He was floating in a dark and featureless void. Thoughts and memories drifted around him in a blurred haze. Feelings, sounds, smells, and so much more seemed to float just out of his reach. Where was he? Who was he? Was this even real? He looked around, looking for something that stood out. He spotted a memory, brighter and clearer than the other memories in the distance. He awkwardly started to swim towards it. Progress was slow but steady.
Suddenly, a memory winked out of existence. Shocked, he looked around to find that all the other memories were dissapring, too. Some simply disappearing while other slowly dissolved into the void. Panicked, he redoubled his effort, desperately trying to reach the fading orb. He had to reach it before it disappeared forever! He was so close; it was just of reach! He lunged for it, but it still remained just out of reach! No! It was so close! He had to reach it! The golden memory was almost nonexistent now! But, he refused to give up! He kept pushing towards the memory, inching ever so slowly towards it. He had to reach it! There! He had it in his grasp now! The memory was a name! And, not just any name, it was his name! His name wa-
Something in front of him suddenly broke with a loud crack and before he knew it he was falling forward, away from the confines of his mysterious prison. The first sensation he felt was a cool air that greeted him as soon he broke through whatever had been encasing him a moment earlier. The second was a sense of pride and accomplishment. He may not have known what he just broke out of, but he couldn’t help but feel that his escape was a milestone of sorts. The third was the ground as he found himself face-planting against it.
The sudden shock of pain sent him reeling and he found himself thrashing around on the ground. What was left of his prison was kicked off in his thrashing. In the middle of his throes, he opened his eyes for the first time in his new life. Unfortunately, his eyes only saw a heavy darkness, as if he hadn't opened his eyes at all. The darkness all-encompassing, hiding all kinds of potential threats, sending a deep pang of fear into being. He opened his mouth, taking large, deep gulps of air. He promptly used that air to scream at the top his lungs. His shrill scream pierced the darkness, echoing in the distance. He kept screaming and screaming into the darkness as if the sound alone could fight it back. Finally, when his throat was too sore to scream and his body too drained to move, he flopped on his stomach, resting his chin on the cold stone floor.
Despite his exhaustion, his eyes continued to scan darkness, searching for any danger. To his surprise the darkness was slowing ebbing away, revealing more of his surroundings. He was in a large cavern made of a dark stone. The walls and floor were unnaturally smooth. He could make out strange broken orbs scattered about the chamber, but it was too dark to make out any details about them. Luckily, it seemed there weren’t any immediate threats around.
After resting for a while longer, he felt like it was time to get moving. Some deep instinctual part of him was urging him he had to leave this place, that he had to reach the next stage of his life. He gathered his strength and tried to hoist himself to his feet, but he collapsed with a surprised squeak when he put his weight on his legs. He paused for a moment to gather his thoughts and get a feel for his body. Speaking of with, his body felt odd. It felt like his body in the wrong shape completely.He tried to crane his neck to see his body, but he couldn’t quite twist his neck far enough to catch a glimpse of anything. Instead, he decided to wiggled his body around, getting a feel for it. His body felt too long and made up of round, squishy segments. Next, moved his legs experimentally, getting a feel for them. The first thing he noticed was that it felt like he had way too many of them. He had three pairs of them along the side of his body, a pair at each segment and six in total. His legs were like stubby featureless claws. This didn't feel right. Wasn’t he supposed to have hands? Wait, what were hands, anyway? Pushing these odd thoughts out of his mind, he decided he learned enough about this strange body and tried to get up again. He planted his legs firmly on the ground and pushed, managing to get on his feet. When he got to his feet a sudden heavy weight pitched his head forward. He found himself stumbling forward due to the unexpected weight. He caught himself and balanced his head before he could land face first again. The newfound weight on his head was attached to his head, but he couldn’t figure out what they were. Wait, shouldn’t he also be higher off the ground? He shrugged it off...Well, as much as you could shrug without shoulders. He had wasted enough time here. He needed to get moving.
