“You there! Young man! What’s the commotion about?”
Evie was only a few buildings away from the center of the village when shouts and screams arose from the open square, and villagers began running toward her down the narrow street. So much for a quiet Friday night with a mug of ale and a soft bed.
The young man in question did not acknowledge Evie; with eyes wide in fear he pushed others aside to get through. A young woman cried out as she was knocked to the cobbles before Evie.
“Miss, what is going on?” Evie asked as she helped the girl to her feet. The young woman had long straight hair and soft eyes, reminiscent of that friend of Aly’s with the cute stockings.
“It’s the murderous hornets…they’ve come back for more!” The girl tried to pull away to run, but Evie held her arm tightly.
“The what, now?” Evie pulled the girl back to face her, and used her ‘persuasive gaze’ to calm the frightened young woman. The gaze was an innate empathic skill she honed while training with the Codex Cryptae. Her bright blue eyes had a dazzling effect upon the girl, compelling her to follow every command the golden-haired stranger might give her.
“The murderous hornets! They come to the villages and take people. They sting and kill the men and carry the women away. They took my sister Emily last week…”
“Surely you don’t mean humans can be carried away by bees.”
“Look! See!” the young woman pointed at a shape rising above the buildings.
Evie turned in time to see another young woman being carried into the air by two large creatures the size of swans. One held each arm, while the woman slumped between them. After gaining just enough altitude to clear the treeline, they shot forward out of sight.
“Great, another monster that carries off damsels…freakin’ predictable for a Friday,” Evie muttered. “Last week, bad dragons. This week, ‘murderous’ hornets.” Evie suppressed a snicker at the ridiculous name. Probably dreamed up for dramatic storytelling purposes by that flame-haired gnomish bard.
“What’s your name, girl?”
“Relax, Elise. I will help you…what do the hornets do with the women?”
“No one knows…” Elise replied sadly. “They are never seen again.”
Renewed shrieks from the crowd interrupted Evie’s thoughts, as more of the huge insects swooped low over the street, herding the crowd back to the square. Elise broke free of Evie’s grip and ran, only to be knocked to the ground and have her arms pinned by two of the hornets. A third landed on her shoulders and raised its abdomen to sting her.
Evie pulled a throwing knife from her gauntlet and hurled it at the hornet. It passed cleanly through the insect’s head and clattered against the cobbles beyond. The hornet collapsed harmlessly onto the woman’s back. “Stay still, Elise.” she commanded.
The other two hornets shuddered as if their sister’s death had affected them, too. They turned to stare at Evie, dark black lenses of their eyes reflecting her image back at her.
Evie drew her dagger from its sheath at her thigh and another throwing knife from her gauntlet. She took a defensive pose. Best to learn a bit before going on offense.
She stared, fascinated by the gigantic insects. Their segmented bodies might even be larger than swans. Their heads seemed disproportionately large for their thoraces. And almost humanoid, in a way.
As Evie studied them, they studied her. They perhaps were confused that this human was not running away screaming. Or perhaps they were waiting for something…
“Oh, fork me…” Evie muttered. She remembered something from academy about bees, wasps, and hornets giving off a pheromone when attacked. To call in others. To swarm.
The buzzing sound growing steadily louder behind her confirmed her fears and her mistake. Oh, fork fork fork! She was in trouble now!
Evie launched herself at the hornets on Elise’s arms. She flung the throwing blade through the face of one while slashing at the other with her dagger, then kicked the corpse of the first one from Elise’s back. Evie grabbed Elise’s arm and dragged her to her feet. “Let’s go, let’s go, go!”
Her efforts may have saved Elise, but they were her own downfall. She was rammed in the back by one flying hornet, then another, and when Evie was off balance, a third struck her squarely between her shoulders. She pitched forward and fell to her knees.
Immediately a few were upon her at once, grabbing at her, tangling in her hair, tugging at her backpack. And then, something sharp stabbed deep into her buttock and caused a searing pain. The pain spread up her back and down her legs, followed by a numb feeling.
The hornet toxin kept spreading, robbing Evie of control of her own body. She tried to move forward on her knees and fell to her hands. She could feel several on her now, weighing her down. She swung her arms wildly at them but could feel her movements slowing.
Evie was still struggling to get back to her feet when she felt another stab in her other buttock. This time, the numbing was too much, and she collapsed onto the cobbles with a half-dozen hornets crawling over her.
