[I don't know what I was expecting, but it sure wasn't this.]
Jim, the large and ever floppy worm, slithered through the tunnels beside the hulking, menacing form of his friend, Sarah. The two former humans had achieved their goal, a long cherished one for the worm, of escaping from their gilded cage amongst the Golgari. When Anthony had first arrived amongst them, they hadn't known what to make of him, but he'd done it, pulled off the seemingly impossible escape, and brought them back to his home.
And what a home it turned out to be. Vaulted chambers, beautiful carvings, a surprisingly stunning array of statues, most of which were dedicated to Anthony, all lovingly crafted in intricate detail, were just some of the startling features of the ant nest.
[Are you getting more comfortable being around all of these ants?] Sarah asked, sounding concerned.
[It's still a struggle, if I'm being honest,] he admitted, [my coils can't help but shiver whenever they crawl over me. Gyah!]
It just so happened, at that moment a host of ants skittered out of a side tunnel and made their way over the big worm's body. He stilled his body and tried not to writhe too much as their claws pinched his skin. If he reacted badly and actually hurt one of the colony members, who knows what would happen to him. In the outer tunnels of the nest, there was far less traffic, so the two of them had found their way out here in order to stretch their legs and coils, take in some air and try to decide what they should do next.
The heavy traffic found in the inner sections of the nest was noticeably lighter here, but that didn't mean Jim didn't tense up every now and again as their hosts made their way over him as they went about their business.
[We're certainly safe here,] Sarah said, a little hesitantly, [I haven't even seen a monster other than the ants since we got here. And the defences around the nest were certainly impressive.]
Jim wiggled non-committedly.
[Is that really what you want? To hide behind the protection that someone else is willing to offer you? Aren't you just putting yourself back in the cage you escaped from?]
Sarah was silent for a moment and Jim hastened to console her.
[Ah! I'm not judging you or anything, I know that it's hard for you to fight and that you'd rather not. I just don't want to see you go back into your shell and give up your independence, just after you got it back.]
She absorbed that and considered her own feelings before she responded.
[You might be right, Jim. I guess, I still feel scared. I'm relieved to get away from the Golgari after what they forced me to do, but I don't know if I'm ready to go back into the Dungeon]
[We could do it together,] he encouraged her, [just in little bits. Go out for ten minutes a day, build up immunity to it over time. We could head out with the - GYAHAHA!!]
The ants crawled across him, paying no mind to his sudden freeze.
[I'm not sure if I should be offended by that,] he muttered, [anyway. We could head out with the Queen. I saw her go out a few hours ago with a big escort of ants. I asked around and apparently she goes out hunting every day to get her own food. That'd be a safe way to go about it.]
The giant bear, with its bristled fur and muscle packed frame looked down at the worm, a little surprised.
[You've been talking to the ants? I didn't think you'd want to do that.]
[Because I'm afraid of them?!]
[No. Because you didn't want to rely on them.]
Jim deflated a little as the sudden anger he'd felt drained away.
[Oh. I thought - GYOOO!... I figured we couldn't exactly wait for Anthony to get back before we start working things out. He sort of vanished on us as soon as he got back]
[He has a lot of things to worry about now that he's back here,] Sarah chided him. [We can't expect him to hang around and wait on us hand and foot.]
[I get it,] Jim huffed, [what with the war coming, he's got a lot on his plate.]
The big worm froze, realising too late what he'd said.
[Jim?] Sarah asked slowly. [What war are you talking about?]
Jim sighed and slapped himself in his mind. He wasn't really keeping it a secret, but he hadn't told her when he'd found out and then hadn't been sure what he should say.
[I spoke to a few of the ants with names, though I wasn't able to get a hold of them for long. Vibrant in particular was fast. From what I gather, the Colony doesn't expect the Golgari to let them go after what they did, killing their people and stealing their property.]
[You mean us?]
[Us and other things. We managed to fight off the force that was pursuing us, but the Colony believes that they can still be followed, so eventually they'll come here in force to exterminate them. That's why things have been so crazy since we came here, the ants are getting themselves ready to fight.]
The two of them continued to make their way down the tunnel as they tried to straighten out their tangled thoughts. Sarah ambled along, her shoulders almost brushing the ceiling as she walked, whilst Jim shuffled along at her side.
[It's not our fight, you know,] Jim burst out, [they might have saved us, but they don't need us for their war. And the Golgari aren't after us. We can take a few days to help you get used to the Dungeon and then we can make our own way. Find somewhere else that's safe.]
[We could go find the Sophos that you told me about, or we could live, just the two of us. I know you don't want to fight, and nobody has the right to make you, certainly not against any non-monster. We can just leave this behind us]
[Jim. We can't do that, and you know it,] Sarah cut him off sternly. [They saved us. I'm not going to abandon them now that they need help.]
Jim pulled back a little.
[Are you sure about that, Sarah? You know what that means, right? You'll have to fight. You might have to kill Golgari.]
Even the thought of such a conflict was enough to set the great bear to trembling, but she didn't back down.
[You said it, didn't you? Anthony said it as well. We can't just run away forever, right? At some point, I have to fight. The Colony hasn't done anything wrong to me or you, why should they suffer for us? I - I think I'm going to stay. I'll try to fight.]
[You might die, Sarah.]
The bear didn't shrink away at all at those words.
[It's not dying that I'm afraid of, Jim.]
At that moment, a flurry of movement from further up the tunnel caught their attention. From the shadows emerged Anthony, his carapace covered by the ink coloured pet he called Crinis, carrying a gigantic core in his mandibles. When he saw the two of them, his antennae perked up and he rushed forward to greet them.
[Hey there you two! How've things been. Sorry I haven't caught up with you since we got here, things have been a little hectic.]
[Because of the war, right? I want to help,] Sarah told him firmly.
Anthony twitched and he turned toward Jim a little, as if to ask if she was serious.
[She seems to have made up her mind,] Jim muttered. [I suppose I'll help out as well.]
The massive ant looked at the two of them for a moment before his antennae seemed to shrug.
[Hey, sure thing. To be honest, the help is very welcome. I expect when the Golgari get here, we're going to have our backs against the wall. Why don't the two of you come with me for a second, we can have a chat and I'll try and sort out something for you.]
This branch tunnel wasn't wide enough for the three of them to traverse at the same time, so Anthony had to back up until they reached a wider branch to turn down.
[I don't want to tell you what you can and can't do to help,] the ant was telling the two of them. [You want to help dig tunnels? Great! You want to help defend the nest, also great! You want to fight on the front lines? You're insane, but hey, that's also great.]
[Isn't that where you're going to be?] Sarah asked him.
[Well, yeah. But it's my family after all. Better me than them.] He turned and pointed at the many smaller ants bustling throughout the tunnels.
[You really think that, don't you?]
Anthony shrugged again.
[Of course. Anyways, I think what I'll do is get one of our teachers to talk to you specifically, Sarah. Work out exactly what you want to do and how you can help. Florence is her name. A good worker. Jim, I might put you in touch with Cobalt, she's a carver, in charge of building stuff. I'm certain she'll be able to find a heap of things you could do]
He kept nattering at them, totally unaware of the very different emotions growing within his two fellow reincarnators.