The hive was beautiful. A drop of sunlight twisting in lazy loops. It all but glowed with promise and Harry licked his lips in anticipation. He squinted up at the hive and his brain began to whorl. The hive was a good six meters from the ground, but that was hardly the problem. The real problem, the thing that gave Harry pause, was the Gigantus Fungalus.
Gigantus Fungalus were a rare species of giant mushroom and this hive, this beautiful font of sweet treasure, was nestled deeply within the black fronds of one such mushroom. Harry stroked his stubbled chin. Even within the Neglar Marshes, a veritable paradise for fungi, the Fungaluswere rare and Harry’s prime directive was to keep them safe.
Well, his actual job was harvesting honey, but it was his personal belief that one could do so without unnecessarily hurting the environment. The whole thing with the bees was unfortunate, but Harry had heard some interesting stories of keeping bees in boxes, almost like livestock and he was eager to try it out for himself. If all went to plan he would be able to secure the queen from this hive and…
“So can I cut it down yet?”
Barnaby was… well, Barnaby carried enough size and weight to make up at least three extra people. His ego was of a complimentary size. Harry scowled at his partner. Of all the muscle in the village, why had he been paired with such an unconscionable jerk?
“No. You can’t cut it down. Ever. We have to preserve the ecosystem. Now shhh. I’m thinking.”
Harry circled the giant toadstool. It’s trunk was a musky off white, the cap a dull brown. The black fronds fluttered in the wind playing a taunting game of peek-a-boo with the hive. Harry pressed his hands against the trunk. It swayed slightly at his touch. They would never be able to climb it, but Harry already knew that. The giant mushrooms could not support the weight of a man. Yet, some of the other species could.
Harry squinted at the surrounding flora. He spied the telltale yellow of Agricarum Agricarum and hurried toward the outcropping. As was particular to this species, they grew in a kind of radiating spiral, each mushroom an offshoot from the one before it, creating a step-like effect. The tallest barely came to a third of the Gigantus Fungalus, but Agricarum were notorious for their springy quality. Harry clambered up onto the smallest one.
“Oh come on! Just let me hack at it!”
Harry ignored his partner and began a gentle bounce. If he could use the Agricarum as a spring board, perhaps he could launch himself high enough to grab the hive.
“You look like an idiot.”
Harry bounced a little higher. He smiled at how quickly he was gaining height and then he was falling. His feet sunk into yellow cap. Puffs of black spore shot out from under the Agricarum. Harry didn’t get a chance to react. Momentum pushed him into the air once more. When his feet found yellow again, the spore cloud erupted. Harry floundered inside the dark cloud, choking to find breath. Struggling to orient himself. He misjudged his footing, hit the cap side on and crashed roughly to the marsh floor.
Harry crawled into clean airspace and heaved. Barnaby stood a little off to the side, shielding his face with a bandanna. His voice was muffled, but Harry didn’t have any trouble deciphering the words.
“Genius plan, Mastermind.”
Harry stood up, still hacking spore from his lungs. “Eh… I forgot… that… about Agricarum.”
Barnaby rolled his eyes at Harry and then he unhooked the Machete from his belt. “Right, my turn.”
Barnaby paused and for a moment Harry thought that his partner had listened, but then he saw the play of rainbow light against the ground and heard the telltale hum of Anisop Pterras. Harry turned to face the large insectoid. It was hurtling straight toward them. Harry felt his chest tighten. The Pterras was as beautiful as it was deadly. All iridescent wings and gnashing mandibles. Man against beast. It shouldn’t have to be that way…
And it didn’t.
“Wait! Stop! Bandannas up. You don’t have to kill it!”
Harry didn’t wait to see if Barnaby had obeyed. He sprinted toward the yellow mushrooms, hoisting his bandanna over his mouth and nose as he went. He clambered up onto an Agricarumand he began to jump. His feet pounded into yellow and he rose into the air. Clouds of mushroom spore following him up. Black filled the air and soon Harry could not see a thing, but neither could the Pterras.
Lungs burning and body drenched in sweat, Harry finally stopped. He waited for the clouds to clear and then he made his descent. He smiled to himself. The spore clouds had been a great idea for the Pterras, but what of the hive?
Harry found Barnaby black with spore. Only his eyes shone out and they were red with anger.
“Are you done?”
“A thank-you for saving me from the Pterras would be nice.”
Barnaby gave Harry a cold stare. “I don’t need any saving.”
It was then that Harry noticed the machete still in Barnaby’s hands. Barnaby swung the blade with practiced ease.
The Machete sang through the air. There was a dull squelch and suck as it cut deep and severed flesh.
It felt like an eternity as the Gigantus Fungalus crashed to the floor.
Barnaby hoisted the machete over his shoulder and began walking toward the cap, toward the destruction and the prize. Harry followed after him, whimpering along the entire length of the trunk.
Beneath the fronds lay the few shattered remains of what had once been a hive. The honey had made a tasty meal for an undisturbed Anisop Pterras.
“Why,” Barnaby muttered, “Out of all the brains in the village, did I have to get the dumbest one?”