After that the crowd was quickly pacified and I was relieved the Queen didn't secretly sic the people on me. As we agreed she and I remained close to each other as we moved into the next phase of the plan.
With the people calmed, less suicidal and at the same time directed against her enemies, the Queen wants to turn her attention to her most potent and loyal forces. The ones she "cleverly" deployed in the Dungeon to assist other troops in a ploy to appear weakened and lure those who had been working to destabilising her rule into open rebellion. Too bad they had more backing than she had foreseen and with the soldiers she had left she had been soundly defeated.
She'd even kept her guard in the dark because they would refuse to leave her so vulnerable had they known about it. Even now those poor suckers are stuck in the top level of the Dungeon stabbing centipedes in the face whilst the Queen they swore to defend was forced to flee the city.
Honestly. All of these people are so stupid it pains me to be near them! Keep those precious cores in your mind Anthony! You'll walk out here rich and leave these morons to their own devices.
The way the people in Malgate react to me know is a little unnerving to say the least. As I pass by then back away carefully, making sure not to obstruct my path, many even bow respectfully. All of these displays of subservience are stirring Dark Anthony! Just ignore me people! I'm honestly happier sliding into the background!
It doesn't matter though. At my size it's getting hard to hide. I'm already the height and length of a desk basically. If I continue to evolve am I going to end up car size? Bus size?! Yikes. Regardless, as I move about with the Queen people are easily able to find me and continue to show their respect throughout the day.
The Queen speaks to people one on one, in small groups and addresses large crowds. Everywhere she goes the reaction is favourable and those prepared to go and fight are quickly prepared, packing supplies, clutching their crude blades and strapping into worn leather armour that probably belonged to a relative who fought in a war three generations ago.
Even the priest is fully pumped up for this. He spends most of his time following along behind me, eulogising my status as a holy messenger at the top of lungs. I had the Queen tell me what he was saying but forced her to stop about two sentences in. So embarrassing!
It's all for the money!
After one more day the people are prepared and depart the village for the forest, marching together in a spirited column. About an hour from the village, just inside the edge of the woods we find evidence of ant activity. This is where myself and a dedicated team have been labouring away in preparation!
How is the Queen going to unite with her soldiers in the Dungeon without getting into the city and putting herself at risk? What task could only a dedicated army of earth shifting experts take on?! The answer is ALWAYS more tunnels!
Heaped loose soil is everywhere throughout this area as we had to dump it somewhere that couldn't be seen from the walls. The footprints of ants are everywhere but not a single worker can be found. As the column comes to the opening of the tunnel in the ground the Queen gathers everyone around and explains what has been done. When she's finished the crowd's respectful eyes blaze with renewed fervour as they look at me and as one they bow together.
Down Dark One! These are not our slaves!
A little thanks for the hard work of digging is appreciated though. Making the tunnel took a long time since humans would need to be able to travel through it somewhat comfortably and they are a lot taller than ants. Even Tiny can move lower than them since he is almost designed to lean forward as he moves, weight on his knuckles. It's a rare moment when the ape actually stretches to his not insignificant full height.
The tunnel is damn long and we had to push fairly deep underground to ensure it wouldn't collapse. I don't know what strange physics governs tunnels in this world but they sure manage to hold up better than I expect them to. Perhaps it's the excavation skill at work that helps to avoid areas that might change the structural integrity, or maybe this world is fundamentally built to support underground spaces, the Dungeon exists here after all. Even the forest expanse we were in defies my understanding of what was possible on Earth.
Eventually we come to the final stretch of tunnel. According to my tunnel sense we have connected just to one side of the pool cavern that I first explored shortly after hatching. I made sure the workers didn't complete the tunnel since the soldiers on the other side would have surely killed them on sight. I wanted to dig the final few feet for myself and then push the Queen through first so she could explain the situation.
After shoveling away the last of the dirt, the very moment the last bit of dirt crumbles away to reveal an opening I back away hastily and place myself behind the Queen, leaning against the left side of the tunnel and trying to be inconspicuous.
Her face pinched with distaste, the Queen steps forward to push away the last of the dirt, widening the opening until she is able to squeeze herself through it. On the other side I can hear raised shouts and the Queens calming words. After a short while the Queen pokes her head through the tunnel wall and invites us forward.
I pause and allow the townsfolk who accompanied us to go first, squeezing myself to one side. Fortunately the tunnel is a little wider here and there is pace to push through. Once the last person has left our small connecting tunnel it's finally my turn.
Hesitantly, I approach the opening before suddenly poking one leg out. After a moment when nothing happens I withdraw the leg and slowly push my head through. It takes a moment for my eyes to adjust to the bright mana infused light of the Dungeon. As the light washes over me a comforting feeling comes over me. Perhaps I'm slightly crazy but coming back to the Dungeon feels a little like coming home, particularly to this familiar place. I was born just near here after all.
Around the opening the townsfolk are gathered and as I emerge amongst them, my six legs taking purchase on the firm Dungeon walls they make space for me, staying close but giving me room at the same time.
At the forefront is the priest, Beyn. Wherever I go this guy is never far away. My very own human shaped pain in the gaster.
Beyond the villagers is a troop of fierce and worn looking soldier types. Their gilded armour and fine blades are quite familiar to me as was those same weapons that were turned on my colony. These must be the Queen's guard.
The Queen is amongst them now, speaking quietly and they listen intently, rage clear on their faces.
She must be explaining exactly what has happened whilst they have been down here. I step forward slowly, warily watching the soldiers as I move. They don't seem hostile, their anger and frustration appears to be directed more at the surface that towards me, most of them don't spare me a glance.
Alright… so far things are going ok.
After giving the Queen some time to inform her troops and get them planning the offensive she walks towards me and resumes our communication.
[My guards will need some time to digest this news and plan the next phase. I think we should allow the villagers a time of rest. They can gather on this side of the pool and eat. In five or so hours we'll be ready to advance].
[Very well. I'll stay on this side then. Alert me when you are ready].
As part of the agreement I am to be part of the forces to assault the surface. In order to secure my reward I'll need to liberate the castle anyway, hard to get to the treasury without first kicking out the rebels first. Since the Queen had witnessed my prowess in battle personally she was quite insistent that I be part of the attack. She also wanted Tiny to join us, not surprising after the display he put on, but I flatly refused. I was prepared to tag along myself but no way Tiny was coming too. He has other stuff I need him to do.
Returning to the tunnel entrance I settle down and prepare to rest, surrounded by my devout followers.