The Colony really only had two speeds. Fast and breakneck, as the humans referred to it. The latter didn’t make much sense to the ants at first, they didn’t have necks after all, not in the traditional sense. What they could understand was the idea of moving so fast you ran a high risk of injuring yourself. The lecture the Eldest had levelled at them was a direct warning against this sort of behaviour.
The idea of breakneck pace had been rejected on a fundamental level. In its place came a new speed: slow.
Coolant liked slow. It was much more her sort of pace. Slow didn’t mean taking it easy, slow didn’t mean slacking, slow meant being careful, being patient, ensuring that each task was done perfectly before moving onto the next one. It appealed to an ant with a detail oriented focus like herself.
And in the end, what she found was that slow, wasn’t slow at all. Slow was smooth, slow was controlled, which, as it turned out, was fast. No mistakes, no backtracking, everything progressing in its turn without clogging up the project further down the line. Coolant found that by working at a slow and deliberate pace, she got more done, not less.
It was with this spirit that the Colony reinforced its position in the fourth stratum. Lines were drawn up, tunnels allocated, formations pre-planned before a single claw touched the Mother Tree’s bark. When the ants began to stream through, everything was prepared. They were directed by the squad into their allocated places. Once each formation was filled, the final ant slotted into position, the entire group would march forth along their planned path to engage in the ongoing battles already underway.
No time was lost. No waste or inefficiency dragged the operation down, despite there being no unseemly haste. To Coolant’s calm and unruffled eyes, it was beautiful.
“Why are we moving so slow?!” Propellant raged.
“You still haven’t embraced the ‘go slow to go fast’ philosophy? You’re denying the evidence of your own eyes.”
“It’s nonsense!” the fire mage groused. “You go fast to go fast! The very thought of going slow and steady makes my carapace itch!”
“It seems like your rotten personality is the issue at fault,” Coolant observed. “With a little patience you might be able to proceed further with your fire magic.”
“Bah! Patience isn’t required to master fire magic! What’s required is a burning hot spirit and guts!”
“If you say so…”
“Don’t you two have your own places to be?” A new scent intruded on their well-worn argument. “Or do you have time to waste blowing pheromones at each other?”
The general bustled up to the two mages, her antennae twitching with irritation.
“We’re directing the mage battalions as they come through the gateway,” Coolant assured the general. “I was mainly discussing how smoothly the deployment is going. The planning and preparation this time has been impeccable.”
“When we move hundreds of thousands of troops into the area over a single day, we better be organised or everything would go to hell,” Victor grumped.
“You aren’t wrong,” Propellant replied, “I already know exactly where I’m going once the next wave is through. I can’t wait to put some fire into these termite scum.”
Coolant could practically feel the heat coming off the fire mage as she imagined setting the termite world ablaze.
“I’m being deployed on the west side,” Coolant told the general. “Do we know if water or ice are effective against the insects?”
“If you can harden it enough to punch through their carapace, ice spears are effective. Other than that, they don’t like the cold much, just like us. Cool them enough and they get sluggish, it might not seem like much at first, but it adds up over time.”
“Be better if you just set them alight,” Propellant gloated, “fire is super effective against these punks.”
“Some elements work better against some foes than others. That’s nothing to get excited about,” Coolant responded… coolly.
“Here comes the next wave!” Victor pointed to prevent another argument. “You’d better get down there and direct them.”
A steady flow of mage ants marched into the staging grounds next to the Bruan’chii village and the two council members rushed down to meet them. Thanks to the detailed planning they were able to direct their fellow caste members with little effort, finally able to tag along behind them towards the front lines.
“See you when the battle is won,” Propellant gave a jaunty wave of her antenna, before turning and joining the back of the departing formation.
“Don’t get overexcited and set our own soldiers on fire,” Coolant replied.
“Hey! That happened one time!”
She ignored her sibling and turned back to the harried looking Victor.
“I’ll be on my way as well,” she said.
“Good, I need to get back to Sloan once I’m done here. Directing this battle is proving to be extremely easy and absurdly difficult at the same time.”
“How so?” Coolant asked, intrigued.
“We are fighting on so many fronts at once, and managing such immense numbers. This is the largest battle the Colony has ever undertaken. The logistical work is a nightmare.”
“The easy part?”
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The general clacked her mandibles in irritation.
“The Eldest has pulled so many termites down on their head that we’re punching straight through their lines as if they weren’t even there. As a diversion, we couldn’t possibly ask for better.”
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“Sounds like the Eldest is doing great work, as usual.”
“I wish I knew if they planned it that way…”
“You’ll never find an answer to that,” Coolant laughed before she patted her sibling on the carapace and turned to catch up to her own battalion.
The ant troops were in extremely high spirits, their eagerness for the fight brimming over into constant bursts of “FOR THE COLONY!” that quickly rose into a deafening chorus before fading. Into the twisting tunnels they marched, underneath the colossal roots of the Mother Tree and past the myriad defensive layers that the ants deployed here had constructed.
All of that work would need to be done again once the termites were expelled from this mountain. The lines of walls and traps would have to be moved forward significantly, but that was an issue for the carvers.
Eventually, after numerous twists and turns, the column of ten thousand ants could finally hear the din of battle echoing from ahead. Immediately their pace increased as orders began to be relayed down the line. Scouts must have come back to communicate the exact situation and relay orders from the general managing this theatre.
Coolant and her mages listened intently to their instructions. As soon as they knew their role, they began to make preparations, drawing out mana and shaping it to their needs.
The moment they burst into the open ground they let their spells fly. A host of dense ice blocks arced through the air over the ants’ heads before they exploded above the termite lines. Shards of hardened ice pelted the bugs, lodging into their joints and melting over their carapace.
“Freeze them all,” Coolant directed, her eyes cold.