Chrysalis - Chapter 610

Published at 20th of October 2020 06:35:16 AM

Chapter 610: The fire and steel
When he'd rounded the corner and seen the swarm of insects bear his daughter to the ground, Titus had felt the mana in his blood ignite with rage. When they'd fled, and the ape monster had brought down the tunnel, burying his legionaries, burying Morrelia in tons of stone, it wasn't fire, but ice that filled his veins.

The roar of fury that escaped tore from the commander was only defeated by the roar of the planet itself as the tunnel collapsed. Without a pause, Titus dropped his axe to the floor and charged forward, tearing into the rock with his bare hands. The axe, warm and ready for the blood of battle, began to cool, disappointment flooding its fiery soul. Next time, it promised itself.

The other members of the commander's personal guard, along with the Legionaries following behind, rushed forward to assist. Titus saw none of it, heard none of it. All he saw was his daughter vanishing beneath the rubble. His muscles screamed and the metal of his Legionary armour groaned as he reached out with his armoured hands to pull away tons of rock at a time. He worked with such concentrated fury that the others were forced to step away, lest they be crushed by a stray boulder.

Titus worked as if possessed, without fatiguing in the slightest. When he uncovered a red armoured foot, he redoubled his efforts, moving even faster when earth magic specialists arrived to assist. Morrelia was unconscious, her helmet half-jammed back onto her head, protecting her just enough. Even so, blood ran from her nose as Titus hauled her from the rubble and into the waiting arm of the medics.

There was nothing more he could do for her, so Titus turned back to retrieve the rest of his Legion.

"Tunnel collapse, nasty business," Alberton muttered.

Titus didn't reply. The two men sat outside a hastily erected med-post, waiting for word that Morrelia had awoken. It had taken several hours to clear the tunnel completely. No sign of enemy casualties was found, not even ichor. There was evidence that they had dug themselves free, along with residual traces of earth mana, healing mana and another, unknown mana source. That last one was causing a great deal of muttering amongst the mages.

"I'm sure she'll be fine, Titus," Alberton tried to comfort his friend.

Titus wasn't listening.

"Have you ever read of an ant-type monster cultivating pets?" Titus asked, his brow furrowed and eyes distant.

The Loremaster looked at his old friend as if he were on stimulants.

"No? I don't even need to reference the records to check that. No known pattern of ant behaviour includes pet rearing. It's just not how they operate."

Titus' eyes flickered as he put himself back in that moment, running down the tunnel, axe in hand. Morrelia had been attacked in front of him, but past them were others, an ape, a shadow being and a large ant.

"I'm confident in what I saw," Titus said, "a large ant, probably tier five, with two, possibly more pets, each tier four or five."

Alberton stared for a moment, frozen in shock.

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"Tier five? An ant-type?" he muttered, "but that's… absurd! How would one ant accrue the kind of resources to evolve that far, and so quickly?"

"Don't forget the pets," Titus said, his voice low and intense.

"Yes, yes. The pets also. That's a staggering amount of cores… It just doesn't make sense. The Biomass necessary would allow for hundreds of individual ants… Let me think now. Have any known species recorded a non-insect resource expenditure…"

The wizened old legionary continued to think out loud, half-finished sentences referencing the dozens of books on ant-type monster morphology he'd studied over the last month. It mattered little to Titus, he had what he wanted.

The very first encounter they'd had with this infestation, and it already showed multiple paths of divergence from known Dungeon patterns. That gave him pause. It was known for thousands of years that the Dungeon didn't make wholesale changes to successful, recorded species. Slight changes, occurring over hundreds of years, was the normal, expected sequence. Whatever this was, it wasn't normal.

With a loud crash that startled the loremaster from his thoughts, Titus brought his mailed fist down on his armoured knee and stood. This action signalled strategists, advisors and centurions that had been lurking nearby to rush toward him, babbling for attention. He silenced all of them with a glare.

"I want our position fortified right here," he ordered, "get the medicus in place as a priority. I want logistics established within six hours and bridge-link in ten. Provisional gate can be erected one kilometre down tunnel."

As he spoke, people peeled off from the small crowd around him, sprinting to pass on orders.

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"I need geomancers and Dungeon seers in every scout group and want those scouts out yesterday. We've had contact with the target colony, any move upwards from here might take us into contact, I want all squads to act accordingly."

He turned and spoke to Aurillia, waiting to one side.

"Once we have contact I want you to liaison with the Golgari representative as soon as you can. They aren't telling us something and I want to know what it is before it gets some of my legionaries killed."

His loyal tribune nodded and ran off to prepare for the chicanery that was likely to come. Titus hated politics, but he especially hated it when his supposed allies were withholding information. He continued to dole out instructions until the crowd of centurions, legates and tribunes had scattered, leaving him with Alberton standing outside Morrelia's med tent.

The loremaster looked his commander in the eye, his face grave.

"It's an abomination, Titus, has to be."

"A reincarnator? You're sure?" Titus questioned, no judgement in his voice.

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"I can't think of anything else it could be," his friend nodded, "nothing else makes sense. From what you've said, it was too intelligent, employed too much magic, and operated in ways that ant monsters just don't."

"And it's hanging around its colony," Titus mused.

Alberton leaned closer.

"This could get bad, commander. If it's a normal abomination, then it'll go blood crazy before too long, we have enough to deal with it. But if it works together with its colony…"

"Could be a force multiplier," Titus sounded grim.

"Exactly. The last thing we need is an ant colony with some sort of sapient leadership. Every time the Legion has engaged that sort of threat, we've needed to go full deployment."

"Resources are stretched thin, that might be hard to do."

"They'll do it, Titus. Trust me."

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