Arthropoda: Defenders of Farfield
The road was dark. Nothing but the animals born to moonlight stirred and even they had grown quiet as a storm approached on the drifting wind. It made the world smell earthy, and the scent of the pine trees sharper. The titan sat inside a metal creature that ran faster than any land creature. It resembled a beetle with chitin, white like clover. On its side, it had black markings that made the shape of, “National Center for Toxicological Research.” It glided effortlessly, but the road wound sharper with each curve. The titan never did see the broken limb – felled by the wind. It swerved, the insect-like beast scrambling over it clumsily, screaming defensively before righting itself. From its back, a hard wooden waste fell breaking on the hard smooth ground. It was like a hive and buzzed with life as a hive does.
Claws reached out, climbing out into the dark, followed by hundreds of more hands and legs, each crawling – each writhing en masse, until on dark amber wings each of the emerging creatures slid into the night, easily overlooked due to the titan’s forward-facing eyes. Too unimportant for its large eyes to see. His beast had already become small in the distance, a beetle true. Nothing but a speck just as insects are perceived.
Billow had watched it all as she perched on a pine branch overhanging the road. Seeing a human and its beast are always startling, but she had trouble comprehending what she just witnessed, but the weight of it caused her to shiver. There she continued to flatten herself, unsure of what she should do. Instinct told her to wait, to avoid, and fear enveloped her like her cocoon, no nothing so comforting. Like a bird’s beak crushing her, sharp and inescapable. It had been by chance that she had come to rest here. She cursed the winds, for the winds had guided her to this place and now the small kitten moth’s wings shuddered as the winds changed direction and the sky cracked above. In her claws she grasped a small sliver of a cherry branch bringing it to her chest, searching within her the courage to dive into the torrent of wind that tore at the leaves above her. Clawing to the edge she spread her wings and the winds snatched her dragging her beneath her like rushing water, the power of it against the barbs of her soft antennae-like screaming. The roaring winds pulled her over the solid stone river below and above the tree line. She had to seek out the others of her Order and tell them what she had witnessed. She had to return to Redbone Tree.
The air was warm, but the storm made it thick. Spring was warming quickly this year, and the forest below her was so alive with music that even the winds could not drown it out. The thought of falling into that cacophony was not appealing to the soft-bodied moth. The frogs sang their ballads loudly in hopes of winning the hearts of females, undeterred – in fact, excited – by the impending rainfall.
Billow, felt a different kind of excitement, an urgency that made her pump her wings hard against the tide of wind. Every fibrous hair on her body could detect that these creatures that had emerged from excrement did not belong here. Not in this place. As an acolyte of the Order of Fae, it was her duty to report any danger to the area. It was the Order’s sworn duty to protect all of Nature from the Titans. To assist when their presence destroyed the land. To guide those in need back to the sanctuary. There was no doubt in her mind that – though these creatures were living beings, their presence here was a danger to the Cycle of Nature and she had to warn the Order so they could warn others.
Exhausted she nearly rolled off the maple leaf that she landed on. Panting heavily she crawled across it and down the stem to the branch. As she did the sky split open and she had to shelter beneath the leaves as the downpour created a waterfall in front of her. She could see nothing beyond the curtain of water, and with a single droplet, her fur was soaked. Clutching her knees to her thorax Billow was glad of the hot night. At least she was not both wet and cold. She’d been foolish to leave, and that foolishness was the cause of this deserved suffering. If it were not for my addled mind bringing me here, she thought I would not have witnessed what I did. In this way maybe being foolish was necessary from time to time, though the thought was of little comfort.
Billow felt the branch bounce, a new weight bending it slightly, but not enough to upset her balance. She became instinctively still and felt her heart hammering within her thorax through to her abdomen. The visitor did not move. Through the bottoms of her feet she could sense the vibration of small movements, but whatever it was it too was still.
It must be a bird, she thought. Just a bird that, like Billow, had gotten caught in the rain and came to roost here. Those of the Order did not have to carry the same fear of birds as other insects, but no bug could deny their instincts. The limb moved again and Billow found herself clinging to the branch as it sloped further downward causing the waterfall to run along with the wood and over her feet. Still, the intruder was hidden from her. As an acrid scent wafted between the water’s ripples, one that was familiar, unchanged by time yet entirely unrecognizable to her, it became apparent that this was no bird. Claw gripping into the wood, Billow edged her staff of cherry towards the flow in front of her creating a break in the water.
