We continued to kite the monsters for five minutes, pulling them further and further away from the main body of the horde. Our plan for this strategy depended on a few things: that Garralosh and wizard-lizard wouldn't bother to chase us, the former due to a need to conserve mana in her core and the latter because the Kaarmodo seemed reluctant to leave it's captive Croca Momma alone.
The second thing we wanted to determine and rely upon was that whatever control the two leaders had over the horde of weaker monsters, there had to be a limit. At some point the monsters must begin to regain their savage nature and break free, or perhaps they would turn and retreat back toward the main body of the horde.
We needed to understand this behaviour and one of the objectives of this ambush was to determine this.
"Have we seen any sign that the mage slaves have followed us?" I called to Vibrant.
"Nope!" she replied in a thoroughly positive manner.
Gah. I hope Wills is on it.
We continued to run with the horde snapping at our heels and eventually I began to detect heat signatures in the trees. We made it to the ambush point! Now to see what the monsters decide to do.
With a burst of acceleration I rush forward to catch up with the scouts still running ahead of us. In the middle of the pack I find Wills and I feel a small burst of relief. I didn't want to lose any members of the twenty in such a stupid, small way. The colony had invested in them to the maximum extent possible and they should continue to repay that for the next hundred years at least!
"Wills! Do we have any idea what the state of the horde behind us is?!" I shouted at her as we ran.
"No, Eldest. We'll just have to trust that the others have the situation in claw."
Hope, eh? Fair enough. Things had gone to the dogs already, I wasn't about to risk making it worse doing something crazy without information. We ran for another three minutes before the monsters behind us began to slow down. We fired acid at them, let them get as close as we could without letting them touch us, practically waggling our commercial zones in their faces but we came to a point where the monsters stopped chasing, turned and began to make their way back to the horde.
"We've hit the edge of the control range! They're heading back!" I shouted.
"We don't know that for sure" Wills warned, coming to a stop next to me, "it's possible they've been ordered to return and the range is much farther than this. We haven't seen any sign of the monsters attacking each other, they still appear to be firmly in control."
Dang, good points.
"You're talking a lot of sense Wills. I knew raising you lot was a good idea."
If anything the compliment seemed to put the scout leader off kilter, causing her to go silent and still. Curious, I turned to inspect her more closely. Is this another Crinis situation? Is Wills weak to praise? I poked her with an antenna. "Hello in there?" I called.
The scout shook herself alert.
"I- I'm not used to you giving positive feedback, Eldest."
What?! I give compliments out all the time! Is she talking about the training I gave them? Now I'm worried all of the twenty are dealing with some kind of PTSD due to my diligent instruction after they were born.
I turned back to the retreating monsters, moving at what humans would consider a slow jog. They must be tuckered out after all of the running.
"So, we follow along as per the plan?" I asked.
"We've no information that would call for us to change our actions" she confirmed.
Vibrant, her squad, Wills, the remaining scouts and I grouped up and began to trail behind the departing beasts. As we walked I could sense heat signatures in the trees climbing down and falling in behind us or moving toward the flanks.
In order to avoid becoming predictable the soldiers had been concealed in the foliage and branches of the trees overhead, rather than in tunnels. The dark colours that made up our carapace meant there was little chance that they would be seen in the dark, and the meticulous cleanliness of the ants meant there was very little odour coming from them, so long they controlled their pheromone glands.
After another minute there were hundreds of soldiers positioned in a wide arc behind with healers and a few mages mixed in. Victor appeared out of the gloom to my right side, making me jump a little.
"Dammit, Victor! Why even sneak up on me?!"
"I'm trying to remain quiet."
"There are literally hundreds of us walking here, what is the point of sneaking?!"
"You can never be too careful."
I'd roll my eyes if I physically could.
"Is it time to attack yet?" I demanded.
"It's time" she confirmed.
The order was spread wide and it didn't take long for the eager ants to position themselves for the first strike. The monsters were only twenty metres away and despite the trees blocking line of sight they could still be spotted everywhere you looked.
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POW! POW! POW! POW!
Another acid barrage! This time from the hundreds of soldiers who had patiently waited as their scout brethren had risked themselves to pull these monsters this far from the main horde. Their sisters had died to give them this opportunity and they weren't going to waste it!
The acid streaked through the air and struck against the retreating monsters, sizzling into their flesh the moment it landed. With a roar the monsters turned once more and charged towards the vicious ants who had dared to strike at them!
The ants…. Retreated.
We fell back as a unit, maintaining our arc formation with a precision that only insects could muster, firing acid all of the way to enrage the monsters further. When we reached the point where the monsters had turned last time, they once again stopped and began to retreat back toward the road.
"This would appear to confirm it" Victor said, sounding pleased, "full engage!"
"FOR THE COLONY!"
From the pheromone glands of hundreds of angry ants the shout went up and we rushed forward to carve up the enemy with our face hands and bathe ourselves in their ichor!
My mandibles worked like pistons, slicing and dicing as I worked to train my bite skills to the fourth rank and inflict mandible justice upon the hated foe. Centipedes, hounds, rabbits, lizards, the odd spider, none could withstand our wrath. Several times I saw the larger monsters, the bears, the Lion ogres, brought down by dozens of ants blasting them with acid, pulling at their legs and scissoring off their limbs.
Then came the call.
"Retreat!" an ant bellowed and the order was quickly passed down the line. Is perfect synch, the soldiers stepped back, turned and ran, charging away from the suddenly bewildered monsters left in their wake.
The surprise only lasted for a moment however, as the raging beasts charged, roaring with fury! Only to slow and stop, turn, and begin to walk away.
If I were capable of it, I would be grinning a wide grin right now.
We can kite and engage these monsters forever at this point! Whatever control over these monsters is being exercised, it clearly has severe limitations, and we are going to abuse the heck out of that fact.
Call me John Deere because I am about to get my farm on!
[Tiny, Crinis, you can come out now.]
I'd kept my two pets out of the firing line up to this point. They'd been positioned with the ambush troops in woods, hidden from sight and held in reserve.
[Thank you, Master]
I winced as Tiny hurtled past me to throw himself onto the monsters, viciously pounding them into paste with his fists. The rest of the soldiers seemed inspired by the sight and charged in once again, tearing into the enemy with renewed vigour. I could see several wounded were being tended by the healers who utilised their healing magic glands to restore the soldiers to fighting condition. Once healed up, the soldiers jumped to their feet and charged back into the fight, eager to continue inflicting damage.
Suppose I'd better get back in there!