“Drago”, Ben repeated quietly for the third time, shivering slightly as the words caught the breeze. He peered out into the darkness knowing that they were headed into something terrible.
Drago was a notorious legend in the swamp. His name was only whispered, murmured, carefully by the brave, and even then with great trepidation. He was the monster that all swamp creatures feared. When the winds turn strange and the sky got dark, it was Drago’s name that rustled in the leaves. On the darkest of nights the howling wind from the south carried his evil screams and the desperate cry’s of his victims. His lair lay somewhere in the middle of the endless bog, the two friends knew. But they didn’t know exactly where. And that was a problem.
The bog was full of evil creatures that would love to make a snack out of the two blinkers. To get to the middle they would have to navigate around the moss of darkness, go through the home of the thickleg brotherhood; an unforgiving family of bullfrogs, and a slew of dangerous plants,animals and insects to get to Drago. And of course there was the problem of facing Drago the Ancient, the largest, meanest and oldest of all the gators in the swamp, a verifiable nightmare.
Ben and Nic sat next to each other on a leaf on the edge of the bog. Huddling together, they looked out into the misty wasteland that was gently lit by a silver sliver of moonlight and it looked almost peaceful. But the bold adventurers knew that was not the case.
The great beast stirred in the water. Small ripples in the dark were the only thing to give him away. His one good eye ever vigilant, a yellow beacon in the darkness. He was old, old as the swamp he inhabited it seemed. But he didn’t get that way by not listening to the marsh noises or trusting his instincts, and his instincts were telling him something was coming. Something that would challenge him. Something that he hadn’t faced before. He swam slowly around the large pond tail moving gently back and forth.
He dove down to the bottom of the lagoon he currently called home, looking for something to satiate his appetite. A large and unfortunate fish swam past him; Slam! His Jaws clamped down, teeth rend flesh, he shakes his head violently back and forth, and with a gulp, finishes the hapless fish in a single swallow. He lay at the bottom of the pond watching the fish remnants settle around him. He knew something was coming, something different, something bad. And he would destroy it like the many other challengers before.
“So whats the play here, Nic?” asked Ben nervously as he chewed on a sprig of grass in the cool swamp breeze. The smell of marshwillow floated on the night air and the sounds of the thicklegs could be heard in the distance.
“Hmmm, I think we’ll need to find a guide.” Nic replied, adjusting the many pouches and containers he had on his belt. He felt for his trusty slingshot by his side, and patted the worn wooden handle knowing it would be put to use soon. “Best i can figure is to go to the shrew society and bring an offering to them. They are one of the few groups that might help us.” “They might also think we are a snack delivered by their blind God.” Ben shot back, with a slight grin a wink. “Well there are many things here that would make dinner of us for sure. I need to do this Ben, I don’t want to go back without what we came for.” he said solemnly. Nic then smiled, looked at Ben and threw a dollop of dew at his big friend and smirked “Besides your life is definitely worth a chance with Lyla.” Ben looked at his grinning friend and replied “For you maybe. For you”.
“So what in the swamp do we bring to the shrews anyways?” Ben asked as they flew west. “I think I have that covered.” Nic replied. They were flying low to the ground on the outskirts of the bog heading towards the shrew’s burrow. There were odd splashes and strange hisses coming from the mire and the reeds bumping together in the wind sounded like one hundred disconcerted drummers. The ever present croaking of bullfrogs was constant reminder of the danger they were in. Nic was rustling around in one of his containers, “Found it”, he said pulling out a small walnut and landing gently on the marshy ground. “Observe my dim witted but brightly lit friend.” he joked. Slowly Nic cracked open the walnut and grabbed a pinch of white powder inside. “Shrews love sweets. More than almost anything else. They go crazy for it and I think that’ll be enough to put us in their good graces and off their plates.” Nic said as he handed the much bigger firefly a bit of powder. Ben took the powder cautiously, curiosly staring at it “This will do the trick?” he asked. “Taste it, Taste it” mumbled Nic through a mouthful of the sweet powder. Ben licked his hand slowly and his eyes shot open. “O sweet lightness” he moaned. “Muhmm, gubb, mmmrhmgh” he said through each tasty lick. “What in the great glow is that stuff?” he asked. “No idea.” Nic shrugged. “I get it from this cane that grows near our home. It takes a while to get the powder but it has great value.”
