Comic 149 - Follow the ants

23rd Jun 2018, 9:35 PM in High Roads, Low Roads, Threeroads
Average Rating: 5 (2 votes) Rate this comic
Follow the ants
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Author Notes:

Morgenstern 23rd Jun 2018, 9:35 PM edit delete
Morgenstern
You decide to follow the ants, and see where they're headed. If they've taken one chest, they may have taken more.

The ants continue to ignore you as you wander behind them, keeping a fairly safe distance as you stalk them back to their home. You ask King Slime if she's had any interactions with pyre ants.

"I have not," she replies. "I've not seen much on this side of the bridge, nor do I suspect have the other slimes."

"I-It's... probably hard," Ranse begins, "for... slimes. To deal with ants. And mantraps. And... whatever else is, over here."

You also bring up the subject of King Slime's... er... identity. Calling herself King Slime, and wearing the crown around, might make her a target--those crowns are worth a great deal, as it turns out, and king slimes aren't a normal sight in major cities in the first place.

"I don't mind concealing the crown, if it would make things easier," King Slime replies. "I do have concerns about political assassins, eager to take me out before I can truly commence my rule."

Ranse gives you another look. You're... not sure anyone's that worried about the rise of the slime kingdom (or has even heard about it yet), but you don't want to rain on the King Slime's parade. You suggest, if she doesn't have a name in mind, going by Emerald Scholar.

"I suppose that is as good an alias as any," King Slime replies. You watch as she just sort of... absorbs her crown into herself. It disappears into the surface of her head.


You spy a couple of the ants disappearing into the ground, crawling into a large ant hill. Ranse hands burn resist concoctions to you and King Sl--er, Emerald Scholar, before drinking one herself.

Ranse keeps her voice low. "Th... there's. Somethingintheair. A... a pheromone. Or something. I think they... m-mightknowwe'vebeenfollowing."

Comments:

Krylo 23rd Jun 2018, 9:50 PM edit delete reply
Krylo
I say we explore the hill. Lots of pyre ant parts to be had, and treasures.

Pyreants haven't been TOO difficult for us so far, so we should be able to retreat if things get a little too hot to handle in this dungeon, but I'd like to give it a shot before running.
Guest 23rd Jun 2018, 9:58 PM edit delete reply
+1 also maybe emerald scholar could negotiate with queen any for political allience
Caydenite 24th Jun 2018, 3:08 AM edit delete reply
+1 to tying to enter, for either a fight or negotiations. Worst case we 'port out.
Some Random Guy 23rd Jun 2018, 9:58 PM edit delete reply
+1

Also a chance to try and give the slime some weapons, so that she may at least attempt to form an actual class.
Gandalf 24th Jun 2018, 3:05 AM edit delete reply
Gandalf
-1 to attacking. This is very different from bumping into a few ants on their own. We don't know enough about how the nest changes the situation, and we have none of our best fighters with us.

Looking again at the last picture though: windslice the last ant, grab the chest, and run?
Some Random Guy 23rd Jun 2018, 9:56 PM edit delete reply
According to the lore, Alchemists can use daggers.

I do noy expect Pyre Ants to be flammable, so switch out Ranse's Pyrespewer with one of the knives which we acquired.
Krylo 23rd Jun 2018, 10:05 PM edit delete reply
Krylo
+1

Specifically the scaling knife. Ants aren't aquatic, but I'm pretty sure it's still better than the goblin dagger.
MakePeaceAndLove 23rd Jun 2018, 10:23 PM edit delete reply
+1 to the scaling knife
Caydenite 23rd Jun 2018, 10:05 PM edit delete reply
We could give Ranse some other stuff to try making another weapon, pike the paralysis stuff, but I doubt there's time. I guess give her a knife for now.
I'd say ES is better off using aid and paralysis than weapons she isn't proficient with, but if the ants prove resistance, we could give her all the swords and tell her to flail at them.
We could attack now, or see if the rancher knows anything.
Eyebrows 23rd Jun 2018, 10:07 PM edit delete reply
Take a tentative step into the hill.
Some Random Guy 23rd Jun 2018, 10:08 PM edit delete reply
There was something that I've been wanting to try.

