By the time we came within reach of the colony's scent trails I'd managed to level external mana manipulation twice, and we were completely exhausted. Tiny was stumbling with every step, the poor guy was the heaviest of all of us by quite the margin and the hard running had worn him down. Stamina had levelled again for me at least, but only the once, proving just what kind of ridiculous effort was required to get that skill to level up.
Crinis had declined to evolve on the journey itself, preferring to use the time riding on my back to contemplate her skills, Biomass spend and the direction she wanted to take in her all-important evolution. When I could spare it, I turned my own thoughts to the possible upcoming evolution. I had no idea how the colony would be able to bring down a monster like Garralosh but if I was to do my bit, then I needed to be as strong as possible. Getting six levels in a short amount of time would be difficult without any higher tier monsters to chomp on but it wasn't impossible.
The first scent trail I came upon tingled against my antennae as the pheromones registered on my sense of smell.
"Biomass source in this direction has been exhausted. >"
Looks like the colony has been raiding towards the north in search of surface monsters to fuel the colony's growth. They must have been successful if they managed to wipe them out. Hopefully the workforce was ready to begin to hunt in the Dungeon, if they hadn't already. Vibrant had been taking her personal posse of workers down there for a while now, but the full time raids needed to start en masse. We didn't have much time and the colony needs to grow as much as possible.
Morrelia and I discussed briefly how much time it would take for Garralosh to arrive at the village and she gave us a week. Maybe a little more. It was a heap of time, and precious little at the same time.
We slowed a pace a little, this close to the finish line. The scent trails became thicker and more frequent the closer we got until we started to run into small patrols of workers.
"Hello Eldest!" they greeted me, "work hard!"
I'm always working hard dammit!
"How are things with the colony?" I called to them as we passed by.
"Busy!" one of them called back.
It's a colony of ants! Of course things are busy!
Morrelia must have noticed something about the interaction because she reached out to me over the mind bridge.
[Do you talk to each other?] she enquired.
Ugh. Letting the humans know more about the colony could be a risk but also a sign of trust. It's not as if they could overhear what we say to each other, so I don't really see the risk in it… Perhaps I've just grown to trust Morrelia a little more over our time together, which is possibly what she wanted out of this expedition. At any rate, I decide to answer the question.
[We do] I admitted, [we can talk to each other using our pheromones. It was pretty basic at first but has grown more complex lately. We can talk pretty much as well as humans can.]
Better, if you include the development of the scent-moji.
[What did they say?] she asked curiously.
[I asked how things are with the colony and she told me it's 'busy'.]
Morrelia stared at me for a moment before throwing back her head and laughing.
[It’s a colony of ants!] she chortled, [of course they're busy!]
Fifteen minutes later we parted ways, Morrelia to head to the village and myself toward the colony. The workers were thicker now, bustling here and there and it wasn't long before the saw the anthill in the distance.
What in the name of great googly-moogly!?!?!
The anthill had tripled in size at least. High as a hill and just as wide, with a strong palisade around the outside formed of wooden posts and… was that a moat?!
Small openings dotted the surface of the massive hill, with ants poking in and out constantly as they went about their various tasks. Burlier looking soldier ants patrolled the hill here and there, antennae twitching this direction and that as they kept their senses sharp for invasion.
What the heck was been going on in my absence? All this dirt must have come from somewhere, which means the excavation below ground should be spectacular. It appears that scout wasn't joking when she said things had been 'busy'.
[Tiny, make yourself comfortable and get some rest. You earned it buddy.]
The weary bat-faced gorilla flopped to the ground the moment I'd finished speaking, exhausted to the bone. I wasn't even five metres away before he started snoring.
I would also love to throw myself down the ground and nap but I have serious business to take care of before I'd get the chance. I felt that there would be precious little time to rest over the next few days, what with the impending doom marching south to kill all of us.
There were several crude bridges made from logs laid next to each at intervals around the colony and I hustled over the closest one with Crinis still riding on my back. The footing would seem treacherous and uneven to a human but to the ants it was like a broad highway, my claws gripped into the wood with ease and I passed over the waters swiftly.
Then up, up and up we went, climbing the side of the hill to reach the main entrance at the top. Scent trails were thick on the ground here, scouting paths, hunting paths, even resource collection paths had been laid out trailing away from the hill.
Ignoring the smaller entrances I pushed my way to the top so that I could enter through the main opening. I wanted to get the broadest sense of the changes and I was less likely to get lost coming through the main entrance.
The problem I had with the anthill is that my tunnel map doesn't work as well above ground, it only maps out Dungeon tunnels. The portion of the nest beneath the surface level was neatly outlined in my mental map but the rest … nothing.
Fortunately scent trails had been used almost like the coloured lines in a hospital to guide workers the right way.
"Day Brood chambers."
"Mage Training area."
So organised! Looks like someone finally took charge and put some thought into the nest layout and the sorts of spaces we might need! Thank goodness, because it was never going to me. I've been coming to know myself more and more recently and I'm happy to admit that this sort of detailed planning is not exactly my forte.
Clutching onto the wall of the tunnel I made my way down into the depths of the nest, the sheer number of workers rushing around catching me by surprise. It feels as if the colony has doubled in size since I left, which is absurd. I'm sure the numbers aren't that high but there are surely a heck of a lot more than I saw last time if this level of activity is anything to go by.
[Crinis, pass me the core.]
The little blob on my back wordlessly passed the core she had been clutching in one tentacle along for the ride and I grasped it in my teeth.
I couldn't wait to show mother what I'd brought her.