I should learn to hold off on the healing gland. Was I missing part of a leg? Maybe. But right now, as I charge into the literal teeth of a horde of angry monsters, I think that perhaps holding off on spending it might have been the better choice. Because this is going to hurt.
I crash into the front line of monsters with a crash, their bodies smashed into mine and the monsters began to claw and bite at my carapace, wild and eager to rend me limb from limb. I can feel their fangs scraping on my carapace, sometimes harmlessly and other times digging grooves into it that threaten to tear through my defences. My shiny carapace! Don't damage it! The regenerative upgrade will help heal that damage over time, but I can't sustain this battering indefinitely.
Thankfully, I still have my gravity domain cranked up, meaning that most of the weaker, tier one monsters aren't able to move properly beneath its effects, let alone launch attacks. They feebly crawl through the dirt and run each other down in order to reach me but most of them get stomped into the ground by larger, more fearsome monsters.
Bring it punks!
My mandibles glow with energy as I pour mana into them as well as activating my stamina draining bite skills. I need to go all out here, I can't afford to hold the energy in my core back. Every second that I buy will allow more scouts to make it to the other side of the wall. Stupid mage slaves… If they hadn't been so far from me I'd have ripped them a new one. Sadly I didn't have the option.
With a satisfying slice, my mandibles tore through monsters, cutting away limbs and digging deep into flesh. Naturally I wouldn't forget, even in the midst of this crisis, to level my Severing Bite! Gwahahaha! The melee whirls and dances around me and a wild excitement builds in my thorax. I can feel my little ant heart pumping with energy as I cut down my opponents and they break themselves on my exoskeleton. Impossible odds, high chance of death, it would sound crazy to say that I missed this kind of fight, but there is a certain feeling that I can only get when my life is on the line. My concentration is honed to a razor’s edge as my mind processes a thousand different things a second, the heat rolling off the bodies that crowd around me, the blurred images of their future movements, the sensations of my sub-brains straining to hold and direct the flow of mana through my domain spell. It's draining, exhilarating, terrifying and fulfilling all at once.
Perhaps I'm starting to understand Tiny more and more…
Wait, is that a bear?
An Earth Bear tyrant had reared up and battered my left side with one mighty claw, the blow sent sparks flying as it dug channels into my carapace but failed to break through. Still, the impact was enough to stagger me to one side, an opening that the enemies swarming around me were quick to exploit.
Dangit! I don't have the time or space to try and rip through one of those bears, they're too tough to kill that fast. Mind racing, I scrabble my feet underneath me and move away from the horrid creature, mana empowered mandibles chomping as I go. Thanks to the domain, the lumbering brute will struggle to keep up if I keep moving.
I think I just lost a chunk out of an antennae! How much longer?!
"Senior!" I heard a pheromone shout.
Who the heck?!
Next second, several new forms appear in my vision, crashing forward and grappling with monsters around me. Then a larger ant leapt into the fray, slashing about with her deadly mandibles. Larger than the regular soldiers, I can tell her body has been heavily mutated due to her higher than regular colony member Biomass intake. I couldn't forget the ant that I'd raised from a mere grub what felt like years ago!
"Vibrant! Aren't you supposed to be at the ambush point?"
"You can't keep all the fun to yourself, Senior!" she cheerfully replied whilst cutting down monsters with every chomp off her mandibles, "the way is clear, it's time to go!"
"Thanks Vibrant, let's bug out!"
Mandibles flashing, I bite several times in rapid succession, draining my energy dramatically as I attempt to clear a space around. After crunching through several monsters, I turn my thorax around and get the heck out of there.
Dash! Dash for justice!
Leaving a trail of howling and angry beasts behind us, Vibrant, her squad and I disengage and hightail the heck out of there. In front of me, the magic wall still glitters with a bright magical energy. The acid has continued its delightful work and the gaps have grown larger, but more important than that are the many tunnels that have been dug and even now I can see the scouts who were successfully able to flee have begun to retreat into the forest, still firing acid over the wall and into the swarming horde as they ran.
I lined myself up with one of the gaps and hurled myself through it with a daring leap, legs scrabbling as I landed on the other side. Vibrant’s speed aura paid massive dividends as we charged with all our strength to gain some separation between us and the monsters following behind. Once we were through the fence, it worked for us rather than against us, the sheer mass of monsters struggled to push through the gaps and narrow tunnels. It didn't take long for the slave mages to realise this and they allowed the wall to fade. Free of the obstacle the monsters roared anew and charged after us, ravenous for more ants.
The wall hadn't gained us much time but each second counted. The scouts had been able to regroup but my heart twisted when I realised a third of them was missing. We'd approached on a front more than a hundred metres wide, and powerful as I was compared to a regular soldier, I wasn't able to protect all of them. On the left and right flank, the scouts had been quickly overwhelmed, only those who'd been able to regroup in the centre behind me had a chance to make it out.
I knew things wouldn't keep going our way forever, and perhaps the loss of one third of the scouting force is a cheap price to pay for the first intervention of the mages in this battle, but it's still bitter to me. The anger I felt towards the mages, Garralosh and the stupid horde itself continued to build inside me, its heat fuelling me onwards.
"We made it!" Vibrant cheered next to me, "are we still going to go ahead with the plan?"
"We are" I grated out, struggling to control my rage, "we need to kill as many of these trash as we can."
Vibrant either didn't notice, or didn't care about my aggressive tone. "Sure-sure!" she chirped and turned towards her squad.
"Keep running to the next point, spread wide and lead on as many as you can. Get pumped for the battle!" she exhorted them and they responded with a variety of cheers and shouts.
It seems Vibrant's squad is turning out to be as high energy as she is herself. How … exhausting.
The scouts ahead of us, we run at the front of the horde, staying close enough to tempt them onward, allowing them to draw a little closer whenever their charge faltered before speeding away before they could catch us. With Vibrant close by, it was childishly simple, her speed aura enhancing our already quick ant running speed to the point I didn't need to use my dash skill and was able to preserve some stamina. I allowed the gravity domain to lapse at this point, slowing the enemy down right now would work against the plan, not for it.
If we were to make the enemy pay a bloody price for the damage they'd inflicted on us today, we needed to drag as many as possible with us.