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It was not usually the job of a great queen to find her own passage, but the portents had been clear. At least, clear enough. There had been no guarantee that the new being, the strange creature so full of energy, would bring any change. Yet it had also been very clear that, no matter how great of a queen one was, there were always greater. Well established ones, who controlled all the local colonies and would happily destroy any others who tried to set up too close, whether or not they were her own daughters.
But the great queen didn’t leave because she was afraid. That would have been undignified. No, she was instead going on an adventure. An adventure that mostly involved rolling around in a pile of food for a while. That was one good thing about the large ones with the energy, they were very good at gathering food. Then again, they would need it. Each one was massive, the weight of several fledgling colonies put together!
An impossible opponent to fight, yet they would likewise find the great queen and her armies impossible to snuff out. Or perhaps impossible would be going too far. Very difficult, then, despite the fact that they would be unable to crush them with energy. But even the scrawniest of that kind was many orders of magnitude larger than any proper ant. But that was as things should be. A colony with every member the size of any of the larger creatures would inevitably swarm the countryside, devouring everything in its path… until there was nothing left to devour. Then they would perish.
Such was the fate of many foolish ants who had come before, oversized or not. They didn’t think about the long term, didn’t consider restraint, didn’t plan for lean times. In fact, most ants didn’t think at all. An unfortunate defect, but the great queen did not share that flaw. While most of her brood would doubtless be without thought as well, she would still provide proper leadership for them. And that meant only consuming what was necessary.
At the time she’d snuck into the bag, that amount had been all the food in sight. However, they left behind the seeds. No doubt they would be scattered about to grow more in the future. Building up a new colony would be difficult, and without a proper stomach full of food and another one or two full of energy, how was a great queen to produce sufficient offspring to compete with other, lesser creatures in the area? She had only a few soldiers and workers, with just enough mates to last for a season.
To arrive in a barren land nearly devoid of energy was a great blow to the colony. Yet in a way, it could be considered a boon. While consuming energy would allow the colony to grow quick and strong, they would need sufficient numbers before they could compete with anything beyond the standard level. A long-tongued devourer-of-ants could devastate a colony with insufficient soldiers to drive it away, no matter how much better the great queen’s colony might be than their lesser ilk. The sheer difference in size meant that they could only bite and worry at the weakest parts of any large creature.
At least, until they grew strong. While lesser ants might live weeks or months, some up to a year, the colony of a great queen was much more robust. Even the least of the workers could live for many years, and a great queen shared a lifespan rivaling those with great energy, the humans. At least, that was the information that had been passed down through the generations from queen to queen. Humans had not been seen in many ages. Until just a few days prior. It was a portent of great change, and instead of resisting it, going along with the change had seemed like the most reasonable option.
Given how the colony was shaping up in the last few weeks, it seemed correct. Their numbers swelled from a mere handful to hundreds, and soon enough they would number in the thousands. Then they could do more than simply scavenge. They could hunt the many-legged transformers or perhaps if they were ambitious a sticky-footed leaper. Though simply finding a path to a berry bush or a pile of acorns beneath a large oak would likewise be sufficient to grow their food intake.
More extreme tactics would have to wait. While they might bridge a large gap with their bodies, they first needed sufficient numbers, and sufficient need. Sending workers on three day scouting trips to find a morsel of food when many lay within easy reach was a sign of mismanaged colonies. While foolish ants would assume the first food they found was the best source, those who were more sophisticated could be more efficient. Even the workers who had little thoughts of their own had a sense of time and distance.
Any stockpile of food could be vetted by whatever more intelligent scouts arose in the coming batches. Though it took quite a bit of food to produce exceptional brood, the food to maintain their survival afterwards was nowhere near as extreme- more than made up for by their increased capacities as each could guide a thousand or more of their less potent brethren.
But things must be taken step by step. The eventual goal of world domination, where ants would scavenge every scrap left behind by humans and beasts, would have to come slowly. So slowly that the humans wouldn’t even realize that everything they didn’t consume was snatched away. They would be left in shock and confusion as each and every crumb they left behind was consumed by one of the great queen’s descendants, never to be seen again! And each worker would be strong, swift, stealthy, and smart.
Yet there were impediments to the plan. The humans and large beasts were too lofty to notice the ants, and none were the horrible monsters that fed on their kind almost exclusively. But there was competition nearby. Other ants, other crawling insects who wanted to feed on the same scraps. But they would have none of it! Or at least, not that much. The many legged transformers were actually quite tasty, and it saved them the trouble of digesting so many leaves themselves. But everything that got in their way would perish! Or walk and/or fly away! So it was decreed!
A wave of motion set through the small colony of ants as their queen was excited for… some reason that most of them couldn’t understand. But excitement seemed to be a good thing, so they relished it.
