Spell after spell I flung toward the oncoming Legion soldiers, battering away at their layered bubbles of golden shields along with the rest of my siblings. Hundreds, thousands of projectiles and magical strikes rocket through the air, sometimes colliding before even reaching the target, to smash into the enemy defences which flash and burst with rippling waves of light with each connection. It was a dazzling sight to behold, not that I had the time to appreciate it. The return fire had begun. My sharpened reflexes and precognitive instincts keep me relatively safe from the barrage of arrows that crunch into the stone as if they've been fired out of a cannon. I am forced to constantly hop from side to side as my antennae tingled constantly, warning me of the projectiles directed at me.
I get the feeling the Legionaries are holding a grudge, or perhaps I just make too shiny of a target out here in the front of the Colony lines. My diamond carapace is so damn sparkly that the enemy just can't help but shoot at it. At least I'm serving my intended purpose and absorbing more than my fair share of the damage, keeping my siblings safer through this early part of the battle. It does throw off my concentration though, making it much harder to maintain my wind assisted lava assault. The need for my main mind to continuously pick up the slack for the other brains makes it hard to focus on dodging and casting at the same time. I decide to focus more on my spells, which means I get hit moments later.
Not a problem for the diamond carapace! Gweheheheh. Oh shoot!
Seeing me get hit with an arrow appears to have emboldened the Legion mages and snipers, at least, that's what it seems like since the wave of ordinance being sent my way has intensified. Settle down people! You need to find your chill! The carapace on the lower side of my body gets pelted with shards of stone as impacts crunch into the rock between my legs. I'm dancing the dance of my people, which turns out to be a frantic six-legged scramble back and forth whilst contorting my body into strange shapes and flinging spells. It can't look too dignified, but it's going to get the job done!
Aha! Invidia is finally in range to do his thing! Explosions begin to rock the tunnel, sending dust and stone flying into the air and causing trickles of loose soil to rain down from above as the impacts shake the stone itself. The balls of fire are spectacular as they blossom against the enemy shields, causing them to spark and ripple as the Legion continues their implacable advance. I can't help but be a little impressed with the indomitable and unyielding discipline of the Legion soldiers. We are pouring all the firepower that the Colony can muster down on their heads right now and they don't flinch. It must help that they're encased from head to toe in armour far better than anything we can make, but still, they're just humans. Compared to us ants, they're clearly lacking in many respects (legs) but even so they've pushed our backs to the wall.
As the Legion draws closer, it becomes harder and harder to dodge the incoming fire and I begin to take more damage than I would like as arrows and spells start to chip my precious carapace. Incremental damage will pile up over time and the closer the Legion gets, the stronger these shots are. Colony mages are doing their best to erect shields and take the sting out of our foe's magical barrage, but as the distance shortens they have much less time to work. Naturally, the same goes for us.
Holy smokes! The heat from that one nearly singed the hair off of my antennae. The glare of the light momentarily blinds me and I hop to one side before my vision is restored, trusting in my instincts to keep from taking an arrow through the eye. Not being able to blink really sucks at moments like this, I can't shield my vision even though I want to! I notice all around me the Soldiers are starting to loosen their joints and flex their mandibles as the ranks tighten. It won't be long now until the two sides collide for the first melee of this battle and it pays to ensure you aren't too tightly wound up before it happens. The ranks tighten and even my performative display of dodging becomes reduced in scale as I have less space to manoeuvre.
Working with the lava mana is too hard for my weary sub-brains right now, I need to switch over to something that's going to be more effective in close range. Limiting myself to the easier to work with base elements, I flip to water and fire. The two opposing elements don't play all that well together, but I suspect that they'll be more effective at impacting the battle in ways other than direct damage.
