“One leg forward, one leg back! Another leg makes up the slack!”
“Steady! For the colony!”
“One leg buckles, one leg holds! One leg left for the bold!”
“For the queen!”
“One leg blocks, and one leg cuts! Another leg scoops out the guts!”
“Strike them down!”
Two lines of swordsmen smashed into each other, blades cutting through armor and exoskeleton alike. Many managed to plunge their weapons through the chest in front of them, only to feel piercing pain as an attacker sank teeth deep into their necks. Some among the enemy dropped their swords entirely and resorted to stinging any foes that dared get close.
A knight watched the carnage from several lines back. He wanted to dive into the action. He knew his sword alone was strong enough to decide the fate of battle. But ants need organization. They need a plan. Without him and the other knights, the lines would splinter, and a path to the colony would open for to the invaders.
He couldn’t let that happen.
“Forward!” he yelled, aiming his sword toward the invader’s flank. The second wave charged in that direction, the line straight, each step in sync.
The ants that opposed them were unlike any their own. Their exoskeletons blazed red. Their stings filled bodies with searing pain. And behind the front lines, there were no knights. There were ants whose hands held fire.
There were sorcerers.
And unlike the defenders, these commanders were already jumping into the fray. One burned a hole through the front line with but a single swing of his foremost leg. Another wave of fire left four ants lying on their backs, their legs curled and fried. As the sorcerer charged forward, a column of swordsmen followed behind.
“This is madness,” the knight said to himself. “Such tactics could burn down the very leaf on which we stand. Their strategy could kill us all.”
The knight looked far to his left and right. On both sides, fellow knights were commanding waves of fighters for as far as the eye could see. In both directions, the battle was playing out the same way. Sorcerers were burning their way through the front lines and leading trails of fire ants deep into enemy ranks. Then they attacked from the inside.
When the knight returned his attention to the action ahead, a sorcerer was standing directly in front of him. The ant’s eyes flared red before raising his two front legs, a fire ball formed at the ends of both. A second later, both flew in the knight’s direction. He leapt to his left, narrowly avoiding the flames that now raged in the spot where he stood. A hole quickly formed. Through it the knight could see the entrance to his colony below.
The sorcerer sent more fire raining down on the knight’s other side. The blaze there ripped open another hole and left the leader isolated. Before him stood the sorcerer. His nearest allies were lined up to his rear, forced to follow him from behind or make the trek around the newly-created chasms. The knight was left with only one choice. He raised his shield and charged.
The fire was so strong against the knight’s shield that he had to let go, but by the time he did, he was close enough to lunge his sword forward and plant it directly behind the sorcerer’s eyes. They lost their red glow in an instant. The spellcaster then fell forward as the knight pulled out his blade. The lifeless body rolled forward through the nearest hole and plummeted to the ground below.
This victory sent ripples through the waves of swordsmen lined up behind the knight. Before he could give the word, scores of them rushed by. They were ready to lay down their lives for the man who had just given them an opening. They smashed through the column of fire ants that had followed behind the sorcerer. Before long, the knight’s line had reformed, and they was ready to face another wave.
The knight watched as the invaders continued their approach. This time there wouldn’t be one sorcerer, but two.
* * *
“Jay, dinner’s ready!”
Jay looked up at his mother standing on the porch. Inside, his wife was already at the table, making small talk with her father-in-law. Jay was squatted down next to the plants by the driveway. They weren’t bushes. He never knew what they were, though his dad called them weeds.
This is how the battle always ends, Jay thought to himself. Even now, decades later, his mom was calling him in to eat before he could see which side would win.
“I’ll be right there!” Jay called back. He ran his fingers through the leaves that looked largely the same as they did back when he was little, before he was old enough for high school, girls, college, work, and women. Before marriage. Before the pregnancy that he and his wife had come over to tell his parents about.
These leaves hadn’t changed, and neither had the battles that waged in his mind as he watched them sway gently in the breeze. The ant knights and sorcerers were still fighting after all these years.