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Maralian Antics

A letter is left with the guards of the northernmost city of Oberin.

To the Marali Vanguard,

First and foremost, we would like you to stop the cruel extermination of ants you described in your letter. The Myrmecologist Society is willing to help Marali building facilities to promote research of this magnificent species, but we will not collaborate in the extermination of the object of study.

There have always been worker ants in Marali. There have always been ants everywhere. From what Armsman Nial describes, it is evident that the recent sighting in your lands can only be a case of primary or secondary polygynous polydomy, double primary or secondary monogynous monodomy, double primary or secondary monogynous haplometrosis, primary polygynous pleometrosis, or any of those things in combination.

There are a few certainly possible scenarios:

1) You have brutally interrupted a wedding party. The two queens were there to introduce the princess to the princes. We assume you have examined the soil around the anthills. Have you seen any sings of a nuptial flight? Have you seen the detached wings of any young alate ant? Do you realise the cruelty of your actions, if this is the case? You have eradicated a family before it even had the chance to flourish. One would expect better from Maralians.

2) There is a rich source of nourishment in Marali. We do not know your hidden stocks and provisions. Given that the city was sieged several times, we can safely assume that you store great amounts of food.

Ants develop into their different kinds according to the environment around them as larvae. You say there were ants of all kinds, which might mean abundance. Great abundance might mean two queens. We kindly ask you to give us more specific numbers next time, in order to know exactly how many forager, giant, worker, and warrior ants were found (and brutally killed) by your troops.

3) As you point out, they may have been at war or at peace. Not that you bothered to take the time to discover. The presence of two queens may indicate double monogyny, polygyny or oligyny. The first means they are just next door neighbours. The second, that they are good friends who decided to share a life and a house. For both cases, you may imagine what would have been the most natural choice for Galandir and Tirana, were they to decide to reign at the same time. In both cases, the colonies from both royals would be required to live at peace and collaborate with each other. There would be no cases of slave-making, but a balanced polyethism among them.

In the third possibility, you may have obstructed a tremendous fight for each other’s nest,  a wonder to behold. One of the most magnificent spectacles of nature. In comparison, the famous fight between your own Commander Vaup and the dragon Vandrovic was a second rate comedy. If evidence is found that this was the case, you will be held responsible for preventing the study of such combat.

4) These may be the beginnings of a supercolony. If so, expect to find many other queens. Millions of queens all over the territory of Marali, with hundreds of millions of ants in their nests. In that case, we demand that you inform us immediately and that you provide accommodation for our team of four specialists at your city’s inn. When making the booking, please consider that none of us eats meat, and are all very found of a bubble bath twice a day. We will need robes of resistance to be supplied for our investigations, and we appreciate a light supper of cookies and milk.

You have not given us enough information to determine that there were two different dynasties but, if that is the case, we are inclined to think it is certainly the case of possibilities 1 to 4. As for the pixies, you would have to consult the fairy folklorists from Andris.

Best regards,

Boale Myrmidon II,

on the behalf of the Myrmecologist Society of Lerilin


  • Nial raises an unsteady hand to his head and massages his temples. His head's hurting, and the horrendous weather outside does nothing to soothe his pain.

    Upon receiving the letter from the Myrmecologist Society of Lerilin, Nial's gut response had been to return their opening salvo in kind. After all, myrmecology was an irrelevant field of study that served no purpose to their lands--much less the steadfast military forces of Marali. Nial suspected that anyone involved in academia for long developed an inflated ego, and he would find it satisfying to tear into this...Myrmidon II's sense of worth.

    Furthermore, these myrmecologists also had no idea of the damage a queen ant could do do a city. When confronting the first queen, Nial's legs had unexpectedly seized up, leaving him vulnerable to the larger ant's venomous mandibles. If Lady Fuoco had not been present to roast the insect with a grand total of three fireballs, Nial very well may have died in the ant removal process. They deserved a harsh reprimand for such ignorance of significant threats to Marali.

    Something, however, had stayed Nial's hand, preventing him from so much as drafting a response. Perhaps it was the conversation with Commander McTyr and his wonderful hound, Kang. Perhaps it was an earlier memory of Vaup's commitment to stoicism in the face of adversity. Perhaps it was a different woman that steadied Nial's nerves, and...well, Nial doubted that last idea.

