The Legion advances to where I lie convalescent, still recovering from my grievous injuries. The only blessing I can see is that the one man army who cut through half of the gate is no longer in the frontlines, replaced by a wall of armoured bodies that hold their weapons and shields with perfect discipline. Once Crinis has pulled me clear, the Colony continues their barrage and a horde of my siblings sally forth from the gate to surround me.
“Get me back behind the gate,” I squeeze out, “we didn’t plan to take a stand here.”
The ants around me don’t respond at all and I wonder if they smelled what I had to say at all.
“H-hello? You need to either move me behind the gate or leave me here. What the heck are you doing?”
“Eldest, I mean this with all my respect, but please shut your pheromone hole. We’re trying to heal you and you need to stop moving.”
Who was that?! Mendant?! Where the heck do you get the nerve to speak to me like that?! The healer looks completely unperturbed, as if an enemy army wasn’t closing on her position with each passing moment. Are these ants crazy or what? We can’t fight here, we’ll get slaughtered! If I can’t be moved, then just retreat to safety, I’ll fight my way out! This won’t be the last you see of me! Before I get the chance to insist, the ants have already formed ranks around me, hundreds turning into thousands in mere seconds. I quickly realise that they aren’t going to give me up.[Crinis! Can you move me again? Through the shadows?] [I can’t master, I’m sorry. It took almost all of my shadow mana to get you this far,] she sounds panicked. [It’s going to be fine,] I reassure her, [my face is almost back together, see? I’ll be in biting shape again in no time.]
She doesn’t seem to be encouraged by my words. I see her twisting herself into mind bending, non-Euclidian shapes that I’m certain are formed of more dimensions than there should be in her anxiety.
I can’t see much now, the ants are swarming over me as the healers continue to administer their healing fluid to help regenerate my flesh, but I can sense something I never expected and moments later, I see one. What the hell are the humans doing out here?!?!? Led by that manic priest, at least a hundred humans have marched forth from the gate to squeeze in amongst the much larger bodies of the soldiers and scouts in the front ranks between me and the Legion. The priest himself has a short spear gripped in his one good hand which he waves back and forth with frantic energy as he bellows words I can’t quite make out to the gathered humans. His voice rolls like thunder with the power of a war drum as he urges his fellows to battle.
When the Antmancers activate their Skill, their bodies ignite and begin to spread an aura that envelops every ant and human within reach. Even I can feel it, giving strength to the limbs I still possess and filling my heart with courage. It doesn’t help that the Vestibule continues to whisper of the ant’s desire for battle, to make the enemy pay for the damage they’ve done. It’s difficult for me to ignore them in the heat of the battle. I feel the urge to scurry forward on my three remaining legs and try to stab the Legionaries to death with my one remaining mandible.
I don’t think that will go too well.
“Can I be moved yet?” I whine to Mendant.
Her antennae twitch and I swear by my Mother that she almost thwacked me.
“Any other member of the Colony would be dead right now. No, you can’t be moved,” she tells me as she continues to work.
Dammit. This is going to get ugly.
From where I lie, I only get flashes of vision from the front lines, but I can tell the two forces are closing together as the Colony and its allies press forward to allow more room between the fighting and me. Are you kidding me?! The battle right in front of the gates and I’m not even going to be able to participate?! This must be some sort of joke. I’m tempted to ask if I can move yet but there’s something in Mendant’s eye that causes me to hesitate.
The amorphous blob of immitigable darkness shudders once before lashing out with tentacles that drag her deep into the shadows of the tunnel roof. Before long she has vanished from sight as she slithers closer to the enemy. All I can do now is lie still and wait for the healing to complete as the sounds and vibrations of battle rise to a fever pitch moments before the two armies crash. Even now reinforcements pour out from behind the gate, piling up on top of each other until the tunnel is almost filled to capacity from bottom to top with a writhing mass of furious monsters, with me buried somewhere at the bottom.
With a colossal THUD that rumbles through the stone on which I lie the two opposing armies clash for the first time. There is little yelling or talking (with the exception of Beyn), the ants communicating in perfect silence whilst the Legion are too disciplined for random noise, yet the sound is still deafening. The clash of steel on carapace, the vibration and detonation of activated Skills and spells fill the air until I can’t tell what is happening anymore. All the while my antennae are battered with a flood of pheromones from my siblings.
“FOR THE COLONY!”
“FOR THE ELDEST!”
“STRIKE FOR THE BROOD!”
“FOR THE COLONY!”
Infused with aura of the antmancers and their own generals, the soldiers, scouts, mages and every other caste in the fighting are driven to the peak of their fighting abilities as they throw themselves against the Legion army in an endless tide of fury. A deafening screech erupts from a distance away, piercing through the sounds like a knife and I know that Tiny has entered the fray, using his scream to distract and stun to buy enough time for his fists to come to bear. On the edges of my mana sense I can feel the centi-sludges and other pets creeping out from gaps in the wall, pressuring the Legion line all the way back down the tunnel in an attempt to sow chaos in the enemy lines.
Shortly after I see the mad priest once more, standing upon a rock dislodged in the fighting, his face is a twisted mask of ecstasy and rage as he bellows, his words pounding into my ears like waves on rocks. How the man isn’t dead yet stood up like he is, I have no idea, but there he remains, preaching with righteous fury as the battle rages around him. The knowledge that my siblings are fighting and dying so close and being unable to help them tears me apart inside. I have always wanted to fight for my family, but so often they are the ones who fight for me. Having them fight on my behalf is something so precious, I didn’t even realise how much I needed it in my past life, but now that I have it I refuse to let it go. I will take hold of this family with my mandibles and they will never be able to dislodge me.
“Please,” I beg Mendant, “let me go fight.”
The healer looks down on me once more and this time I see no irritation or anger in her, only acceptance, patience and love.
“Don’t worry, Eldest,” she tells me, “we will protect you.”