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The Antinium Project
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The Antinium Project

Jason Zhaoshen Yao
by zanic on 4 May 2020

Based on The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba

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Update - 4 May 2020

The Hive. Workers and Soldiers marched in an unending flow down one of the tunnels. One of many in the Hive. Despite the Antinium’s reputation for silence, the hallways were still filled with sound. The echoes of footfalls, the shifting of bodies—these were all sounds that occupied the air.

There were no voices, though. The sounds of footfalls, of bodies moving and the air rustling was just noise. There was a kind of silence even when Soldiers were rushing down the tunnels. The silence of those without words.

And then the silence was broken. A single sound suddenly pierced the repetitive noises, a distinctive aberration.

Click.

The sound echoed down the corridor, causing the lines of Soldiers and Workers to slow. It was a sound none of them had heard, not like this.

Click.

It was too loud, and it echoed. It was not the click of a single mandible, but countless ones. It was a strange sound, and all the Workers and Soldiers looked around for the source.

Click.

There it was again. Now all heads turned to look down the corridor. The Antinium stopped. They looked. And then they stared.

Someone was walking down the hallway. It was a small shape, like the others. And not.

A Worker walked slowly down the lines of Antinium, the others parting before him. He held something in his hands. A censer, bound by string. A thurible, leaking smoke that smelled like nothing the other Antinium had ever experienced.

The incense drifted as the Antinium slowly shook the thurible. He walked forwards, and smoke drifted past him like mist.

And others followed. Soldiers, the painted few walked, stepping, stopping, following in the Worker’s wake. And then the other Antinium heard it.

Click.

Each time they stepped, the Soldier’s mandible clicked together, making that distinctive sound. They made that sound. The Soldier, who had no voice. Yet the sound was an echo, a thunder.

A word for the voiceless.

And then those around the Worker heard something else. A resonance. A feeling in the air. Quiet. It came from the Worker.

He was…humming. The other Antinium had never heard a sound like it. Pawn’s voice was low, deep, and resonant. It should not have filled the huge tunnel, but it did.

Click.

Each Soldier’s mandible snapped together at the same time. The sound was louder than any Rock Crab could ever make, a snap that broke the air and echoed for miles in the Hive.

Click.

Another step.

Click.

The Antinium parted, and Pawn and the painted Soldiers followed him. Workers and Soldiers alike paused in their duty, going to war, carrying supplies, going to rest. Each one saw something, heard something they had never experienced in that moment.

Each one.

“I do not understand.”

Tersk clutched at his bare chest. His hands met only chitin, and he stared as Belgrade used his two good arms to support himself against a wall. Tersk’s voice was hoarse, strained.

“I cannot express this word. This feeling. What is it? I see Pawn. But it is not just him. There is something…”

His voice trailed away. Belgrade stared at Pawn as the Worker walked the halls of his Hive. To battle. His head was lowered, and the Worker prayed. Behind him, the Soldiers did the same. Belgrade had a word for it, and he spoke it for Tersk to hear.

“Faith.”

—-

They watched as the Antinium passed. They alone saw and understood the rest. Xrn clutched at Klbkch’s arm, so tightly he thought his body might break.

“Oh Klbkch. Do you see him? He is just like we were once.”

“He is not. It is not…not the same.”

It was pride that made Klbkch say that. But he couldn’t take his eyes off of Pawn. The click of the Soldier’s mandibles echoed in his soul. He saw another group in their shadow. Antinium of the past, long gone.

Heroes.

Xrn shook her head, her eyes not leaving Pawn.

“No. It is exactly the same. They have not forgotten Klbkch. These fragments, these children, they have the same spirit. The same courage.”

She whispered.

“They are Antinium.”

—-

He had no name. He was a Soldier. He had no identity. If there was any way to distinguish him now, it would be Soldier with a Damaged Antennae. Both of his had been damaged in a skirmish with cave Goblins.

Now Soldier with a Damaged Antennae fought desperately, punching with his fists at a huge suit of enchanted armor. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae had no fear, but he realized he would die. The suit of armor had lost his axe, buried in two of Soldier with a Damaged Antennae’s friends, but he was too tough.

Too strong. The armor struck Soldier with a Damaged Antennae with a kick that broke something in the Antinium’s chest. The Soldier stumbled, fell. He put one of his hands to his chest as he grabbed the armor with his other three hands and tried to hold him back.

Green blood. A lot of it. This was it. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae tried to muster the strength to fight, but his arms gave in despite themselves. The armor threw him to the ground and raised a foot. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae stared up, waiting for death.

Then there was color.

Someone charged into the suit of armor, throwing it backwards. The fallen Soldier stared, as a Soldier with yellow spatters of color on his carapace tackled the enchanted armor, throwing it backwards. A huge fist rose, and then smashed into the enchanted armor’s chest plate.

Aid had come. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae struggled to rise. The other Soldier could not do it alone. But he was so weak! Soldier with a Damaged Antennae stumbled up.

And then he saw it. A fallen suit of armor, chest plate caved in. The Soldier with yellow spatters of paint rose, uninjured, and turned. He raised an arm and the ground shook. Soldiers painted in every color thundered past him.

Soldier with a Damaged Antennae had no words for it. These Soldiers were like him, but not. They were painted, with colors. That was all, but they seemed larger. Stronger. More alive.

