Our plans made, the council disperses, Vibrant disappearing over the horizon before I can so much as blink. Although… that could be a long measure of time, since I can't blink. I'm actually starting to forget what it was like to close my eyes, to be honest. I mean, how long can you go without eyelids before you forget how they felt? I've been in a carapace so long, I'm starting to forget what skin felt like! It just seems so weird to me now, being squishy on the outside and hard on the inside. How does that make sense? Don't you want the squishy stuff protected? Not to mention the possibilities for shiny perfection that I have embraced through mutation!
Even the demons reject the true doctrine of exo-skeleton. In fact, almost all monsters do… No, I must reject this line of thought. If I continue to follow it I might wind up having sympathy for the centipedes and that is simply something that cannot be done. Spiders… maybe. Centipedes? Never.
Naturally the moment that their leader runs off, a large detachment of suspiciously speedy ants races in pursuit. Now that she's evolved to tier six her follower count has significantly increased once again. Each and every one of her loyal troops is a peak specimen of the Colony, heavily mutated and experienced in battle. Just another example of the powerful influence a champion can have on those around them. She may be a handful, but Vibrant has proven her value to the family a hundred times over. I have high hopes for the next champion also, even if she continues to be a pain in the abdomen.
Speaking of the devil, she's currently playing with Tiny, the giant trying to herd the hatchling with his hands as she schemes to get past him. Despite his massive size and quick reflexes, she almost manages it a few times, faking him out and playing mind games with the poor sod. Though the more I watch, the more I begin to suspect she's conditioning him for an eventual escape.
Just a constant pain.
We remain close to the pillar for the time being, but I'm already getting a little bored. We have things to do and not much time to do them, most important of all, continuing to train and level up the hatchling. Getting her up and running, contributing to the Colony and dedicated to her own niche as soon as possible is my main focus for the time being.
"Alright then Brilliant, time to get busy."
She pauses in her game and turns toward me.
"What do you mean?"
"Did you think we were done? You're not even halfway to as evolved as you need to be! Your older sister is tier six! So am I! What exactly are you supposed to do running around as a piddly tier three?"
"What do you mean? I'm useful already!" she declares, her antennae waving wildly.
"At what? Annoying me or escaping? Those are the only two things I can see that you excel at."
"Oh yeah? What if I told you that my mana shaping skill is tier four?"
"I'd tell you - … Wait, what?"
"I've been practicing inside Invidia's mouth! No time is wasted!"
"Even mine is only tier five…"
She puffs herself up proudly.
"Told you I'm the best!"
"How are you the best if my Skill is higher than yours?"
"Well," she deflates again, "it will be higher soon!" and then she fires back.
"You know what, I'm starting to believe you. Are you practicing now?"
"Yes, of course."
Dammit! I can't be overtaken by this damn hatchling! What about my pride as the Eldest! Desperate not to be outdone I immediately order all of my mental constructs to start spinning mana, any form, any spell, I don't care! Just get to work!
Still, as I look down on the smug little thing, I can't help but be impressed. I think this might be her talent after all.
"Keep up the good work, Brilliant, but as I said, we still need to level you up. That's going to be our next port of call."
"NOT YET!" comes a wave of pheromones from above.
A few moments later there's a slip, the scent of fear and then a crash which quickly reveals itself as Smithant, covered in various bits of metal plating stuck on her back, legs flailing after her unfortunate fall.
"Ouch! Someone help me up?"
Crinis quickly obliges with a tentacle extended from her place on my back.
"Thanks. I heard you'd shown up here Eldest and I didn't want you to go running off into the third stratum again without having a chance to give you what I've been working on all this time! Down here! Hurry up!"
The last part she shouts up the pillar to a trio of ants carefully picking their way down the vertical slope, each of them laden with more metal and bits and pieces.
"Just how much stuff did you bring?" I ask a little warily.
Don't cover up the diamond!
"Oh, it's not all for you," she informs me, "I've got things for Tiny as well, as well as a few pieces for Vibrant, is she still here?"
"Damn. I was hoping to catch up with her."
"Good luck with that."
"Anyway, let's start getting this stuff sorted out."
The moment her focus turns to the metal it's almost as if the mad ant in front of me starts glowing. She coos and clucks over her work like a mother hen as she uses her mandibles and front claws to pick through the pieces, taking some from her helpers.
"This is what I was able to put together for Tiny. We still can't work with the Legion metal very well, or at all, and there certainly wasn't enough to make a full suit for him, but this should help him."
What she was able to come up with was several individual pieces that can be strapped to Tiny's arms, legs and shoulders. Forearm guards, a chest plate and some reasonably fitted and padded pieces protect his thighs. It's pretty good work, all things considered. And when we take into account his immensely dense bones, the lack of helmet and knuckle protectors isn't nearly as big of a concern as it once was. Just having something to protect his heart in the event something slips through between his ribs is a big relief.
Tiny seems much happier with this smaller and more focused set of pieces than he was with the more complete set he had on before. After scratching at the straps and pulling at the padding underneath the armour a little, he seems fairly content, even rapping his knuckles on the forearm guard to test its strength.
"Well he seems happy at least," I observe, "and I am as well. Great work, Smithant."
She stops fussing with the straps and turns back to me.
"It wasn't easy, but I'm happy with the work. As for what I made for you, have a look!"
With the air of an artist whipping a cloth off a new statue, she throws a series of pieces down onto the ground in front of me. At first I'm a little startled, they appear to be, rings? Weird ones?
"Soooo. What are they?" I ask, confused.
"Well, you said you didn't want full armour and there isn't much I can make that would protect you better than your own carapace, certainly not to the extent that would justify the weight, so I went in a different direction and tried to produce the most pure alloys I could and pack them with the strongest enchantments I could. What you see here is a masterwork of enchanting, by our standards anyway."
She sounds a little deflated at the end, as if not catching up to the rest of the world in a couple of months was somehow a massive failure on her part.
"Nonsense," I tell her, "a masterwork in the Colony is a masterwork the world over. Tell me what they do."
"I think you'll like this Eldest. Should work well with your current Skill set."
It doesn't take much to get Smithant pumped up again, as soon as her attention turns to the task of explaining her creations she is immediately obsessed.