Past Times: A Week in the Life of a Larnikin Soldier
Also by 1335512
One of the disadvantages of being a newly hatched Larnikin Soldier in the habitarium is that you get all the tasks assigned nobody else wants to do. Tasks which don't necessarily have anything to do with patrolling duties. Tasks which simply fall into our responsibility because the other petpetpets are too busy with their main tasks of harvesting and nesting. So, given a current lack of pest attacks, here I am cleaning out old stuff at the hospital. And I am not talking about old medical supplies which only a responsible soldier could dispose of. No, I'm talking about personal stuff of petpetpets long gone. Broken spears, left over nest padding in cuddly toy form... this kind of stuff. But hey! What is this? It looks like an old diary. Wonder what this petpetpet's life was like... eons ago...
Day 1 - I was hatched early this morning and eagerly began patrolling. As I was still learning the ropes, I was told to accompany a seasoned soldier who taught me all the tricks. Shortly after lunch break, the peaceful lull we had enjoyed in the morning came to a sudden end. My first encounter with those blue pests! Fighting ensued all over the habitarium but thanks to the tricks my mentor had taught me I came out of this battle unscathed. My mentor, however, was not so lucky. Having sustained some minor wounds he was taken to the hospital. The other soldiers assured me that he would be back in no time, as good as new.
Shoving the strange feeling in my gut aside, I resumed my patrolling duty. It was not long after that, that things became really strange. There was some kind of eerie silence and all of a sudden the noise we soldiers like to hear least was audible: The sound of a resource drying up. The sound of us soldiers having failed to protect the habitarium. But there had been no invasion; no blue pests had entered the habitarium since earlier. And yet the workers were all acting as if in trance, wandering around aimlessly as if they had felt some invasion, had perhaps even fought it. Of course bad news piles up at such a moment and within moments after we first realized the strange after effects of an attack we soldiers had neither seen nor felt, we heard that my mentor had died in the hospital.
To be sure, he had been the oldest soldier in the habitarium, but we figured that he had still a good two days to go before the eternal light called him to the higher plains. So how could he die? Especially when being in hospital, the healing institution of the habitarium?
Something was more than off.
Day 2 - Whenever I was not patrolling, I was practicing my fighting skills. I did not under any circumstances want to sustain any wounds during a fight. I did not want to have to be admitted into the hospital. An unlucky worker had gotten in the midst of a fight when there had been a pest invasion close to the end of last day. Of course those workers are feisty and well able to defend themselves, but they lack the skill we soldiers possess and usually get injured. So off to the hospital that poor Mootix went, never to be seen again. Another victim of the hospital curse. And strange enough, the Mootix's death again occurred at the same time the 'You have failed to protect the habitarium'-noise became audible once more and the other workers ran around in trance. We couldn't shake the feeling that those two occurrences were somehow connected. Sleep that night had been rather restless, haunted by nightmares of becoming injured and having to be taken to the hospital.
When we were woken up this morning, all of us knew that no matter whether we were soldiers or workers, we had one thing in common: We feared the hospital! Hence the training whenever we found a spare moment. We even taught the workers a few tricks to practice on their way back from the storage to their harvesting place.
We were lucky that day: No blue pests invaded, nobody had to be taken to the hospital, and though the ghost attacks, as we started to call them, occurred a few times over the day, we all survived the day.
Day 3 - This was the day the investigation began. Well, of course we had already tried to brainstorm and connect whatever clues we had, but last night, just before falling asleep, we soldiers had met in the barracks and decided to form an investigation squad. I was thrilled because I was to be part of that investigation squad. Our job would be to patrol as normal; however, we were not to look out for pests. We were to watch the workers to see if there could be anything detected in their behaviour prior to the noise of doom. Should blue pests enter, we would be alerted by the fighting and could pitch in easily enough, but someone had to watch the workers as they obviously were the only ones who could feel the ghost invaders.
It was just before lunch break that the first ghost attack occurred. However, despite watching the workers closely, we could not detect anything unusual until the moment they all appeared to be in trance and wandered around aimlessly. So watching them obviously was not enough. And it now dawned upon me that with all our planning we had overlooked something essential: None of us soldiers had ever asked the workers how they felt during the ghost attack or how they knew about the attack happening. I wanted to bang my head against something solid to express my anger at our oversight, but the only really solid things in the habitarium are the trees, the rocks and the water pump, and these places were busy with harvesting workers. So I did the next reasonable thing: I talked to the workers instead.
