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A note from TK523

Reminder: Interludes are all books, notes, journal entries, etc. that Tal found and put into Spellbook between the events of the story and the time of writing the Forward. 

Lidian’s Manual to Magical Fauna, 8th Edition.

By Lidian Oakcrest

Mason Ants - Journal Excerpts

Below are the unabridged excerpts from my journal that pertain to the development of the primal creature I have named Mason Ants. The dates have been revised from the Midlothian calendar used in the original entries to use the post-Flood calendar; no other changes were made. I plan to return to the island and further document their development when the opportunity presents itself.

Erebog the 3rd, 45AF

The Captain tells me they sighted some birds in the distance and that there may be land nearby. He wants me to come up and help spot it. Illunia may have blessed my eyes for the study of creatures, but they work just as well for spotting land.

Hopefully it's not another dead whale.


We found land. Unfortunately for the passengers and crew, it’s a barren rock that was likely the tip of a mountain. Fortunately for me, I have a keen interest in the development of post-Flood tide pools. Captain Eastman has agreed to let me go with the shore party, but insisted I stay in the back. The man’s heart is in the right place, but he forgets I am old enough to be his great-grandmother. Humans are quick to forget the difference in our respective life spans. Despite this, I consider myself fortunate to have found a berth on this human vessel. I can’t fathom how I would have survived these last five years if I’d boarded an elven ship.

Self-righteous xenophobic fools. For a long-lived race, we sure can be short-sighted.

I digress, I performed a cursory survey of the island from the crow’s nest at the behest of Captain Eastman. The island is the flat rocky peak of a mountain, devoid of all but the most hearty flora sprouting from the cracks. The steep rocky coast has many natural high-walled bays that would offer shelter for large ships in a storm, if a place to berth could be built. Or so the Captain tells me.

These bays are full of sargassum and timbers from the once-mighty forests lost to this mad flood. Seagulls have made a home of the island, continually flying inland with fish in their beaks. I have hope that in a few years the seagull’s presence will allow the soil to develop and plants to grow.

I will be landing soon and will record my findings on my return. Captain Eastman insisted that I not bring my notebook to shore for the first excursion in case there is danger, and I am not paying attention. Silly man.


We scaled the cliffs with the aid of the ship's wizard, Harin. The bay we chose had the highest face, and we summited near the peak of the former mountain. It is not my area of study, but I believe this mountaintop was destroyed centuries ago—though it could be the remnant of one of Torc's artistic flourishes from the creation of the world. The top was unnaturally level, save for some jagged outcroppings. Before us laid the barren stone expanse. I judged the island to be a mile in diameter. There were no tide pools on the island. The steep rock faces precluded their formation and unfortunately the rocks did not level out to the sea anywhere we looked. What I did find was far more fascinating.

Ants!

Not just any ants, but symbiotic ants! The ants are a solid black in coloring, and are of similar shape and build to carpenter ants, but with two distinct differences. First, the ants’ mandibles are proportionally larger than their wood-boring cousins. They use these larger—and I suspect much harder—mandibles to tunnel through the rock of the island. Secondly, the ants are giant. My best estimate places them at three feet long and roughly one foot tall. Regrettably, I couldn't get a more accurate measurement due to the Captain’s ridiculous prescriptions mired in ignorant chivalry.

The seagulls we saw from before carry their catch inland, where they drop them onto the stone. The ants take the fish from the pit, and bring them into their colony cut deep within the stone. What the seagulls receive in return I have yet to determine. The seagulls nest on the ground—which is highly unusual, and the ants ignore them.

The ants and seagulls didn’t appear hostile to our crew. I had to restrain some members of the shore party from loosing their crossbows. Harin, thankfully, looked to me before deciding whether or not to incinerate the lot of them. The crew found nothing of use on the island.

The Captain had decided that we will be spending some time docked here, despite the lack of apparent resources. It will give the passengers and crew the opportunity to relax on dry land and make repairs. I suppose I should stop referring to them as passengers. I was a "passenger" but no one's hand stayed idle during a five-year sea voyage. Some of the children have been born aboard and never seen land until now.

Serendipitously, I have on board a collection of leaf cutter ants I have been studying these last five years. They were the only creatures I could convince the Captain to allow aboard. I think I have exhausted the experiments and observations I can glean from them. I will bring them ashore tomorrow for a comparative analysis. My memory enhancing Blessing makes that not strictly necessary, but I find it more rewarding to use direct observation in my studies wherever possible. With untold time at sea ahead, I will reserve studying my memories for later.