Now that he was up, the next step was to take his first step. Wait, how do you walk with these many legs? One leg at a time? Two at a time? Tentatively, he started to by moving his front two legs, followed by the next pair and the last pair after that. Soon enough, walking started to come naturally, and, before he knew it, he was making steady progress around the chamber. In his search for where to go next, he came across one of the imperfect orbs. Curiosity got the best of him, so he decided to see what these orbs were. Even with his adjusted vision, he couldn’t make out its color, but he could see that its surface was smooth. The orb was just a bit smaller than him. He could probably fit inside it if he curled himself up. He walked around the orb and saw a large cracked hole in its thick shell. He cautiously peered inside it. He let out the breath he didn’t realize he was holding. The orb was empty. Another strange thought came to mind. Egg? What was an egg? He literally shook his head trying to get these thoughts out of his mind. He had already wasted way too much time on these stupid and random thoughts. He had to get going. He turned away from the egg and continued his search for some kind of exit.
The large tunnel in front of him was huge, easily dwarfing him. He swallowed the lump in his throat as he stared into the tunnel that seemed to stretch on forever, so far that it faded into the darkness. Had walked across the chamber until he reached a wall. After that, he started to walk along the smooth stone wall. The wall was surface was bare save for an occasional hole bored into it. The holes were too smooth to be natural. All the holes were about his size, but they did vary slightly. The holes weren’t that far off the ground. If he wanted to, he could probably climb inside one of the bigger ones, but even the biggest one could prove difficult with the strange weight attached to his head, so he decided to try to find a different exit. Thus he found himself in front of the large tunnel. Steeling himself and marched onwards towards the darkness.
He flopped on his stomach, exhausted and breathing heavily. He knew the tunnel would stretch on for a while, but this was ridiculous! He had been walking for what seemed like an eternity. The tunnel had been void of anything of notice, not even the eggs or any of the smaller tunnels in the wall. This was terrible! His weird claw-legs things ached, he was out of breath, and worst of all, there were these annoying footsteps echoing in the chamber, getting closer all the time!…Wait...footsteps!? The footsteps were coming from the darkness ahead of him. He looked around frantically for something! Anything! But, there was nothing around but pebbles.Too late! Two shadowy figures with strange shapes on their heads emerged from the darkness; one tall and thin, the other shorter and plumber. He spun around to run, but the taller one swept him up in one swift and graceful movement without either of them breaking their stride. She tucked him to Its side with one arm, facing away from his captor. He tried squirming, but her grip remained strong and steady. He couldn’t even manage a decent squirm, but that didn't stop him from trying or squeaking at the top of his little lungs.
Suddenly, he heard something strange from the figure holding him. Something familiar but alien at the same time…Words...they were words. Words that were just like the strange thoughts that frequently surfaced in his mind.
‘“Shoosh, little one,” the figure cooed in a feminine voice, gently stroking his head. For a moment, he forgot about the cavern and everything about them. He let himself go limp in his captor’s grip and enjoyed the gentle petting.
“You know, we’re not supposed to interfere with the grubs,” the shorter one said, a hint of annoyance in an otherwise monotone voice. He perked up at the sound of the second figure and started to listen to their conversation
“Oh, you’re no fun. What’s the harm in helping this little ol’ grub?” the taller on teased.
“You know full well why. If any weak grubs survive long enough, they could end up spreading their weakness into a future clutch. Not to mention the drain on resources, especially this one due to its high blood,” she retorted.
“Don’t worry, miss Fussy Fangs. Maybe the grub just got a little turned around out there. Besides, this little grub hasn’t even gotten to the hard part of the Grub Trials yet. He still needs to survive long enough to pupate and reach his adult molt.”
The shorter one sighed in defeat. “Fine, but if we get caught, you’re the one that’s going on the culling block.”
The two walked in silence for a few moments before fussy fangs leaned in and whispered, ”hey, have you heard? This clutch actually has a Fuchsia blood. And, if that wasn’t enough, the Condesce herself ordered that the Fuchsia blood be delivered to her old Lusus, Gl'bgolyb itself!” She couldn’t stop her voice from rising at the end.
The taller one was silent for a moment before responding. “Yeah, I heard,” she tried to whisper, but doing a poor job of it. “I also heard that an actual Virgin Mother Grub chose to be a Lusus and they already had a Jade blood all lined up for it and everything! What about those meteors that crashed? Those meteors were under pretty intense investigation. Do ya think they have anything to do with the grubs?”
“I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t like it one bit”, she said, nervousness starting to creep into her voice.” Enough of this! We’ll be culled for sure if anyone hears!
