"If you believe your entire world is a prison, is it wrong to try and break it?"
Question posed by Orisan'shan. Founder of the Closed Circle Society at the Academy of Stone Soul.
After chatting for a little while, I bid farewell to the Queens and let them get back to their important work, namely eating and producing brood. In one month, the colony will have over ten thousand individuals. I've no idea how they're going to manage the education program now that the wave is subsiding, but I'm sure that the council will be able to work something out. Getting literally thousands of monsters to form a core, level up to tier three and get enough Biomass to mutate is going to be a logistical nightmare. Especially now that the farms are not going to be effective.
Wait a second! A flash of understanding hits me and I dash back toward the Queen.
"The Aphid Queen? Where is she?"
Surprise showing in the twitch of her antennae, the Queen turns back to face me.
"My pet? She's down here, producing young aphid. Where did you think she was?"
Excitement thrills through me.
"So it's started then? The aphid project? Are there any in the expanse?"
"I think the first of the aphid went out yesterday. The soldiers and scouts have been hard at work in the expanse getting it ready. Wills, Advant and Sloan have been down here since yesterday. Didn't you know?"
"Uh… I've been busy."
The Queen's antennae begin to vibrate, as if she sensed my lie and is preparing a thwack. I need to clear off!
"I'll go check it out! Thanks-bye!"
And we're outta there! Practically sprinting, I blow past some confused looking Brood Tenders and out into the Dungeon tunnels. From there it's a short hop over to the expanse proper and the ant presence here is immediate.
Soldiers and scouts are in position around the entrance, climbing over the mounds of damp earth and clinging to the trees. There are literally hundreds of them here, and a steady column of Biomass is being hauled out and taken to the Queens in a steady column.
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Holy moly! I blinked and the colony moved into the expanse in a flash! Faced with hundreds of cooperative monsters, it appears as if the monsters of the expanse had little choice but to roll over and accept their fate.
"Eldest? I didn't expect to see you here," Advant's scent reaches me.
I turn to face the much smaller soldier approaching from the nearby column.
"Hey there Advant. How goes the expanse takeover?"
"Smoothly! We managed to exterminate the old aphid population pretty easily. The new aphids are being tended to now and they started producing Biomass just a few hours ago. Want to have a look?"
My glee knows no bounds as I follow Advant into the depths of the marsh, helping to pulverise monsters along the way. It doesn't take long before I'm able to witness a tender sight that I'd only seen in documentaries before. High in the branches of the largest, mana infused trees, tiny aphids cling to the thinner branches, extracting whatever sweet tree juice they need to survive. All the while a team of ants watch over them, checking the aphids for problems and shifting them about periodically to ensure they're getting the most efficient meal. As I watch the ants begin to prod the little bugs with their antennae and the aphids happily offer up Biomass for their defenders.
"How many aphid do we have so far?" I ask my guide.
"Roughly thirty. The Aphid Queen only started producing young recently, but the population should rapidly expand. We think we should have over a thousand in a week."
Makes sense. The aphid, despite their cuteness, are very simple and weak monsters. The only complex thing about them is their capacity to offer Biomass nectar from their business district. No weapons, no armour, no advanced senses. They are helpless without the ants watching over them. Which means, egg laying wise, they are cheap as chips to produce. The Aphid Queen could knock out a couple thousand a week, given enough food.
It's wonderful to see the system coming together!
"This is good stuff Advant. This might help the colony pick up the shortfall in Biomass now that the wave has receded."
"Just as you predicted, Eldest."
With that casual expression of confidence in my non-existent foresight, the ant claps me on the side with one antenna and then wanders off to see to her many duties. Which leaves Tiny, Crinis and myself in the middle of the marsh expanse, left to our own devices.
Not willing to put it off any more, I let Crinis and Tiny cut loose to rustle up some experience whilst I try and deal with something I've been putting off for some time: my status.
I might have four brains but I just can't handle the numbers dammit! Since the fight with Garralosh, I got a heap of levels, a heap of skill levels, a ton of Biomass and with all my new glands, there is a metric ton of mutations I need to do. Perhaps the fear of the itch is what did it, or perhaps the fight with Garralosh just left a bad taste in my mouth. Regardless, the time is now!