Evie stirred some time later, feeling as though she were floating. As she’d been trained, she kept her eyes closed and assessed what she could before alerting anyone she was awake. Her arms were held fast above and out from her shoulders. Her legs dangled below her but felt weightless. Still numb from the toxins, she assumed. The incessant buzzing of insects was all around her. And she felt a breeze against her face.
She slowly peeked one eye open and was shocked to see she was flying–or rather being carried–high above the ground. She gasped involuntarily; the only time she’d been this high in the air was when cliff-diving on holiday. Yet she had no sensation of falling.
One of the other hornets flying in formation around her noticed she was awake, and immediately turned and landed on her leg. “No! You don’t need to…” she began to say, but her words were cut off by another stabbing pain in her thigh. The last thing she remembered was seeing a row of long white buildings on a hilltop ahead before she succumbed to the toxin again.
The next time Evie stirred, she was much more careful about revealing that she was awake. This time, she found herself in a much more familiar position: she hung from her wrists pinned directly above her head, her ankles were secured together below her. And, as happened all too often when she awoke like this, she was completely naked.
As occasionally also happened when she awoke like this, she noticed that her skin was coated in a viscous liquid that was dripping down her body. This time, though, the thick liquid was gold in color and quite aromatic. Against her better judgment, she tasted a little of what was drizzled over her lips.
Sweet…aromatic…like nectar…or…oh fork!!
Honey. It was honey. Her entire body was covered in sticky, sweet honey. Or the nectar that would become honey, anyway.
Fork, this was not good…coated in nectar might be fun if she was alone with her partner Will…but not with murderous hornets!
Evie slowly opened one eye and glanced about. The dizzying and horrific details around her in the dimly lit area were almost too much to take in at once. She calmed herself, utilizing the Raja breathing techniques from her training. Then she began to slowly catalogue what she could see. Or at least what she could see through the bedraggled clumps of her nectar-coated hair.
She was inside one of the long and narrow white buildings she had seen from above, dangling just above a narrow ledge along the wall. Between the ledges, the ‘floor’ was a honeycomb, an arrangement of six-sided pockets. Some were filled with nothing but honey, and Evie could see the nectar dripping from her toes was draining into one.
Most, however, had larvae and pupae growing in them, some floating peacefully, some squirming about. Dozens of hornets were tending to them, crawling about the honeycomb.
Looking up, Evie saw there were a few other women along the walls dangling by their arms, just like she was. Like Evie, they had their wrists encased in the pulpy mass that formed the walls of the honeycombs, the walls and ceiling. And, like Evie, they had nectar dripping down their bodies into the pockets below.
Hornets were coming and going all about them, landing upon them, depositing more nectar on their heads, shoulders, and torsos, and then flying off for more.
Evie remained perfectly still as one landed upon her. Its spindly legs gripped her flesh tightly, and tickled as it moved carefully over her slippery skin. It took all her willpower to not flinch or scream as the hornet climbed up her body and deposited another load of honey on her chest before taking off and flying away.
Evie studied the other women around her, trying to determine her possible fate. The women all seemed to be alive. All seemed in a dazed state of contentment, smiles on their faces but faraway looks in their eyes. Almost looks of…pleasure??
And suddenly, clues were falling into place. The overly large hornets. Their apparent intelligence. Their slightly humanoid faces.
They were being crossbred. Humans, and hornets. Murderous hornets, no less.
As if on cue, a drone hornet much larger than the rest flew in and landed on one of the captives near Evie. The woman didn’t move when the insect crawled around and positioned itself behind her–though Evie thought her smile might have widened a bit. The captive definitely made a soft moaning sound as the hornet grasped her neck in its pincers and began copulating with her.
Evie was appalled and repulsed, but wasn’t sure why. After all, she’d seen human women mated by orks, as well as goblins, dragons, aquatic monsters, tentacle animals, tentacle vegetables, tentacle minerals…hell, Evie had even been on the ‘receiving’ end of some of those unholy unions. A three-foot long murderous insect? Well, it wasn’t that unusual for a Friday…
That didn’t make Evie feel any better about their plans for her.
The hornet took flight when it had finished its task, and moved on to another woman. Once it had ‘visited’ the others, it approached Evie and hovered before her, studying her. Evie had adopted the open-eyed dazed look of the others. That seemed to satisfy the hornet drone.