Erebog the 4th, 45AF

Today, the crew went to work setting up temporary lodgings. The Captain put it to a vote among all the crew, and it was nearly unanimously decided to elevate the passengers to equal crew status. The crew also formally resigned their commissions from the Midlothian Navy, a mere a formality at this point. The Empire ceased to exist in any real fashion five years before our departure. In our private discussions, the Captain has confided in me his deep disdain for the former empire and his relief to be free of its command, and now he was in earnest. His honor and the sense of purpose and duty it gave the crew—to protect their citizen passengers—kept him from renouncing it before. But no more. It was no longer required. We were in this together. His smile grew with each vote of yay on the motion to resign. He looked quite handsome when he smiled.

The new expanded crew has established a share system, based on rank, and the civilian passengers have been assigned ranks based on their ability and trades. To my surprise, I was elevated to chief medical officer, above the ship's own surgeon. I didn't know the crew held me in such high regard, and I will confess that I grew a dash misty-eyed.

We then voted on whether we should spend some time here setting up an outpost. This vote was unanimous.

After the vote, the sailors established a perimeter around our inlet. The ants seemed to keep their distance, though the seagulls were constantly circling above. I have set up a pavilion at the far reaches of our perimeter to better observe the ants’ behavior.

The ants—which I will call Mason Ants—are similar to carpenter ants in many ways. The tunnels, though dug through stone instead of wood, have the same general appearance. Holes have been bored into rock faces, and the rock chips have been piled around the exits loosely. The ants also take their dead, food waste, and frass from their colony to a dedicated waste dump. These ants do not seem to be nocturnal, which is to be expected with no predators about to necessitate caution. There is no evidence I can see of aphid farming, though that too is to be expected on this barren island. They are primarily carnivorous, but again that may be a result of environmental factors and not choice.

Despite the lack of local food sources, the ants have not shown the aggression I expected, and that their carpenter ant cousins are known for. In fact, after the first encounter on my landing yesterday, they have not ventured closer than a hundred yards. The lack of predators may explain their indifferent behavior to our presence. Tomorrow I will attempt to entice them closer with food. I will spend the rest of the day performing visual comparisons to my tank of leaf cutter ants.

Everyone returned to the ship at night, uncertain of the ants’ continued passivity should night fall with us on the island.

Erebog the 5th, 45AF

Today I broke the perimeter to get a closer look at the ants. The Captain insisted Harin accompany me for my safety. Again he forgets that I am a century his senior and Blessed by Illunia.

I must remind myself that he means well.

We brought the ants an assortment of food: fish, fruit, nuts, meat, and a squash. It took a significant amount of my influence to secure the non-fish food from the cook, and even then he only provided a small portion. When laid on the rocks between our camp and the colony, an ant came over and inspected it from a distance. Once we left, it moved in and collected the fish and shortly thereafter others came to collect the rest. I don't know how they knew we’d brought food. I had previously walked to this spot without the offering, and the ants hadn't come out to inspect it.

Erebog the 6th, 45AF

The Captain has decided he has indulged my research long enough, I have been assigned duties in setting up the outpost. He is right of course, I have duties now that I have been neglecting.

The work the crew has performed thus far is quite impressive. Structures have been raised in the leeward cliff above our bay, and someone has built a pair of nets for the children to play some human ball game. It is nice to see the children stretch their legs.

Erebog the 8th, 45AF

An unfortunate ball-related incident has resulted in the destruction of my leaf cutter ant habitat. I captured what I could, but I know I did not recover them all. I have been sustaining them on sargassum, on which they maintained their aphid colony, so I have no fear that they will starve on this island, but it doesn’t sit easy with me that I introduced a new species to this island. I split their fungal farm so the new colony will be able to get a running start in their new home. I suppose the ecosystem here is young so the damage is only a setback of a few decades, not millenia.

I suppose that is all ecosystems now in the post-Flood Kaltis. The rising seas drove even the sea folk from their homes when the pressure became too great for them to bear.

Erebog the 15th, 45AF

Well, all concerns of preserving the ecosystem were just blown by Harin and the Captain. They took the opportunity to disembark the entire crew and cover the ship in a Stinking Cloud to force the rats overboard. Rats, as I could have told them had they asked, can swim.

