It was a tired and bedraggled group that I led out of the tunnels after a few days of hunting. Trying to track down the groups of demons that had escaped from the city proved to be a massive pain in the business district, much as I expected it to. Nevertheless, when we finally made our way to the plains outside of Orpule around which Vibrant and her gang were still running laps, we returned triumphant! Seven out of ten groups successfully annihilated! It was rough going, especially toward the end when everyone (other than me) was tired, but we persevered! The destruction of these groups will surely cause some pain for the city which will soon become part of the Colony’s territory!
Brilliant was instrumental in bringing about this outcome, her ability to tap into the residual memory of the Dungeon itself was the only way we could track the wayward demons. As a side benefit, we’ve gotten close to pushing the hatchling to tier five in what must surely be the most rapid ascent of any ant in the history of the Colony! Another ten levels and she’ll have it! Once the battle for the city is done, getting her to evolve is going to be my highest priority! Once she reaches that stage she’ll be decently strong and I won’t have to worry about her evaporating in a puff of smoke when some demon looks at her the wrong way.
“Hey-hey, Senior!” Vibrant greets us enthusiastically when she finally loops around the city and back to our side. “Nice to see you again! How’d things go? Good I hope! I’m sure they were good! Hello Crin-Crin! Are you ready for more tag? I sure am!”
The machine gun of pheromones into my face is as unpleasant as ever and it’s almost a relief to encourage the eldritch horror riding on my back to go have some fun with her friend whilst the rest of us take stock for a moment.
“How many were you able to destroy, Eldest?” the general Emilia approaches, ready to record our latest results.
“We managed to track down and annihilate the sixth and seventh groups who deployed south. It wasn’t easy, especially since the trail had gotten so cold, but we managed it in the nick of time.”
“Another three groups were sent out since you left, which means there are six still out there.”
“Well, that means the demons remaining in the city are even fewer I suppose. Keep our claws crossed that the defence will manage to hold back at Roklu. Do you suspect any tier sevens left the city?”
“We can’t confirm it, but we believe that it’s likely. Some of the groups had fluctuating mana readings which is almost always a sign that concealment is taking place.”
“There’s no way they sent out more than one right?!”
“We don’t think so. The mages in our group expect that it was a decoy effort to make it harder for us to work out which disc carried the tier seven.”
“Sneaky…”[Anthony… can I go sleep yet?] [Ah! Sarah, don’t sneak up on me like that!] [I’m bigger than you, how on earth can I possibly sneak? That’s not important. Sleep is important. Where are we resting?] [Ah, it’s over that way.]
“I’ll be back later, I think the group is in dire need of a nap.”
It hasn’t all been running laps for Vibrant and her crew. She has all castes as members in her posse and the carvers have been busy laying the groundwork for the coming invasion. Two kilometres from the base of the pillar that supports Orpule the staging grounds have begun to take shape, including a convenient rest area that Sarah, Tiny, Invidia, Brilliant and Al can pile into for some well-deserved snooze time. After days without rest, constantly roaming through the dangerous, lava-filled tunnels, I can’t really blame them for being low on energy. With my twenty bodyguards and the huge numbers of ants teeming throughout this area of the stratum, I’ve generally been fine. Vibrant’s group never left my range throughout our time on the prowl, evidence of the increased potency of my reforged Vestibule.
If I actually took mutations to increase the range… it might get pretty crazy. As it is, every time I improve the organ, the range is increased as a by-product, enough that I’m content with it.
Speaking of mutating, I should get some more of that done while I have the chance. I’ve managed to put away enough Biomass to pay for another few upgrades and the fight tomorrow promises to be a tough one.
I look up at the city of Orpule. Bigger than Roklu and not by a little bit, the demon city is made up of several layers rather than just the one. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but several of the giant plates have extended out of the pillar, allowing for multiple levels of buildings. Other than the primary level, the others are still much smaller, clearly in the process of expanding to reach their full size. I really do have to find out how they’ve done it, induce the pillar to grow more levels. We could do with more space in Roklu, since that’s likely to be the primary staging ground for the Colony on this stratum.
With the others settled down to rest, I make myself comfortable and prepare to mutate. Before I can get started, I feel something tickling through Vestibule, a drip of Will that quickly turns into a flood. The unified determination of the invasion force wells up inside me, a powerful rise in emotion that almost drives me to my feet and sends me charging at the base of the pillar on my own. I restrain myself with some effort. Tens of thousands of ants all with a singular, unified purpose are enough to have a strong effect on me, even if I guard against it. I’ll need to be careful over the next few days.
I crawl to a higher vantage point and look out, hoping to see the arriving force. It takes a little while, my eyes still aren’t amazing at a long distance such as this, but eventually they become more than a blur on the horizon. A huge column of ants marches forward, indomitable and unyielding. Before they are anywhere near me I can already feel the vibrations of their steps through the ground. With this many members of the Colony within range, the Vestibule once more floods my body with energy as the whispered Will of my siblings pulses in my veins.
We aren’t holding much back for this assault. Now that we’ve gained a foothold on this level, it’s imperative that we hold it. The opportunities and experience we can harvest from this stratum are the key to unlocking more tier six ants. We haven’t even begun to explore what rare resources we may be able to tap. Rather than take a backwards step, we’ve decided to use this conflict with Brixin to expand our footprint instead. Aggressively seize more land that we can then consolidate. Once we’ve secured our gains, it won’t end there. The Colony is forever growing, with an inexhaustible demand for Biomass and cores. We will push and push until something decides to push back.
That’s when the real fun starts.