled. “I can tell you that he is a truly ferocious warrior. A true heir to your legacy, and yet, he was the one you sent away. The untrainable wildling.”
“Any one of your bugs could have learnt that. You are simply filling in truth with lies.”
“If that is what you believe, then perhaps you are not the one to unite the factions after all. That is your desire, isn’t it?”
Perplexed at the queen’s insight, Lugah moved closer to the throne. “Only those I trust most know such a desire. Tell me, Your Majesty; is my punishment to hear you gloat before I die? If so, then let’s just finish this now.” Lugah knelt, and placed his sword and shield on the floor. “I am prepared to accept responsibility for sending your workers into the night, but I am not prepared to listen to any more of your badgering. End this now before I am tempted to end you.”
“Such brave words from the little kitty,” the queen replied. “No, Lugah, you mistake my intent. Even now, my scouting drones return to me. They have located my missing children, who have taken refuge in the lizard domain. No, little kitty, you will not die here. You will bring my children home.”
Lugah stood up. “You would risk their safety by bringing back your drones instead of saving them?”
“We cannot enter the lizards’ domain without starting a war. Mammals are merely snacks to their kind, and our elite forces are off planet right now, consumed by the fever that lies within us all.” She pointed at Lugah. “You can either save my children or watch your friends die at the hands of a hundred drones.”
“Friends? What are you talking about? You would invade my village because of my actions?”
“I said nothing about your little village, full of mongrels who whine and complain about the apes that rule them. No, little kitty. Your chieftain, the gorilla, sent out a quaint search party.”
The queen closed her eyes and concentrated. Lugah looked at his sword, debating whether he could strike the queen down before he himself would die. “Yes, I see them now, a rat, a honey badger, and something else. Why, yes.” She opened her eyes and glared at Lugah. “A lizard!”
Lugah’s eyes narrowed. “I understand now. You think that because I travel with an outcast lizard, I can just waltz into their territory.”
“No, Lugah. Such thinking lacks vision, something a little mind would conceive. I think”—the queen stood up deliberately and walked over to Lugah. She stretched out her hand and tickled the underside of Lugah’s chin. “No, I know that an ambitious mind, combined with true intent, would see this as an opportunity to unite the factions. You can bring back my children and in doing so, earn the trust of the other hives.”
Lugah opened his eyes. The automatic response of closing them and exposing more of his neck for petting, was a weakness he could do without right now. “I’m a married man!”
“Marriage—such a human thing. The colony would never survive or thrive if I were restricted to just one mate.” The queen moved her hand away from Lugah. “Just think, little kitty. Your dream of ending the Methuselan occupation may actually come to pass.”
“And if I fail? You will take my life instead, I guess.”
“No, little kitty. From what I have seen, a far worse fate awaits you at home, whether you succeed or not.”
The queen walked to the door.
“What do you mean?” Lugah demanded. “What do you know?”
She stopped and turned. “Oh, so now you believe my lies.”
The door opened and a large drone walked in. Lugah’s jaw dropped. The winged-ant stood even taller than the Royal Guards.
“Oh, look. Your ride is here. Now go!”
Before he could respond, the drone grabbed Lugah, wrapping its four legs around him. Its wings propelled them into the antechamber, and up towards the ceiling into the open sky.
Lugah - Feral Intent by Adrian Juhl / Fantasy have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on15 votes