The taller one opened her mouth, about to retort, but decided against it. “But, you were the one who brought it up…” she grumbled under her breath.
Silence lapsed between the two for the rest away.
“Do you even remember which tunnels lead to a feeding chamber?”, fussy fangs asked as the two entered the egg chamber in much better time than the grub’s initial progress.
“Of course I do! You think I hatched yesterday?”, the tall one replied. With that, the two continued across the chamber, avoiding the eggs.
“Hmm, looks like this grub hatched quite late. All the other eggs are empty and every other grub already left.”, fussy fangs said.
The duo stopped when they reached the chamber’s wall. “Are you sure it’s going to fit in one of the tunnels? His horns are quite large and it has four of them”, fussy fangs asked. Ahh, so that’s what's on my head, the grub thought.
“Ehh, we’ve seen bigger. ‘Member that bronze blood from earlier? Those horns were huge! If that grub could squeeze in, I’m sure this little guy can fit just fine.”, she said, waving off her concern with her free hand.
The figure holding him bent down to push him headfirst into one of the holes in the wall. Fussy fangs suddenly coughed before he was pushed into the small tunnel. The figure paused for a moment before moving him to another opening. Fussy fangs coughed again. Finally, he was pushed into a tunnel without a cough. Once the grub was in the tunnel, it hurriedly crawled inside and disappeared into the tunnel.
“There we go”,Fussy fangs said. “Now, let’s be off. We’ve wasted enough time on this grub. We still many other egg chambers to check.” With that, the two left.
Fussy fang’s comment about the horns did have some merit. His large horns, while not very sensitive, did have some feeling, and provided an uncomfortable jolt with every bump. He had to keep his head lowered and awkwardly crawl forward on his stomach to keep his horns away from the tunnel’s roof. And, even then he still occasionally bumped and scraped his horns at the top of the tunnel. Speaking of fussy fangs, it had been awhile since the duo helped him. Nowhere near as long as his trek in the large tunnel, but he had been walking considerable amount of time. His time with them had been odd, to say the least. He had understood most of what came out of there mouths, but some of what they said made no sense. What was all this talk about blood? Who was this Condesce they were talking about? From how they were talking about her, he guessed she was some kind of big deal around here. And, what about Gl'bgolyb? Apparently having whatever that was as a Lusus was also some kind of big deal, too. The grub had also tried to copy what the two said along the way, but all he could manage were high pitched squeaks, chirps, and clicks. He was, however, pleasantly surprised to find that his vision seemed to improve since he had begun crawling through the tunnel. Suddenly, the grub perked up. There was an opening ahead. He hurried forward and poked his head out from the opening. His breath caught in his throat what the chamber held.
It was much larger than the egg chamber from earlier. Large pools of water clustered in the center. Patches of what looked to be pale green moss grew on the chamber floor, mostly near the pools, but patches also grew sparsely elsewhere. stalactites covered the ceiling, some almost touching the floor, and the occasional stalagmites reached upwards. The most shocking sight were these small wriggling shapes. They were grubs! They were so many!
In his awe, he didn’t notice he was leaning closer and closer until- “Squeak!” He tumbled out of the tunnel flipping onto his back and landing with a solid thud, taking his breath away. The tunnel’s exit had been higher than the entrance, so the fall had been long. He quickly recovered and scrambled to his feet. He looked around to see if anybody was nearby, but most of the grubs were concentrated around the moss or the pools.
He finally got to see what other grubs looked like. The grubs didn't look very different from him. A round segmented body with simple black claw-like legs. The color of their bodies did vary, however. From burgundy to violet. Colors like burgundy, yellow and green seemed to be much more plentiful than the blues and purples. He was also amazed to see that the violet grubs with fins on their cheeks and tail-fins swimming in the pools and occasionally diving and emerging with some kind of small crustacean and eating them. He also noted that the more common colors seemed to cluster together away from the pools while the purples seemed to claim larges patches of moss near pools. Their heads didn't really match their bodies. While their bodies were clearly insectoid, they had eerily… human faces? Again, with these strange thoughts? Upon each head were multicolored horns. Orange at their base, followed by a lighter orange, and the tips were a yellowish orange. Some of their horns looked similar, but none were identical. Some were small and nubby while other were huge and sharp.
