As the days of the wave drag on, my pets and I maintain the same routine. We fight, eat, rest and then repeat. It’s pretty obvious after all this time why pet obsessed Dungeon dwellers like the Sophos are so rare, getting a monster to tier six is a massive pain the butt. Let alone two. Obviously what I’m doing isn’t all that similar to what the Formo and his kind do, they raise their monsters over a period of decades, caring from them and pouring all of their time, energy and designing every aspect of their build around raising and training potent monsters. I’m just power levelling my pets and hoping it all works out for the best.
Still, imagine the pain and anguish of a normal Dungeon delver when the tier six monster they had poured endless wealth and resources into dies in the Dungeon. Years of effort, a literal fortune in cores, all gone. If you were able to get the core back, then all wasn’t lost as you could reconstitute it again, but the soul of your pet would be forever lost. If you couldn’t get the core back… which was likely considering the trainer is always weaker than the pets they keep as a rule, you just had to eat the loss and start again.
I can see why not many are tempted by it.
For me though, it’s all good! To be honest, despite the exhausting and relentless nature of the wave, I’ve been quite enjoying my time with Tiny, Crinis and Invidia in the tunnels. It’s almost like the old days, with just me and my pets, fighting against the odds, although the Colony is literally only a few dozen metres behind us. As we draw ever closer to my two magnificent pets approaching the goal line, I’m reminded of Enid and her request that I head to the surface to poke my nose around Renewal.
If I’m going to do it, it’s probably going to have to be now. As the wave goes on, the mana level continues to rise and stronger monsters pour out of the depths. It’s probably gotten high enough that it can sustain me right now, for a while at least, and if I wait any longer then the Colony is going to have a hard time hanging on if something really nasty crawls out of the third strata… or even lower.
[Alright team!] I announce to my exhausted pets, [We are heading on up for a break. Let’s go!]
So saying, I march right up to the general, announce my plans for a quick break, and get on out of there. As expected, Burke races up to me before I’ve gotten more than twenty minutes into my journey.
“Eldest! Where are you going!” she calls as I continue on my merry way.
“To the surface!” I announce cheerfully, “wanna come with?”
“Uhh, no? Are you sure this is a good time to go up to the surface, Eldest? What with the wave and all?”
“Is that supposed to be a joke? This is literally the only time I can go to the surface. Are you trying to deny me the sun? The warmth of the open air? Have you truly become so cold, Burke?”
“You know what I mean, Eldest,” the large scout shakes her head with irritation, “it’s hard work holding off the wave and without the support of you and your guardians it’ll be that much harder. I would never accuse you of shirking your responsibilities, but do you really think you should be taking a break?”
If I could, I’d roll my eyes.
“You built five layers of defence down there and so far haven’t had to use more than the second in the deepest parts of the territory. I think you’ll be alright if I take a few hours off.”
“That’s only because you’ve been there, Eldest…”
“Bah! If you guys are so nervous about it, get in there yourselves. Put Leeroy on the job, I haven’t seen her or her squad down there yet.”
She looks to one side as she replies.
“We were worried if we sent Leeroy charging out that she’d never come back.”
“Put a leash on her! Yeesh! I absolutely refuse to believe it’s going to be that big a deal. Put Leeroy out there and tell her if she runs off into the Dungeon that I’ll chase after her when I get back and she won’t enjoy what happens after that. She won’t die, but she might wish that she had!”
Endless tea time and grub tickling duty for you, Leeroy! Don’t think I won’t do it!
Somewhat placated, Burke leaves me in peace to go report back to the rest of the council about my day trip, no doubt they’d worked themselves into a tizzy the moment they heard about me leaving the front. Chumps. Do I need to train them again and instil a little more backbone?! The proud soldiers of the Colony are going to be fine for a little while as I head out, if I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be going anywhere in the first place!
The trip from the ground to the surface is irritating, as all travel is during a wave, but takes far less time than I would have thought. The Colony has been diligent in remodelling their territory and the ‘express tunnel’ they constructed connecting the main nest to the surface ant-hill is an incredible piece of work that I hadn’t even realised was being done. It’s very steep, but that doesn’t prove to be much of a challenge to the thousands of ants that run this connection every day, delivering Biomass, cores and other resources from the depths to the surface, not to mention the hatchlings making the journey with their tenders to the academy.
As expected for such an important tunnel, there is a heavy presence of soldiers on deployment here, savaging any monster with the poor fortune to spawn within the walls. Using this tunnel, it’s a matter of mere hours before we arrive back in the first strata close to the surface. My old stomping grounds! For nostalgia’s sake, I take a slight detour off the main travel tunnel to nose about in the Dungeon proper. It’s somewhat amusing, but also a little saddening, to see that I can no longer fit into the smaller tunnels that I once used to hide from the main thoroughfares. The monsters I used to be so afraid of still proliferate here, the wolves, thorn lizards and even the centipedes abound. A definitive lack of Croca-beasts however. It seems Gandalf, or the Dungeon, has no interest in spawning those creatures, and without their parent, there are probably very few of the monsters left.
Bullying around the monsters I used to fear is fun for a little while, but quickly grows boring as my core is already starting to leak out a little mana. I task all sub-brains with drawing in as much energy as possible and I ensure that my legs remain in contact with the ground as much as possible, sucking up mana from the rock. It’s enough, barely. It’s a different story when we finally crest the top of the anthill and expose ourselves to the sky once more.
The surface nest has undergone significant modifications since last I was here. It’s expanded greatly, for one thing, the academy and training grounds taking up the majority of the room. There are still many foundries and crafting areas for tier three carvers to utilise, though I suspect the main industrial centres of the Colony have all been shifted deeper into the nest. Our passing through is noticed by the many hatchlings and brood tenders who congregate here, the little ones stopping their activities to goggle at us as their minders scold them to keep their minds on task. It’s amusing in a way and I wave my antennae this way and that, saying hi to all of the members of my family I see.
Standing atop the hill I’m treated to a panoramic view of the surrounding area, which is vastly changed from what I last saw. The land has been heavily developed, for one, with wide, irrigated and tilled fields stretching in the distance, small farmsteads dotting the landscape here and there, chimneys wafting white smoke into the air. The town itself has undergone staggering growth, multiple double-story buildings popping up alongside what was now a clear, wide street running through the centre of what had become a thriving community. It was nice to stand there and take it all in, less nice when the pointing and kneeling started.
Something was very wrong with these people.
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