After exiting the Dungeon I was able to see that the evacuation of the forward HQ had already begun. Hundreds of ants, perhaps as many as a thousand, were rushing this way and that, digging, lifting and generally getting things done everywhere he looked. A long trail had already been established and soldiers as well as workers were vanishing into the distance as they marched back towards the nest and home.
They were very different ants from those who had started this fight. Thousands of Biomass had been consumed over the last five days, not to mention the experience and levels that had been gained. Mutations were evident everywhere I looked, Soldiers with glittering carapace, even a few diamond looking ones, long flowing antennae, thicker, more powerful legs.
For those who had survived, the battles had been a forge in which their strength had been tempered. They had emerged bigger and badder than before, ready to put their lives on the line in the defence of their colony and Queen in the final battle to come.
I spotted a dense cluster of ants communing near the main entrance and made my way over. Sure enough, the leadership was grouped there, giving out instructions and consulting on last minute changes in strategy.
"Hey, Victor! Wills! Mendant! How's things going?"
The three members of the twenty turned at my call and watched silently as I approached.
'Well, ever since the er, lightning incident, things have been tense," Victor admitted.
Yeah, I kind of had feeling that might be the case.
"Any more casualties?" I asked, nervous.
"No, Eldest," Mendant answered me gently, "we have simply been reluctant to engage with the horde with such an unstable element at play."
"I can understand that. I may be able to help even."
Wills perked up at my words.
"You've come up with a way to attack the Kaarmodo? That'll be incredible."
"Ah, no. Nothing that grand. I still need two more levels before I can evolve right? Which means I'm going to have to go back in. I'll join up with the humans and try to hit the horde from behind, which should attract the attention of our friend the wizard lizard, since it's me that they're after."
"Meaning the colony will be able to operate with far less risk from the front," Victor mused.
"You're taking a lot of risk onto yourself Eldest," Mendant worried, "isn't there a better way that we could approach this?"
I shook my antennae in refusal.
"I won't have members of the family sacrificing themselves so I can farm experience peacefully," I said firmly, "I refuse. This is the way it's going to be. It'll also work to minimise the risks to the greatest number of us."
I gave Mendant a friendly pat on the head with an antenna.
"Not to worry, I'm not easy to kill. Enough monsters have tried, but I'm still here."
The healer shifted uncomfortably under my antennae as an embarrassed teenager might as they suffered the affection of a parent.
"How long until you move out, Eldest?" Victor asked.
"No time like the present I suppose. The humans should already be waiting close to where I left them. I'll need an hour to circle around and meet up with them, then another hour to get into position behind the enemy. I get the feeling you might notice once I get their attention."
Victor nodded. If the sky starting sprouting lightning bolts again then it would be hard not to notice.
"How goes the evacuation?" I asked, shifting the topic.
"Quickly and efficiently," Victor stated proudly.
As if it could be anything else. You're ants for goodness sake.
"Fair enough. I'd better get moving, the sooner I get to fighting the sooner I can evolve."
"Be careful out there, Eldest," Wills warned me, "we're going to need you by the end."
"Miss out on the final showdown? Me?!" I protested, "you must be crazy."
With a final few words to the council members present I turned to run only to find many of the surrounding soldiers and workers frozen in place, watching me.
Uhhh… what's happening people?
The air itself seemed to be still, so perfectly motionless was every ant present. I twitched my antennae nervously, uncomfortable under the attention of so many of my siblings. What are they waiting for? Do they want me to say something? Since when did they need me to tell them what to do?
Ah! Come on Anthony! Think! Say something inspirational. Something moving. Something with meaning!
"Ah…. " I stuttered. Nice start!
"Ahem. Uh… Work hard! Er… For the colony?" I mumbled.
There was a moment of silence before:
"FOR THE COLONY" roared a thousand ants in unison.
Then, just like that, they went back to working, even faster than before. Confused, I turned to Mendant who had quietly approached my side.
Seeing the query in my eyes she answered me.
"They look up to you. They seek guidance from you on how to be a proper Formica Sapiens."
I goggled at her.
"You are all far better ants than I'll ever be" I told her honestly.
The ants who heard me fell silent for some reason, but I paid them no mind, it was time to get moving.
[Let's go Tiny.]
With my pet ape in tow and Crinis on my back, I sped off away from the ants and into the open space. The horde wouldn't be far away from this place so I made sure to keep my head down and avoid getting too close as we cast a wide circle around them.
Lightning bolts falling on my head wasn't something I was in a rush to experience again.
Eventually we looped around far enough and we managed to find the humans camped in a copse of trees, sensibly concealed from prying eyes.
[Seems like things are coming to a head,] Isaac observed as I brought him up to speed.
[What you think?] I asked him, [Do you want to stick around and take a few more jabs? Or do you want to head back to town?]
Isaac rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
[I think me an' the gang are up for some more action. I'd say Enid has things arranged back at the village.]
[… and Morrelia will still be in the Dungeon.]
The man deflated before my eyes.
[That's true too,] he muttered.
This man was sure going to die soon. If not to the horde, then to an angry berserker.