    Even if the Vanguard allowed the Myrmecologist Society in its walls, even if they covered the cost of an extended stay at the local inn, Nial would strongly recommend against supplying them with free magically resistant robes and...cookies, of all things. Did they know nothing of the monetary value of a key ingredient in troll house cookies? Did they know nothing of the skill required to make such desserts? Did they know that the Vanguard only possessed a baker's dozen of the delectable food, and those were being saved for diplomatic events?

    Ludicrous, all of it.

    Nial would contain his anger and use it to kill more creatures invading Marali's lands. He needed to speak with Captain Octar and perhaps McTyr before he responded--and then only with a steady hand. Perhaps Octar himself would like to pen a letter to the myrmecologists, as this situation seemed to be spiraling rapidly out of control.

    Elara knew that this year was likely to end on an unsavory note. Nial hoped his brothers and sisters at arms, plus the Commander, could see it through to the end, no matter how distasteful it ended.
  • A carefully-sealed letter appears, hidden beneath Commander Evroulf McTyr's desk.

    To Commander McTyr-

    The Sleeping Moon has been more eventful than expected, at least on two counts. As you may have known, we received a rather harshly-worded letter from the myrmecologists, but I also encountered another infestation of ants and a figure central to Mirith's recent history.

    Firstly, what you know of: the myrmecologists. Commander, how can I adequately yet appropriate express my dismay at their reaction to a necessary military response? I tried to be diplomatic in my letter--even going as far to suggest they could trap and remove the still-living insects from Maralian territories for relocation--but they called our armed action an "extermination" and dared to imply we were brutally slaughtering them without thought.

    I would offer a reply, but I fear my fury would inflame the situation further. Perhaps it is better if Captain Octar or even you issue an official response, and I pledge to follow any position Marali's command takes.

    Complicating the situation is a large settlement of ants and several pixies northeast of the Mercenary Cave, at approximately Day 77 of the Sleeping Moon. We once again removed the offending creatures from Marali's lands, and as a result, I suspect the myrmecologists would expand their anger into outright rebellion. The reason for this is simple: the structure the ants created is best described as a "palace."

    Commander, I assure you what we did was necessary. I have attached my best recollection of the situation in sketch form:

    The incident spiraled out of control from there.

    Moving onto the final matters, I have independently confirmed that Istra Falvo--known associate and rumored paramour of N'eroth--has returned to our lands, and she has in her possession the Mirithian Crown. Where do I even begin with this one?

    I was hanging about some manner of marketplace with Jedd, a trusted associate and member of the arcane Hidden Vale. We were interacting with a man named [the ink changes in consistency, as though a significant amount of time passed before quill touched paper again] Klevin about the wares offered at his shop, generally loitering about and being foolish, until a dark-garbed, croaking figure entered the shop.

    Immediately, I realized that this was not the black magician near Mirith, but a significantly less sinister figure. Rather, it appeared to be some...drunkard, if I may be blunt, Commander. She was wearing a shiny piece of headgear, which I first assumed was a replica of Mirith's treasured crown. After a certain katana received replica treatment, as you may recall, I suspected other venture capitalists might wish to try their hand at duplicating other national treasures.

    Jedd, both quick-witted and honest, corrected me, pointing out the crown was of a quality far beyond any replica, and a closer inspection of my own caused me to reach a similar conclusion.

    I'll keep it brief. I introduced myself and immediately attempted to make a good first impression by purchasing whatever she ordered from the shopkeep. Falvo was a pleasant person, but obviously, the association between pirates and alcohol has some grain of truth in it (and I am not referring to grain alcohol), as she appeared not fully in control of her facilities. I even had to prevent her from falling to the ground on one occasion, I must report.

    After some questioning, Falvo revealed she had taken the crown from "pirate boy," whom I can only assume means N'eroth. Later, however, a...less-clad companion of Falvo's came into the store and claimed Falvo was somehow in charge of the crown, indicating it was not pilfered. Although I attempted to give reason to follow the two pirate women, it seemed Falvo's companion was privvy to my simple ruse, and they left us behind.

