The riverside clearing came into view as Ulaudra steered her raft around the last meander in the lazily-flowing river. The muddy waters sloshed and gurgled around thick wooden posts that supported a jetty which protruded into the turbid flow. Set further back against the border of the clearing were a trio of simple wooden shacks, one of them adjacent to a heap of cut logs covered with a tarpaulin. As she brought her raft alongside the jetty, she noted the conspicuous absence of anybody to greet her, as had been arranged when the village overseer had first contacted her lodge three days previously. He had spoken about troubles with the local wildlife, and the druids of the lodge had dispatched Ulaudra to assist in redressing the balance. Most likely, she thought to herself, the village had been encroaching too aggressively on the surrounding wilderness, to be met with the ire of the powerful spirits which probably dwelt in such an ancient jungle.
Standing with legs astride, Ulaudra cast a rope around a protrusion on the jetty and pulled the raft in close, grunting with the effort as her sinewy forearms bulged. Her half-orcish ancestry had afforded her a powerful musculature, well suited to the vicissitudes of life out in the wilderness. She considered the feral blood in her veins to be a strengthening influence on her affinity with nature. The physical evidence of her mixed bloodlines manifested themselves in her strong features: where some of the other druids of her grove were typical, willowy elven flower-children clad in flowing white robes, Ulaudra was broad, with muscles that might have been sculpted from iron. When she grinned, which was often, her broad mouth revealed a set of thick, slightly elongated canine teeth. A smattering of freckles was present on her cheeks, giving a darker, mottled color to otherwise smooth, light-green skin. Her hair, jet black and ever so slightly coarser than a human's, was tied back in a short ponytail, out of practicality.
She finished mooring the raft to the jetty, and swung one leg up onto its surface, clambering up onto the planks. Shah, her companion cheetah, was not keen on disembarking. She hunkered down flat to the raft's deck with her ears flattened against her head, emitting a low whine. "Come", commanded Ulaudra, and the cheetah remained obstinately motionless on the deck. "Then you shall stay out here alone", she said, turning her back and walking towards the clearing. As she reached the land end of the jetty she felt the familiar touch of Shah's fur as the big cat nuzzled her hand, then looked down at the ground sheepishly.
"Let's find the village itself", she said, half to herself, casting her eyes over the wooden shacks. The doors of all three were closed, with no signs of recent activity. The pair set off down a well-trodden path that had been cut through the jungle, the soil having degraded into a wet mulch without the roots of plants to support it. Ulaudra paused to rest her palm on the stout trunk of a bordering tree, bark slick from the humid air. As she closed her eyes she adopted a deep, regular breathing pattern, until her own body seemed to match the rustling of the wind through the canopy overhead. As her spirit intermingled with that of the tree she sensed sorrow, a sense of injustice. For a moment, images flickered into her mind hazily, as if viewed through a thick fog: fire, burly men swinging axes heedlessly, the pain of dismemberment as jagged saws lurched back and forth across branches weeping sap. She withdrew her hand and took a moment to compose herself before continuing on.
She made her way to the village itself, set a mile back from the riverside on a naturally raised area of the terrain. Having arrived at the collection of the few dozen wooden buildings, she had been introduced to the man who directed affairs, a grave-looking Dwarf named Beckmann with a fiery orange beard and perpetually furrowed brow. He had explained the plights of several villagers who had recently been set upon by abnormally large swarms of insects. His point had been amply demonstrated when a young man had burst into the clearing from a nearby path, thrashing his arms frantically as a dark, buzzing cloud enveloped him, only relenting when he leapt into a water-trough. She had also been introduced to Elinaya, a meek-looking human girl who looked to be no older than ten, and she had recounted, between sobs, how her father had been stung so badly that he had fallen unconscious, and had remained comatose ever since.
Feeling slightly more concerned but not particularly well-informed, Ulaudra had presently decided to walk northwards, in the direction of the most recent incident. On leaving the village's paths, the undergrowth thickened considerably, and Ulaudra made slow progress as she picked her way between tree trunks and the smaller, leafy plants that grew among them, each one locked in a struggle with its neighbors for what little sunlight penetrated the treetops above. The humid air seemed to cling to her skin and mingle with the droplets of sweat that coalesced on her brow. Off to one side, Shah stalked through the undergrowth, unperturbed by terrain so different from her natural environs.
