After breaking into the smaller tunnel to feast it has been two full days. Two days of nothing but digging and snatching the occasional hour of shut eye.
The colony was able to harvest quite a haul in Biomass from the hunt, bringing up piles of Biomass to feed the Queen, workers and larvae, providing much needed energy for the labours ahead.
Before the colony dug far enough that our little capsule pocket passed completely over it we managed to make a few raids down there, grabbing enough of a food store that it should be sufficient to feed us until we make it to the surface.
The problem was the mana veins. After connecting our escape pocket to that smaller tunnel the mana veins grew and extended into our escape vessel so quickly we weren't really able to do anything about it. After just a few hours they were spreading out beneath our feet and not long after that I could feel heat sources starting to appear.
I did what I could and warned the ants, tried to get extra guards near the larvae, many of whom had reached maturity after the last feed and begun to spin their cocoons, turning into pupae. Despite these preparations we still lose a few hatchling workers and a couple of larva.
Although painful there really wasn't anything more we could have done, the colony had to be fed and without Biomass there was no way those grubs would have lived to reach maturity anyway.
At least, that's I say to console myself.
The veins are growing even faster than they did before, so quickly that we can't out dig them. It isn't long before our entire escape tunnel is lit by the mana light and as we dig forward we just can't seem to leave the things behind. Thankfully we must be high enough in the Dungeon that only weaker monsters are spawning.
Our digging has been slowed considerably over the last two days by large patches of rock that required the application of my infused mandibles to crunch our way through. Currently we have pushed through the second such patch and the going is much smoother, soft earth all the way.
According to my Tunnel map, which increased in level again to three, we shouldn't be too far away from the surface. It's hard to tell since I don't know if the surface is flat or not between the entrance I know of and the location we are digging towards. I mean, there is a slim chance we will dig up underneath a river or even the ocean, which would make me a little salty.
I'm no digging expert but I'm hoping that if that were the case we would notice the soil getting progressively more damp as we continued to dig. There has been no sign of such a change so onward we go!
I haven't been completely idle as I dig. Using my sub-brain I've been continuing to practice my mana shaping skills, reaching the mighty level eight! Handling the mana into the various patters has become so much easier than when I started, which isn't to say it still isn't brutally challenging. Having had more practice constructing a few of the patterns though I've noticed that my proficiency has increased along with my familiarity.
Which just goes to show that I should rely solely on the skill to improve myself. Actively practicing a certain pattern will make me better at using it, even if my level doesn't necessarily increase.
I also began to experiment more with external mana manipulation. Damn that is hard! Mana inside my body is so much easier to handle than mana outside of it. Reaching out to grasp it with my mind feels like pulling my thoughts out of my own head and using them as a rope to pull in nearby energy.
I manage to level the skill up once before I go back to my shaping practice. I feel the latter is simply much more profitable right now.
Currently my status looks like this:
Level: 8 (core)
Skills: Excavation Level 8; Improved Acid Shot Level 5; Advanced Grip Level 1; Shattering Bite Level 2; Advanced Stealth Level 5; Piercing Chomp Level 5; Tunnel Map Level 3; Mana Shaping level 8; Forceful Mana Level 4; External Mana Manipulation Level 2; Mana Sensing Level 4; Core Engineer Level 2; Advanced Exo-Skeleton Defence level 3; Pet Communication Level 2;
Mutations: Focused Eyes +5, Infrared Antennae +5, Restrictive Acid +5, Absorption Legs +5, Infused Mandibles +5, Diamond Carapace +5, Limb Regeneration Gland +5, Pheromone Language Gland +5, Deep Gravity Magic Gland +5;
Species: Mind Ant (Formica)
Skill points: 4
A few small improvements to my skills after all of the digging and fighting that has taken place. The gradual improvement of my mana skills is what has left me most pleased. Yapping at Tiny whenever I get bored has also helped improve my pet communication skill, which was an unexpected plus! I can hear him more clearly for a bit further away now.
Ultimately though, I'm really hoping we hit the surface soon. I need a chance to take stock and plan the next course of action for myself and for the colony. I can't make any plans at all until I know what will greet us when we get up there.
Hopefully we wind up in a nice empty forest of something, no civilisation for hours in any direction. Then we could hide and ride out the wave!
I'll keep my six sets of claws crossed!
According to the tunnel map we should be relatively close to the surface now, a little bit further and we could realistically expect to reach it any time. With such an important milestone approaching I decide to share it with the Queen, digging inexhaustibly beside me as always.
"I think we should reach the surface soon! It'll be nice to stop digging for a change."
Without pausing in her work she agrees with me. "Yes, the family needs to rest. I hope no more children are lost as we dig".
Even now she is still primarily worried about her children. I wonder if this is a learned personality of if the Dungeon creates every Queen ant this way?
"Hopefully we won't be attacked any more once we reach the surface and can take a breather" I suggest.
"Do you know what the surface is?" I ask curiously.
"No" she replies.
"So how do you know that it will be good for us to go there?"
"One of my children told me so" I can almost hear laughter in her voice, as if suggesting that her children could be wrong or incorrect in anyway, or would mislead her, is simply not a situation that exists in her mind.
And maybe it doesn't. What sort of ant would lie?
As I'm pondering that situation my mandibles scrape onto something. Dammit! More stone! I'm sick of carving through this stuff, my face hurts like fire already!
Grumbling to myself slightly I start to channel mana into my infused mandibles in order to tear through the stone a bit easier. The Queen backs up slightly to give me more space at the front, when it comes to tearing through the rock my mandibles outperform even hers a little bit, and to be honest I think she secretly enjoys a break, she is the only member of the colony to not have a moment of torpor since the wave broke.
CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH.
Working mechanically I open my mandibles before slamming them closed and ripping into the stone, cutting away at it easily, causing shorn off pieces to crumble away, raining down on my face and bouncing off my carapace.
It feel like these stones are giving way slightly? Perhaps they are a bit loose?
They also seem quite regular for underground rocks…
CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUNCH CLATTER!
After digging for a few more minutes the stones suddenly give way and fall around me, revealing an open space beyond.
Did we make it!?
Excited I push my head forward, forcing it through the gap and pushing away the stones in order to get a better view.
Where are we?!
What greats my eyes is a touch surprising. My compound vision ensuring I get a complete picture at once.
We are inside what looks like a stone building with a high vaulted ceiling. On either side of me long wooden chairs are arranged in rows, all facing the same direction, a crowd of people has recoiled on either side, pressing each other against the walls and looking at my ant face in horror.
All of this is shocking enough.
Just that would have been terrible.
But that isn't what seizes my attention.
Before me, at the front of the building, where all of the chairs are facing is a pulpit with a robed figure pointing at me with powerful emotion twisting his face, and behind that man is a statue.
…. Is….. Is that?
Sir Ian McKellan?