Chapter 951 – Free Time

This period of history became known as the Great Expansion, the first of several large spans of aggressive land claims made by the Colony. What differentiated these from the manner of conquest utilised by the sapient races of Pangera was our unusual ‘top down’ approach. When the Colony claimed an area in the third stratum, they also seized the land above it in the second, and the first, and on the surface.

When we descended to another layer in force, we strived to ensure that the resources and cities beneath what we had already taken became ours as well. Although it was generally considered a normal practice to try and achieve this vertical structure, none were as fanatical about it as the Colony. Indeed, it was commonplace to possess significant holdings in the fourth stratum, a place of incredible value to any with the means to exploit it, and not bother to invest in the extremely difficult to manage third stratum, and unimportant second and first strata.

As we remained creatures of low mana requirements, the nests and academies spread far and wide across the upper levels of the Dungeon, accompanied by matching outreach from the human population on the surface. During this first wave of outreach, the city of Rylleh established its exploratory foundation that initiated construction of the new city that became Sothoth.

  • From the records of Historiant.

I really need a holiday. As nice as it’s been to engage in endless combat against the termites, and believe me, it has been satisfying on a primal level to rip into those damn abominations, I feel like I need a break.

With the lizards stepping in and taking control of the offensive directly, the entire battlefield has turned into a giant cat and mouse game. Vast swarms of termites sweep forward, tear up our tunnels, try to hunt down our patrols, lay false scent trails and generally be a nuisance before they retreat. Or they pretend to retreat but instead lay a trap and when we run in to try and chase them out, termites pour out of the walls and drop on top of us.

Naturally this means the Colony has returned fire, setting traps of their own, false tunnels, chambers filled with concentrated acid, misleading trails, surprise forays into disputed territory, raids on termite tunnels as they ferry reinforcements to the front lines.

Despite the long conflict, we still haven’t managed to get hold of a single lizard. They’re crafty creatures, deceit dripping from every cursed scale. The only ant who got close was me, and I had to let Invidia half blow me up to get the rocket jump I needed to close the gap.

Every other time they’ve slipped away without even being seen, no matter how hard we try to intercept them.

For my part I’ve just been running at the termites along with Tiny, Invidia and Crinis, sometimes with Sarah, causing as much mayhem as possible before retreating back to safe ground. Once we regroup, we try to find another likely location and run out to do it all again.

Despite the ongoing conflict, the reality of the situation cannot help but sink in. The number of termites swarming around the territory of the mother tree continues to increase. Things are coming to a head.

Which is why I’ve had to pull all the way back to the Bruan’chii settlement to try and get an audience with the tree herself. As a fellow reincarnation, I have a much better chance of conversing with the insane plant than my own kin.

I stare up at the massive Grove Keeper as he stands over me. In terms of overall mass, I’m quite a bit larger than the tree man, but ants tend to be much longer than they are tall, I’m quite a midget for a tier six monster in that respect. I barely come up to Tiny’s waist when he stands up straight.

[Is she willing to talk or not?] I ask.

[Hmmmm. I will ask, though I am not sure what she will say. Mother’s mood has been… difficult of late.]

Seriously? That weed? She’s always been difficult! As far as I’ve been told, she’s been difficult from the moment she reincarnated on Pangera…

Feeling a little indignant, I wait while the many flowers, bushes and roots that adorn the walls in the chamber rustle amongst themselves as the Grove Keeper tilts his head, listening to the words of his creator.

[She will speak,] he tells me eventually.

[Nice. So I have to ask, is she going to be able to help against the termite threat any time soon? We’ve been doing pretty darn well holding off in the invasion so far on our own, but a little assistance now and then wouldn’t go astray…] [She has been helping. When the incursions reach her roots, hasn’t she been fighting?] the Keeper replies without consulting his mother.

[She has been doing the bare minimum. When there is a direct threat to her, she fights, but my family are fighting, and dying, without any aid from her at all in the tunnels abroad. Don’t deflect my words, I want to hear from the shrub-in-chief. Ask her.]

What follows is an extended period of rustling as the two silently argue back and forth. I can’t even detect a mental connection between them.

[She has been gathering her strength. She expended a great deal of energy in her fight against the termites. Without our aid, there was little she could do to prevent them from destroying and pillaging their way towards her roots. It will be years before she is able to return to her previous strength.] [So that means she doesn’t have to contribute to preserving her own life? That’s just nonsense! Without us here, fighting her battles, where would she be? Where would you be? We said we would come and lend aid, and we have. We’ve risked far more in the defence of your mother than she ever risked in protecting the Colony. If she wants to continue to enjoy our help, then she needs to step up.]
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The anger in my voice is rising the longer I go on. My siblings continue to fight and die in a war that really is none of their business. If the Mother Tree wanted us to repay a favour, then I consider it repaid a hundred times over by now. She wants to sit back and lick her wounds while we defend her? No chance.

Only allowed on

There is another long silence as the Grove Keeper and the Mother Tree argue. I can’t know what they are saying, but if I was to guess, the Grove Keeper doesn’t want her to get involved, and she is actually willing to help. The Keeper’s attitude grows more stiff as their debate continues until finally he turns to me.

[She will help,] he says gruffly before he turns to stomp away.

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