When I finally come across Jim, he's shivering up against the wall of the tunnel as dozens of ants keep watch on him, some literally on top of him.
[Jim! You made it out, alright I see!]
[Anthony! Thank the- WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?!]
[You mean Crinis? She's my pet.]
[THAT is your pet?]
[For sure, she's great. Anyway, why are you shaking like a leaf in a storm? Something wrong?]
[Every cell in my body is screaming at me to escape from these ants. I swear they are tasting me in their minds. They look hungry, Anthony!]
[I can sense it.]
[No you can't! Besides, what would be the point? We ants are always hungry.]
[Nooooo. Don't eat me, Anthony! I have a family! My poor worm children!]
[You aren't going to be eaten, Jim!] I scoff at him. [If the Colony was going to eat you, you'd be eaten already! Just relax for a second.]
[It's hard to relax when literal predators are climbing on you.]
He has a good point. When it comes to insects and small organisms, ants are just about kings of the hill. Worms are just one of the near infinite number of things that ants will prey upon as they seek out the protein they need to raise the ravenous brood.
[Just take a minute to appreciate your achievement! You're free! You made it out! If you want to, you can slither into the wall and vanish. Back to the Dungeon!]
[I'm too exhausted to take it in. I think I need to rest before I can enjoy it. Besides, I can't feel at ease knowing what Sarah is going through. If she doesn't fight, then isn't she just going to get eaten. It's not right]
He's got a point. He said before we left that he wanted to go back and rescue his friend. Now that the Colony has exposed itself, there isn't much reason not to back and try to bust her out. If it's going to happen though, it'll need to happen soon. The Golgari will get word of an active ant colony soon and will start to mobilise their no doubt considerable resources against us. We need to get in, hit the outpost and get out before that can happen. If we pull the Colony all the way back to Liria, perhaps there's a chance they never find us.
[I'll let you rest here then. I'm going to go talk to the leadership and see what we can do about getting Sarah out.]
[Leadership? What do you mean? What's going on with these ants, Anthony?]
[It's a little hard to explain. Let's just say, I made ants as smart as people?]
[You did WHAT?!] The worm explodes.
I get defensive.
[Hey! I just wanted to help out my family, you know?]
[So you made giant monstrous ants with the intelligence of humans? Do you have any idea what you've done?!]
[ made a super cool Colony of ants?]
[Oh my god. I can't take it anymore. I'm going to sleep.]
Having said so, the giant worm goes totally limp and flops on the ground under the watchful eye of his ant protectors. What's his deal anyway? I don't see how smart ants are any worse than smart apes or smart rock-skinned people. In fact, aren't they just better? I mean, I'll take my current family over my old one in a heartbeat. No time to worry about that now. I need to find whichever members of the Council were foolish enough to come all the way out here. Wherever 'here' is. Time to plan a quick smash 'n' grab and then we are marching home!
I find the usual suspects gathered nearby, waiting for me to turn up for a chat. They dug out a convenient meeting chamber for us to use so we don't block off the tunnel, which still has a ton of traffic moving through it as ants go about their work.
"Eldest, it's wonderful to see you again!" This from Burke.
"It's pleasing to see that this operation was a success." Sloan tips her antennae at me.
"You must have gone through a lot, Eldest! You didn't happen to pick up any new magical secrets, did you?" Propellant asks eagerly.
"I've learned a lot. About a heap of things, which I'm happy to share a bit later on."
Phew. It's all a bit overwhelming. The situation has changed so quickly that I need a moment to adjust. The Vestibule continues to pump me full of energy and keep me fresh, but the emotional fatigue is something it can't help me with.
"It's great to be back with you all. Thanks for coming for me."
"Of course we came to get you! Through great danger and GLORIOUS battle we have made our way to sacrifice ourselves to secure your freedom!"
"Shut up, Leeroy."
"Haaah. Where even are we? How far from the nest have we come?"
"I can field that," Burke chips in, "we're approximately a hundred and thirty two kilometres in a straight line across the surface from the nest. In terms of movement through the tunnels, we could probably triple that number."
That's a heck of a long way.
"How did you guys even manage to find me?"
It seems like an impossible mission. Three hundred kilometres of tunnel? In a matter of weeks?! What the heck have they had to do in order to cover that sort of ground?
"It's not as bad as you think," Propellant chuckles, "the Colony has kicked quite a few things into overdrive since you last were in the nest. We are covering quite a lot of Dungeon territory every day. We need to in order to keep the graduates and larvae fed and growing."
"I suppose the two new Queens are running at capacity now?" Victoriant and Antionette will be pleased to finally be performing their role. It's something they've wanted for a long time.
"TWO Queens? What do you mean. There's like six?"
"It's true," Burke shrugs her antennae. "It's been a little while since I was last home. But the Tenders were setting up a second nest for the Queen in the second layer and a new group of less mature Queens were being raised in the original nest."
Somehow when she says 'the Queen', it's still obvious who it is that she's talking about. So we have more than one nest now? And a nest in the second strata?! That's impressive as hell!
"That's incredible. I'm so grateful that you've been able to do all this."
"What do you mean? We're just working."
Of course. Just doing their jobs, what else would they be doing. Thankfully they consider their work running hundreds of kilometres to drag their troublesome Elder out of trouble.
"Things are going to get dangerous here soon. An empire of people called the Golgari live in this area. We're on the outskirts of their territory now."
"We've seen the signs, even observed them a few times. They look tough," Burke observes.
"They can be very strong," I agree, "and once word gets out that we are here, they'll put together some serious firepower to hunt us down and eradicate the Colony. I'd rather we didn't fight them and just retreated."
"Sensible," Burke observes.
"UNACCEPTABLE!" Leeroy shouts.
"Before we do that though, I have something I want to get done."