Chrysalis Chapter 563


Chapter 563: Scouting Report

Records of the early days of non-monster habitation of the Dungeon are scarce, to say the least. The Dungeon opened itself during the cataclysm known as the Rending, and certainly before that time the vast network of caves and tunnels beneath the ground was both unknown and inaccessible to those on the surface. During the event itself, when hordes of monsters poured out of holes in the surface every day, pressing forward into the Dungeon was difficult, but not impossible. There are scattered records of several expeditions that managed to gain a foothold beneath the surface. According to the journal written by Alain of Exeter, the ruling ten decreed that defending against the monsters beneath the surface, where narrow tunnels make perfect chokepoints, would be far less costly than attempting to curb them on the surface, and so dispatched a mighty force to seize a Dungeon entrance.

Although the loss of life was horrific, Exeter was the first nation on record to establish a permanent foothold within the Dungeon. It began life as a crude defensive fort at first, the site, which came to be named Victoria, was reinforced and expanded throughout the Rending. It became a frontline defence against the monsters and was effective at reducing the numbers that breached the surface.

Victoria still exists today, though not in the form it once did. As Exeter pushed deeper into the Dungeon to seize its wealth and research its secrets, Victoria became a gateway city between the depths and the surface kingdom, a place of trade and travel. Although firmly placed within the first strata, Victoria is considered the first true metropolis beneath the ground, though many others would follow. Empires, kingdoms and nations of all sorts would rush to seize land in the Dungeon, establishing cities of their own. Even powerful merchant collectives or independent mercenary companies were able to construct their own safe havens in less desirable Dungeon locations. In this way, the community below ground expanded.

Excerpt from "Societies of the Dungeon, Chapter 1: Introduction" by H.R. Dough'n'Stough

I keep a suspicious eye on Advant as we march around to the council chamber, the teasing flicker in my Vestibule having now conspicuously vanished. They're trying to pull something over on me here, and I will not allow it! To think, the council that I raised and taught from mere hatchlings to the powerful and advanced monsters that they are today would try and sneak something past me. The whole idea is absurd! It will not be allowed to stand!

By the time we reach the chamber and settle in, Advant is almost shaking after receiving my withering, omni-directional glare for ten minutes straight. She hasn't cracked though, which means I'm still in the dark regarding their nefarious scheme. It's unfortunate that the survival of the Colony is at stake right now, I can't afford to be distracted by these side games. After another five minutes pass, the entire council has been assembled and settled into our individual seats.

"Hi-Hi! Eldest!" Vibrant chirrups the moment she enters the room. "It's been exciting out there! Things have moved soo fast! Even for me! I've been all over the place for the last day, I don't think I've stopped moving, even for a moment!"

"That's great, Vibrant," I break in to stop the flow of scents flying from her before she can really get going. One of the things I've noticed about pheromone based communication, is that at no point is the person 'speaking' required to pause to take a breath. If an ant really wants to, they can launch into a diatribe that can be quite horrendous in length. Eventually they'll run out of pheromones, but with a few mutations, they can last a heck of a long time.

"So, what exactly did we learn?" I ask, moving to head off potential monologues from Vibrant.

"Quite a lot," Burke responds smoothly, "our scouts managed to infiltrate the outskirts undetected and gather quite a chunk of actionable intelligence."

"You're sure that you weren't found?" I'm doubtful. How could a city in the Dungeon survive without being monster proof?

"We can't be completely sure," Wills answers me, her antennae drooping slightly, "but we took every possible measure we could to avoid discovery. We tunnelled in ourselves, sent our stealthiest members and cooperated with the shapers and mages."

"That's right," Bella waved a leg to draw attention to herself. "We sent the pets in to see what they could see! We even made them fight each other to look believable. The tunnel approaches are watched carefully, that's for sure. The second we crossed a line, BAM, a bunch of humans jumped on the pets and annihilated them!"

That's a little worrying.

"Did you dig past that line?" I ask, intent.

"Are you concerned about a spherical detection zone?" Propellant asks. "We considered the same thing. Not to worry, we made sure to retreat before crossing over the line."

Hmm.

"So how much did we actually learn? It doesn't sound like we were able to get close to the city at all!"

"We know it's location, how much space it occupies, we've identified all of the entrances and tested the defences. Preparations have been made on tunnel access from a wide range of entrance points and every path in and out of the city is being monitored. Quite a bit in twenty four hours, I should say."

When you put it like that Actually, what the heck did I expect? A complete census of the city? The names of every man, woman, child and a detailed inventory of their house pets? The place is effectively surrounded and pushing any further risks exposing us at a time when surprise is our most powerful weapon. Hang on, there's a thought.

"A census! I want a census done of the Colony! A record of every single member of the family. I want to know their cast, their age, the MP that their core can take, their skill levels and mutations! I want the works! Someone get on that!"

"Uhh, Eldest? Is that related to what we were talking about?" Sloan asks, her antennae twitching in a puzzled manner.

"Absolutely not. It came into my head and I thought it was important enough that I should mention it. Right then. If we've learned all that we're going to learn, it's time to go for it. What's the plan? When are we going in?"

There's a moment of silence as the members of the council look at each other. I can almost hear them silently considering who should speak and how they should frame it.

"No," I cut in, "I'm not sitting it out, and the first member of this council to ask me to will be 're-educated'."

I THWACK the table with all of my might, leaving a slight crack in the surface and causing each of the ants to flinch, except Vibrant, who leaps up with glee.

"I told them! I said it was dumb! Did you really think the Eldest would sit and watch as the rest of us ran in? You girls keep thinking that you can shield the Eldest and the Queen, but you're nuts. It won't work! Nope-nope! In fact, when I told the Queen what we were going to do, she insisted on coming along!"

"YOU DID WHAT?!" The rest of the council screams at her.

Seemingly oblivious to their outrage, Vibrant continues to hop and wiggle on the spot. She's still surprisingly light on her legs considering how large she is.

"Yep-yep! She's real excited! Or determined One of those! With the Eldest and the Queen running into the unknown danger where who knows what waits for us?! It's going to be AMAZING!"

Sloan and Victor have collapsed on their chairs, legs dangling uselessly and eyes staring blank into space. I can only imagine that all of their plans have gone up in smoke at this point. I think they're reworking every strategy that they had and building in as much protection for the Queen as they possibly can. I have to admit, I'm a little nervous myself, but by this stage I've given up on trying to keep the Queen out of trouble. Mother is Mother, after all! She's more than capable of taking care of herself. What's more dangerous is the possibility of these guys going off the rails and jeopardising the mission in an attempt to keep her out of danger.

"Look, the Queen is going to get in there and fight. There's nothing you can do about that." I cut Vibrant off as she continues to rave and address the rest of the council. "If you want to protect her, then let's commit hard and make sure that our takeover of this city is done as quickly as thoroughly as possible. If it turns into a pitched battle in the streets then we've failed already. This needs to be over before an effective defence can be mounted. We get in, smash the defences, quell the populace and take any teleporters offline. Make sense?"

Leeroy puts up an antenna.

"So we don't destroy everything in the city?"

"No! Why would we destroy everything in the city?!"

"Because what are going to do with a city full of people who hate us?"

"We - That's a surprisingly sensible point coming from you Leeroy. Look, we'll win them over, or if we can't, we just walk away and leave them alone. As long as they don't have those teleportation gates, we don't have any beef with them."

"So we eat them?"

"Not that sort of beef!"

THWACK!