Chapter 148
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"Achhoo!" (E)


Damnit, did someone speak ill of me?
Well, the answer is probably yes, as I'm more or less the reason why this country is facing the greatest crisis since its founding.
At least I wouldn't know how to top an insect invasion overtaking the capital.
I'm pretty sure a couple of people are somewhat miffed.
And then there are the others.


<Princess! Are you alright?! I knew this environment would be bad for your health!> (K)

<Scrub!/No, Kyska, I’m fine. I just had to sneeze.> (E)


Unfortunately, Kyska isn't entirely wrong.
Something I surely won't tell this worrywart.
While I would've liked to spend the night in the warm farmhouse, I am sure it would be the first place where possible pursuers would look for us.
This and the fact that we clearly weren't welcome speaks strongly against any notion of comfort.
However, this means we had to walk through the night.
Not only do I feel the fatigue building up, but also the night chill creeping under my carapace.
And yes, this is the first time I'm feeling it so present now that it's cooling me from beneath my skin.

To summarize, I'm feeling terrible right now.
Although the cold numbs the soreness in my back, I'm not even sure if I can fly in this state.
Nonetheless, I believe I made the right decision.
For now, the best thing I can do is gain some more distance.


Time is on my side here.
Not only did I send those assaulters to inform this northern princess of my predicament, but I also set up this spawn point at the farmhouse.
While I'm not sure if it will be discovered by pursuers, it should be difficult for them to deal with the beetles growing within the cattle carcasses.
If I can just avoid being caught for a single day, my brood will have sufficiently matured and be ready to come to my help.
I pumped a whopping forty-six of them into those poor animals so even if they send an army behind me I have enough in store to keep them occupied.
That is if they don't burn that barn.
This depends a bit on luck if they truly get there and discover what they're dealing with.

I left those farmers alive, which they hopefully see as a token of sincerity.
Also, I put that one beetle as a guard there with instructions to avoid detection from larger groups and to continue scaring off anyone else.
For this reason, pulling an all-nighter through the dark was worth it in my opinion.
Even if my feet now hurt like hell, I'm stiff from the strain and cold, and I might get sick, it’s worth it to not see any chasers yet.
The other beetle, meanwhile, is supposed to scout the way in front of us to avoid bad surprises.


<My princess, are you truly alright?> (K)


You're one to talk!
Do you think I wouldn't notice that you're at your limit as well, Kyska?
But now that I think about it, assuring her would be the wrong approach.


<To keep moving is getting a little hard. Maybe we should slow down and take more breaks.> (E)


I'm pretty sure Kyska is worse off than I am.
With her recently lost wings, smaller stature, and without convenient breast storage of energy, it's a miracle that she's still on her legs.
Though I notice the small signs.
How she occasionally uses her lower arms to support her while walking, the slower movements, and the tiny breaks she takes.
The moment she feels like she's holding me back she'll insist that I abandon her.
I have to avoid this at all costs.
However, pheromone speech has a grave issue for this plan.
I notice that Kyska stares at me, for a moment.


<You... are speaking what you think. But at the same time, there is something wrong with it. You don't truly think this would be the right approach.> (K)


Fucking emotion transfer!


"Look, Kyska. There aren't any enemies in sight, yet. Maybe a part of me thinks it would be better to stay ahead, but at the same time we need to make sure we have the energy to continue." (E)


I really hope this switch in speech will do the trick.
However, Kyska emits quite the scrutinizing pheromones.


<I will humor you, princess. But don't believe I'm not aware of our situation. If pursuers emerge you ought to flee on your own, making use of the energy you're now saving.> (K)


It's clear that Kyska won't give in on this


"Fine. Then just a small break." (E)


The moment I sit down on a large stone I realize how strained my body was when suddenly all my tense muscles relax.
Now I have to really watch out that I'm not getting into a session here, even though the last was just at the farm.

The other issue is that I can't fall asleep.
Something that Kyska has to fight with as well.
The only ray of light might be the literal one from the dawning sun that spells the end of the night and promises the necessary warmth to help my stiff body.

A little later I feel enough of my strength returning to stand up again.


<Kyska, can you continue?> (E)

<Naturally! What kind of nurse would I be wouldn't I be able to stay close to my princess?> (K)


She says so, but I see how much she's struggling to get up again.
But that stubborn girl won't even let me help her.
Aggravatingly, we also have to move upward.
First along the smaller hills and eventually to the steep mountains.
I have little hope for the latter part.
Nonetheless, there's no other way left.

