Chapter 564 – Ant squad, assemble!

I have sought to capture the Eldest in their purest form for many years in various media. Stone was the first material I utilised, crude and rough, it was appropriate for them at that time. Just like the stone that I hewed with mandible, claw and magic, they were rough and unpolished, a creature of brute strength and straight edges. The edges never really changed, the Eldest remains as straight forward an ant as there is to find in the Colony. At least, if you know the turnings of their mind, as I do. I’ve watched them for far too long to be entirely ignorant of their inner workings.

When others try to learn my skills, I do my utmost to help them, of course. Even a few humans and some amongst the golgari have sought out my expertise after seeing my works. Of the basics, I had nought to teach them, they were skilled artists all. But there remained something of the spirit, of the dignity and power the Eldest possesses that they were never able to properly capture. I can honestly say that I held nothing back in my efforts to teach them, there are none in the Colony who would hoard knowledge of how to spread the Eldest’s glory, but I failed every one of my students.

To properly depict the Eldest, one must acknowledge the creature they truly are. The humans, the golgari and the other sapients, even many amongst the Colony, close their eyes to those aspects of their subject that they are not capable of comprehending. The Eldest is powerful, yes. The Eldest is mighty, of course. The Eldest is wise and generous and caring and brave and clever and joyful and frequently inscrutable, all know this. But first and foremost, the Eldest is an individual who contains and has experienced great pain. To me, the magnificent dignity of the Eldest is made even more impressive because of its source. Everything that they are, and everything that they accomplish springs from a bottomless well of suffering that most do not know exists and none can name the origin.

It’s not something I speak of directly, it isn’t my place, but I try to guide the eye of my students toward it. There, in that hesitation, do you see it? Here, in this selfless sacrifice, do you understand? They see a great mountain towering into the sky and try to capture it. I can see a tiny fraction of that mountain below the surface as it descends to darkness. It isn’t much, but it is all anyone is allowed to see.

Excerpt from the private diary of Michaelangelant, great sculptor of the Colony.

The more time passes, the greater the chance of things going wrong, to that end, it was decided to strike against the city as quickly as possible. The council left me out of the logistics, and I’m very glad they did. I think we can all acknowledge that isn’t where my strengths lie. Instead, I gathered up my pets and put us all to practicing our Skills as we waited for the human contingent to join us. That the people of the town were so willing to risk their lives and limbs in this way was more than a little surprising to me, but what the heck, I’ll take it. We don’t intend to use them in a combat role, the ants are far better equipped for that, but we hope that they can talk down our opposition. People who think they have to win or die and get eaten are likely to fight very hard indeed. If instead we can have a person explain to the people of the city that they won’t be consumed, nor killed, then perhaps they’ll stand down and we can prevent as much death as possible.

To both sides, that is. I’m pretty confident the Colony could exterminate every man, woman and child in that city, but where would that leave us? If word ever got out, every Empire, Kingdom, mercenary and farmer with a sharp pitchfork would travel from all over the world to exterminate us. Perhaps that might happen even if we spare them, but I’ll take a chance at life over a guarantee of death any day of the week. We need more time to get stronger. Eventually, everyone is going to want to come for us, I know that. On Pangera, we are the equivalent of thousands and thousands of crawling bags of gold. The only way we can survive is if we are more trouble to profit from than it’s worth bothering with. Which translates to strength. More high level ants, more ants in general. It’s a straight forward formula that only needs time to come to fruition.

As I grind away with several minds at my elemental Skills, Tiny punches at the air, Crinis practices Shadow Magic and Invidia makes barriers for Tiny to smash, I try to go back over the plan. The Colony is going to go all out for this one, a full ten thousand ants are being assembled for the assault. Soldiers, scouts, mages, core shapers, medics, generals, the whole shebang. I think every single tier four member is being called in. From what I gather, this means that aside from the necessary guard presence in the nests, along with the castes who don’t operate on the field of battle, the Colony will have next to no members anywhere in the Dungeon. Naturally there will be scouts out and about, as well as a few patrols, but for the most part, we are going all in against this city.

We should win handily. No, scratch that. We WILL win, easily. All resistance crushed and the unconditional surrender of the city will be offered in less than an hour. We go in, find any gates, smash ’em and work out what to do after that. I need to focus on my own job, which is to subdue any elites that we come across. With my three pets, I make up the most compact fighting force the Colony has at its disposal, the only thing we can bring to bear against the truly strong. The council, not to mention the rest of the ants, are totally willing to bring down powerhouses through sheer, exhausting weight of numbers, but I refuse. The loss of life would be obscene, as it is in nature when ants take on those creatures greater and more powerful than themselves. I suppose I’m greedy. It’s not enough to win, I want to win and lose as few family members as possible.

Thinking these sorts of thoughts, I while away a few hours until the humans arrive, along with Torrina and Corun.

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[Hey there gang,] I reach out to them, [how was the trip?]

“I greet you, oh Great One! We are here to serve and pledge ourselves to illuminating your glory!”

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Before they can reply, Beyn leaps forward and prostrates himself in one smooth motion. There’s no way he did that first try, he must have practiced. The rest of the “ant robes” follow suit and are kneeling in the dirt in a flash, declaring their joy and singing praise. With a weary sigh, I extend another mind bridge out to the one armed priest.

[How are you Beyn? I’m a little surpri- ]

[YOUR VOICE FILLS ME JOY, GREAT ONE! I CANNOT EXPRE-]

[LOUD!]

This idiot. He’s nothing but helpful, but he really gets carried away with the ‘great one’ business. For a moment I consider attempting to redirect his devotion to the Queen, but I decide against it. Although far more deserving of these powerful emotions, I wouldn’t want to burden her unnecessarily.

[It’s nice to see you as well, Beyn, just keep it down, man. I was going to say I’m surprised Enid let you lead the procession down here.]

[IT WAS… It was believed that for this particular task, sincerity of feeling and honest dedication were the most important traits to make us more compelling witnesses for the Colony. For that reason, I was asked to bring my most devoted followers down to assist.]

His mental voice has become much more reasonable, but a literal flood of tears is pouring out of his eyes as he stares at me with frantic joy plastered on his face. It’s freakin’ creepy! Still, I can tolerate it, he and his people are only here to help, at significant risk to themselves. With some difficulty I create a branching mind bridge and connect it to all of the humans who are present so I can speak to them all at once.

[I welcome you and thank you for volunteering. It is my hope that your participation will save many lives, both ant and otherwise. For your bravery, and dedication, I thank you.]

I dip my head and antennae in a short bow/nod toward them and by the time I bring my head back up, each and every one of them is flooding the tunnel with their tears. 


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