without feet, watching without eyes, and roaring in a buzzing, shivering dialect
spoken by wings in place of a tongue. Most of what is known of the Hivelings is
from fleeting eyewitness accounts and ancients stories and songs. Most commonly
described as “a man made of bees”, they in fact take
many forms, using many kinds of insect as a host – though always swarming
insects, and it seems they cannot keep such a form for long. Foremost, this is a
creature of impossibilities; by rights it shouldn’t exist at all – and its very
presence invites questions that have few clear answers.
Appearance. A Hiveling is a creature made up of thousands of smaller creatures – a swarm which takes on a defined shape and intelligence, becoming an entirely different entity from the creatures that make it up. Hivelings can consist of almost any kind of swarming creature, so the appearance varies considerably. Because of the density of the swarm, they often look very solid, and can be exceptionally beautiful – a Groshmite Hiveling, for instance, looks like a fantastic glittering figure whose skin is made up of countless shards of flickering glass, each reflecting the waxy shine of the insects’ abdomens. Living Sand Hivelings, in contrast, are more like a slender golem formed from a living sandstorm. More common than either of these is the Honeybee Hiveling, which looks a little like it is made of crushed velvet and broken mirrors.
Picture description. And there was a buzzing coming from all sides, and insect after insect came together to form a humanoid form - the Hiveling creature... Picture drawn by Seeker.
Almost any animal that naturally forms dense swarms can make up a Hiveling. The
best documented examples are honeybees,
groshmites, living sand,
needle flies, dergimar flies,
pikewing moths, snowflake bugs, ter’ter, and
silverwood bugs, though there are rumours and old stories concerning Hivelings
of birds, and even bats.
The first thing people know of a Hiveling, though, is usually the sound they make. Most swarming creatures make some degree of noise, be it the rustling of wings, the buzzing of many insects, or the chittering-hissing of thousands of tiny bodies moving as one. As you can probably imagine, this sound takes on an entirely new aspect when under the eerie influence of the Hiveling. The sound of a Hiveling is unique – a sonorous buzzing, loud and resonant enough to set the teeth on edge, coupled with a soft whispering undertone formed from the movements of so many tiny bodies. The strange way that the sounds rise and fall can have an uncanny resemblance to speech.
Hivelings are essentially transient beings, as far as we can tell, and have little in the way of a fixed appearance. There are a few commonalities, though. Most often they take on a roughly humanoid appearance, without facial features or much definition to the body. They do, however, appear to be able to mimic movement beautifully, and reports of the phenomenon often remark on the incredibly expressive gestures and body language of Hivelings which appear in this form.
Though most Hivelings are fairly androgynous, specifically female Hivelings have been seen, especially among desert manifestations – which usually involve the living sand creature. In the deserts of Aeruillin, where they are especially frequent, they are called "Svaigja" ("swaying ones"), for their constant dancing motion. “Female” Hivelings seem, at least as far as witnesses are concerned, to be very obviously female. They are usually described as having voluptuous, sinuous forms which, though as shifting and nebulous as other Hivelings, seem aptly to evoke the aspects of the female figure most noticeable to men.
Hivelings don’t always take human form, either. In some places they copy elf, dwarf, and especially orcen forms, usually according to which race they live in closest proximity to. Like the human shapes, these tend to be low in detail, and it is only by generalities that the species being imitated are discernable.
Even animals are occasionally imitated. Horse-shaped Hivelings may be seen around Phalagor in Aeruillin. Giant bird shaped individuals seem more common in mountainous habitats, and the famous swarmghost of Nothesby was known to take a highly unusual shape – like a massive flock of crows, indistinguishable from real birds except for the rustling buzzing sounds that replaced the cawing that a witness might expect.
The size of such creatures can also vary – some are truly giants, such as the great dragon-shaped Hiveling of Mount Norong’Sorno, and the aforementioned swarmghost of Nothesby, which, when in the shape of a man, was said to stand over ten peds tall. This, though, is the largest ever recorded, and the sheer number of insects required to sustain such a form make Hivelings this size incredibly rare. Most are around the size of an average adult, or a little larger.
