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Chapter 2:

Decisions

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I was too late.

Hours later, deep underground, I stood over the body of Sudi, and watched as my Chaurus wrapped her in a deer hide I found in one of the Falmer's huts. She'd killed herself. I didn't know where she got the knife, likely off one of the Falmer going by the make, but I couldn't blame her for the choice.

Given the condition I found her in, what the Falmer did to her… I really couldn't blame the girl.

I'd found her brother, earlier. I would never know what he was doing, sneaking down to the basement at night. Playing pranks… something more diabolical? I decided to go with pranks; the idea that the boy was simply bored and entertained himself by scratching on things… well, it seemed likely.

I remembered a boy… Bryce, I believed. Mani looked like he was Bryce's age, as I remembered the other kid.

Whatever the truth, the Falmer were dining on his corpse when I found him.

Taking exception to their activities, I had my Chaurus spit on one of them – and resolved never to be on the receiving end of that spit – and secured the other for questioning.

There was a fenced pen in the room, with two more Chaurus… and a small clutch of eggs. One of the Chaurus was female, I felt, and both were grateful for my appearance and eager to assist; I ordered what bugs weren't holding the waxy, snarling creature down to take apart a nearby hut, then directed their claws in making a crude sled, to tow Mani's body and any salvage I found. Good thing there was rope.

As for the Falmer… I came to find that the Chaurus were less animals than their oppressors.

I stood over the shrieking thing – none of its brethren were coming, according to a Chaurus I was using as a lookout – and, figuring it looked somewhat humanoid, attempted to speak with the blind being, "Where are your prisoners?"

All I was answered with was more animalistic shrieking; according to one of my Chaurus, the hooked flail on its belt was used to discipline the enslaved bugs, and a rattle was always used. If they heard the rattle, pain would come soon. It was the reason for their [hate] of the Falmer.

There was more, a Falmer's hand shooting lightning, but I'd seen no evidence of such, and the one before me wasn't talking and probably didn't have enough of a mind to do so. I let the Chaurus kill it, and then forged on.

Not long afterward, I was treated to what that lightning was like, when a female Falmer sent a fork of it my way. For some reason, she was capable of using the Blaster attack and could summon some kind of Breaker ability that made her body more resistant to damage, somehow with one hand; the other hand was occupied by a staff that also fired lightning, suggesting the local equivalent of a Tinker somewhere. The Chaurus' mandibles met with resistance on the skin of the creature, like trying to cut through wood with a kitchen knife.

Luckily for me, there were three Chaurus in the room with her, but two of them died by the time I arrived with reinforcements. The survivor was… proof that the six-legged boys and girls with me could, and likely would, change into something more.

He was as tall as I was, with four dragonfly-like wings; his butt still looked like an earwig, but the rest of its body reminded me of a wasp more than anything. Two legs were tucked in while in flight, while the forelimbs looked like those of a praying mantis, and his antennae were much longer than the youngster's.

More importantly, the blue-eyed guy was intelligent enough to realize I was controlling him, that he was male, and was able to provide clearer communication on what he was feeling; he had no problem with my taking him over, but, after I told him what I planned to do, he became concerned for me…

[queen] [deep] [other]

To his, and apparently all the other Chaurus' instincts, I gave off the same vibe as a queen of their species. I didn't bother correcting them; I liked my skin just how it was: not dissolving in toxic spit.

There was another Chaurus in the pit I was delving into, one that was willingly allied to the Falmer; it helped raise and control the Chaurus in exchange for fresh meat. It wasn't picky, either; human or Falmer didn't matter to it.

As he changed in his pupa, the "other" Chaurus was whispering to him, making him loyal to the Falmer, and my presence broke that apparent brainwashing; my new ally reported this while I ransacked a hut, searching for a book but only finding smoked meat and partially rotted fruit.

I gave the fruit and some of the meat to my allies, ate some of the meat – bit tough, but delicious – and resolved to kill the "other" Chaurus in the deep, and hopefully rescue the father and daughter while I was at it.

I was a hero. I could remember that much about myself; I may have made many bad decisions, but leaving a nest like the one I found, for someone else to stumble upon, when I could do something about it… it was the right thing to do. Neutralize the threat, let everyone know the threat was neutralized, hope no one minds the Chaurus defending the village, put my feet up and make a killing on the honey market. Maybe even start a family.

Unfortunately, I was on my own, as far as making a good first impression went.

Sudi was already dead when I took control of the six Chaurus in her area, including a female… Greater Chaurus? Better than nothing. She was a sneaky little thing, had hidden from the Falmer until she heard my Chaurus delighting in killing alongside their new queen; the winged girl downed three of the waxy horrors, only needing my assistance with one, and did so with much [humor] in her thoughts.

There were eight Falmer in the place Sudi was kept. There were also more clothes and gear than were people in the room.

Only one Falmer was left: the apparent leader, if the heavier armor and larger size were any indicator.

Both of the Greater Chaurus were holding the bastard on the ground behind me; its arms and legs were already broken, but it wasn't shrieking in pain. It was still trying to bite me, still trying to attack, even while broken and lying on its back.

Seeing what it and its brothers did to that poor girl, whose bruised, tear-stained face, her pretty yet badly battered figure, reminded me painfully of Imp…

There were fresh drag marks leading to a ledge, the short drop revealing humid conditions and more egg sacs. A man's boot lay abandoned near Sudi.

I watched, numb and furious, as the girl was loaded onto the sled; giving the four Chaurus pulling the two sleds I now had an order, to pull them back to the lighthouse basement, then eat some of the grain and nap-

[obedience] [belief]

-I waited until the bodies and salvage – and egg sacs, wrapped in thick blankets to keep the cold off them – were out of sight. Then I turned on the snarling, shrieking Falmer, sword in hand.