The Soldier with yellow spatters led the charge. They charged towards a Crypt Worm, fearless. And the Soldier with a Damaged Antennae stared after them. There was a word for them, a word that set them apart from him. The Soldier searched for it, and thought of the word as he stared at the yellow spattered Soldier’s back.

A hero.

He staggered. Blood dripped onto his hand. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae began to fall again. But someone caught him.

A Worker. Soldier with a Damaged Antennae stared at him. The Worker had something that smoked and gave off a pleasant smell in his hand. He caught Soldier with a Damaged Antennae and spoke to him.

“You will not die. Have faith.”

He was small, but he walked among the monsters without fear. The Worker carried Soldier with a Damaged Antennae back, as the painted Soldiers fought around him. He prayed, and told the injured Soldier he would live.

And the Soldier believed. That day he lived. And when he looked up, chest clumsily bandaged, he saw the painted Soldiers marching back. And the Worker was leading them. He might have said otherwise, but they followed him.

Because they had faith.

(Excerpt from The Wandering Inn by Pirateaba)


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Update - 4 May 2020

“I have heard that true heroes never die. This is true of the Antinium. If Wing Commander Embria stands here, it is only fair that a hero of the Antinium answer her.”

“No. No.”

Pawn resisted the clawed hands pushing him forwards. He was going to shout at Klbkch. He could not do this. But strangely, Klbkch was not looking at him. His head had turned past Pawn. And slowly, Pawn’s head turned too. And he heard it.

A shout. A cry that rent the air. Above the shouting of the crowd, Lism’s failing voice charm. Shouts. And then screams.

“The Antinium are invading! Sound the alarm!”

Someone cried that in the distance. Every head turned back to Klbkch. He did not reply. And the crowd laughed. Someone had probably seen that patrol of Antinium. Who was panicking? Idiots.

But it was an invasion. The laughter became gasps and even screams. A black army was flooding out of the Hive. Soldiers were rushing out of the Hive. Soldiers and Workers. They filled the streets, pouring forwards.

“Attack! It’s a coup! Flee for your lives! Soldiers, defend us!”

Lism panicked on his platform. The 4th Company formed a line and Embria grabbed her spear, staring. Then her eyes widened. Pawn, craning to see, desperately pushed through the crowd. The Drakes and Gnolls moved back, afraid of the black tide that flowed forth. But it was not towards the other Antinium that Pawn looked.

And the Free Antinium followed him. A single figure, striding out ahead of the rest. He was not like the Soldiers or Workers that followed him. Not in body. Nor in whom he was.

He was taller. Larger. The Soldiers, who were all the same were a head shorter than he was. And this Antinium’s body was enhanced beyond even that of the regular Soldiers. His four arms flexed, and his fully-realized digits stretched in the air. The sun shone down on his shoulders. And he walked in front of them, taller with each step. A colossus. A familiar soul.

He came to a stop as Pawn stumbled forwards. The Worker was shaking. Disbelieving. It couldn’t be. But it was. The giant looked down at Pawn. And he was taller than Pawn remembered. His body was changed. But the smile was the same. And the yellow glinting off the arm he offered Pawn was real.

The Antinium turned to the crowd. And he opened his mandibles and spoke.

“I am Yellow Splatters.”

His voice was deep. And commanding. Yellow Splatters stood in front of the people of Liscor. And his body was new. It had been built by a despairing Queen. It had been filled with a soul of a Soldier. A dying warrior. A son of Liscor. And though he had not been created with the genius of the Shaper Queens of old, the Free Queen of the Antinium could give him a voice. And voices were just sound. Easy to make. So she had given him the voice of a leader. A general.

A hero.

(Excerpt from the Wandering Inn by PIrateaba)


Update - 4 May 2020

“You. Step forwards.”

He pointed at one of the Antinium, the one with yellow spatters of paint. The Soldier stepped forwards slowly. He was a Soldier like the others. But he had been one of the first Pawn had led above. He had survived. And a Drake grandmother recognized him. These were all small reasons. But enough.

“I am not worthy of a command. I do not know war. But you do. You have fought longer than I have. You know battle. You know each other. So come. Step forwards.”

The Soldier approached. Pawn walked towards him, and put a hand on the Soldier’s chest. The Soldier stared down at him. Pawn’s voice was trembling.

“As Individual Pawn, given command of this unit of Soldiers, I, with the authority of my Hive, promote you. You are no longer a [Soldier]. You are a [Sergeant].”

The world stopped. The soldier with yellow spatters froze. The other soldiers stared at him. Pawn lowered his hand.

“It is heavy. It is difficult. But you are fit for command. You can lead the others. You will be their leader.”

Yellow Spatters stared down at Pawn. The Soldier was filled with emotions he couldn’t name, feelings that words wouldn’t describe. He turned, and suddenly every Soldier in the room was staring at him.

No. Not every Soldier.

His Soldiers.

The knowledge drove Yellow Spatters to his knees. But someone was by his side.

“You will not be alone. We will go to the front within the hour. I have requested it.”

We. The word made every Soldier look at Pawn. He was holding something in his hands. The Worker stared around at the other Soldier as he lit a flame.

“I cannot be your leader. I cannot. But I could never abandon you. I will walk with you in battle. I will be by your side. I will do the only thing I can do.”

The flame caught. The ember glowed as Pawn held it in a hand. He dropped it into the thurible, and the incense began to burn. It was not frankincense or myrrh. It was cinnamon sticks, ground finely. It was sweet, and the smoke drifted across the Soldier as Pawn walked past them.

“Come.”