Torment Singer Hornet
The screams didn't stop, but by the time we got there it wasn't people doing the screaming anymore.
Most of Tairos' species are well documented and understood. After all, sages dedicated to such fields of study are as old as written word itself. However; after The Queen's Rebuke and with the coming of the Fae, new species started taking root. Some owe their creation to the toxic mana in the Leylines. Others are nightmare creatures that were brought or tagged along with the Fae who came to settle here. Some are spawn of the Totem Spirits of Tairos or leftover servants of the Gods. Attributing any particular origin to most of these new species is guesswork at best though. Such is the case for the malignant nocturnal predators known as Torment Singers.
These creatures are most often called hornets due to their physical characteristics; they display many of the behaviors found in both bees and wasps as well. The Torment Singers live in a nested structure usually found in caves, underground burrows, or abandoned structures and operate with some of the similarities of a bee hive such as producing honey, containing an egg-laying queen, and coordinating their food gathering efforts. That is where the similarities to beneficent bees ends. Torment Singers are hunters first and foremost. Their scouting efforts are aimed not at finding sources of sugar but communities of vulnerable prey. Once a scout returns they do not relay the information with dance but instead with pheromonal discharges and the mimicking of noises associated with natural/known landmarks. If possible, a scout will always return with a living victim of the prey community. This victim is perhaps the most unfortunate of all those to cross the path of the hornets. It is meticulously bitten and ripped apart with the powerful mandibles of Torment Singers who are careful not to kill this victim too quickly. The members of this nest use these agonizing moments to learn shrieks of their prey so that they can replicate them during their invasion.
The most notable facet of Torment Singer anatomy is the ridges, plates, and hollow honey-comb like structure of their abdomen armor. This, combined with their brain (rather than a simple nerve ganglia found in most similar species) allows them very accurately mimic the voices of their victims. Their specialized armor and highly developed brain use these memorizations to lure victims in or separate prey prior to invasion. During invasions this mimicry continues and often leads to a collapse of coordination, panic, and scattering of the prey. All of this helps to make prey communities easier to devour.
Torment Singers are not simply dangerous predators but also dreadfully intelligent. Their natural behaviors border on sadistic while their preferred form of hunting can only be described as cruel. They lack emotion entirely but their level of intellect is comparable to more advanced group hunters such as wild dogs, wolves, and the big cats of the Balmoran plains. Once an attack is fully underway Torment Singers generally focus on gorging themselves individually unless a larger threat or obstacle demands the group's focus. When such coordination is again required in an attack the hornets will secrete certain "attack pheremones" through a gland in their stinger. Victims touched by or injected with this mixture will quickly become the target of other nest mates. This intelligence does not extend to other types of learning though. They don't seem to have any talent for tool use like apes and some avians but it should be noted that they are notorious problem solvers when it comes to breaking down fortifications of those trying to escape them. Their repertoire of "songs" is generally limited to that of one overheard victim at a time. Only exceptional hunters, Queens, and Ronins have ever demonstrated ability to remember more than one song at a time. Their memory of remembered songs tends to fade after as well. Queens do seem able to remember songs for months on end and often lead their nests in "practice concerts" to reinforce the retention of certain helpful songs.
Knowledge of these creatures is a new revelation. While stories of such monsters have been told and retold for the last half a century by travelers who still visit the Balmoran plains there has never been any satisfying evidence to corroborate their existence. That has since changed after a recent sighting by members of a scouting party belonging to the Grand Order of the Lion. It would seem that the hunting and nesting territory of the hornets is slowly expanding northward and into Frial's territory. The exact cause of this expansion is as of yet unknown.
Torment Singers are built similar to other vespid life forms with a head, thorax, and large abdomen. Thorax and Abdomen are joined together by a waist-like segment known as Petiole which allows for extreme flexibility when grounded and during flight. Two membranous wings can be found on the Thorax and are anchored into the body by strong muscle-like structures. The head has a pair of antenna as well as large compound eyes. The wings of the Torment Singer appear fragile but are in fact one of the more durable areas of their anatomy. Thanks to the vein-like structures that the run the length of the wings they are able to quickly inflate if crumbled or heal damage. The wings contain very little in the way of nerves making wounds wounds or damage to them barely noticeable by the hornet. The only long-term vulnerable area of the wing is the mounting structure. If this area is sufficiently damaged or destroyed the wing will cease to function and eventually wither. This is a difficult task thanks to the armor plating they possess but not impossible. Grounded hornets, those that have lost the use of their wings, are shunned by the nest and often killed if they make repeated efforts to rejoin. The antennae on the top of their heads act as a sensory hub for their senses of smell, taste, and touch. Tiny hair-like pieces of chitin transmit information along bundles of nerves within the structure and to the brain. These are extremely vital organs that aid in exploration, communication, and hunting. They do quickly regrow or regenerate if lost but potential prey should consider them a vulnerable location when trying to defend themselves. They are very sensitive and damaging these organs might quickly put an end to an ongoing attack. This is an area that is frequently targeted by hornets during nest wars. Torment Singers' have a long, hollow, rapier-like stinger that is generally retracted into their abdomen and held there by powerful muscle-like organs. These organs will contract to deploy the stinger and then oscillate to create a sewing-machine like effect to perforate their targets multiple times. The goal being multiple points of entry for their venom. Their venom has extremely high levels of the chemical element Acetylcholine (comprising roughly 15%). This chemical is not only the primary driver in paralyzing prey but in most humanoid species the presence of this substance results in very extreme pain. Those not paralyzed by an injection of the venom are often left crippled by agonizing pain in the nerves near the injection site. The mandibles of the hornet are made of some of the densest chitin found on their bodies. These mouth-parts are designed for slicing and peeling, making them ideal for cracking into the carapace of enemies from other nests and peeling back the shell to expose vulnerable areas beneath. When used during attacks against non-hornet targets the result is often deep slicing wounds similar to axe wounds. Hornets looking to retrieve prey for implantation by the Queen will use their mandibles to dismember prey, often with a single bite. They will typically eat the severed limb before transporting the victim back to the nest. The hornets are not able to digest bone very well and often avoid eating it. Nests are generally filled with bones and piles of bone can be found nearby in mass graves. Hunters are often tasked with cleaning out the nest and will use a single site to deposit unwanted remains of both prey and their own dead (minus any meat that can be eaten of course).