That is when she saw it. Gleaming metallically against a flash of lightning was one of the beasts. She checked her breathing, for the thing was searching, biting, chewing. It was covered in inky blackness and obscured from her keen vision by rain, but she could hear its gnashing maw ripping at the bark. It lifted its great head into the air, smelling, sensing. It rose on its back legs, then turned moving closer toward her hiding place. Billow stepped back removing her staff from the water slowly. The creature was not being hasty. The rain was unpleasant and it sought shelter in the leaves just as she had. The rain was lessening, however, and as it did her veil began to dissipate. Billow panicked, she gripped her staff in two claws and began walking backward. Behind her was nothing to shroud her. There was nowhere to go but down. Her wings were too sodden to fly. She’d have to resort to her abilities to defend herself, and that such effort in her worn state could end of her as well.
The creature was becoming larger as the gush of water over the leaves became a trickle. It slowly turned its head and looked directly at her. She no longer felt the heat of late Spring. Her body felt like ice crystals formed in her blood as it did during the winter. Its blazing eyes held her, then the shadow leaped towards her then over her taking to the air. The propulsion of its exit caused the branch to whip and sent Billow down into the air below.
She could hear the chorus of frogs growing closer and closer as she fell, her wings slowing her down, but giving no lift. A breeze braced her and she spun her staff, shifting the wind’s direction and launching herself back into the air. After several more instances of this, her wings began to work and she glided on the moist air until she spotted the sanctuary of her Order.
It was a beast like the one she had seen carrying the monsters within – before it excreted them on the hard path it traveled. This one was smaller, and only a skeleton covered in red rust now. A tree grew through its bones and it was within those walls, at the roots of the pine tree, was where the Order of the Fae found sanctuary. Amongst the branches, the bones, the leaves an entire city of insects slept. Redbone Tree was a place those of the Fae were safe and where they could learn. Other insects let them be. If they did not care for them, they at least respected the power they possessed. That did not keep them from naming them unnatural, wrong. For all outside the Order named them Shifters. Those that bent Nature to their whims as mankind did. Shifters were considered heretics to the Cycle.
The Root Halls were a place of sacred knowledge old as the Earth, however. Insects outside the Order feared to commit sacrilege by venturing there, so even the most tenacious of predators avoided this place at the base of the tree for even they feared the reprisal of the Cycle were they to step foot there.
In insect society, there is no other way but the way of the Cycle of Nature. How far from the truth that was, but the thought of it had been enough to make Billow falter. Just as she faltered now that the entrance of the roots loomed before her. They seemed like open mouths, ready to devour. The night was no stranger to a moth, and the darkness inside certainly did not scare Billow. It was what laid within. She had left the Order, sneaking off like a coward, and now she had to face the shame of returning.
She touched the walls with her delicate claws, gliding them over the rough bark as she went; Her feathery antennae guided her by scent, though she could see perfectly well in the dark. The chamber smelled of moss and earth. Soon the rough bark gave way to the smooth wood beneath and fine etchings danced across her claws. Here, the stories of her kind began. Each shifter would bring these stories with them and then carve the words into the walls of their sanctuary so that they could be remembered when more shifters came. If the sanctuary fell to nature or titans the words would be remembered and rewritten in a new sanctuary. In this way, the stories had never been forgotten, not since the beginning of time, and each tale was beyond Billow’s comprehension. She had only been born this Spring.
The chamber began to widen and Billow came to a full stop at the opening. She hung her head and took a deep breath before taking the final steps. The interior chamber was enormous, at least half the width of the tree’s trunk. It smelled rich like the orange needles surrounding the entrance – no longer evergreen but still giving life. It would have been dark, but inside a firefly sat upon a platform of wood his abdomen blinking in intervals. The flashes illuminated a fine-featured silk moth. His wings were grey-brown – like the fur of a deer. Each wing had two black eyes with yellow pupils and a pink human smile beneath them (Antheraea polyphemus).
His name was Drifter and he was the oldest moth that Billow had ever known and yet he did not appear aged – aside from some wear and tear to the edges of his wings.
