Chapter 1350

When our home mountain comes into view, I feel an upswell of emotion, stronger than I expected. We’ve been gone for a little over a month, and it’s wonderful to see the end of the journey come into sight.
Soon, I get the same feeling from all the other ants, locked away in the holds of the ships. They don’t particularly care about being packed into cramped conditions, but they are ready to be out and back amongst the family again, getting some work done.
As we draw closer, the energy flowing into my Vestibule goes from a relative trickle to a flood, as tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands of ants come into range. Holy heck! I’d almost forgotten what it felt like. All of a sudden, I’m overflowing with energy and feel like I could take on the world.
As the fleet continues on the final stretch of the journey, it’s clear to see the family has been hard at work on the mountain. Carving, reinforcing, building, sculpting. There’s more shape and definition to the fortress. The walls look taller, stronger, and I can see even from here that they’ve been significantly upgraded. There’s even been development on the shoreline. A large dock area is under construction, and there’s the beginnings of a settlement. Perhaps that’s where they intend to run our Dungeon Delving operation?
As long as the centipedes are being exterminated, I’m happy.
Before long, Eran Thouris comes onto the deck, a smile on her face and the light gleaming off her purple scales.
[Looking forward to being home?] I ask her.
[Of course. I’m looking forward to seeing how much my husband has made while I was away.]
I don’t know why I would think she was hoping for anything other than money.
[Would he really have been that busy making profits? We were away for one month.]
[Don’t underestimate Satrap Umizan,] she said firmly, a twinkle in her eye. [I might be the chief negotiator for the Conglomerate, but he’s the Satrap for a reason.]
[Speaking of sweet, sweet wealth. When can we expect our first delivery of cores?]
The thought of paying out wealth doesn’t seem to sit as nicely, wiping the smile from her face.
[It will take a little time to see what sort of impact your confrontation with the Phoenix will have on our enterprise. But I’m hoping it won’t be too detrimental. I would like to make our first payment in another month.]
We’ve discussed what happened a few times, but only in circular terms. She’s not happy I did what I did, putting so much at risk, but eventually she was able to appreciate that I was never going to be able to do anything else. Ultimately, it was more productive to just not talk about it.
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Soon, we’re close enough that I think I might be able to reach out to the gang.
[Hey, Tiny. Can you hear me, bud?]
Dead silence for a moment, but that might just mean he’s asleep.
[Tiny? Tiny!]
[Huh? Loud.]
[Hey! It’s nice to hear your voice, buddy! Did you miss me?]
[… Maybe.]
[Awwww, I missed you too! How is everyone?]
[And how are you?]
Getting words out of this ape can be infuriating sometimes. He’s never been all that talkative, but I was hoping his increased mental stats would push the word count up at least a little.
[And how was your evolution? Did it work out well?]
[Very good,] I can practically hear his wide, bat-faced grin. [Tiny is strong! Much stronger than before!]
So now he wants to talk. Figures. I do need to ask about something else that’s been on my mind.
[And how is Crinis? Is she… alright?]
A moment of silence.
[Uh. She is fine.]
What? The tone of his voice is a little weird. He sounds mildly confused.
[Are you alright there, buddy?]
[Yes. Fine.]
[And Crinis?]
Again, a pause.
[She is fine… and not mad.]
Wait a second.
[Tiny, is Crinis telling you what to say?]
Another pause.
She totally is! She’s getting Tiny to lie for her? Just how furious is she?!
Tentatively, I reach out to Crinis directly.
[H-hey there, Crinis. How… how are you? Wake up from your evolution alright?]
[I’m totally fine, Master. I awoke without any issues. I’m looking forward to seeing
you again! How far away are you?]
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The words sound perfectly
reasonable. Friendly, calm, in control.
All of the things one one would expect
when seeing a close friend after a
period of absence. However, there is an undercurrent, a simmering,
smouldering intensity that is… frightening. The content is on! Read the latest chapter there!
[Not… not that far now.]
Maybe I should turn the ship around.
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[Look, I didn’t think I’d be gone this long, you know? Thought it would just be a quick jaunt to help out the family while you guys were asleep.] The content is on! Read the latest chapter there!
[Of course, Master. It was clearly the right decision.] Gah! The more she agrees with me, the more terrifying it sounds!
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[And I didn’t know anything violent
was going to happen. I didn’t even start it! But thanks to the phoenix, I was only mostly dead, and not fully dead!] The content is on! Read the latest chapter there!
Wait, I should have kept quiet about that bit. Dammit! There is a distinct silence
for a few beats.
[How far away did you say you were, Master?]
[I order you not to attack me!] I screech, huddling down on the deck of the ship.
She sounds so scary!
[… I wasn’t going to attack you, Master. Why would you say such a thing?]
The more she talks, the worse it gets.
[I order you not to tie me up in shadow threads within your secret lair and keep
me there forever!]
You were actually going to do that?!

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