I'm kinda glad that Kyska isn't too heavy.
This time we were able to prepare with a better flying form.
Yet that makes us end up with Kyska clinging uncomfortably close to my chest and with her legs wrapped around mine.
I'm just glad that nurses are quite the lightweights and the two assaulters still help as much as they can without disturbing my flapping.
We're flying directly at the height of the tallest trees in this forest so they will still cover us.
Since the humans have no means to track us from above, we should be fine after we intentionally walked away from the towers of our former prison.
Yet naturally, I can't keep this up forever.
One of the reasons is that my wings start to hurt like hell because I’m overexerting them, which I have to do since our livelihoods literally depend on how long I can endure it as every single meter counts.
The other is that the forest ends as part of the natural conversion to the northern mountain range where plant life gets sparser.
For this reason, I have to descend, or we'd be too visible for any possible patrols looking for us.
<Are you alright, my princess?> (K)
<Sure, just a little exhausted. More importantly, do you truly think that we'll find allies once we reach the mountains?> (E)
<It seems likely. Princess Chera should've heard by now about your capture, as her hive is the closest to this large human settlement. My former senior who still experienced her time in the main hive said she was always very eager to serve the swarm. For this reason, I presume that her forces should've joined the efforts to find you. Therefore, a passage between her hive and the surface should exist.> (K)
That would be a godsend.
If we can make it through such a gateway into the underworld we can consider ourselves safe.
So we only need to move further up north.
Yet then Kyska suddenly perks up.
<My princess! There!> (K)
She sounds alarmed and a moment later I see why.
There's a farm.
This high up north the ground isn't too fertile, so there are no larger communities, yet this building indicates that someone doesn't care and built anyway an existence for themselves here, maybe exactly because they appreciate this peace and quiet.
<This structure means humans, my princess. Maybe we should circumvent it.> (K)
There might exist an affiliation to Lord Gioras, yet I doubt that we have to be too careful here.
I doubt there are any soldiers, and if they would go out of their way to convey our position, it would require them quite some time to make contact.
<I don't think there's a need to worry and we can't afford to waste time. Those people are mere farmers.> (E)
<Farmers? You're speaking of food production, yet I don't see any noteworthy areas designated for such a purpose. What would they produce?> (K)
Well, she's right, there are barely any fields.
This basically leaves only one option.
<Livestock. They're raising animals to grow in number so they can eat or sell them.> (E)
<Livestock? This means nourishment! You're right, we should definitely head to this 'farm'!> (K)
Why is she suddenly so eager?
<Do you have something in mind, Kyska?> (E)
<My princess, how long did you already hold in your laying?> (K)
Damn, she got me.
To be honest, all that panicking and fleeing at all costs put just the kind of strain on me that triggers my sessions.
The only reason I don't have to yet is that my body understands that I still can't afford to have one in this situation and forcefully suppresses the laying.
But I'll have to let go of them eventually.
<Your time of need still prevails. For this reason, it's natural to assume that you're still producing assaulters. Rather than leaving those eggs behind, we can use them to our advantage. Do you understand?> (K)
Oh my god, she wants me to use the farm animals as hosts for the eggs!
However, logically seen, this would actually be kinda smart.
If we can dodge our pursuer for another day, I would have a small army to secure my escape.
On the other side, killing someone's animals isn't nice.
However... I'm a princess!
I owe it to all my brood, to the humans who won't get killed because of this, and to the swarm that I make now this tough decision.
<Fine. We'll go there and use the cattle.> (E)
With quick steps, we move to the farmhouse.
I, I suppose I should at least inform whoever lives there about my action and offer to provide proper compensation as soon as I'll be able to.
Nothing easier than this!
I'll just knock at the door and say something like: "Hello, I'm here to convert your animals into my monster insect army. But don't worry, this isn't a scam. I'm a princess and will pay you in two weeks or so."
Yep, that certainly can't go wrong.
It seems nobody saw us approaching, so we reach the farm undisturbed.
From my first impression, I'd say that it's in use.
I can hear animals in the nearby barn and it smells like a farm.
Believe me, on that, I'm an expert.
Well, time for diplomatic action.
That one field where I did so exceptionally well in the past and that never went wrong for me.
Okay, I hear steps from inside.
So it's truly inhabited.
Now it all depends on a good first impression.
"Who is there! Wha-..." (farmer)
Woah, it smells like food.