    This is significant news, Commander. How should we disseminate it--if we do intend to reveal it at all?

    I wish I could write more, but my harpie is shrieking for more steaks. Those beasts appear to have an insatiable appetite.

    Marali Prevails.

    -Armsman Nial
  • edited June 4

    The Commander blew away the thin layer of dust on the cover of the book. He opened it carefully on the 42nd page. No need to remember by heart — it was bookmarked. The page displayed an Andrisian song, often sung at weddings, in a different tradition from those held in Brigobaen. The Chansonnier of Nystral was richer in theme and subtlety than the classic songbook of Elara. At least, that was how it felt to the ears of McTyr, who was sensitive to this kind of thing. “Lerilin collects mostly bucolic songs, and fishermen songs” he thought, glancing at the volumes pilled up against the wall. “Ybarra is the queen of the songs of hardship, the adventures of the austere soldier against the elements and loneliness.” He hummed the first lines of his favourite Northern poem. “Mirith has the court, where everything is artificial and vain, or epic and grandiose”. He smiled, remembering the last time he had heard a certain Mirithian performer that could never sing in tune. “Tavern songs, that should be his speciality”. And Andris… Andris had the vastest scope, perhaps because it had also the largest group of scholars to record the tradition in writing. The Chansonnier contained songs from troubled minds, educated spirits, laborious miners, seafaring adventurers, happy crowds at the market, political satires, songs of young love, old life, and a large collection of nuptial hymns, for weddings with butterflies, weddings with flowers, weddings with dragons, weddings with sand, weddings with wind, weddings under the sunshine, weddings under the rain, weddings under the stars, impossible weddings.

    But it was the bookmark that he was after. The portrait of a young lady with a flute. The brightest smile he had ever seen. He had known her first from that very same picture, and who would have imagined all that would happen in the following three years? Old wounds never fully heal for people like McTyr. The melancholic will always have a tear left to shed. And now he should write her a letter, for the good of Marali. He had to recommend Armsman Nial to her, ask her to accept a visitor from the Vanguard. After a while contemplating the portrait, the Commander sat down with the book on his lap and grabbed a piece of rough paper. Then another. Then another. It was him who was out of tune now, and the words refused to form harmonious sentences. He grabbed the last piece of paper from what had been a pile not long before. He took a deep breath and changed his register.

    My esteemed Armsman Nial,

    I read your message with interest and concern, as always, but also with the comfort of knowing that Marali is defended by people of great value and dedication. I am grateful, every day, to find in our troops the encouragement and enthusiasm that can only come for the collective devotion to a cause larger than ourselves. Marali will, indeed, prevail.

    Despite the ants. What you tell me is very interesting and slightly alarming. I, too, have read the messsage of the Myrmecologist Society. They are a puzzle for diplomacy, but highly regarded researchers and we might still benefit from their knowledge. I wonder if they would accept if we invited them to catch the ants alive, as you suggest, or if they would think we were sponsoring slavery in the North. We could, in theory, provide a few cages for that mission, but I fear it may be hard not to kill those creatures accidentally, during that process. I would, nonetheless, appreciate if you discussed the matter with the Vanguard, to analyse all our possibilities here. Otherwise, we will have to find an effective way to control this expansion. Maybe a specific kind of poison?

    The Commander looked away for a moment. He could not confess to his soldier that the idea of a quick and massive death by poison didn’t sit well with his ranger heart. Maybe he should have been a druid. He would certainly never become a wizard.

    Which brings me to the topic of Istra Falvo. She is a daughter of Marali, after all, and her family deserves that we always protect them, as much as we can. You did well offering her your services. It would be interesting to know whether her presence means the proximity of N’eroth, and what those two are plotting regarding Mirith. Hoping that they are plotting something at all, even if only a visit to the city’s tavern. I think that, for the moment, you should not discuss the news of your encounter with anyone in Oberin, and you should ask the fighter Jedd to do the same thing, even if he is not, by any means, obliged to follow the indications of Marali. Try to find out what the Mirith Vanguard knows about their King’s whereabouts.