Having just exited one of the tunnels, he was on the outskirts of the chamber. He saw a small, secluded group of bronze and rust grubs huddled around a stay moss patch and began excitedly making his way there.
However, his excitement disappeared when a bronze grub caught sight of him. It suddenly shot up, lowered it’s head in his direction and growled deep and low, alerting the rest of the small group. Before he knew it, the group of grubs had gone from a docile to snarling and menacing.
He stepped back, shocked at the group’s sudden change. Slowly, the group had begun advancing towards him, teeth bared. He quickly turned and ran as fast as his little grub legs could carry him. He spotted a small ‘forest’ made up of stalagmites and stalactites in the outskirts of the chamber and raced in that direction. He looked back to see if the others were pursuing. While there were still hissing and growling, they seemed content to guard their moss patch. He finally reached the forest, rounded the corner so he would be out of sight, and tried to squeeze in through one of the gaps, but it was too small, especially with his horns. He didn’t give up. He kept pushing until he finally he slipped through. Once inside, he collapsed on the surprising soft floor, panting heavily. He was safe, for now.
Without getting up, he looked around the stone forest. The rock formed a kind of circular chamber, the walls made up of stalagmites and stalactites. The walls weren't perfect, of course. He wouldn’t have been able to enter otherwise. The walls were filled with gaps, the larger ones were big enough for a grub to fit, like the one he entered from. The smaller ones were just small enough to see out of. Despite the gaps, he was hidden well enough. It was also much roomier than expected. It could probably fit a dozen grubs with room to spare. The floor was covered in the same pale green moss from outside, hence the soft floor. Still laying down, he lowered his head, sniffing at the pale green moss curiously. The moss was odorless, thick, and spongy.
Suddenly, his froze, terror seizing his body. He heard a monstrous growling, deep and terrible-and it was coming from inside the chamber! Whatever it was, it was huge! Dangerous! And was-oh… it was coming from his stomach...
With that realization, he felt an unfamiliar hollow feeling, gnawing at him from within. Whatever this feeling was, he decided he did not like it one bit. Getting to his feet, he took another look around, hoping to find something to quell this strange empty feeling. Unfortunately, there was nothing around except for the...moss.
He lowered his head again, taking another sniff at the moss. Cautiously, he nipped at the moss, ripping out a little. He chewed slowly and cautiously. The moss was tasteless and spongy, and with every chew, water seeped out of the moss. Swallowing, he felt the hollow feeling ebb away slightly. With renewed vigor, he began swallowing mouthful after mouthful of moss.
Swallowing one last mouthful of moss, he let out a content sigh. The moss wasn’t very appetizing, but it was filling. He hadn't even put a dent in the moss, even after stuffing himself. He walked to the forest’s wall and peered out through the gaps towards the center of the cavern to see the other grubs.
It looked like the grubs seemed satisfied to stick to their respective territories. A sudden commotion caught his attention not too far from him. He turned to see a lone rust grub hissing at an approaching larger purple grub, apparently defending its moss patch. Any other grubs that were nearby shied away from the dispute. The purple grub continued, undeterred by the rust-colored grub’s growling, forcing it to back away. The rust grub suddenly turned to run, but the purple grub was too fast. It pounced on the rust grub’s back, pinning it down under its bulk, and, in one quick movement, bit the side of its neck with a sickening crunch. The rust grub let out a shrill scream and thrashed around, rust-colored blood bleeding profusely from its neck, but the purple grub held on tight. It’s struggling died down and the scream faded into a faint gurgling from its throat. The purple got off the grubs and bit down again on its neck again with another crunch. The rust grub jerked once more, let out one last gurgle, and remained motionless and soundless. The purpled grub than began dragging the rust grub away, its head lolling around on a crushed neck, leaving a trail of rust red blood on the moss.
The grubs that were nearby now moved in on the now empty moss patch, eager to claim it as their own. The purple grub had dragged its bounty away, near one of the pools, among other purple grubs. The other purple grubs tried to move closer, but the original purple grub drove them away each time. The grub looked around, making sure the others weren’t close. Satisfied, the purple grub began to feast into the rust grub’s soft body with gusto, taking mouthful after mouthful of rusty red flesh.
