The frustrating thing about a battle such as this, where the numbers on both sides were relatively high and the fight was spread over a wider front, was just how hard it was to keep track of what was taking place.
My senses were overwhelmed on every front. Heat was thick in air from the exertion of thousands of bodies, my eyes were filled with the blur of rapid movement in every direction and my antennae were drowned in the pheromones of my fellow workers. Not to mention the vague impressions of the very near future I received, confusing, shifting images that fluttered against my mind like ghosts. It was a sensory overload and if I hadn't quite as powerful a mental rig as I did then perhaps I wouldn't have been able to process half of it.
Thankfully, I could.
I could parse all of it.
It was a strange feeling, to say the least. My brain was able to accept and sort all of this information in a fraction of a second. I could see everything around me, track every enemy, see the subtle shifts of their future selves, observe their body heat and react. Claws fell from all around me and I shifted my body at high speeds. A little to the left, slant my carapace a touch on the right, and blows slid off me, or scratched harmlessly against my diamond shell.
I am all that is ant! Behold me!
Phew. Need to cool off. Even in the midst of battle, it's a heady rush. In the back of my mind I can hear the announcements of Gandalf, letting me know that my skills are improving, but that is the one thing I don't have the attention to spare for, I can go over that later.
Right now, I need to kill! As fast as possible!
If I had the time I could try and form a Gravity Bomb, but with the humans, Tiny, Crinis and now the colony involved, the risk of collateral damage is too damn high. This battle is simply one that we have to grind out, unfortunately.
Luckily the workers are perfect for this. As soon as they arrive, they get stuck in, and they don't stop. I move as fast as I can, ripping into beasts with all of my strength, more often than not just debilitating a monster before moving on. I can leave the remains to the workers but if I can disable as many foes as possible then I will, the survival of my siblings comes first.
My sub brains are ripping out Gravity Bolts as fast as they can. Every five seconds they blast out a pair of the spells, rooting some unfortunate monsters to the ground, easy fodder for the follow up wave of workers as I wind my way up and down the front between the horde and the ants.
[Work your way back towards me guys. Be careful you don't catch any of the workers in your strikes.]
Tiny and Crinis acknowledge me silently and I can feel them begin to shift slowly towards me. The two of them are still buried deep in the melee, surrounded by foes but for now they are still holding on. I make sure to warn them not to injure the colony since the last thing I want is to lose family members to Tiny's lightning or Crinis' maw.
The two of them will need to act more cautiously, slowing their killing speed but I want them on this side to support the ants. The more help we have, the fewer colony members will fall.
Idly I wonder how the humans the humans are doing on their side but I quickly push it out my mind. They have to look after themselves. Morrelia and her crew are over there and the villagers gained some levels and weapon skills when Beyn had them fighting Dungeon monsters in the village. It will have to be enough for them.
My family will come first. As always.
Holy moly, I'm tired.
I have to switch from using Shattering Bite to less draining skills. The punchier bite skills does a wallop more damage but comes with a hefty cost to boot. I can maintain constant use in an extended fight like this, my face already feels like it wants to fall off.
It would be nice if I could 'see' my stamina as a resource. According to Beyn, it's a 'hidden' resource in the system, unlike mana and health with are quantified and made visible to everyone. Apparently it's possible to do the math and calculate how much stamina you have, how quickly it regenerates and how much your skills cost but I rejected Beyn when he (very eagerly) offered to run the numbers. I didn't want to be a lab rat for the priest, and the look in his eyes was off putting to say the least.
Using the new, and slightly more brutal, ripping bite I continue to tear into the monsters as they appear before me. Evolved centipedes and Hounds are swarming around now, apparently they were huddled in the middle of the pack, letting their weaker evolutions suffer the first counter attack.
I grit my mandibles.
Going to grind this out the hard way.
And we do.
After a solid hour of biting, tearing, acid spraying and more biting, the ants from the colony and the human warriors meet each other in the centre of the field. All around is a carpet of ruined monsters, covering the ground with their ichor. The humans are covered in wounds, filth and are gasping for breath, their chests heaving under sweat stained clothes. The ants are fine. Their antennae flicking this way and that as they begin to turn and deal with the precious Biomass.
