I should also say that the generals have got together and created specialised digging teams. Only a colony of ants would have the resources and spare bodies to be able to dedicate individuals to such a niche task as breaking through hardened and magically reinforced stone, but here we are. Turns out that when mages who's sole pursuit is breaking down earth enchantments are paired with huge soldiers that have dedicated every ounce of Biomass and evolutionary energy to ripping through stone with their mandibles, that you can really dig a tunnel. As it happens, you dig the heck out of a tunnel, regardless of what people have done to try and prevent you from doing just that.
So ten of these teams went to work and I was able to burst out of the wall in suitably dramatic fashion with hardly a wait. The Queen was able to come out at just the same time and I have to say, the poor defenders looked as though they fair browned their trousers. In less than ten seconds they were overwhelmed and pinned to the ground, multiple ants gripping them by their limbs and pinching their necks at just the right pressure. At that point they became very still indeed. When Tiny and Invidia leapt out (Crinis is still with me), they became practically statues.
"Well, that went fairly smoothly," I observe to the Queen.
She dips her antennae, but I can tell she's anxious, looking for the next fight.
"We have done well so far, child, but we must advance. If the others reach the city before us…"
She's worried that they'll take the brunt of the return fire when she and I should be absorbing it instead. Good 'ol mother! Always thinking of her children.
"Not to worry, they know to hold back and give us a little time to get ahead of them. Let's get this gate down and then we can move on."
Working together, the two of us approach the massive gate, nearly as impressive as our nest gates, and get to work opening it. Since we're on the inside, there's no need to try and tear the thing down, we just leverage the bar off its mount and bam, gate's open. With that job done we are able to welcome Beyn within the city without much fanfare.
A decision was made that we ants wouldn't communicate with the defenders, since the idea of intelligent ants was more likely to terrify them than the thought of a human invader with a horde of ants under their control. So once he's inside, we task Beyn with trying to sound like he's in charge (not hard for the priest) and getting information out of our captured defenders. I didn't think they'd talk much, but I was genuinely surprised at how much they were willing to cough up in a short amount of time. I suppose having two or three monsters with their mandibles on you is rather persuasive. The humans also seem rather shocked that they aren't dead, which adds another element to their mental distress.
With our tasks done, the Queen and I prepare to run ahead of the rest of the invasion and get closer to the city. At the moment we are still in a well-shaped tunnel, but I can see it opens up roughly a hundred metres ahead. After all the fuss, I'm quite keen to see what this city looks like! Discounting the nest, this will be the first major Dungeon construction I'll have laid my many lensed eyes on! Despite the fact that I'm ostensibly invading the place, I feel quite like a tourist!
"Alright then, Mother. Ready to charge forward recklessly and endanger ourselves?"
"That is not what we are doing," she reprimands me firmly, "we are attempting to focus attention on ourselves as we are in the best position to absorb danger."
I rub my head and refrain from pointing out that it's basically the same thing in the end. Mother has a look in her eye as if she knows what I'm thinking and one of her antenna twitches irritably.
"Right then, off we go! Come on Tiny! Keep up Invidia!" I say and scurry off.
Mother is in a grumpy mood! She must be stressed, what with all of this invasion stuff going on. For now, it's best to avoid giving her opportunities to punish me too extensively.
At the east gate.
"How much longer do you anticipate the Eldest will need before they move into the city itself?" Sloan asked.
"Give them at least another five minutes. I know we estimated ten minutes of 'Eldest delay', but I think we can afford a little more buffer time considering the gate abandonment has gone according to plan," Victor suggested.
"Do you think the Queen will be alright?"
"Don't start this again, Victor. We've done all that we can on that front…"
"I'm just worried!"
"We're all worried!"
The two generals cleaned their antennae vigorously to calm themselves before deflating. It was true, they'd done all they could to ensure their mother would be safe. The extra measures put in place to protect the Eldest were, so far, working well, though Advant was adamant that they suspected something.
"At least everything is going to plan so far…" Victor said.
"The next part was always going to be the major challenge," Sloan agreed, "overcoming stone and dirt isn't a challenge. Getting what we need from this city without having to destroy the inhabitants and throw our sibling's lives away was the challenging part. That's the sort of thing we rely on the Eldest for."
"Would you two stuffy generals get to doing something useful? I swear, the laziest caste of the lot. All you do is stand around, provide auras and think a lot."
Burke, like most scouts, never hesitated to needle the generals. In truth, though they were the most physically fragile of all the soldier caste evolutions, the generals still put themselves on the front line and fought. Rather than armchair planners, the 'generals' were more like hardened squad leaders in the forces of the Colony.
"We decided to wait an extra five minutes," Sloan informed her sister.
"Ah, Eldest allowance?"
In the distance, the ants could feel a powerful vibration shake the air as it rattled against the fine hairs of their antennae, followed by the sound of a large crash in their comparatively smaller ears. If they had to hazard a guess, they'd say that a large building or wall had collapsed, possibly as a monster of considerable size had smashed into it. In that moment, they each considered whether the Queen or the Eldest were responsible for this destruction.
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