Billow stepped tentatively forward and as the light Lanthorn, the firefly produced faded. When his natural glow filled the chamber again Drifter was facing her, his hand poised on a particular etching.
“You have returned to us at a late hour. Did the rain keep you?”
Billow looked away and thumbed at the staff with her claw.
“No.” It was all she could muster, her proboscis felt as though it were tied in a knot inside her mouth.
“Yet, you have returned to us.”
He knew she’d left, how could he not? She snuck away in the night just as he too would’ve awakened. He no doubt smelled her absence immediately. Any moth could’ve and Drifter had keener senses than most. His large antennae were like bird feathers and could pick up the slightest change.
Billow looked at him, her dark golden eyes fixed on his, deep brown. They made her think of fallen leaves. Warm beneath protecting the roots of trees from the cold, enriching them, and yet rotting away. Such old eyes Billow had never known. She knew titans lived for a hundred years, trees for thousands. Ten summers, didn’t seem so long in comparison and that was how many years Drifter had lived, yet he showed no signs of death. Billow often wondered if she would begin to rot away like autumn leaves from within. How many years would she live due to her being one of the Fae?
“I have seen something, Drifter. A great metal beast! It left droppings on the road, and form this arose – creatures like which I’ve never seen. Larger than you or I in body, but no larger than a yearling squirrel. It is hard to describe. I could not see them as they were too far away, but their smell was bad. Wrong.”
Drifter cocked his head at her. It was not that he did not believe her, but that he was looking for the right question to ask.
“Were they living?” He asked, and what he meant by this was were they alive with blood unlike the metal running beasts that had blood added to their bodies – strong and toxic smelling. These breathed and roared, but smelled of nothing but minerals from the earth.
“I could not say, their smell was familiar – strong despite the winds. They seemed so, they chewed, searched, and moved like our kin.”
Drifter turned to Lanthorn who had been listening.
“How many were there?” The small insect pipped.
“At least fifty, maybe more! They vanished into the night so swiftly…”
For a long time, Drifter said nothing. Then turning towards her the full width of his wings spread as though he were going to take flight.
“Then we must investigate these creatures and be sure that they are not a threat to our kind and the Cycle.”
Billow, nodded. Most insects did not believe that the Fae were just as many servants of the Cycle despite their ability to shift aspects of nature to their will.
“For now, we must rest,” his wings folded once more to his back. “The wind – even for us – is too much and the rains will keep us from moving quickly. I hope that the case will be the same for these – creatures. I will send out Dasher and Flint at dawn.”
He walked towards her then towering over her. His enormous wings made Billow feel as if she were nothing more than an ant. His large graceful claws touched the fur around her thorax and neck.
“There is no need to feel ashamed for leaving, Billow.” His antennae came to touch hers affectionately. Insects did not have fathers, so for Billow such a feeling that now swelled within her was often difficult to decipher yet his touch almost broke her. Sorrow filled her up, and she hung her head unable to cry due to what she was.
“I am sorry.”
“Don’t be. He stroked her fur now with his claw, guiding her through the hall to their resting chambers with his arm. “When I emerged from my cocoon, I had no idea what I was. It took me two years to come to understand my gift. Another year to find those like me. You are young, Billow nothing but a springling born from your chrysalis this very year. It is natural to fear your gifts. I never expected I would find one so young and yet Nature guided me to you. You will grow, and these gifts will not seem so. Believe me, you will have plenty of time to discover your strength.” His eyes looked sad, but he turned from her so she could not see. You cannot hide much from a moth. Intuition went hand and hand with their sharp senses. Billow’s heart panged with guilt and pity that would shame Drifter if he knew. She hoped he did not but knew he did.
They stopped at a small opening, barely large enough for Billow to fit through. Inside was a cozy space that she called her home. Drifter brought down a claw in front of her so quickly she nearly fell backward into it, but he clasped in his claws for the briefest of seconds a gust of wind, which he cast it in her direction. The air rushed over her wings, which she lifted to check them over. It did not warm her, but they were dry. Chilled she entered her small room hoping that it would warm her. She thought of the warm sun, and of fire, but fire was the one element a shifter could not control and it caused her to drift into a fog of fear.
