Chapter 3 - Harmonious Answer
Pride-spawn are motivators, encouraging the self-worth of others. The virtue occurs when your self-regard becomes harmful to the community. As Fragar, Pride is important to us. We must ready our colony members to leave the colony when we need them to. They must feel they are the best. Because of this, we seek pride.
Even in such a perfect process as we had discovered, pride was not balanced as it must be. We suffered for this. Our pride rose to both hubris and arrogance. We thought ourselves and our colony so valuable, we overlooked the truth. This put our entire colony at great risk.
Without thinking of one’s self, there will be suffering and unfulfilled needs. Too much humility neglects the self, and the community can suffer as a result. Pride is no better. While inside our colony, we had great humility, we collectively had such a pride that we were on the verge of destruction.
Every community interacts with other communities. These interacting communities become a community of their own. We could see this when we met humans. Even the most well balanced communities were part of larger communities, and eventually, the balance was lost. Your people would do well to realize the lesson we learned from you.
Your largest community is your entire world, and you must make sure each layer leading up to it has the proper humility and pride.
Turmoil and anxiety rang through the colony. Our brethren buzzed and chittered nervously as we did our work. We started on a small scale, with our own colony, before scaling it to the entire gathering.
“Anan,” Ura confronted us, “You are wanting. You want very much.”
“I know,” I answered. Most demons shape the virtue energy into powerful magical effects. The pathetic Fragar require it to want. We use virtue as you use vital, and without it, we do not live. “This is not basic. It is outside needful functioning. It is… to plan.” In essence, we were trading our life to be able to plan ahead.
“The colony is worried, our Queen. Many of your children have gone so far as hope! We stand on the brink of destruction.” Hope, as a high virtue, creates an energy poisonous to demons.
“Yes, my loyal one. And you can see my pride, my rejection of what we are. This is the only way, for any of us. We cannot survive unless we can be… more.”
“They do not understand and fear is taking them. Is there truly no other way?”
“Cerux commanded this. If we run, he will catch us. If we fail, he will demand Nassa from us, and then will devour us all.”
“We remember,” Ura replied, sullen. “Then there is no option. I will inspire the others to accept their new role. Our energy runs low, Anan. Please find your way soon.”
The thought of releasing Nassa to him never crossed our minds as a possibility. She is part of us. What happens to her happens to us all.
We had left our own colony to meet with the other Fragaran directors. We had sacrificed so much to reach this point, and we needed to get the others to comply. We no longer had the energy to simply overpower them. We required diplomacy. Even if they accepted our plan, our own sacrifice was not over.
Each colony had sent seven representatives to the meeting I had called for. Forty-two beetles stood gathered around, murmuring and chittering. As we began to synchronize and connect to one another, it was clear that there would be difficulty. Other than myself, each of the gathered scarabs had nothing more than their own colony in mind. This even held for the children I brought from my own colony.
The harmonization grew and our gluttons began to secrete the gel that would become our collective body. The wrathful burrowed in and started forming the muscles. One by one, we all joined the new body. Each role filled a purpose in this collective, and action for the collective was imperative for the body to function properly.
The process normally takes seconds, but the lack of harmony slowed it down. As we became mutually dependent on each other for survival, things began to smooth out. If the body’s systems fail, we are all sent back to our heartpods. Waking in the new body was mildly disorienting. It was unfamiliar, there was conflict over direction and leadership, and we did not act as one.
Our own colony formed a large body, just short of eighty inches in height. This one was much smaller, with a straightened back pushing the top of our mossy hair to sixty-six inches. It was weak. We did not have Nassa’s powerful devourers working the limbs. The balance was also off because the ones who grew the muscle did not work together. We were a stumbling calf, like one of your own toddlers.
The body we collectively formed walked slowly through our own fields. The short grasses stretched up through a shallow, mucky water. The others gasped as our feet began to absorb it.
“What is this?” One of the other leaders asked, surprise and shock in his voice.
“Pure nutrient, and ready for use. It fills the water. We must find the source!” The second leader tried to steer our body.
“We know the source,” I told her. “It is one of our children. This is the gift of a plant from a different realm. It is not one of the hells, so it does not grow well here. We can all have water like this, but to do so, we must work together.”
“This is amazing,” a third leader gasped, gazing down to the shallow bog. Our movements became more fluid as the thoughts of the others synchronized. We also gained an anxious nausea, however, as each wanted the same thing, but only for their own colony.
“The muck that floats in the water fills it with all we need to grow. It requires much water, however, and a strange light.” We directed the body to continue forward. Along the shores, we had set up many of the tall grasses. “They will drink this water and grow. They change this matter into that which our producing children need. We can grow continually like this, and will require very few tenders.”
Our balance was lost and the collective stumbled and fell. “You boastful creature! Why do you flaunt your superiority?”
“We do not do this to brag. We will show you, in time. For now, you must observe. Learn. See how we do it and remember. Cerux has told us we can change the fields. We mean to change them greatly.”
The others fell silent as we continued. We could feel many of their thoughts. They planned on how to take this from us. Some could sneak, some could send stalkers. They did not understand yet, but they would. Still, this moment of peace returned balance and mobility, allowing us to rise to our feet once again.
“When there is little water, the muck does not die. It turns into scales for the earth. When it is like this, it continues to produce, but uses very little water. The other one we need, from that world, is the stemless leaves at the edges of the water. It can pull the water from the air and the earth. It does not produce much, and it grows very poorly. It requires lots of mass to get its energy, but this is the beauty. It will give the second type the moisture it needs to feed both of them, and still give extra matter and water.”
“You say we,” the second leader said, challenging. “I did not feel you sensing your own colony during that.”