Which explains why no one was outside.
Yet I should probably make use of the awkward silence that came with this man's first look at my wings, the nurse behind me, and those two assaulters on each of our sides, to introduce us.
"Greeetien-... Ahem, Greetings. I hope you had a good day, dear sir. I'm Eerys, from the swarm. Did the news about our insEct empire already travel here? Uh, I want you to know that we're friendly." (E)
As friendly as someone can be when they plan to kill all your cattle.
"Jonah, who is there?"
The anxious voice of a woman drifts out of the house.
So he isn't living alone here.
"Dad? Is everything okay?"
Oh great, now there's even a girl that I'm going to traumatize.
It doesn't take long and their stares join the ones I'm receiving from their husband/father.
"Anyways, I sadly have to inform you that I'm currently in a terrible pinch. As such, I'm left with no choice but to request quite some support from your side. I need to return to my swarm at all costs. But to make this happen I'll have to... kill some of your livestock." (E)
"I want to press that this is just because of my desperate circumstances and I plan to compensate you generously once I'm back in my realm and can order for such a thing to happen." (E)
I bow down to them and Kyska joins me.
The assaulters do nothing of that kind as they're biologically unable to move differently.
Now please, just say: "Of course! You can do as you please with our livelihood!"
"You, you... I don't know who you are, but, but I won't submit just like this." (farmer)
"Ehk, just to say, this here is more of an act of politeness to inform you. As I said, I have to return at all costs and so the decision is already made and I won't step down from it. I would disadvise against violent actions as those two next to me could become quite aggressive in that case. It's nothing personal. They just are like this." (E)
I didn't want to resort to threats, yet I don't have much of a choice.
Scaring them might still be the best way to solve this without violence.
Since this standoff isn't helping all that much to decrease the chances of a confrontation, I simply turn away from them towards the barn, naturally while keeping an eye on them.
If they intend to fight me, now is their only chance.
I make some decisive steps toward the big wooden building.
Unfortunately, the man vanishes inside the farmhouse only to emerge again with a fierce-looking poker.
I send a pheromone sign to my assaulters to induce them to stay docile, while not being the slightest bit sure how well this will hold when he truly decides to hit me with that thing.
Things being like that I should probably increase my intimidation potential a bit.
For this reason, I extend one of my armblades as menacingly as possible.
"I would ask you not to do anything stupid." (E)
"You came here to our home demanding our livestock for your monstrous purposes you... You fiend! I won't let you do that to me and my family!" (farmer)
Why did he have to swing this?
Fortunately, this much is child's play after all the practice Liseti forced me through.
The strike is totally crude and allows for an easy counter.
In no time, I can simply move my sword in the way.
Yet I should've seen it coming that my acid coating would just burn right through it, and not only sever the poker, but also almost incapacitate this man.
But the much greater risk for his life would be my two assaulters who quite clearly don't want to ignore what happens to me anymore.
That he now tries to grapple with me isn't making things any better.
Kyska's weak attempts to help aren't helping all that much.
I have to solve this quickly or the assaulters are going to massacre him.
Okay, no other choice.
While I keep him at bay with my apparently superior strength, I raise my leg and stomp his foot while extending my heel into his flesh.
For a moment, there's an expression of pain that quickly freezes in paralysis.
"Daddy! No!" (girl)
God, do I feel bad now.
With a jerk of my hand, I pull the blade back inside.
Hopefully, that was all the violence I needed.
"He's still alive and should recover soon. Just bring him into your home. My promise still stands. You will be compensated soon enough if you stop getting in my way." (E)
I hope I can at least make the impression of a princess.
This might make me appear more legit.
While they drag the man back, I take a step into the barn.
Two mules, and only a dozen goats and sheep.
Damn, do I feel guilty.
<Skreoh!/My princess, we're being watched.> (K)
Oh my, it's the girl.
"I only require a certain amount of meat and will have to occupy your barn for the time being. You may take any animals you can't afford to lose or that are small out there. But please no tricks. Do so and we can solve this peacefully." (E)
No idea how full I am, but with some luck, three to four animals should suffice.
I gesture another time for that girl to get started.
While I'm not sure if she's older than ten, she seems to have practice with the animals and soon enough the barn is emptied, aside from the few I need to use for my sake.
This even works out for me, because a stampede of terrified cattle would be bad.
Now I don't have any other choice but to get started.
