After chatting with Enid a little more, she finishes her tea and heads off to rest. The next day of talks will prove to be an eventful one, I’m sure, given what we’ve discussed, but for now I have two expectant looking Golgari to deal with.
Torrina is looking at me with her usual deadpan expression, but I can tell that she’s a little more frosty than usual. It’s easy to see that something is up with these two.[Alright then, what’s gotten into you two? It’s not like you guys to skirt around the subject, goodness knows Granin wasn’t even physically capable of holding his words in.]
That got a slight smile out of Corun, and perhaps a mild release of tension around the eyes for Torrina. Even so, they still took a long glance at each other before Torrina spoke to me.[Anthony, why do you think we are here?]
Well, that’s quite the question, isn’t it?[I suppose because Granin thought I had potential to become an ancient and he wanted you two to keep an eye on me and record my progress for history? Make note of my successes and failures so that you can implement the knowledge better for future subjects?]
She shakes her head.[Not exactly. We’re supposed to be here, not just as some sort of supervisors, but as guides and assistants. We are willing and able to take on a much more hands-on role than you seem to have envisioned for us.] [What do you mean,] I protest, [I haven’t told you what you can and can’t do at all. As far as I’m concerned, I trust you guys and you’re free to do what you want concerning your mission and myself. I just recommend you step lightly around the family, they can be a bit touchy sometimes.]
Neither of them blink at me describing a growing civilisation of thousands of murderous ant monsters ‘a bit touchy’ which shows me that they’re acclimating pretty well to life around here. Murder ants are the norm in the nest![I thought this might be the case,] she sighs, [you think you’ll just leave us to our devices and we’ll work things out? That’s not exactly how we want to operate.] [Well, how do you want to operate? My time amongst the Golgari wasn’t exactly a happy memory, you know. I’m aware that it wasn’t your fault, but the Cult of the Worm’s way of doing things isn’t exactly something I’m willing to invest in, you know?] [I understand your frustration, I just want you to hear ours a little.] She gestures to herself and Corun, [we can help you a lot more than we have been able to so far, we just need you to trust us, and bring us along. When you dive off into the Dungeon for a week at a time and leave us behind, or when you take us to the surface and then vanish back underground without us, it makes it hard to be able to help.] [Sooo, you want to tag along a bit more closely when I’m moving around?] [In short, yes] she nods.
Uuuuughhh. Another member of the entourage? I’ve got more than enough people following me around as it is! Corun appears to sense my reluctance, and jumps in to back Torrina up.[Look, we don’t need to get in the way, and we certainly don’t need to be up front and fighting or anything. So long as we’re in the general area so that we know what’s happening, and can approach you when we feel we have something to contribute. That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?]
I think about it.[You know what, that sounds pretty good. You’ve got a deal.]
I extend an antenna through the door and they both shake it solemnly before returning to their tea. I excuse myself and get back onto the pheromone trails. Things to do, ants to see! Back into the bustling tunnels and my first port of call is the industrial district. The crafters have turned this section of the nest into their own empire. The mining efforts of the Colony have expanded to cover hundreds of square kilometres of Dungeon by now, and every scrap that is extracted in the field is brought back here for processing.
Tons of material are hauled into this section of the nest each day and the fires burn all day and all night, melting down the slag, extracting and purifying the metals. It’s hot, hard work, but the smallest caste of all is more than up to the task, using tools and ingenious devices, even magic, when their frames aren’t up to the task. Buried deep at the end of this maze of workshops I find the remarkable ant I was told to find.
“Smithant, I presume?”
A relatively large crafter, obviously tier four, is busy in her own private workshop working on several things at once. With one leg, she’s poking and prodding at her forge, manipulating whatever she has heating in there, with another she’s working her pulley hammer, pounding a sheet of heated steel into shape, using her mandibles to grip and bend the material, whilst also using magic to inscribe runes onto yet another, finished piece. I’ve heard about working hard, but this is insane! More to the point, she doesn’t seem to realise that I’m here.
“Hello there? Everything alright?”
Without pausing in her work, the ant snaps at me.
“I had a rest two days ago! You mandatory rest enforcers are getting more insufferable by the week! I can’t be asleep, and fulfil the order the council has placed for armour at the same time now, can I? So shove off?”
“Two days eh? Sounds like someone is well overdue for a nap.”
“I TOLD you…. Oh.”
Finally dropping her work to face the doorway fully, Smithant finally sees who has come to visit and the realisation is written all over her face.
“When we’re done here, you’re going to sleep. No arguments,” I warn her.
She deflates a little.
“I’ve seen your work, the suit you made for Leeroy? Amazing! I’m told you also enchanted it yourself?”
“That’s true…” full of fire only a moment ago, the crafter seems quite shy when it comes to taking a compliment. “But that suit is nothing,” she fires up, “complete garbage compared to what I can make now. My enchanting and smithing keep levelling and the refinements I can make will improve the durability of the metal and the efficacy of the magic by fifteen, maybe even twenty percent!”
“That’s not a small amount.”
“It’s just the beginning,” the more she talks about her work, the more animated she becomes until her passion is burning just as hot as the forge behind her. “The more we expand, the better quality ore we find and as more time passes, the better we get at processing it. I feel like the metal I get improves every day I crawl into my workshop. And the better the metal I work with, the faster my skills climb! I’ve even heard that there’s a team of crafters working on a more efficient anvil and hammer design.”
She pats her still glowing anvil with her claw.
“Much as I love the old thing, it’s hard to keep up with demand.”
I’m a bit surprised.
“Aren’t there more crafters who can work with you? At the very least support you?”
The usual solution the Colony attempts to employ is to throw greater numbers at the problem. Generally works out okay, I don’t see why this situation would be any different. Smithant clacks her mandibles in irritation.
“Most of the crafters still don’t see the need for armour on ants. We have a carapace after all.”
“But even the council seems to find it useful!”
“They still haven’t ordered anyone to assist me, and until they do, I don’t think anyone will bother. I’m the only one working on armour in the entire Colony.”
What nonsense is this?! The most talented smith in the entire colony, slaving away on her own without support?! This is worse than madness!
“That’s going to change,” I tell her, “anything that helps to keep our people alive is something that needs to be explored. A carapace isn’t going to be enough for the fight that’s coming. I’ll put the word out that this is to become a priority. I don’t think every ant needs a full set of armour, but defensive enhancement is something I want every frontline soldier to have. After I next evolve, I’ll get you to make me a set as well.”
Time for the antdustrial revolution to reach an entirely new phase!
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.