He turned away, shocked to his very core. He felt bile rise at the back of his throat, disgusted from watching the purple grub tuck into the rust red grub with the same enthusiasm he had with the moss. He suddenly felt exhausted, and collapsed on the moss floor, falling into a dreamless sleep.
Time had little meaning in this cavern. The young grub simply ate when he was hungry and slept when he was tired. He rarely looked outside of his little abode and didn’t dare even try to venture out. Why would he? He was safe in his little forest of stone.Unfortunately, there was nothing he could do to stop the sound. Sometimes, the sound of flesh tearing, bones crunching, screeching, and hissing would be so loud that they echoed all across the chamber. The worst, however, was when they seemed to come from right outside his little forest. These were the times where ha cowered, shut his eyes tight, and hoped that whatever was happening would pass soon.
While there were some displays of friendship out there, grubs huddling together for warmth and safety and even occasionally playing, they were few and far between.
This was his life for awhile.
He awoke to the sound of nearby voices. Familiar voices.
“Ya think that there’s gonna be enough paint to go around this sweep? Doesn't look like we have a lot of grubs for paint.” It was fussy fang’s friend!
“Indeed. It seems we have a lack of suitable grubs for paint.” And that was fussy fangs!
He ran towards the wall of the forest, pressing his face against the wall, eager for his first good look at his one-time helpers. He got his first look at them.They were along the chamber wall. Near him, in fact.
Fussy fangs was short and a little plumb. She had cold gray skin, chubby cheeks, and stern jade eyes, well-kept jet black hair that ended just below her chin. Upon her head were a pair of tri-colored horns. They had a thick base, but thinned out, leaned forward and ended with a small hook.She wore a loose black blouse with large bell sleeves. Upon her neck and shoulder, she wore a small black jade striped cloak with thin translucent jade fabric hanging down to her ankles. She wore an ankle length pencil skirt with green stripes.
Like fussy fangs, she had the same cold grey skin, the same pitch black hair, and jade eyes. However, that was where the similarities ended. Unlike fussy fangs, she was tall and thin where fussy fangs was short and pudgy. Her jade eyes weren’t as hard as fussy fangs, being more carefree and easy. Her horns were simple tall and thin cylinders. She was clothed in a similar attire, only lacking the bell sleeves. Pared with fussy fangs, the differences between the two was almost comical.
However, the two weren’t alone. Behind them, a pair identical threatening beast towered over the two. Their entire body was encased in a thick and spiny bright red carapace. Their arms and legs were thin compared to the rest of their hulking bodies, but their carapace did have gaps, revealing a weaker looking gray at their joints. Their hands were surprisingly dexterous, each held a long simple red trident in their right hand and a large burlap sack slung over their other shoulder. Their massive shoulders were covered in a gray amour, with their red spines jutting out. Their heads were large, mouthless, flat, and oval shaped, narrowed to a point at the top, and facing outward. Along the sides of their heads were three large sets of red spikes that were angled upwards. Upon their face was a white trident design, the outer prongs curved along their oval heads, and the middle prong shot straight up its head. Their eyes were two white rectangular with slits, cold and ruthless.
Fussy fangs and her friend simply ignored the two hulking beasts, as if they weren’t even there.
The group then started moving, getting closer to his hiding spot. While fussy fangs and her friend moved elegantly and soundless through the chamber, the other two stomped along with heavy clangs, the robotic whine of their joints, and heaving torsos. Any nearby grubs scuttled away, hiding anywhere they could manage. As they neared, he noticed their tridents’ prongs were coated with colorful blood and the sacks were stained in a similar matter. He was shocked when the sack occasionally wiggled.
“There’s a grub. Go, drone,” fussy fangs said, nonchalantly pointing at a grub still trying to find a hiding spot in vain.
The grub in question was cerulean and most of its legs were bent at awkward angles, most likely from a fight. When the grub realized it had caught their attention, it gave up on hiding and tried to scuttle away, but made poor progress due it’s injured legs.
The drone to her left immediately broke off from the group, heading for the grub. The grub redoubled its efforts, but a single step from the drone easily outpaced dozens of the grub’s diminutive steps. The drone reached the grub in no time and quickly used its trident to stab the grub- issuing an agonized shriek from it- and stuffing it into its burlap sack.
