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Some days, he, Klbkchhezeim, hated Liscor. Hated Liscor and Izril and every miserable species his people had failed to kill in their first war upon this continent. And he wondered when the third war would begin and thought of killing them all.

It was no longer as easy as it would have been. He was old, now. His body wasn’t the one he remembered.

The days had long gone when he had another name. Klbkch, they called him now.

Senior Guardsman Klbkch. And that was just the latest name among nearly a dozen he’d held, many in his people’s tongues that only they knew.

Klbkchhezeim of the Centenium. No one outside the Antinium now knew what that even truly meant or why it mattered.

Klbkch the Slayer of the Antinium Wars.

Now…Senior Guardsman Klbkch, a respected figure of almost a decade in Liscor’s Watch. How things changed.

How fast. He still remembered the first time that he had walked through Liscor’s streets, and every child and adult had hid from him. How they feared him until he caught his first criminal, a serial killer.

Even his partner, Relc—the first time they’d met, the Drake had tried to punch him. He still did, but that was apparently ‘affectionate.’ These days, they were partners. Even if Klbkch had hit Relc for the first time in their entire career as guards.

“You punched Relc?”

The Watch Captain stared at Klbkch as he gave her a formal report at the end of the week. Senior Guards didn’t have to report to a Watch Sergeant or a Senior Guardsman like regular Guards. They were trusted enough to act autonomously, even disappear if need be on an investigation.

He was a special case. Both he and the Watch Captain knew it. She was an excellent superior, Watch Captain Zevara. She both respected his role as liaison with the Hive and as a [Guard].

He knew she might have to kill him if war broke out again. Or try.

Even now, it would be easy. His blades were the one thing that hadn’t changed over his life. Two silver shortswords. He could sweep them from his sides and kill her.

It was not the first time Klbkch had thought that. But it was a rare thought these days. When he had contemplated his coworkers, and this foreign city, it had been out of self-defense. The Free Hive was meant to be a link between the Antinium and other species. A pact, for both to learn of each other and gain something.

So why did he think of killing her? Why Relc? Why everyone he thought to meet?

Why today? The answer was simple.

It was despair. It was the conversation he’d had with his Queen. They’d agreed to reveal the buried door. It would doubtless begin an event that might benefit them, especially if the ruins were cleared.

But that…that was a symbol of weakness. Their Hive should not need to stoop to such measures. They should not be so pathetic.

No resources. No aid. Not from the other Hives. Damn them. Not from the Queens. Nor the other Centenium. They were supposed to be Antinium. But it had been ten years.

Ten years of silence. Ten years of being ostracized for thinking differently. Ten years of failure. Almost exactly.

Klbkch had tried. He’d learned to be a [Guard], sat and eaten with Relc, ignored the tricks and earned the trust of Liscor. If that was all, he could consider his job done.

But his Hive had never done what it was meant to do. The Workers and Soldiers toiled, dumbly. They leveled up—a few were over Level 5.

Level 5. Children passed Level 5 before they were ten, some of them. Every species levelled, but the only two Antinium in the entire Hive of Liscor above Level 10 were Klbkch and the Queen.

Perhaps the Grand Queen was right and this was all folly. Perhaps this was a mistake. And he was only waking up to it today. But Klbkch knew they could level. They were just not…

True Antinium.

Now, he was losing faith. He was tired. He did the same thing day after day as Izril grew stronger. The Hive did not grow, but struggled in the depths. And he was just patrolling, settling petty disputes. 

He wanted to sit down and have a glass of…blue fruit juice. Spaghetti, perhaps. And why was he thinking that? The inn. Erin Solstice. The silly games of chess.

He shouldn’t have indulged her, let alone brought Workers on a trip and wasted money on the inn. But it was almost enjoyable. A kind of bright spot in his days of searching for a spark in his mindless Hive. Wasn’t he entitled to one after ten years?

It was a sign, perhaps, that he was growing tired. Losing focus. Perhaps he should ask the Queen, petition the Grand Queen for a Prognugator to replace him.

He was just so—empty. And no one knew it. 

The Watch Captain coughed, and Klbkch realized he hadn’t heard a word she’d said. He jerked, and his blades nearly swept across the desk. But he kept his hands folded behind his back.

“I’m sorry, Watch Captain. You were saying?”

She gave him a surprised look.

“Are you tired, Klbkch?”

“I may have received less-than-adequate sleep, Watch Captain. The error is mine. Please feel free to dock my pay.”

She almost laughed and raised her brows. The Drake coughed a plume of smoke to one side. He watched her tail, and it was wagging slightly on the ground under the desk. Amusement, then.

“If I did that to Senior Guardsman Klbkch, I’d have to censure Jeiss and Beilmark and all the others. Relc would never get paid. And about the punch.”

He waited. It was a poor act for a Senior Guard, but Zevara just shuffled the report into her stack of notes.