When talking about it academically, Catarina understood that moss that could grow into the shape of a formation and in fact be a formation might be dangerous. After all, formations were dangerous. But when she actually had to keep it contained, Catarina became frustrated and confused.
The former because it limited her ability to study it. The latter because she didn’t know how to contain it. If she used a formation to keep it in line, it might grow in such a way as to accidentally disrupt that formation. Natural formations could grow out of plants, but this particular moss was much more potent than most plants, and the effects more significant.
“Just keep it in a covered pit,” suggested Elder Rana. “Until we determine how it spreads and what it can grow on, keeping it contained is the priority. Spores won’t so easily swirl up and out of a pit, and even if we were to replicate a similar shape with a constructed room any doors leading in would upset the motion of the air. So it goes in a pit.”
“That makes sense,” Catarina acknowledged. It wasn’t really a surprise that someone older and more practiced than her thought of simple solutions, but it was so simple she should have thought of it herself. Containing something that had unknown interactions within a formation would be dangerous, but if it otherwise functioned like a normal plant then it could be kept somewhere on its own without too much worry. “I suppose we should still have a large formation to contain it if it does spread, but not close enough for it to mess with it.”
“Agreed,” Elder Rana said. “There are places set aside for such things. And it may not be a problem. You said it was growing on stone, laid out in the same patterns as the moss. It might simply fill whatever area it is in, which will not result in formations accidentally. But… we must be certain of that before placing it wherever we feel like.”
Catarina sighed. “Grandpa Anton has it so easy. All his plants are easy to take care of.”
“And yet they are still well contained. I’m sure they require constant care as well, to grow in a new environment.”
“It seems like it will take some time,” Catarina replied. “Shrubs and trees aren’t like tubers that grow fully in a single season.”
“There are benefits and drawbacks to all sorts of plants,” Elder Rana commented. “Some things are only good for stuffing oneself full of energy, while other things have special medicinal properties. And everything from that place seems to be a bit special. I wish I had gone myself.”
“Some people had to stay and keep the Order together,” Catarina pointed out. What she didn’t mention was that Elder Rana, while quite skilled in formations, had long ago reached her limits in cultivation and thus didn’t need to learn about ascension. Though perhaps going might have actually brought her past the midpoint of Constellation Formation… or it could have reminded her of her failures. “I have the feeling there will be more trouble coming in the future.”
“Things have been quiet for weeks,” Elder Rana said as she began to actually start digging that pit. “This pleasant downtime might continue for months or more… but I wouldn’t bet on much longer than that. Not now, and not I imagine not until the end of whatever is coming.”
“That’s just life though,” Catarina pointed out. “Times of good and times of bad. You have to take them as they come, according to Grandpa. We just have to try to encourage the former.”
It took a month for Majken to actually get in contact with someone who knew what they were doing, who had a connection to the Twin Soul Sect on a larger level. While they’d taken large losses recently, they were spread out across the continent and even to the others. Getting help from afar was unlikely, but there were apparently a significant amount of them still around. Allies, too.
Majken was fortunate to be one of the few left in a major sect. Since their ultimate goal was to disrupt them as much as possible, that meant she still had a chance to pull things off. All she had to do was not screw things up and reveal herself.
So she went out on missions occasionally, and she trained, and she talked with others. It wouldn’t do to be antisocial, to stay withdrawn from the others like Emma Strand had. That had always been Majken’s opinion, and the fact that she was free of suspicion justified that to her. She might not have been close to anyone, but many people had known her for decades and fought alongside her.
Majken might have appeared rather weak to them, but that was simply because she had to hide her true cultivation style. While she could mimic the feeling of the Ninety-Nine Stars, she couldn’t truly practice two different core cultivation techniques. She still had to know it inside and out, in case people asked questions she should know at her level, but she never really felt it.
She almost wished that she could actually practice it. Apparently, it was rather pleasant most of the time. A nice warmth, a feeling of growth. Not a consuming darkness that was constantly trying to pull her under. The power behind it was nice, and Majken only almost wanted something different. But the Twin Soul Sect’s power would be sufficient to allow her to gain significant merits with her current position, merits that she had to believe she would receive in her next life. And maybe then she could practice the Ninety-Nine Stars, away from all the stuck up old men that were concerned about how the power was used instead of just relishing in it.
Power was power, and those who didn’t have it didn’t have a right to complain. Unfortunately that also meant Majken herself, if she screwed up and got herself killed too early. She needed to find something. A weakness. A simple hole in a formation wouldn’t be enough, and she didn’t have the skills for that regardless.
But maybe another excursion, or something that would distract some or all of the Grand Elders and the other most powerful members. If she could find such an opening and take advantage of it with the others… she’d certainly be on the fast track to an easy reincarnation. Preferably somewhere with a higher energy density and abundant resources, and she didn’t much care if those resources were taken from everyone around her.