Genetics and Reproduction
The Queen of the nest is responsible for all breeding and egg-laying duties as is typical with Vespids. Sections within the nest are filled with honeycomb structures where the Queen will lay new generations. Torment Singers are not deposited directly in their cells but instead planted within still-living hosts via ovipositor before being cocooned inside the honeycombs. The Torment Singers produce a type of honey that is filled into these honeycombs with the host that norishes them and also keeps them paralyzed thanks to certain secretions from their stinger mixed into the honey. The honeycomb is then capped off with an organic resin (the same that nests are made of) where the pupae will incubate for about a week, consuming the paralyzed victim, before slipping into torpor-like state to finish growing.
Growth Rate & Stages
After about fifty to sixty days Torment singer will emerge from their blood and bile tinted honey pool roughly half of their eventual full size. They will continue to mature and grow over the next thirty days till reaching adulthood and will generally live until the winter frost kills them. When no such environmental factors intercede a Torment Singer is capable of living for two to three years. Queens generally survive periods of long cold by entombing themselves within a large resin honeycomb with amble stock to feed on and large amounts of honey as well. Queens are capable of living for a decade or more.
Ecology and Habitats
Torment Singers thrive in temperate climates. Extreme cold and frost tends to kill them off quickly while long periods of extreme heat lead to birth defects in typical hunters and sterilization in Queens.
Dietary Needs and Habits
The hornets require large amounts of protein to thrive, typically needing to eat their body weight in meat over the course of a seven to ten day period. Their birthing process also requires ample meat.
Queens sit at the head of the nest hierarchy and their pheromonal orders are typically obeyed without question. Below the Queen is the rest of the Hunters who make up the nest. They are both worker, scout, and soldier when needed as well as mate for the Queen when a new brood is required. Some Torment Singers are what is known as Ronin. These hornets are lone males who have lost their nest and their Queen. They act as dangerous solitary killers but rarely survive long on their own. Worth noting, when a nest is going through a stretch of difficult times the Hunters have been known to turn on their Queen, attacking her as a swarm together and devouring her nutrient-rich body and eggs. Consuming her reproductive organs often triggers a biological process in many of the hornets that results in a gender transition and eventual change into a Queen. Those that begin to change become hyper-violent and seek out other proto-queens to attack and kill. This bloodshed only ends when one last Queen remains and the others have died or fled. This is also how the species spreads, as nests go to war with other nests. the Queen of the losing side is devoured and the hunters who consumed her begin to turn into Queens themselves. Those that aren't killed by their own Queen or nest mates will fly off to establish their own brood.
It was assumed impossible until observes witnessed a tribe of goblins known as the Swarm Speakers using these hornets as both mounts and "attack dogs". The nature of this particular relationship is as of yet unknown but it remains the one instance of domestication currently known.
While mostly imperceptible to other species there are slight coloration differences to the faces of individuals and the sheen/hue of their individual ommatidia. This means they are able to identify each other by sight as well as by pheromonal secretion. It also means they are very much able to identify member of other species by facial characteristics well. These traits seem to have developed to better facilitate wars between nests and prevent misidentification of members or intruders at a distance
Perception and Sensory Capabilities
Torment Singers have a very advanced auditory capabilities thanks to their Tympanal organs. These feed information into their nervous system and brain to allow for better mimicry and for the processing/identification/locating sounds. The nature of this organ makes them very perceptive of vibrations as well. Their eyes work on the same principle as most other insect predators: allowing for a wide field of vision, sensitivity to movement and light polarization. Their eyes have specialized zones of Ommatidia that provide for better detail resolution and near-perfect night vision.
Symbiotic and Parasitic organisms
The larvae of the Torment Singer are very much parasitic, using the protein of their host as a food source to power their early growth spurt
Civilization and Culture
Interspecies Relations and Assumptions
Torment Singers are truly nightmarish species that is almost universally reviled by those that meet them (the Swarm Speakers being the lone exception). Their expansion and voracious dietary requirements are such that whole regions would quickly find themselves depopulated should the threat not be dealt with quickly.
Seasonal for hunters. A decade for Queens
approximately five to six feet