Chapter 765 – A Harmonious Cycle

The society of the Colony was alien to me at first, as one may well expect. The differences in origin between I, a surface born sapient of the Iron Sands, and the ants who made up the insect empire (as I like to call them. They dismiss the title and refer to themselves exclusively as ‘the Colony’ or ‘family’), are obvious at a glance, and so it was difficult for me to make heads or tails of their dealings for a goodly while.

 An example would be the lack of a clear chain of command. An absurd amount of industry and labour is done inside the many nests of the Colony each and every day, but who decides which work is to be done? Who decides who does what work? Where are the decision makers and enforcers that ensure the necessary work is completed? It was to my shock that I learned that no such roles exist. Imagine a warehouse with no roster, a mine with no foreman or a ship with no captain. How could it possibly function? How would anything get done?

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 My mind rebelled against the feasibility of such an arrangement when I heard it, certainly I had no parallels to draw within my sphere of experience. It was only from this point forward, that I truly began to understand the differences between our peoples.

 The division of labour within the Colony is surprisingly democratic. The ants organise themselves into groups with similar Skills and capabilities, then decide what it is that they are going to do. Central to this structure is the detailed information that is disseminated throughout the Colony of their activities. There are many ants tasked with simply collecting information as to what goes on within the territory. How much ore was smelted today? Will there be a shortfall? Is there a dearth of cores? Exactly how much Biomass has been gathered? All of this is known, collated, and spread throughout the workforce. If there is a shortage, teams of ants will go and fill it. If there is a surplus, they will find other things to do to not clog the pipeline.

 When more complex tasks arise, research projects, large scale construction, a large shipment of goods to be transported and protected, a call is put out for capable family members to join the team, which they will do voluntarily. Once they feel they have enough ants for the job, they’ll get to work, feverishly and industriously racing to complete the task. When it’s finished, the team will either move onto another similar task, or dissolve, the individuals joining other groups and finding more work to do.

 It’s a system that only functions thanks to the unique nature of the ants. They are without ego, always stepping aside if another more capable individual presents for the work, without greed, always prepared to sacrifice for the collective, and without sloth, for nothing is more absurd than a lazy ant. I found it fascinating to observe in action, growing bewildered at the sheer speed they could assemble a specialised group, complete a task, then move to the next. If ever there was need, there were workers to meet that need. The pace of it all was enough to make my head spin, the incredible number of individuals involved, the density in which they lived with each other.

 It was as if they collectively formed one organism. A giant, living and breathing creature formed of millions of parts, with one will and one vision. It was beautiful.

Excerpt from ‘The Insect Economy: Macro and Micro perspectives’ by H.R.R. Slyth.

 Invidia and I fall into a regular pattern that sees us out crushing the wave for a while and then returning to feed the grub and trap it back into its inescapable cage. Some might say that putting the larva into a prison carved from solid metal is inhumane, but she chewed her way through the rock so we didn’t have much choice. Luckily, if we force feed her a ton of Biomass until she basically passes out from a food coma then we get a good hour of stress-free fighting in before she becomes mobile again and the escape attempts commence.

 It’s especially frustrating because I can’t really sense any malicious intention from her, she’s just curious and wants to roll about the place, free and uninhibited, quite apart from most of the grubs in the Colony who are perfectly content to go with the flow. The only downside is that she’s a completely defenceless larva with almost no sensory apparatus or ability to defend herself. Considering her almost uncanny ability to wriggle out of sight and hitch a ride with passing ants, locking her up is necessary for her protection…

 It was that or she stayed in the mouth, alright?! I think I’m doing well!

 While Crinis and Tiny are continuing to evolve, Invidia and I bond over our mutual love of explosions, magic and lasers. This has also been a wonderful opportunity to start grinding my mind-magic. I only need to push it up a rank or two and then I’ll have the ability to create mind constructs just like the envy demon! Of course, I don’t expect that I’ll be able to maintain nearly as many as he does, but it should help multiply the amount of magic I can do.

 I went into depth with my triad of advisors in regard to this technique before I evolved. As they said, the normal method, for a monster, is to go the same route that Invidia has. Pile up one huge, omnipotent brain, and then use advanced mind magic to spin off constructs that essentially allow for parallel thinking. Each construct isn’t nearly as powerful as the original mind, but with increasing expertise in mind magic, and with a more potent ‘host’ brain, the constructs become stronger and able to handle more workload. Going even more advanced than that, the constructs can cooperate with each other much like my own sub-minds do, working together to handle spell-weaving that they couldn’t do on their own.

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 I took the time to speak to Invidia about it and it turns out he needs two mind constructs working together to weave each instance of his explosion magic, something that surprised me a little. As he explained it, since his go to detonation spell required two different elements, namely gas and fire, it was far easier to create them with two separate minds carrying the load rather than the one. So, during our spell barrages I manage to work hard on my mind magic, reaching out with bridges and connecting to monsters, twisting their minds and throwing false thoughts at them as they attempted to dodge Invidia’s spell barrage. It was familiar casting that I’d spent a lot of time on before but hadn’t been using lately as training other skills had taken priority. Now it was finally time for the mental warfare to make its triumphant return! All in the name of mind constructs!

 We spent over a day in this pattern, force feeding the larva and fighting to our heart’s content, driving back the ever-surging monsters and helping provide breathing room to my siblings. Invidia continues to gleefully detonate every monster he can, vacuuming up experience at a phenomenal rate as I content myself with training my skills and picking up kills where I can. After enough time has passed, we gather up the iron cage and cart it back to the evolution chamber where we find Crinis and Tiny emerging from their sleep, newly forged and ready for battle.


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