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Chrysalis - Chapter 579



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Chapter 579: The Dark Web
Any person of sufficient courage, who has walked the Dungeon long enough to know its pain and glory, will come to hunger for the power that is buried at the root of this world.

Words attributed to Gaius Magnus, founding member of the Legionem Abyssi

We're moving in. It feels nice, in a way, to be boldly adventuring where no ant has gone before alongside my fellow Colony members. We creep toward the powerful flow of mana that Invidia has sensed, making short work of any monster that happens to pop up in our way. I almost feel sorry for the critters as they're set upon by dozens of ants before I even get my mandibles open. I could push my way to the front, but somehow I don't feel it's appropriate for me to hog all the experience for myself. The Colony is going to need other powerful members, that's why I brought Vibrant and her group here to begin with. Which reminds me…

"PROTECTANT!"

Vibrant and the other ants around me all twitch in surprise as I flood the tunnel with pheromones. Vibrant in particular has a quizzical tilt to her antennae as she looks at me. If I'm guessing correctly, she probably had nothing to do with the plan to put twenty baby sitters around me. Even if they discussed it in front of her, I doubt Vibrant would have been interested enough to follow along. This sort of scheming is completely not her style.

I wait for two minutes before I decide to call again.

"GET OUT HERE PROTECTANT OR I SWEAR I'LL GET THE COUNCIL TO REASSIGN YOU TO GUARDING LEEROY!"

It only takes a few seconds for her to appear over my head, clinging to the roof of the tunnel. She looks a little sulky and I feel a little bad for my threat.

"This isn't supposed to be part of how we operate, Eldest," she says.

She's lucky I can't roll my eyes.

"Oh, I know all about Operation Silent Shield. Gawd. I called you here because I need to make sure you understand something. The council, Advant, Sloan, even the Queen, are not the ones who tell you how to do this job. I do. If we can work together, then we'll all have happier lives and more safety than if I have to keep guessing what it is you're going to do."

She remains silent and watchful as I speak and I can almost hear the gears turning in her head and she thinks over my words.

"If you're thinking of activating some stupid protocol that you were taught where you pretend to cooperate with me but just keep doing things the way they told you, I'm going to be super annoyed."

Twitch.

She's so easy to read. Perhaps it's because she's so used to not being seen at all? If nobody can see her, or doesn't notice her, what would be the point of learning to control your reactions? A blind spot in their training.

"Look, all I want to say for now is that you need to be careful before you jump out of nowhere and take a hit for me. You're no use to anyone dead. In this expanse I just want you lot to pick around the edges and secure some xp and Biomass for yourselves."




She looks at me steadily for a moment.

"That's not really what we were trained to do, Eldest."

"Yeah, I'm sure you're meant to live the most sacrificial lives in the history of the Colony. Always on duty, never resting, never a moment of peace. It's all super noble and everything, but let me ask you this question. If I evolve and I'm tier six, whilst you're all still tier four, what exactly are you going to protect me from that I can't handle myself?"



I let that thought sit in the air as Protectant digests it before I dismiss her with a flick of my antenna. She gratefully fades away into the darkness to join her fellows and I feel Crinis stir on my abdomen.

[Problem, Crinis?]

[I don't like the way these newcomers have tried to take your security as their responsibility.]

[It's not something that I chose, or something that they chose. We may as well make sure they're useful, since they're here. Not to worry, I still consider you my real last line of defence.]



HRK!

Letting her emotions get the better of her, Crinis dang near puts a crack in my carapace by gripping on too tight. Trying to push the discomfort from my mind, I push forward with the others and before long we arrive at the entrance of this new expanse. The pure, dark mana flows into our faces and wraps around us as the ground drops away beneath our feet. In front of us a vast space opens up, the shadow mana so thick that it swirls in massive currents, like rope coiling around itself. The largest detail that really hits home is that the whole place is covered in webs. Giant webs. Monstrous, mountainous webs. Clinging to the gaps between the strands of the huge web, are just more webs! What the heck is this place?!

"That looks nasty," Vibrant complains, her antennae twitching with disgust as she looks out onto the mess that awaits us.

"I bet half of it's poisoned as well���" I mutter.

The air amongst the group has certainly fallen, except for with Tiny. The big ape is positively grinning, his eyes blazing with a fierce light as his fists clench at his sides.

[You want to get revenge, eh big fella?] I ask him.

He nods vigorously and bellows as he slams his chest.

[SMASH!] he roars in my mind.



A word! An actually properly formed word! I mean, if there was going to be one word that he got right, it was going to be that one!

[Good stuff Tiny!, we'll get in there and tear those stupid webs to shreds!]

"Come on, team! This is a chance to strike a blow against the foul arachnid menace and ensure they remember for all time the superiority of the insect! For the colony!"

"FOR THE COLONY!"

"Down with the arachnids!"

"FOR THE COLONY!"

Close enough. Our group pushes forward into the expanse and immediately begins to descend, scaling the rocky wall and making sure to avoid the webs where they connect to the stone. We hear the chittering and clacking of hateful spiders in the darkness as we move, but we ignore them all. Their time will come, but not yet. Our conquest of this expanse is going to come from the territory where we are superior, the ground. Making our way up into the nightmare tangle of webs will come later, after we test and ensure the safety of the footing.


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