679 The Siege pt 24

"Something isn't right," Sloan suddenly scented out loud.

Coolant looked askance at her sister as the two of them continued to hang outside the second gate facing the golgari invasion. She could tell the general wasn't discussing with her but thinking out loud, so she remained silent and waited.

"They've formed up, but they aren't approaching us, why is that?"

One of the two ants most central to the Colony's planning of this siege was more than a little off-put when she saw something so out of her expectations. The force from the Empire of Stone had behaved almost exactly as expected right up until they started demanding honor duels in front of the gates. With the bizarre rituals of their people disposed with, Sloan had expected the golgari to return to their expected behavior and assault the gate. They were here to exterminate her family, were they not? How was that going to be achieved if they didn't attack? They were on the clock, after all. The entire strategy that Sloan and Victor had hammered out centered on the concept of their enemies working within a limited time frame. If the wave started before they had finished their task, they would be forced to retreat. They couldn't possibly hope to stand against both the Colony and a raging Dungeon filled with desperate monsters? Surely?!

Yet before her eyes, something inexplicable was taking place. Once their leader had been collected and returned to his troops behind the first gate, the golgari had forced the gate open wider and formed ranks, their soldiers imposing in their sheer size and mass. Not wanting to be caught unprepared, the Colony had deployed their own troops, along with the human volunteers and prepared for the confrontation. Except it hadn't come. According to her understanding of the situation, it should have begun immediately, yet here they were, several minutes later, still waiting for the enemy to take a forward step.

"Perhaps they're waiting for their leader to awaken? They seem quite rigid in their authority structures," Coolant suggested.

Sloan shook her antennae.

"They are an organised semi-military force who pride themselves on martial skills. I refuse to believe they don't have a second in command willing to issue orders to complete the mission. It would be insane to arrange the command structure in any other way. This is something else…"

The general stared, her twin compound eyes focused on the unmoving ranks of the golgari in the distance as if trying to penetrate their thoughts.

"Do you think their ranks looks thin?" she asked.

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Taken by surprise by the change in topic, Coolant could only go still as she tried to assess the 'thickness' of the enemy soldiers.

"They seem well fed to me?" she said.

"And why didn't they open the gate all the way? Do you see the way it isn't fully open? They could probably fit an extra six soldiers to each rank through that gap if they pushed it open all the way. It doesn't make sense to create a choke point for their own troops there. It only makes it take longer to bring their soldiers to bear against ours. It only makes sense if there's something they don't want us to see. Something that they're hiding, out of our line of sight."

That made a lot more sense to the mage. She was instantly more alert, scanning the distance with her mind as well as her eyes.

"You think there is some sort of super weapon back there? Something we haven't seen and can't predict?" This was one of the council's greatest fears. They were young as a people and it was certain that those races and groups that had existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years would have innumerable pieces of wisdom that the Colony just hadn't had the time to experience. They couldn't prepare for the unknown, only acknowledge that it existed.

"… No," Sloan said, her eyes still scanning the distance.

Coolant was confused.

"Then what?" she said.

"… I think we've been betrayed."

So saying the general turned and dashed back within the nest as if a hundred golgari soldiers were at her back.

Within the nest.

The Queen clacked her mandibles in an attempt to dispel her irritation but knew it wouldn't succeed. Her conversation with the human, Enid, had been enlightening and had helped explain the exasperating behaviors of her children, but it did little to alleviate the frustration she felt at being treated like a grub. Out of deference for the concern of her children, she had agreed to remain within the nest to protect the brood in the event of a breach, a role that kept her out of the fighting altogether. If the battle came to the brood chambers, then it was already lost, she understood that much just from having the plans explained to her by one of the soldiers who stood guard. Still, she had agreed, only to find now how chafed she felt not being able to fight alongside her children. She felt as if her carapace were being scratched from the inside. A constant, maddening sensation that just wouldn't go away, no matter how she scratched at it.

Not for the first time, she stood, her six legs heaved her bulk from the floor, only for to her to slowly lower herself back down. She had given her word she would remain and defend the brood, so she would. No matter how much it grated her. Internally she vowed that her children would never extract another such pledge from her, no matter how they pleaded.

"How do you think the battle is going, mother?" Antionette asked, obviously nervous.

The two young Queens were anxious, despite being members of the council and privy to all the planning that had gone on, they felt helpless being unable to help protect their family. For the Queen's life had continued much as it always did. The Biomass reserves were brought to them, they ate, and then produced their maximum daily quota of brood. The brood tenders cared for and raised the young in the chambers, much as they had before. The only real difference in their environment was the huge chambers carved beneath the egg-laying space to house the hatchling who couldn't be transported to the surface nest for their academy training. Obviously, the Queen hadn't been able to leave on her regular hunting expeditions, another imposition that chafed her, but otherwise the three of them continued to perform their role for the Colony without pause.

"I'm sure it will be fine," the Queen soothed her daughter, patting her on the head with an antenna, "trust that they will work hard and succeed, just as we must…"

She trailed off, her antennae quivering.

At that moment, several soldiers broke into the chamber at high alert. A scout moved away from the others and approached the royal triplet.

"We have detected vibrations in this area, moving fast. Really fast. We aren't sure what's going on, but we want to be careful."

Antionette and Victoriant looked up at their mother anxiously and she tried to soothe them until she suddenly paused. She felt something. Something odd...

The Queen turned toward one of the walls of the egg-laying chamber and approached it slowly, her two antennae dancing in the air as she felt the vibrations in the air. As she drew near, a trickle of dirt broke loose on the wall, cascading down the rock to come to a rest on the floor. Then another. Then another. As she finally came face to face with the wall, the rock had started to quiver and shift, almost as if it were being pushed from the other side.

"Daughters," the Queen called, not turning around, "fetch the guards. All of them."

"Mother?" Victoriant called.

"Now, child," came the stern reply.

Suddenly, the wall bulged and the Queen leapt back to avoid the collapsing stone and dust that rained down when whatever it was finally broke through. Waving her antennae to clear away the dust, the Queen found herself face to face with the featureless, ringed face of a giant worm.

[I'm sorry,] she heard in her head.

Before she could respond, the worm lowered its face, the almost invisible mouth opening wide to crunch into the stone floor of the chamber and in a blink it was gone, burrowed into space between the rooms. With the bloated creature no longer blocking her view, the Queen was able to see the massed ranks of stone covered warriors charging toward the new opening and she reacted in the only way she knew how.

"FOR THE COLONY!"

Mandibles wide, the War-Queen charged into the breach.

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