Sensing Nola’s evil eye on her, the giant ant gingerly pulled itself out of its hive and slowly crawled towards us, body shaking with every step.
This ant was completely different from the other Black Blood Ants in terms of size; it was at least the size of a small calf and I could tell that the hole was made just to fit it. As it finally emerged completely out of its hole, I was able to get a glimpse of its belly…it was familiar…just like a termite queen’s abdomen except that she was entirely black.
With how big her belly, there was no doubt in my mind that she was the Black Blood Ant Queen.
With a submissive look on her face, she slowly crawled up to Nola. As she did so, she had to drag her body through countless charred ant corpses; who knew how she must have felt then.
Truth be told, we didn’t intend to enter her hive at all. Our original plan was merely to eat our fill and then run away. Yet for some reason, the queen of said hive came out to meet us herself…exactly what was she up to here?
Nola wasn’t all that interested in the Black Blood Queen Ant. She merely gave her a quick glance and upon seeing that she wasn’t going to resist, continued lapping up the roasted ants while lazily throwing the queen ant a look from time to time.
Unlike Nola’s nonchalance, I could tell from just a quick exchange of glances that both Sinmosa and I viewed this matter seriously.
It had to be said once more that we honestly had no intention of wiping them out. The fact that she came crawling to Nola with a scared to death expression was beyond our expectations.
Even without my command, No.3 and Big 4 had already abandoned their feasting the moment the queen ant came into view. Having been my bodyguard from the very beginning, this act had become a habit for them and had instilled a strong sense of self-awareness in them. Their eyes stared squarely at the Black Blood Queen Ant as they guarded me from my flanks. Given their position, they could easily rush out to kill that queen ant while still being able to defend me. Assuming the queen ant even dared to make a move now…
With just three to four meters left between her and Nola, the Black Blood Queen Ant knelt in the most submissive manner possible…though she technically was kneeling to begin with… Once she finally pulled herself up to Nola, I could feel her soul shiver slightly before freezing up. Simply put, she was deathly afraid that Nola would gobble her up in one bite.
She lowered her head completely till it tapped the ground and then closed up her pincers. Then came a slightly hoarse but clearly female voice: “Esteemed…Invader…please…spare my hive…”
Her words weren’t smoothly delivered and often she had to pause between each as if she was stammering. However, that should have either been because of her lower intelligence or because she wasn’t used to communicating verbally with the tongue of the devil.
“We were merely hungry, even if you didn’t come up, we would have just left after we had our fill.” Nola stopped her feasting and arrogantly looked down at the Black Blood Queen Ant. “Even if you had just stayed down there, I wouldn’t have gone down to find you.”
“…” Hearing that, her face…to be honest, I couldn’t make out a blasted thing on her face but I could ‘see’ that she wanted to kick herself for digging this grave.
“Spare you? Why should I?” Nola’s lips curled into a devious smirk: “You’re the one who offered yourself up, I didn’t force you to do it.”
“…” Truly, this grave was one she had dug for herself. If she was able to cry, she would have probably done so by now.
“I’m willing to…offer…up…tribute…”
“Tribute? Well then, let’s have a look see.”
As she said that, Nola entered a negotiating mood, clearly interested in what this queen ant potentially had to offer.
“Under…stood…” From start to end, the Black Blood Queen Ant maintained a calm demeanour, even in the face of Nola’s taunting. There was no sign of resisting or anger whatsoever in her eyes. Since she came up of her own volition, she knew full well how huge the gap in power was between the two of them. She was worried that we would dig all the way to the bottom so she decided to just come out and beg for mercy. With that in mind, I wasn’t all too worried that she would try to pull anything funny now.
Having accepted that request from Nola, the queen ant then opened her mouth and let forth a strange, piercing cry that penetrated through the ground and into the deepest depths of her hive. Soon after that, her cry stopped and it was then that a huge swarm of ordinary worker ants came crawling out of the nest. Each had a particular similarity shared between all of them: they had on their heads a strange, uneven and reddish rock that was roughly the size of a soybean.