The rest of the group caught up to the now waiting drone and carried on as if nothing had happened. Fussy fangs and her friend continued their chatter.
He turned away, disappointed at the two. Despite their early kindness, they just as cold as the emotionless drones
He had been here for what felt like forever. Over that time, he went through a number of changes.
Physically, he had grown almost double his size and became quite lethargic. The moss he had been feeding on had been exhausted entirely to fuel his growth. Mentally, he had grown aloof. The sound of grubs fighting and occasionally dying once terrified him, but they just bored him now. Even the occasional visit from the drones didn’t phase him anymore.
The change was just upon him either. The other grubs have grown, too. The fights between grubs have also steadily dwindled until they stopped entirely. The chamber had grown silent.
I’m done here. I need to move on, he thought, pacing in circles. He had tried squeezing through the gaps, but he had grown far too large for that. He barely managed the first time around! Suddenly, something caught his eye. On one spot, the stalactites and stalagmites were thin and brittle looking. He experimentally knocked his head against, ignoring the jolt from his horns. Nothing. He tried again, harder this time.The stone shook and cracked a little, but he recoiled from the stronger jolt.
I’m was getting nowhere with this, he thought, sighing. If he was getting out of here anytime soon, he was just going to have to buckle down and keep going until his escape route was done. He braced himself and started ramming the stone with all the might his little grub body could muster. He fought through the pain, determined to finish. He felt the stone beginning to crumble under his horned assault. Finally, with one last ram, the stone fell apart.
He was carried along with the force of the blow and landed on his stomach, dazed from his headbutts. He got to his feet, shaking his head to clear his head. He looked around and saw that most of the other grubs were already gone. A group of about thirty stragglers were heading down a large tunnel. He quickly followed them. The group was made up of grubs of all colors. Strangely enough, it seemed that all the grubs were different in each other’s company. None of the grubs even so much as snapped at each other. Instead, every grub looked ahead and marched forward, undaunted.
He looked ahead to see what the other grubs were so focused on. The tunnel was devoid of anything of interest. Suddenly, he felt it. Another instinctual feeling pulling him, the same feeling that had told him to leave the chamber. He allowed his mind to relax and his instincts guide him.
His instincts had guided him through the labyrinth. Luckily, the group hadn’t come across any dangers. Even if they were set upon by a predator, he doubted he could do anything with his sluggish body.
His stared at the cavern his instincts led him and the rest of the group to. It was vastly different from the others. First of all, it was considerably smaller than the others from before. The chamber had a low ceiling with large stalactites. It’s walls and floors were simply smooth stone. It looked like most of the other grubs had gone elsewhere, safe for his small group. Among the stalactites were a few strange chrysalises, a bit bigger than a grub. The chrysalises were vaguely grub shaped, smooth, and shared the same colors as grub blood.
Guided by his instincts, he began crawling up the stalactites. He found that his small legs were well suited to the task. His climbed by hugging the stalactites and slowly crawled upwards by moving his legs one set at a time. The other grubs were doing the same.
Once he was nestled among the stalactites, he felt a thick and viscous substance rise from the depths of his body rise up his throat. The substance rapidly filled his mouth and caused his cheeks to swell. Whatever it was, it had a slimy texture, was unpleasantly hot, and tasted burnt and bitter. He spat out the substance on the stalactites. The substance was a thick purple ooze and stuck to the stone. But, it didn’t end there. Whatever the vile goo was kept coming, and he continued to spit it up on the stone. The ooze quickly congealed when he spat it out. Soon enough, the stone was coated with a thick layer of the purple ooze. Almost robotically, he carefully maneuvered around the stalactites around the, adding to the ooze. Soon, he had built a chrysalis with an opening just big enough to fit himself in. He looked around one last time before entering. Some of the other grubs were already inside their chrysalis. Most were just putting in there finishing touches on theirs. Finally, he backed into the chrysalis. Once he was nestled in, he sealed the opening with one last bout of ooze.
Once he was inside, he blinked. A wave of exhaustion washed over him. The journey and the building of the chrysalis took a lot out of him. He let out a yawn and closed his eyes, letting sleep take him.
He heard an artificial voice right before his conscious faded.
‘“Commence school feeding”