Things grew so quiet that Billow could hear Drifter all the way in the main chamber speaking with Dasher and Flint who had both just awakened as dawn brushed over the roots of Redbone. She felt herself growing weary as light trickled into the opening of her small cave. She turned from it as the brightness was unpleasant to her eyes, but she relished in the warmth and fanned her white and grey wings. The light illuminated the black dots that formed intricate designs and even the small stripes of yellow beneath the gray belts that formed across them. She was a furry moth, so much so even her lower wings had soft layers of fur, which now filled up with the sun’s light. Soon she was asleep.
When she slept, Billow often dreamed – another shifter curse – though perhaps this would be closer to a daydream as her eyes could not close. She remembered her time as a caterpillar, again something most of Lepidoptera forget. Her mind was simpler then, driven only by hunger. She did naught but eat leaves in the warm sun. She remembered the cold of winter as pupae. Dormant, seeing the world change day after day from behind the veil of her chrysalis. When the warmth encased her and she emerged, something grander, something more beautiful. She had been so proud that first evening until the dawn shined and she saw them – yellow, blue, orange – butterflies dancing gracefully in a field of wildflowers. She felt very small then, and smaller still as time went on. When night fell there were as many moths as big as small birds, brightly colored and grand. She had thought herself rather insignificant, especially when males of her species showed no interest in her. Drifter had told her, that though she was capable, shifters did not release the same pheromones as their kind did during mating season. For this reason, female fae avoided death by never laying eggs. This was subconscious as most took time to learn what they were.
After her rebirthing, she felt she was a stranger in this world. She would’ve had a short time in the world as well, had Drifter not found her and saved her life. Billow had given up on hiding herself, obeying her most ancient instincts. She laid herself on an open branch and slept, startled awake as a heavy body landed on and covered her completely.
“Stay calm,” the assailant had whispered and she felt his large wings flash rapidly and heard the bird call above screech in fear. She had felt colder at that moment than she’d ever felt through rain or winter. She would’ve been a meal and never known it before it was too late.
When this grand moth stood before her, she had no idea why another insect would put their life in danger for her. She flew away. Such a thing at this time was beyond her mind. Her only instinct was to run and so she did. He found her again and told her what she was, that it was the reason she could fly faster than others, and why other insects kept their distance. Since that day, she’d felt, at last, a comradery – a belonging. Yet, it had been too much for her.
The day faded and when its light left the roots entirely Billow awoke from her trance-like state. She cleaned away some dust from her face then emerged from her chamber. As she stepped into the hall she heard the buzzing of wings and barely had time to duck before a bright blue dragonfly darted overhead.
“I can never keep up with that guy,” came the tired voice of Flint from behind her. Flint was a startling black and white borer beetle with antennae thrice as long as Billow though he was only about an inch taller than her.
“Damn show off is what he is!” He shouted this holding a claw to his mouth aiming his insult in Dasher’s direction though the dragonfly was long gone.
“I wish I could fly like him,” Billow said absently falling into step with, Flint.
“You will one day if you keep practicing. Thank all that is that he’s a water shifter. There’d be no living with him if he had the winds behind him.”
Flint was an earth shifter – able to guide soil and small rocks. Drifter had been a leader of a wind order before Billow came to be with them, but something had happened to the others – not a topic Drifter liked to discuss. Ever since then he picked up any fae, whether they be tied to earth or water or wind.
Billow hadn’t mastered how to use wind to fly faster yet.
“There is barely any living with him now.” Billow smiled up at him and Flint chittered.
“All he does is shove mosquitos into his gut all day, then when there is a mission he acts as though Drifter handpicked him to serve. Bah! Dragonflies, you know once you know all of them. They live for months – even years – as larvae then emerge from the water no more mature than when they hatched.”
“I wouldn’t want to even imagine living in the water that long. It makes me shiver just thinking about all those…fish.”
Flint’s face grew grim and when he spoke next his voice held more respect, “Aye, true but to hear him tell it he ate more fish than dared tried to eat him.” Billow stifled a laugh as they entered the main hall.
Everyone was gathered now. Lanthorn no longer flickered as there was light enough from the full moon inside the tree’s gap. Glissade a luminescent green silk moth nodded in greeting to Flint. Billow was not acknowledged.
“Dasher was just telling us what the two of you came across,” she spoke with sleep still in her voice.
