Underneath the Skin
For being a big fox, poor Junya was surprisingly fragile. The Insect King held his limp body in his arms, happy that his blow hadn't made him bleed. He didn't want to be the kind of king that made his queen bleed. He amused himself a moment by playing with his sandy-coloured ears – they were so floppy when he was sleeping. He had such little teeth. Pointy.
He picked the fox up, cradling him carefully, making sure the foxes head was safely on his shoulder. It would be bad to hurt him any more.
“The change won't take long.” he told his mother “Perhaps a little longer than it took you, but soon he'll be beautiful. Not as beautiful as you, of course.”
He laughed, knowing she still needed assurance now and then.
“You look tired.” he noted “I'll let you rest. My bride and I should get to know each other a little better.”
Ah, but where to go? He didn't really want to go all the way back up the wedding chamber – besides that, it wasn't ready! The fruit was still fresh, it needed to rot a little before his queen could eat it. The wash-room wasn't finished either, and his mother had made it very clear that the wash-room was of paramount importance to a bride! He never expected Junya to get here so quickly, and wondered for a moment where he had left the horse. A thought occurred to the king, so he turned around and strolled down the correct tunnel.
His idiot father had consumed a few of the old wolf villages when he built the hive, and there were one or two of the odd wooden buildings that hadn't rotted or collapsed. His siblings didn't like them since they were so hard and empty, and treated with some chemical that made the termites sick, so they'd be perfect for some alone time. He loved his siblings a lot, but the thought that he would soon be surrounded by his own children instead made him indescribably happy.
He was disappointed that Junya was a little resistant to him, but he was sure that wouldn't last – he was going to build his whole world around him, afterall. Literally! He would be the glorious centre of the new hive. How fortunate that he managed to find someone so strong willed and feisty so close to home – he really wanted to pass on those kinds of traits to his children. Now he didn't have to resort to a goat – or worse, a gorilla.
He came to one of the still standing houses, wedged uncomfortably in the middle of one of his tunnels. He hadn't knocked it down since it was holding the roof up (this particular tunnel was a little unstable), crammed in at an awkward angle that blocked almost the entire shaft, only a few of the heavy old roof tiles dislodged and thrown to the ground by the shifting soil.
The old door stood open, its hinges and rails welded in place by rust and decay, allowing him to step inside easily – the wolves hadn't been as big at the gorillas, it seemed, but he didn't have to stoop too much through the humble doorway. The floorboards creaked in agony as he stepped on them, but didn't break. The old house was certainly dusty. Dirty even. Didn't wolves know how to clean? The king undid his wings, using a few flutters to clear away the dirt on the floor and make a clean space before carefully lowering Junya onto it.
Foxes sure were cute looking things, especially with those bushy tails and surprisingly soft fur. However, they were also pretty wiry creatures, all stringy and tough, and the little ones were mostly fluff – no good to eat at all. Junya's sandy fur looked funny in these pastel-coloured clothes.
Best take them off.
The shirt was easy enough to get off, but he had to be careful of Junya's head as it lolled precariously on his unconscious shoulders. Underneath his surprisingly soft fur, he was hard and muscular – lean muscle, but muscle nonetheless. The king wondered for a moment how big Junya would be when he was full grown – he was already big for a fox, and maturity was sure to pad him out further. He could just see the buds of maturity on the young man's neck and along his cheekbones. Too bad his spell was going to pretty much nip that in the bud.
Getting the trousers off was harder – having to navigate around his tail was troublesome (but there wasn't much in the way of bone beyond that fluff... like a squirrel), his bad leg flinching terribly when it was brushed by the kings hand. He looked at that leg a moment – there was a long scar along the shin where the fur no longer grew. It must've been a bad break. Poor thing.
The king ran his hand over Junya's belly, where the fur was the softest. It was warm. It made him laugh. Soon enough, that belly would be filled to the brim with his young, just waiting to be born.
“Enough playing.” he scolded himself.
He put his hands on Junya's chest, grabbing fistfuls of his fur, and pulled. His flesh tore like paper: this weak old spell wasn't a match for his magic. He tore away the fox skin easily, revealing the form beneath.
“Ooh,” he laughed “Fluffy!”
The fur was the same sandy colour as the fox skin, albeit with a few darker patches, but much thicker and fluffier. Junya's nose got wider and longer like a trackers, his teeth bigger and sharper and appropriately dangerous looking, his ears larger and rounder, losing the distinctive dark back of the fox skin as he peeled it away. He also looked younger than the fox skin let on, but not too much so.