Right now my status looks like this:
Level: 14 (Rare Core) (V)
Expert Excavation (III) Level 5; Advanced Grip (II) Level 8; Advanced Stealth (II) Level 9; Tunnel Map (II) Level 6; Iron Mind (IV) Level 2; Expert Stamina (III) Level 7; Profound Meditation (III) Level 12; Flicker Dash (III) Level 5;
Mana Transformation (III) Level 15; Condensed Mana (III) Level 9; Finer External Mana Manipulation (III) Level 8; Mana Coveter (III) Level 2; Expert Water Magic Affinity (III) Level 3; Enhanced Mind Magic Affinity (II) Level 9; Empowered Mana Sensing (II) Level 9;
Distant Pet Communication (II) Level 5; Core Surgery (III) Level 6; Pet Growth Speed (I) Level 1;
Expert Exo-Skeleton Defence (III) Level 16;
Deadly Acid Shot (III) Level 8; Advanced Precise Shooting (II) Level 9; Omen Chomp (IV) Level 3;
Perimeter Eyes +15, Future Sight Infrared Antennae +15;
True Diamond Carapace +15, Supportive Inner Carapace Plating +15;
Rapid Absorption Legs +15, Empowered Mandibles +15, Regrowth Regeneration Gland +15, Loquacious Pheromone Gland +15, Discerning Stomach +5, Musculature, Sub-Neural Network;
Mana Binding Acid +15, Acid Nozzle, Acid Concentration Gland, Acid Stimulation Gland;
Adaptable Coordination Cortex +15;
Bottomless Gravity Magic Gland +15, Collective Will Vestibule +3;
Species: Juvenile Colony Paragon (Formica Sapiens)
Skill points: 20
I upgraded Cerebral Endurance to Iron Mind and gained a bunch of levels in a heap of skills. What's really gonna take my time is the Biomass expenditure. After ONE feast of Garralosh I gained over four hundred and fifty points. It's nonsense is what it is. Just how many mutations did that old monster had? Mind you… just how Biomass rich am I becoming? I'd rather not think on that actually.
May as well get started with it then. We've moved a little distance away from the ants, and my loyal pets can shield me from prying eyes.
Bring on the menu!
I'll start with my new acid network.
[Do you wish to improve Acid Nozzle to +5? This will cost 15 Biomass]
[At this level you may choose a mutation advancement, select from the menu]
Once again the vast list of possible mutations unfolds within my mind. What a pain. Even for something as simple as the acid nozzle, there's still this many options?! Let's see here. Focused acid nozzle? Reduces range but increases the force of the acid spray. Hose acid nozzle? Instead of firing in bursts it turns into a hose like attack. Hmmm. Flexible acid nozzle, increases the flexibility to improve firing angle even further. I mean, that's what I originally purchased the nozzle for, but I'm satisfied with the result so far. I think I'll focus in a different direction.
After much musing I decide to go with the Pressurised Acid Nozzle. This option improves the range and reduces the spread of the acid fired, meaning I deliver my product with more precision across more distance. This is something I can only endorse.
The Concentration Gland. This organ serves the purpose of thickening and increasing the potency of the acid within the acid gland it's attached to. I wonder what sort of options I'll get here?
[Do you wish to improve Acid Concentration Gland to +5? This will cost 15 Biomass]
[At this level you may choose a mutation advancement, select from the menu]
Alright then. The list has hundreds of options, many of them what I expected. You can use the concentration gland to add extra effects to the acid, elemental damage, longer lasting, more acidic. It seems as if the concentration gland makes a nice pairing with the acid gland as you can spread your bonuses or further reinforce them with this organ. There isn't anything that's too wild here, although the 'solidifying acid' one is weird. Turn the acid solid? Why?! Perhaps it would make sense in a monster built a little differently than I am, I certainly wouldn't want to be delivering that product.
In the end I select the Potent Acid Concentration Gland +5. This will improve the ability of the concentration gland to perform its role, making the sticky and mana eating effects of my acid more powerful, without doing much for the damage caused by my acid.
Lock it in and keep going… only 433 Biomass to go. Ugh.