It was a busy time for the soldiers. Grant had been run off her six legs over the last week. In some ways it was a relief to have the enemy finally arrive on the doorstep! Now she'd have the chance to rip into them directly with her mandibles and not have to stress about extraneous matters!
"Make sure you watch over the eldest carefully" she commanded the guards who remained in the chamber where the Eldest was undergoing their evolution.
The soldiers would hardly have done any different, but they saluted the council member with an antennae anyway before continuing their careful observation of the chamber walls. The Eldest lay close to the centre of the chamber undergoing the process of evolution. The two guardians sat nearby, watching over their master and Grant was careful to give them their space. The two creatures were quite revered in the colony and their unending loyalty to the Eldest was firmly to their credit.
Grant stepped out of the chamber and made her way further down into the newest section of the nest. The Carvers had been excited to have an excuse to have to expand the nest in a new way and the Queen's evolution had been the perfect opportunity. She'd needed more space and to be deeper in the Dungeon which had required an extensive expansion to the lower reaches of the nest.
"Nice work soldiers. Keep up the hard work," Grant nodded to the many soldiers she passed.
She came across a general patrolling with five soldiers trailing behind her moving in the opposite direction.
"How goes things general?"
"The extra patrols are putting a strain on resources, Senior," the smaller soldier variant replied, "the Dungeon wall spawns have been faster than usual over the last day. It feels as though something has changed."
Grant swiped her antennae in a concerned gesture.
"Have any other patrol groups reported this issue?" She asked.
"All of them," confirmed the patrol leader.
Grant pondered for a moment. There were a few implications of increased Dungeon spawn rate, and she didn't like any of them.
"I'll speak to the council," she assured the patrol, "if we can spare any more soldiers they'll be sent down as soon as we can manage."
"I appreciate it, Senior," the general snapped out a quick salute before she moved on with the rest of her patrol.
Grant shook her head. This wasn't what the colony needed. At a time when not just every soldier, but every member of the colony, was required top side to deal with upcoming battle, committing yet more soldiers to the Dungeon sections of the colony was far from ideal.
But it would have to be done. The Queen was down here along with the Eldest. Any risk at all to either of them was unacceptable. She supposed they could remove all members of the colony to the above ground section of the nest for the duration of the battle and leave the freshly spawned monsters to battle each other here in the lower tunnels. Abandoning any amount of territory to those filthy creatures angered Grant deep down, though she couldn't say exactly why.
As she mulled over her emotions she made her way down into the Dungeon until she came to the chamber the council had made for their use, directly above the Queen's chamber.
"The Eldest had begun to evolve," she announced as she entered.
There was a relieved rustle as the few members of the council present shifted their bodies and their antennae twitched. The twenty members of the council were extremely busy. There wasn't so much of a formal meeting as a rolling series of consultations with whoever was present at the time. For the time being, Mendant, Victoriant, Florence and Coolant were in the chamber, the others were out on business. For many in the council, this chamber had become something of a break room, shameful as it was to admit it.
"How was it?" Mendant asked, concerned, "absorbing the core?"
Grant paused as she considered how to describe the scene she had observed from the tunnel above the Eldest's chamber. Like a fool, she'd feared for the Eldest's life as his own guardian hand engulfed him in tentacles that writhed and squeezed with tremendous strength. Even covered, she could sense the agony that rolled through the air in waves.
"Difficult. But the Eldest, succeeded, as always."
"Of course," Coolant pitched in, "We can only marvel at how powerful a mage the Eldest will become once the evolution is complete."
Grant stabbed her antennae forward in irritation.
"I believe the Eldest will seek physical strength in order to lead the soldiers from the front," she said with certainty.
She could see it in her mind, the colossal strength of the Eldest, scattering the foe and harvesting their lives as wheat before the scythe, the soldier caste charging through the wake.
"D-Do you think the Eldest will invest in a healing magic gland?" Mendant asked hopefully.
"No," the others replied, which caused the healer to drop her head in sadness.
"The patrols need to be increased in the lower tunnels." Grant said.
Victoriant focused on the Soldier, surprise clear in her voice.
"Again? I hope this trend doesn't continue," she worried.
"We'll have to wait and see," Coolant replied, "there's no use engaging in idle speculation."
Grant nodded in agreement. Guessing would get them nowhere in a hurry.
"Has most of the colony been pulled in for the mandatory rest period?" Coolant asked.
"I think so," Grant confirmed, "I haven't spoken to Burke or Wills for a few hours, but I think they've managed to bring in everyone. The upper nest has been turned over to the Brood Tenders to monitor, since they are non-combatants, whilst the soldiers are patrolling down here."
"Did Vibrant come in?"
"I heard she had to be dragged in by a team of scouts," Grant chuckled.
"I was there," Coolant confirmed, "it took twenty of them to hold her down whilst her team was blocked by thirty soldiers. She wanted to get one last food run in before the battle started."
Grant sighed. Vibrant's work ethic was second to none and she had the respect of every ant in the colony for it, but it was by far the better choice for the colony that she and her team were rested and fresh for the battle than a little more food was stored away.
"She ended up coming peacefully in the end," Coolant continued. "Once we pointed out the Eldest was returning to the nest to evolve, she was happy enough to come back."
Once again the Eldest did work for the colony without even being present. Truly something special.
"I'm heading down to consult with the Queen" Grant announced, "I think Sloan is down there as well. I want to make sure my soldiers are in position."
The others nodded.
"Keep working hard," Coolant said.
"Of course," Grant replied.