When the Colony gathers in the tunnels outside the ravaged outpost, we quickly take stock before we march through the tunnels. It's quite an inspiring sight to me, the long column of ants pouring through the tunnels, obliterating everything they find. My pets and I bring up the rear and it's great to finally get a chance to take a peek at their cores and admire the upgrades that they've achieved. Some good evolutions for Tiny and Crinis, and I can see that both of them have been working hard at improving their Skills. Invidia has also been putting in work, judging by the increase to his magical abilities. Considering the short timeframe that he's had, his improvements in the magical fields that I've instructed him to work on are impressive. Although, when you take into account the sheer grunt he's able to put behind his spells, it shouldn't be that surprising.
"Quite a good haul it looks like," I observe to Burke when she drops back to scout the rear of the column.
"Agreed. The wealth of cores we were able to obtain has got the Core Shapers drooling."
"Was there anything other than cores that we got our mandibles on?"
"Oh yes. We cut apart and dragged away anything enchanted as well as a collection of mana empowered materials. The carvers and mages are going to be very excited. Not to mention those two prisoners you picked out. If we can extract anything useable from them then they might even prove to be the best part of the haul."
I'm a bit doubtful.
"You really think they're going to hand over reliable information? They aren't exactly willing co-operators."
"There's a few things that we can try
"Did I see books getting carried away? What the heck are we going to be doing with books?"
The smaller ant wiggles her antennae indecisively.
"I'm not sure on the books, you might need to talk to one of the mages about that one. If I was to take a guess, I suppose it might be for trading with the humans in the village."
I have to think for a second.
"You mean Enid and Beyn's lot? What will they need with these books. We don't even know if many of them can read!"
"It's worth a shot. It's entirely possible that the mages have some method in mind to read the texts themselves. I'm just guessing here. If you don't have any more questions, Eldest, then I'm going to scout. Pursuit should have started by now."
"Good point. Stay safe."
With a flick on an antenna to acknowledge my words, Burke vanishes into the dark shadows of the second strata, covering our retreat and hunting for signs of the Golgari. They must be out there somewhere, ready to hunt us down. We exposed ourselves by going back to retrieve Sarah and raid the Shaper outpost, but I have to hope it's going to turn out to be worth it.
Then it's back to marching along with the column. We cover ground quickly, as a nearly tireless army of ants should. Tiny is the first of my own group to grow tired. Hardly unexpected since Crinis is being carried by me and Invidia is hitching a ride on Tiny's shoulder.
[Any chance you can cast something enervating on Tiny, Invidia? Big guy's lacking a bit of pep in his step.]
[I don't know thisss magic. Can only heal.]
[Fair enough. Going to have to tough it out big fella.]
[Hrrrrr,] he whines in the back of his throat.
Despite his reluctance, Tiny keeps putting one big, ape foot in front of the other until the column is called to a halt. Hunting parties immediately peel off to try and secure Biomass for the group. Energy is low and it needs recharging! Shortly after the stop, the members of the council who are present find their way back to me for a chat, minus Burke of course, she's still out scouting.
"How far behind do you think they are? We set a good pace. I wouldn't think those meatbags would be able to keep up with us." Propellant proposed.
Bella the Core Shaper shook her antennae.
"Don't underestimate them Propellant. They were able to capture the Eldest, I think they could handle you easily enough."
"No need to bring that up," I groan, "but yes, they can be very capable. Especially when their Warriors and Shapers are working together. It's possible they have other castes that they can deploy in battle and I just haven't seen them yet. So we have to be cautious."
"Agreed," Sloan cuts in. "The scouts have been deployed, along with a contingent of our Core Shapers and their pets to keep an antenna out behind us. We marched hard for the last few hours and we need to rest before we continue. I want to ensure that we stay well rested and well fed for the journey. If they manage to catch us and start a fight, I don't want a single ant to be in poor condition."
I like the sentiment. Keep our energy up, stay alert and push hard. Sounds like the Colony's regular attitude, to be honest.
"What about torpor? We need to rest at some point," I point out.
All of the members of the council look uncomfortable when I mention the hated word: 'rest'.
"Let's think about it later," Sloan clacks her mandibles, trying to move the conversation on quickly.
"Sloan There's no point trying to keep everyone rested and then not let anyone sleep. We have to rest if we're going to be in fighting shape."
Except for me, since the Vestibule kept me supplied with all the energy I can spend. I won't need to rest until my mental fatigue piles up to the point I need to pass out.
"How long do we think it's going to take to make it back to the nest?" I ask. "Probably take a little less time than it took for you to get out to me?"
Sloan nodded her antennae.
"We think it'll take a week of hard marching, but only if we don't get interrupted by pursuers."
Which is likely. As if to fulfil that prophecy, Burke ran back into view at the end of the tunnel and approached us.
"They're coming," she announced, "an hour behind, maybe less. There's a lot of them, and I think they mean business. They look decked out for a war."
Not unexpected news, but still unwelcome.
"Do you think we can lose them in the tunnels?" Sloan asks.
"I'm not sure," Burke sounds hesitant. "It's almost as if they're tracking us. If they keep coming straight, they'll run right into us."
Well that's not good.
"We might have to cut this break short," I warn the others. "I'm going to go back and take a quick look."
"Be careful, Eldest," Propellant warns me. "We only just got you back."
"Not to worry, I'm not exactly keen to land in their hands again. Just going to have a cheeky peek and then I'll be right back."
Burke sends a few scouts to escort us with a flick of her antennae and we head off to see exactly what the Goglari have sent after us.