Luckily I'd anticipated this moment. Since I was moving just ahead of the ants in the fray, I'd managed to run into the humans first. Cue me, desperately running backwards and forwards spraying 'Don't fight! Food!' pheromones all over the place. The workers were a little confused but by that time there were so few monsters that Tiny was able to sprint along and pound them to slag before the suddenly idle workers were attacked.
Morrelia is there, her vicious, red eyed rage has run its course and she looks haggard, as if her own life force had been sucked out of her. I suspect it might be a cost imposed by activating her berserk state. Still, she stands tall, shoulders square, like a spartan, watching as the ants pick over the Biomass and begin to work, dragging it back to the colony for consumption and distribution.
After all, we've got some special larvae to feed over there.
Exhausted, I fumble my way into forming a mind bridge with Morrelia.
[You'd better get the humans to back off from this area] I say wearily, [It's only a matter of time before one of the workers bumps into a human and attacks. If your people leave then they will focus on harvesting the food.]
Even as visibly drained as she is, she still watches me carefully.
[Why aren't they as smart as you?] she asks, nodding towards the workers. [why are you so different?]
[I don't know] I lie, [look, there have been casualties for both my family and the village today. Let's not complicate things. Ask your people to move away before someone gets hurt.]
Her jaw clenches stubbornly.
[Some of these monsters have useful parts. The people could use them. We should get our share.]
My temper flares hot, but I try to tamp it down.
[You aren't wrong, but I can't sort out a sharing arrangement right here and right now. Ask your people to step aside and I can ensure your village will get a chance to harvest from the Dungeon, but if you don't do it right now then people will die while you stand there wasting my time.]
Her eyes flash hot at being spoken to like this by a monster but I'm right and she's not so full of pride that she can't recognise it.
Her crew are standing behind her, the two female archers the grizzled axe guy and the swordsman. They are battered and bruised but they are still trying to put up a show of force behind their leader. It's paper thin.
For their part, the villagers are just happily staring at the workers as they go about their business, so drained and shell shocked from the battle that they seem to have forgotten not to get too close to the monstrous ants.
That changes when Morrelia turns to speak to them. Eyes widen with understanding and they begin to step backwards cautiously, trying not to make any sudden moves to antagonise the workforce. I can even see the priest moving amongst their ranks, his robes torn and bloody. The man is like a cockroach, I swear he's un-killable. He might have more in common with insects than humans.
Wearily I throw up my status to check my skill changes.
Looks like I got three levels in Shattering Bite, two in Ripping Bite, one in Mana Miser, three in advanced exo-skeleton defence, two in Rapid Dash and two in stamina. There are a few skill upgrades to take of there, I'll do it later when I have a bit more peace.
A fairly good haul, I have to say. I don't notice anything else odd about my status. Wearily, I turn to the Biomass. Better help get this stuff stowed away.
Level: 22 (Special core)
Skills: Excavation Level 8; Improved Acid Shot Level 6; Advanced Grip Level 4; Shattering Bite Level 11; Advanced Stealth Level 5; Splintering Chomp Level 4; Tunnel Map Level 6; Mana Transformation Level 6; Forceful Mana Level 8; External Mana Manipulation Level 2; Mana Sensing Level 5; Core Surgery Level 3; Advanced Exo-Skeleton Defence level 10; Pet Communication Level 3; Rapid Dash Level 3; Advanced Water Magic Affinity Level 3; Stamina Level 4; Pet Growth Speed Level 1; Mana Miser Level 5; Cerebral Endurance Level 4; Deep Mediation Level 2; Precise Shooting Level 3; Ripping Bite Level 5;
Mutations: Omni Focused Eyes +10, Precognititive Infrared Antennae +10, Mana Eating Restrictive Acid +10, Absorption Legs +5, Savage Infused Mandibles +10, Hardened Diamond Carapace +10, Rapid Limb Regeneration Gland +10, Pheromone Language Gland +5, Deep Gravity Magic Gland +5, Divergent Coordination Cortex +5, Regenerating Inner Carapace Plating +5;
Species: Dispersed Mind Ant (Formica)
Skill points: 24