The Necromancer bees

Codex Inversus
5 min readAug 1, 2021

The Necromancer Bees (also known as Necrobees) have an unremarkable appearance: they resemble more ants than honeybees, they are small, stingless, black with a dark blue hue (no hint of the typical yellow), and the workers have mandibles. What makes them stand out is their scavenger diet and ability to animate corpses of small animals and use them as moving beehives (sometimes jokingly called zombeehive).

The life cycle of necrobees starts with a queen and her swarm nesting in a carcass. Usually, they choose small animals like dogs, cats, or foxes, but sometimes they try to settle in veals, foals, or even bigger dead animals. The bees feed for a day or two on the carrion, and then they make it move in an optimal spot, somewhere protected by rocks or in a hollow tree.
The bees build the typical wax cells and store honey in the animal’s torso, starting from the rib cage. They also clean their “home” of eggs and larvae of other insects, delaying the decomposition process. The necrobees use their corpse-hive as a food source when necessary, but they will try to find as much food as possible on the “outside”. When they find a dead animal, they cut their flesh with their mandibles, eat some, and then regurgitate it in the hive where it becomes honey and wax. These scavenger bees’ preferred spot is the edge of the woods, from where they can scout both the wilderness and the farms for all kinds of carrion (preferably mammals). They are most active in the twilight hours.

If there is an exceptional food resource nearby (like the carcass of a deer or a cow), they will move the hive, making it walk. The bees seem to calculate the optimal option between moving their home or continue with back and forth food runs. The animated corpse moves in a generally slow and uncoordinated way, with occasional bursts of speed and precision when needed.

Moving the hive can be necessary if the colony is spotted or attacked. Necromancer bees have no stings, and while their bite can hurt, they sometimes have to defend themselves using the whole zombeehive. Most predators run away at the first sign of a counterattack; others, like the Eclipse Badgers, will engage in full-on fights. Running away from threads is not an option: animating and controlling a corpse is quite taxing for the swarm and a couple of well-placed paw strikes will do the job more efficiently most of the time.

Necromancer bees are not a rare sight in all the Axam continent, especially in small country villages. They are universally despised across cultures and considered harbingers of misfortunes. A shambling dead dog surrounded by buzzing insects is not only a pitiful sight but also an ominous sign. Worst if it’s one of your animals: if one of your pets or livestock becomes a corpse-hive, death in the family will follow (but be reassured, it’s only a superstition).
The orc spite-witches use zombeehive familiars, one of their many intimidating tinsels.
In the Angelic Unison, these bees are considered agents of the Undead Anti-Pope, and therefore they have to be killed on sight.
In the Beasts’ Nations, the necrobees have moved to some cities, feeding on trash and vermins, an unusual but not inconceivable behavior. What is strange is that some hives control more corpses at once, such as swarms of rats moved by the same necrobee queen. These urban “hordes” seem more proactive and aggressive than their wild counterpart.

The honey of the necrobees is bitter and can induce dark and desperate thoughts. There is a rumor that the necro-honey is a poison used by the infamous (and possibly fictional) crime syndicate The Cuckoos: allegedly, a little dose of honey every day, for two weeks, can drive anyone to suicide. Royal jelly does the work in three days.
The wax is not of high quality, but it produces a purple flame, making the necro-candles a novelty, especially sought after by wizards who want some cheap light effects for their tower (and maybe hope in some still undiscovered applications).

In the Holy Infernal Empire, the wizard Great Gwinnifar has been the first and foremost scholar of magical insects, following the steps of her master Shinar. Shinar’s study of the Conjuring Ants changed the perspective on the peculiar abilities of some creatures, looking at them as actual spellcaster rather than some uncategorizable oddity.
Gwinnifar, after some successful study of the Transmuting Snails and the Evoker Dragonflies, tackled the more complex and intriguing Necromancer Bees. If, like the other magic insects she examined, these bees were casting a spell, they had to make incantations, sounds or movements that shape the strands of the Mana Field.
She had made a glass cabinet to keep a hive, and she observed it with the most excellent mana-revealing lens of the Gnome Caliphate. It soon appeared that the bees walked some specific pattern before the corpse-hive moved. These movements were named the Animation Dance. Further studies revealed that a repertoire of simple dances was the basis of the complex Animation Dance. Once these “units” were identified, they could be spotted in the flight pattern of the swarm when the hive moved (this was named the Controlling Flight).

After these discoveries, Gwinnifar moved to her most ambitious project, the study of the Diviner Cicadas. Her son, Kalkier, kept studying the necrobees and their pattern. Even if he was in his early twenties was considered a master in his field and received generous donations from powerful patrons. Undead creation has always had a prominent role in the Infernal Empire: an after-life of forced labor is the usual sentence for major crimes (and a source of free workers). In recent times, methodical propaganda and new economic interests have quelled the prejudice against making the zombies work on farms, around crops and livestock. “You won’t become a zombie if you drink wine from grapes harvested by the undead!” ( but other less dramatic things can occur). The demand for more workers and the need for easier ways to control them grew drastically.
Kalkier cataloged the basic dances and used them as a base for magic sigil to facilitate the creation and control of zombies. These days these sigils are embroidered in the flesh of the prospect undead with special threads, making them easily animated and controlled even by novice Necromancer. Kalkier also analyzed the buzzing scheme, devising a song that can make the undead fall into a sort of slumber.
Kalkier’s studies caught the attention of the Angelic Unison, always on the watch for necromantic innovations to use against the Anti-pope and his devout hordes. Some Angelic Agent attempted to kidnap Kalkier and steal his work but it ended in tragedy: Kalkier fought back and was killed trying to escape his captors.
Gwinnifar saw the death of his son a week prior during a vision she had while replicating the Cicadas prophetic abilities. Some say that the knowledge of the imminent death of her beloved son, and the inability to do anything about it, was what ultimately lead her to her death from a broken heart.

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Codex Inversus

A world-building project. Art and stories from a fantasy world. All illustrations are mine: collages and rework of other art.