The site was not far from the village. Strangely close, actually, if you knew what you were looking for and avoided the birds as he did. He had become quite good at this. He had stumbled upon the find while out hunting one night and thereafter been coming back here for weeks now.
There was something haunting about the place. Something tragic and, perhaps, something alluring.
“Mind those roots and then just down here,” he motioned with one of his arms, “careful, it’s steep. OK, now look around you.”
The collection of them stood in a dip in the ground. It was unnaturally square-shaped with sloping sides. Giant trees towered over them, circling and hiding the grey sky and its blasted sunlight from their sensitive eyes. It was naughty to be out during the day. There were birds out this time but it was also the only time he could sneak them away from the elders thousand sets of eyes.
“What are we looking at, Mibby?” asked Flinny, one of the younger roaches as he squinted around him, “Why are we here? Why is this hole so weirdly shaped?”
Mibby grinned, his mandibles extending gruesomely out.
“This is an entrance to the Ancients’ network of tunnels. Do you see that over there,” he scuttled across to a side near the tangled entrance to a dark, ominous maw, “Look here, watch this.”
It took three of his hands to pull back the roots and vegetation but as he did, they revealed a corner of something red. Slowly, as he pulled back more vegetation back–and the other jumped in to help him–a gargantuan visage appeared…
It was a strikingly-red sign with rusted white borders. In the middle of the mystical rune lay a strangely familiar form. Similar to all of them but with a round head and only two legs and two arms towering over them, maybe a hundred times bigger.
It held one white claw upwards and one by its side like it was saying something. It wanted you to do something, maybe?
It was old and expressionless. Pure despite the rust. It stirred up their primal, instinctual dread, handed down generation to generation in dark myths of the distant past. It was from Before-the-Light and hidden by the Age-of-Darkness that followed for millennia thereafter.
It was a human. Or, at least, a sign made by the Ancient Giants that had once ruled this world.
The young ones gasped, limbs twitching nervously around them. Before now, some of them had thought the Ancients were just tales. Many debated if they even existed at all? Few things were left from that distant past. The Light had destroyed most of everything while the Darkness had hidden the rest under crumbling ages and thick dirt and rust.
“Come, let’s see where the Tunnels lead?” Mibby asked, grinning, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
The Tunnels ran for clicks and clicks. They were circular in the weirdly-geometric way that the Ancients made everything. There was a small trickle of sweet-smelling water meandering through the middle of all of them.
The band of roaches scuttled cautiously through the darkness, strangely at home down here. Darkness and, even, damp suited them fine. Every now and then they would stop to look at some strange, colored artifact from a bygone age. Sometimes it was a twisted, colorful material–the type that you could neither eat, nor chew nor even nature could touch or break-down–or a rusted bizarre shape that rattled when they poked it? Sometimes is was an even more indescribable object?
They would all stop and scuttle all over each of these things until Mibby would raise his head, his mandibles quivering, and lead them deeper into the Tunnels.
The Tunnels met countless other tunnels. Some large, some small. Some had remains of rusted teeth covering them while others ended abruptly before great drops into dark, turbulent depths with violent running water far blow. Most, though, were collapsed with rubble, dirt and black ash filling them.
What had the Ancients used these marvelous tunnels from? What purpose could the Tunnels have served such giant beings? Where did they go and where did they end?
Such questions the roaches pondered in silence as they wandered deeper and deeper in this labyrinth.
“Look, light!” Duffy–one of the hatchlings–exclaimed, pointing all of her arms down an upwardly sloping side-tunnel. A single shaft of light pierced the comfortable gloom revealing something.
“Maybe it is where the Tunnels lead?” Mibby whispered aloud, “Maybe we will see an Ancient down there?”
Each of them squinted, covering their eyes as they scuttled out of the half-collapsed Tunnel. After the comfortable darkness of inside, the harsh, grey light filtering through the trees around them was piercing and uncomfortable.
“Look! Look all around us,” Mibby hissed, excitedly, “We are in the middle of what must’ve been an Ancient’s dwelling!”
Despite huge trees towering over them with gnarled roots everywhere, there were unmistakable traces of the crumbled outlines of walls in square-geometric patterns around them. A rusted pipe stuck out near them and lead through a crumbled pile of something into what must have been the inside of an Ancient dwelling.
“I’ve heard about this,” muttered Flinny, “My great-great granny on my twenty-third sibling’s-side says that the Ancients all built false-caves to live in. They too would hide from the harsh Sun in these false-caves. This must be the garden or courtyard outside its false-cave.”
Mibby was hardly listening as he stepped slowly forward. He had dreamt about the Ancients since he was little more than a hatchling. This was the most wondrous find of all! What wonders might lie just inside those crumbling, roofless walls? If they had mouths, what stories might they have told?
The roaches scuttled from the drain across the courtyard and passed the crumbling walls to stand–for the first time in millennia–in the kitchen of men.
“Wow,” breathed Duffy, “The Ancients were incredible! Why were we scared of th–“
But the little hatchling never finished her sentence.
A dark, looming shadow that they had all mistaken as a tree darted and apocalypse exploded downwards onto Duffy. A sick, shuddering crunch emitted from where Duffy had once been and a rusted, dirty object stood instead.
Mibby cleaned his eyes in disbelief. His conscious mind was slow to work out what had happened to Duffy and what the large, moving shadow was. Despite this, deep inside him there remained the primal, animalistic instincts of a cockroach and his legs were already scuttling faster than the eye can see towards the opening, safe, comfortably darkness of the drain and the Tunnels below it…
And Flinny’s scream was cut short in another sickening crunch, one of his severed legs flying across Mibby’s vision. The younglings and hatchlings were screaming. Panicked legs were scurrying towards the drain. One of the young one’s wings buzzed and they tried to take flight. It was a deeply unnatural motion–flight was culturally frowned on by the nest–but perhaps it was some instinct triggered by the panic!
And the flying hatchling was snapped out of the air. Her screams cut short as the looming darkness with writhing arms-of-death hardly noticed it…
Then Mibby was in the drain, scuttling down into the safe darkness of the Tunnels and away from the horrors left behind by the Ancients. Most of the others had made it there too, whimpering and sobbing, but alive. At least, most of them were alive.
The final thing that Mibby heard booming down the Tunnel after them was a terrifying, static-filled voice announcing to the nonexistent Ancients: “PESTS TERMINATED. HOUSE-BOT RETURNING TO SOLAR-RECHARGE STATION.”
Mibby swore quietly to himself that he would never come back to this terrifying place. The monster can stay out there in the woods. Every story they had been told about the Ancients was true! They were monsters! He was glad that they had all died long ago.