As we approach the nest I find myself in a huddle with Torrina, Corun and my pet gang in the centre of our column. I'm not sure where the prisoners are being held, somewhere toward the back, I imagine. Hopefully they can adjust to their new abode. I may not like them very much, but I don't want total suffering for them. Claws crossed we use them as part of a peace negotiation or something.
My Vestibule is sparking to life as more and more ants come into range and begin to provide their own trickle of energy. Frankly, the number of ants is already out of control and I don't think I've reached them all yet. I'd estimate close to five thousand are feeding me energy and I'm starting to buzz as if I just drank ten cups of coffee and followed it with a kilogram of raw sugar. Keeping my focus is difficult. Perhaps a higher Will stat will help me resist this effect? I'll need to test it later.
The tunnel begins to widen out and flatten itself as the rocky protrusions are suddenly gone, as if sheared away by mandibles. The roof remains a little rough though and it takes me a little while to figure out why. Behind each carefully sloped bump is a well disguised hole behind which an ant could emerge without being seen. Clever stuff! In fact, when I look closer, the tunnel ceiling has been left deliberately rough, and not smoothed out like the floor. The ground has been smoothed out so well you could play marbles on here, but the small deviations and bumps that make the stone much easier to grip remain above my head.
[This is some good work,] Corun observes as he walks.
[What do you mean?] I ask him.
He pulls a face.
[Look closely at the floor and walls. Achieving this level of smoothness isn't easy with magic. It appears to have been compressed as well. Trying to get it compacted and remain this even? I'm impressed.]
He's right. My digging Skill is telling me the soil all around has been pressed hard, making it much harder to bite into. Yet it's super smooth, with nothing to grip or hold onto. Is that to make it harder to reach the roof tunnels from the ground?
[Wait a second, what's that?] Torrina breaks in. [Further up on the wall, it doesn't look as flat.]
She's right. As we approach it becomes clear that there's an image carved into the wall. The indentation is shallow, not enough to provide a foothold, but the image is sharp nonetheless. Magically done, no doubt.
[Look at that,] Torrina gasps, [it's so well done!]
[Very lifelike!] Corun admires the image, walking closer to take it in. [Looks like it was made with a combination of magic and carving. See here? You can see the residual scrape marks, even if only barely. A lot of effort went into this!]
From behind I can see the image is of a very impressive and dignified ant, standing proud with a well-shaped carapace and powerful mandibles clacking with determination. If I was in any doubt who it was meant to be, the small ape depicted riding on the ant's back would give it away.
[Is that meant to be Tiny?] Corun wonders, looking over at the big ape.
[That's me and Tiny just after he was reconstituted,] I tell them reluctantly.
They both look at me, then back at the carving, then back at me before they both turn away. They're trying to hide it but I can see both of their shoulders are shaking as they strain to repress their laughter.
[I didn't ask for them to do that! Alright?! Let's just keep moving!]
There's heaps of great ants in this Colony, carve someone else dammit! Like the Queen! Or Vibrant! Or anybody!
Sadly, that wasn't the last time I had to put up with the Golgari laughing. Turns out that wasn't the only carving that depicted me and my pets. I'm not sure which carver was the first to work out his technique, but they sure as hell went nuts with it! Every damn inch of the walls is covered with art!
There's me arriving at the Colony for the first time. Meeting with Mother. The development of Pheromone language, using traps to feed the Colony, hunting in groups. The first war of the hill is depicted in lavish detail, a series of enormous murals dedicated to scenes of the great battle.
Torrina and Corun can't help but become curious about the evolving story so I wind up having to explain the images as we go along, despite each of them glorifying my contributions far too much, something I hasten to assure them. Our escape during the wave, meeting Crinis, running into Beyn, it's all there.
Explaining the interactions we've had with the humans of Liria is awkward to say the least. Both of the Golgari have perplexed looks on their faces when that particular saga is done. Only for it to be followed with the war against Garralosh and her spawn.
[That is one big monster,] Corun gasps. [On the surface? That's insane!]
[Oh, she had help,] I assure him, and point an antenna to the place a lizard flanked by his six servants is shown.
[A Kaarmodo! She was a candidate?]
[Yes indeed,] I confirm. [That's the damnable lizard that told you lot about me, Granin informed me. Can't say I'm grateful.]
[Aww, but then you would have never met me!] Corun protests.
[You're making it worse,] Torrina jokes with him, before turning to me. [Did you absorb the core from that creature? If not, do you still have it?]
[I didn't absorb it, no. But I do still have it.]
I haven't wanted to think about that core ever since the fight.
[That's good. I'd like to see it if possible,] she holds up her hands, [I won't interfere with it in any way. A chance to peer at the details of a candidate monster is a rare blessing.]
[I suppose I can arrange that,] I sigh.
With all the trouble looming, I'll have to focus on maxing out my core, which probably means absorbing that thing as soon as I can. Not looking forward to that
Up ahead the tunnel narrows down to a limited opening on the right hand side and as we pass through, I can see that there are numerous defensive positions carved into the back of the opening, almost like a vertical wall which would allow ants to look out when clinging to the rock. Clever idea!
Shortly after passing through we're joined by two more busybodies.
[Can't we rest! I can only slither so much!] Jim complains.
The week of travel has been especially hard on the worm and more than once I've seen him looped around Sarah like a flabby scarf whilst she marched with us.
[I could get the ants to grip you with their mandibles and drag you,] I offer him, [although they might get a taste for your tender flesh.]
The giant worm shudders and the menacing bear that looms over all of us places a gentle claw on his back.
[Don't tease him, Anthony,] she says, [Jim's having a hard enough time moving into a nest full of predators.]
[He's never been safer in his life than now,] I scoff, [but I do understand. Soon enough you'll have your own comfy space and you can work out what you want to do with yourselves. No pressure from me.]
[Thanks, Anthony. For everything. By the way, have you seen these incredible carvings?] She nudges her nose toward a three metre tall depiction of me entering the second strata. [The details are incredible! You're telling me that ants did this? What else can they do?]
As she talks we approach a gigantic bound steel gate set into the tunnel. Numerous cores and enchantments hum with power across the surface and smack in the centre stands a proud image of an ant's head.
[Apparently, anything] I tell her.
These damn siblings of mine?! Haven't they learned a bit too much!?