“You're a big fox.” the king chuckled to himself “But you're only a little wolf. Why were you hiding in a foxes skin, I wonder?”
He pulled the skin away completely, throwing it aside. Junya groaned, stirring a little – was he waking up? He leaned over the little wolf, relishing the fluttering of his eyelids. He knew he wanted a wolf to bear his children, but they had all disappeared somewhere – abandoned their lands to the forest and found a new place to go and die.
How very fortunate for him that Junya had come along. Why was he dressed up like a fox, though? He even smelled like one. Never mind, really, he got what he wanted. He ran his fingers over Junya's belly again – it was even softer now.
“Wake up, wake up.” he sung “It's time for you and me to have some fun. I doubt you've ever tried breeding before, have you? It's going to be fun for us both.”
Junya stirred more: he really was waking up. The Insect King was practically buzzing in anticipation.
There was a loud scream down the passage, echoing throughout the shaft: not the usual harmless scream of his siblings playing, but a sudden, wretched one full of terror and pain. The king spun around, running to the door of the old house – that was going on? Was someone fighting? What was that glow? What was that smell?
The Insect King leapt back from the door, narrowly missing having his head sliced clean from his shoulders as a great sword thundered down, embedding itself into the wood and wattle. He would recognise the putrid reek and oafish grunt of the Gorilla King anywhere. He backed away, back into the room, the gorilla appearing at the door and yanking his blade free.
“What an eyesore.” the Insect King grumbled at him “How did you get in here?”
“'The mountain's not a mountain'.” the Gorilla King answered like he was quoting someone “It didn't take long to figure out. I never thought your hive would be above ground.”
“Technically, we're below it.” he quipped.
He stopped as something caught his attention – the Gorilla King was wet, clothes sodden and shining. There was no reason for him to be wet – there were no rivers or lakes close enough to the hive for him to still be wet now that he was this far down. The savage grinned, bearing his horrid fangs, realising what he had seen.
“You can't see it in this darkness, can you?” he taunted “Can't smell it - the blood of your kin. It's all a blur to you.”
The Insect King went cold. His siblings didn't have much in the way of blood, even the larger ones. For the gorilla to be drenched as he was... There was another wretched scream down the tunnel, a voice he recognised well.
The gorilla blocked the door. With a savage roar he leapt forward, swinging his great sword. The Insect King leapt back, just avoiding the blade, close enough to feel the slicing of the air next to him. What were those savage beasts doing to his brother?! He had to help him! The creature wasn't going to let him pass easily, swinging that brutish instrument through the air and bellowing at him.
The gorillas size made it slow, hard to manoeuvre, so the Insect King jumped around him, desperate to get to the door as he heard his brother scream again. He underestimated the gorillas reach as he ducked past, getting grabbed by his loathsome, filthy hands and thrown back into the room. Infuriated, he hissed at the savage.
“Let me pass!” he demanded.
“Not in once piece.” was the gorillas response, bearing his fangs as well as his sword “Where is Junya?”
What a moron – the Insect King couldn't help but laugh to himself.
“You don't know?” he taunted “You can't tell? I see better than you in this gloom, it seems.”
The gorilla growled, low and deep like his own personal earthquake. His senses must truly be dull if he couldn't even smell him – they were in the same room! The king had to help his brother, but he wasn't going to lose Junya now that he had him. What could he do? The savage wasn't going to let him go either – could he take Junya back up to the wedding chamber? He'd be safe there, but could he get him past the gorilla?
The Insect King noticed that he was seeing the gorilla in silhouette, blocking the light of bright orange emanating from down the tunnel. Where was that light coming from? Why was it orange? What was... It dawned on him – that was the orange light of fire. A lot of fire. The sound of savage yelling and grunting roars flew down the hall with the waft of warmth and scent of roasting earth.
“Getting nice and warm, isn't it?” the savage growled, grinning at him “That fire's going to brighten things up nicely.”
“You bastard.” the king swore “You bastard!”
“Tell me where Junya is, and I'll tell my troops to stop torturing your brother.” the gorilla swore “Just kill him nice and quick.”
The king was overcome with fury. How dare this savage beast intrude in his home, put his foul hands on his siblings, burn his tunnels?! What right did he have?! He was food!
The kings face broke, his shell coming apart. The beast raised his sword, stumbling back in shock as the king started to shed his skin.
“You came here for a fight.” he hissed “You've got one!”