The huge insect landed on Evie’s front, looking into her face and moving its antennae about. Evie was aware of how close its fearsome pincers were to her throat. Then it turned and began moving downward, headed between Evie’s legs. As it turned, one of its feet brushed her nipple, and she flinched. The hornet froze, and its pincers flexed open.
After a moment, it must have decided it was more horny than alarmed, and it moved on. After pausing with its head between her legs for a moment, it turned again and began crawling around behind her.
The drone positioned itself behind her and tightened its grip on her body. Evie gritted her teeth and steeled herself for what she’d seen happen to the other women. She felt the hornet’s pincers encircle her neck and grip firmly.
She wanted to squirm, to fight, but the numbness hadn’t yet left her limbs. And any struggle would likely result in another sting. Or worse, the snap of the closing pincers.
A nearby noise startled them both; Evie’s body tensed, and she felt the drone’s feet clench her flesh. A door had opened nearby, and a figure in a filthy lab coat stood within its frame. The short and chubby man stepped forward, revealing one of the most homely faces Evie had ever seen, framed by sparse wisps of greasy hair.
“Whose…whose is this?” he exclaimed, his shaking hand holding up a familiar object. It was Evie’s choker with her Codex Cryptae pendant upon it. She hadn’t realized it was missing yet.
He looked around at the women hanging along the walls. He stepped closer to Evie. “Whose?” he demanded again. It took Evie a moment to realize he was addressing the drone and not her. The drone responded with a series of staccato buzzing noises.
“I know you’re not a ‘worker’ and that’s not your job. Who brought these fresh humans in?”
“Bz bzz bzzzz. Bzz bzzzz bz bzzz bz bzzzzzzzz bzz bz.”
“Jason? Jason wouldn’t know a human female from a sheep. Which is how we ended up with murder sheep. Where’s Chad?”
“Bz bzz bz bzz bz bzzzz bzz.”
“I know it’s ‘not your day to watch him.’ You don’t have to be such a dick about this.”
The animated responses and gestures from the drone mounted on Evie was making her body quiver, as was her struggle to contain her laughter at the absurdity of it all.
“Bzz bzzzzz bzzz. Bzz bzzz bzz bzzz.”
“What?!? She killed Chad? And Jill and Dave, too?” He glanced at the pendant in his hand and slipped it into his pocket.
“Bz bz bzzzzzz bzzz.”
“Yes, yes, ‘you’re in control here,’ Alexander.” The man shook his head wearily.
‘Great,’ Evie thought. ‘I get to be mated by a brand new alpha on a power trip. Freshman year all over again.’ She couldn’t contain her laughter any more, and snorted loudly.
The chubby little man reached up to grip her chin and tilted her face toward his own. “It’s yours, isn’t it? Don’t pretend you can’t hear me. You’re the only human not fucked into a stupor yet.”
He paused and let his eyes roam up and down her fit and curvy shape. His gaze turned into a creepy leer. “And by the looks of you, you’re exactly the type the Cryptae would use.” His grip on her chin turned to a slow caress of her nectar-covered cheek.
Evie wondered if she had enough feeling in her legs to kick him in the balls, but remembered the hornet’s pincers still at her neck. She settled for an angry glare.
Upon seeing the glare, he gave her face a slap. “Who are you? Why are you here?”
Ignoring the absurdity of the ‘why are you here’ question, Evie looked him up and down disdainfully. “Who wants to know?” she asked with thinly veiled disgust.
Perhaps not a wise response when hanging helpless and nude before a captor, but it usually got them to monologue. Especially the self conscious ones.
“I am Dr. Mantis, the beekeeper. For years I have…”
“I thought they were hornets, not bees. ‘Murderous hornets,’ I hear.” She rolled her eyes again at the ridiculous name.
“I have bees, too. The hornets evolve faster. For years I have…”
“Why ‘murderous’ hornets? Why not ‘killer’ hornets? Easier to say.”
The creepy little man took a breath and gritted his teeth. “Because they premedi…listen, for years I have…”
“I’m just sayin,’ maybe use some alliteration…maybe ‘Horny Hornets.’ Like this guy.” She nodded toward the alpha drone still mounted on her back. It gave her a squeeze.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…” In exasperation, Dr. Mantis motioned to one of the workers adding to the papery wall nearby. “Jenny, be a dear and shut her up, please.”
