Following the scent trails the scouting parties had put down, it didn't take long for us to make our way through the twisting tunnels to where the Golgari would soon pass. We positioned ourselves in cover at an angle where we could see them coming from a good range. I didn't want to get too close to them. I wouldn't underestimate the stone-people ever again. While the majority of Warriors and Shapers had proven to be unable to damage me in small numbers now, I wasn't going to push my luck. In terms of monsters, I was quite exceptional. 99% of the Dungeon's creations didn't get to evolve in the way I did, with a maxed out core, or possessed this many mutations. I might have started out as a measly ant, but I was starting to become stacked. It made sense to me that the average Golgari wouldn't be able to match me. But something I'd learned from Granin still gave me pause. He'd told me that most of the Shapers in the outpost were just scholars, hardly any were real Dungeon delvers. Stuck in offices and reading books all day, they had polished Skills but not many levels or combat experience.
I even suspected the Warriors I'd fought were of a similar bent. As far as I knew, they weren't members of an official Golgari military or any such thing. If anything, Coriinam Balta gave me the impression of a pampered youth who'd done far more training than fighting. A show of strength, rather than the reality. Their sword slashes might make a fancy light show, but without the proper OOMPH that raw stats provided then they simply lacked the penetrating power to deal with my carapace. If nothing else, that proved that they were under levelled.
Would that be true for all Golgari? Hell no. These were people who made their home inside the Dungeon. Shapers like Granin had seen a ton of action in the tunnels. I had little doubt he was the highest levelled Shaper inside that outpost. With the walls of the town, there had to be individuals or a group that the others depended on to do the heavy lifting keeping them safe. A militia, a defence force. Heck, maybe a fully blown army. Whoever it was, I hadn't seen them and I wasn't keen to fight them. We'd already had casualties on this rescue mission, just another thing to weigh on my conscience. If I could avoid more death amongst my family, I sure as hell would.
Tiny isn't much good at being still or hidden, come to think of it, so I end up sending him back up the tunnel a hundred metres or so where he promptly goes to sleep. The rest of us have more patience and watch the tunnel with sharp eyes. As promised by the scouts, the Golgari turn up an hour later, moving fast. We hear them well before we see them, the pounding of stone feet on stone making the sound more like a crunch than a thump.
The Golgari in the lead were huge, even by their standards. A dozen giants strode forth, perhaps three metres tall, with comically large weapons strapped to their backs. And their skin! This was no ordinary true-skin. These folks glittered in the dim Dungeon light from head to toe. They were covered entirely with metal ore! From what I'd been able to pick up about Golgari culture, finding ores capable of holding the mana required to bond it to their bodies wasn't easy. That meant high quality ores were expensive. When I'd asked Torrina how much her own ore was worth, she'd given me a strange look before explaining that asking a Golgari about their true-skin was simply not done. Before I could apologise, she'd laughed and explained it anyway. The reason her own skin wasn't complete was due to the ludicrous expense required to purchase more. She'd made the decision to use a higher grade ore and form an incomplete skin rather than substitute for something worse, but in sufficient quantity. Yet here were these freakin' mutants wandering around, enormous, and covered head to toe in gleaming ores!
Each one of those guys was covered in enough money to buy a Golgari mansion, I had no doubt.
Were these dudes likely to be under levelled? NOT LIKELY. I wasn't going to tangle with them unless I had absolutely no choice. Behind them came a more usual procession of Warriors and Shapers, but each individual wore something I'd not seen before, a dark brown braided rope around their neck that nearly blended into their stone skin. Did this indicate that they were all part of one faction? Or was it something that they'd put on when they became part of this expedition?
Mixed amongst the crowd were other Golgari that didn't match anything I'd seen before. Robed figures with thick staves they gripped in one hand dotted the procession, along with a few shorter members accompanied by what were clearly their monstrous pets. In a small cluster came something that I wasn't sure I would ever see. Golgari wearing armour
There were only three of them, but they put the fear of Gandalf into me. Why the hell were they wearing armour?! What's the point? Does it mean their true skin is weak? Can't be! Even Granin, who'd formed his true skin from the weakest, most common ore he could, just because he was a jerk, never wore a stitch of armour. Not leather, or cloth and sure as hell not metal!
I have no idea what this signifies When they come to the branch before us, the procession halts for a moment and there's a pause as various members converse. It appears as though the robed individuals are being consulted quite heavily, along with the pet keepers interesting. After a few minutes they ready themselves again and take the path directly toward the colony.
"How do they know?" I wonder.
"What's that, Eldest?" A scout asks.
"They're tracking us. They aren't uncertain of which direction we're in, they know. How?"
"I'm not certain. We need to inform the others."
"Send a scout back immediately."
One of the scouts rushes off to let the rest of our convoy know whilst my pets and I slink back out of sight to stay ahead of the Golgari. They might be tracking the two prisoners that we took. Or perhaps there's some sort of tracking spell on me? I can't find any magic on my person, but there might be a method to hide it, how would I know?! Perhaps they have a way of monitoring Dungeon traffic, like remote sensors they've built into the walls in their territory Could they be picking up on our pheromone trails?!
Like any good ant, the entire troop has been laying trails everywhere they go, it's how we navigate. Just because the ants in the Colony have better eyes than normal, doesn't mean they've abandoned their instincts. Unlike me, who was human once, the others are pure ants at heart. The pheromone trail is their guiding light!
The more I consider it, the more I think it must be true. The Golgari know they've come out to hunt an ant Colony, and it's not the first time in history one has spawned. What better method of tracking down the nest than following the pheromone trails? Thank goodness I came back here to scout, otherwise they'd have been able to follow us all the way back to the Queen