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Discussions progressed at a rapid pace after my initial, rather embarrassing speech. There was a ton of things on the go around the Colony and still too much that we didn’t know. The status of the two satellite nests was still unknown, how exactly we were going to handle training the surge of hatchlings heading up to the surface, the huge amount of wounded that still needed caring for. Several things were easy to take care of. We made sure to issue an emergency recall of all aphids who were currently deployed in the expanse within our territory. It wouldn’t be safe for them to remain in place during the wave and I’m fairly confident most of them were brought back to the nests before the siege anyway. Prioritising the expansion of the colony’s capability in the metallurgy space was a no-brainer and the carvers were directed to get back onto this process as soon as the defences were done.
Cobalt and Tungstant had worked with their caste to design a truly ambitious system for the delivery, sorting and smelting of ores that would increase the capacity of the main nest to produce ingots by tenfold should it get off the ground. Securing a supply of raw ore would be difficult during the wave, but it was important the Colony work to position itself to come out of the onslaught in the best possible position.
In the middle of discussions, I dropped a bomb.
“I’m not certain that tier three is enough for our graduates anymore.”
My pronouncement was met with a stunned silence and I quickly raised my antennae in a placating gesture.
“I know, I know. Getting so many ants to tier three so quickly is already a massive task. There already aren’t enough cores to go around, Biomass is in constant demand and as the number of satellite nests increases, so will the number of hatchlings in need of training. I get it. The challenges are real. I want to ask you though, do you really believe that tier three is enough to contend with what we are facing right now, and are likely to face in the future?”
The council members all consider my words carefully as I speak and Victor pipes up after a few moments of thought.
“From the perspective of a general, a tier four in the warrior caste is more than twice as useful as a tier three. The evolutions of the general caste are better fighters, provide more beneficial auras and even their raw stats make them better planners. Soldiers, it goes without saying just how much a soldier can gain in terms of defensive ability, jaw strength, regeneration and speed in that one evolution. Scouts are the same, I’m sure you would agree, Burke and Wills, are much more capable at the fourth tier.”
“Getting them to tier five would be far better than getting them to tier four, but that doesn’t mean it’s feasible,” Propellant objected. “Obviously a mage is far better at controlling spells with an extra evolution under their belt, but the bottom line is, experience and cores, where are you going to get them from? If we end up pushing more ants to evolve faster, but without providing the necessary cores to increase the available evolutionary energy, then we’d be crippling rather than helping ourselves.”
“I agree with that point,” I tell them, “in fact I want us to put a higher priority on maxed cores for every evolution as well.”
More silence meets my second announcement.
“Look,” I say, resting my two antennae on the table much like a human putting their elbows down and steepling their fingers, “we aim to get smarter and better in every aspect of Colony life, all the time. Am I right?”
The other council members could only agree.
“Raising the brood to be as strong as possible is the most fundamental and important duty this Colony undertakes. There is nowhere and nothing more deserving of innovation and improvement than this. We need more experience? Let’s think about how to make it happen. We need more cores? Let’s explore ways we can make it happen! I know the brood tenders have put an enormous amount of work into their curriculum and their methods of instruction for the hatchlings, they haven’t stopped trying to improve. It’s the rest of us who need to lift when it comes to supplying the raw materials. During the wave, I don’t think this is going to be much of a problem, but going forward, I think this is a change we have to make.”
The two brood tenders on the council, Theresant and Florence, both clack their mandibles in gratitude that I acknowledge the hard work they and their entire caste has put in, something the rest of the council immediately echoes. After more discussions and apportioning of work, the council breaks up and everyone rushes back to doing what needs to be done. Everyone has their role and their own special task assigned to them, even me, which is why I find myself outside the nest looking curiously at the overflowing vegetation that has taken over this section of Dungeon.
Scouts had reported the strange phenomenon, as well the presence of unknown creatures lurking amidst the growth not long after the siege had been lifted, so naturally the council decided to send me to stick my nose in and investigate.
Using all the senses I have available, I step forward slowly toward the abundant plant life that has seemingly sprung from nowhere but I order my three loyal pets to stay back. This stuff could be poisonous, or worse. I get a really weird feeling from the plants. I’m not sure if it’s the mana flow, or the way they look… but something about it just rubs me the wrong way and I find myself very reluctant to push forward.
Good thing too, because only a few moments later a gigantic creature who looks like five tree-trunks arranged in a vaguely humanoid shape stomps around the corner and approaches. At first I want to give the monster both barrels of a fire ball but slipping along in his wake are creatures that I recognise much more clearly.
Branchies! What the heck are branchies doing down here in the Dungeon?!
Almost eagerly, I spin together a mind bridge and reach out only to find another mind probe toward mine first.[Ah, hello?] I start out with a classic. [Greetings, friend insect. It is nice to see that someone has come out to see us, at last.]
Come on, man/giant tree thing! We’ve got stuff to deal with in the nest, give us a break![I apologise if there has been any offense,] smooth, diplomatic, and most importantly, smooth. Like a buttered snail surfing in a tub of grease. [There has been a great deal to do within the nest and the scouts reported the presence of this… plantlife, not that long ago.]
The giant wooden guy waves a creaking arm.[No offense, was caused,] the mind that touches mine is strange and complex. It feels deep and old, yet at the same time, young and childlike. [We wanted to remain to speak with your people before we retreated back to our grove. I am a Grove Keeper, and I can better keep my people safe in the seat of my mother’s power.]
Feels like there’s a lot to unpack there.[Your people? Are you referring to the people behind you? I think I met some of them while I was up on the surface. Not these people exactly, you know, but… people.]
Those giant eyes blink slowly.[Yes,] he finally answers, [a small group of the Bruan’chii had made their home in the Lirian forest. They told the mother about you and she has extended her roots through this area in an attempt to seek you out. In the end, it was pure happenstance that you stumbled into one and she was able to determine your position.]
Bruan’chii, eh? How… convenient. Wait, his mother has roots? As in, literally a tree?[So your mother was looking for us? Is it possible that I ask why?]
Please don’t be a psycho killer tree, please don’t be a psycho killer tree. I do NOT need that in my life right now.[Because we were able to recognise you for what you were. A traveller from another world, just as she was.]
Wait a minute. All of us transplanted souls are a bit… on the iffy side, sanity wise. Might as well ask a probing question.[Would you say your mother is… how to phrase this… a rational and calm sort of individual?]
The giant tree-person hesitates and the leaves around me break out loud rustling that almost sounds like laughter.[No,] comes the answer, [no I would not.]
Synopsis: The online game <