Emerald Scholar has paralysing juices? What if she were to put them on a dagger, like the Baptize Weapon combo?
MakePeaceAndLove 23rd Jun 2018, 10:25 PM edit delete reply
+1 to trying that out
RicardtheDragoon 24th Jun 2018, 12:07 AM edit delete reply
That is a really good idea. A paralyzing knife would be quite the effective surprise tactic the first time it is used (might even surprise a certain dark elf) and still quite useful after that.
That also brings to mind something else. In case we should ever run into a demon, Emerald Scholar's acid touch could be somewhat effective, according to what Ranse's dad said about the weaknesses of demons. Of course, it might be a bit too weak to provide much help.
Twyll 24th Jun 2018, 12:55 AM edit delete reply
Yes, she could even do it all ceremonially, like she's anointing the weapon!
1977 24th Jun 2018, 1:06 AM edit delete reply
Demons are weak against holy water too, baptize weapon would be more effective than poisoning it.
Acid touch should be effective against the Gargoyles.
G. Sansa 23rd Jun 2018, 10:14 PM edit delete reply
There is no way this party can take out an entire anthill on our own. There's probably at least hundreds of regular pyre ants, dozens of warrior pyre ants, and a queen. Our heaviest damage-dealer is Nast, and he runs out of mana. And we have no tank/damage sponge. Burn resist is good, but not enough in this situation.

We should either back off for now, or attempt a friendly approach, or something creative. Friendly = rum? Creative = Emerald finding some source of "baby pheremone" and disguising herself as a larva?

Let's ask Ranse if she can alchemically copy pheremones. If so, that still doesn't solve the problem, because the pheremone she smells now is "warning, enemy near" which is not helpful. But it would be an interesting possibility.

If not, then my vote is, mark this on the map and come back later. The ideal party to clear this out would be Valley, Lagrand, Ranse. And we'd get enough pyre ant parts to raise a fire chicken! Plus treasure.

And move on, passing docks and cave on way to fungus forest.

Discussion topics as we go: arrows? Dramatic productions (either PG or R... as Emerald and Ranse prefer.)? Pheremone sources?
Caydenite 23rd Jun 2018, 10:25 PM edit delete reply
I don't know, we have yet to see how damaging KS is, and we have plentiful healing and defence buffs against their main form attacks. We also have no idea how many their are, over a hundred seems to be estimating a little high, given their size, but Nast can kill several with a single hit, and KS seems uniquely suited to fighting a bunch of weaker enemies.

There's also the possibility that combat can be entirely avoided, we might be able to get an audience with the intelligence leading them,and who knows; Maybe a PyreQueen is exactly the queen KS is looking for?
MakePeaceAndLove 23rd Jun 2018, 10:29 PM edit delete reply
Yeah if we're not ready for a tough fight it's better to mark this location and leave, let our second party handle it later.

I wouldn't even attack for that chest either - it's still gonna be there for looting when the others come, right?
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 12:57 AM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
+1
G. Sansa 23rd Jun 2018, 10:31 PM edit delete reply
Another creative idea: sprint in, grab some treasure, and "return". Use burn resist to just ignore any ants attacking us. Ranse would follow her nose and guide us to the most interesting treasure room. We'd get a picture of what it's like inside, and we'd hopefully get some treasure. Probably a couple of ants would teleport back with us but that's no problem, we could instakill them with wind slice.

But on the down side, if we don't want to "return" to ThreeBroads, that would put us back in TumbleTart.
Twyll 24th Jun 2018, 12:57 AM edit delete reply
There are plenty of creatures in nature that do use pheromone disguises to prey on ants. I wonder if pyre ants have any natural predators, of the stealth variety... If Ranse can mimic a pheromone disguise, she could potentially learn it by smelling what one of those predators puts off.
Antarean 23rd Jun 2018, 10:37 PM edit delete reply
I was going to say that if the pyre ants are taking treasure chests then it would suggest some intelligence is guiding them, but after checking the lore page again it seems they just do that sometimes. Well, maybe pyre ant queens *are* intelligent, and might possibly have Monster Crowns, and some of them might have an interest in gold and trinkets. Of course, a pyre ant queen would still want the colony to collect food, so those pyre ants still probably would have attacked us (unless they remember us somehow and know we're too tough for such a small number of them? Maybe they know us by our scent?). That sorta suggests the hive has been hijacked by an outside force, and the first person that comes to mind is the Summoner. I'm just thinking out loud of course, but she's the only one I can think of that might be able to do something like that, and we haven't seen pyre ants exhibiting this behaviour until after she left the Slime Cave.

Actually, I just realized: Ranse's Pyrespewer is made from pyre ant parts, so maybe they're ignoring us because we already smell like one of them. If that's the case, it invalidates a lot of what I just said.