They have all made their way to the island. Those that hadn’t drowned at least—they aren't the best swimmers.

On a related note, we get meat for dinner tonight. A rare treat.

Bild the 20th, 45AF

The weather has started to turn, and the Captain fears this rocky island may become a death trap in the stormy season without a proper anchorage. The outpost as it stands is not suitable for the storms either. We have begun work to secure the outpost we have built so far and will be heading out to sea once more in the days to come.

Erebog the 8th, 49 AF

Eastman tells me that we are a day away from Rock Haven. I will admit, I look forward to continuing my studies of the mason ants. The only other bit of land we found since then was an active volcano. The fruitless search is a drain on morale when we know there is land we could return to—even if it is barren.

Erebog the 10th, 49 AF

I don’t believe what I saw. Rock Haven has gone through significant changes since we were last here. Our outpost construction was a little worse for wear, but the rest of the island was hardly recognizable. The first change I noticed on our approach to our harbor was the presence of mason ants at the water’s edge. They were climbing the face to retrieve sargassum and hauling it onto the shore. Eastman’s protective nature reemerged after I’d done such a good job training it out of him. He insisted Harin and his apprentice accompany me to shore. I did succeed in making them agree to not harm the ants unless directed to or I became incapacitated.

The most immediate change on the island were the berms of rock that had been set up all across the rocky surface. I watched as the mason ants dragged the fresh plant matter into these bowls and left without them. Other ants left the pits carrying some brown substance I couldn’t make out from the distance—even with my Blessing. I had to see what was in the pits, danger be damned.

I left Harine and his apprentice behind and ran to the berms. The ants, as before, paid me no heed. The first berm I climbed was filled with fresh sargassum, and had the stink of a tidepool to it. The pit was two dozen feet across, but I couldn't tell how deep the plant matter went. The berm was high, and the pit deep, casting it in shadow for most of the day.

The next pit was covered in fungi. The ants had learned to farm fungi! On closer inspection, I saw that not only were the mason ants harvesting the fungi, the leaf cutter ants I had lost were at work in the pits as well! Had the masons learned from the cutters?

Then I heard the chattering. I watched as a mason ant came from the fungal pit with mushrooms clutched in its mandibles and went over to a nearby hole in the stone. The ant dropped the mushrooms into the pit and left to gather more. Ignoring Harin’s warning, I went over to this hole and inspected the inside. Harin obliged me with a light—under duress—and revealed that the pit was filled with a writhing mass of rats. Moments after the light appeared, a giant mandibled head popped over the edge of the steep pit, with dead rats in its jaws.

They were farming rats!

The mason ant took the rats over to a pile further afield, and left them, where a flock of seagulls landed to tear them apart.

How was this possible? This level of symbiosis was not something that could develop in a handful of years. How quickly the mason ants picked up the techniques of the leaf cutters alone would be astounding, but the cultivation of the rats is beyond reason. Could these be primal creatures? If so, what kind? I must convince Eastman to stay.

Erebog the 11th, 49 AF

Convincing Eastman to stay was less difficult than I expected. I didn’t even need to resort to pouting—which I am not above if discoveries of this magnitude are at stake. It seems that the crew had discovered something momentous of their own. The ants’ midden heaps had developed into a rich soil. I had hoped this would happen, and if not for my theories on them being primal creatures, it would have been the greatest discovery of our voyage. They have begun carting the soil to our outpost. We have quite a store of seeds the crew are eager to plant. Even if we don't stay, they should grow wild and expand in our absence.

The ship’s carpenter also found some termites in the aft mast, so that will need to be replaced. Who knows how those got aboard. Likely from one of the countless dead trees floating in the sea.

Bild the 10th, 49 AF

The storms are returning. Eastman does not yet wish to remain here when they come. He has set plans for building a sheltered harbor mooring in the bay, but we do not have the materials. We'll need to trade for more iron to build it. If we return in a few months, there should be a harvest available that would catch a good price at one of the floating cities—if we can find one. I will miss my primals, but I have plenty of memories to reflect on. I will need to discuss the possible Fonts with Harim to determine what primordial is present here. Contrary to myth and legend, not all primordials are forces of unstoppable destruction. Many of the mental and spiritual ones exist in solitary peace, uncaring of the world around them. I suspect this is one such as that, but which? It must have been attracted to the mason ants.