Okay, Erys, you're a farm girl.
This isn't the first time you're killing livestock for their flesh.
Yet it's the first time that I'm doing it so a bunch of body hatchers can consume their bodies from the inside.
Right, it's totally not the same.
I don't want to do it the Formicean way and stun them with my stinger so they'll get eaten alive.
Instead, I move slowly closer, worrying about the visible unease of the mule as I approach, probably due to my wings.
I lay my hand gently on the side of his neck...
Then I jerk my hand with the motion that extends my blade so it stabs right through.
The poor mule shrieks, but I use the property of my blade to cut from the stabbing tunnel deeper into the neck.
This is enough to cause instant death.
I know at least this much, that it's better to make it quick with animals than to prolong their suffering.
For this reason, I quickly put an end to the other mule and one sheep which sadly figured out what I was doing.
<How unfortunate. The bodies will cool now and the meat won't be as fresh. This is detrimental for the hatchlings.> (K)
<They'll have to deal with it.> (E)
Now it's time for the important deed.
I extend my ovipositor and stab the first corpse.
Different from the last time, now I feel how something quickly passes through it and gets deposited through the tip.
Now there's a bunch of creepy body hatchers within that thing.
I repeat that process with the other bodies until I feel somewhat empty.
It's strange, as for some very disturbing reason this process works even smoother than my usual laying sessions.
As if some instinct and muscle memory perfectly guides me through the process.
Once I'm done, there's barely a trace from the outside telling what horror grows within these bodies.
<My princess, you should think about letting one assaulter remain here. To protect the eggs and instruct them.> (K)
That sounds quite reasonable.
Therefore, I give the one to my right a complicated signal.
<You there, I want you to wait here until the eggs hatch. Please defend them until they're grown and come with them back to my side. I'll move in this direction.> (E)
Just then I become aware of how literal this assaulter might take my command.
Or even worse, in what kind of frenzy they could be directly after bursting out of all the blood and gore.
I don't want this family to get massacred by my subjects.
I need to prevent this and an order isn't going to cut it.
Gratefully, I remember something that can help me.
Once I move back out, I find that the farmer's daughter was at the door with a terribly fearful expression.
"You'll be able to use the barn again around tomorrow. Until then, nobody can enter this place. This is for your own safety. Do you understand?" (E)
I'm honestly terrible at keeping such a domineering demeanor, but I don't have much of a choice if I want them to do as I say.
"You don't have to fear me. Just stay still for a moment." (E)
Her eyes go wide and she takes a step back.
My still-extended ovipositor hovers threateningly over my head.
I bring it down to my hand and let a liquid trickle onto it.
The girl retreats another step, willing to turn around and run at any moment.
Suddenly, there's Kyska, grabbing her from behind with all her arms.
I'm confused, but have to take advantage of this chance.
So I push my hand onto her face, smearing the liquid on it, and marking her with a princess' seal.
"Stop it! No!" (woman)
Oh my, seems like the woman finally got her husband inside and now returned at the worst possible moment, when I was right at it to do something to her daughter.
"Kyska, let go. What even did you do that for?" (E)
"Your intention was clear, my princess. I had to support you or it would've become difficult to perform the act." (K)
And now it isn't?
I deliberately move away, showing my open hand in a gesture of appeasement.
"Your daughter is safe. To be precise, no harm will befall her now. My mark will ensure this." (E)
"Your... mark?" (woman)
"My subjects can recognize my scent and won't attack you if they perceive it. Please, let me repeat this with you and your husband. The barn will be off-limits to you till they emerge. After that, you can return to your usual routine. I will gladly compensate you for your contribution once I'm able to do so." (E)
Guess that's the best way to word this.
Calling it "help" or "support" would be pure mockery.
Once again I apply liquid to my hand.
The woman flinches when I approach, but looks at her scared stiff daughter and apparently makes up her mind not to worry her further by refusing what she already got.
This way, I can successfully protect them.
Probably even from any patrols from the rest of the swarm looking for me in the usual subtle way the Formicea do their stuff.
The husband is in his lasting paralysis not too much of a problem to finish my treatment.
After a farewell I kept as short as possible, I get back on my way, as I still need to remind myself that I'm on the run.
Worried I look over the open pastures and am somewhat glad that they're still free from any pursuers.
Well, it's time to get going before that changes.
If nothing else, what I did here will stall them.