Chapter 891: Calculating Greatness (1002)
Fanatics aside, there's plenty of stuff going on and not much time in which to get it done. With so many ants furiously working, I decide the best place for me is out of the way on the surface.
Well, I say surface, obviously I'm not climbing all the way out of the Dungeon. I head up until I break through and find myself sitting under the shade of the enormous Mother Tree, her branches and canopy spread out above me.
The fourth stratum really is a beautiful place to be. The mountain islands that rise up out of the crystal blue waters tower impossibly high. In between, the floating islands, with their endless waterfalls, drift amongst the clouds. Clouds… this far underground…
It's a bit nuts.
Truly, the power of mana makes anything possible. These impossible mountains, with their crags and cliffs, their forest-covered slopes with rivers and valleys. From who knows how deep to touching the roof of the stratum kilometres overhead, each one is absolutely titanic. And there must be thousands of them.
I can only see a few from where I stand, but I assume that they go all the way around the world. The size of the place is just ridiculous. The fact that the Mother Tree managed to take over a mountain for herself, basically consuming it, is utterly absurd. A feat that the Colony will soon have to replicate.
Our first priority on this stratum will be to establish our own nest, which means we'll need to conquer a mountain for ourselves! One that we can shape as we please, and fortify until it becomes an impregnable fortress of doom.
Luckily, I have a mountain in mind, and it isn't far away.
The termite nest will soon be available. Free real estate, as it were. We'll have the added benefit of living directly under the branches of the Mother Tree, cementing our alliance yet further. We don't actually know how this area is oriented with the rest of our territory, which isn't a huge issue, but it's nice to have all of our land vertically integrated.
Once we have our own functioning gates, it won't matter, all of our land will be one hop away from all the rest of it!
Speaking of gates… I wonder how Brilliant is getting on with it all? She's obviously made great strides in her knowledge of dimensional magic. I don't yet know if she has the specific Skill for it, but I'm super impressed with her ability to sniff out the secrets that have so far evaded us. There's been a team of the finest ant mages trying to puzzle out how gates work for months, but the little champion has made more progress in a matter of weeks!
Good to know my naming sense hasn't weakened. I was worried she'd let me down there for a bit, but she came through in the end!
She should be back here soon enough, I'll catch up with her when she returns. Which reminds me, I really should check in on Sarah. I hope she isn't taking the fate of Jim too badly. It really wasn't her fault, and was totally out of her control, but it wouldn't surprise me if she was beating herself up over it. She's too kind to not try and divert blame from others and onto herself.
I think there's some movement beneath me. A quick dip into the Vestibule reveals that there is indeed a lot going on down there. Plans are being laid, hospitals built, for ants and for humans, strategy hammered out. The scouts are having the worst of it. A wide scale skirmish is taking place as the ants push out into termite territory and start collapsing tunnels.
I can feel them now. Earth mages are straining to break apart the stone in a series of controlled collapses while scouts cover them with long-range fire. The scene is repeated in dozens of tunnels as the Colony seeks to enact this strategy before the termites, or more importantly, the ka'armodo, can react.
I try to keep tabs on the fighting beneath the ground for a while before a familiar face pops up not far away.
"Cobalt? What are you doing up here?"
The little carver sees me relax- I mean, working hard here and skitters over to say hello.
"Eldest, nice to see you contributing…"
"Watch yourself… I can put you back into training at any time I like."
"… contributing with such diligence and vigour."
I remember the twenty when they were just grubs. How dare they get so uppity with me! It's not like I didn't nearly get myself killed trying to save the situation down here.
"What's the story? Anything need building up here?" I ask her.
"Well, you did want us to magic up a gigantic bridge out of nothing didn't you?" Cobalt responds.
"Right. So I need to get measurements for the width and height so I can get an accurate estimate of the volume of stone required. Once I have that, I can work out roughly how much mana will be needed, which will tell us how many mages have to take part."
"You can calculate how much mana is needed?"
That sounds… different.
She flicks her antennae dismissively, already looking out over the wide waters between us and the distant shore of the termite mountain.
"It's not that complicated. We know how much mana is required to create a cubic metre of stone, so if we can estimate the stone required, we can make the calculation."
"It's that simple?"
She clacks her mandibles.
"Well, no. Of course not. There are a number of factors involved that influence the result. Higher rank stone magic obviously results in a more efficient mana-to-stone ratio. Distance from the caster is another important factor, the further away, the more mana required. Not sure exactly why. Ambient mana has an impact, local affinity has a strong effect, proximity to other stone. That's an interesting one, actually. Creating new stone near older rock is much easier, but making it near newer rock, like something we conjured, doesn't have much of an impact. Other elements are important too, for example, creating stone and soil near water is more expensive."
"Sounds, actually very complicated."
"It's not that bad.…"
She already sounds distracted, calculating away in her head, which is impressive as hell. A few moments later, she clacks her mandibles again and starts to turn around.
"Alright, that's done."
"It's just an estimate, I'm not being super precise. In terms of standard deviation -"
"Nope. Stop talking."
"I knew you'd all be smarter than I am, I just didn't expect the difference to be this wide, this quickly."
"Don't feel too bad about it, Eldest. We just want to make sure you can focus on the things you want to focus on."
"How long do you think it'll be until the attack is ready to start? I'm struggling to contain myself up here."
"You and most of the ants down there," she laughs. "Don't worry. In an hour, we'll be ready to go."