"At last our time has come!" Bella exulted.

"Our moment to shine!" Agreed Ellie.

"I'll be glad to get out this damp hole finally," Bella huffed.

The two core shapers glanced around at their cramped compatriots and their loyal shadow beasts, crammed into this small underground chamber.

"We can go, time to move out!" A scout near the entrance confirmed.

"Here we go!" Elllie cheered as the ants and their pets began to charge towards the entrance to the surface tunnel.

It's taken a long time for the Carvers to complete this chamber, time in which the Core Shapers had further refined their tactics and tried to squeeze the last few mutations out of their charges before the battle.

They were as ready now as they could possibly be, given the circumstances.

"Do you really think that we should be heading up there?" Ellligant worried.

"I mean, I know we agreed not to. But I don't believe that every member of the council has managed to restrain themselves. Do you? Remember the name of this strategy?"

"You make a good point."

"So let's go!"

From just behind her, two massive shadow beasts raised their heads and began to move forward in support of their master. The two of them weren't technically supposed to have crafted their own pets, but they figured there was no better way to conduct their research than this, surely!?

Not to mention, how were they supposed to properly train their skills and test the limits of their caste without their own pets? With such reasoning they had convinced themselves to not only create their own pets, but invest in them to an absurd degree, even giving up their own food to ensure the maximum amount of Biomass was received by their creations.
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"How far beneath the ground are we?" Ellie asked the scout who lead their procession into the narrow, upward sloping tunnel.

"The chamber we just left is thirty metres down. The final staging chamber above us is ten metres below."

"I'm surprised they were able to build so many tunnels without the ground collapsing on our heads," Bella commented.

"The Carvers are beginning to unlock some truly impressive skills," the scout replied.

The Carvers were proving their worth to the colony and every member of every caste approved of their work. Who could disapprove of such skilful digging?

Through the soil there came a dull thudding sound as creatures above brawled back and forth. From the ceiling, dirt broke away and trickled down over the ants and shadow beasts that marched through the narrow tunnel.


Up and up they went, following the winding path, like a spiral staircase through the cold, damp soil. The ants moved in complete silence, even more so than usual. The Shapers didn't have much time to talk to each other and were engaged in mental communication with their pets, preparing them for what was to come.

Soon they came to the staging chamber. Multiple tunnels, even narrower than that which they had come through, lined the walls.

"Remember your number and head to the designated tunnel entrance. Pets first, shapers behind," hissed the guide.

The ants began to move with greater urgency as the rumbling clatter from overhead grew ever louder. Dirt fell regularly now, trickling over carapaces and irritating the ants by getting caught in the sensitive hairs on their antennae.

It was made worse by the fact the ants were unable to stop and clean them in such narrow tunnels! It'd delay the ants behind them!

Bella ground her mandibles and resisted the powerful urge to clean herself.

[Move up,] she told her two pets.

[Hrmm,] they both grunted in reply.

It was a shame that they'd reduced their intelligence to this extent, she reflected, it would be nice if they could hold a decent conversation. But, their battle prowess was what actually mattered and they'd done all they could to punch that up a level.

Noise and heat grew as they drew closer to the surface. After a few short minutes the tunnel came to an end. Each of these short tunnels opened into a pitfall that was possibly already full of Biomass, they needed to collapse the entrance with care.

Bella instructed her two pets in the lead to scrape away at the softened dirt wall with their claws until it crumbled away to reveal a grisly sight. The pitfall did indeed do its job and the bottoms of it was filled with Biomass. She bit back her hunger though, there was work to do. Since the opening of their tunnel was two metres above the bottom of the pitfall, her two pets were able to push their way out into the open, standing on the broken bodies of the monsters in the bottom of the pit.

Light, heat and sound buffeted against Bella as she crawled out into the open. Above her head the battle raged, monsters of the horde and even Garralosh spawn stood above, shoving and pushing each other as they attempted not to fall.

Once she cleared the tunnel entrance, more Shapers and their pets followed until the bottom of the pitfall became dangerously overcrowded.

"It's time to go!" shouted Bella, "let's show them what the shapers can do!"

"Charge!"

Despite their surging spirits, the Shapers themselves did not charge. As members of the artisan caste, they were amongst the smallest of all the members of the colony and not well suited to direct combat.

But they enthusiastically cheered their pets on!

Chaos already reigned on the battlefield. The ants had begun to pour down from the wall and take the fight to their hated foes, the Queen herself had leapt down and begun to charge her antennae with healing magic.

At that exact moment, hundreds of raging shadow beasts erupted from within the pitfall traps and began to tear into every enemy they could reach with wild ferocity.

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