The first ambush had been a rousing success, even though fifteen of my family members had been lost in the fight. It was just a small taste of the carnage that was to come. I swallowed my sadness as best as I could. It didn't help anyone if I threw a tantrum and got upset that we'd lost fifteen soldiers in return for killing thousands of enemies. Hitting them from range, drawing them into a tunnel fight, where the ants had every advantage, then collapsing the tunnels on the enemy had been an elegant and clean strategy. I couldn't think of a way to improve it at all.
Every surviving ant had gained much in terms of experience and skill levels, strengthening the colony with every death we inflicted. The horde had been reduced as well, a win by all measures. Perhaps it was irrational of me, the other members of the colony were extremely pleased and I'm dead certain not a few of them actually envied the fallen, wishing that they themselves had had the unfortunate (fortunate?) luck to die in the battle.
I'd dealt out a few thwacks already to those I suspected of not valuing their lives as they should and I'd have to do it again before too long.
We had retreated with all haste through the escape tunnels and then back onto the surface. My pets and I had taken up a position in the rear guard, just in case of pursuit, but it didn't seem to matter. The enemy either didn't manage to find any of the exit tunnels in time or had not chased far enough over land to see us emerge. Whatever the case, we'd retreated at a solid pace to the second set of earthworks being prepared for the next ambush.
Luckily the enemy moved at such a casual pace, we'd have a few hours of rest and preparation time before they made it to us and the second fight began.
I'd checked in with a few scouts who told me that Victor and the other members of the twenty here on the front line were planning and I decided to leave them to it. I don't think I could contribute much that they wouldn't be able to come up with their own. Instead I decided to check in with my pets and count my own earnings. I hadn't listened to the pronouncements of the bearded one, may his facial hair ever flow like a mighty white river.
[How's the core looking Tiny? You burned a lot of juice up there.]
The giant bat faced ape sat on the ground next to me, absently picking through the longer hair on his arms, removing stones and twigs that had been caught as we fled. In response to my query he just grunted, seeming to indicate that yes, he had lost a lot of juice, but no, it shouldn't be a problem.
[How about you Crinis? I was super impressed with the shadow portal stabbing you got done. Very nice!]
The Crinis ball on my back wibbled a little at my strong praise and replied, her tone sounding rather pleased with herself, even if her words were negative.
[I wasn't happy with the number of tentacles I was able to deploy, nor with how quickly I formed them. I believe I can get much faster. A few more skill levels and mutations and I'll defeat twice as many of those trash in half the time.]
[Sure, sure] I agreed.
I was suitably impressed with Crinis' evolution but it was true that Tiny was able to reap greater destruction in the limited time we had available. Unloading both barrels of his lightning on enemies who had been drenched by a super soaker resulted in a heck of a lot of dead stuff.
[We did well. Let's all rest up for the next fight] I told my pets before settling myself on the ground and concentrating.
My sub-brains were hard at work with external mana manipulation, trying to drag ambient mana towards the three us to keep our cores topped off. My skills had increased, but so has our consumption after Crinis' evolution. We had one more battle in us after our Mana Glands topped off from draining energy out of our cores, then we'd need to retreat back to the Dungeon to recharge.
With my main mind I began to flick through my skills to see what had levelled up during the conflict just past.
Mana Scrooge levelled up, I'll take it. On the surface I need to be as careful with my mana as possible. Improved Acid shot hit level 10? Nice! I'll upgrade that to … Deadly acid shot? Sounds impressive.
Mana Transformation, Condensed Mana, external mana manipulation all levelled up. Firing off those Gravity Bombs is serious business, in terms of the xp that's earned, especially when I clean up a lot of monsters like I did.
Pet communication has levelled up? Finally hit level five! That gets upgraded to … Distant Pet Communication? Range of communication has been improved? Seems good, I'll pay for that. What else have we got?
Looks like my extensive chomping has paid off, I managed to squeak a level out of Severing Bite and Splintering Chomp, which is good. I need those two bites to hit rank four in a hurry. Hopefully the bite skill I can create from the fusion of the three bite skills I have is some seriously potent stuff.
I also managed to pick up a level in expert exo-skeleton defence. Thanks to being chomped a bit during the battle in the tunnels I suppose.
That seems to be the sum total of my level gains from the battle. I'm not complaining, I'll take what I can get at this stage. More than anything else, the raw levels are what are most important. Five more levels to go before I can evolve. I'm going to need to take part in a few more ambushes if I'm going to get there soon. Ideally I could snipe a highly evolved offspring of Garralosh and get a few cheeky levels out of that, but I doubt I'm going to get that lucky.
The next battle is going to take place in a few hours. It's a bit stressful, having to be pumped up for battle so soon after just finishing one, but I think I can get used to it. Perhaps this is how Tiny feels all of the time.
This is our reality for the next few days, I suppose. Until the threat is dealt with, we need to continue to do as much as we can to inflict damage to the enemy. Killing a few thousand enemies was pretty darn good in the last ambush, but even if we did that every six hours until the horde reached the nest, we'd still have half the horde to deal with at the end of it.
We will need to pick up the pace, which means there will be more casualties amongst my siblings. The thought that we’d been forced into this position, to risk ourselves and spend the lives of our family as currency for our ongoing existence.
Gradually, I felt the anxiety and fear inside me give way to anger. A tiny spark of rage ignited deep within me and began to smoulder.