It seems that a Hiveling can, if it wants, take almost any conceivable shape; in the jungles of Nybelmar, for example, needle fly Hivelings take the form of a giant face or hand. Though the shape of a Hiveling seems to be an important factor in its behaviour, it would seem that almost anything is possible.
Some scholars have argued that the Hiveling is merely the result of an unusual
and as yet unexplained behaviour among normal swarming insects. This seems
unlikely, however, given the clear intelligence displayed so often by Hivelings.
Though a swarm is often credited with a strange “hive mind”, which gives the
appearance of sentience, to stretch this to include the unnervingly recognisable
behaviours often shown by Hivelings seems beyond the pale.
The minds of Hivelings seem to have some haunting similarities with our own, but approaching it from the other direction, as it were. They display curiosity, understanding, and even give the impression of being driven by definite desires. They are able to defend themselves, to interact with people they meet, to learn by copying, and even to communicate. What meagre evidence we have on these rare creatures must be read as suggesting they have levels of sentience as great as, perhaps greater than, our own. Any more than that is hard to say, though there have been many suggestions that they are some form of Moh-Melor which specialise in possessing swarming insects.
As well as this extraordinary, incomprehensible mind, the individuals making up this greater creature seem to carry an indelible link with each other, allowing them to move with astonishing synchronicity and grace. Watching a man-shaped Malise-Hiveling “walking” towards you, his feet several nailsbreadths above the ground, his hand stretching curiously towards you, brings home the immense precision with which they move. This kind of motion seems to capture but also to emphasise the natural grace and beauty of our simplest gestures.
A less documented but possibly very important ability of Hivelings is that they can call insects towards them. As transient creatures, they seem to dissipate after a period of time, but this can occasionally be several months, a lot longer than the lifespan of the insects making them up. Several researchers have remarked that any suitable creatures passing by will stop in their tracks as soon as they come near to a Hiveling, and head straight towards it, until they join the swarm. This is possibly a clue as to how they sustain what must surely be an exhausting effort for individual insects. It could also hint that the Hiveling is indeed an entirely separate entity to the insects, which it calls to for the purpose of creating a body.
Territory. Hivelings are found wherever sufficient numbers of swarming creatures exist, but when they will actually turn up is almost impossible to predict. They seem to lie dormant within hives for long periods of time, especially during cold weather, when the creatures they use are often asleep anyway. The regional differences are worth noting, as the type of host insect used seems markedly to affect their attributes and character, so I will briefly outline them here:
The Malise Hiveling is more widespread than others; this is the closest to a “typical” Hiveling you can get, almost always forming a vague man-shaped swarm. It is also the most curious and communicative of the Hivelings, and is found throughout Sarvonia.
The Groshmite Hiveling is a more aggressive Hiveling, but not particularly dangerous. They most often take man, elf or orc forms, but will occasionally imitate large birds or other animals. They are found mainly in lightly forested areas of central Santharia.
The Dergimar Fly Hiveling most often takes a birdlike form, though humanoid figures are also seen. Often territorial, this Hiveling tends to protect specific areas, such as a mountain peak, from all intruders. It can be found throughout rocky or mountainous areas of northern Santharia.
The Needle Fly Hiveling, or "Nohopuku", is highly dangerous; it has taken to actively attacking humans and animals it meets. They are easily identified by their form of a fearsome face, which changes to a giant hand when attacking. Thankfully, they are rare but localised in tropical Nybelmar, especially the Jungles of Shar and the Drifting Woods.
The Silverwood Hiveling is uncommon, but impressive, as the silver sheen lends a more solid appearance to the shapes it makes. They form small figures, with a wraithlike, often elfish shape. This is the most common exhibitor of dancing behaviour. They are found in the Thaelon Forest and the Silvermarshes, where the mullogs refer to them as “joyful eru”.
The Living Sand Hiveling, or "Svaigja", is particularly playful, despite the fearsome reputation of their host creature. It usually manifests in feminine or horse-shape, which can move at incredible speed. This Hiveling is found throughout the deserts of Aeruillin.
