Pushes and pulls

A delivery system of flesh and bone. That’s what the horde truly was. As an instrument of the dark will that controlled it, the massive gathering of enslaved monsters had been used to scour the kingdom of Liria and possibly neighbouring kingdoms as well. Here and now? That mass of bodies served a different purpose. To deliver Garralosh and her children to the target of her wrath as easily as possible.

Sloan knew that only when they had destroyed enough, thinned enough of the horde away, would the true enemy show its face. Until then, Garralosh and the Kaarmodo would be content to stay back and allow their unwitting soldiers to absorb the punishment.

“The key to this battle, is holding enough strength in reserve that we can deal with the Croca-Beasts when they come,” Sloan had declared at the planning meeting.

To that end, the colony had prepared waves of tricks and schemes that they could employ. The horde would pay dearly for every inch of ground they took. The worry was, the primary reserve force of the colony still hadn’t woken up.

The Eldest was still sleeping!

Sloan couldn’t help but clean her antennae over and over again in an attempt to calm her nerves. Something her sibling couldn’t help but notice.

“Calm down,” Victor advised.

“I would if I could!” Sloan snapped back.

“The Eldest will awaken in time. How could you doubt it?”

“You do realise what will happen if they don’t?”

“I suspect that we’ll all be wiped out and the colony will cease to exist,” Victor replied, unruffled.

“Y-yes! That’s right!”

“And how does you stressing about it change anything? Have a little faith in the Eldest. When have they ever let us down?”

That was a little hard to argue against. The Eldest was a six legged storm, stirring up change wherever they went, but to date they had never let the colony down. Indeed, they had pushed the colony forward at every turn.

Sloan dragged her antennae through the knee joints of her front legs once more before she settled with a sigh. The two generals were positioned in the main nest in a chamber close to the surface. In a room next to them, scouts came and went at a furious pace, passing information to a team of generals who sorted it and manipulated a large three dimensional map carved into the chamber floor.

“Let’s see how the battle is progressing,” Victor suggested and moved to inspect the map.

Sloan clacked her mandibles in irritation.

“I don’t like it that we are stuck here, Victor,” Sloan grumbled.

Her sibling sighed, but sympathised.

“I want to be out there on the wall just as much as you. But the two of us are the best generals in the colony. We can best serve the colony from here. Don’t go Leeroy on me.”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Sloan chuckled.

Unlike the two relatively calm generals, the war chamber was a flurry of activity and filled with the muffled scents of a dozen different conversations. Ants crawled carefully over the map, making constant adjustments to the sticks and place markers there.

“Looks as if the first wall has done its job,” Victor observed as she poured over the map.

“We can still hold it,” Sloan proposed. “If we commit the reserves from the second wall we could hold on for another thirty minutes, at least.”

“The risk would be too high,” the other general countered, “and unnecessary. The outer wall wasn’t built to hold and was never intended to resist assault for an extended period.”

Sloan nodded. This was how the two of them did their best planning. One proposed a plan, the other tried to tear it down. After the back and forth was done, they felt comfortable that they had the best strategy they could make.

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“Alright then. Time to sound the retreat.”

Victor turned to the scouts waiting to carry messages to the front.

“Pass the word for the retreat from the first wall. Prepare the reserves. We want every family member to make it back.”

The scouts saluted and raced off to deliver their prepared messages whilst the two generals turned their eyes back to the map. Ants poured over it once more, making the delicate adjustments based on the event they knew were going to play out above.

Furious activity exploded within the nest. Ants ran over the top of each other as they hastened to reach their assigned positions. The potential for devastating loss was huge. The retreat needed to be managed carefully, with precision. An orderly retreat back to the second wall was the aim, not a scattered manoeuvre with the lines being overrun and soldiers being cut down left and right.

To this end, Proppelant had taken her place amongst the fire mages.

When the word came for the retreat, the spell slinging ants leapt into action.

“Get ready for it!” Proppelant bellowed, “draw out every scrap of your fire mana!”

The ant mages had been striving to master the skills of spell casting and mana shaping ever since the Eldest had shared the knowledge of them with the colony, but few had achieved a reasonable level of mastery. In fact, most of the ants were still stuck drawing from their fire mana gland until it was empty and then retreating to the Dungeon to recharge.

It had been an endless source of frustration for Propellant and Coolant but the reality was that the Mage Ants lacked the raw stats to push their skills into the higher tiers. Nonetheless, progress had been made in group spell casting, certain skills had been unearthed that allowed the ants to work in small teams to achieve better effects and the benefits were showing.

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In teams of five, the fire mages began to draw out the mana contained in their glands. The ants were positioned in a circular formation, facing inwards and in the middle of each group a bright flame sparked into life. The flame grew brighter over time as more mana was fed into it. At this stage, the lead mage in each group, the one with the highest manipulation skills, began to shape the raw energy into the desired construct.

It was a delicate moment, but each of these ants had trained hard for this. Proppelant watched each of the five teams closely, seeking out any sign that the spells might go awry. As the intensity built, the council members focus grew sharper, until the spells were completed and the pillars of flame roared once more into the sky.

As they did, the generals on the front lines prepared their soldiers as scouts rushed to cover each section of the wall, launching an acid barrage deep into the horde to further muddy the waters.

Grant grit her mandibles as the flames began to arc down.

“Get ready to fall-back!” she roared.

“Push!” came the order and the soldiers all along the wall shoved forward, snapping and biting at the monsters who threatened to tear them down into the mouth of the horde. Using their bodies and the strength of the ants who assisted them, the ants shoved back against the attackers, throwing them back of the wall and creating a breath of distance between the two forces.

“Run back! Now! Go, go, go!” from the pheromone glands of hundreds of ants all along the perimeter the call came, slamming into every set of antennae.

As one the ants turned and abandoned their first layer of defences, dashing back as fast as they could. The scent trails for the retreat paths had been lain days ago and they did not deviate from those safe passages in the slightest.

Grant waited until her section of wall was abandoned completely before she turned to go. Monsters had already pushed back against the wall and began to climb over in increasing numbers. It didn’t matter. She turned and dashed away just as the fire spells fell on top of the wall, incinerating the monsters and creating more distance between the attackers and the retreating ants.

The first wall had been taken at great cost to the horde. Grant felt deeply satisfied at the work that had been done. On to the next one.

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