“It’s bad, Drifter,” Dasher continued, “the death toll – there is no point to any of it. Some are chewed up, but the others – it’s just slaughter! Like whatever did this was filled with madness.”
“The trail seems to be heading southward,” Flint added. “Those who would speak to us told us of a swarm coming through. Seems we were, fortunately, a few steps behind or we’d gotten caught in it too.”
“It would seem, we will need to head to Shroudleaf, though I very much suspect we will not be welcome there.” Drifter sighed and reached for his staff – a sturdy elm stem. “The sooner we leave the better, though I suspect the two of you need to rest.”
Before Flint could respond, Dasher interrupted, “we’re fine and ready to fly at your order.”
Drifter looked at Flint bemused as the beetle grumbled an insult, “very well. We will leave now while the moon is high.”
Excitement spread through Billow’s body. This would be her first official mission with everyone. She ran to her room to fetch her cherry tree stem, but when she reached the door she remembered – the water hiding her from a monster the night before. The excitement quickly became terror. A voice inside screamed at her in anger for returning. She had to choke down the instinct of prey. She would have to face this, she could’ve been free, but she made her choice.
Outside the tree, everything was heavy with moisture. A lingering breath from winter would try to cut through the choking mist, but would ultimately fail. Spring was here, and soon summer would have hold of this forest. Already the night birds prepared for their families, the toads still sang in search of love. She spied Lanthorn looking to the sky hopefully, but it was too early in the year for fireflies to emerge and like her he would go unnoticed.
If they took to the air they could be in Shroudleaf by dawn, yet the fog made everyone’s wings heavy. Even Dasher was grounded, as he had the most delicate wings of the group. At one point Billow was splashed with water droplets as he tried to shake off the water. His gossamer wings were sticking together and he looked like a newly born adult after its first molt. He was not very pleased when Billow commented on this, causing Flint to laugh.
Billow enjoyed the dark, the sounds, and the smells. The animals and the flowers slept. Only those secret flowers that she and her kind knew of came alive at night, filling the air with sweetness. It didn’t take long for her enthusiasm to fade, however. After about an hour of walking – Flint being the only one used to this mode of travel, she realized this was going to be a miserable wet journey. The fur around her neck and on her legs had become matted and muddied. Her antennae became too heavy to lift, and the atmosphere itself seemed determined to make breathing a chore.
When Drifter finally stopped them so that they could take a rest Billow very nearly collapsed.
“We’re getting no where, Drifter,” Dasher said immediately while laying on his belly legs stretched out on either side.
“Yes it would seem you lot are moving incredibly slow.” Flint looked at Dasher with a glint in his eye. Before he could respond, Drifter spoke.
“I agree, we will never get there at this rate. Even though it will exhaust us further, I believe we all know what we must do.”
At this everyone stood together heads inclined. Billow scurried to join them despite a glare from Glissade as she brushed up against her pale green wings. Dasher picked himself off the ground to come at the front. Then Drifter, Lanthorn, and Glissade began swinging their staves methodically left and right – Lanthorn’s barely thicker than a needle. Billow fell into step and soon a small gust formed. Drifter grasped this in his claws and waving them in a circular motion it created a minuscule cyclone, which wrapped around Dasher. His wings spread out, dry and crisp and began to buzz rapidly. The moisture in the air began to collect in larger and larger droplets. He seemed to balance these in the air like a juggler. Then each insect took to the air following him close behind as he moved the orbs of water from their path, faster and faster until a rhythm began to set into place between wind and water.
When they finally came to the heart of Shroudleaf, Dasher was exhausted – everyone was. Fortunately, the fog had begun to lift and the air began to dry. Soon the sun would come out and the world would warm.
Shroudleaf was a place of earth and wood. It smelled of decay sweet and sheltering. For the shifters, however, the trees were tall, imposing, and filled with creatures that wished to kill them. The morning light was beginning to seep through the trees, but for the moths, it was so muted that it did not hurt their eyes as sharply. It did not seem to bother Drifter at all but Billow tucked away her face when the sun pierced the trees in slithers.
Even Glissade and Lanthorn turned from the light.
In daylight when all was revealed it would seem a safer place, but it only grew more dangerous as cold-blooded bodies warmed. It was not long before Billow felt eyes on her as they floated between the branches. Soon they landed on a large one to rest once more.
