From out of the dark corners of the cave scuttled a host of the ant-like creatures. The soldiers guarding Gynea and her friends stepped forwards, spears raised, to meet the colony as they flooded out the tear and into the audience room.
The soldiers were joined by their comrades who’d been looking over the bodies of those that had exploded. Laird Quentin and McArthur backed away.
Gynea screamed as she felt her flesh tear, but it was drowned out by the shouts as ant met soldier.
“Take it easy,” said Red, looking over her.
“I don’t want to explode,” she cried.
“Something’s growing out of her,” Drummond said.
Gynea watched as both Red and Drummond stepped back. Don’t leave me, she thought as she sobbed. She could feel something pushing out of her shoulder where the lump had been.
“Folks,” she heard Jaxx say. “What is that?”
Gynea caught sight of something coming over her shoulder from the corner of her eye.
It looked like an arm. It grew, bones that resembled wood sprouted skin which spread and covered the giant appendage. Twigs became fingers as the limb grew into a huge third arm.
“What the fuck,” Red exclaimed, clearly troubled by the sight.
The pain eased as Gynea imagined herself flexing the fingers on her extra hand, and to her amazement they moved.
“That,” said Drummond, “is some fucked up shit.”
Ants continued to flood into the room. The soldiers beat them back with spear and sword but they were massively outnumbered.
“Stop them,” Laird Quentin shouted from the back of the chamber. The tear stood between him and the only doors out of the audience room. He was trapped like the rest of them.
“Red,” said Jaxx. Gynea knew when he sounded worried, and she could hear the concern in his voice.
“Me too,” said Drummond.
Gynea glanced up, trying to catch the breath she’d been holding through the pain. Drummond and Jaxx were looking at each other’s backs. Each had a very visible lump on the shoulder.
The ants overpowered one soldier, pulling him down into their mass by his ankles. He screamed as they swarmed over him, mandibles clacking.
Drummond dropped to his knees, his teeth gritted as the pain Gynea had just felt surged through him. At least he now knew she wasn’t making it up.
Another soldier lost a spear as a pair of mandibles tore it from his hands. He tried to fight it with his bare fists but his hits seemed to just bounce off the carapace of the creature. He too went down shortly afterwards.
There was now no-one standing between the growing colony and Gynea.
She looked behind her to see Marli fall to the floor, yelling as the lump on her shoulder grew and pulsed. Jaxx was curled in a ball crying, Red was screaming, and even Drummond was on his knees failing to fight against the pain.
That left only her.
An ant came charging at Gynea. She screamed as the mandibles clacked at her head. Ten minutes ago she was worried about exploding, now she was about to die to an oversized ant.
A soldier came running over, sword in hand, trying to save her, but the creature slammed its head into him and sent him flying.
“They’re too strong,” one soldier cried out.
“Keep fighting,” came Freeman’s voice from inside the cave.
The soldiers weren’t entirely defenseless. Spears were able to thrust through the carapace, and swords cleaved the ants in two. But for everyone they took down, two more appeared.
Gynea tried to edge backwards as mandibles snapped at her head. She screamed but it was lost amongst the sound of battle.
She didn’t want to die. Not like this, not through exploding either. But if she was going to go, she’d at least give her friends a fighting chance.
She instinctively reached out with her new limb, the huge hand grabbing the ant’s head as the pincers continued to clack. She squeezed and the head exploded like spoilt fruit. Black ichor was thrown over her. Gross!
Another ant came at her. She punched at it, and sent it flying across the room. And another, which she squashed flat with a hammer punch.
Behind her, Jaxx stood up and flexed the fingers of his new third limb.
“Gross,” he said, watching the flesh finish covering his fingers, “but cool.”
“Protect the others,” Gynea instructed as she grabbed another ant by a mandible and slammed it into the ground, breaking its back.
Jaxx stepped forwards and grabbed an ant off a fallen soldier. The soldier looked in horror at Jaxx.
“Just stab the thing,” Jaxx shouted.
