After digging our narrow channel to the farm tunnel I get Tiny to place two large stones to act as the dam before we dig out the last of the soil and the water begins to flow. I notice a few branchies have poked their heads out of their trees, watching our activities. I think perhaps they may worried about us interfering with the pond.
I try to give a reassuring wave of my antennae but I'm not sure that will be enough to allay their fears. I guess we can only show that we mean no harm by executing the plan and letting them see how harmless it is.
Workers have started coming over to the pond in the last few days in order to drink the mana water. With the farm nearby it isn't surprising that the scouts have managed to forage their way over here. Naturally once one ant finds something good the rest will soon know about it. I was a little concerned that there might be conflict but for the most part the ants have simply ignored any branchie they've found, probably not seeing much, if any Biomass in them.
I'm quite excited though. This will help more workers form their cores which will in turn cause them to grow even stronger when they evolve.
When everything is in place Tiny picks up our damming rock and the mana infused water flows down our channel before eventually falling into our pre-dug basin within the farm. After a minute or so Tiny drops the rock back into position with a splash and the water ceases to flow.
The branchies, who had seemed a little alarmed when the water was flowing out of their pond, relax and move back towards their trees, quickly melding out of sight.
I head straight over to the farm to see how the monsters within have reacted. Sure enough, those who have just spawned are immediately attracted to the water source. No water truce to be seen here though. They rabidly fight over it, shovelling the water into their mouths as quickly as they can.
I retreat back up the tunnel. I'll lead the workers down to collect the Biomass later, hopefully we will have a core or two to show for our efforts.
With this job done it is time to turn my attention back to my new skill and its applications. After maxing out Mana Shaping I gained Mana Transformation, the much anticipated and eagerly awaited skill!
After reading the description and then slowly digesting the dump truck of knowledge and instincts the skill dropped in my brain I've been gradually building an understanding of it.
This skill will finally allow me to change the raw mana stored in my core into other, useful types, without relying on the short cut of having an organ do the job for me. Only issue is, changing the mana into a specific type is painfully complicated!
I'm still nibbling at the edges of what was placed in my brain. This skill was by far the biggest information overload I've had from a single purchase.
If I were to use a metaphor, transforming mana into a specific type is like learning an instrument that is so intricate that it requires the use of both hands, both feet and your face to play it. From what I understand so far you need to be shifting the mana in complex patters through multiple dimensions in order for it to change!
It only gets worse though. If you manage to master that obscenely complex instrument well enough that you can efficiently transform the mana into the required type and THEN use that mana to shape and fuel a spell, that is only for one type.
If you want to transform your mana into another type, there is an entirely new fiendish instrument to learn and this one requires you to play it with your butt cheeks as well!
Not to mention, I've only been looking at the techniques required for relatively simple mana forms, like water or fire. When I tried to think about what I would need to do for space magic I nearly passed out just thinking about it.
This only reinforces my confidence that the gravity magic organ was a good choice. Not only is the complicated process of transformation handled for me, it is done well before any spell casting takes place. This also goes a long way to explaining why the magic organs are priced so highly. Getting a free choice just goes to show how potent the special evolutions really are!
This all leads to the unfortunate reality of what I have to do next. To my mind it is quite obvious what I have to focus my transformation learning on, mind magic! I need to be able to communicate just like Formo and the Sophos do! This will bridge the final hurdle in being able to universally speak to anything that I can come across if I'm able to pass my intentions on directly from mind to mind!
Only problem is that mind magic is a fiendishly complex transformation. At least three or four times harder than doing something like fire.
But it must be done! I have my gravity magic and a reasonably powerful physical body already, at least, powerful enough for the time being. Once I've achieved mastery of mind magic I'll be able to focus my efforts unilaterally on pumping up my firepower!
The other thing I need to do is spend some time on manipulating my cores and grinding levels in Core Engineering. An ants work is never done!