The Pikewing Moth Hiveling is frequent in areas of the Krean jungles, where they form large, dangerous and swiftly dissipating figures known as “Shushuin”, a word which describes aptly the sound that the wings make as they rustle against each other. Though they are not often lethal, they can cause serious injuries – targeting lone travellers, usually in the shape of extremely broken and shifting figures, some of which are apparently headless.
The Snowflake Hiveling is little known, as its habitat is so harsh and its host insect so deadly. The few fragmented reports available speak of female figures who appear desperate to attract the attention of those who see them, but barely last long enough for a witness to get face to face.
The Ter’ter Hiveling, Norongon-dragon, or Faerhorál's Spirit is formidable, but not really dangerous. This Hiveling forms out of the ter‘ters of the Lands of Pain, taking a dragon-like form, with a wingspan estimated at up to twelve peds.
The behaviour of Hivelings – the aspect of them which marks them out as so
utterly different from other creatures, falls into three rough categories –
aggression, communication, and indifference. If you meet a Hiveling and it is
aware of your presence, the chances are that it will present one of these three
Aggression is the best recorded of Hiveling behaviours, though in truth it is not nearly as common as often believed. That said, for anyone who meets with aggression from a Hiveling and escapes, the experience will doubtless make a major impression. More often than not the aim of these aggressive behaviours seems to be more to chase people away than to attack or kill them directly. Bird-shaped Hivelings especially seem to display this vaguely territorial behaviour. One traveller described a magnificent specimen of dergimar flies in the shape of a massive eagle, which, in his words...
“...swooped repeatedly at me, each time rearing back only
nailsbreadths from my
face and pausing before me, flapping its great gleaming wings so that they
surrounded me, each curving, shimmering “feather” appearing to shift and
merge with its neighbours, slipping in and out of the swarm as a whole.
After each swoop it would rear back, gain height and swoop again. As I
kept moving forward the margin by which it missed my face was reduced, and
I felt thousands of insects brush against my skin. As these attacks were
repeated with steadily increasing intensity, my nerve broke and I
retreated. As I got further away it dived a last couple of times, before
hovering at a distance, unmistakeably watching me, as if to make sure I
was definitely leaving.”
of defensive behaviour is not entirely harmless, however. If it is a stinging
insect or a carnivore such as the pikewing moth,
the victim will be lucky to get away unharmed. It is unusual for serious injury
to be caused, though, unless the intruder categorically refuses to leave.
Paradoxically, despite the fierce intelligence and the incredible co-ordination
they show in their movements, Hivelings seem to be a little less dangerous, on
the whole, than the creatures that often make them up. Some have suggested that
Hivelings make a concerted effort to suppress the natural aggression of their
hosts, and attack from one means that it has lost control of the instincts
multiplied a thousandfold within its mind.
Some aggressive behaviours, however, are a great deal more dangerous than risking a few groshmite bites. In the Jungles of Shar, Hivelings formed from large swarms of needle flies have become unusually predatory, a terrifying prospect that has earned it the undying dread of local people. Known as "Nohopuku", translating literally as “I will not speak”, it appears typically as a great fearsome face, which growls and roars soundlessly at the victim, apparently aiming to scare them. If they should open their mouth to cry out in fear, the face is seamlessly transformed into a great hand, which reaches out as if to take the victim’s tongue, and pours itself down their throat, so that they promptly choke to death on thousands of needle flies. The insects then feed on the unfortunate victim, before dissipating, all appearance of collective intelligence gone.
Terrifying though such a prospect is, it is very uncommon. More frequent are instances of Hivelings appearing to want to communicate with people they run into. This is a most perplexing behaviour, most often because such attempts are rarely very successful. As they have little in the way of voice, they have to put all their communications into the form of mime or gesture. Human or orcen Hivelings are the commonest candidates for communicative behaviour, and malise-formed ones especially seem to show an abiding interest in people, and an almost desperate urge to speak to those they come across. Unfortunately, the low success rate of such efforts means that we can’t tell what it is they think is so important. To be face to face with such earnest, determined efforts in a creature displaying all the traits of intelligence, confusion, curiosity and frustration is an extraordinary, but also disheartening experience, as the realisation dawns on both parties that the message it is trying to convey is almost impossible to express through such limited means.