“Bz Bzzzz,” the worker responded as she gathered up some of the wet pulp. “Bzzzz bzz bz bzzzzz bz bzzz.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Grace…You all look ali-” He cut himself off abruptly, blushing at his faux pas.
“What did she say?” Evie asked, to break the awkward silence before she was gagged.
“She said, Jenny was a friend of mine.”
“Ooooh. Good thing you caught yourself before you said something species-ist.”
“Please hurry, Grace.” The doctor pinched the bridge of his nose as if he had a migraine.
Grace took a mass of drying pulp and held it before Evie’s face. Evie clenched her teeth and shook her head ‘no.’
Evie felt the pincers at her neck tighten in warning. She felt something else, lower against her rear, too, but chose not to dwell upon it. She sighed and opened her mouth.
Grace pushed the wad into Evie’s mouth and packed it tight. Then she stretched out some more pulp and wrapped a thin strip around Evie’s head. It dried almost instantly, sealing the plug inside her mouth.
“Thank you, Grace. Say hi to Jenny for me.” He puffed up his chest, sucked in his gut as best he could, and struck a triumphant pose. The creepy leer was back on his face.
She rolled her eyes again. It was hard to take a little tyrant seriously when he only came up to the level of her breasts. Which is where his attention seemed focused again.
“You know what, Cryptae spy? I don’t think I need to interrogate you and I won’t bother explaining any more of my operation.”
He reached out and traced a finger through the nectar below her ear, slowly drawing it down her neck and onto her chest. “Because I don’t think you’re here on a mission.”
Evie tensed as the finger traced between her breasts and curved underneath one, around the outside and back to center. “I think you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He moved the finger over to one of her nipples, tracing slow circles in the nectar around it. “You probably tried to be a heroine, killing some of my drones, but you were taken.”
His smooth palm cupped her breast, collecting some of the nectar before he moved it to her nipple, the coated skin of his palm gliding almost without friction over the hardening nub. “But now, you’re my prisoner and no one knows you’re here.”
Evie suppressed a groan of pleasure, but the tensing of her abdomen gave her away.
His hand slid over her abs, feeling the tension there. “And no one is going to come looking for you.”
Slippery fingers found their way between her legs and a well-placed middle finger made small circles in the nectar until she gave a low moan.
“And you’re mine, to do with as I please.” The finger slipped inside her, followed by a second. Evie clenched her thighs and tried to escape the intimate caresses. “All mine…”
“Bzz bzzzzzz!” came an angry sound from behind her. Once again she felt the insistent pressure of some protuberance against her posterior.
“Hey! Don’t get all possessive, Alexander!” He waved his free hand toward the other women. “You get all these others. When’s the last time I kept one for myself?”
“Bzz bzzz bzz bzzz!”
“I know she’s the best. That’s why she’s mine. You want one like this, go get one yourself. You’ll have to fly all the way to Rith. Or maybe Varala. Lots of lovely blondes from Varala.”
The creepy Dr. Mantis turned back to Evie. “Pay no attention to him, my lovely. He’s just jealous.” He placed both hands on Evie’s hips and studied her, perhaps trying to do geometry or trigonometry in his head. “I’ll not be able to fully enjoy you here…let’s get you moved to my laboratory.”
He motioned toward her hands stuck in the dried pulp above. “Alexander, please release her.”
“Bz.” Alexander’s unhappy grunt was easy to decipher. He released Evie’s neck from his pincers and crawled up her body until he could use them to tear at the mass.
The chubby little scientist tried to catch Evie as she fell to the ledge, but she slipped through his grasp and landed in a limp heap in a puddle of nectar. “Get Jason and carry her, please.”
Evie’s bare toes dragged along the cool grass in the evening air on the way to the larger dwelling at the end of the row of white hives. Dragged off to become a plaything in a mad scientist’s lab, great. Spring break sophomore year, all over again. She could only see a couple other hornets outside the closed hives, as most of them would have returned inside by sunset.
Alexander and Jason held her up by her upper arms, while her hands hung limply down from her elbows. She raised her head slowly to watch the odd little man walking ahead of them and digging through her backpack, with her skinsuit draped over her shoulder. Good…all her gear was intact.