After half an hours' trudging through muck and ubiquitous plants, the pair happened across a clearing of sorts, an area of slightly wetter ground where the trees had been unable to take hold. One that had dared grow too close to the clearing's edge had evidently paid the price: its trunk lay across the space, fallen, roots torn from the unstable soil as the tree's mass had caused it to subside and topple sideways. Ulaudra sat upon the trunk and took a draught from her waterskin, taking a moment's rest. Shah circled uneasily, unable to find a clean sitting-spot on the marshy ground. Then she leaped sideways, suddenly alerted to a loud buzzing sound as a dark shape came crashing forth from the undergrowth. Ulaudra was not quite so fast, having just enough time to look up and see a black, chitinous shape the size of a large dog bearing down on her, held aloft by a blur of wings which emitted a constant, dreadfully loud humming noise. The creature barreled into her, and she briefly felt the touch of spindly limbs and bristly fur as it careened past her, knocking her backwards into the loamy ground. The downdraft from its wings washed over her like a terrible wind.
She could hear the pitch of the creature's droning change as it maneuvered itself around the clearing to take another pass at her, and she rolled over onto her front, drawing her bow from her back and an arrow from her quiver. Doubting that the insect-thing would be amenable to talking things out reasonably, she rolled into a crouch, drawing her bow as she stood, the laminated wood of the weapon creaking as it stored up the energy of her powerful muscles.
The creature wheeled around in the air, and, head lowered, made another charge directly at Ulaudra. It was ten feet away when she loosed her bowstring, the arrow jabbing through the center of its body in an eruption of yellow fluids. Its wings faltered as it suddenly dropped from the air, its momentum sufficient to carry the rolling corpse across the ground until it bumped against Ulaudra's shin. The bristles on its abdomen rasped against her skin like coarse stubble, and even though she withdrew her leg almost immediately, a rash started to develop on her bare leg. The corpse convulsed as its muscles tightened in death, the six black, articulated legs on its thorax curling in on themselves. Droplets of viscous, grey material pooled around the creature's mouth-parts; as Ulaudra moved the corpse over with her foot to get a better look she beheld a nightmare array of mouth-parts, all of them razor-sharp, vicious and gleaming, set benath a pair of huge, half-sphere compound eyes.
A moment later she realized that, although the creature's wings had ceased moving, the loud droning sound still saturated the air around her. She turned to see Shah grappling another of the creatures on the ground, the pair rolling back and forth, locked in a deadly struggle. Shah growled as her hind legs raked at the giant insect's abdomen, pulping the bulbous structure as sticky strands of yellow viscera clung to her claws.
Two more of the insects emerged from the trees above, descending on top of the cheetah in a storm of wings and gleaming, chitinous limbs. As they drew back their bulging abdomens Ulaudra could make out the javelin-tips of their stingers, murderously sharp. They thrust inwards, into the melee, and she heard Shah cry out in a bestial wail before falling silent. She could make out the form of her animal companion convulsing on the ground, white foam drooling from her mouth as the pair of insects lifted themselves into the air and turned their attentions to the druid, legs waving menacingly as the buzzed towards her.
Drawing another arrow, she managed to shoot one of them through the thorax before the second was on top of her, hovering in the air and grasping at her aggressively with its claws. Larger than the first insect she had felled, she felt its emaciated legs embrace her, smooth and hard like bare bones, skittering against her leather armor. Knocked off-balance by the weight of the creature bearing down upon her she stumbled backwards as it tightened its grip around her torso, the tips of its legs digging into her ribs, eliciting sharp stabs of pain as each one in turn pierced first the armor, and then her flesh. Now embracing her, and no longer needing its wings to keep it airborne, the creature swatted at her bow with those huge structures, almost transparent, gossamer-thin but astoundingly tough. The bow was knocked from her hand and, with a burst of thrust from its wings, the monstrous insect pushed her to the ground.