“…I’m sure Relc had it coming. You’ve now joined every single Senior Guard and half the regulars who’ve taken some kind of swing at him. I’ll overlook this with a stern warning.”

She raised her brows, and Klbkch waited for it. Then he realized she was being either ironic, sardonic, or funny.

He had learned to nod along and did so.

“Then, my punishment, Watch Captain?”

“Don’t do it again? Relc’s a wild card. If he weren’t a [Spearmaster], I’d have no time for half the trouble he causes. I’m going to consider this as an ‘interdisciplinary act between partners.’ You two are a good team. I won’t keep you. Get some rest. If anything, you made my day when I heard about it.”

She chuckled again awkwardly, and Klbkch stood there.

Other species still confused him. He had broken a rule, attacked his partner, and half the Watch House had come over to shake his hand or laugh about it. Even Relc had said he was ‘right.’

Confusing. They still confused him even now, after ten years.

It would be easy to kill her. But what purpose would that serve? They might be enemies—but he knew her name. Klbkch remembered when Zevara had become Watch Captain, and he had shaken her claw and thought it was good for the city. She smiled at him, and he was lost.

The inn. Klbkch saluted and turned to walk down the stairs. To his surprise, the Watch Captain stood with him. She often went to check the Watch House, but she was deliberately not affectionate or close like the previous Watch Captain was. She was good at her job.

“I’ll walk with you downstairs. Are you heading back to your Hive?”

She said it cautiously, for she didn’t know his Hive well. Klbkch nodded and rested one hand on his belt as if he were adjusting it.

Was this a trap? He doubted it. But he wondered. This was unusual, and she was better with a sword than all but Jeiss. 

And she breathed fire. She walked behind him down the narrow staircase, and Klbkch heard the scrape of something from below. His foot missed a step coming down.

There were a lot of people below. Too many, unless the Watch was mobilizing for riots or some larger activity. Most should be checking out and patrolling places, but he thought he heard a number of bodies. Breaths intaken quickly and a whisper.

“…coming. Quiet! Ready—”


Klbkch’s mandibles rose in a smile. So it was today, then. He lightly let his hands fall and knew the Watch Captain was behind him. He hadn’t suspected it at all. He began to reach out for his Queen. Relc was down there. He could see his partner’s tail swishing behind the front desk as Klbkch descended.

Dozens of [Guards] were loitering around. He might make it out the door or the windows. Then? There would be war. Klbkch slowly reached for the sword on his left with his hand as he saw Relc’s head come up. And he realized—he didn’t really want to kill them.

“Surprise! Congratulations, Senior Guardsman Klbkch!

The Antinium’s hand was on the hilt of his sword. He froze as Relc sprang up, and the Watch House erupted into applause. He let go and saw Watch Captain Zevara stop. 

She, and perhaps only one or two other [Guards], had noticed his hand move. Senior Guardsman Jeiss, the best swordsman in the Watch—blinked—but then he laughed. And he applauded as Klbkch turned, confused.

“What is going on? Am I being pranked? Again?”

He looked at Relc, accusatorially now, angry. It was clear this was not an ambush; no one had bows, and no one was armed. Yet everyone had been waiting for him.

“Not this time. Senior Guardsman Klbkch, apologies for the surprise.”

Zevara broke in, glancing at him as he straightened. She seemed to realize his mistake and quickly nodded around.

“Relc, you idiot. Didn’t you drop a hint?”

“What? I did! Captain Z—”

“Don’t call me that.”

“I was talking about the old days all patrol! And how long Klb’s been in the Watch, and that we should end our patrol early—”

Relc protested as the other [Guards] laughed at him. Klbkch hesitated. He never knew what to say, but he had found honesty worked.

“I believed you were trying to get me to buy you snacks. Again. And skip work.”

More laughter, and now Jeiss and Beilmark, partners, laughed as Relc turned red. Zevara herself issued a rare laugh and shook her head.

“Well, that’s my fault for trusting Relc. Alright, settle down. We’re going to make it quick. Evening patrol has to go out, but we’re all gathered today, and we had a little whip-round to celebrate you, Klbkch.”

“Me? What is the occasion, Watch Captain Zevara?”

She had produced something from her bag of holding. Klbkch turned to her, and part of him still suspected a trap. But he somehow knew it wasn’t a weapon she brought out of the magical bag. He stared at what she held.

It was…a badge. A bright, blue-and-silver badge for Liscor’s Watch. It had the symbol of their city on it, a building over waves. It was a replica of the one on his chest that he would take off when he was off-duty. But his was plain iron, battered and worn.

This had silver and bright azure paint. It looked expensive. Zevara offered it to him.

“Straight from Rafaema’s forges. It’s not much, but we also have a reservation at Wishdrinks with your name on it. We know you’re always busy with your Hive, but you’re booked during your patrol time at the end of the week. We’ll all drop by.”