The reddish hue on those rocks looked rather familiar as if I had just seen it somewhere before and yet I just couldn’t put my finger on where I had done so. Why? Because I was very sure that I had never seen this particular rock before and yet it still felt so familiar…
“What’s that?” Nola wasn’t able to discern anything special about the rock so she asked the queen ant directly as such: “Is it enough for your ransom?”
Hearing that, the queen ant answered as such, without any intention of hiding the truth at all: “It’s…poop…”
“That’s right…it’s…our…poop…” Even though she had some difficulty enunciating that entire sentence, the meaning was very clear.
‘So what she’s saying is that she risked her life to offer up poop? Am I just that old that I can’t even keep up with the world or is it the world that’s changing too quickly? When did poop become valuable enough to be counted as tribute? Was she expecting us to return home and plant crops?’
By now, there was nothing but fury reflected on Nola’s narrowed eyes and distorted smile. The queen ant had clearly stated that she had something to offer up and yet what she showed us was poop…not just any old poop, but a whole pile of it… ‘Who the heck do you think you are?! The pet of a Devil King or something?!’
Nola was already about to flatten the queen ant into an ant patty, while the queen in question was still in the dark about how she had offended this powerful invader.
Yet just as I thought that it was all over for that queen, Mo Na pointed at the unending stream of worker ants carrying poop and exclaimed: “MAMA, that thing looks just like the rock on those golems. Mo Na thinks they are one and the same…”
‘What?! So the poop from these ants are similar to the rock materials used to create golems?!’
It was then that I finally understood why those poop rocks bugged me so much. ‘So that’s why I just can’t seem to remember where I saw them from. But if that’s true…that means the creator of the golems had asked these ants for their poop as tribute a long time ago.’
‘In that case, it makes sense that the queen ant would offer up poop once threatened…to her, the poop of her hivemembers must have seemed like some kind of treasured material for the other races…even though they were technically just useless poop to the ants.’
Hearing Mo Na say that, Nola lowered her claw temporarily. To begin with, she was only angered because she thought the ants were trying to insult her by offering up poop as tribute. It had never once crossed her mind that their poop was actually some kind of amazing ingredient…to be fair though…who would have even thought that something so…unassuming…would be so valuable, had Mo Na not pointed that out first…
“How did you know that they can be offered up as tribute?” I pointed at the reddish black stone and gave the queen ant a puzzled look.
The fact that they knew to beg for mercy with poop meant that these ants must had some kind of connection to the golem creators long ago. But such a person would clearly have to be someone from the royal capital of Sable Radiance, a place which had been empty for over 80 000 years…
The Black Blood Queen Ant was at most a Three-stars. And even though the lifespan of fiendish creatures were clearly much longer than that of ordinary creatures, there was just no way it would reach 80 000 years…so that Black Blood Queen Ant had to have picked up this bit of news from somewhere.
Being the leader of a hive, the Black Blood Queen Ant wasn’t a fool at all. By now, she had determined that I was one of the targets who shouldn’t be offended as well. Thus when I posed that question, she answered it in a forthright, albeit hard to piece together manner that required some processing on my part.
“Elder tau…ght…hand over…tribute…spare…death…”
The words Elder and taught was key here. From those words alone, I was able to discern several important facts. One, this queen was merely in charge of one of the branch hives. Two, the use of poop as tribute was an established practise and that meant the ants were definitely connected to the maker of those golems!
“What’s your elder like?”
“Like…” She pondered for a moment, feelers twitching wildly for a good while before finally making a large gesture with two of her limbs: “Bigger…than me…”
“I mean his age, not body.”
(TL: Just something minor that can’t really be translated too well. In Chinese, when you ask how old is someone, the same words can be used to ask how big is he.)
The queen ant tilted her head to the side for a long while, eyes slightly glazed over in a daze. Finally, she answered thusly: “Age…unknown…”
Clearly, the queen wasn’t the brightest creature ever. For her to dig her own grave like that, honestly, wasn’t all that surprising anymore. Still, there wasn’t really a point in bullying a dunce so I went straight to the point: “Let me ask you then, in the past, was there someone who often asked your race for tributes?”