After a couple of hours I was able to get the hatchlings to operate in a reasonable way. The first few enemies we defeated with acid and then let the little workers chow down after I'd dragged the Biomass clear of the farm. They ran out of acid quickly though and I was forced to incapacitate the prey before letting the young ants swarm it, training their bite skills and gaining experience.
We repeated this process until the farm was empty, then I had them drink their fill from the water before we moved into the next farm.
I'd only had to stop them from throwing themselves into the fight and embracing their own certain doom a few times! Progress!
Despite having intellectually understood my point that by living they would be able to contribute more to the colony than they could by dying, the urge to throw themselves in harms way to protect their fellow hatchlings was overpowering.
At one point a new monster had burst out of the farm wall whilst the hatchlings were eating. I'd known about it of course, but before I could deal with it, one of the workers had already leaped at the enemy, screaming "I'll slow it down with my congealed blood! Attack from the flanks!"
Luckily I'd been quick enough to Dash in and knock him aside before crushing the offending monster with a savage bite attack.
Naturally I'd then thwacked the offending ant on the head and launched into a lecture about appropriate crises response no necessarily including immediate sacrifice. Maybe they one day would be in a situation that demanded sacrifice, but this sure as heck wasn't it!
After instructing the ants to spend the Biomass they had accumulated and handing out a bit of advice (none of them so much as twitched by the way), we moved onto the next farm to repeat the process.
I need to stuff these hatchlings full of experience and Biomass as fast as possible. There isn't long until the next wave will be born and then we'll have two hundred of the little pests to deal with!
"We stick to the same plan as before" I inform my class of diminutive workers as we cling to the ceiling of the next farm. "We begin with acid bombardment of the target until ammunition is expended, then we move bites. Remember to focus on the skill you are using! We want to see some juicy level ups. Anyone who hits level five is banned from taking more experience, we need everyone to hit five as soon as possible."
"Yes senior!" they shout.
In this way we continue to rush through the farms at breakneck speed. With twenty of the little workers we are able to push through the farms at a fairly rapid clip as they team up to devour any available Biomass in record speed and I defeat the monsters we encounter with ease, tying them down with gravity bolts.
When we hit the third farm, the first worker reached level five. By the fifth, most of them had reached level five and were ready to form their cores. By the sixth, they all were.
"Excellent! It's been a great training session troops! Plenty of Biomass absorbed, skills developed and levels gained. It's time now to form your cores! Let's return to the nest and find a safe spot."
Dutifully, the little ants follow along behind me as we retreat to the nest proper. Just to make sure they are looked after I take them down into my own personal chamber at the very base of the nest where Tiny sits on guard, munching on the last thing to try and leap out of the walls at him.
With a bit of encouragement, the ants settle in and spend their levels, condensing their cores. An exciting moment for any young ant!
Whilst they do that, I hustle up the main tunnel, the awkward stillness still reverberating through the nest, to check in with Crinis.
[Nothing has been happening, Master. After the last of the workers returned it has been very still.]
[Ok. You keep looking out and make sure that we aren't attacked. I'm counting on you to defend us if we get into trouble.]
[Of course Master!] Crinis declared confidently, [I will allow no trash to desecrate our home.]
Well…. Good. My greatest fear is that another wave of monsters will attack us over the surface whilst the workers are out of commission. In which case it would be up to Crinis and myself to hold them off for as long as possible and hope that the workers would start waking up.
Vibrant is already awake of course and it doesn't take her long to find me as she darts from chamber to chamber, checking on the workers.
"Hi-hi! How are things going with the new ones?" she asks, not even pausing as she rushes by me.
"It's going well so far, I think they'll work out…. Ok?" nope, she's gone. At least she's keeping an eye on all of the chambers like she promised.
Time to head back down.
The workers having their species changed is unexpected and I don't know how long they are going to be out of action. It's already been a few hours and so far only Vibrant has awakened. It had better not take much longer, it's really stressing me out.
When I pass through the Queen's chamber I take a moment to check in on her. The massive ant who is the mother of all members of the colony appears to be slumbering peacefully. Her body is totally still, sunk deep into torpor.
I really hope Mother wakes up soon. The colony just isn't the same without her calming presence. Perhaps it's just me hoping too hard but I swear I saw her antenna twitch as I turned away to head back down into my chamber. I'll tell myself it was real for sure. Shell be up soon!
Whilst the ants finish forming their cores I dig out my own core supply and start fusing together a few special cores. I'm going to have a happy surprise for these little fellow when they wake up!
Ah, the joys of being a mentor. It's tough watching them grow up so fast!