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Fiction Friendship Suspense

The line of Attas marched through the field in the type of silence that seemed to hold much more than choked words. The bright May morning had brought about the perfect weather for the Minims Trials, even if such beauty with paradoxical in light of the ceremonies. Each Minim walked in front of the Mediae assigned to her in a perfect formation that curved its way towards the Testing Grounds stomp by stomp.

Atta-Bella dared not look back at her Mediae though she desperately wanted to. Each time her head would so much as tilt to one side, she could feel Atta-Talia's threatening hum rise from behind her. Talia had been one of the more impressive Minim during her trials, developing a tolerance for most toxins and rising to become one of the Queen's most instrumental advisors. It didn't help that she was also beautiful, cloaked in her copper attire that hung onto her like a wet rag. Bella paled in comparison, as did every other Minim awaiting their trial, but at least none had Talia as their Mediae.

Bella thought of these things now as they made their way forward. She recalled the Pairing Ceremony and how shocked everyone had been that Talia had chosen her. Bella was not a terrible Minim nor was she one worthy of note. She trained constantly and never once showed any contempt towards the Mediaes who would ridicule them, often burying them alive in tightly packed dirt when the Majors weren't looking just to give themselves a good chuckle as they watched them struggled to emerge. Atta-Talia never engaged in these behaviors and everyone knew better than to do so in front her. She carried herself with an air that made others feel small, not because she belittled them outright, but because she refused to stop growing. An air that now pierced Bella's back as the progression finally arrived at the base of the newly sprouting shrubs of various shades of green.

The Minim Trials were simple. Each Mediae presented a leaf to the Minim assigned to her as a death offering. The Minims know, from their time in training, that just a single bite can cause immediate paralysis which can eventually result in death. Yet without this trial they are of no use to the collective. If they cannot purge the toxin from their system it is best that they die early, allowing their weakness to die with them. Up until this point the Minims are trained to digest lighter toxins that cause only temporary setbacks as they build their immunity.

These minor trials are called Building Blocks, most of which Bella passed, though these successes did not lessen the weight of her self-doubt that she carried as a daily practice. Every time her body convulsed in an internal attack against itself her gaze would rise towards Atta-Talia's. Mediaes are not allowed to aid the Minims in any way. If a Minim dies, their bodies are disposed of by other Minims who carry them away from the tribe, discarding them in pits designated for such matters. The Mediae would then be assigned a new Minim or be left alone until the next season. Hence why most Mediaes refused to bond, to connect to their Minim. They were but disposable fragments of life, taking away time from their regular duties.

Atta-Talia was different in this way. Each time Bella's eyes would rise to meet her own she would squint and provide an intentional yet faint nod so fleeting anyone not transfixed by her would miss it. Such a subtle nod of approval, such a whispered sign of pride could inflate Bella hearts beyond expression. She lived her life in search of this elusive nod that urged her towards survival. The fleeting confirmation that had the power to bring her back from the most precarious of circumstances.

Now, facing one another, Atta-Bella longed for this looked. She kept her eyes fixed on Atta-Talia's face but Atta-Talia kept her gaze from her. Despite Talia's long and reputable history of heroic acts she had never taken on a Minim. Her precocious talents were far too rare to squander on any duties unrelated to the royal guard; but without at least one successful Minim trained she would be ineligible to move up the ranks towards Major. A rule Talia believed she would one day circumvent given how crucial she was to the tribe's communal survival. Yet, those on the Royal Council refused to let logic surpass tradition and so Talia had to take on a Minim and she had chosen Bella.

Truth be told, Talia wanted nothing to do with the Minim Trials. She still remembered the weight of the bodies she was forced to carry away night after night during the Building Blocks. She did not want to inflict pain or witness pain being inflicted on any Minim, much less one she had grown to care about. Still, between them laid the emerald green leaf, fresh and new, just like Bella. On the command of the Head Major each Mediae grabbed their leaf and held it out to the Minim that stood before her. Atta-Bella accepted hers from Talia, locking her eyes in a silent cry for help that would have shamed them both had she voiced it. Atta-Talia, attempting still to look away dropped her head as Bella took a bite in perfect unison with the rest of the Minims in her class.

No sooner had the sliver of green disappeared in Bella's mouth that a wave of pure panic rushed over the young one's face as her eyes began to glisten. Her expression grew in desperation as her knees collapsed beneath her, casting her to the ground in a violent thump. Fear unlike any she had ever felt before rushed within Talia, tearing down every reservation she had so carefully curated for herself. Tumbling to her knees above Bella she examined the Minims face with tormented despair. She assumed the toxin had closed out her airways. This was not uncommon. Talia herself had felt a bit out of breath during her own trials. Perhaps the poison had infected her blood, causing her organs to slowly come to a halt. Peering over the dying Bella, Talia considered every possibility and it was then she decided she would break every established protocol even if it garnered a permanent exile for them both.

Casting aside her aspirations to take a seat on the Royal Guard, Talia looked around for a blade of BitterWell Grass that would often sprout near the Ceremonial Grounds. Mediae Training taught that a single blade of BitterWell Grass had the power to neutralize pain and lessen any active toxin in the body. She did not want to doubt Atta-Bella's ability to survive but this outcome had always been a possibility and now that it had become a reality Talia had to make a choice. The previous night she had made certain to scout out the small shoots of BitterWell that tended to sprout wildly. She made sure to locate the nearest blade no matter where in the circle she would find herself the next morning. As she lifted her head to pinpoint which direction she would take she finally noticed it.

Atta-Bella was not the only Minim writhing on the floor. Atta-Flor and Atta-Coppa seemed to be dead just a few steps away from her. All throughout the circle the Minims were gasping for air, convulsing in the soil, making unnatural vibrations with their bodies that made even the most stoic of Mediaes wail in confusion. But this was not all. Soon even the Mediaes began to fall to the ground as well. At first only a few, quickly mistaken as weak Mediaes for showing empathy when dignity was preferred. But slowly all began to flounder; thrashing about the ground like fish gasping for air.

Atta-Talia found herself in utter shock as fear wrapped itself around her with a tight squeeze. There was no immediate answer. Her problem solving skills was something she took great pride in but now, surrounded by the dead and dying, she was lost. This season's leaves could not have been poisonous enough to cause this effect on any skilled Mediae, especially not by mere touch alone. And worst still, was the Head Major herself, laying at the center of the circle barely breathing though she had not touched a single leaf.

In increased panic and completely disoriented by the scene playing out before her, Atta-Talia raised her gaze towards the heavens. It was there that she finally realized what had befallen the tribe. Above her, above them all, a monstrous creature knelt over them, spraying without mercy a cloud of toxin that enveloped them in absolute death. Suffocating them slowly until there was almost no movement left.

Talia wanted to tell Bella that it was not her fault. That she had not failed the trial. She wanted to let her know that they had all fallen victim to an enemy much more ruthless than the leaf she had so earnestly trained for. She wanted to tell her that she loved her. That she had only loved her. She wanted to tell her all these things as her own throat began to close, locking behind them all the words she never said. With nothing else to give, with no strength left to endure, Atta-Talia cupped Atta-Bella in her embrace and nodded one last time as the young Minim closed her eyes.

The end. 

*Note: "Atta is a genus of New World ants of the subfamily Myrmicinae. It contains at least 17 known species."

March 26, 2022 03:38

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1 comment

Lydia Lim
23:17 Mar 30, 2022

Interesting story! The ending was unexpected and really made me feel for Atta-Talia. The only criticism I have is that it doesn’t really fit the prompt. I wouldn’t really consider this to be a picnic. But otherwise, it was great!


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