"With your permission Eldest, I will leave the council and begin to organise a workforce to prepare our initial fortifications" Tungstant said.
I waved an antennae in approval and the small, dextrous ant climbed up the wall and out the roof of the chamber in a moment.
"Alright then. Pitfall traps, tunnels to attack, I like all of these ideas. What else have we got? How is our magic firepower coming along?" I asked.
The two mages in the room, Propellant and Coolant, shifted on their feet as they became the centre of attention for the council. The mage caste hadn't had a lot of time to build up their raw magic handling skills, and were without the benefit of my own extensive spending on brain power when it came to evolutions. Having said that, they were no slouches in the brain game and were able to choose their own elemental gland on evolution. So there had to be some juice there.
"The number of mage ants we have to work with is still limited" Coolant hedged.
There were over a thousand ants in the colony at this time, there were like a hundred new ants being born every day. How few mages could there be?
"How many are we talking about?" I asked.
"Five" Coolant said flatly.
"Five?!" I sputtered.
"Oh, seven including Coolant and I" Propellant offered helpfully.
"Why do we have so few mages? When fighting against a huge horde, like the one coming to kill us right now, more mage ants would be indispensable!"
I could see it in my mind's eye already. Tunnel entrances falling in to reveal teams of mage ants who blasted the front ranks of the horde with deadly fire, torching dozens of monsters with flamethrower like magic before retreating through the tunnels which collapsed behind them, leaving decimated and crispy ranks of enemies behind them.
A few members of the council shifted uncomfortably. "We've had most of the hatchlings move into the soldier caste recently" Antionette informed me, "Large numbers of scouts and soldiers have been born. Our more specialised castes have had slower recruitment rates for the moment."
Slower I could understand, but five?!
"Coolant and I have been doing our best to map out the skill paths from scratch and explore methods to raise up the future generations of mage ants" Propellant told me ruefully. "We didn't anticipate a need for a number of mages at this stage and wanted to take more time with our preparation."
Makes sense, but still, I would have loved to have more mages right now. To clear away large amounts of weak enemies they would have been indispensable. There may be a use for the mages we have, of course, but there is a lot that can be said for quantity.
As they say: Quantity, is a quality all of its own. That’s practically the ants motto.
"Ok then. We have two main objectives, we need to whittle down the horde that's coming our way, I need to help with that so I can reach my second objective, which is to level up so that I can evolve."
"You’re close to your next evolution, Eldest?" Victoriant asked, sounding oddly excited.
"I am" I affirmed with a dip of my antennae, "I only need six more levels. If we're going to battle against creatures as strong as those coming our way, we're going to need every little advantage we can get."
"I agree" Sloan the General piped up, "we may have the ability to chip away at the number of weaker monsters but tackling anything stronger is going to be beyond us for a time. If the Eldest can evolve then that task will be in capable hands."
You just wanted to dump all of the hard work onto me, didn't you? She's technically correct, but that doesn't serve to soothe my irritation.
"I think we can agree that we don't need to prioritise food gathering or egg laying to a high extent in the lead up to this crisis?" I asked the gathered council, "If we don't survive the upcoming battle then the colony will cease to exist."
"We shouldn't shut down food gathering entirely, surely?" protested Florence, the to this point silent Brood Tender, "without food the larvae will starve."
"I don't think anyone is suggesting that we cease food gathering operations completely" Sloan assured her, "but rather that we divert a significant portion of the soldiers currently acting to gather food to prepare for the defence."
Somewhat mollified, Florence settled back, though she and her fellow Brood Tender were clearly not happy. I understand it, less food coming in means less brood. What else is a Brood Tender going to do?
"We also need to keep enough senior workers here to ensure that the hatchling training program continues to run unabated. Each new hatchling deserves the best possible start we can give them, don't forget that!"
I eyeballed each of them at the same time, something you can only do with extensively upgraded compound eyes, one of the benefits of being an insect monster.
They each nodded in agreement, more to appease me than anything else. My insistence on equal treatment for the hatchlings still makes little sense to them I suspect, thankfully by virtue of being old they have to listen to me. Hooray for strict respect for the elders!
"You won't be ready to move out for a few hours will you, Senior?" Sloan asked me.
I nodded. "That's right. Crinis needs to evolve and we all need some rest. We've been pretty flat out for the last few days and I suspect it's going to be hectic for a week or so after this."
"Right" Sloan agreed. "I propose we sent out a large scale hunting party immediately. We could stockpile enough Biomass that egg production doesn't noticeably suffer over the next few days. The worker and artisan castes can devote their attention to the brood and constructing the initial defences whilst the soldier caste hunts. Once the Eldest has rested sufficiently they can join the digging teams on the frontlines and begin to harass the enemy."
The rest of the council nodded in agreement. This did seem like a reasonable proposal.
"I'll need a favour though…" I spoke reluctantly, "can someone get a hold of Vibrant and tell her I need some Biomass hunted for my own personal consumption. I want to finish my mutations before I evolve and I need close a hundred Biomass to do it."
Taking resources from the colony at a time like this felt bad, but deep down I know it's necessary. In my mind the hulking figure of Garralosh, her incredible mass and the overwhelming aura she emitted are weighing down on me. Even after evolving there's little chance I'll have any hope of matching up against her but I need to make sure that I do everything possible to increase my strength before she arrives here."
Advant tipped her antennae. "I'll be able to take care of that. Vibrant has been hunting in the Dungeon incredibly actively with her squad. It's thanks to her efforts the egg production rate has increased as quickly as it has. I'm sure she'll be able to provide the Biomass you need in no time."
"That's great" I said, relieved of a burden. I really didn't want to have to go hunting for that Biomass, I simply didn't have the time.
"I think we have the first stage of our plan in place. I'll leave the details to you to work out. Can some soldiers stay down here so we can rest without being attacked? We can't waste time sleeping in shifts."
The soldiers nodded and the council gave me a friendly wave as they quickly dispersed to their undoubted mountain of tasks that needed to be organised. They are better at taking care of that kind of stuff than me. I have my own responsibilities to look to.
[Ready to evolve Crinis?]