Nic looked up into the sky, feeling the breeze on his antenna and said “I don’t think we’re too far now, lets get amoving.” He lifted slowly into the air looking at his friend who was still busily licking every crevice of his hand. “Ok, but wow that was good stuff! No doubt those shrews will love it. Heck they might make you the new shrew king. Long Live Nic the first blinking king of the shrews!” He teased with a grin as he lifted off the ground to meet his friend.
The two looked at each other, glanced into the foreboding bog and headed toward the home of the shrews.
He was scared. And he knew he should be. Nose buried in the ground, eyes cast low he could feel the hot breathe of the beast on his fur. He trembled with fear knowing the great gator could and would devour him in a second if he misspoke or displeased him.”Listen carefully to me, foul rat.” Drago said in his grizzled cracked voice. His eye shone bright in the dark hour, and his massive jaws could barely be made out in the silver light of the moon. The terrified water rat replied through chattering teeth “Yesssss, Yessssss. Shank will listen, great one. Shank will listen.” Drago took a deep breathe and snorted, blowing small flies away from his nose. He shifted his large body slightly, tail swaying back and forth in the dark water. “Something stirs in my bog. Something is coming here.” he said as he slowly backed into the water that he called home. Shank glanced up hardly seeing the behemoth any more. Just the yellow eye was visible and now even that was dimming as Drago backed further away from the shore. Shank scampered a little closer to the water and asked “What does Shank need to do?”.
Silence was his only answer for a while and he wondered if he was alone. He was to afraid to move but didnt relish the thought of being so close to the beast who would eat his allies as easily as his enemies. Shank started slowly to move back when he heard that gravely voice from the distance. “Find them. Find them and bring them to me. And if you fail……………” he trailed off leaving no doubt in Shanks little mind what his fate would be if he failed.
Nic scrunched his eyes together in heavy concentration. “Hurry, Hurry!” he said testily to his large friend, who was across the room from him looking through a mountain of Nic’s colored pods. “I am trying to find it” Ben replied shaking his head with quiet amusement at his friend’s behavior.
The Annual Great Glow Off was only 3 days away and Nic knew he had much to do to be ready.
The two fireflies were inside a stump in Nic’s laboratory trying to perfect a new concoction.
The floor was polished wood with dark rings emanating from the center, a rectangular table made of willow stalks and bark was in the middle of the room. In the back of the stump was a fireplace and a cozy nest filled with soft leaves and different grasses. All around the room there were shelves and cupboards precariously stacked with bark bound journals, leafy papers and ill-boding containers of all shapes and sizes. Small translucent flowers full of glowing amber fluid dimly lit the edges of the room. As Ben looked through the different pods trying to find the one Nic needed, his light would flare and brighten the room. Nervously Nic tapped his foot and looked into strange pulsing ooze in the bowl on the table, “Hurry please, Ben. Its gonna set up again. And I really don’t want to spend another day cleaning.” He said, thinking back briefly to the accident that had happened a few days before.
“This one?” Ben asked grinning hopefully, holding up a pod filled with things only Nic could keep track of. “No No, you big happy lumux” scolded Nic, “That one!”
There were endless stacks of different colored pods, some different shades of the same color and a few looking very similar. Ben grabbed one as quickly as possible and held it up so his nervous and frantically stirring friend could see. “No, the yellow one!” Nic replied hopping around agitatedly. Ben grumbled “They are all yellow it seems to me.”.
A warm pink and purple glow was coming from the substance inside the bowl Nic was standing over. Nic stirred the ichor furiously with a twig as he looked at Ben and said in his high pitched fast paced voice, “The yellow pod! The yellow pod! Yes, that one, Finally” Nic gasped. “Now hurry, bring it here and squeeze it with all your might.”
Ben hurried over to the liquid that was looking more foreboding by the second. It was bubbling and burping with strange swirls of green and purple when Ben started to squeeze the pod. He felt something crack and grind together and slowly a few small yellow dust particles floated down into the ooze. “Shake it just a tad more.” piped Nic.
Ben shook the pod a few more times and watched as the yellow dust settled into the ooze. The gel was turning to a gold glowing glop not unlike illuminated honey. A grin spread from mandible to mandible on Nics little firefly face. “Ooooooooo, yesssssss, so nice” he whispered to the gel. Ben just shook his head with a smile, patted his friend on his back and headed over to a chair by the fire. He grabbed a bit of dew, plopped down into a creaking rocking chair and asked, “So what now Nicster?”.