Some scholars are attempting to create some kind of common language by which they could communicate more meaningfully, but the unpredictable nature of Hivelings makes this almost prohibitively tricky. Stories are full of communication with Hivelings, though, and this combined with some of the gestures often seen in Hiveling communication has led scholars to suggest that maybe in the past people knew how to talk to these strange entities, and the knack has been lost. This would certainly explain the frustration the Hivelings show. Though most attempts at communication are unsuccessful, there are exceptions among the Kaaer'dar’shin, whose instinctive sensitivity to body language makes them better able to understand the generalities that Hivelings are trying to get across.
Hivelings don’t always react to people with such vehemence. They are equally as likely to act as if nobody else existed. To say that Hivelings can ignore people, though, is by no means to say that people should ignore Hivelings when in this “mood” (for want of a better word). They act entirely as if they were alone, and some of the spectacles they produce like this form the most incredible and telling accounts of Hiveling behaviour. This account was given by a young Maeverhim boy, who unfortunately declined to give his name.
“I saw it below me,
through the trees, and froze – it looked like a great, dark man; I
couldn’t think what they might be doing in my forest and it worried me a
little, I’ll admit. I know I was keeping absolutely still, but the next
moment it turned and looked straight at me - only it had no face. I know
it was looking at me, though - something in the way its arms moved, head
tilted, made it seem mildly interested, even a little surprised to see me.
It had moved much closer, and was standing in a patch of sunlight, so I
could see it was no man. It was made entirely of malise – I believe you
call them bees, no? The appearance was quite strange - it seemed like its
skin was crawling.
Depends which theory about what a Hiveling you believe. With the possible
exception of nohopuku, none have been witnessed doing anything that might be
considered eating. Some scholars claim that they are a parasitic entity a
somewhat like a specialised form of wraith, which
inhabits and controls whole swarms at a time, living off the food they have
stored in their bodies until the insects are “used up” and die of exhaustion.
This would explain their transience, and also the heaps of dead insects which
are occasionally explained as being “dead Hivelings”.
Yet another possible explanation is that they are immortal but formless spirits which associate with large hives, possibly through a natural affinity with the “hive mind” mentality, and occasionally embody the swarm for short periods of time, a little like a guardian spirit. If this is the case, they never eat, other than by indirectly using the energy the insects get from their food to move. Unfortunately, the fragmentary nature of knowledge about Hivelings means there is evidence that points to all and any of these behaviours, and other behaviours, such as the nohopuku, which seems to dissipate as it eats, which don’t seem to fit with anything else we think we know about Hivelings.
Mating. Who knows? These are creatures that seem unable to hold a solid form for more than a few months. They’ve only ever been recorded alone, never together, and their bodies are an amalgamation of thousands of tiny creatures, most often composed largely of infertile workers, as is so often the case in social insects. It’s hard to think of how they could possibly breed, hard even to know if they need to, if, as some suggest, they are immortal. There’s so much we’ve still to understand about these creatures that almost everything we can say about them is based on conjecture and guesswork.
Myth/Lore. As aforementioned, the greater bulk of what we know, or think we know, about Hivelings comes from ancient stories, songs and accounts. Some of the oldest songs, telling of “malise-men”, and the untranslated word “dronomin”, suggest that they used to be better understood, even able to speak with people, but for some reason the closeness was lost between them, and now they are these frustratingly mysterious entities that we can almost, but not quite, connect with. Examples of this paradoxical relationship can be found in many works, such as the following, a text so old that word of mouth has worn it into something between song and story, and smoothed away rhyme or rhythm.
Man Made of Bees
I was in love with a man of bees.
He came to me from the sighs of flowers and from soft green glades, melting into shape before me from the corners of wild places.
He told me I completed him.
He told me in a million voices that I was his queen, that without me he would drift apart, that piece by piece he would drop to the ground, lost and alone.
His breathing made my heart shiver.
He could not lie, or smile, but he had a million hearts, all strong and fierce and wild.