“Oh my goodness, I’d never have guessed a Cryptae agent would have so many naughty things in her bag. You’re a kinky one, my dear. Maybe I will let Alexander enjoy you while you’re strapped into my nectar-pumping machine. Well, maybe next week, anyway.”
“Mhhuuey mfffr, mhit mil meemine,” Evie responded. She flung both her fists upward, smacking Jason and Alexander in their faces. Surprised, they lost their grip on her arms and she landed gracefully on her feet.
When they turned to face her, Evie shot out her hands and grasped one side of the pincers of each of them. Knowing drones had no stingers, and the creepy guy hadn’t called for an escort of workers, their pincers were the only weapons she had to fear.
With a fierce tearing motion, she ripped the pincers from their faces. She drew her hands back up over her head, and slammed the pincers downard, neatly decapitating each drone as they’d threatened to do to her. Their headless bodies convulsed for only a second before falling still.
Dr. Mantis finally acknowledged Evie’s earlier muffled response. “What was that, dear? You shouldn’t speak with your mouth full,” he chuckled. He turned around to enjoy another view of his lovely captive being brought to his private chambers.
“Oh, crap on a cracker.” He dropped her bag, revealing the spreading wetness in his trousers. Then he fell to his knees.
Evie stood there above the headless corpses of his favorite drones. She didn’t look at all woozy or incapacitated any more. In fact, she looked absolutely fearsome. And furious.
She tore the pulpy gag from her mouth. “I said, ‘lovely offer, but I’ll decline.” She strode forward and stood above him. “This is for Elise’s sister and all the others.”
The last thing to go through Dr. Mantis’ mind was the sharp pincers of his drones. The squishy sound of his brain being gored was followed by the dull thud of his body hitting the ground.
As she calmed herself, Evie heard a frenzied buzzing escalating from within the hives. The deaths of the drones had sent every other hornet into a berserk fury. She would have to act fast before they broke out of their hives.
She pulled a few small sachets from her backpack. With another tool she lit a spark and ignited the tops of the sachets. Almost immediately, black smoke began pouring from them.
Evie hustled down to the hives and tossed a sachet inside the door of each. While she waited for the smoke to cause the buzzing to settle down, she returned to the grisly scene of her escape. She retrieved her choker and pendant from the pocket of Mantis’ lab coat, then used the coat to wipe as much of the nectar from her body as she could.
After dressing and replacing the pendant at her throat, Evie pulled her goopy hair back into a ponytail before returning to the hives, dagger in hand. She listened outside the first, but all was quiet. She slipped inside and moved silently among the hornets gorging themselves on honey.
Her dagger barely made a whisper as it slashed and sliced through every hornet inside. When not a single one was left intact, she used the dagger to free the human captives and dragged them outside. In less than an hour, not a single hornet remained alive inside the hives, and nine captives were slowly recovering in the cool fresh air of the night.
Evie returned to her pack again and retrieved more sachets. This time she waited until she was just outside the door of each hive before igniting the tops and tossing them inside. Moments later, all four hives were ablaze in a raging fire that illuminated the entire hillside. The house and laboratory she left alone; surely there was a wealth of knowledge inside them that other Cryptae scholars could retrieve.
Returning to the cluster of women now sitting up and watching the blaze, Evie clipped her backpack in place. “As soon as you’re able to walk, let’s head downhill to the nearest village. Hopefully we’ll find a stream along the way where we can all get cleaned up.”
“I don’t know how we can ever thank you,” a pretty young woman said, reaching out to grasp Evie’s hand. Evie turned with a smile and was struck with the feeling that the woman looked familiar somehow.
“Is your name, by chance, Emily?” She asked the girl, who nodded happily.
“I know someone who is going to be very, very excited to see you.”
From her perch above Dr. Mantis’ residence, Grace watched the group of women disappear into the night. As the last remaining worker, she automatically became the next queen. ‘The queen of what?’ she wondered.
She’d have to find a new colony of workers. Perhaps she’d bring them back here to rebuild the hives. There were serums in the lab that would help her create new drones.
And, when the colony was strong again, they would seek out the golden-haired human who had ruined it all.
She looked down at the lifeless bodies of the doctor and the two drones. She’d kind of miss the doctor, she thought. And Jason, the one they called ‘sheep-lover.’ He’d always been kind.
But not Alexander. That guy was an absolute queef-rooster.