The Chiverley Hermit Beetle
Amongst the distressing mega-fauna of the Western Plains, which lie predictably west of the Great Bane Desert, are the diversity of enormous insects. The culture, architecture and nightmares of the plainsmen are very much influenced by the creatures they live with. A notable example of the near-symbiosis that can exist between humanity and insect is the Gypsy Beetle, a creature with an unusually large and almost hollow abdomen.
For many centuries the peoples of the caravanserai have cut doors into the great slow-moving insects’ chitinous shells and have lived inside them. There are many examples of the marvellous art work and ingenious design features on the Deathbirth Plain. This is not as terrifying as it sounds; it is simply where the Gypsy Beetles both begin and end their lives – the hatching grounds. It is here that a family home will be abandoned after up to ninety years of the travelling life. With great sadness the occupying family will seal up the entrance into their beetle’s shell and await a fresh larvae, whom they will nurture and protect until it is large enough to return the favour.
An insect at the opposite end of the spectrum is the Chiverley Hermit Beetle. While still huge compared to an insect of the southern end of the Northern Continent, it is more closely related to grasshoppers and crickets, though it stands vertically and attains the approximate height of a man. The Chiverley Hermit Beetle is a solitary creature in its natural habitat and loathes its relatives even through the act of mating.
It is thought that the insect had almost become extinct before people drifted onto the plains, and provided the species with a solution to its self-abhorrence. They discovered that humans are easy to kidnap, and then strip of their bones (including spine and skull) making just enough space for the beetle to squeeze inside the still-living skin and take on the mantle of their victim. They then participate in the somewhat solitary existence of a plains hermit, able to imitate human speech and pass for people in social meetings when they arise.
For many years the ‘knee-talkers’ as they were known to the tribal clans were considered mere folk tales. It was only when Traverstorm Rosenhatch took a team of explorers onto the plains in search of the elusive Hermit Beetle that the truth was fully uncovered. One Alastair Chiverley, the group’s quartermaster went missing one night but returned a day later somewhat stiff and giving the impression of perhaps having had a stroke. The exploration was considered a failure and the team returned to Meridional University. A year later, Chiverley was given a routine medical check (routine for Rosenhatch expeditions) and his ghastly status was uncovered. One of the insects had un-boned the man and successfully imitated him; his wife and children were reportedly embarrassed.
Since the man was technically dead his name was conferred upon the insect. The college was in something of a quandary but eventually employed Chiverley as a research associate, for purposes of keeping it close for study. The beetle lead a short but successful career directing the college’s comic musical theatre group, but left after a spat with the costumier. As far as is known, Chiverley returned to the Western Plains and has not been heard from since.
- The Desert Crystals – Part 11: The Bleeding Face of Death (captainpigheart.com)
- The Desert Crystals – The Journals Biologinary #1 (captainpigheart.com)