Since the cataclysm and the opening of the Dungeon to sentient surface dwellers, expeditions to the underground spaces for resources have been a constant in society. Not only for the abundance of experience provided by the Dungeon monsters, far above that which can be attained above ground, but for the precious resources that can be found there.
Rare mineral types never seen before, underground trees who's wood contains incredible properties, gems infused with mana are all highly prized, but the monsters themselves have always held the greatest treasure.
It is well known on the surface that certain monster parts, when treated correctly, can be prevented from dissolving back into the Dungeon and then turned into miraculous equipment and tools that cannot be replicated using only surface materials. Although expensive to purchase, items crafted from monster parts can be found in almost any civilised town, often something as simple as plough could be constructed using centipede fangs as the blade, or carved completely from the tough bones of a larger beast.
More sought after still are the precious monster cores. It isn't known exactly how or why monsters form cores, but what is known is that they constantly absorb and compress mana, giving the monsters a rich source of power within their own bodies, something no surface race has been able to achieve. Mages are able to perform their miracles by drawing on and shaping the energy found in the area around them or from specially crafted mana stores on their person, but none has ever achieved the internal storage that the core allows monsters.
What's more, the core of a monster retains these properties after death, constantly absorbing and storing mana. When combined with skilful enchanting techniques, cores, especially larger, powerful ones, can be used to create the most powerful weapons and artefacts, hence their incredible value.
Excerpt from 'Cultural study of Pangera and the Dungeon'. Chapter 6. By the Magio Scholar Tarius
Like a slumbering giant the colony rested that night. The workers had been pushing themselves hard, just as I had and almost the entire workforce sank into torpor with only a few guards patrolling on the ant hill outside. Over five hundred monsters, crammed into a small space, each as still as a ghost. Hundreds more larvae and pupae filled every corner of our new nest, the next generation of workers growing ever closer to their time of awakening.
When I finally shake myself out of torpor I feel refreshed in a way I haven't felt for a long time.
I can sleep as much as I want and I don't have to battle something to the death the moment I wake up! The lousy wave is in the rear view mirror for the time being and it is a massive weight off my shoulders.
I'm not so foolish to think we will continue to remain untouched by it up here, but at the very least I can enjoy this respite from the constant danger.
Looking around my cramped little chamber I can see Tiny curled up in ball, still snoring away happily. Even rolled up he takes by far the most space in here, he continues to get larger as he eats. Exactly how big is he going to get?!
I'm also pleasantly surprised when I spot the other occupant of the room. Instead of the energetic little grub I saw when I'd gone to sleep in here, there is instead a thick cocoon leaning up against the wall.
A pupa! The little grub must have woven its cocoon whilst I was sleeping! Using my antennae I give a few light taps to the white exterior in order to inspect the pupa. This is the transformative stage of an ants development where they turn from a blind grub into a fully formed ant. This grub was so energetic before, I wonder how it'll be behave as a worker?
Certainly the pupa seems a little different than those I'd seen before? I'm not sure I can put my finger on exactly why….
Mentally shrugging I turn to the other, precious occupant of this room, my cores! Wait….. Weren't there more of these before?!
Shocked, I rush over to my collection like a bird flying to defend its nest. Yes I'm sure of it! I'm missing two cores! I frantically check the remaining gems with my antennae. Phew! The Jellymaw core is still here, I have plans for that one.
Irritated I turn towards Tiny and slap him awake with an antenna. He must have absorbed them in his sleep this greedy ape! So you've gone from refusing to accept any cores to stealing them now huh!?
WAP WAP WAP!
Eventually Tiny is roused by my furious swiping and blearily unfolds himself. He seems completely unaware that I've been hitting him as he yawns and stretches before turning back to me.
[Food?] he asks.
Some things never change I suppose.
[Come on, let's go hunting].
The two of us make our way out of our home and up the main shaft of the nest until we reach the top of the anthill. The rest of the colony is similarly waking up, dozens of workers are pouring out of their chambers and getting busy around the colony, some heading lower in order to tend to the Queen, others checking in on the brood, most of which has transformed into pupa by this time. Soon the colony will go past one thousand workers!
That does raise a problem though.
We need food! Ants on earth have a voracious appetite, tearing through huge amounts of other insects and small creatures in order to obtain protein to grow their young. Mature ants on earth don't really need to eat meat themselves, they mainly rely on sugars to keep themselves going.
Not here on Pangera! The monstrous ants need Biomass to keep themselves kicking and growing stronger, just like the young. This means the monstrous ant colony has an even larger appetite when compared to normal ants!
Time to hunt! Already scouts are starting to pour into the forest, twenty to thirty of them darting off to try and locate something for the colony to feast on. More and more workers are massing on the anthill every second, slowly expanding outwards and pushing gradually into the forest, waiting for a signal to go and collect food.
Tiny and I drift off into the forest, moving in the opposite direction to the human town that we'd seen. I don't want to get closer to civilisation and I would love to know just how large this forest is. Something tells me that with a fairly major looking city nearby I shouldn't expect it to be massive. As long as we can hide out here for a week or two I'll be happy!
What follows is a fairly dull day of plodding through forest looking for prey. Tiny and I are more successful than most of the scouts, due to my enhanced senses obviously, but even so there doesn't seem to be a high concentration of monsters nearby the nest.
I run into a few more of those hairy skinny things, each of them wielding crude tools or weapons that heaven only knows where they got them from.
They go down with even less of a fight than the first one did, if that is even possible. Tiny punched one and the creature practically exploded.
Surface monsters are clearly not up to the standard of us Dungeon dwellers.
Which leads me to another conundrum. If I want to improve my skills I'll need to level up and gain Biomass. If I want to evolve or develop my core manipulation abilities I'll need a steady supply of cores and so far those appear to be thin on the ground up here.
As the day draws on I'm led more and more to the thought that even though we just escaped from the Dungeon we are still going to need access to it. Without Dungeon monsters to fight the colony and I can only stagnate.
I won't accept that!