Nothing But Ants
rating: +12+x


“And that’s why I NEVER bought another product from that stupid invertebrate again!”

“Oh come on, you mean to tell me you actually thought a random entity would sell you a *royal ration* of all things? Please.”

“I heard someone say he was reliable, but all I got was a fuckin’ bar of soap in my mouth!”

You sigh. The endless bickering of your travel group was starting to get on your nerves, but you suppose it's a small price to pay for the security of human companionship in this hellhole. Ever since the M.E.G. cut the power thirty years ago, traversal of what were once the largest foot-traffic highways had slowed to a crawl. A few months after the Blackout, various different groups had tried to illuminate these same highways with candlelight, but it made almost no difference. Noticing the absence of light up ahead, you speak up.

“We should keep our voices down. There's a Dead Space up ahead.”

The de-facto leader of your group, an ex-Repository member named Mason, voices his agreement from the back of your cluster.

“They’re right. It’s a long one too, so be ready for anything.”

Upon hearing this, the rest of your travel band shuts up and falls into a single-file formation. Mason has ventured this way an innumerable amount of times, even before the Blackout. And he has both the physical and mental scars to prove it. The individual leading the pack, a woman named Sedra, fixes a candle-lit lantern to the end of a long pole. She holds it far out in front of herself, illuminating the dark passageways of the depowered arcade Level you find yourself in.

The lantern also serves a second purpose.

Bait.

As you trudge through the pitch-black hallways connecting the decaying arcade once known as "Level 40" to the desolate streets of The Suburbs, Your group is on high alert. The Backrooms is already unforgiving, and the Blackout certainly didn't help. Dead Spaces were just another phenomena to add to the ever-growing list of things this hellscape invents to kill you. Dead Spaces were more than just unfinished areas in the candle-trail, but rather a unique form of an old phenomena once known as a "Vortex." In order to remain uncorrupted by the light, they had begun to take the form of large splotchy patches of black material, coating the walls or ground of whatever level they manifest in. Fortunately, the corrupted sectors no longer retained the ability to siphon the life force of whatever unlucky being touches them. Unfortunately, these new patches of black provided an excellent spot for hunters to stalk unknowing prey.

The Dead Space contracts and expands around you, like the gullet of a colossal beast waiting to devour your whole party without a second thought. It makes you think of real-world phenomena back in your home on Earth… things like deep sea gigantism.

You shudder to think about the implications… the Backrooms has been known to "copy" natural oddities in its own dark and twisted ways. You remember stories of fantastical creatures you were told decades ago, back before the darkness. You wonder what happened to them.

You decide you'd rather not find out.

A growl emerging from the depths of the blackness cuts your pondering short. Your travel group tenses, readying what meager arms they have, preparing to bolt away at a moment's notice.

Slimy footsteps echo across the hall, growing closer and closer, until the edges of a once-familiar figure ooze into the brightness.

A beast once recognized as a lowly Smiler turns its faces towards the lamp. It inches closer by the second, no one in your group daring to move.

Except you. You take a step back, as quietly as you can. Then another, and another. To your fortune, the Sun's Grin in is still fixated on the light. Your heart beats faster and faster, and you're scared you may pass out.

As you look back at your group in regret and fear, you see Sedra turn around to face you. She cocks her head to the side, as if to say "run."

Without time for you to think, she's already thrown the lamp pole as far away as possible, and everything goes black. You run as fast as you can, uncaring of the attention you call to yourself. Dying to anything else would be preferrable to being infected by the Sun's Grin. The sounds of carnage ring behind you, screams being cut off left and right. You continue sprinting until the familiar lights of a yellow hallway appear…


Wait. That's not right, accessing Level 0 should be impossible, and the lights mean dea—


You bolt awake in a pitch-black field in The Suburbs. You sit up, putting your hands against your aching head. It was three days ago, but the incident is still fresh in your mind.

You grimace and remove your backpack, pulling out a meager ration of a quarter cup of almond water, and a third of a single granola bar. Survival in hell had never been easy, but was asking for a satisfactory meal really too much?

Apparently so.