Dasher lay flat on his stomach again dozing as birdsong filled the air.
“We will spread out from here and search for signs of trespass. We must be wary to keep ourselves hidden,” Drifter spoke.
“It would not do for the locals to see us performing our feats of nature,” Glissade said looking pointedly at Billow who shrunk beneath her gaze. She took pleasure in calling attention to Billow’s junior status and lack of experience.
“Lan, you shall accompany me above the treetops. Glissade and Flint you shall patrol the branches. Billow,” he nodded towards her. She grasped her staff to her chest and approached as boldly as she could muster. “You shall explore the forest floor with Dasher.”
“What!” Dasher stood. “The forest floor? Have you seen how short my legs are? Why are you saddling me with the springling?”
“Dasher,” Drifter said chidingly, “Billow cannot search the forest alone. She will need protection.”
“As slow as we’ll be on the ground you might as well stand beside us and shout, ‘free food!’”
“I realize this is not ideal,” Drifter’s voice grew firmer and he approached Dasher now, wings spread to full size, “but we must all do as we are strongest to do, and you are too worn to fly with me above the tree line. Move slowly and with stealth.”
“Well, we’ll be moving slowly,” Dasher scoffed backing away from him.
“It would do your ego some good to slow down, you giant gnat,” Flint grinned in a way only insects could. Dasher buzzed sharply turning to make his way down the branch. “Well, come on hatchling, let’s go!”
Billow ran to catch up to him and they both launched themselves downwards. Dasher made a few circles before landing on the ground. Billow on the other hand, drifted down like a small flake of snow, settling softly amongst the leaves.
“Move beneath the underbrush and try not to linger in the open too much.”
“And remember,” Dasher turned to look back at her, “everything in this forest wants to eat you.”
She knew he was stifling laughter, but the importance of remaining quiet outweighed his need.
They slid under bushes and small mushrooms. At one point a great ruckus of grackles above nearly caused the both of them to crawl all over one another in their attempt to hide, but the sky blackened with their wings, and then they were gone.
It was under a root that they met the first insect to speak with them.
“Greetings, beetle,” Billow chirped. The little copper colored May Beetle grunted and continued its foraging. “If you could,” “I mean to say if you’re willing,” “Um if you didn’t mind speaking to me for just a moment.”
“Hey, you walking acorn! We’re talking to you!” Dasher zoomed over it landing near it, buzzing his wings loudly.
The beetle reared backward with a shriek toppling backward. Billow caught it before it rolled over completely.
“What, what!” It whined its legs flailed helplessly in the air as Billow struggled to hold it up. It was surprisingly heavy despite being about the same size as Billow.
“I apologize for the interruption,” Billow grunted, “but we wondered if you had seen anything strange in the wood of late.”
After righting itself the beetle did not attempt to flee only furiously cleaned its face as if to wipe away its embarrassment.
“No, nothing, go away,” it snapped. Dasher darted at it again and it hunkered down this time knowing its shell would protect it from anything he could do.
Billow stomped over and waved him away with her staff then knelt down to the beetle’s level.
“Please, we fear the forest could be in danger. We only as if anything – unusual – has been here?”
The beetle peaked one eye out, and grunted again, “bad smells, bad air some days. Lots unusual. Lot changes. Weather is cold then hot, then cold. Lots bad, lots unusual. What want know moth? Want specifics – ask an ant they can answer as well as I and a thousand voices will tell you to beat it instead of my one.”
Billow sighed, “have you seen any – creatures. Creatures that do not belong?”
The beetle was silent but raised its head, “creatures come now. Hear the earth rattle, but do belong yes. I would run moth.” It scuttled beneath some leaves and Billow grew stiff.
