A skittering sound echoed out from every direction. It wasn’t that loud, but the sound bounced eerily through the dark confines of the tunnel. Unfazed, the watcher waited patiently in the darkness as the noise grew louder. Soon it would complete the mission that it had been commanded to fulfill, and service to the Host was all. It was a warrior and the purpose of life was obedience.
The cave around the warrior was dark and dank. The only sources of light were small glowing mushrooms that grew in clumps on the ground and from the walls, but that was enough for the warrior. Its four eyes shimmered as they drank up all the light, and they allowed the warrior to see the shiny Harvester beetles that were tending to the nearby mushrooms.
A few moments later, a mob of shadowy figures emerged from a side passage. The mass of skinny limbs and dark carapace came to stop before the watcher, and the skittering sound died down. The new arrivals were short. They didn’t even come up to the watcher’s shoulders. One of the creatures stepped forward and began making a strange mix of hisses and clicks. It was a member of the Host’s worker cast.
The warrior listened and then replied in a similar way. When he was done, the lead worker bowed, and the warrior began to return the way he had come. The tunnel was once again full of the sound of claws scrapping against stone as the workers followed him.
They passed several small Harvester plantations, which they left alone out of respect. The mounds were built from piles of organic mass gathered from the depths and above ground. They were covered in many different types of mushrooms, some of which glowed or glimmered different colors. Sometimes shapes that were much larger than harvesters moved among the fungi, but the shadowy creatures all avoided or fled from the travelers. Clusters of stalactites hung from the ceilings, and occasionally drops of water dripped down from them to splash against the stone floor. The mob of skittering creatures moved past it all unimpeded.
Soon, they emerged into a circular cavern that was illuminated by a dull light. Across the chamber stood two more warriors, who were guarding the far passage. Both the warriors were armored in thick black carapace, had four shining eyes, and sharp mandibles protruding from their mouths. Like the workers, they had six legs, but they were standing on four of them. Using their top pair of limbs, one of the warriors held a long spear, while the other held a tall staff. Both the staff and the spear were made from a bone-white material that was twisted and looked like it had been grown instead of crafted. The top of the staff held a glowing white crystal, which was the source of the dim light that filled the cave.
After a brief nod of acknowledgement from the guards, the newly arrived warrior led his worker charges into the passage beyond them. They came out into a huge cavern that had a high roof and was hundreds of feet across. An underground river flowed through the middle of it, filling the chamber with a gentle lapping sound. Around the river, dozens of workers were busy with varied tasks. Using their claws, they tended to the heaps of dirt and refuse they had collected. Like giant Harvesters, the workers built and rooted through the piles. However, they weren’t growing mushrooms. There were very little fungi in sight. Instead, the workers seemed to be reaching inside the piles and extracting something. Claws emerged from dark rotting soil with long white filaments clutched within them. The thin shapes squirmed and flailed about in the air as the beetle-like workers gathered them. They were worms. The entire cavern was a farm for huge white worms.
The warrior was undaunted by the sight, although it made his stomach rumble slightly from hunger. His mandibles clicked softly as he thought about the sweet taste of slimy worm flesh, but he banished the thought. He had a duty to fulfill, and there was no time to consider anything else. He had been trained well, and he would eat his fill later. There was more than enough food for all the servants of the Host. Under the leadership of the noble caste, the Host had greatly expanded its agricultural operations, so that the next grand spawning could be the biggest ever. The Host’s numbers were growing in leaps and bounds, as was their destiny. Soon.
At this point, most of the workers that had been following the warrior walked off to seek their next task. Only their leader kept shadowing the warrior and following behind him. Together, they passed through several more caverns. Some of them were farms of various sizes that teams of workers were taking care of.
Eventually, they entered an incredibly large cavern. The distant walls were veiled by darkness that seemed to stretch on forever, and the roof hung hundreds of feet overhead. Hundreds of towers made of some sort of dark resin-like material stretched from the floor to the ceiling, and similarly constructed walkways and bridges connected the buildings. All throughout the darkness little pinpricks of white light glowed softly, like stars in the night sky. A nearby light post revealed the source of the dull illumination. There was a small mana crystal sitting atop it.
A steady chorus of whispering and tapping echoed through the cavern. The dim light glinted off countless black carapaces, as workers and warriors scurried along the bridges and ramps that led in every direction. The darkness here flowed and roiled with the gathered creatures’ endless obscured movements.
The warrior and the worker submerged themselves into the flow of their kind, as they headed to a ramp that twisted its way up one of the largest towers. They ascended the incline, and when they were halfway to the ceiling, they entered the tower through a gaping irregular entrance in the resin. It was quiet and completely dark within the room, and after stepping inside both of them stood at attention and waited.
From the impenetrable darkness, two large creatures emerged. They were as tall as the warrior but with thicker builds. Their bellies were rounder and the armor at back of their heads was longer and covered with ridges, although they had the same general shape and black carapace. With a series of clicks and raspy grunts they addressed the warrior and the worker. These were administrators, the highest servants of the nobility, and their words were not to be questioned.
When they were done talking, the warrior responded. He told them all about what the scouts had discovered above ground and the feed they had brought back with them. Of particular importance was their observations of the humans, the ancient invaders. The nobility and the administrators wanted to map out the location of as many human settlements as possible. The resurgence was coming, and the Host would soon reclaim what had once been theirs. The exile had been long ago and they were no longer what they had once been, they were now the Host. Their weaknesses had been stripped from them during their retreat into the darkness below. The deep places and its beasts had tried to devour them, but they had devoured them instead. The exiles had learned much and taken their enemy’s strength as their own. Under the divine guidance of the nobility, the casts had been formed, and the Host had been forged into a single will with a single purpose. Soon.
Free Bonus Chapter!
Get access to a 9000 word bonus chapter set in The Iron Teeth and a new world map by joining my mailing list today.