The air tickles against my mana sense, a new sensation, like a pool of shadow lapping against my mind. There's something else that's off about this tunnel. It's too… civilised. The usual crags and stony pillars that jut upwards or downwards are curiously absent. It's almost as if someone had curated this section of tunnel to make it more palatable to move through.
Have we come across another travelled section of tunnel that the humans use? Or does someone else live around here? I can't rule it out. It's time to engage stealth mode! Which I have to say, I'm not nearly as good at now, given my size… It's better than nothing!
[You guys hang here for a minute. I need to go and explore this tunnel to make sure it's safe.]
[Hurr?] Tiny grunts.
[No we can't just fight everything. If we run into those Legion guys, they'll be more trouble than we need right now. Use your head.]
[Yes, I was a bit harsh there, I apologise.]
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For an ape so thick that his skull might have been condensed in the heart of a neutron star, which itself was the bastard child of another, even more dense neutron star, he really could inject plenty of emotion into a grunt.
Crinis, ever obedient and eager to please, was happy to hop off my back but I'm certain she's planning on keeping an eye on me with her mana senses. Time to engage stealth mode! Come on Grip Skill! Strain! My claws groan as I start my journey up the wall, my vastly increased mass causing all sorts of trouble. With a bit of effort I make my way to the ceiling of the cavern and start snooping along down the side of the cavern.
With every step the mana thickens and changes, my legs drink it in from the walls and my core soaks in it, recharging at a rapid pace. Nice! We must be close now. This tunnel is truly massive. It gapes, more than a hundred metres wide and easily more than twenty metres tall. It's quite the drop from up here, even for me. But fortune favours the bold, forward Anthony! Go boldly! Where no Formica Sapiens has gone before!
Yes. The further out into the tunnel I travel, the more clear the signs of civilised intervention is. The floor of the tunnel hasn't been carved into stairs, but it's clearly been flattened and smoothed out, especially in the middle. Perhaps some kind of road? I'm intrigued!
Slowly and carefully I shuffle forward step by painful step, even gaining a new level in Grip along the way. Which helps, but not much. Damn. I've got six legs, I should know to never skip leg day! Tough it out, Anthony! Breathe through it!
A few hundred metres down I spot something that makes me do a double take. It's a wall. Normally not cause for a whole lot of excitement, but when I say wall I mean an actual, constructed wall. I might not have noticed it if I hadn't noticed the smooth curve as it met the tunnel wall on the other side. Bless you, eye mutations. All of those itches were worth it!
Like a stalking tiger, which is actually an ant and upside down, I creep forward one leg at a time. I've learned since the last time I snuck up on a guard post, they have monster detecting crystals. Considering I can detect a few small critters creeping about, suspiciously few, to be honest, I don't think they know I'm here already, but I don't want to get much closer.
Instead, I creep around the perimeter long enough to establish that this isn't some tiny guard post but rather a more substantial fort-like structure. I can see a rampart, a gate, narrow windows for the firing out of. What I don't see is any people hanging around, but to be honest, I don't need to. I've seen enough!
Time to hightail it out of here! Stealthily…
I turn and sneak my way back to my waiting pets. Tiny is asleep and Crinis is quite anxious. Typical.
[We have an issue guys.]
[What is it, Master?]
[The way forward is guarded by a big ass fort.]
[One we won't attack you abs for brains!]
[How we will proceed then?]
[We will do as any good ant should! Prepare the digging formation!]
What else would an ant do? All problems can be solved through the power of digging! The tunnel won't even have to be that long. A couple of hundred metres and I should be able to pop out past the fort and home free to the second strata! Gweheheh.
The deep calm of ant zen washes over me as my face hands get busy in the soil and rock. With my tunnel map, it's trivial to angle our little tunnel to curve so that it will meet up with the main passage past the fort. Post evolution, all that extra power I have goes a long way to speeding up the digging process. My mandibles dig huge grooves out of the dirt, crushing rock with ease and making rapid progress. Tiny and Crinis take up position behind me and haul the dirt out. Tiny with his massive ape hands and Crinis with her hundreds of tentacles are able to scoop and shove the loose material behind us at a rapid pace.
At this speed we'll be through in less than a day! Muahahahaha! Stupid fort! Did you really think you could stop me?