The Colony was like a boulder rolling down a hill. The moment the wave ended they had exploded outwards, and their momentum had only grown as time had passed. The more they expanded, the more nests they created, the easier it was for them to continue the process. More Queens allowed more eggs to be laid, which grew the workforce which meant more nests could be constructed. Only months ago the Colony which had been confined to a single nest now boasted six satellite nests with four new main nests under construction. Kilometre after kilometre of tunnel was now the claimed territory of the ants, along with numerous expanses which they harvested vociferously, using every resource on hand to sate the unending hunger of the brood.
This relentless growth made it inevitable that they would eventually encroach on the interests of another power, but Coolant hoped that day was still far off. The destruction left behind by Garralosh meant that the first stratum and surface were clear of any major influence for a great distance around their main nest. The frontier kingdoms no longer existed and thus all of that empty Dungeon had become ripe for conquest. Likewise, the lands to the south were abandoned wilds, deemed too bothersome to settle by the established empires of the surface. Already the Colony had cleared swathes of land, establishing farms, roads and prepared sites for villages and nests.
The second stratum was more crowded, since the Colony knew that to their east the Empire of Stone simmered, still smarting from their earlier defeat. It made no sense to expand in this direction, that would only shorten the time needed for the golgari to threaten their interests. The third stratum was likely to be even more contested. Perhaps not one neighbour would object to the growth of the Colony so close to their doorstep, but two, or more. The golgari almost certainly maintained a presence on this stratum, rich with resources and hunting grounds as it was, but who else might they run into?
This was a question that the strategists and thinkers of the Colony obsessed over daily.
Coolant had been amongst the first to consider that she and her siblings knew precious little about the factions and kingdoms of the world, potential allies and enemies all of them. This was essential knowledge that could guide their actions to the best outcomes possible. Who could they afford to offend? Who did they need to avoid? It was for this reason that the mages began to spearhead an effort to question and learn from as many of the people who came under their ‘rule’ as possible. The refugees of Renewal and the people of Rylleh were all untapped sources of intelligence that could add the detail and colour that was so lacking in their picture of this world. Today the council member had come to the intelligence gathering station the Colony had established in the underground city where willing volunteers were interviewed and their information collated.
“How goes the day’s proceedings, Accountant?”
The rather idiosyncratic ant looked up at Coolant through her ridiculous and oversized glasses.
“Very well! The merchants have proven to be a wealth of information once we understood what they wanted.”
“They wanted to be paid?”
“How did you know?”
“They always want to be paid.”
“I… suppose that’s true, isn’t it?”
“So, what did we end up having to give them?”
“Nothing. The faithful barricaded their homes and stores until they volunteered to talk to us.”
Coolant slapped her forehead with a front leg. The humans could be very enthusiastic when it came to helping the Colony, sometimes more than was necessary.
“Make sure we give the merchants something for their time. They only recently calmed down and we don’t need them getting riled up again.”
The longer the Colony was in charge of Rylleh, the more they had learned running roughshod over everyone all the time wasn’t always the best decision. Sure, if they chose, they could dedicate the resources to locking down any whisper of dissent in the city, but why bother? They had much more important things to do! Better that the systems they put in place and oversight they had installed keep things running smoothly. This way the ant presence within the city itself could be kept to a minimum.
“So, what have we learned?”
Accountant pushed her glasses up with one leg, a habit that caused a flash of irritation to run through the elder mage. Why the heck did she need glasses anyway!? A useless non-monster fixation! In truth, the glasses did in fact serve a purpose. Accountant had them made in order to provide magnification since she spent such an inordinate amount of time perusing human documents in her role. The glasses themselves were a work of art, hundreds of individual lenses aligned perfectly to her compound eyes to provide the necessary focus to read the tiny writing. The best part? She didn’t have to use any mutations or evolutionary energy to achieve the effect!
“Our understanding of the trade routes and goods exchanged with the Kaarmodo to the north has grown extensively. The sand lizards are a fascinating society with a relationship that borders on symbiotic with their attendants -“
“But are they likely to fight us?”
“Oh yes, absolutely. They are very territorial according to the people we’ve spoken to. Obviously, we don’t have much by way of verifiable history here, but from what we’ve been told the Dungeon society of the Kaarmodo is amongst the oldest on Pangera.”
“Interesting. What of the Brathian?”
“Ah, the water people. Yes. Apparently, there is a small population of them within the lake next to the former kingdom of Liria, though their main strongholds are far from here. Their presence in the third stratum is weak, for fairly obvious reasons, though we have learned that they covet territory in the fourth.”
“Any ideas on why?”
“What about these so called ‘old kingdoms’.”
“They are far from us right now, much further north, beyond the lands claimed by the Kaarmodo. I’m sure that we will run into them eventually, but so far we haven’t interacted with them in any meaningful capacity.”
“Have the people here had much to do with them?”
“It would appear not. It is… difficult, as I understand, for people who live on the frontier to visit the old kingdoms.”
“What about to our west?”
“From what I understand there is some conflict to be had in that direction that remains unresolved.”
“The Kaarmodo and the Mother Tree.”
Coolant fell silent and thought for a moment. There likely wasn’t much they could do to interfere in that mess at this time, but in a few months, when the Colony had extended their reach into the third stratum and begun to extract resources from it? The tree had reached out to assist the Colony in their time of need and she would make a powerful ally.