It wasn't easy to explain how they knew, but they did. A tantalising feeling, as if their minds were connected across a great space to something that collected all those thoughts like a whirlpool of the colonies wants and needs. The moment Vibrant placed a leg within its range, she could sense it.
"Finally!" She yelled with delight, slapping her followers around with her antennae enthusiastically. "That silly Eldest really went a long way but not far enough to escape from us!"
"Please, Vibrant," came the urgent whisper from a general within her squad, "it isn't wise to refer to the Eldest as silly! Or to suggest the Eldest ran away."
"You think weird, Emeliant," Vibrant assured her trusted follower, "That's why I like you."
Still unused to having a name, Emiliant was caught between the joy of being acknowledged by her leader and the fear of getting in trouble for her irreverence.
She worried too much, something that Vibrant found immensely amusing since Vibrant didn't worry at all.
"Stop your fussing! If you keep twitching your antenna like that, I'll have to take your name back."
"C-can you do that?" She whispered.
"What? No! Geez, you need to relax a little. Let's go kill some monsters. We've almost made it!"
So saying, Vibrant dashed off with incredible speed, leaving Emiliant and the rest of her squad in the dust. This was the treatment they were well used to by this point, and they rushed to catch up, the less physical castes climbing onto the backs of the tier four soldiers and scouts in order to keep up.
Knowing they were following behind, Vibrant didn't go all out but instead comfortably rushed toward the front lines, her connection to the Eldest growing stronger with each stride. She'd travelled a long way to take part in this conflict, and she wasn't about to let it end before she got her slice of whatever had kept the Eldest from them.
She'd been in another zone entirely when word the Eldest had been detected rushed through the Colony. One ant passed it onto the next and word raced hundreds of kilometres into the deepest tunnels and most defended nests. At once, without any need to consult, the Colony's entire expansion process halted as ants began to reassign themselves to this new front. The regular business of the Colony continued, of course, but every ant not dedicated to producing, raising or feeding the young had barrelled through the tunnels, moving east. Always east. As a trickle turns into a flood, so too did the movements of the Colony as one group ran into the next which ran into the next.
Now thousands of siblings poured through the tunnels within range of the Eldest, each burned with an inner flame that only grew brighter the closer they got.
Thankfully, the council had stepped in and taken things in hand.
"Whoa there, Vibrant. Got a second for a chat?"
Vibrant screeched to a halt, dirt and rock flying as her claws dug in.
"Hey-hey! If it isn't Burke! You look… different."
The scout wiggled her elongated antennae proudly.
"Pretty good! Tier four brought a few unusual surprises. We're still trying to work out the optimal paths for the rest to follow, it's taking longer than we thought."
"As long as we get it right, the Colony will prosper in the future."
The scout leader's new form was larger than before, but not by much. She was dwarfed by some of the tier four soldiers, which were being called majors. She was sleeker, more streamlined and her colours had become more muted. In fact, it almost appeared as if she was blending into the rock behind her. He antennae were the other major change. Far longer and bristling with minute hairs they looked as if they were several times more sensitive than they'd been before.
"I just wanted to stop you before you went barging in. Things are sensitive on the front lines, we can't move as we want."
"Why not?" Vibrant queried.
Moving cautiously wasn't exactly her style, but she'd been forced to adapt as part of the council.
"We've found evidence of a civilised race occupying these areas."
"Are they the ones holding the Eldest?"
Vibrant fell into thought. No matter how fast she was, there was some trouble she just couldn't outrun—exposing the Colony to a group more organised and powerful than the Lirian kingdom would be a very large serving of fast-moving trouble.
"What was the decision?" She asked.
Burke relaxed slightly. It was never a sure thing that Vibrant would listen when the council asked her to do things. She was strangely… independent. Always serving the Colony, but in the way that she thought was best. To this point, the council had never found any of her decisions to turn out poorly, but they still worried.
"We've sent in teams of core shapers. Their pet shadow beasts can scout more openly and arouse less suspicion than we can. Tunneling crews have also been set up but we need more mage support. Some passages are hard to avoid and we're concerned that our cores will be detected if we get too close."
"That's all great. But what do you need me to do?"
"You are your team are going to be best utilised as messengers. The tier four scouts have been allowed to go forward, they have the Skills and mutations to get away with it, we hope, which means we're short on fast legs."
"I've got plenty of those!" Declared Vibrant as her weary followers rushed into view.
Just as Vibrant was about to greet her squad and cheer on their new role as hard running scouts, something else emerged from the tunnel behind them, startling every ant present with its speed and malevolent aura.
A deep pool of shadow flashed across the ground before it seemed to sense the open space and stilled. After a few seconds the pool darkened and a forest of black tentacles burst forth. They grasped and twisted through the air, gripping onto anything they could before they snapped taught and pulled.
From out of the pool emerged a horror. An amorphous blob of flesh with three mouths filled with barbed teeth that crackled with malicious energy. A terrible screech arose in the tunnel that set every ants antenna afire with vibrations.
Each of the mouths wailed independently in a strange cacophony that caused Burke to shiver uncontrollably, though she could not explain why.
Vibrant displayed a very different reaction.
"CRIN-CRIN!" She whooped and rushed toward her friend.
[WHERE IS THE MASTER?!] Crinis roared. [TAKE ME TO THE MASTER!]
[Whoa there! Hold on! We can sense the Eldest. They aren't far away!]
The giant ball seemed to deflate, the slashing, tooth covered limbs retracting into the body as if rapidly shrank.
[Why can you sense them when I can't…. It's not fair!]
Vibrant dashed over to pat Crinis lightly on the head with her antenna.
[Not long now, Crin-Crin. Won't be long now.]
[Where is the enemy, Vibrant? WHO is the enemy?]
The poor horror was clearly agitated, her tentacles writhing and twisting in knots. Every now and again she would lose control and her ripping teeth emerged to rip great chunks out of the stone around her. Vibrant continued to soothe her friend as she told them what they knew.
[I will go and scout at the front lines.] Crinis declared. [I'm a shadow monster so I won't be suspected.]
Burke wasn't too sure about that, but she wasn't prepared to put her word against one of the Eldest' guardians. The tentacled horror slithered down the tunnel toward the east with jaws gnashing eagerly.