It took a good bit of travel before we were able to reach the first staging area on the path between the nest and the anticipated direction the horde would be travelling. A steady stream of workers ran back and forth in long lines, bringing information back to the nest or returning for designated rest periods.
I found it curious that even with their enhanced senses and intelligence, which removed the necessity for the ants to move directly on top of a trail like regular ants on Earth would, they still chose to do so. The result being that I was treated to the sight of hundreds of ants the size of large dogs hustling about in long trails, one after the other.
The main difference between this and looking at an ant trail back on Earth, other than the size of course, is that I could hear the chatter between the workers as they ran.
"Keep it up! Run hard!"
"We've got this! Push, push, push!"
"So much work to do, no time to slow down now!"
"Lift those claws! Don't forget you have six legs, not two like a human. That means three times the work!"
"Work hard for the colony!"
"FOR THE COLONY!"
One advantage of not having to breathe in order to talk I suppose, no matter how fast they run or how tired they are, they can talk continuously. It was interesting to hear them pump each other up and encourage one another as they ran, to the point I wasn't sure if I was listening to monstrous ants or a spin class at a gym.
I’ve no doubt that if Vibrant were here, she'd be enthusiastically shouting and cheering the workers onto glorious deeds and greater efforts. I'm looking forward to catching up with Vibrant when she makes her way to the front lines. From what I understand, she decided to remain behind with her dedicated followers in order to make a push toward meeting the colony’s food requirements before she left the nest to join us up here.
I have a suspicion that the food quota is going to get hit a lot faster than anyone anticipated. With Vibrant fired up for the job it's going to get done at light speed, which can only be a good thing. The faster it's done, the sooner those soldiers can get to the front and help with our campaign here to chip away at the horde, and the more food will be built up by those remaining behind to hunt, adding to the stockpile that will have been amassed. If things go like I think they will, the production of eggs may not slow down much at all during this crisis, which will put us in a better spot if we actually manage to pull through.
My pets and I eventually reach the staging area where the leadership of the raiding force has been gathering as more concrete plans are being drawn up, scouts are being sent out and preliminary ambush preparations are being made. It isn't much to look at though. When I arrived, I would have missed it had I not been following a scent trail.
The workers had dug a mini nest into the ground, but in the interest of concealing it as much possible, they'd done a good job of spreading the loose dirt around and carrying it away from the site itself. A large hole in the ground was the only sign of the nest, one meter across, too small for Tiny and a little squeezy for me to be honest.
I left Tiny and Crinis topside for the moment and plunged vertically down into the tunnel. The relative calm of the surface gave to a flurry of activity beneath the ground as workers climbed all over each other as they rushed about their tasks, expanding the size of the nest, excavating side tunnels and secret entrances so that they might enter and leave without being spotted.
The crush was a little claustrophobic for me, I didn't have a proper ant mentality about things like personal space, so having ant and dirt shoved in my face constantly made moving around a little disorienting, even as I tried to follow the scent trails to the "Planning room".
By the time I made it through I was quite rattled and extremely grateful to enter a chamber that contained a little free air and only a couple of ants.
"Welcome eldest," Victor the General greeted me, "It's good to see you made it to the front in time for the first ambush."
That got my attention. "We're ready for an ambush already? Do we even have eyes on the horde?"
Victor shook her head.
"Our fastest scouts have been sent to locate the horde but they are yet to return. We expect them to make contact with the horde tomorrow and then make their way back. Of course, that is conditional on the horde travelling on the stone trail you described to us."
"Road, Victor. It's called a road."
She waved her antennae dismissively.
"A strange human convention, it matters not. We have dispatched workers to scout and prepare the ground ahead, come and look."
Victor pulled me over to a corner of the room where I could dimly see a flat raised area had been prepared, the surface of which had been carved into a semblance of terrain. I could see roads, surprisingly detailed little building to represent what I think are towns. Midum was there, as well as the human village and I believe a rounded hill to represent the main nest of the colony. I believe that would make this hole pushed into the soil over here the forward base we currently occupied.
"This is weirdly well done Victor, did you get some sort of skill for this?" I asked, puzzled.
The General nodded.
"Sloan and I both thought it would be important for us to have a way to visualise positional information and terrain. After clacking our mandibles together for a while we came up with this!" she gestured towards her elaborate map proudly. "We had to buy a few skills to make it work, mental visualisation and earth shaping."
Huh. Interesting. So essentially a carving type skill to be able to shape the dirt into the forms they wanted, which helps to explain the high level of detail in the dirt shapes. Mental visualisation I suppose assists them in forming a picture in their minds of what they know, assisting them in being able to craft these little war maps. Clever stuff.
"Very handy! These kinds of maps are going to be super useful in planning our strategy. Good work Victor."
She wiggled her antennae, pleased her efforts had been valued. I'm guessing that some of the other ants had possibly doubted the value of this avenue of development, but as a former human, I knew it was going to pay off.
I'm glad I made the Generals a direct evolution from the soldier caste. We weren't going to need a whole lot of them, certainly not in the planning area, but Sloan and Victor had proven that having some soldiers with a decent head on their shoulders to lead the way was a wise decision. I did worry at times that the soldiers, having the lowest Cunning stat of any caste, would struggle to perform their duties properly, but with the Generals sprinkled into the mix, helping to keep them on the right track, they'd been performing well.
Which is just as well since they were going to get a serious test soon.
"I've got a few things that we can add to your map, Victor. Then I'd better get myself towards the front lines. I'll be a heap more useful up there helping to dig rather than sitting here twiddling my claws."