    The power of Mirith is concentrated in the sceptre, but the crown is, without any doubt, the symbol people associate with the Royals. Was Istra carrying the sceptre as well? In his folly, it is also possible that the King has transferred his reign… If so, I hope it will be safer with a Falvo than with a stranger, though I admit that we know little of this wizard’s life. We must find out what happened.

    If I am not asking too much from my Vanguard, I have two additional tasks for you and your fellow soldiers. One, is to find out the details of the events in the Mercenary Cave during this moon. I have been told of rumours that indicate the presence of the Alliance. Alas, when our scouts got there, there was nothing left to be found.

    McTyr paused once again. He could not avoid the topic. He could, however, make it brief.

    The second task implies a trip to Andris. You mentioned the presence of pixies near the ant nests. I am sorry to return to that vexed subject, but it has occurred to me that I know someone who dedicates her life to the study of those fragile creatures. Anthea Waltham is her name. Ambrose, from the library, should be able to tell you where to find her. Only if you think the numbers of pixies and their behaviour were out of the ordinary, of course.

    He stopped there, before he would contradict his own orders with hesitations, fears and doubts. Anthea Waltham. Writing her name was hard. Seeing her again, impossible. “Avoid her husband at all costs”, he wanted to add. He did not. Instead, he mechanically drew the letters of the the Maralian motto and signed the missive.

    This time, he ranged the songbook of Nystral under the one of Elara. He put the book of Lerilin on top, followed by the hymns of Brigobaen and, on top of that, the book of Ybarra. Dust would not have the time to settle on that one. The ranger had chosen the songs of loneliness and hardship to be the main tune of his life.

  • A shorter letter appears at McTyr's desk, not hidden but still tightly sealed.

    Dear Commander,

    In response to your comment about ants, I must add another report Captain Octar sent me. He encountered and removed a grand total of four separate ant hills, including two ant "palaces," and well over a dozen pixies. Since I do not want word of this reaching the myrmecologists before we have had a chance to determine the course of the narrative, I have personally produced a copy of the report, ready for your inspection:

    [Dear Nial,

    [Another set of ant hills at the rocks just east of the citadel. The distinguishing features were as follows: no fewer than four queens, and no fewer than twenty pixies. The anthills were very close to one another, and varied in quality. One was clearly hastily constructed and as threadbare as my robe of resistance. There was one that seemed rather typical of the ants we sometimes encounter in the north. The other two were very intricate, dare I say even beautiful? One distinctly larger than the other: our fanciful myrmecological friends would no doubt describe it as a palace.

    [The four anthills presumably belonged to the four queens, but why such a plethora of pixies accompanied them is anyone’s guess. In such numbers they nearly dealt me a fatal set of disorienting spells - I was forced back more than once. If you encounter them, be prepared.

    [Yours, Captain Octar]

    I do not know what could cause four ant hills to develop in such a short time. Although I have yet to read any histories of ants throughout our lands, I am beginning to suspect a network of underground tunnels, funneling the ants toward our lands. I have some doubts about the ability to ants to travel across the surface at this time of year, especially considering the climate, but perhaps ants are more resilient than I imagine.

    You are correct about the myrmecologists perceiving capturing and moving ants as slavery, but I do not have other ideas. I think it something of a necessary evil, Commander, if you will pardon the distasteful phrase. And speaking of distasteful...a carefully deployed poison could certainly end hundreds of ants at once, but I think it should only be a last option, as it is not becoming of Marali's history of direct intervention. Laricen and Luciella would both be loyal contacts if we pursue that path.

    Thankfully, Jedd agreed to keep the news about Falvo under wraps, though Captain Octar may have missed the need for secrecy and inadvertently revealed it to a few others. Oh well. Perhaps I should have waited to speak to Jedd or made it more clear we were operating sub rosa. What's done is done.

    Falvo mentioned something about the southern archipelago, but I do not remember any specifics beyond that. It was late, and I was not paying heed to Klevin's every word.

    Finally, regarding the pixies: for whatever reason, I have been discounting them, but I am inclined to see them as less of a permanent fixture than the ant hills. Nonetheless, I will try to find Ambrose and eventually this Waltham (a relative of a Senator, Commander?). I will report anything else to you, and perhaps to the general populace if it is not sensitive news.

    Marali Prevails.

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