With its grip tightening around her chest, she swung her fists at its midsection, trying to find an opening between the flailing legs and the wings, beating erratically now as the creature used them to steady itself. For every blow she managed to land on the creature, another was knocked aside by one if its multitudinous limbs. When she did make contact with its armored body, it was like rapping against polished wood, hard, unyielding, her struggles entirely ineffectual. Echoing the movements she had seen before her cheetah was overcome, the creature grappling her poised itself slightly away, its legs straightening, but losing none of their grip as it aimed the tip of its sting towards her groin. She cringed, desperately trying to throw the creature off before the inevitable impact of the cruel barb, but then the insect powered forward, the bulbous, furred pod of its abdomen lurching downwards and driving the sting deep into her flesh, just above her thigh.
Ulaudra cried out, as at first searing pain engulfed her legs almost instantly, the agony spreading throughout her body as the blood-borne toxins penetrated every muscle. She thrashed with renewed intensity, grasping one of the insect's legs with both hands and trying to prise it away from her chest, now riddled with a dozen bleeding scratches and perforations. As she clung to the leg she felt her grip weakening, as if her muscles no longer obeyed her. Her limbs felt heavy and sluggish now, and despite all her efforts she was unable to stop her arms sliding down out of her grapple with the creature, to flop limply on the ground. Her head, no longer supported by her neck muscles, sagged backwards. As the paralysis spread to the last of her muscles to be affected, she felt warmth spreading across the inside of her thighs as her bladder voided uncontrollably.
Apparently satisfied that its venom had taken effect, the creature released Ulaudra from its grip, walking backwards down her supine body with delicate movements that starkly contrasted with the brutal onslaught a few moments earlier. It nudged her with its head as it quested downwards, a pair of antennae lightly caressing her breasts, then her belly. As it reached her crotch, its mouth-parts unfurled with a chittering sound, the seething mass of black more sinister than any maw filled with normal teeth. It set to work chewing through the druid's leggings, tearing through the leather with a snip-snip noise as easily as if it were paper. With deliberate, careful movements, its complex maw and skeletal limbs working in synergy, the creature stripped the armour and clothing from the druid's immobile body, every last piece, until she lay completely nude on the soft mud. A trickle of drool ran from the corner of her mouth, down the side of her face, as she stared upwards with glazed eyes, fully aware of what was happening but completely powerless to take any action. Across the clearing, the cheetah spasmed a few more times before it succumbed to a much heavier dose of the paralyzing venom.
The insect-creature's abdomen bulged as new parts of its physiology emerged. Towards the abdomen's blunt, rounded tip, the surface rippled, before neatly splitting into four segments and peeling back like an opening flower, revealing a tender, pink bulb with a puckered depression at its center. Now exposed, the structure concertinaed upwards, forming a pink, fleshy shaft seven inches long, its surface ribbed with cartilaginous rings. The creature carefully positioned itself once more on Ulaudra's chest, and she saw its head come into view over hers, mucous liquid dribbling from its mouth orifice. Taking firm purchase on her ribcage, once again forcing the sharp tips of its legs into her now-bare flesh, the creature thrust the abdomen-structure, its ovipositor, up between Ulaudra's legs. Her muscles slack, able to offer no resistance at all, the fleshy rod easily parted her labia and was pushed up inside her. The insect-creature hunkered down on top of her, legs folded, its face unbearably close to hers as a few gobbets of fluid sagged languorously from its mouthparts and dripped into her own mouth. She felt unbearably full, down between her legs, as the creature forced its ovipositor inside her. Then she sensed a rippling motion down its length as it deposited its first payload.
The creature's abdomen pumped up and down as it passed eggs, each one about the size of a large walnut, into Ulaudra's body. One at a time they made their journey from their sacs in the creature's abdomen, each in turn passed through peristalsis down the tube that lay pulsating inside the helpless woman's body. The creature rocked back and forth and pounded the rigid member into her, packing the eggs in tightly. Each impact brought an increasingly sickening, bloated sensation as they were crammed into her womb, eventually the cluster growing large enough to push against other internal organs. That particular part of the ordeal ended as Ulaudra started to feel the skin low on her belly strain as it bulged outwards. Unable to lift her head to see the extent of the distension, all she could do was consider the feeling of painful bloatedness that now consumed her abdomen. The creature withdrew itself from her, and, its duty apparently done, lifted up into the air with a thrumming of its wings. Ulaudra saw the black shape disappear overhead into the canopy, and then it was gone. Her belly throbbed.