He laughed at the sun, and knew the secrets kept within unopened flower buds.
His eyes were the glitter of glass wings.
He protected me from my enemies, his desperate embrace veiling me in yellow.
He promised to protect me with every life he possessed.
He brought me the childlike laughter of trees, and the stories written in fields of wild grass.
But he was scared to touch me, he called me his girl made of raindrops, and said I was too impossible and too fleeting.
I told him he was just as impossible, just as fleeting.
I told him I would guard him against cold minds, against indifferent winds and callous storm clouds.
He told me my eyes looked like lightning, and I told him his looked like the other side of shadows.
He kissed me, and yellow velvet brushed my cheeks, eyelids, neck.
He kissed me, and my lips burnt, my tongue, my throat, like a thousand poisoned needles.
I put my hands in his, and my palms were punctured, my veins seared by soft venom.
My throat closed, like a flower bud watching the setting sun.
I watched his glittering eyes until mine blurred with raindrop tears, trying to cool the fierce heat of his kiss on my lips.
I listened to his voice, calling my name as my body gave up on air.
My heartbeat faltered, stopped.
His million hearts scattered, to burst, one by one, the first raindrops in a storm.
I was in love with a man made of bees.
Aside from those described
in songs and stories, there are a number of famous Hivelings throughout history
who have made enough of an impact on local people that they’ve gained names for
themselves. The nohopuku has already been mentioned, but there are many others.
In Aeruillin is a horse-shaped Hiveling known as Dusty,
which, local folklore asserts, will grant four wishes to anyone who can beat it
in a race. Almost every kind of Hiveling seems to have a nebula of myth
surrounding it. Some are credited with divine inspiration, such as the snowflake
Hiveling, which the Ice Tribes
believe is an aspect of Nechya, their mother goddess, because of the way it
makes the usually deadly snowflakes harmless. Others are heralded as ancient
monsters; in the Lands of Pain, Hivelings take the extraordinary form of an
enormous, darkly glittering dragon, whose regular appearance round Mount
Norong’Sorno every 6 years has led it to be connected with the great black drake
believed to live in these parts, known as the Norrak, and even with Faerhorál,
the Demon Lord of Fire.
Perhaps the most famous individual Hiveling of all is the swarm-ghost of Nothesby. This immense specimen was a near constant presence around the village of Nothesby in the year 483 b.S. Many have drawn attention to the fact that this was almost immediately before the formation of Tharania, and it’s true that, in many places, Hivelings, with their mysterious transience and apparently urgent messages to convey, are deemed to be important omens of great events to come. The following account is from a report written by Iago Trome, the steward of Nothesby at the time, to the mayor of nearby Thyslan:
“My lord, I request your
advice in a matter of utmost singular nature – an impossible emanation of
the realms of fancy is haunting the village, and not one of us is able to
imagine what it could mean or how best to deal with it. The peasants call
it swarm-ghost, referring to a superstitious fairy-tale that I was at
first unwilling to believe, but I am finding myself forced to accept their
assertions as truth. I would not waste your time with such tales if we in
Nothesby were not truly at our wits end as to how to rid ourselves of the
creature – it has plagued us for almost half a year, and the distress and
confusion its presence causes is unbearable.
The conclusion to the story of the swarmghost is controversial and subject to much rumour and scepticism. This account was written by an unknown cleric from Thyslan, sent in response to Trome’s plea:
“The foreign sorcerer
that my lord has sent is a most disturbingly eerie person to travel with.
I am sure he is no man, by which I do not mean he is of the gentler races,
such as the elves or Halflings. He is short and talks, when he talks at
all, in a beast-like growl, his nails are disgustingly long and he
absolutely refuses to show his face, keeping always a deep hood and a
heavy scarf which obscures all but his eyes, which are a disconcerting
shade of pale orange. I can only thank the gods that we are nearing our
destination, and will soon be able to part ways. I can say with no fear of
contradiction that he feels the same about me. He may barely have said ten
words to me on this whole blasted journey, but those he did made his
feelings unavoidably clear. I dearly hope he is equal to the task ahead.