Chapter 893 - Darkness Eternal
Leeroy was tired. Not just in a physical sense, because she was definitely drained from long days without rest and filled with hard labour, but more than that she belt a weariness that echoed deep within her very soul. Not even the harsh words of the Eldest had been enough to shake this lethargy and sense of aimlessness from her and her fellow tier six sisters.
If only she'd been more careful and read the evolution description more carefully!
If only any of them had done that!
The fact she and her sisters were similarly bound to the same fate made it so much worse than if she were the only one, for she felt responsible, that she herself had led them down this path which inevitably led to this end. What's more, the Eldest had specifically banned her from informing her younger sisters, who even now were battling and struggling to evolve to reach this tier, of their disastrous fate.
All these issues combined to infect the aptly named 'Immortals' with a dreary malaise that many within the Colony despaired of being able to cure. Complying with the orders of the Eldest, the highly evolved shock troops managed to rouse themselves enough that they were able to throw themselves into work, hauling stone, tearing down existing structures and doing all the heavy lifting the build crews could throw at them for days on end, working without rest.
Leeroy finished dragging a huge chunk of stone to the base of the pillar on which Roklu stood and looked up at the mighty work the Colony was engaged in.
She wasn't sure when, but the carvers had discovered a new type of stone, one immensely resistant to heat that seemed to also have a sort of regenerative property. With further exposure to the conditions in the third stratum, the builders had learned much, including how the scorching, ash infused atmosphere degraded almost every material that it touched. The existing demon structures however, appeared to be immune to this weathering damage.
This led to the discovery of the new mineral, quickly followed by a frenzied mission to find and process the stone. In typical ant fashion, this was achieved quickly by applying thousands of highly motivated individuals to the task until not only was a significant deposit located, but mining and refining had taken place over just a few days. Now thousands of tons of material are in the process of being hauled across the plains to construct a massive ant hill, a construction the likes of which the third stratum may have never seen before.
Reaching from the ground all the way to the plate a kilometre above, this hill would become the base of operations for the Colony in this layer of the Dungeon, a massive fortress that would occupy many millions of cubic metres, rivalling the size of the main nest itself. At the moment the carvers where busy preparing the foundation and although progress was slow since the number of build teams on this level of the Dungeon had greatly diminished over the previous two weeks, already the scale of the project was coming into sight. The footprint of the hill to come was staggering, almost a kilometre square. It likely wouldn't be finished for months, perhaps longer, even if the Colony decided to commit tens of thousands of workers to the project.
Despite the ambition and effort on display, Leeroy struggled to find the joy and pride that she knew should be there inside her carapace. Instead, there was hollow sensation that had only grown since she had lost her direction, her purpose in life. All of the Immortals around her felt the same.
"Leader," one of her faithful lieutenants approached her from the side, "do you plan to rest soon?"
"You shouldn't call me that anymore," Leeroy said bitterly, "after what I've led you too. This eternal… life."
"We each chose our species on our own, we each made the same mistake. You can't be blamed for that, leader."
"We will still follow you anywhere," another said, moving alongside the first speaker. "Where else would we even go?"
The emptiness of that last statement found an echo in all of them.
"No, I will continue to work until I collapse," Leeroy told the others, "I have been told to make myself useful and so I shall. The Eldest demanded that I work, not that I rest, so I will."
The others had gathered together now and they shifted uneasily as her scent reached them.
"The Eldest commanded us to rest…"
"It is the thing that we are meant to do…"
"Are you certain, leader?"
A flicker of anger was roused inside Leeroy and she turned to the Immortals.
"Are you afraid of the enforcers?" she demanded. "Even now? I have nothing to live for but life, there is no fear left in me. Besides, we are all tier six! There are hardly any who can match our strength inside the Colony, let alone amongst the enforcers!"
"Is that so?"
"Is that so?"
"Is that so?"
"Is that so?"
A hundred threads of scent reached them at once, brushing against their antennae on all sides before dancing away as if they had never been. The reaction amongst the Immortals was immediate and they turned nervously to look around themselves. Only Leeroy remained undaunted.
"I have work to do," she said and began to trudge back toward the quarry.
She'd not taken three steps before the voices returned.
"You have run out of fear…"
"No longer afraid…"
"It is respect that is lacking…"
"Whose command do you ignore…"
"This is not for the Colony…"
"For the Colony…"
Again a hundred different scents wafting from a hundred directions, a dizzying and disorienting effect that unnerved them all. Even Leeroy now felt a flicker of emotion that she shoved away violently.
"Where are you?" she demanded of the empty air. "Come out and make yourselves known!"
"We are the loyal…"
"You are the one who has failed…"
"We demand of you…"
"The Eldest commands…"
"You do not obey…"
[Eight hours is owed…]
[Eight for every day…]
[You have missed many…]
The scent seemed to come from everywhere, even from within her own mind. The Immortals were disturbed now, turning this way and that as they tried to identify the source of the words but they could see nothing, they were alone on the plains, the city still resting on its plate high above them and the same workers toiled not far away on the foundations of the hill. There were alone.
"Show yourself!" Leeroy demanded.
[You think you are above us?]
[Above the commands of the Eldest?]
[In the extreme…]
[We are here with you…]
[We are always here…]
[We have ALWAYS been here…]
Each and every one of them looked down to see that their shadows had changed, no longer was there a flickering shade cast by the intermittent light on the ground, instead, there was an endless void of darkness without end.
And inside the black there was a face, an ant face, their own face. It stared back at them with maddened glee, their own eyes twisted into merciless, pitiless orbs filled with laughter.
"Get out of my head!" Leeroy grated. "You can't take me!"
[We already did…]
Then it was gone. The plains. The builders. The foundations. All of it gone. All that remained was the darkness.
[You do not fear…]
[This we can change…]
[But first. Sleep…]
[We will wake you when your time is due…]
Leeroy felt her mind begin to slip, begin to sink. She fought against it. Struggled to remain awake.
"Who are you?" she said.
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