The demons are powerful monsters, no doubt about it. It should have been a given, seeing as how strong Invidia is, but I thought he was an exceptional case. He was hand crafted and raised by a team of Shapers who supposedly knew what they were doing, whereas the monsters of the third strata that I've run into so far are purely wild. Even so, the natural advantages they have seem to far outstrip those of the natives to the second strata. Incredible, overpowered strength and defence combined with body parts and shapes more advanced those that the members of the Colony were born with.
In a conflict between first and third strata monsters, the differences in starting conditions really do become apparent. The chitin we ants have been born with simply doesn't match up to the tough hides and devastatingly sharp claws and teeth of the demons. Combined with their ability to pack obscene amounts of brain power into small, nimble bodies via their dimensional insides, it becomes easy to see how even intelligent ants are going to struggle against them. The wall we have to overcome is just that high.
"How've you fared against the demons so far?" I ask the general and she flicks an antenna in irritation.
"They're either tough as rocks, strong as the Queen, fast as Vibrant or smarter than Cobalt," she complains, "and so far we haven't seen any beyond tier four. Every time one of them comes close, we combine our firepower and bring it down as fast as possible, even so we struggle sometimes. If we don't kill them fast enough, the rest of the monsters close in on us and the fight turns nasty until we can stabilise again."
"Sounds rough. I had a chat with the council before I came down here and I'm told that there will be a flood of reinforcements that will meet you once the defensive line is finished building. Almost the entire graduating class of the academy is being poured into combat castes."
"That'll be welcome. We lost a lot of good soldiers during the wave."
We both dip our heads in a moment of silence.
"Have you been able to capture any cores from the demons? The sooner we get them into the hands of the core shapers, the sooner those beasties will be fighting on our side."
Even if they don't make any changes, reconstituting those cores and raising the demons up to fighting strength will give us a force of shock troops that we can throw at the wave without worrying too much if they survive. At the very least they'll be able to mow through most of the shadow creatures we end up fighting.
"We've retrieved some," the general tells me, "but we haven't been able to deliver them back to the nest yet. We haven't seen a runner in a while."
"They shouldn't be too far away," I frown, "I know the scouts have setup relay stations all through the area. If something happened to your runner then you should see another one in an hour or so."
"That's good," the general acknowledges before she gives me a bit of side eye, no easy task for an insect. "So, what kind of help can we expect from you, Eldest? How long are you here for?"
I stretch my legs and clack my mandibles in amusement.
"I just evolved and I'm keen to see what this new body can do," I chuckle, "so I think my pets and I might take a stroll deeper into the Dungeon and relieve the pressure a bit. As for how long, we'll see how we go."
The general nods and snaps out a quick salute with one antenna.
"Right you are then Eldest. My girls will appreciate a break, the longest you can give them."
"Coming right up!"
Our discussion complete, the general turns back to her people and I face mine. Tiny is as eager as I would expect, ready to deliver fist to face, his armour polished to a high gleam by Smithant before we left. Crinis is a little nervous, I can tell by the way she keeps shifting and morphing on my back. Invidia looks, mostly bored, to be honest.
[All right gang. Make your final checks and then we are going in. Don't go too crazy,] I warn them, mostly for Tiny's sake, [this is going to be a long fight. Our aim is to go the distance, not wear ourselves out in ten minutes. I want to push deep and try to clear out the monsters all the way to a major junction. That will relieve the pressure on as many defensive points as possible. If things go south, we collapse the tunnel and get the heck out of dodge. With any luck, the rubble will slow the monsters long enough for us to retreat to safety. Any questions?]
They each shake their head and I give them a nod.
[Alright, let me just come to grips with my status and then we'll be good to go.]
I haven't been actively avoiding looking at my status, but I've been a bit nervous about it since evolving. This evolution was a big jump and, strange as it sounds, I'm a little intimidated by the changes.
Level: 1 (Rare) (VI)
Master Excavation (IV) Level 3; Expert Grip (III) Level 9; Expert Stealth (III) Level 6; Tunnel Guide (III) Level 11; Iron Mind (IV) Level 30; Master Stamina (IV) Level 6; Still Meditation (IV) Level 12; Snap Dash (IV) Level 11;
Mana Craft (V) Level 24; Condensed Mana (IV) Level 18; Finer External Mana Manipulation (IV) Level 16; Mana Hoarder (IV) Level 22; Master Mind Magic Affinity (IV) Level 20; Directed Mana Sensing (IV) Level 12; Expert Healing Magic Affinity (III) Level 14; Omni-Elemental Affinity (V) Level 4; Mana Masking (II) Level 6;
Further Pet Communication (III) Level 7; Core Crafting (IV) Level 13; Pet Growth Speed (I) Level 5;
Grandmaster Exo-Skeleton Defence (V) Level 11; Master Dodge (IV) level 25; Master Endure (IV) Level 6; Expert Grace (III) Level 14;
Unerring Acid Shot (IV) Level 6; Master Precise Shooting (IV) Level 23; Doom Chomp (V) Level 23;
Sharpened Perimeter Eyes +25, Antennae (Twilight Filament;
Complete Diamond Carapace +25, Braced Healing Inner Carapace Plating +25;
Hardened Rapid Absorption Legs +25, Mana Flooded Mandibles +25, Frequent Potent Regeneration Gland +25, Loud Convincing Pheromone Gland +25, Vast Hungering Stomach +25; Lock Hyper-Twitch Musculature +25, Coordinating Instant Transmission Sub-Neural Network +25;
Propagating Mana-Feasting Bind Acid Gland +25, Guided Hyper Pressurised Scattershot Acid Nozzle +25; Thickened Draining Acid Concentration Gland +25, Exhausting Thickener Acid Stimulation Gland +25;
Unyielding Coordination Cortex +25; Main brain; Sub-Brains;
Compressing Unending Gravity Magic Gland +25, Collective Will Vestibule (Soul Crystal), Communal Spirit Nave;
Species: Mature Colony Paragon
Skill points: 21
The first thing I need to do is mutate my antennae. My fighting style has come to rely on my future sense, combined with my lightning-fast reflexes and sturdy carapace to make me disturbingly hard to damage. Having just been reset, my new antennae are not setup to read the faint tremors of the future as they used to be, something I'll need to remedy immediately. That isn't to say that I haven't noticed the improvement my newly reforged antennae provide, far from it. They look glorious, to start with. The Twilight filament that now make up the basic structure of my antennae are like glittering crystal wires of a dusky hue. They catch the light whenever I move and, in my opinion, look quite fetching. The other benefit is just how darned sensitive they are. The filament splits off into impossibly fine threads up and down the length of each antenna where my hairs used to be, and let me tell you, they are very, very fine detectors. I can smell a trail the second a molecule of pheromone wafts anywhere near me, even the tiniest shift in the air current is like a shout in my ear. Comparing the performance pre-reset to now is like night and day. To think that monsters deeper down get to be born with this stuff?! No fair!
Although, everything they have to fight is also born with these advantages, and they can only come up here to fight us during a wave… Bah. Still unfair!
I have enough Biomass to lock in the first three mutations for my antennae, so I double down on the future sense and then reinforce it, skipping over the heat sensing ability I chose last time.
[Crinis, cover me.]
Luckily most of the ants are facing outward, toward the enemy, so they don't notice Crinis envelop my body, hiding me from sight as I twitch and thrash whilst my antennae mutate. When it's finally complete, I emerge from my dark cocoon ready for battle. Let's do this!