I look around the operations deck and see my brothers. How many planets will we chart this time? The incorporation of FTL technology has allowed us to explore the galaxy, especially now that we do not have that unfortunate war to contend with. I look down and study myself. Four short legs help to support my long, curved frame. My foreclaws are more evolved than most of my kind, but still less than a queen. My hands are… stronger than I remember. Most interesting of all, the thick carapace that covers most of my body has a slight sheen to it. It isn’t like a queen, but it stands out. I am Groyin.
Janil, you need to wake up.
You are Groyin, but your body is not the same.
The bluntness of the hive stirs me.
Janil, it’s time.
My eyes open and I see Kehl off to one side. “Wh… what’s going on?”
“You were dreaming pretty intensely. Meanwhile, the workers have finished your gift. Others have cleared out the large bay to serve as a combat arena for you and Kenlyi.” Kehl shuffles around the room anxiously.
My mind quiets as I pay attention to our collective mind. “Thank you for dealing with Kenlyi fairly. It’s good he understands our conditions.”
“It’s the only way the queen would allow this primitive farce. But… we have something for you.” Kehltanril grins. “You’ve seen how small we begin our lives, and you’ve seen how large we become. Plus, every few years, we need to change for the sake of health, mobility, and just because of wear.”
My eyes widen. He sees my expression and smiles. “We try to always recycle what’s left behind when we molt. Often it is ground up and used as a basis for a fertilizer. We… had other plans once we saw your armor and your longing to fit in more.”
He turns around, manipulating something with his foreclaws. When he turns to face me, he presents the most beautiful sight.
“It’s… stunning, Kehl. This was your idea?” I take the neatly stacked armor from him, laying each piece on the bed.
“Mine and the queen’s. Every section is organic, made from discarded shell and shed hide. We were days from grinding them down, so this gave us a new use.” He smiles, fascinated by my reaction.
It’s… truly… my own Groyin carapace. I pick up the chest piece first. The underside is lined with a supple hide with a surprising amount of elasticity. I stretch it a bit. It has enough give to be slipped on like a shirt. The front of it is a solid piece of carapace, mottled brown and orange in color. The back, much akin to their actual design, is a series of thinner plates stacked to allow mobility. The sides and shoulders are crafted in a similar manner to allow flexibility and full range of motion.
I slip off my leathers and immediately pull the chest piece over my head and across my body. The hide feels… natural against my skin. Next, I slip on the arms. It, like the back of the chest, is made of segmented layers to allow mobility. To my liking, the forearms are ridged, allowing them to be used offensively as well as defensively. The legs are similar, but with larger sections of carapace covering the thighs and shins instead of layered plates.
The end result is… the most natural fitting armor I’ve ever worn. Heavier than leathers, but far lighter than the standard Camfurdian heavy armor. Most importantly, it… feels right. I look at Kehl, smiling.
“Thank you. It’s… perfect.” I say softly, fighting tears of joy.
He reaches up and touches my cheek. “It’s fitting. You… look good in it. Handsome, even. It shows you are one of us in a way that is unmistakable.” Kehl grins.
“Kenlyi is going to shit himself when he sees me like this.” I laugh softly.
“He’s the one who insisted on armor. It… works out that we’d thought about this. You’d seemed fascinated by our carapaces from the beginning. Now… you have your own, as a Groyin should.” Kehl smiles warmly, then laughs. “Now if we can arrange a set of foreclaws…”
I smirk. “My two hands will be sufficient.” I begin to stretch, testing the limits of my armor’s flexibility. Surprisingly, my movement seems unhampered. “I… suppose I should get this over with.”
“He’s waiting in the bay. There’s one medically trained worker with him, and I’ll be observing. Just… be careful, Janil.” Kehl starts to head toward the door.
Slowly, I follow him as he leads me down the hall.
You are Groyin. You will beat him, and even if you do not, we will allow no real harm to come to you.
The beautiful chorus sings a little louder in my mind. Every mind is focused on me, yet there is no pressure. Instead, their focus bolsters mine.
Kehltanril steps into the bay first and I’m close behind. As Kehl moves off to one side, I lock eyes with Kenlyi.
He studies my armor, stunned. “How…?”
“I am Groyin, and my family thought I deserved a proper carapace.” I say with a smirk.
“I… envy you, Janil.”
“You don’t have to do this, Ken. Side by side, we said, right?” I sigh softly.
“Janil, I can’t tell my yarl no. I… just can’t. I know you defied Elikel, but you had this… hive mind supporting you.” He sighs and slowly assumes a combative stance.
“I defied him on my own because it was the right thing to do. If you’re going to insist on this insane ritual, then let’s get it over with.” I crouch low, taking a defensive stance.
He charges toward me, shooting for my legs. As he grabs hold of one of my legs, I bring my forearm down across his back, the ridge damaging the back of his armor. He quickly stands.
Seeing a chance, I throw my weight behind a right hook, but he dodges it. The next moment, I’m on my back on the floor from him sweeping out my legs. I hit the ground with a hard thud.
In a flash, he’s atop me. I try to wrestle him off using my legs, but I fail.
Focus. Do not panic.
I raise my hands and try to deflect the blows as best as I can. Instead of throwing punches, he starts to rain down forearm shots. If not for my armor, there might not be much left of me. Each time the spiked ridge comes down against my armored bracers, I hear a crunch and worry about the carapace breaking.
Submit your mind to the hive. Relax. The voice in my mind echoes. I… don’t understand. Just trust.
Still holding my arms up defensively, I close my eyes.
The next moment… I can feel another presence. It… surrounds me at first, but then I realize it’s taking over!
My eyes open, yet… I know I’m not in control. I can’t move my limbs, yet I still feel them. I cannot move any part of me, yet I still feel everything.
My leg shifts and I buck to one side, sending a startled Kenlyi off balance. Even though my abdominal muscles ache, my body sits up and quickly swipes at the Camfurdian. The forearm shot catches him clean in the face, the ridged piece of carapace causing a disgusting squish as it hits the young man’s nose. He falls over, holding himself up with his hands. As I watch on, powerless, my body climbs atop Kenlyi’s back and begins firing repeated forearm shots.
After the third blow, Kenlyi’s body drops and he screams, “I yield!”
I start to regain control of my body as I roll off of him. Once I’m certain I’m in complete control, I roll him over. His face is a bloody mess, the one forearm to the face clearly caused damage. “Keep talking, Ken. We’re going to get some help. I’m sorry, Kenlyi. I didn’t want to hurt you.”
He coughs, spitting up blood. To my surprise, he smiles and laughs. “It means I’m free now. Gouhr… won’t want me now. Duty is satisfied.”