“Yeah I feel it…we need to fly – now!” Billow chased after him and they rose steadily upward until they stood at the end of the branches. Dasher pinched a new spring leaf between his legs. The ground looked so far, but before Billow could breathe a sigh of relief she heard scuttling from behind. Before Dasher could react a skink, long and red had darted toward him lightning fast. Billow did the only thing she could think of, the only thing she knew she could do to protect him – she spun her staff and sent an arch of wind slamming the lizard against the trunk. It shook itself, surprised, but eyed her with cunning dark eyes. She backed up with Dasher who in this now dry air was helpless, unable to use his gifts. She held her staff trembling. Flashes of blue caught her eye. The blue tails of female skinks – the harem of this thick red male began to ascend. His much smaller children could be seen amongst the leaves below. She spread her wings to flee but noticed Dasher had suffered a small tear in his wing from the lizard’s assault. She was small, her twig was small, but in desperation, she began to spin it and spin it – she hoped that the motion would frighten the lizard but the movement only attracted more. Before she knew it, however, she had created a cyclone greater than the one in the woods when all the others had worked together. The momentum was so forceful that when she swung her staff she fell backward off the limb. As she tried to right herself she saw lizards falling off the tree. The wind had blown them away and they fell like slithering rocks to the ground. The large male fell its tail snapping off as it scurried into the darkness with the others.
The ground grew closer but then she felt arms around her and was brought close to the ground and let go. She fell with a thump and looked up to see Drifter sending a great gust of wind towards a pack of young lizards who had begun to take an interest once more. They toppled over one another then vanished into the wood. Billow watched the twitching red tail as it contorted like a living thing. It took a moment for her to absorb what had just happened.
When she stood Glissade was flying down from the tree with Dasher in her arms.
“You idiot!” She said before her feet touched the ground. “You probably stirred up the entire forest with the noise you just made!”
“I’m – I’m sorry- I just-“
“Everyone is going to know what we are! Do you have any idea how fast word can spread? Every inch of this forest has a voice!”
“Glissade,” Drifter began to speak, but she cut him off.
“Don’t, Drifter – you always take up for her, coddle her, and it is doing nothing but making us weak – her weak. She has no idea how to handle her gifts! She is a danger and you protecting her will do nothing but make her more so!”
“I say she can handle her gifts fine.” Dasher, still in Glissade’s arms spoke up. “She saved my life up there.”
“That does not change the fact,” Lanthorn chimed in more gently, “that our position has now been given away. I won’t be long now, Drifter.”
“No, it won’t. Let’s try to get to the underbrush.”
“What about the lizards?” Billow asked.
“They won’t bother us. They know what we are now.”
Billow nodded, too tired to argue. She’d had caused enough trouble for the Order without getting into a debate with their leader.
When they settled beneath some brush, Billow saw to Dasher’s wing. Her small hands made delicate work easier for her than the larger moths. With some sap and a thin piece of leaf, she repaired the tear. It would be heavy, but Dasher would be able to fly in a pinch. She didn’t know if it would heal properly as the thin veil of the wing had nearly been torn completely off in the skink’s mouth.
“Thanks, springling.” Dasher smiled at her his long tail wrapping around him as he sat. Billow settled down beside him, feeling Glissade’s tension from here. Long ago, she had been persecuted in the past. Everywhere she flew her identity was discovered then hunted.
“Don’t mention it,” Billow said, at last, looking at her knees.
“I know the others give you a hard time, hell I do too. I just – not a lot of insects would’ve saved me back there.”
“That’s not true. Drifter would’ve.”
“Yeah, Drifter maybe, but he’s unnaturally old and thus unnatural in general. He protected you back there, and he would’ve saved me sure. But you, you’re almost a hatchling, and yet – instead of running as you should’ve – you fought. What kind of moth are you? It’s not right.”
Billow felt the last part of his statement had been more of introspective thought and it jabbed at her.
“I just – did what my instinct told me to do.”
“That’s what’s strange about it.” Dasher looked down at the ground his eyes flashing with thoughts. He no doubt was thinking about his close call. “Still, I’d be dead if it weren’t for you.”
Her statement came out without thinking, “I wonder what happens to us after death.”
“Nothing, we just cease to be.”
“That’s rather sad isn’t it?”
“Why? We serve our purpose on this earth then we die. It’s the Cycle, it’s the way things are.” Dasher shifted uncomfortably.
“But what about us? What happens when – you don’t know if you served your purpose?”
Dasher looked outward a long time. His eyes, aquamarine grew hazy and distant. Before he could speak though, Flint burst in from his lookout position.
“We got company, Drifter.”
“Yep, and they want to meet you…”
Billow followed the others out and when they were in the open, upon a stump stood fourteen honeybee sentinels clad in tree bark armor. Down the middle of the armor was carved a tree, etched horizontally. These were knights of Felltree, the reigning queendom of Shroudleaf…