After several hours of weary defence Tiny awakes, his wounds mostly healed and the fire in his eyes rekindled. So exhausted I can barely form the thoughts I tell him to defend the entrance until I wake up and retreat further into the tunnel where I collapse flat on my face.
Torpor comes over me like a warm embrace. Like a thick blanket.
Without closing my eyes, my thoughts grow slower until they shift and sink like molasses until they barely move at all. This is the rest of ant-kind!
When I awake several hours later I feel much refreshed. The heavy exhaustion that had smothered me before has mostly been lifted and the rest, combined with my feeding has closed over almost all of wounds, almost restoring my hp to full.
I get another pleasant surprise when I awaken in the form of a dark coloured gem, the core of the Jellymaw I defeated. The colony must have fished it out of the remaining Biomass and left it here for me to deal with as I was one who defeated it.
How thoughtful! Truly the workers are the best of siblings!
I'm tempted to absorb the core immediately but in the end I hesitate and decide to deal with it later. Instead I bury it in the wall alongside the other cores I had brought to the escape tunnel.
As quickly as I can I hustle back to the front lines.
Tiny is cheerfully standing as part of the wall of defenders, workers crawling over him. The poor ape is covered in wounds once again, clearly demonstrating that the wave has not let up at all whilst I was sleeping.
Indeed, the room before us is still filled with monsters battling furiously!
[Got enough energy for one more offensive?] I ask my ape companion?
Tiny turns quickly to eyeball me and nods, a big smile breaking out on his face.
Of course he does, he likes fighting almost as much as he likes food!
With Tiny helping I once more activate the Gravity Domain and we work together to clean the room once more. When that task is done I lead the workers out to collect as much of the Biomass as we can, once again securing the food supply for the colony. Under my instructions, Tiny drags a chunk of food inside the tunnel and stuffs his face before falling asleep, resting whilst I take my turn to defend.
Just like this we begin our long watch. Every few hours we would swap and rest whilst the other took their turn standing against the endless spawns of monsters. On my second watch I took the initiative to push out as much excess dirt as possible whenever there was a break in the fighting, mustering the workforce to move back up the tunnel whilst I protected the entrance, collect the dirt that had been shifted by the Queen and her dig team at the other end before transporting it out to the Queens chamber and piling it up, partially covering the entrance.
In this way we were able to close over at least part of the tunnel entrance and at the same time make a little more room in the escape tunnel.
I didn't want to close the entrance over completely, the monsters in spawning from the Dungeon were a threat to us but at the same time our only source of food. Whenever I awoke from my rest my Gravitational Energy gland would be charged enough that I could maintain the Gravity Domain until almost every monster in the chamber was killed, providing the colony, Tiny and myself the sustenance we needed in order to keep heal and fight.
There was a cost though. Despite my best efforts, despite Tiny exhausting his strength to the limit every time he woke up, we weren't able to protect every worker on the front lines. Sometimes a strong monster would spawn in the chamber, lashing out with mana or claws before I could react, or monsters fighting would lose their sense of direction and battle their way directly into the midst of the ants. Those monsters would always be quickly subdued but sometimes an unlucky worker or two would get sliced before we could save them.
Those losses hurt. I didn't look at these workers as tools or monsters that were different from myself. They had their own childlike intelligence and I accepted them as members of my family, I wanted to save them all if I could. We had grown quite tough at the frontline, a number of my brethren had successfully evolved from hatchlings to workers as time passed. When I was attempting to scout with my mana sensing I was able to discover that some of the mature workers had in fact condensed a core! A milestone well worthy of celebration!
The seemingly endless grind was giving benefits to some members of the colony even as it wore away at our nerves.
After four cycles of resting and fighting the first major shift occurred.
Luckily is was me on duty when it happened. Towards the end of my watch, tired and battered from the constant fighting I had almost not noticed the signs. I was so used to staring at the fighting directly in front of me, sensing for heat sources coming from the walls or from the tunnel above us that I had almost forgotten about what had worried me the most at first.
The tunnel below.
Mostly blocked off in the first hours of digging the escape tunnel the passage leading down into the Dungeon had never been explored my me, too nervous about what I might run into down there. I had grown accustomed to not really worrying about what was happening down there so much that when the sound of fighting from beneath me changed suddenly I didn't know what to make of it.
At first it was just a faint scraping sound mixed in with all the rest of the noise, I'd hardly registered it at first. My mind, weary from the hours of vigilance and fighting only made a mental note of it before focusing on more immediate threats.
It only grew louder with time.
Eventually the scraping was becoming more and more clear, a consistent backdrop to the more insistent sounds ringing out in front me. Then the sounds echoing from the chambers below changed, the ringing sounds of combat replaced by harsh shrieking of crazed monsters and a rather ominous chewing.
It takes a little while for my tired brain to click as to what exactly that means.
The monster from below are rising up!
The second shock strikes me at exactly the same time. From my peripheral vision a twinkling light strikes at just the wrong angle catching my attention just as I'm worried about the noise from below.
What I see makes my blood run cold.
The veins of mana that are energy source of this Dungeon are starting to grow into the escape tunnel! As I stare at these new veins my worry only grows larger.
Not only have the veins started growing, they are extending so quickly I can actually see them move! It's slow for sure, but actually visible!