The fat Athenian merchant shook under the steely stare of the Scythian. Polybius the Fat was angry to ask a barbarian for help, but the Scythian skill with a weapon was legendary. And it was clear that no Hellenic blade would ever slay the beasts that no dwelt in the monsters surrounding Polybius's village. The Scythian was picking his teeth with a curved dagger, and looked uninterested.
He was a thin, wiry warrior, a thick beard covering his chin and coarse, unkempt hair falling down the back of his neck. He stunk in a manner that disgusted Polybius, and his long leather cloak, trousers, and tattered tunic were a direct contrast to Polybius's clean white robes.
Many terrifying tales were told of the Scyths. It was said they drunk the blood of their enemies from cups fashioned from skulls. It was said they took scalps in battle, and even their women were known for their savagery. They were a wild people, nomads, and almost the opposite the civilized Greeks.
The Scythian finished picking his teeth and sheathed his curved dagger. "So," he said, his accent thick. "What can I do for you?"
Polybius the Fat chuckled. "Oh, it is but a small job, a little beast slaying up in the mountains."
"What manner of beasts?"
Polybius chuckled again, trying to hide his nervousness. It wasn't helping. "Well, um, nothing to difficult for a man of your talents. Indian Ants."
The words hung in the air for a while, unanswered. Finally, the Scythian tilted up his broad brimmed hat and stared at Polybius with burning eyes. "Indian Ants? Loose? In the mountains?"
"How could I have known things would get this bad?" Polybius was almost pleading with the Scyth. "I purchased the ant eggs from an Indian trader. He told me they would dig gold for me, and for a while, they did. Until-"
"Until, you lost control." The Scythian shook his head. "Indian Ants are perhaps the most difficult animal to control, and certainly one of the most difficult to kill."
"Well, we know that now." Polybius looked at he floor. "They've began raiding the village, killing livestock and sentries. They'll be going to go after our children next. Please, barbarian, whatever price you ask for, it will be paid. Just rid us of these Indian Ants!"
The Scythian put a finger to his chin. "Very well. I will do this for you. But you must pay me thirty talents of silver."
"Fine. I'll leave you to the Ants." The Scythian stood up to leave.
"No, wait." Polybius restrained him with a flabby hand. "I'll pay the price, Scythian. I swear it."
The Scythian nodded. "As you say, so it shall be done." He left Polybius standing in front of his spacious manor and headed towards the mountains.
The ant infestation became obvious as the Scythian began climbing the craggy peaks. His sandals became torn by the jagged rocks, but one who has spent their youth on the barren plains of Scythia fears no type of hostile terrain. The Scythian scanned the peaks, drawing his short axe and dagger, and dropping his bow beside him.
Something scampered above him, causing several small pebbles to rain down. The Scythian narrowed his eyes. "Indian Ants," he whispered. "Show yourselves, rotten vermin."
Something came at from behind, knocking the Scythian to the floor and reaching for his throat with mandibles as hard as steel. It was an Indian Ant, about the size of a large dog and twice as vicious. The Scythian held the mandibles open, struggling to keep them away from his neck, and then reached out for his fallen axe.
Finally, he grabbed the handle of his battleaxe and plunged it into the ant's head. The giant insect squealed in pain, spilling ichor over the Scythian as it writhed. The Scythian hacked away at the ant, finally, pushing it off of him and coming to his feet. He hacked off one the insect's legs and carried it with him. Though it had been the size of a large dog that was just a young creature, and the truly deadly Indian Ants had yet to show themselves.
"Rotten vermin," the Scythian repeated. He turned back to the mountains, climbing hire and spotting more and more footprints of six-legged insects and small tunnels carved through the dirt.
Soon, he spotted the entrance to the main hive. A large tunnel, carved out of the solid rock of the mountainside. The Scythian stuck his axe in his belt and prepared his bow, taking out a quiver of barbed arrows, each one an individual and complex work of art, and then prepared flint and tinder. He pulled out the leg of he slain ant and lit it on fire, and then, with a blazing torch in hand, he descended into the hive.
The walls of the tunnel were smooth and clean. Indian Ants are known for their industrious nature, and it was no surprise that they had created a veritable fortress out of the sheer rock in such a short time. The Scythian walked down the tunnel, his keen ears listening for the sound of scampering feet.
As soon as he heard it, he dropped his torch and prepared his bow, notching an arrow in an instant. The flickering flame cast wide shadows on the wall, and illuminated the terrible inhuman creatures as they surged forth. Indian Ants, dozens of them, each one the size of a small horse, charged forward, mandibles clicking, pheromones raging, segmented bodies poised for combat.
