I'm so damn hungry!
As I human I never would have expected that digging would be so tiring. Although, unlike when I was a human I've been able to move a hell of a lot more dirt. With my excavation skill targeting my instincts and my mandibles acting as a movable super shovel, I can really smash out some tunnel space.
All the work is really putting a strain on my empty stomach. When Tiny awoke I had him collect my monster cores and then put him to work compacting the dirt at the rear of the tunnel, despite having eaten relatively recently my ape buddy is also starving.
I can only imagine how the Queen is feeling. She appears to be fine, cheerfully chomping away at the earth and encouraging the workforce with her seemingly endless positivity.
My mind isn't completely focused on the digging I have to admit. As often as I can I activate the mana sensing skill, desperately searching for some sign of a source of food! On the positive side my constant scanning and digging has raised my skills, mana sensing by two levels and excavation by one, on the negative I'm yet to find anything.
In my tunnel map the escape tunnel continues to spear upwards and outwards into empty space. I am somewhat worried about where exactly we will surface, the best I can say is that it will be several kilometres away from the guarded entrance I ran into at the very least.
As I grow more and more depressed with the failure to locate anything I finally get a response.
At last! A bite on the line!
As the skill level has risen the range I can detect mana successfully has likewise increased, which is lucky since I doubt I would've been able to reach this response otherwise. Very faintly on the edge of my awareness I can barely sense the ripples of mana. Strong or weak I can't tell at this stage, the only way to get a more accurate reading would be to get closer.
It's been a number of hours since the last time the colony had access to any sort of food, not to mention, if I pass up this reading there is no guarantee another one will come in range of my mana sensing before we reach the surface, the entire colony could starve to death by then!
I won't risk it. The tunnel needs to be diverted. I turn to the Queen.
"I've found a source of food!" I say, "We have to divert the tunnel slightly in order to reach it."
The Queen pauses in her digging to turn her face towards me, I take it as I sign of politeness since, as an ant she doesn't need to turn her face to see me (compound eyes) nor to speak to me (pheromone communication).
"Do you know what you have found, child?" she asks.
I can only be honest here. "I have absolutely no clue, but we may all starve to death in a few days if we aren't able to secure some food soon. If we pass up this chance we might not get another".
The Queen ponders this for a moment before waggling her antennae in agreement. "You speak sensibly child, tell me where to dig".
After a little prodding with my antennae and trying to feel out the ground with my excavation skill I adjust the angle of the tunnel and start to curve the tunnel towards the mana source I'd detected.
If we regularly the direction of the tunnel as we approach we should be able to arrive above the source and then I can dig a small distance down towards it, allowing myself and Tiny to infiltrate without having to risk the workers unnecessarily.
The reading I just was only just able to sense is roughly two hundred metres away. Tunnelling through two hundred metres of solid earth and rock is not a casual endeavour by any means, even for a colony on monstrous earth moving machines like us.
All in all it takes us around five hours of digging to advance the tunnel towards the mana source. I continue to sink my consciousness down into my core and reach out with my senses to detect the ripples echoing outwards.
As we drew closer the form of the mana I had detected becomes more clear and it isn't long before I know just what it is that we have found, a tunnel, and a fairly narrow one at that. Joy blooms within my ant thorax when I confirm the shape of the source. This is perfect! A tunnel, covered in mana veins is sure to be packed with monsters, aka lunch, and due to the narrow width of this tunnel the size of said monsters should be fairly manageable.
After repeatedly sweeping the tunnel I can detect only a few small cores moving about before they shift out of my range. The best possible result. We may be able to harvest a few cores whilst we are at it!
When the tunnel has been dug to the correct position, I tell the Queen the correct angle to get the tunnel back on track and start digging a short passage of my own in order to push my way down towards my meal, I mean the tunnel…
[Tiny! Come up here and get ready to eat!]
I swear it takes less than ten seconds for Tiny to get from one end of the tunnel to other, drool running down his bat face as he gently pushes his way through the workers towards where I'm digging.
I shouldn't have called him over. This ape is way too excited. The burning hunger in his eyes feels hot enough to burn all life in this tunnel to ashes. I've invited to fight and eat, I should have known this was going to happen!
It takes me ten minutes to dig my way down to the prey cave and the entire time Tiny is hopping from one foot to another and ripping away at the side of my tunnel in order to widen it out enough for him to fit more comfortably.
Suddenly the soil gives way from in front of me and the thick scent of monster assaults my senses.
[Tiny! Time to eat buddy!]