[How long will you be gone for?] Enid asks worriedly.
[As long as it takes to remove the threat] I reply.
This is why I don't like coming up here to the human camp. No sooner did I appear than people started gathering and pointing. Then the priest came at a run, his face flushed with excitement and began exhorting the people to pay their respects to me. In a flash I had people raising their hands or kneeling nearby as I nervously waited for Enid to show up.
I'm thankful the crowd maintained a respectful distance from me. It seems their fear of Dungeon monsters isn't completely gone.
[Do you have any idea what is actually causing these monsters to attack the surface?] she asks.
[I'm not sure. I have a few suspicions, but I don't exactly know what we are up against. The colony, and by extensions you humans, are not safe while the Expanse below us continues to send out these monsters. They need to be removed]
Enid frowns as she ponders my words. Why am I even here? I could have just spoken to the Queen and then disappeared underground, nobody here in the camp would have been the wiser. It isn't as if they see me very often, I'm almost always underground already.
I guess Enid herself has been helpful and respectful. I don't really have any reason to keep her in the dark. Since this expedition has a direct impact on their own safety, I suppose it doesn't hurt to tell them.
Just…. Give me a little space people!
[The people here seem remarkably well disposed towards ant monsters. Is that safe?] I'm forced to ask as a child attempts to sneak forward and touch me only to be snatched back by an adult.
Enid looks at me oddly for a moment before replying.
[You and your colony have kept these people safe on several occasions. The only reason we have been able to settle here and start making a life for ourselves again is that you and your colony are here, taming the land and protecting us. Of course, we are grateful. With Beyn here that gratitude is only getting more ingrained]
I'll need to have words with him at some point, but for now, I'm worried he may just take it as some sort of divine visitation. The guy is just odd. I bit his arm off, how did he end up such a fervent supporter?!
Enid hesitates before speaking again. [There are a lot of valuable resources that can be extracted from an Expanse. I was a merchant before, and I know the value of many things that can be found in the Dungeon. If you see something that looks special, bring it to me, and I can tell you about it].
[I'll think about it].
Other than Biomass and monster cores, what else does the colony require? On the off chance that something useful can be found down there, I might keep this in mind. Still, in my mind, it's far more likely to be helpful to the humans than it is to us.
After a few more words I bid Enid goodbye and carefully back myself up and leave. The people reluctantly part to let me through, the priests' voice raising to an even higher crescendo before I manage to disappear out of sight. Somehow, not being able to hear exactly what he's saying makes it feel worse.
Safely back the nest I feel much more comfortable. My people! It doesn't take long to explain the situation to Mother. As always she expresses concern for my safety but encourages me to do what is best for the family.
This ant doesn't let his family down. No chance.
Farewells handled, Tiny gathers the still slumbering Vibrant unexpectedly gently in one massive paw and Crinis hops onto my back. Time to depart!
I'm feeling exciting for the upcoming challenge but at the same time a little nervous. We are throwing ourselves into the great unknown in order to protect the colony from harm. Something about it just makes my ant heart sing. Going to have to watch out for this feeling in case it motivates me to do something stupid. I get up to enough of that on my own.
At any rate, there isn't anyone else in the colony who could handle this level of danger, so it has to me and the crew.
In order to ensure we don't miss any waves we take the long way down, sweeping the tunnels clean and using the creatures we find to get a little extra xp in the bank before we get to the Expanse. If we can level up even one skill by one point it might be help by more than we expect. To this end I use my new bite attack, Ripping Bite, exclusively. This ends up is some…. Messy combats. Crinis seems to approve but I personally aren't as much of a fan. At least the skill is accruing experience.
In this way it takes us a number of hours to reach the Expanse, deep below the surface. When we approach Vibrant finally begins to show signs of stirring from her slumber. Her body has undergone a number of changes during the journey, including a rather dramatic increase in size (at last!).
I can't wait to take a look at her status and she what she decided to choose!
As we post up outside the Marsh Expanse I decide to put Crinis on guard duty whilst the rest of us open up the shortcut, clear out a small section of tunnel and nestle down for a short break.
We need our wits about us for this next test. If Vibrant is going to be fighting alongside us I want to make sure she's got the right stuff after evolving.
It doesn't take long for her to wake up and regain her normal energy.
"Hi senior! How long did I sleep?"
"Well I'd say it was…."
"Wow! Where are we? Did we move somewhere?"
"Uhh.. Yes. Tiny carried you. We came down …"
"Thanks Tiny! I wasn't heavy was I?" she rushes over to Tiny, tapping him vigorously with her antennae.
The big ape just looks down at her for a moment before reaching out with one big finger to poke her on top of her head.
"Hey! Hee-hee! You're the best Tiny!"
"Just come over here for a moment would you?!" I grate out.
Full of beans, she bounces over to me and stops, still managing to wiggle from one foot to the other as she awaits my instructions. No matter how far she evolves I don't think her high energy level is ever going to change.
"I want to take a look at your core and see what your stats are like. Is that ok?" I ask.
Bringing my antennae forward it's time for core surgery once more!
After a bit of fiddling about I put together her status:
Level: 1 (core)
Skills: Advanced Digging Level 3; Advanced Acid Shot Level 6; Grip Level 4; Crushing Bite Level 5; Advanced Dash Level 2; Exo-Skeleton defence level 3; Stamina level 2; Piercing Bite Level 4; Leap Level 2;
Mutations: Enhanced Reflective Exoskeleton +10; Savage Mandibles +5; Accelerated Legs + 5; Focused Eyes +5; Foresight Antennae +5; Burning Acid Gland +5; Widened Command Aura (formica) +5; Frequent Explosive Energy Gland +5; Pheromone Language Gland +5; Slow release Regeneration Gland +5; Inner Carapace Plating; Speed Aura Gland;
Species: Major Soldier (Formica)
Skill points: 6
What the heck is this? Her physical stats are already higher than mine?!
And by so much?!