Nic was a genius. For a firefly that is. And genius although rare in other creatures was almost nonexistent in firefly society. He wasn’t much to look at by firefly standards and often got chided about his strange behavior,the odd odors originating from his stump, and the often dangerous contraptions he tested on the different flies of the Brightback tribe. Unfortunately he lacked the most important attribute of the culture-blinking. He was dull. He was a dull bug. The most light poor Nic could conjure was much less than any other firefly in the tribe. And every year Nic would be made fun of because of his inability to glow. All the males in the Brightback tribe were required to take part in the great glow festival. This was a festival that celebrated the life of the firefly, it was also the time when lady fireflies choose their annual mates. For the last 4 cycles Nic had come away alone, and last year he vowed to find a solution.
“Now we sleep and let it mix and set up real well. Tomorrow we should be able to go and test it out.” he said with a wicked grin.
The next morning Ben woke to the sound of Nic clacking and clicking around. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and peered at Nic, “What time is it?” he asked. He knew it must be early, he could still hear the morning birds singing their songs looking for worms and unwary beetles.
“Time, Time, Time to go.” rattled Nic. “Out of bed, now now now” he continued as he ran to and fro stuffing things into his grass-blade belt. Ben smiled as he lifted his huge frame out of the little nest and stretched. “Ok, ok, calm down, I just need to eat before we can be on our way.” It seemed his friend was over-packing a bit for a day trip. He had vine rope, bone hooks, his little sling shot and a slew of other items. Oh well, Ben thought, he is just excited.
After both were fed and Nic had all his provisions, they set out. “Where are we headed anyhow?” Ben asked, as they flew down the path into the thicket. “Hmmmm, Hmmmm?” replied Nic as he flitted purposely to the south and sped up quite a bit. “Where are we headed?” Ben asked again a little more suspiciously after easily catching up to his much slower friend. He knew his Nic didn’t have a hearing problem and he also knew there was only trouble to the south.
“Wellllllll………” replied Nic, “I forgot that we needed one more ingredient for my potion, and we have to go into the endless bog to get it.”
Ben stopped suddenly. “The endless bog? The endless bog? We never go into the endless bog! Do you know what happens to fireflies that go into the endless bog?” Ben’s glow was turning orange and his wings were flapping more quickly, revealing his anxiety.
“Umm, they win the Great Glow off?”‘ quipped Nic.
“No Nic, No.” Ben said flatly. “We don’t know what happens to them, do we? And why don’t we know what happens to them?”
Nic shrugged his shoulders and pleaded, “Please Ben! You’ve always been a big bright blinker, I barely glow bright enough to make a shadow. This is my one chance. I could actually woo Lyla.” he scuffed the dirt with his foot and looked down sheepishly. “I think I would have a chance, Ben, I really do.”
Ben sighed and said, “If I get smooshed I am not gonna be very happy with you, my friend. But I owe ya, so of course I’ll try and do what you need me to do.” He flew over to a nice looking leaf, grabbed some dew and sat down. “Let me figure out what you’ve gotten me into.” Ben said as he took a long sip from the dew drop and look at his friend uneasily. “So where are we going in the great bog?” he asked.
Nic grabbed a dew drop and shoved it into his mouth and mumbled something too quietly for Ben to make out.
“Where. Are. We. Going, Nic?” he asked again warily, already knowing, dreading the answer.
Nic replied in a quiet and hushed voice, eyes wide with fear, “We have to go see……. Drago!”
The 2 friends sat close to each other pondering the adventure before them. A warm breeze was blowing in the twighlight hours on the rural road they called home. They were 2 fireflys from the Brightback tribe and it was their time to go on the “journey”.
Looking at the 2 of them huddeled together on the tree branch sharing a leaflet of honeydew it was hard to understand why they were friends.
Ben, the considerably bigger, brighter and stronger of the two seemed to have every advantage. He was a fine speciman by any fireflys standard. He had honor marks galore depicting all the trials he had been through and all the food he had gathered and the offspring he had sired, an asset to any tribe for sure. He was always first to volunteer and the last to leave. He had a cheery disposition that seemed to be as bright as his light.
On the left of him was his much different best friend Nic. Nic was a “Dull Bug” as they classified them in the clan. He was a small brownish dull looking bug. One antenna shorter than the other and his wings never fitting quite right against his body he had been giving the short side of the genetic stick. He did have one paticular quality that though, Nic was bright, not in the tradtional brightback way but as intelligent as the wisest elder in the tribe. Unfortunatly wisdom, intellignce and inginuty did not bring many favors from his blinking society.
