chapter 269 – diving into the depths

“Stop your slacking, aren’t you ready to work for the colony?!”

“Ugh. Of course, Senior!”

The hatchlings are once again suffering from the effects of being stuffed full of cores and then absorbing a special core. Packing all of them full has depleted my stash to basically nothing but it’ll be worth it. These twenty are getting the best start in life an ant could possibly hope for.

Each and every one of them has taken the ‘superior hatchling’ evolution that Vibrant had. Their stats have been boosted only a little from their original hatchling form, the only significant difference is in Cunning, since a small boost in that stat represents a substantial shift, but over their next few evolutions the payoff will be huge.

Regardless of what type of ant these first twenty choose to be, Soldier, Queen or Worker, I want them to be exemplary examples that will be able to lead those who follow in their footsteps. I’m on the clock though, I need to get these twenty up to level 10 and evolved before the next set of two hundred hatchlings emerges. When last I checked in on the brood they were quite chubby little grubs. It won’t be long before they enter the pupal phase. Gotta move fast!

Or at least, I would, but I’m still suffering from my own core being oversized. Gawd I hate this feeling.

Crinis is leading the way down at the moment, with Tiny bringing up the rear. This is a good chance for the two of them to grind some skill points and I don’t want to waste it. Normally I’d want to be grinding those skills myself but the discomfort I’m experiencing has dampened my enthusiasm somewhat.

As we descend through the tunnels Crinis reaches out with a forest of dark tentacles, grasping hold of monsters before they even know she’s coming. Once held within her grasp there is little they can do to save themselves. More tentacles lash out and the victim is quickly rendered unable to fight before being deposited behind her. One of the ants steps forward to deliver the finishing strike before the rest approach to devour the Biomass.

We are advancing in record time to be honest. This system is nothing except efficient. The workers are still levelling at a decent pace and their enhanced stomachs are working just as well as I’d hoped they would. Not only has their capacity increased, but apparently the mutation menu for the organ has an option that will allow them to consume Biomass as if they were one tier of evolution lower, reducing the penalty!

I MUST get my hands on this organ during my next evolution! Things will be made so much simpler! In fact, this organ and mutation should be mandatory for all workers in the colony! The efficiency gains when spread across thousands of workers will be staggering!

Arrrghh! That stings! Damn core…

What this means for my class of hatchlings is that they are rapidly piling up Biomass as we advance further into the Dungeon, seeking higher level creatures to feed them the experience they need to reach level ten as soon as possible.

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[How’s it going Crinis? Do you need to rest? I can have Tiny swap in for you any time?]

[That is unnecessary, Master. I am more than sufficient to dispose of this filth. Please allow me to continue]

[Sure, sure. As long as you’re okay.]

I can almost feel the dark joy emanating from Crinis as twists and crunches these monsters into a helpless state. You are walking further and further down a questionable road Crinis. I’m not sure how I should feel about it to be honest.

For now though, our progress is rapid as we continue to descend.

After another hour of this I call a halt to our procession and gather the hatchlings before me.

“You’ve done well to keep up with my accelerated learning program so far, your hatchlings. But the time for you to earn your own supper has come!”

“What do you mean, Senior?” they query me, antennae wibbling with curiosity.

“I mean, it’s time for the twenty of you to engage in glorious combat for the colony!”

“At last! Before the day is done my broken body will decorate the trash pile of the colony!”

“I’ve had enough of you! Go stand at the back and think about what you said! Sheesh!”

I shake my head for a moment before fixing my gaze on the rest of the workers. “You know the rules. Each and every one of you is to make it back to the colony in one piece. We have invested heavily in you because your future contributions to the colony will be immense, don’t waste it!”

I fix them all with a sharp glare, especially that moron at the back.

“I want to see if our lessons have been sinking in properly and I want to see if you can handle yourselves when my pets and I aren’t here to help you. Have you got what it takes?!”

As one they roar with their squeaky hatchling voices, “of course, Senior!”

“Everyone comes back alive! Don’t forget!” I ram home the point once more.

Only allowed on

I can’t help but be worried. Tiny, Crinis and myself will be with them of course, ready to step in just in case something goes wrong, but protecting the ants from their own sacrificial impulses could be much more difficult than protecting them from monsters.

With a flick of an antennae I gesture for the much smaller hatchlings move to the front and take the lead. Once again, they seem strangely deferential as they pass Crinis, greeting her politely even though she can’t hear them.

[Tiny, make sure to guard our back zone. I don’t want anything to get a jump on us.]

[Hrrrr, bored.]

[Don’t care buddy.]

[What about me, Master?]

[You’re with me Crinis, hop on.]

The writhing mass of tentacles before me cheerfully retracts until the compacted softball of infinite despair is once again revealed. She takes her customary position on my back and we are ready to depart. This should be interesting.

The hatchlings are a little hesitant at first and I can hear them conferring with each other in hushed tones.

“You don’t really need to talk quietly guys, you don’t actually make any sound” I tell them.

One of the hatchlings on the outside of the huddle turns to answer me. “We are operating under the assumption that  it’s possible other species capable of pheromonal communication could exist, therefore care should be taken at all times.”

“That’s….” actually pretty smart.


“Who has the best vision?”

“I’m plus six.”

“Plus seven here.”

“You two take point.”

“Right. Who has the highest acid upgrades?”

“I’m plus six, extra damage.”

“Also plus six, restrictive.”

“You two should go up top and keep the line of fire open as much as possible.”

“I have the best carapace here, let me frontline.”

“Good. I think we have our formation. Are we ready?”

“Yes, proceed.”

In almost no time they arrange their team into a working formation and delegate roles to each member based on their best attributes. Watching them arrange themselves so quickly and then begin moving out with such purpose and organisation has got my heart fair pounding in my chest.

In some ways these hatchlings are more than I had ever hoped they would be.

“I’ve got the best healing though, you should let me throw myself in the enemies mouth to take their weapons out of the battle.”

“That could be good”

“Oi! Shut up you!” I yell.

Some of them still need a lot of work it seems.

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