You scan the area around you for threats. It's been even bleaker than usual on these streets since the Blackout. Oddly enough, it's been one of the safer levels. The Watch took down most lamp posts that weren't deactivated by the M.E.G. Unfortunately for you, this means that you'll have to traverse the endless cul-de-sacs in pitch blackness. Lanterns are far too dangerous to mess with here, as the Striders and Mangled seem to pounce on them as soon as they're lit. Wonderful. Almost on cue with your thoughts, a Strider lumbers its way down the street, its eye scanning left and right for any intruders upon its precious ground.

You decide to cut through the bushes in the distance. There's more cover in the brush.

Before you can even prepare yourself to sprint across the street, a massive thud shakes the ground, nearly throwing you off of your feet.

Another thud shakes the ground, and you can see the very pavement beneath your feet start to flex, almost as if an earthquake were occurring.

You swivel your head around, trying to find the source of the noise. As soon as you do, you wish you hadn't. A massive strider towers above the endless houses, unlike anything you've ever heard of or seen before. Its body is jet-black, nearly blending in with the false night sky. Its spiderlike limbs pierce the ground as it walks, rapidly closing in on your location

You swear. The strider from earlier must have seen you and relayed your location to the rest of the hivemind. Tricky bastards…

You do the only thing you can. You run for your life for the second time this week.

Your lungs burn. Your legs ache. Your head pulses, and you feel like you're going to die. Maybe it would be better to just lay down on the ground and let that strider crush you. At least that would be over quickly… Everything just feels futile. The Strider is gaining on you anyways, and you can hear the screeches of dozens of Mangled running alongside it.

You lean up against a tree, facing the oncoming swarm. This is it. You've had a good run, but it might be time to pay the piper… The Watch is still a long way off, but you doubt you can tortoise-and-the-hare this all the way to the border of 11.

You reward yourself to the rest of your water and rations, and get back up. Houses fly by as you dash away from the swarm. Don't these overgrown fleshbags have anything better to chase?

You turn around quickly, and see the Mangled only a meager block away, gaining on your location rapidly. You sigh, and begin to process the inevitable. If anything, you're not going down without giving it your all.

As you turn around to make a last stand, your hair stands on end. It seems that The Watch feels something too, because they've stopped dead in their tracks, growling and hissing like some weird snake-dog chimera.

Once you notice what they're seeing, it makes a lot more sense. A few houses down in front of you, a figure with gray hair and a black trenchcoat is standing in the center of the road. Their right arm is raised to the sky, palm upward.

The ground trembles as a massive, oozing tendril of blackness breaks forth from underneath the street, grabbing the colossal Strider titan like it's a child's toy. It slams the overgrown beast into the pavement, smashing the first line of Mangled like the fist of God, leaving nothing more than a bloody, pulpy stain.

This is far above your pay grade. You turn around to run once more, and find yourself face to face with the stranger that just saved your life.

"Hello! Hi! How are you? It's great to meet ya! Just a pleasure, I tell you! What fine things are we off to do today my friend? Walk in the park? Killing some facists? Perhaps even visiting an old friend?" The stranger pushes themself into your face, uncomfortably close.

You take a better look at the figure in front of you, sizing them up. They're wearing a thick layer of white bandages over their eyes, and they have their right arm tucked inside their coat. No, that's not it… they're missing an arm entirely. How can they even see you through that bandage? Many questions run through your mind, and the loudly enthusiastic creature of a human in front of you certainly doesn't help.

"How can you even see with that banda-" You start, before the figure cuts you off.

"I haven't the foggiest what you're even talking about, Jimbo. It's just a regular day in the neighborhood, a regular day for a neighbor~ could you be mine—"

A 1920s big band rendition of 'Would you be my neighbor' from that practically ancient TV show starts playing from the air. Everything is just so surreal, not to mention the fact he's getting the words wrong…

"Everything is just normal, happy happy happy! Are you happy? I can help you with that—"

The figure reaches a hand out to your head and you grab their wrist, throwing it to the side.

"JUST… FUCKING PAUSE FOR A SECOND DUDE! WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU ON ABOUT? WHO ARE YOU?" You sigh.

"I'm sorry, thanks for saving my bacon and all, that tendril smash was cool, but PLEASE."

As soon as you say this, the figure's neck snaps with a loud crack at a 90 degree angle. Black fluid swims up over half of their face, and black tendrils lift their arms to their sides, holding their body up before it can collapse. A single glowing white eye opens on the covered side of the figure's body.