At one point, I simply force my help on Kyska and push her further along the way.
She finds it unbecoming but ultimately gives in.
It might be that she just has no strength for further quarrels.

With sheer willpower, we make it a good way up the hill.
I think I was never so high up in my life.
When I look back I see the great width of the land.
And a troop of humans down in the plains below...

There's a troop of at least three dozen.
As things are, I have no other choice but to press forward.
I can't be considerate anymore of Kyska's state, because we have to be faster.
The hills have no coverage, so I'm very sure they know we are here and it's not just by chance that they march in our direction.


<My princess... you know what you have to do.> (K)

<No, Kyska. I can't even fly at the moment. I'm still too stiff. We can just try to further outrun them!> (E)

<How shall this continue? You need a decisive change.> (K)


I know it's not looking good if this continues as it does, but they're still quite far away.
It should be possible, if not to increase the distance, then at least to stay ahead of them.

However, in practice we're far slower than them.
It might be Kyska's poor state or their marching training, but they come closer.
This also serves as confirmation that they're hunting us.
Because of the distance, this chase still extends to hours, but I'm starting to lose hope.
Until something happens.

The next time I look back to confirm the inevitable, I notice a small black cloud below us.
I'm asking myself how that can be till I finally manage to get a closer look and see that those are my beetles.

Instead of flying toward us, they go straight for our human pursuers, diving at them from above.
However, the humans saw them and take formation.
Those who have arrows aim for the cloud and release a barrage that takes its bloody toll on my brood.
Something they take in stride.

A fierce battle starts.
Trained and well-armed soldiers against very motivated suicide flyers.
As much as I would want to support them, I have to continue.
From the few gazes I take behind me, this was sadly the right decision.
In the end, a stable formation and the bodily advantage of full-grown men over small beetles win the fight for the humans.
Yet at least two out of every three of them, if not more, are dead or too wounded to stand up again.
The difference is hard to make out from up here.
Yet those remaining continue the chase, ignoring those lying there.

Yet not all beetles died.
The last four remaining continue to use repeated dive attacks to slow them down for me.
The equivalent of grasping with all your strength the leg of those who attacked you and are behind your loved ones.
I can't help but cry at the thought that all of them died only because of me.


<I know it is hard, princess, but knowing they could keep you safe is their greatest fulfillment. Please, don't let it have been in vain.> (K)


I know, okay?
I know!


<We have to proceed.> (E)


Thanks to the sacrifice of my little ones the enemy was slowed down considerably.
We could gain much new distance, but the exhaustion once again creeps up to me.




<Screeeeaaak!/Kyska!!!> (E)

<My princess, I can't proceed.> (K)

<Nonsense. It's just a little bit farther.> (E)

<You don't know that, princess. Please, keep your promise. Don't make me responsible for your capture. If that would be on me I couldn't continue to exist. Please.> (K)


She's serious.
I know she's serious.

She's always serious!
I'm at my wit's end.


<Kyska... You see...> (E)

<Don't break your promise!!> (K)

<I won't!!! Okay?! I won't. Just... If they reach you, let them capture you. You're worth more to them alive than not. Please don't die. I promise I won't let them use this to call me back.> (E)

She's a very valuable hostage, even if I don't give up because of her.
I might still exchange something for her later on.
She just can't die.


<...Acceptable.> (K)


Good. At least this worked out.
With a weary heart, I turn around.
My wings start to move and soon I feel the breeze on them.
Apparently, they're usable again.

So I lift off and start flying up the mountain.
However, even this only brings me some hundred meters over the next hill.
The air gets thinner and my exhaustion already built up.
I have to land or I'd risk severe injuries if I fall down uncontrolled.
I couldn't see what is with Kyska on the other side, but I promised to move on.

So I walk and walk and walk and then there are the soldiers again.
Obnoxious pack!
What are you so relentless for?!

But I won't stay.
I can't.
I promised.


"Clop, clop, clop, clop."


Another troop with horses!
I should've known!


"Princess Erys! Give up!" (rider)


This shout makes me look back.

They bound her to one of the saddles.
Probably to give me an incentive to come with them.

But I promised.
The last remaining four of my beetles settle by my side.
As badly beaten up as they are, they realized that impeding doesn't work any longer and settle for their last stand.

Maybe I should go for one final flying dash?
But what would that change after I'll inevitably crash to the ground?
At most, I’ll win a few more minutes.
Even an hour would just stall my capture to happen later.
But still...

I promised.




I'm hearing something.