Chapter 857 – More huntin’

[I am really sorry about that.]

[Hey, don’t worry about it. You’ve apologised already, I’m fine, you’re fine, we’re all fine.]

[I mean. Sure, but I still feel bad. Is there anything I can do?]

[No, seriously, it’s already healing. There’s no issue here.]

Calming down the rampaging Asura bear turned out to be easier than I thought. She might be an unstoppable killing machine when she gets going, but she’s still limited to the strength of her tier. Between Tiny, Crinis and myself, we manage to slow her down enough that she eventually came back to herself. I mean, I did get bitten in the process, but it’s not too bad. My legs grow back fast and I’m pretty nimble on five anyway. It was the deep grooves she managed to cut into my carapace that I found more frightening. That’s just with her jaws, imagine if she got a full swing with her claws?! Scary…

Once we managed to subdue the bear and she calmed down, it was time to harvest our gains, consume the Biomass and decide what to do with the grudge demon.

[They are an interesting type of demon,] Al remarked. [They aren’t exactly impossible to destroy, but it is extremely difficult and involves spending far more effort than is usually considered worthwhile.]

[When I bit it I felt like I’d chomped nothing at all, then I got hit with a curse that made me feel super weak!]

[Yes, that’s right. The grudge demon is quite weak, but if you ‘destroy’ it, then you will be hit with a sapping curse that drains your strength for a time.]

[The ultimate sacrifice play…]

[Well we may as well send this creature on its way.]

So saying, Al enveloped the little demon in a pillar of flame before detonating it and dispersing the grudge.

[What the heck?!]

[It will take some time for it to bring itself back from that. Of course, this means that I will suffer its curse for longer, but it does not affect my mental abilities so I shall be fine.]

They may be weak, but somehow I find the grudge demon quite scary. So persistent!

[What happens when a grudge demon evolves?]

[Due to their low offensive power, it is supremely difficult for grudge demons to accrue experience. Despite being so hard to kill, examples who have managed to reach tier seven are vanishingly rare. Should they succeed though, the resulting demon is immensely powerful.]

[Yeesh. I hope I never meet one.]

Once we clear up the battle site we gather once more to plan our next move.

[This was only one of the hunting parties sent out from Orpule and tangling with them was no joke. That proves two things, that we were right to be cautious and that we were right to hunt them down. If the Colony has to deal with these dudes themselves then we are talking about a lot of dead ants.]

[And these were only tier six. I can’t imagine what the tier seven demons are like,] Sarah says.

[They’re messed up, big time,] I say, not looking at Al. [So I think our best course of action is to keep hunting through these tunnels to see if we can find any other groups and then check back in with Vibrant. We know three groups came out in this direction so I’d like to find at least one more before we leave, but we can’t be sure that they are even in these tunnels to start with.]

[You think they might have gone elsewhere?]

[Who knows?] I shrug with my antennae. [It’s possible that they entered the tunnels but at another point we don’t know about.]

[How many of these groups left Orpule so far?]

[Ten according to the general Emilia. They’ve scattered all over the place.]

[It’s unlikely that we’re going to get them all.]

[No chance. But we should make every effort to find as many as we can. We have two days before we need to regroup with the Colony so we need to move quickly.]

[Are you able to do that, you’re missing a leg remember? Sorry about that, again.]

[It’ll grow back in a few hours, I’ve mutated specifically for that purpose.]

[You mutated to grow your legs back faster? How often does this happen?]

[More often than I’d like…]

I turn to Brilliant who managed to keep her head down and not run off for once during the fight.

“You did a fantastic job helping us track these guys down. Now I need you to do it again, about ten times.”

“Ten?! You really think you’re going to be able to catch them all?”

“Nope, but I’m going to try.”

“Fair enough,” the little ant looks back and forth. “So, which way are we going to go?”

She makes a good point, we pursued this group quite a long way.

“Let’s head back to where we entered the tunnels, I’m guessing that if more than one group came down here then they would have split up and gone in different directions, otherwise we would have found them together.”

“Makes sense.”

I let the others know the plan and we head back toward the entrance. There’s still more monsters and ghasts on the way which we make sure to put down and feed as much experience and Biomass into the hatchling as we safely can. She’s tier four now, but I’ll be a lot happier when she reaches tier five. Bringing her down here was always a risk, but it’s served a few purposes. Namely, accelerating her growth, and making sure that I was able to oversee her education.

Champion monsters, and champion ants in particular, are a little weird. The way they inspire followers and loyalty is a good thing, Vibrant and her squad have been an amazing asset to the Colony, but there’s also a risk. If a Champion was raised within the nest? With all the rest of the hatchlings? What sort of influence would she have on them? How effectively would she have absorbed the lessons of the tenders who may be inspired to follow her directions instead of their own?

Since I’m one of the few who seems resistant to the strange charisma that’s exuded by the Champions, I’m in the best position to educate them. I’m not just trying to get Brilliant to agree with everything that I think, but I’m trying to create the space that she needs in order to develop into the ant that she wants to be. When I eventually let her loose on the Colony she’ll at least have a solid conceptual understanding of who she is and what she’s passionate about.

I also get the opportunity to make sure that she’s not obsessed with something that’ll get all of us killed.

[All right. This is where we entered.]

The path branches from here in three different directions, meaning we have two possible avenues of investigation.

“Do you sense anything, Brilliant?”

She hesitates.

“Nothing right now. The trail may have gone cold given how long ago they moved through here.”

So we just have to guess. Ah well.

[This way. Let’s see what we can see.]

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