"What do you think, Ellie?"
"They're magnificent, Bella. Works of engineering, imagination, and unyielding effort! This must be the art that the Eldest spoke of when we were in training."
"I agree! This is art!"
"Do you think the other members of the council will agree with us?" Ellie asked hopefully.
"Not a chance," Bella replied.
The two Core Shapers didn't allow the perceived dearth of culture in their fellow council members to dim their enthusiasm at the successful culmination of their project. The colony had entered the mandatory rest period now and almost all members of the family had entered torpor. As non-combatants, the two Shapers were not expected to participate in the battle. But that didn't mean that none of the Shapers caste would be present. Fifty Shapers rested in the large chamber that had been constructed once the colony had approved the project.
These shapers were young, barely hatched in time through the dedicated nurturing of the Breed Tenders and then put through a brutal, accelerated training regime in the academy in order to bring this project online in time.
"I wonder if this is how the Queen feels. Gazing down on her children," Bella wondered aloud.
"Perhaps," Elligant mused. "Though, as beautiful as our creations are, can they really compare to the wonder of the ants the Elder created?"
"Of course not!" Bella scoffed. Then, "I do wish we could have gotten one more evolution into them before they were forced into battle."
"No point fretting. We were lucky to get this project off the ground at all. Don't you have confidence in our work?"
"How could I not? The Eldest put us onto this path with their own words! It's sure to succeed!"
"Which do you think will perform better, the Manglers, or the Reavers?"
The subjects in question were the one hundred shadow beasts that were also resting in the chamber. The council had been loath to give up the resources, but saw the potential in a force of Core Shapers with pet soldiers. How could they not? The Eldest deployed such tactics with tremendous success! It also helped to bolster the numbers of the colony and provide them with disposable soldiers who could be reconstituted and raised again provided the colony recovered the core.
The Shapers had laboured long and hard to turn Shadow Beast cores into these modified troops. Elligant's design, the Shadow Reaver, boasted enhanced arm strength, more devastating claws and fangs than the regular beasts. The Mangler, Bella's concept, sported increased leg strength and a streamlined body, dramatically increasing speed, along with nasty venom secreted by needle like claws.
Both shapers had found the 'budget' for their modifications by shaving away at the Cunning and Will of the original monster. With the Core Shaper controller, fully tooled up with pet related skills, in charge of the thinking, the pets didn't need that much intelligence.
"Did you remember how they performed in the Dungeon?" Bella gushed to her sibling.
"I do! I do! Wasn't it marvellous?"
"Who could have imagined the devastation that they would cause. Such ferocity!"
"And we didn't lose a single one! Mark my scent Bella, after this battle the Core Shapers will rise high in the colony! The Shapers will became the true elite force of our family!"
The two ants huddled together in the dark chamber with eyes that sparkled as they imagined the bright and glorious future of their caste. The thought that they might lose the battle never entered their minds.
Elsewhere in the colony…
"Surely the fire mages will cause the most damage!" Propellant declared.
"Nonsense!" Coolant refuted coolly, "the water mages will wash away the stain of the invaders by the hundreds. If not thousands. I struggle to see how your hot-headed members will keep up."
"Bah! You really think the enemy is going to be scared off by getting DAMP?! My Mage-Ants will be causing explosions, not hosing down the enemy! Are you trying to hurt them or clean them."
The two council members continued to bicker with each other as their fellow caste members rested within the chamber. Soldiers patrolled the space as this chamber was below ground level, a deliberate choice in order to afford the mages a chance to refill their cores and magic affinity glands.
A curious phenomenon had been observed by the colony as the numbers of the mage ants had continued to swell in the build up to the battle. Of the four base elements that were the cheapest and easiest to train, the vast majority eschewed earth and air, following their elders into either fire or water. A mild rivalry between the two camps had appeared immediately.
"Do you think the open field will have an impact on the result?" Coolant mused.
"You mean, as opposed to fighting in the Dungeon tunnels?" Propellant queried, her earlier ire vanished as if it had never been.
"Right. I've been thinking about the impact of the more open space on our respective element's spell selection."
"Any particular construct you have in mind? I can't imagine the bolt spell will be much less applicable in the open than it is in a tunnel…"
"I think it will be more useful due to the increased range. But no I was thinking of the barrier spells."
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Propellants eyes lit up.
"Do you mean, using them in an offensive capacity?"
"Ho! Ho! That does sound interesting! Have you calculated the mana expenditure against the expected damage inflicted?"
"The numbers appear to be very promising."
"Surely the fire barrier outperforms water in this capacity."
"It does enjoy a slight edge…"
"Ha! Do you think we'll be able to work it into our tactics before the battle starts?'
"Depends on how long we have after the imposed rest period ends and the call to deploy comes from the scouts."
"Hmm. It's going to be tight."
The two Mage Ants fell into contemplative silence as they pondered on the possible timelines they might be confronted with in testing and utilising this possible new tactic.
"You know," Propellant spoke slowly, her mind still occupied with the problem of timing, "after this battle is done, we, Mage-Ants, will be hailed as the heroes of the colony."
"Naturally," Coolant said absently. "We should already be seen as such, really. The battle will merely establish in the other's minds what we already know."
"Our resource allocation should double at least."
"Triple, I should think."
"What we could do with triple the resources…"
In the minds of both members of the twenty, a glorious future began to unfold. The colony would be reborn. At the pinnacle of the new structure would be the Mage-Ant! Given priority for cores, Biomass and the best assignments, the Mage caste would lead the colony into the future, every other caste subsumed into serving their more capable siblings.
After all, isn't the Eldest primarily a Mage-ant?!
The two Mages continued to imagine the incredible future that awaited them, neither one considering for a moment that they might lose the fight.