Torc 20th, 53 AF

David agreed to return to Rock Haven. We’ve been chasing rumors of land for years, but haven’t found any. We’ve encountered ships with fresh fruit and vegetables that aren’t from the Enclave mats. There must be land somewhere, we just can’t find it. I don’t know if my condition, or the prospect of our own fresh produce convinced him, but the stubborn man relented. Finally, we will have time and not be driven away from the storms. What will my ants be up to, I wonder.

Torc 21th, 53 AF

Termite mounds! The mason ants have learned to construct termite mounds! That term doesn’t do them justice, but that is what they must be based on. I saw them before we even reached the bay. Rock Haven’s surface is now dotted with towers of timber and mud. David tried to keep me aship, but while I’ve been trying to acquiesce to his concerns when reasonable, now was not the time. As always, the ants didn't react to our presence, but the seagulls flew overhead watching. The mounds were constructed of whole timbers salvaged from the sea. They were set into holes in the stone and laid in cone-shaped structures ranging from twenty to thirty feet in height. The timbers were secured with packed mud, and termites and leaf cutter ants teamed over the surfaces maintaining the structures. I surveyed the island from atop our high perch and counted thirty such structures. From the vantage point, I saw something that made my heart stop. Vegetation covered the island. Not just the wild growth of sea scrub I’d hoped for once soil grew, but young saplings had begun to sprout in the shallow soil. And crops. There were patches of squash and berries growing all over the island in the area I’d first seen the midden heap. The plants were growing in a seemingly untended mass, but the fact that each patch of plants contained only a single variety could only mean one thing. The ants had learned from us.

When I told David of my discovery, his first reaction was concern. He feared that the ants may try to take from us. I dissuaded him from that silly fear. The ants had never taken from us, and seemed unconcerned with our presence. I suspect that as long as we do not leave our rocky perch, they will continue to leave us alone. Or maybe they hope to learn more? I must review our inventory. What else could I give them? I also need to confer with Harin.

Torc 22th, 53 AF

Harin has become convinced of my theory that there is a primordial present. He and his apprentice will begin a survey of the Arcane Realm to find the gate this primordial represents. What Font could it be? Is it a known Font or an undiscovered one? If it is new and Harin finds it, I think I will call it Community. I suspect the primordial was drawn to the cohesion of these ants. Was it always here, or did the flood and forced relocation to this barren mountain top attract it?

I looked through the ship's stores and found some seeds and some spare tools. Well, the tools weren't spare, but I must test these creatures' capacity to learn.

Torc 23th, 53 AF

I left the seeds in the open for the ants to collect and then sat in the open using a variety of tools. I felt quite the fool, sitting there and cutting up sargassum with a knife and chopping up logs with an ax and saw around my pregnant belly. No ants came out to inspect me, but the seagulls sailed overhead. On a whim, I found a patch of flint and began napping an ax head. When I began this, a curious seagull landed nearby to watch. I continued my work with my audience, fashioned a handle from a piece of wood, and lashed them together. That took most of the day, I will admit, but I enjoyed the work more than I expected. No ants came to observe, but I left my work behind.

Aurial 3rd, 53 AF

I have not seen any evidence of tool usage yet, but the items I left have disappeared and a few new farm patches of dirt are under construction by the ants. I have tried to convince David that we should stay here. At least until our child is born. I think he will agree, but in either case, he has begun construction of a more permanent town atop the cliff. My constant forays to the ants have emboldened the crew. Many are now considering staying here when we disembark. I have been studying the ants’ movement patterns and discerned that there is a large region surrounding our outpost that they avoid. We will fence this off and instruct those that remain to not venture past.

Aurial 5th, 53 AF

Harine has found the Font! He has consulted his books and found no records of any with a similar "feel." Not only that, he has received word from a former Coterie member from the Empire that land has been found. A large landmass. David and the crew are preparing to go there at once. I am torn; excited for the possibility of land, but I long to come back here someday.

Aurial 7th, 53 AF

We broke the news to the crew. Surprisingly, some members have elected to stay here. We are leaving them with supplies and a promise to return with news of this new land. Some of the crew have said they do not wish to return to land, even if this large landmass proves habitable, but they understand the importance of finding it. These members have agreed to return here and continue working on the mooring along with those who have disembarked. I do not know what David will choose.

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TK523

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Bio: Aim for perfection, but don't try too hard.

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