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…
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."
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?"