Turns out that the tier four healers have a whole new range of tricks up their carapace. Some of them have even replaced their acid production with a variant that allows them to shoot regenerative fluids instead. They've literally got medic guns! The things that are possible in this world, I tell you. When I come around, a group of healers is clustered around me, fussing over my injuries. I immediately glance back at my shattered rear-zone and sigh with relief when I see that it's started to regenerate. It doesn't look pretty, that's for sure. In fact, it looks anything but pretty. A pulsing blob of flesh, covered with a congealing layer of glittering, clear shell hangs off of my thorax. Yuck.
Luckily, it's growing and regenerating nicely. When I check my status, there's no change in my glands or organs, which is great. I'd have been majorly ticked off if all of the hard work I'd put into mutation, not to mention all the itching I'd put up with, had been lost in the business district. I'm feeling surprisingly good considering a third of my body was smashed to nothing. That strike was completely nuts, by far the most powerful Skill I've seen. The armoured Golgari are not to be messed with, that's become clear. Maybe after I've evolved again I'll be able to go up against them more evenly.
The Colony around me doesn't seem to share my relaxed attitude to my injury. There are at least twenty ants hovering around me right now, screaming constantly about the situation.
"We need more regenerating fluid! Hurry up with it!"
"I'm all out! There's a lot of healing that needs to get done around here!"
"THEN GET THE HECK OUT OF THE WAY!"
"Do any of you healers know healing magic? NONE of you?! Why the HELL don't we have magic healers in this group?!"
I kind of feel nervous about telling them that I have a healing magic. I mean, I've been using it on myself, don't get me wrong, they just seem very tense. I could also let them know that Invidia is perfectly capable of healing, but I've got him out healing the injured ants in the tunnels and don't need him to be dragged back here to look after me.
"Let me through, step back a little, let me through."
A calm, authoritative voice broke through the babble and soon Propellant appeared next to me.
"You look a little worse for wear, Eldest."
"Ah, hey there. What's the damage like?"
I know we lost people. I just hope it wasn't too bad.
"Not as bad as you might expect, Eldest. The healers are doing great work, as they always do, and the overwhelming numbers advantage allowed us to effectively swarm the enemy."
"Fair enough," I sigh. "Were there any prisoners? Did anyone surrender?"
Please let Granin and the others have survived.
"We did actually have three surrender during the fight. They are under guard right now. I thought you might want to speak to them before we move on."
"Great! Fantastic news! Where are they?"
After getting directions, I ignore the shouting of the healers and start dragging my battered body towards my erstwhile allies. I find the three of them standing calmly, surrounded by dozens of monstrous ants. Tiny is there also, joking around with Corun as the two of them throw playful punches at each other. When I appear, Granin and Torrina turn towards me and I feel their combined minds reaching out to mine.
[Hey there, squad! I'm so glad you survived!] I greet them.
[You look like crap.]
I take in the slowly morphing blob of flesh hanging off my back-end.
[Well, I think I got off pretty light, all things considered.]
Granin brings his hands up to run over his face. He looks weary.
[A lot of my people have died here. This isn't going to turn out well, Anthony.]
[Hey, look. I tried. I offered to just let you guys walk away, back to your city where we would never be seen again. That moron insisted on battle, even if the situation was against you.]
[I figured,] Granin sighs, [it sucks, but it was predictable. The Nobles won't back down once they've been given a task. That's just how it goes.]
He eyes the rest of the ants around him and further down the tunnel.
[I can see what you've done here. You modified the Queen, didn't you?]
I fiddle my antennae and kick the dirt a little.
[I did,] I confess. [I wanted my Colony to thrive, to be successful. In this world, they're my family after all. Is that so wrong?]
Granin falls silent for a moment and Torrina steps forward to fill in the gap.
[It isn't like you did the wrong thing, Anthony, but you have to understand how others are going to react when they find out what you've done. A normal Colony of ants is considered a scourge. What you've created here will be seen as the enemy of all sapient life on Pangera.]
[But why?] I protest. [We haven't been the aggressors in any conflict. The Colony has just been doing its thing, raising young and exploring the Dungeon. We haven't done anything wrong!]
She only shakes her head.
[It doesn't matter. If you keep exploring, keep expanding, then you'll run into other Dungeon powers eventually. The lower you go, the more crowded it becomes. Battles for territory happen all the time down here and nobody wants to share. If your Colony shows up they are going to get violently rejected.]
[It's not only that,] Granin breaks in. [The Dungeon is all about resources. Experience, cores and rare materials.]
I'm not sure what that has to do with
[Oh, heck. We are a resource.]
[Big ant Colony? Tons of experience. And if I'm not mistaken, every one of these ants has a core. A walking fortune. Probably a lot of useable monster parts as well. Good chunk of carapace can make fine armour, in the right hands. People are going to fight for the chance to come and hunt you down.]
Well, dammit. I'd not considered it like that. This sucks.
[Now that things have come to this, once word gets back to the city, then things are going to start mobilising. You'll have a little time, but not much, before the Empire starts to move against you. If you're lucky, it'll just be them. If you're unlucky, they'll invite others as well.]
[Other kingdoms. Other forces and armies that occupy space in the Dungeon. You're lucky that the area you live in is so undeveloped, at the higher levels at least. But I guarantee that there are powerful groups taking up space below you.]
Hardly shocking, I suppose. Still, they paint a very depressing picture of almost endless conflict to come.
[So, what are you guys going to do?] I ask.
Granin pulls a face and spits to one side.
[Hell. There's basically no way for me to avoid the conflict to come. I'm not even sure how I'll explain our survival.]
[You can always come with me,] I offer.
[No thanks,] he rebuts, [I know you've been treated poorly, and that the coming conflict isn't on you, but I think I'll head back to the Shapers and try to get the Cult on firm footing. I'm not the sort of Golgari who can fight against his people.]
[Fair enough. I couldn't ask it of you.]
It's disappointing. Despite everything, Granin has become something of a mentor to me. But I understand his choice and can only wish the best for him.
[So, I'll be sending these two idiots with you instead,] he points at Torrina and Corun.