Further down my ape passenger, who is managing to hold onto my back very well, and I come across many more ants and it quickly becomes apparent why.
Dozens of small grubs and several larger cocoons occupy the space, carefully tended to and fed by more than twenty workers. The workers are constantly checking and tending to the white grubs, cleaning them and feeding them from their social stomachs similar to the way a bird will regurgitate food for its young.
This is the brood chamber, the next generation of ant monsters are being raised here. This is super cool to see! One of my favourite parts of my ant keeping hobby was watching the workers raise up the future workers of the colony, taking care of them until they were fully grown.
It seems that these monstrous ants follow a similar lifecycle to regular ants on Earth. First the Queen lays the eggs which hatch into a larva, a small grub that needs to be fed and cared for until it becomes large enough to spin itself a cocoon and become a pupa. Inside the cocoon the ant slowly takes shape until eventually it emerges, fully formed. After a brief period to allow for the exoskeleton to harden the new ant is ready to roll.
The ape on my back is making low noises of amazement as it watched the hustle and bustle in the chamber in front of us. There really is a lot of movement, these monstrous workers don't take their feet off the pedal for a moment.
If I look closely I can see a few unhatched eggs in the corner of the chamber. I guess that means that further down from here I'll find the find the Queen.
Sure enough in the chamber down below her highness is back to her usual work. Dwarfing all of the workers in the chamber the Queen is being tended to constantly by her entourage, bringing her food and cleaning her so that she can concentrate on laying and growing the colony.
Honestly I'm surprised to see so few ants so far. I don't think this colony is very old. A wood ant nest can have up to half a million workers in it, I don't think this one has more than a few hundred.
My antennae are constantly pinging in here, flooded with the scent of pheromone trails. Instinctively I'm able to understand what some of them mean, food over this way, brood are to go this way, and so on.
The trails are laid out so that workers know where they need to be going at any time, the more workers agree on a particular path, the stronger that trail will become.
The Queen has seen me looking around and walks towards me, several ants crawling on her are forced to come along as well.
I'm still slightly intimidated by the Queen, she is seriously massive.
Uh. Hi Mum?
The massive monster in front of me is technically my mother here in this world, the fact that I'm here in the colony and not getting ripped to pieces is all the proof I could need. The Queen, that is to say, mother, inspects me carefully, checking if I'm still wounded before giving me friendly pat on the antennae and moving back into the nesting chamber.
Well, she seems nice?
Speaking of which I should check my HP. Looks like I'm up to about 41 since eating that Biomass. Nearly back to full, feels good.
Now that I'm finally here I'm not exactly sure what to do next. I don't have anything urgent that needs doing and thankfully I'm not threatened by anything right now, no humans chasing me down no enemy monsters. Such a relaxing existence.
I move out of the nesting chambers and out of the workers' way, heading up the tunnel and into one of the empty side rooms. On the way I pass two workers carrying a weakly struggling live centipede down towards the area we just left.
Why would they leave it alive? I think for a moment before I eventually realise why. In order to level up you have to deal the final blow, they are literally delivering Xp to Mother! She doesn't have to lift a finger in order to get experience and Biomass, the workers are just bringing it on their own!
What an enviable existence.
It makes a lot of sense, when I think about it. The Queen in an ant colony is literally the heart, the past and the future of the colony. Without the Queen the colony would never have existed and if she were to die the colony would cease to be. So it makes sense that to keep everything growing and prosperous the Queen should be as high a level as possible, as well as gaining Biomass in order to mutate and become stronger. She probably has an egg production organ she can upgrade as well, increasing the rate she can lay and growing the workforce faster and faster.
Since I have the time I decide to train my Mana Manipulation, forcing the energy out of my core and directing it out of my mouth. Every time the small puff of energy is released from my mouth the ape on my back goes crazy, giggling in delight and slapping at the cloud with his hands, dispersing the mana with his hands.
Eventually I discharge almost all of my mana and by that time I'm getting hungry.
How about you little guy? Getting hungry? I can't actually communicate with my little passenger but I assume he needs to eat in order to grow? Since I've reconstituted him I feel at least somewhat responsible for making sure he can grow properly.
I'd better head out and get some food. It's time for Anthony to contribute to the colony! Making sure my passenger is secure I head back into the main tunnel and start sniffing around for the trails. I head further and further up following both the trail I'm pretty sure indicates 'food' and moving along with the other workers heading in this direction.
The tunnel branches a few times but I keep choosing the path that heads most directly up, I want to get back to the massive area I was in before since I'm somewhat familiar with that place, I'll be able to hunt much easier there.
After almost thirty minutes of travel through the narrow tunnel I eventually emerge back into the open space I had become familiar with. Looking about I can see that I'm standing on top of what is essentially an ant hill, a large pile of loose dirt that the workers had built up when they excavated the tunnel.
After all this time it feels quite strange to be emerging from a proper ant hill. A few workers are crawling up from the tunnel, each with their own varying level of mutation and evolution. I haven't seen any ants more evolved than I myself and honestly I haven't seen a worker quite my own size either.
It's probably a bit unusual for a single worker to amass as much Biomass and experience as I have. Considering that the ants hunt in large groups the experience would be spread pretty thin, since only the ant who delivers the final blow gets any experience at all. Add in on top of that the fact that they are probably taking everything they can capture alive back to the Queen then it must be very hard for an individual to get enough experience to evolve, let alone condense their core.
Not that I would really expect anything different from the workers, unselfish! Giving their all for the colony!
I also plan to contribute my share, but I certainly don't intend to be quite as giving as my fellow workers. With my human intellect I believe I can contribute my bit to the colony whilst also getting some experience and Biomass for myself.
Turning this way and that I I can detect a few trails leading in a couple of directions. Just when I'm thinking about which direction I should go in I see a worker scurrying back to the nest as he approaches I can suddenly detect a new scent! My senses are telling me that this new scent is call for reinforcements! There is food this way and they need help.
Picking up the message I decide to concentrate for a second and try to use my own pheromone gland. Obviously it isn't easy trying to do use something you didn't even have in your previous life but just like with the acid spray there are instincts packaged with my new ant body and I quickly work out how to use it.
I drop the same scent in order to relay the message further down the tunnel and it isn't long before more workers begin to climb up the tunnel, rallying to the call for aid.
This is the organisation that makes ants such a successful species on Earth, dominating the world of smaller creatures with their fearsome teamwork and relentless appetite.
With my message relayed I will go forth and render my assistance!