I'm excited though. Even if I'm not gaining levels, my strength is improving and I'm able to spend time on critical skills that I wasn't able to before. This will prepare me for the time Tiny and I descend into the Dungeon once more to fight!
We return to the nest, my impatient passenger included, and I spend time laboriously shifting values in my cores until I cannot force further changes before tossing them to Tiny to absorb.
He's finally learned enough that I don't have to beat his head in before he realises what he needs to do. Progress! After I've finished with one core and slump forward with mental exhaustion the little hatchling on my head excitedly leaps forward to touch the core with her antennae. With a brief flash and a pop the core vanishes into thin air!
Who said that was yours!? I use my antennae to give the worker a gentle thwack on the head but she seems non fussed, happily wiggling back and forth as she enjoys the sensation of her reinforced core. After a few moments she happily climbs back up onto my head.
I guess it doesn't matter that much. Since she was born with a core already this one is probably worth spending the resources on to raise up strong. In fact, wouldn't she be able to perform a special evolution for her very first change? That is something even I wasn't able to do! Hardly my fault since I didn't know about it but still, this little worker could end up being very strong if I invest some energy.
Although this just increases the need for cores even further.
Since I'm exhausted anyway I take Tiny back to the farm and we disable all of the monsters in there. I make sure to practice using my magic and fire off a number of Gravity Bolts, trying to increase my familiarity with the spell.
This time, instead of taking our food and leaving I tap the little ant on my head with an antennae to get her attention.
"Climb down off there and go finish some of the off".
The workers seem to be able to understand the pheromone speak even if they can't speak it so I'm assuming this one can too. Sure enough, after hopping back and forth indecisively the little worker jumps off my head and savagely attacks with her tiny mandibles.
Despite her enemy being a blade tailed mouse that has been completely crippled it take almost a minute of biting before the poor creature finally falls still and the little ant poses victoriously atop her victim.
"Yes, yes, very impressive. Now onto the next one".
All in all she is able to finish three monsters before tiring out. That much should be fine for a start. Her bite skill should have increased and at least one level, maybe two with that much experience.
Next I flick on my mana sense and I am so pleased to see that there are two creatures with cores in here! Two!
Compared to before this is a massive increase! If I can get two cores a day I'll be dancing with joy! The basin of mana water has decreased by about a quarter so I may need to refill it in a few more days, hopefully that won't strain the pond supply up there at all. If it does we will have to pull back on the operation but for now, cores ahoy!
Filled with delight I crunch those two monsters and dig out their cores before Tiny, the worker and I retreat back above ground to enjoy our feast as a team of workers advances into the farm to claim their experience and Biomass.
These few days have been so productive and peaceful, I'll have to enjoy it whilst I can. If my experience in this world has taught me anything it's that the good times won't last.
There were a few questions in the comments after the last chapter where I referred to the little worker as 'she' and a few comments about ant reproduction so I'll get a little sciency and answer them here. The authors note section doesn't allow for long messages so I'll pop my response here instead.
Technically all of the workers in a colony are female. This includes Anthony. I didn't really want to make a big deal out of his gender but I did want to be accurate, so I thought it would be funny if he only realised he had changed later on. His physical gender isn't going to be a big deal going forward in the story but he will change it in the System if he gets a chance! For those worried that the story will turn into some kind of ant harem story... no need to worry on that front. He's into elves anyway.
As for ant reproduction. Male ants have wings, just like young Queens. For a few weeks a year the Queens and males will go on a 'nuptial flight' where they meet up with Queens and males from nearby colonies and mate with them. The males will then crawl off and die whilst the Queens will land, rip off their own wings and dig a chamber for themselves to start their own new colony. For most species of ants, this is the only time the Queen will mate in her life. The genetic material she collected on that one flight will last her entire life, which can be decades.
The Queen in our story doesn't need to mate at all, as she is instead a special monster spawned from the dungeon that is able to spawn new monsters in turn.