It feels good to be charged up and not on the verge of a horrible death! Whoo!
Thankfully we were able to make it to the discreet Dungeon entrance the colony had prepared close to the forward HQ without too much mana leaking out of our cores. Using my sub-minds I tried to turn the external mana manipulation up to 11 and drag the mana down into all three of our cores with some success. It certainly helped to level the skill, if nothing else. Shifting mana in three different directions was a heck of a lot harder than just pulling it in one, so the strain on my sub-brains was also increased. They were fairly cooked by the time we reached the Dungeon and I was happy to let them recover in peace.
Not now though, now we are back in the game!
Even better, I took my chance in the Dungeon whilst the wave was still ongion and chomped through the monsters who spawned as I was waiting for my core to refill. I didn't get a heap of Biomass but I got enough to tip me over to 65 in the bank! Good thing too since I didn't think I could possibly eat any more…
I digest fast but not quite that fast.
Upgrading my stomach is going to be one of the best things about this next evolution, I swear, even more than the stats.
Ready to roll, the three of us made our way topside and then toward the forward HQ, the planning centre of this opening stage of the war effort. I left Tiny and Crinis on the surface and plunged down in the dark chambers packed with ants of all varieties rushing in every direction, zooming at my face and then climbing straight over me as I tried to get my bearings, waggling my antennae about to pick up the scent trails I needed.
It was interesting, almost frightening to watch how quickly the ants were learning and adapting to new situations. As a species, we Formica Sapiens had never faced a threat like this, heck, most members of the colony were only a few weeks old! But somehow, under the pressure of this existential crisis, the ants were pouring all of their energy, concentration and newfound mental power into absorbing everything they could. It was strange to sit in a room with ant monsters and listen to them propose ideas, debate, look for solutions, weigh risks. I suppose it's only now that I'm starting to realise that even I had underestimated what a difference making the colony more intelligent would cause.
Speaking of arguing ants, I found the planning chamber and the members of the council inside, along with Vibrant, already arguing with each other the next steps. It didn't take long to work out what the main issue was.
"We don't need them" Victor said flatly.
"I lost dozens of scouts in the last attack. I'm not going to sit on my abdomen and pretend this threat is less dangerous than it is. We must secure their assistance!" Wills spat back.
Victor twitched, visibly angered by the statement.
"I do not underestimate the threat, Wills! You should know better than anyone - " she began to defend herself.
"Whoa now" I broke in, "I think this might be the first time I’ve ever heard any of you siblings argue with each other."
I spoke in a quiet and calm way as I crawled slowly into the chamber but nonetheless each member of the council in the chamber froze, whether they had been arguing or not. Seems like I had been right after all. It wasn't only Wills that possessed a deep seated fear of their teacher.
Sheesh! I'd been so nice to them when I raised them! Maybe a few 'thwacks!' will straighten them out…
It was the healer, Mendant, who turned to speak to me first.
"Eldest, welcome back. I am pleased to see you have recovered fully from your efforts."
Her voice was calm and soothing as always, but I couldn't help but detect the slight wobble to her antennae that betrayed her nervousness.
I nodded towards her to acknowledge her greeting as I continued to step forward until I had placed myself between Victor and Wills, both of whom stepped back slightly as I approached.
"Now" I said mildly, "whilst it’s nice to see some passion from the leaders of the colony, and dissenting opinions are an important part of effective decision making, let’s see if we can take a little heat out of the discussion. What’s got everyone so worked up?"
It was certainly interesting to see this kind of conflict between the members of the council. So far they’d been able to reach a consensus in a peaceful manner every time. It seemed that emotion was beginning to play a larger part in their thinking, which could change things dramatically. Not necessarily in a bad way either.
"It's humans!" Vibrant chirped, "they've offered to help us whittle down the horde."
This was interesting. Wills, upset at the loss of her scouts, wanted to bring the humans in to help in order to prevent further losses, whilst Victor didn't agree with bringing them in. Perhaps she didn't want to increase the number of unknown variables at play as we moved into a critical stage of the battles.
It was odd to see one of the twenty be so emotional about the loss of ant life. It was a little cold to say it, but they were very callous about that sort of thing usually. Somewhat different,to see ants taking on such human characteristics. Perhaps when each member of the colony is a barely thinking drone, it's no real loss when one dies, but when they have developed minds and personalities, voices and ambitions, it became harder to think that they didn't matter.
I could also understand what Victor is concerned about. The Kaarmodo has begun to respond to our incursions. This meant that things would become much riskier from now own. I've no doubt that the trick we used in the last battle would no longer be effective, some sort of workaround having been implemented to prevent such fruitless waste. This meant we needed to continue to adapt and try new tactics without knowing what could be coming back our way.
Adding in extra risk factors was just a recipe for disaster…
"It's going to be risky no matter what we do" I mused out loud.
"Exactly" she declared, "more options can't be a bad thing."
I turned on her.
"That doesn't mean that risks shouldn't be managed. If things aren't properly thought through it will be a heck of a lot more than a few dozen sisters we end up losing."
I stared her down and she stepped back from me once more.
"That was my point" Victor chimed in, "there is just too much risk in bringing a force we don’t control to battle."
I turned around to face him.
"Risks can be controlled and mitigated. There just has to be a will to get it done."
I stared her down in turn, forcing the general to back off.
"Things are getting heated and I understand that we are all under the pump here, but you need to be able to keep emotion off the table and deal with problems as they pop up. The colony depends on you for guidance. You are ant leaders. Make sure you act like it."
Very nice. Dignified, controlled and powerful.
"Wow-wow Senior! I've never heard you talk like that before!" Vibrant gasped.
Dammit, Vibrant! Give me my moment!
The two ants who had only moments ago been arguing, began to vigorously groom themselves in an effort to calm their minds. When she was finished Victor spoke:
"So you are suggesting that we accept help from the humans?"
"Yes, but in a way that will allow us to control the risk to our efforts."
"How are you going to do that?" Wills broke in.
I shrugged my antennae.
"Simple. I'll go work with them and we'll form a separate team that works independently. What could go wrong?"