“No,” I answered. “I am thinking of us all. This is the only way we can survive. And with this, we will not merely survive, but we can thrive.”
The attention of the others stopped being on how to take this for themselves. We could feel the lingering uncertainty, but knew we had taken the first vital step. They were listening. The dizziness and nausea left our collective body. Our movements became smooth and graceful.
“To feed all this, we need two other plants, one from our Pitt and one from the deeper hells.” We pointed to a tall leafless tree at the center of the bog. “That tree is an Ice Root. It will take heat from the ground to make a toxic matter. Our own deathmoss can remove the toxins and feed the muck. When it burns off the toxins, it glows with the light the alien plants require.”
“But… these plants are alien. None of us know how to make them.”
As we reached the edge of our colony, we gestured to the thorny vines surrounding it. “Each of you must accept the role we give you. Then, and only then, can we share with you how to grow what you need. Not all of you are good devourers. Not all of you are good producers. Some of you will do no more than protect the rest of us. For this, we will feed you. We need to trust. Within this extended colony, this... cluster, we can all thrive and grow like no Fragar before us have seen.”
One by one, they accepted their roles. This is where our further sacrifice revealed itself. Our own children, from our own colony, had offered themselves to convey the information. As we assigned the other Fragar to duties requiring the new plants, one of our children would present itself. The Fragar to receive the information would devour it with finality. I shared some of my own dear tenders with them. Nassa gave to them her Yaritan protectors.
The telling of this part of our tale burns our hearts. We so dearly miss those who sacrificed themselves. Their end, however, was a new beginning. With the most wrathful Fragar surrounding us, we knew we could repel most wild fiends. With the strongest devourers converting readily available matter for the producers, we knew we would never have shortage within the colony.
“High Queen Anan,” one of the guardian Fragar reported, “We do not know how to manage this. We have never seen this before.”
“Stay your fears,” we commanded. “Let them enter. We knew this was coming.”
“Anan, Nassa, I do not think you understand. They are bringing back the food. They must be displeased with it.”
“We have been in harmony for three months,” I reminded the feebleminded servant. “Our production has been more than five times what it was before. We had been offering almost all the food that was needed previously. We have cut our production in half to offer more meat and sweets. We are still producing twice what lord Cerux’s garrison can consume.”
The guardian gasped, staring blankly at us. We could see the confusion and lack of understanding in his face. “But… our queen?”
“They simply don’t know what to do with it. Keeping surplus around will attract fiends. Let them bring it in. We will devour it, ourselves. We will get the fine meals for once. With this, we can produce even more. Instruct the other colonies to expand their populations. We will grow from this.”
He did as we instructed and brought the garrison skraghi before me. They carried their full burden of unused foods. We met them with a smile so loaded with pride, the weakest amongst them bowed or kneeled.
“Lord Cerux demands that you stop this, Anan. We are now at increased risk of raid by rivals or fiends.”
“You address us wrong,” we hissed. As thorned vines shot from the surrounding fields, we added our correction to his words. “We are not just Anan! We are Anan and Nassa! You would do well to never let this slip your mind again!”
Nassa’s gluttonous wrath exuded from us, enlarging the thorns on the constricting vines. We could feel them pierce the scaled leather of the skrahg, taste the blood, and sense the fear. The others who had resisted bowing their respect corrected themselves, for better or for worse. Most dropped to a servile posture. A few had grown their bone blades larger, but looked at how few had made this decision. As uncertainty in their own action set in, we gave them a pleasant, nurturing smile.
“With swiftness, you may leave us. Never forget to carry respect with you upon your return, else you will help fuel this wondrous growth you see before you.” They complied without hesitation. New virtue energy spilled from them. Wrath, envy, lust. They wanted either to join us or to destroy us. They wanted. A Fragar feeds on fulfilling wants. A small laugh broke our benevolent smile.
“Anan, Nassa. Please hear us. If you kill the one who offended you, Cerux will not be pleased.”
“Kill? No. We will not kill him, but we could easily devour all of you. We can feel all of the Fragar within this harmonious cluster. We can command all of them. What you and what Cerux think of as a Fragar cannot be found in my valley.”
They looked at their associate, being crushed and drained by the vines. Their path here had been through a half mile of similar foliage. “Do… you have an answer for his… request?”
“Request?” we responded. “We heard no request. We heard a demand from Cerux.” The fear, both on their faces and in the air around them became unmistakable. “He is our lord, we will obviously comply. We will bring a third of the harvest you have seen so far to the garrison. If more is wanted, send someone to retrieve it. The harvest belongs to Cerux, as we belong to him. He may decide what will be done with it.”
“Yes, Lady Anan, Nassa. And... him?” The war-messenger looked to the paling companion we still held helpless in our vines.
“We wish to ensure this next part is not forgotten. You have insulted our lord. We know Cerux is no fool. He can find a use. He can offer it to the servants of rivals and to fiends to purchase their loyalty. He can trade it to more distant lords. When full harvest is desired, we will be ready to give our lord Cerux that which he already owns.”
As our words ended, so did the torment of the skrahg. The vine withdrew its thorns and released its grip, allowing him to fall to the ground. As they left, we could feel the harmonious pride from all the fields. Even the weakest producers, those who protected our edges, saw their immense value as the fleeing skrahg cast upon them respect and envy.
We did not know then that there was a word for a demon who grows beyond their birth role. It is Exarch. Amongst the garrison, we became referred to as Anan the Nurturer. They knew Nassa as the Devourer. We had accidentally risen to Exarch of the Fragar, the only one to occur in over a millennium. This is also the time and the way we ensured our doom.