Chapter 847 – A Spoonful of Sugar

Enid looked down at her tea with a slight smile on her face. Not only had the ants secured a source of truly delightful tea leaves, they had also managed to procure sugar, goodness knows from where. In the same manner in which they tackled every issue, namely head on, they had begun cultivation and experimentation of the substance the moment they had the free resources to do so. One would have assumed that the ants would care little for such frivolous items, instead concentrating their efforts in other directions, yet she had visited the tea plantations herself, seen the vast amount of energy they put into the care of their leaves.

The Colony truly didn’t believe in outsourcing labour. The idea of having someone else grow the leaves and then purchasing them seemed almost alien to their insect minds. To be fair, labour wasn’t exactly something they were short of, but she could only imagine how frustrating she would have found to deal with these monsters as a merchant. The second you found something they wanted to buy, you also created a competitor, because no sooner did they purchase it than they started trying to make or grow it! Two weeks later they would turn around and start selling your own merchandise back to you, and probably at a higher quality than you yourself had been able to obtain!

Infuriating.

The tea fields couldn’t be described as vast, but they were certainly extensive, and now with the sugar plantation added alongside them, they almost extended over an entire expanse, with further expansion planned. Not only had her own people in Renewal become addicted to the pleasant flavour and delightful sweetness, but so had Rylleh and an increasing number of the ants themselves, most particularly the Queens. And if the Queens wanted something, they were going to get it.

“Mayor, are you ready?” the calm voice of her secretary reached her through the door.

“Yes, Terrence. I’ll be there in a moment.”

With a groan she forced her old bones to move and forced herself up out of her chair. She’d been feeling her age more keenly than ever over the last few weeks, ever since the siege had ended, but she had long gotten used to forcing the niggles and aches that plagued the elderly to the back of her mind. She gathered her things and regretfully left the plush and comfortable lodgings the Colony had provided for her in the nest behind. They’d even installed heating sigils that kept the room at a comfortable temperature at all times! Such an extravagant use of valuable cores was something only the royalty and noble class would dare contemplate in Liria before the wave, and now she was able to enjoy it.

Once she opened the door she was greeted by the warm and cheerful face of Terrence, her latest secretary. He’d been a scribe in the capital before the destruction, a skill he was now able to put to good use in the service of the survivors.

“How are you today, Ms Mayor?” he asked politely.

“I’m fine,” she groused, “stop harassing me. You’re worse than a grandchild.”

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The middle aged man just smiled as he fell into step beside her.

“There are a few things that demand your attention today,” he said, “but I presume we are heading to the hospital first?”

“Of course.”

“Right you are then, mayor. Good thing I scheduled your appointment with the Rylleh merchants for the afternoon.”

Enid groaned.

“What do those crusty old bats want this time?”

“They have approached the Colony about the possibility of imposing copyright law. I understand there are quite a few enterprising merchants who are already prepared to lodge claims.”

“And the Colony, having no idea what on Pangera they were on about, asked for me to sort it out,” she grunted.

“That is most likely the case.”

“I assume they want to claim the copyright on basically everything under the sun, since the Colony’s legal system, such as it is, is detached from everyone else’s, thus nothing is currently protected intellectual property.”

“There has already been a claim laid on the wheel, Ms Mayor.”

“Damn vultures,” she muttered as she rolled her eyes, “I suppose this is how they’re hoping to stop the ants from competing with them, by having the Colony agree that it would be illegal to do so.”

Terrence didn’t say anything in response, but they both knew she was right. Competing with the Colony was an exercise in futility, since they had an essentially limitless workforce that wasn’t paid for. This was hardly the first time that Enid had been tasked with hammering out the details of trade between the Colony and the societies that lived around them and likely wouldn’t be the last. So far, the wily old trader had proven to be more than a match for the greedy merchants who’d seen her as an easy mark. Though having an army of thousands upon thousands of monsters backing her up didn’t hurt any.

When they arrived at the hospital that had been set aside for the non-insect members of the nest Enid wasted no time in stepping forward to comfort the injured and sick. A kind word here, a held hand there, she lifted the spirits of her people with her mere presence and seeing the gratitude on the faces Terrence couldn’t help but feel his deep gratitude to this old woman strengthen. She worked so hard for them when by all rights she should be retired and resting in a comfortable chair.

“There are quite a few with mana sickness…” she fretted after she finished chatting with a soldier who lay infirm in his comfortable bed.

He nodded.

“The assault on the third stratum hit quite a few harder than was anticipated. We think the mana levels were still elevated since the end of the last wave and the conditioning program wasn’t enough to make up the difference. Every non-monster has been evacuated from that stratum for the time being until the Colony is confident that those who wish to join them have sufficiently adapted.”

“They are pushing too hard.”

Terrence raised a brow.

“The Colony?”

“No,” Enid snapped, “our people! I have no doubt the council didn’t even ask if people would participate in the assault. They would have just incorporated the ones that showed up! It takes time to adjust to the mana levels in the deeper layers. In some cases, a long time. Rushing is only going to get good people killed.”

“I feel some of our people want to follow the Colony wherever they go,” Terrence observed softly, “like a child toddling after a parent. They don’t want to be left behind.”

“They don’t have to be left behind, but they have to be patient. The ants are monsters, they don’t suffer from mana-sickness, but we do! How many of our people have already become too adapted to the Dungeon? How many can no longer walk on the surface without pain?”

“Hundreds at least.”

It was something her husband had struggled through many times, the pain that came with delving deep and then rising back up. If not for her, he would have lived deeper in the Dungeon and thus spared himself a great deal of suffering reacclimating to the low mana conditions of the surface whenever he finished a job. It was taxing, and could have long term effects. If he hadn’t been as tough as mountain bones then he likely would never have been able to do it.

“Perhaps I should talk with the Colony about establishing a program to help people acclimate to differing mana levels. Make it easier for those who want to return to the surface…”

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“I actually had word through a contact that they’ve already started work on that. They’ve created a few mana deprivation chambers close to the nest. They’ve peeled back the Dungeon veins and opened the rooms for our use. I meant to tell you yesterday.”

Enid could only shake her head.

“Damn ants,” she muttered, “they spoil us too much.”



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