The Scythian let fly with his first arrow, the barbed shaft taking a large ant right in between its unblinking compound eyes. The arrowhead burrowed into the chitin, and the ant writhed in pain as it died. The other ants surged forward, but the Scythian fired arrows at them without pause. The shafts pierced through chitin with ease, and soon dead and dying Indian Ants littered the halls of the tunnel.
And yet there were always more of the creatures, antennas waving as they rushed do their doom. The Scythian fought on until his last arrow had been shot in an ant, and still the formic fiends came. The Scythian placed his bow on his back and picked up the torch with one hand, and his battleaxe with another. With a howl of fury felt by all of those who were born on the barren steppes, the Scyth leapt into battle.
He hacked back and forth, slashing through thorax and alitrunks. The Indian Ants fell back from his onslaught, and it was over the insects' corpses that the Scythian penetrated deeper into the hive. The ants were swarming around him now, some of them standing back and bombarding him with blasts of burning acid, but the Scythian ignored his many wounds and fought on.
Finally, he arrived at his destination: the throne room. Sitting there on a large stone slab, her sheer size preventing her from moving, lay the Queen. The Scythian walked over to her, regarding the mammoth ant monarch with distaste.
"Your majesty," he said, bowing low in mock respect. The Queen squealed and snapped her mandibles and then something took the Scythian from behind. He was knocked to the floor, smashed against the hard stone wall, and his battleaxe fell from his hands.
A truly gigantic Indian Ant, one with the bulky head and spiky bristles of a warrior, stood in front of the queen. The Scythian groaned as he came to his feet, feeling his battered body ache. He drew his curved dagger and beckoned the royal guard to advance.
With a squealing bellow, the guard charged. The Scythian knew he had but one chance. He ducked low, the crushing mandibles nearly missing him, and then he stabbed upwards with his curved dagger, sinking the blade deep into the giant ant's underside. He rolled out of the way, narrowly missing the falling body of the royal guard.
Shakily, the Scyth came to his feet. He retrieved his battleaxe, decapitated the Queen with a single stroke, and then scattered tinder across the throne room, making particular care to cover the larva and eggs. On a whim, he picked up a few of the eggs, pocketing the white spheres in his cloak, before he started the blaze.
And with the fires of the hive burning behind him, the Scythian left the mountain, and walked back into the village victorious.
A heavy blow on the head was his only reward. Polybius had been waiting for the Scythian, along with two burly Spartan soldiers. One of them knocked the Scythian on the head with the butt of his spear while the other restrained him.
"Thirty talents of silver? Are you mad?" Polybius asked, sticking his fat head in the Scythian's face. "Idiot barbarian."
"You have cheated me," the Scyth whispered through his pain.
"Of course I did. Maybe you should have asked for our deal in writing. Oh, I forgot, barbarians can't read!" Polybius laughed. He turned to the two Spartans. "Take this dog out of my sight and deal with him."
"Yes, sir, with pleasure." The Spartans were muscular men, bigger than the small, wiry, Scythian, and they were fully armed with spears, swords, and Corinthian helmets. They dragged the Scythian away, getting him outside the manor before they disarmed him and hurled the Scyth to the ground.
One of them gave the wounded Scythian a kick in the chest and then prepared his spear for the fatal thrust. He stabbed downward, but the Scythian rolled out of the way, and the spear sunk into the dirt. The Spartan struggled to withdraw his weapon when the Scythian came to his feet and threw himself on top of the Spartan. The burly Greek thrashed and struggled as the wily warrior of the Steppes reached out with his pointed teeth and bit down on the Spartan's throat.
In seconds it had been torn to bloody rags. The Spartan gagged as his life blood poured out of him. The Scythian came to his feet, facing the second of his attackers as he licked the blood from his lips.
The Spartan held his spear out, warding the Scythian off. Then, with a roar, the Spartan charged forward, just as the soldier ant had done before. The Scythian leapt out of the way, grabbed the sword from the body of the dead Spartan and stabbed it straight through the chest of the Spartan.
The Scythian stared at the bodies of the two Spartans and then at the manor of Polybius the Fat. With a cruel smile, the Scythian took the ant eggs from the folds of his cloak and placed them in the mouths of the dead Spartans.
When the baby Indian Ants hatched, they would have plenty of food. The two guards would be buried in a graveyard, full of other corpses, and the ants would feed off of them as they grew, getting a taste for human flesh. Then, when the hive was ready, they would come pouring forth and massacre the village, tearing apart the impudent Greeks with their jaws and spraying them with fornic acid.
The Scythian would like to see it, but the sun was already setting, and he had better be on his way.