"Sorry about that. I barely have enough energy to possess him for more than 5 minutes a day at this point. But he was going to kill you if I didn't intervene, and I'm sick of my energy being used on useless endeavors."

As the creature that just possessed the man in front of you talks, the figure's neck slowly rights itself, and sickly crackling signals to you that the body is healing.

"In that case, give me the short version." You say.

"Who are you, who is he, and what can you do to help me get to 11?"

"Who I am isn't important. I'm barely a fraction of my former self… I've been cut off from my source, and I'm taking refuge in this body until things get better. The person who I'm possessing is Alexander Black, but you'd probably be familiar with what he calls himself. Does the name 'Spec' ring a bell?."

"The reality sink wanted by the M.E.G.? How the fuck did you manage that?"

"I had to strike a deal. I'd keep him safe from the light, and he'd give me something to feed off of. I didn't expect to completely deteriorate his mental state the way I did though… coexistence wasn't possible in the way I promised. The psychic blocks he set for himself were shattered as soon as I entered his body."

"I do remember hearing some rumors about viral entities struggling to find suitable hosts after the lights went out… the only one I remember that seems similar to you was one called 'Kirai.'"

The figure nods.

"I once went by that name… now I'm not so sure. It was probably a good thing I burnt out all my past hosts the way I did…"

Before the pathetic dual-organism in front of you can get off topic, you decide to change the subject.

"Do you think you can help me? Like, teleport me somewhere? I don't know how you work…"

The figure scoffs.

"Do you know the energy it would require to do that? You aren't worth the effort. Ants like you pale in comparison to the things I need to save myself for. I can hold 'Spec' back for two more minutes. That's all I can give you. Good luck, traveler."

Instead of arguing, you decide that it's best to be on your way. The things Kirai said stick with you… perhaps he's right. When you look at it from the top of the tank, we're all just ants in the grand scheme of things.

You sprint into the line of bushes behind the houses lining the street, and come out the other side. In the distance, you can see what looks like a dimmed sun. 11. It's close.

You continue your run to the city, eventually reaching the fence marking the border between levels. You step over the fence, and into the light.


As soon as your feet touch the pavement of level 11, you sigh in relief. You did it. You'd finally achieved something many in this place never will— safety. You drop to your knees, and feel like lying on the nice warm ground to take a delightfully well-earned nap. But this isn't the time. You stand up, beginning the final trek to the center of 11.

The sun shines down brightly on the bustling streets. Level 11 had been a hotspot as one of the last few sources of natural light in the Backrooms, and the environment was lively and vivid. Former enemies greeted each other as friends, new connections all facilitated by the watchful gaze of Argos. You smile. This place truly was an oasis for the silly little "ants" of this world.

You sit yourself down on a bench, and pull out a book to read. Bookstores had surged in popularity after it became unsafe to look at a screen, and people were becoming more well-read each day. The apocalypse certainly had its advantages…

As you begin to lose yourself in the pages, you notice something. The street's gone dead silent. Abandoned. You look around some more, and notice the buildings are crumbling. The sky is darkening. The bench you were reclining on is nothing but another corpse with bored out eyes.

As the panic sets in, the scenery of Level 11 fades. You find yourself back in level 9, just inches from the border of the city. You try to run, but you can't move.

Suddenly, the memories flood back. Dashing to 11. Seeing the perimeter. Entering not to reveal paradise, but a massive amorphous blob of light. A Chupavida that had been infected by the plague.

You scream in vain as the entity consumes your essence. The real level 11! lies just inches from your grasp!

A low rumble can be heard in the distance. You wonder if the Chupavida has consumed enough memories to cause auditory hallucinations. No, that can't be it. You look closer in the distance. Dirt flies into the air like its water, as a massive creature burrows under the surface, barreling towards your location.

"Of course…" you think to yourself. Chupavidas hunt for one thing, by exfoliating that very energy across long distances.

Memories.

You smirk as you remember what Kirai told you not-so-long ago. "Humanity is nothing but ants" he'd said. You couldn't agree more.

The ground trembles as the Memory Worm bursts forth from the earth, its gargantuan body stretching miles into the sky, its spiraling jaws twisting like a cyclone. A dissonant scream rings out as it bears down upon the Chupavida, eviscerating it and you almost instantaneously.

You died laughing.

Nothing but Ants.

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