The soldier snapped to, grabbed their fallen spear and finished the creature.
Gynea saw another ant fly across the room and splat in a mass of black ichor against the wall. She turned to see Drummond admiring his new fist.
“Oh this is going to be fun,” he said.
He was joined by Red.
“What is this?” he said looking at his hand opening and closing on his command.
“Don’t question it,” Drummond replied. “Just punch your way out of here.”
“Please,” Laird Quentin called from the back of the room where he cowered with McArthur while the soldiers backed towards him. “Save me and I’ll grant your freedom.”
“Leave him,” Drummond said to Red.
“No,” came Marli’s command as she rose to her feet. “Save the soldiers. Protect everyone.”
There was no debate. Some of these soldiers had been Gynea’s friends when she’d lived on the estate. It wasn’t their fault that they had to protect a ratbag like Quentin.
Gynea and her friends moved forwards. Sensing the threat, the ants turned their attention from the soldiers to meeting them
But they were no match. Before they could get close, a huge arm had either crushed, pummeled or thrown them.
Despite being covered in ichor, Gynea felt better than she ever had. She’d never been the most powerful person in this group, but with her new limb, she felt invincible.
The tide slowly turned. With Gynea and her friends approaching from one side, the soldiers armed with spears and swords approaching from the other, the ants had no choice but to slowly retreat.
Step by step both groups pushed the colony back into the tear, their numbers thinning.
“I think we’re winning,” Red said.
A hundred became fifty, became twenty, until with a final punch from Drummond, that knocked the head of the ant clean off, there were none.
Red stepped into the tear and ran over where Freeman lay covered in ichor and insect parts.
Gynea noticed he wasn’t moving and felt sure he was dead. But he opened one eye, looked at Red and said.
“What the Moon happened to you?”
Red flexed the fingers of his new oversized hand.
“I ate the fruit,” he said.
Gynea’s jubilation at having defeated the ant creatures had caused her to temporarily forget that she was destined to explode. Victory turned to defeat. She wondered how it would happen. Would it be slow and painful like when she grew her new limb, or would it be sudden and painless. She hoped the latter.
Freeman coughed weakly, and nodded to where, on the other side of the tear, the remains of the soldiers had laid.
“That never happened to my guys,” he said.
“Easy,” Red replied pointing to the red mixed with the black that coated the soldier. “You’re alive but still badly injured.”
“Someone call Andrews,” Marli shouted at the soldiers. When none of them seemed to take the initiative, she pointed at one and said, “you!”
“And seize them,” Quentin called from the back of the room.
“You promised us our freedom, remember?” Gynea shouted back. As if making a point, she raised his new limb and made a fist with her hand.
“Easy, Gynea,” Marli said, resting one of her regular hands on the girl’s free shoulder. “There’s been enough fighting.”
Marli looked from her to Quentin.
“But unless you want to lose face in front of your soldiers,” she hissed. “I suggest you honour our agreement.”
The soldiers were clearly unnerved by her friends’ transformations, but they also knew that those transformations had saved most of their lives. Around them were a couple of reminders of what would have happened to them had they not.
“Very well,” he said. “A promise is a promise. I guess.”
It was just as well as he said that, as Gynea began to feel weakness in her new arm. She watched in horror as it began to blacken.
She glanced over to the others and saw theirs doing the same.
A finger fell off her hand and was dust before it had even hit the floor.
“What’s happening?” she asked Marli, as her entire arm crumbled to dust.
I wrote this fast, which probably means there’s a load of typos hidden in the script. But I generally do well with action scenes so the speed this chapter got written wasn;t surprising.
Because we have elements of horror in our big bad, I wanted to reflect that here. Knowing how far to take it is always difficult, so I’d probably be upping it in places and calming it down in others.
I’m sure that down the line the form the mutations took might bother me and I’ll come up with a cooler idea. The story offers me a little scope, but I may find myself locked in by some of the decisions I needed to make for this chapter.