Day 4 – While the workers had told me that they had not been able to see the attackers, they confided that they had been able to feel them. More specifically their hackles rose every time such an attack happened. This is one of the rarely known facts in the physiognomy of us petpetpets: We each have all a tiny, barely visible difference in appearance. We soldiers have a natural chitin carapace on our legs, which protects us when we are fighting. The workers have a thin line of hackles at the nape of their neck which helps them to adjust the harvest better when taking it to the storage. And the nesters have a thin layer of extra fat at their bellies to prevent nest soreness from all the nesting.
After having heard this, the investigation squad concluded that in order for the soldiers to be able to feel the attackers, we would need hackles. Now of course we can't grow hackles at will, so, much to the annoyance of the workers, each soldier of the investigation squad stuck close to a worker during that day, always making sure that we were in touch with their hackles. Harvest that day was not as abundant as usual. More than once the worker-soldier-tandem toppled over and the harvest got spoiled. But to the investigation squad it had been worth the loss of a few chips of wood and blades of grass. Twice we had been able to feel the attackers! Unfortunately we had not been able to see them, much less fight them, and as one of the newbies had been hurt earlier during a blue pest invasion and taken to the hospital, we lost a brave soldier that day.
Day 5 – We, as in the investigation squad, spent all of that day hiding in a house. Well, we were not really hiding. We had converted the house into a workshop, since all kinds of petpetpets could enter a house and help us. It was mostly the workers, who helped us by donating hackles. Usually workers are proud of their hackles and are loathe to part with even the tiniest bit of it. But the prospect of being accompanied another day by a soldier who constantly touched them, made the workers rethink their attitude and voluntarily donate a few of these precious hairs. From these hairs the investigation squad crafted goggles as we had been able to determine that even if the hackles were no longer attached to the worker, by touching them, we were able to feel the attack happen. And by fashioning them into goggles we hoped to be able to see the ghost attackers as well.
Late in the evening we finished the goggles, which were barely visible when we wore them. Instantly we wanted to try them out, but alas, there were no more ghost attacks that day. But perhaps it was all the better for it, since this way we lost no petpetpet that day to the ghosts.
Day 6 – The next day dawned bright and early. And I was right there to watch the sunrise. I had been barely able to sleep that night, so excited was I at the prospect of finally seeing these ghost attackers, of finally finding out who or what they were. I guess it was only thanks to the soldier-magic of the barracks that my energy levels were fully restored, despite the little sleep I had gotten. Yet I had to wait till almost noon before the first attack of the day occurred and this was only a blue pest attack.
Unfortunately I had been so focussed on the ghosts that I missed the entrance of the blue pests and sustained a slight injury on my back. Despite all my protests, no matter how much I tried to wriggle away, I was dragged to the hospital. Why, o why did they have to take me to the hospital? The soldier-magic in the barracks would have done as well. Perhaps not as fast as the healing-magic of the hospital was supposed to work, but the hospital was dangerous! What if a ghost attack occurred while I was stuck in there?
Half an hour later, when I was almost healed, all 'what if' turned into utter reality. I was still wearing my goggles, never having removed them since finishing the crafting the previous day. At any other time I would have been delighted to see that they really worked. I could see those invaders, could see that they were the ghosts of defeated blue pests who had returned to haunt the habitariums. But there was definitely no delight in seeing them enter the hospital through the walls, disturbing the healing magic, drinking it all up. And as I was still connected to the hospital's magic, I could feel that they were slowly draining my energy as well.
Agony seized me as I felt my end nearing. I knew that I was considered old among the corps, but this was not how I had wanted to die! But even more importantly: Right now I was the only one who knew how the deaths of hospitalized petpetpets and the ghosts were connected. If I did not manage to tell the others, it would take them perhaps forever to figure it out!
With the last of my strength I stumbled to the entrance of the hospital, crawling the last bit of the way, breaking down on the threshold. But I had come far enough. Close by I could see a young Mootix soldier. To him I relayed my last word: Magic-Drain.
With that the eternal light engulfed me to carry me to the higher plains. Guess there will be no Day 7 for me. But I leave this habitarium with the satisfying feeling that I did my duty and that the soldiers coming after me will eventually find a way to fight those magic draining pest-ghosts.
What a brave soldier! And if the legends I hear told in the barracks are true, it was his sacrifice which eventually helped the inhabitants of the habitarium in those distant days to fight those ghost attacks and get rid of them for good. He was a true hero! Hope I will become a hero as well. Though, seriously, I am glad we no longer face those ghost attacks.