It took a few hours for the effects of the venom to wear off, during which Ulaudra lay semi-conscious and feverish, fading in and out of wakefulness. By the time enough strength had returned for her to sit upright, she was covered in a cold sweat, and shivering despite the warm, humid air. For the first time she was able to look down at herself and assess the extent of her wounds. Blood had clotted around a great number of slashes on her chest, dark scabs had formed over several puncture wounds in her breasts and on the sides of her torso. The area below her stomach bulged outwards sickeningly, pushed out about eight inches further than was normal for her toned body. The sight of individual, spherical shapes bulging beneath her flesh caused her guts to grow cold. Then her mouth filled with the unmistakable flavor of imminent vomit, and, partially due to the shock from her wounds and partially from seeing the foreign bodies that had been forced inside her, she heaved the contents of her stomach onto the soft loam next to her. Wet, splashing sounds sounded throughout the clearing as she urged again and again, her stomach purging itself entirely. Finally she mustered the strength to stand on wobbling legs, supporting herself against the same tree trunk on which she had sat hours previously.
Within her, one particular egg differentiated itself from the rest. At the tip of the egg-cluster, sensing its position by pressure and localized chemistry, it started to undergo the transformation in which it would sacrifice itself for the good of its peers. Like a planted bulb, it pushed extending roots out through its membrane and they forced their way into the surrounding tissues, questing, searching for one particular area. Eventually one of the sensitive tendrils detected the telltale signs that it was near the spinal cord of its host, and the egg diverted all of its biological machinery to that offshoot in particular, the others quickly necrotising and dying off. Over the course of an hour, the tendril thickened and branched, until a thousand tiny filaments extended from the egg and wrapped themselves around Ulaudra's spinal cord. Secreting chemicals that closely mimicked her own biochemistry, the egg talked to the woman's nervous system, imploring it, urging it.
Ulaudra had been feeling progressively worse during the past hour. The sour taste of vomit still lingered on her tongue, and she felt clumsy and disoriented. She had spent some time lurching around among the trees, trying to retrace her route despite the dark shapes that kept swimming across her vision, stumbling every so often as she lost consciousness for micro-instants at a time. She had tried several times to commune with the spirits of the trees around her, each attempt meeting complete failure: jumbled images washing through her mind, accompanied by a building sense of nausea. With nothing left to vomit up she had spent the last five minutes leaning against a trunk and dry-heaving, making strangled barking noises as strings of mucus and saliva hung from her lips. Despite that, her stomach throbbed with a painful hunger, competing for attention with the pain from her chest wounds and, more recently, her genitals, which had grown red and inflamed and wept a pungent, pus-like fluid that trickled down her thighs.
Crashing through another bush, paying no heed to the smaller cuts and scrapes she received from thorns and twigs as they snapped off against her marred flesh, she found herself standing before a hitherto unencountered variety of tree: arcing branches drooped downwards, each of them bearing clusters of inviting-looking purple fruit.
Desperate to quell her gurgling stomach, she grasped a handful of the fruits from the nearest branch and crammed one of them into her mouth. The taste was sweet, the flesh succulent and yielding. Gulping down the first, she hungrily crammed the second into her mouth as juice ran down her chin, leaving vivid purple streaks on her bare chest. All the while she was doing this, a hot feeling tingled up and down her spine, and she was sure she felt small movements in her gravid womb. Accompanying the peculiar sensation were very strange mental images. She imagined herself doing things that would simply never have occurred to her in any rational, sane mode of thought. As if the images flashing into her mind were not borne from her own cogitation. Why would I put fruit down there?
