Chapter 689 – The Breaking Wave

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The process of ‘peeling’, or ‘folding’ Dungeon veins in order to create low mana density zones within the Dungeon was possibly the most important technique developed in the history of sapient habitation of the world below. Without this method, it would be difficult enough to live at any depth during times of normal mana concentration. During a wave, it’s impossible to exist as any settlement would be forced into a constant state of warfare as monsters leap from the walls, roof and floor.

Though expensive, labour intensive and requiring specific materials to achieve, the technique has been a foundational pillar of every major city and gathering place within the Dungeon, even in the upper strata. The method itself makes use of the Dungeon veins’ own behaviour, wherein they invade and extend themselves into every available space.

Evidence exists that societies were performing the ‘folding’ technique during the latter stage of the Rending, as the various surviving empires and militaries began to extend their reach into the lower levels. It isn’t known if the factions spread the knowledge amongst themselves or if the method was derived separately by each, but those who were able to first grasp the process and make use of it enjoyed a significant advantage in the territorial struggle that followed.

  • Excerpt from page 25 of ‘Territorial disputes and sovereignty in the Dungeon’, by Cicero.

Tungstant’s brain was spinning with a heady combination of exhaustion, exhilaration, grief, relief and worry. There was so much work for the carver caste to do and so little time in which to accomplish it that she honestly didn’t think there was much chance it would be completed in time. What she needed to know yesterday, was exactly how much they could get done, and exactly what state the nest’s defences would be in by the time the wave hit for real.

“How long until the gate is ready to go?” she asked with as much patience as she could muster.

The team in front of her launched into a long and detailed explanation of the structural integrity of the gate, the need to forge new brackets and anchor them to the wall, the re-shaping and compacting that needed to be done to the rock until she cracked.

“Just estimate a time!” she barked. “I know there are challenges, I know it’s complicated, and I know you’re working as hard as possible, just give me your best guess. Please.”

The lead carver on the job sized up the council member for a moment, her antennae scratching the top of her head.

“It would take days to get the gates refitted in any proper way,” the ant said finally, “there’s just too much damage to the brackets and getting new ones fitted can’t be rushed.”

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That was far too long. Monsters would be storming up the tunnel in less than an hour! The carver clacked her mandibles to settle the uneasy team around her.

“Instead, we go fast and nasty. Stand up what’s left of the old gates, patch them up as best we can and mould the rock around them to hold them in place. It’s bad work, but we can get it done in a few hours, worry about the rest when we get a chance.”

Tungstant and the other carvers bristled at the suggestion and even the one suggesting it looked somewhat disgusted. If there was one thing the entire caste hated, it was sloppy craftsmanship, and that extended to all circumstances and projects, even emergencies. In this situation though…

“Get it done as fast as you can,” she told the team. “If you need help from the mage caste, make sure you put in a request quickly, they’ve been cooking up something big over there and you’ll need to get in early if you want the extra help.”

One of the carvers flicks an antenna dismissively.

“They can’t handle earth magic as well as we can,” she said, “I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“Fast work, not good work,” Tungstant grimaced (which for an ant, involved flexing the mandibles and tilting the antennae in an unsightly angle). “If the extra mage support will get the job done faster, that’s what we care about right now. We can do emergency patch work after the fact if necessary.”

They all grumble but accede to the wisdom of the decision in the end. A renewed frenzy takes over the worksite as the new direction is adopted and the carvers get to work establishing the leverage they’ll need to get the gates standing again. With that relatively minor fire put out, she was able to turn around and rush back into the nest, already considering the next emergency she needed to take care of.

Right! The council meeting!

Suddenly remembering that she had that chore to deal with, she changed direction sharply, making her way to the designated council chamber as quickly as she could. A part of her was irritated at the idea that important work was being delayed for a meeting of all things, but she understood the necessity of it. Without proper coordination, the complex machinery of the Colony couldn’t function properly, especially in a crisis like this. Most of the time the Colony ran itself just fine, her siblings were perfectly capable of making decisions regarding what needed doing, and how. But sometimes the overall macro plan needed to be considered and the council suited that function.

She raced in to find most of the members already gathered. Even the Eldest was there, although they were still somewhat lacking in the leg department. She rushed to her seat and no sooner had she plopped herself down in it, her thorax resting comfortably in the carved grooves than Cobalt flicked a quick query her way.

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“How’s things looking with the gate?” she scented quietly.

“Not great,” she replied, just as softly, “but I think we’ll be able to hack together a rough solution in a few hours that should hold for now.”

The other carver pulled a face and Tungstant had to stifle a laugh. Some things were consistent for all of them.

“I know we’re all very busy,” called Coolant from her end of the table, “so let’s try and get through this as fast as we can. Before we start, is there anything you would like to say to the group, Eldest?”

All twenty members turned their eyes to the Eldest who fidgeted on their chair with the sudden attention.

“Ah, me? Say something? Anything? Like what?”

“Whatever you want,” Coolant replied, a little exasperated.

“I suppose I can,” the Eldest said and then paused for a moment, clearly gathering their thoughts, “first thing I want to say is that I’m proud of all of you. Yeah. You’ve done a great job and as a family we’ve come so far since the time you were born. I know I could never do the things that all of you do every day and I guess.. I just wanted to say how proud I am. Every member of the Colony is incredible, and so are you. Don’t forget it.”

The last sentence is a little more firm than the others and each member felt an implicit threat, as if they would suffer dire consequences should they dare forget how much the Eldest was pleased with them.

“Second thing I wanted to say was that… the upcoming wave is going to be a challenge, obviously. There’s going to be a huge amount of monsters banging on the gates and flooding our territory. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be exhausting. And so soon after we just overcame the greatest threat we’ve ever faced. The creatures we’ll see, probably from the third strata, are going to be stronger than anything we’ve encountered before. But I wanted us to look at this wave in a different way. For all the challenges we’ll face, this wave could be an opportunity. More monsters means more experience, more Biomass. The last wave forced us to escape to the surface, we weren’t strong enough to hold our ground, but even then we were able to farm and benefit a great deal. This time, we have nests, we’re deep, we have tens of thousands of members. We can do so much more than we did before. We’re not going to retreat. We’re going to step forward. This wave is going to give us cover from the Legion, and the golgari and we need to use the time to get so strong they won’t even bother trying to mess with us. That’s all I wanted to say.”

There was silence around the table as the Eldest settled back into their seat. The Eldest had gotten more steady the more they had spoken and in the end had spoken quite clearly about the direction they envisaged the Colony should go in. Tungstant found the message inspiring. Instead of a threat… this was a chance. If they became so strong that even the Legion would be too hesitant to attack. If that happened, they would get even more space, and then use that space to grow even more powerful.

The glorious future of the Colony was shining brightly in her mind in that moment, and in the minds of all the others who sat around that table. Except the Eldest, who was waggling the stump of a leg back and forth. 


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