Sensing his moment is near, the armoured colossus that is Tiny draws himself up to his full height. Up to this moment he's just been parked on his backside behind me waiting impatiently for a chance to get into the action. I didn't want him to waste his charge so I ordered him to hold back in this initial phase. Rather than spend all of his fuel blasting the shields, I decided he'd be better off swinging his lightning fists in close combat and that moment has nearly arrived. Even from behind his gnarled and twisted helmet I can tell the great ape has a massive grin on his face as he clenches his hands in mighty fists and begins to punch the ground and air, eager to begin the fight.
Not much further to go now, only fifty metres between us.
The flurry of spells and projectiles is now so thick that mid-air collisions are detonating just as often as Invidia's explosions. Bright flares of light and bursts of acid fall everywhere between the two armies and dodging has become all but impossible now. With my two sub-brains having managed the process of starting to grind out the new mana forms, I squeeze myself back into formation fully, powerful soldiers on both sides, and then hunker down for the charge. Pelted by arrows and spells, our HP starts to fall immediately but none falter in their position, even for a second. Eyes as powerfully mutated as mine aren't enough to keep track of the sheer volume of firepower being thrown around and my antennae are overwhelmed with the feedback. Heat signals flare up and die every instant and the future sense is almost painful at the sheer amount of information it tries to cram into my head. The sound is deafening. Explosions crack and shake the rock, acid sizzles and arrows fizz through the air before they crunch into stone or carapace or bury themselves in soft earth.
It's overwhelming and for a few minutes is all I and my fellow front-line ants know as we sit still and wait for our moment.
I'm holding up better than most, thanks to my higher level of evolution and carapace, but even so, I'm grateful when I feel a cool healing touch spread over my back and then the rest of my exo-skeleton.
"Thanks for the heal!" I tell the medic hidden in an emergency trench just behind me, "but make sure the rest of the line gets a dose before I do!"
"No can do Eldest," the little ant tells me as she burrows herself back down to safety. "Everyone gets healed whenever we can get to them. We don't have the ability to set up a schedule."
The healers have really changed over the course of the conflict. No longer are they the timid creatures they once were. They know their job and they don't take no guff, even from me. Mother help any ant who tries to get between them and healing those that need it.
"Right you are," I say and shift my position slightly to ensure the trench is covered by my body.
That burst of healing works to counteract the damage I'd been taking and by the time it runs out I'm almost back to full again. Only thirty metres remain between the two sides. It won't be long now.
Then something unexpected happens. The ranks of the Legion, normally so uniform and unbreakable, split apart. The soldiers take brisk steps, shields and defensive formations maintained at all times as the column breaks into halves that press themselves against the wall to maximise the space between. It only makes sense if they're clearing the way for something…
"Something is coming!" I warn the ants around me and brace my legs into the ground.
"HUURAAAAAAA!!!" an inhuman bellow slices through the cacophony of sound in the tunnel and through the gap in the Legion lines storm creatures the likes of which I have never seen.
Swollen and misshapen, with no armour or weapons, but tough hides and gleaming claws, they look more like monsters than anything else. But something in their faces, something in their eyes, tells me that I'm wrong. Were these… people?!
Tiny doesn't care what they are, he's ready to fight. Unleashing his own devastating war cry, the giant ape slams his fists into the ground, shaking the stone beneath my feet. Whether it's my pet's rage or the collective instincts of the Colony, but in that one moment every one of us is up and charging, legs a blur as we pick up speed and race toward the monstrosities hurtling back at us. I can see the humans begin to emerge from their bunkers behind me, taking up positions spread throughout the second line of ants where they'll be protected from the worst of the fray, but I don't have much mind for them right now. Twin jets erupt from my mouth, one of flame and one of water, the liquid steaming and bubbling in an instant, creating a wave of searing steam in front of me. The front line of creatures screams in rage and pain before the two sides collide with an almighty CRASH.
"FOR THE COLONY!" I bellow.
"FOR THE COLONY!" comes the reply of thousands.
No more time to think. Blows crunch into my body and my mandibles open wide. Time to fight!