The images continued after she had sated herself on the tree's fruit, feeling slightly better now as she slouched against its bough, her hands and mouth stained purple. Still the perverse thoughts would not abate. Experimentally, she took one of the fruits and crushed it in her hand, easily pulping the soft flesh. Then, reasoning that satisfying the urge might be the only way to rid herself of it, her hand wandered downwards. She squashed the pulped fruit against her genitals. It felt warm and moist, and for some reason, very, very good. Tingles ran up her spinal column as she was rewarded with a sense of pleasure.
She began to rub herself, up and down, at first lightly but then vigorously, desperately. Something was missing, something was stopping this being completely satisfying, she thought, the sense of urgency building in her as her breath started to come in drawn-out gasps. Curling her lower lip under her teeth, she placed thumb and forefinger on either side of her cleft and parted the lips. Then, with the other hand, she scooped up a wad of the mashed fruit. Surely there would be no more room inside her, after what had happened this morning. And yet it felt so right, so absolutely perfect, as she pushed the handful of pulp upwards, into herself. A burst of pleasure surged from her loins. Her cheeks flushed as she took another handful, holding the fruit between her thumb and fingers as she smeared it over herself, forcing it inside her with first one, then two, then eventually all four of her fingers, deeper inside of her, she shoveled handful after handful of squashed fruit into her cunt. The pleasurable feeling resulting from the act grew intensely, and soon she was gasping, moaning loudly as she thrust her fingers in, out and around, slickly lubricated by the fruit's juices as well as her own. Eventually she experienced a surging orgasm that caused birds to take flight overhead as she cried out, before slumping onto the ground in a daze, an idiot grin spread across her face as thick slop oozed from between her legs.
In the warm darkness inside her, the eggs fed hungrily, the sugar-rich meal they absorbed through their surfaces the catalyst for the final stage of their development. Within them, tiny forms took shape and grew within their capsules. Legs started to twitch. In time, tiny hearts started to beat.
Eventually night fell, the shafts of sunlight stabbing down between the leaves was replaced with the gentler illumination of a full moon. Following an inexplicable compulsion, Ulaudra found herself circling around and returning to the clearing. The trees that bordered it formed a soft, monochrome boundary in the dim light. As the bloated feeling below her stomach became almost unbearable, Ulaudra squatted down on her haunches before unsteadily rolling back, coming to sit on the earth with her legs splayed out in front of her. Then she gasped as the cluster of eggs cradled in her womb started to pulsate, each throb pushing outwards on other internal organs, a sickening feeling building inside her, tempered with stabs of pain as parts of her, liver, kidneys and intestines, dislocated themselves around the growing bulge inside her. She felt wetness between her thighs, and saw her cunt gaping wide, viscous liquid dribbling out onto the dark soil. As its lips met and parted in some perverse parody of breathing, she felt a mass inside her slip out of place, downwards. When the orifice opened once more, a shape pushed its way out.
Ulaudra retched as she watched the maggot emerging from her body. The creature writhed energetically, a fat, white little form slightly thicker than Ulaudra's thumb. It twisted around as it fought its way free from the moist, pink flesh either side, flopping into the rapidly-accumulating pool of fluids on the ground with a wet sound. It wriggled happily in the sticky mess before being joined by its brother, as Ulaudra's muscles contracted, completely out of her control, disgorging another maggot. Ulaudra's guts continued to churn as more and more of the creatures squirmed their way free from her, each propelled in turn by her rippling cervical muscles. Its control over her nervous system not quite complete, the egg that was paired with her spinal cord continued to overpower her and bend her muscles to its will. For a brief instant the nerve-signals became crossed to another part of Ulaudra's anatomy, and she found herself defecating uncontrollably, squeezing out a hefty turd which squelched between her buttocks and the earth, eventually becoming intermixed with the maggots and their mucous soup as she shuffled backwards.
The mound of freshly-birthed maggots grew before her as her distended belly gradually returned to its normal dimensions. Over the course of the next half hour a continuous stream of the writhing white creatures issued forth from her, each contraction draining a little more strength from Ulaudra as she shivered and sweated, half-delirious with the effort. The earliest-birthed creatures started to move with greater purpose, acclimatising to their new environment, exploring the world beyond their fetid pool. Ulaudra felt undulating series of tiny pinpricks as the maggots latched on to her legs with their needle-sharp feet. Two dozen of the hardiest maggots were now crawling across her thighs, all of them headed upwards, their segmented white bodies pulsating in unison. Then, the first one started to feed.