It seemed like forever ago when the two became friends. They had known of each other from passing in the swamp and seeing one another at gatherings. Heck everyone knew Bud, he was this generations hero. The strongest fastest and most glowiest of the batch. On the other hand Mic had a certain notority around him, parents would scold their little larvae to hold off on pupating as long as they could or they would turn out like dull bug. How the two became friends is an interesting tale.
It was a rainey evening long ago when Bud was out and about, blinking here and there trying to find some company for the night. He was sipping on nectar flitting around thinking about how living life as Bud was pretty dandy. Bud had just set down on a little leaf and let off a series of his best and brightest flashes hoping to bring in a female friend or two when tradgedy struck.
Wap!!!!! A wet sticky bumpy noxious smelling tounge grabbed him. All of a sudden he was hurtling toward the gaping maw of Othello, one of the meanest and hungriest bullfrogs this side of the road.
As Ben got closer to being a flashing snack he thought “I am done for!”. He struggled to free himself from the sticky situation but couldnt budge, instinctivly he started quickly flashing his SOS warning pattern.
“Ahhhh, so good” he heard the tounge tied Othello mumble in contimplation of his fine snack.
“What a way to go” thought Bud, “Me, the biggest and brightest becoming a appatizer to a durn bull frog.” He squirmed some more barely keeping out of Othellos mouth by using all the force in his large legs to keep above the chomping jaws. But he knew it was a battle that he would soon lose. He was tiring and the foul odor and sticky wetness was taking their toll on him.
Not too far away Nic was gathering some herbs for a concotion he had been working one. While gathering he caught a glimps of Bens blinking light and rushed to see what the hub bub was all about. He saw Ben being slowly forced into Othellos mouth and knew he would have to act fast if he was going to have a chance to save the Hive hero.
Looking down at the different oddities he had accumilated over time he grabed a purple walnut from his leaf made pouch and smiled wickedly. “This should do the trick” he wispered queitly as he headed over to the frog.
The frogs mouth was wide open with Ben in the middle, bens legs were on either lip of othello just barely holding him above the opening.
Nic saw his chance as the giant warted amphibian opened wider to dislodge the struggeling firefly. Phewp!!! went the walnut as he threw it into the massive opening. Knowing what was coming next Mic hastely retreated to saftey behind a tree.
Almost the instant Ben saw the wierd purple walnut fly past his head into the mouth of Othello he could tell the tide was turning. The toads eyes got huge and he released ben violently, his tounge shooting back into his moth. Ben fell to the groud with a wet slimy thud, and he just lay there and watched this spectacle before him. Othello looked straight up in the air and opened his mouth as wide as he could but something odd was happening, he seemed to be getting bigger. he actually seemed to be growing right in front of Bens eyes. Ben was confused as heck not sure how to take in this sudden change in circimstance and the ever enlarging toad in front of him.
Othello knew that he was in trouble, he started trying to wobble away his eyes full of bewilderment and suprise but he kept getting larger. His skin was pulled so tight and taunt over his engorged body that he was having a hard time moving. He looked like a big wet green sickly balloon with little flippers attached. he rolled over onto his side, one eye looking at Ben. “Help me” he croaked knowing full well he would recieve no such assistance.
Ben saw othello loll over to one side his eye peering at him, croaking terribly when POP, Othello exploded. green goo went everywhere and Ben was covered in the putrid stuff. Gagging and doubley wet from mouth slime and foul internal fluids Ben crawled away warely. Not sure what had just happened, he tried to stand but fell again when one of his battered legs gave out on him.
“Hold on, Hold on” he heard from a bush to the left. More rustling and moving around snapping sounds and some weird whirring noise. A few agonizingly long minutes later out popped Mic. “Tada” Mic exclaimed holding some odd contraption in his hand.
“Did you do that?” Ben asked as he nodded to the grisly remains of the toad, eyes wide with surprise that the town reject could best such a beast as Othello.
“Well yessir yes i did” Nic replied in his fast paste high pitch voice.
“Thank you so much!!!!!” replied Ben with real gratitude. he knew he would have been Othellos dinner if it wasnt for his new friend.
Nic helped load Ben on a little stretcher he had thrown together and they headed back to town.