A badge? Wishdrinks was an expensive pub fashionable with younger Drakes and Gnolls. Klbkch stared at the badge and looked down at his own.

“Is my own badge so poorly maintained that it has become an issue for the Watch? You should have alerted me earlier, Relc. Watch Captain, I apologize for—”

And the laughter grew. At his expense, Klbkch was sure, but he held still as even Zevara laughed. Relc took over.

“Klbkch, you idiot. It’s a gift. Don’t you know what day it is?”

Senior Guardsman Klbkch stood there blankly, then he realized. They had remembered it too.

“Ten years. Well, it’s not exactly ten years, but it’s close enough to the day the Antinium entered Liscor. We thought this was the day to celebrate it.”

“Plus Beilmark has her birthday next week, so we’re making room for it.”

Jeiss muttered, and his Gnoll partner kicked him in the leg.

“You idiot.”

People were chuckling, and Jeiss raised his claws in apology, but Klbkch just stood there. Zevara was offering him the badge, and he automatically took it with two of his fours hands. He turned it over and saw how it was expensive. Fresh steel, delicate paint. Someone had even written his name in tiny, gold lettering around the bottom.

Senior Guardsman Klbkch. 

It was the first gift he had received in his entire life for doing his job. He had been offered thank-you gifts from a boy he’d saved from being run down by a horse. People he’d saved from being mugged or attacked. Co-workers had offered him trinkets.

He used to turn them all down because it was unbecoming of a [Guard] to take them. Then, on advice from Relc, shared them instead if they were edible. 

This…was a marker.

“Ten years.”

Zevara looked at him, and he glanced up and saw her light purple eyes watching him. As if, perhaps, she knew what this day meant to him. How could she? 

How could she know the exhaustion that had been in his soul before his people had even come to Izril? The frustration of a war fought twice to no avail?

And now, ten years of failure. Ten years of looking for a single mind in his mindless Hive? For an Antinium like him? But all Workers and Soldiers did was become Aberration. He patrolled a city that was not his own, and that—

That was the only reason he’d stayed sane these ten years. His hand curled around the badge. Gently, Klbkch replaced his old one with the new one and put the old one in his belt pouch. 

“Looking good. We should put you in clothing though, Klb, my man. Especially for Wishdrinks. Imagine if I walked in with only underwear?”

Relc spoke to laughter, and someone elbowed him.

“That’s because you’re ugly as shit, Relc. I bet you Senior Guardsman Klbkch’s handsome for an Antinium.”

The Drake turned and kicked the [Guard] who’d said that. Zevara shouted before a fight could break out.

“Alright, that’s enough! Relc, you’re already in trouble. Stop causing trouble or I’ll order Klbkch to punch you again. We’ve taken enough of Klbkch’s time—we’ll see you at Wishdrinks.”

Her comments were greeted by laughter, and everyone began to get back to work. But they stopped to pat Klbkch on the shoulder or shake his hand. Since he had four, it was quick. And they smiled, and Klbkch was soon walking through the streets of Liscor.

Senior Guardsman Klbkch. His new badge shone, and of all the Antinium, he was the one whom people greeted. The one they knew. Some still hated him.

“Guildmistress Tekshia. Good evening.”

An older Drake grunted and ignored him. Klbkch walked through the crowd of faces, alone. Unique. Lost.

He was never alone. His Queen was always there. He was no longer unique. His body was a Worker’s.

He knew his purpose, to restore his people. But his Hive was filled with silent Workers and Soldiers. Not one spoke to him. Only Aberrations spoke, to scream. 

Kblkch stood among them as he descended from Liscor’s streets into the subterranean lair. He stood in a passageway where a hundred Workers and Soldiers passed him every second. His hand tightened around his new badge, and he realized he’d forgotten to put it with his gear. He held it and screamed in the darkness of his Hive.

“Do something. Say something—where are your souls? You mindless, fake Antinium!”

His Hive stopped. Every Worker and Soldier stared at him, and he sensed their fear and saw a thousand heads turn and bodies shrink back, limbs draw inwards. A thousand Antinium who lived and died for the Hive, and not a single one worthy of a detail or name.

Klbkch turned away. He walked to his quarters to rest. To rest and put the badge down and stare at it, the first gift he had ever accepted. He sat there for a long time until the Queen asked why a disturbance had occurred. Then he apologized and got back to work.

He wanted to visit the inn. He was tired. He wished he could tell Erin more, but she was a lost girl from another world. She didn’t know who he was, and perhaps if she did, she would fear him rightly. 

“How much longer?”

He didn’t know. Klbkch sat there, just for a while longer. Head bowed, no longer hoping for the day he and his Queen had labored so long for. He wondered what kind of party they’d have at Wishdrinks. He held the little badge in his hand, and he was so tired and lost that he could not feel it.

The day, at last, that his Hive began to change.


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