They had no eyes, navigating and recognizing each other by scent, hearing, and items that they strapped to their body; pieces of victims, small bones, as well as mushrooms and other random objects. I didn't know what they were, or where they came from… or where I even was.

But I knew evil when I saw it.

My Chaurus companions, all fifteen of them, ranging in size from a cute little one the size of a wiener dog, to the two human-sized Greater Chaurus, all of them snapped their mandibles and smacked their butts against the ground in a chorus of [hate] for the creature at my feet. They felt my [fury], recognized it for what it was, and echoed it back at me.

All wasn't lost, I felt; I still had slaves to liberate. But first…

I silenced the snarling filth at my feet, and swore to kill any that crossed my path in the future.

There was just one more thing to take care of.

.

Another two hours later, I was curled up on Habd's bed in the lighthouse, the littlest Chaurus, curled up into a ball of warm chitin, held to my chest.

The "other" Chaurus was dead, killed my my own hand, but so were many others, both those that fought for me… and against me.

I had six Greater Chaurus, and nine lesser ones, along with five hundred fertilized eggs; I'd burned everything in the nest, including the corpses, not wanting anything to remind me of what it was like, to face something that used my own tactics against me.

Hearing their death cries, knowing that my Chaurus went to their deaths believing in me, hoping I'd slay the "other", who they feared, feeling their determined sadness at killing their own kind… it tugged at my heart.

It was only part of the reason for the tears leaking from my eyes, as I tried to find sleep.

Habd's wife wrote that he wanted his bones cremated in the lighthouse's fire; I gave him that, at least. His family… I would bring their bodies to Dawnstar, the nearest settlement, going by one of the books on Ramati's bookshelf.

There wasn't much, mostly storybooks, but even those were informative, though I lacked the context to understand most of it; there was an atlas, luckily for me, so I at least knew where I was.

Tamriel was the name of the continent I was in the far north of; specifically, I was in the northernmost province, Skyrim. The region was called The Pale; the waters further north, the Sea of Ghosts. An apt name, I felt.

All of it was completely unfamiliar and alien.

Oh, there was trade between the provinces, between Skyrim and High Rock and Hammerfell and Morrowind and Cyrodiil, or so I gathered from Habd's diary; economy was a familiar subject to me, as I'd been the nominal warlord of a city in my previous life – I assumed – but the details behind the names of places, some of the terms used – what in the world was ebony, or Solstheim, or the Dunmer for that matter – what it all meant was still clouded to me. There were no history books, no references.

Luckily, I knew enough about the area I was in to plan a course of action.

Dawnstar was a small port town, about a day's walk to the west; it was the capital of the region or state I was in, the Hold. The town of Dawnstar, which I found a small map of, had a guardhouse, two mines, the port, a smithy, an apothecary, the Jarl's longhouse, and an inn. There were other homes there, for the miners and dockworkers and the guards' families; it gave me the idea of a sleepy little town on the fringes of civilization.

The Hold, and Dawnstar itself, was ruled by a Jarl, a town mayor or land baron who also acted as the state's governor; I didn't know who they were, but the family that lived in the lighthouse were technically subjects of the Jarl. Or just lived in the Hold; I didn't know enough about the politics of the world to reach a conclusion.

I was lost. I could barely remember my old life. I missed the blond girl whose smile I liked; her absence struck me deep, for some reason. I wished I could remember her name, why we were so close.

I wished she was with me.

Drying my eyes, I let the little squirming bundle of chitin leave my embrace, smiling bitterly as he let out a [happy] chitter and nudged my head affectionately; the tyke quickly curled up next to one of the other Chaurus I was sharing my bed with (a quick roll in the snow was enough to clean the grime from their bodies). The Greaters – I really needed a better name for them – were near the fire with the eggs, and would watch the door in shifts.

Once dawn broke, I'd… we would set out for Dawnstar.

Once I was there, assuming they didn't just kill me on sight, I would explain my situation and offer to clear the town of harmful pests, as well as my aid in times of need, in exchange for room and board. I was sure the offer of honey would go over well; the tech level of the world, as far as I could tell, was definitely medieval-era… though the brass steam pipes that were in the deep begged to differ.

I seriously doubted those pipes were the works of the Falmer, but I didn't know a damn thing about the world as it was. For all I knew, the Falmer made them in some long age past, and some horror took their sight and sanity. It was even possible.

The people of Tamirel could use magic.

I made sure not to think about that, until I could see someone not a Falmer use the stuff; hopefully there would be some kind of scientific explanation. There was a college, to the east, but that would lead to more questions than my already taxed psyche could handle; if they could read my mind…

Regardless, I couldn't be the same person I was before, the young woman I could barely remember being. I was tired of fighting. Every time I fought, something worse would happen, and even victory felt like a defeat.

The… the deep, under the lighthouse, was just the most recent and raw in a long string of fights that ended with me worse off than when I started, with other people dead because I wasn't fast enough, wasn't there in time.

So I'd go to Dawnstar, get rid of all their fleas, offer mine and my Chaurus buddies' assistance should any threat attack the town, and hopefully have some help setting up the beehives; honey was surely a rare commodity in these parts, and it felt warmer outside than last night, so everyone would benefit having honey out of the comb and I'd be able to make some money, eventually travel south to more civilized regions once I had enough saved up.

Maybe someday, my memories would return. Maybe, with magic, I might see the blonde girl in my thoughts again, or at least remember her name.

But, until that hopeful future came to pass, I just wanted to live in peace with my bugs, and hopefully a cup of tea with some honey. At least. I'd more than earned my retirement, and I intended to enjoy it as much as I could.

With that last determined thought, I drifted off, the soothing hums of my sleeping companions lulling me into a restful sleep.