Like a bee-sting, Ulaudra felt a sudden spike of pain, and saw that one of the maggots had buried its head in the skin of her thigh, the area around it already turning red. The little creature reared its head back, tearing a small chunk of flesh out of her before masticating and swallowing it, the blunt tip of its body now stained red. Ulaudra tried to lift her hand to brush it away, and felt the familiar heaviness that had resulted from the flying creature's paralyzing sting hours before. Her muscles tensed and locked, her chin resting on one collarbone as she saw more of the creatures climb their way out of the pile and crawl up her body. Again and again she felt sudden, sharp tugs as one of the maggots stopped to pinch off pieces of her flesh in its jaws. The small wounds became innumerable, the individual sensations coalescing into a body-wide agony as more and more rends were opened in her flesh. One of the maggots, sensing it had reached a particularly vulnerable position, circled around her bellybutton. With great enthusiasm it thrust its head downwards, jaws snapping and tearing flesh as it propelled itself inwards, beneath her skin. The creature continued to bore into her, turning sideways, and she could see her skin deforming as the maggot burrowed beneath it.
The woman screamed weakly, drained from the birthing, the last of the maggots riding out of her in a bubble of slick fluids. Their brothers had continued the upward conquest, and Ulaudra winced as the first of them clambered up onto her cheek. As it made its way up, several more crawled over her chin, one of them tearing at her lip and bringing forth a stream of blood. She gritted her teeth, clamping her jaws shut, not wanting to consider the possibility that they might work their way inside her mouth. A tickling sensation spread across her cheek as the first one clambered ever-upwards, suddenly becoming a blur in her vision as it reached her eyeball. As she screwed her eye shut, she felt another working hungrily at the skin and muscle below her jaw. Bolstered by the flesh it had already consumed from other parts of her body, the maggot burrowed vigorously, she felt a pressure beneath her tongue, and then the creature emerged into her mouth from underneath, pursued by its comrades. Ulaudra opened her mouth in order to try and crush them between her teeth, muscles responding sluggishly under the paralysis. Then the first maggot finished chewing through the skin of her eyelid, and an immense pain temporarily eclipsed the rest of the ordeal as it chewed its way into her eyeball, becoming completely immersed in transparent ocular jelly, forced outwards by scleral pressure as her eyeball collapsed. A terrible scratching sensation within her eye socket accompanied sporadic flashes of light as retinal cells died, or were torn out and consumed. More of them piled into her mouth through the tunnel dug through her muscle by the first to enter, they reduced her tongue to shreds before starting on her gums, consuming the flesh, she gagged as one of them hung from her epiglottis before shearing it off and dropping down with its fleshy prize into her esophagus. Her vomit reflex triggered, belching the remains of her meal of fruit up into her mouth; some if it ran out of her lips and spread sideways. Yet more sat at the back of her throat, creeping into her trachea, suffocating her.
Completely mentally aware, yet bodily paralyzed, Ulaudra was no longer able to resolve the individual torments visited upon her by the creatures; her entire body was wracked with overpowering pain. Her vision was dark now, as a second pair of the creatures feasted hungrily on the other of her eyeballs as more of them forced their way up into her nose. Her lungs burned from the suffocating mass that obstructed her windpipe, some of the more intrepid creatures entering the lungs themselves and dining on the spongy inner surface. With the last shreds of her consciousness, Ulaudra tried to reach out the the spirits of the plants around her, desperately seeking reason, trying to make sense of the fate nature had chosen for her, but was met with absolute silence in reply.
As morning came, scores of fat, cucumber-sized grubs finally tired of the carcass, making their way to the edge of the clearing to enter the next stage of their life cycle. A few of the leaner ones lingered for a while, picking over the remains in search of nourishing flesh that their brethren might have missed. In time, they too hungered for more than the white, picked-clean bones could now provide, and left, the only remaining occupants in the clearing an untouched animal corpse and a skeleton, empty eye-sockets gazing skyward.