Well, anyway, talk it over with Emerald and Ranse, but I think we should slowly and carefully walk into the ant tunnel, being ready to make a fast beeline out of there at the first sign of trouble, and calling out, "Hello?" so the ants (hopefully) know we're not there to start a fight; if there is an intelligence behind their actions, then that opens the door for us to use diplomacy. Unless the entrance to the ant hill is too much of a vertical drop and we wouldn't be able to exit quickly.
Eyebrows 24th Jun 2018, 5:07 AM edit delete reply
I have an idea for why the Pyre ants might steal chests: an archmage created them to steal chests.
TGWMoC 23rd Jun 2018, 10:40 PM edit delete reply
TGWMoC
So, looking through the inventory, I keep seeing the Yellow Enchantery, but I have no idea what that is or where we got it. Anybody else know?
Krylo 23rd Jun 2018, 10:42 PM edit delete reply
Krylo
That's our enchanter outfit.
TGWMoC 24th Jun 2018, 3:22 AM edit delete reply
TGWMoC
Ahh, that makes sense, thanks. We got it before I started reading, so I didn't see it as new, and I was never sure what an Enchantery was.
Tentechoes 23rd Jun 2018, 10:45 PM edit delete reply
I that is Nasts' mage outfit. We brought two attires back then to have a bit of a disguise. http://nast.thecomicseries.com/comics/65/
1977 24th Jun 2018, 1:01 AM edit delete reply
A whole colony could be too much right now.
We don't know EmeraldScholar's fighting style.
Seeing that she can use Consentacles she is probably better in open spaces and an anthill is very much not open.

As for a future classdevelopment I'm still in favor of the Bard.
She could sing and don't necessarily need to use weapons.
Bard is a supportclass which could give good buffs.
Probably she can even learn the Psalm Of The Seaway Servant from Justice, seeing as it is a song.
Summoning 2 elementals at once probably results in a bigger elemental.

Even when not Bard, she should try going for a class she is comfortable with.
Gandalf 24th Jun 2018, 2:58 AM edit delete reply
Gandalf
Bard wouldn't be bad: her unique physiology combined with the performing arts is the best idea we've had yet for getting into the Entertainers' Guild.
1977 24th Jun 2018, 8:58 AM edit delete reply
On the matter of the water elemental.
I always have thought about how it would be if Justice showed all the other clerics how to summon them.
Then I thought how possibly two or more simultaneously summon one it probably results in one bigger elemental instead of several small ones.
Now imagine a dozen clerics summoning at once how big ass the elemental would be.
Ready to go demonhunting?

Now if Emy (Emerald Scholar) would be a Bard and learned to summon it as well (it's a song, every Bard should be able to learn it) and figured out to form multiple mouths to sing at once to count as multiple summonings she could get one big elemental all alone.
RicardtheDragoon 24th Jun 2018, 11:55 AM edit delete reply
One slight problem with that: mana consumption. At this point, we don't have a very clear idea of how much mana Emerald Scholar has or how much Psalm costs Justice. Thus, while multiple clerics (or parties of clerics) working together could summon one large elemental with Psalm, I do not think Emerald Scholar could do the same (without significant training[is there a wizard slime somewhere she could eat?] or quaffing a quantity of mana potions).
1977 24th Jun 2018, 12:27 PM edit delete reply
For the first try she obviously starts with only 2 mouths for a doublesummon.
Then she can begin to work her way up to more if it is indeed possible.
In the end she can have maybe 5 or 6 without exerting her mana too much.
G. Sansa 24th Jun 2018, 1:13 PM edit delete reply
If she does become a bard, we should definitely have her equip the bow. That way we'd know whether our B party could safely follow us. After all, as Delmora the Statistician will tell you, it's much easier to tell if your results are reproducible if you have an arrow bard.

(ba-dump bump tssss!)
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 1:04 AM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
I would avoid aggressive actions here. We don't know what's up with the ants. I'd say to hang back and observe for now, and see what effect that pheromone has. If it looks like they're going to attack, withdraw while keeping an eye on how many we pull out of the hive. That'll give us an idea of their behavior and numbers. After all, that's how many the hive can spare to investigate a potential threat rather than an active one.
JiggilyJoe 24th Jun 2018, 1:21 AM edit delete reply
JiggilyJoe
So maybe we should just watch for a minute. See what they do since they know we are here?
Worst case scenario we toss the bomb into the hole and if need be port back to Safety.
Szled 24th Jun 2018, 2:01 AM edit delete reply
Hmmmmm, Emerald Scholar? where have I heard thet be- oh rite! The Emerald Herald from DS2, I don't suppose she gives us an Estus Flask tho...
G. Sansa 24th Jun 2018, 7:21 AM edit delete reply
I think she's named after Crimson Scholar, another incognito monarch.
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 8:49 AM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
This. Crimson Scholar was the alias of Demon Lord, the female lead of Maouyuu Maou Yuusha. She had red hair and eyes, and wore red. The series used titles or descriptions instead of names, so when she went incognito among the humans, she called herself Crimson Scholar.

Since Slime King is a monster ruler with a gender title that doesn't match and a specific color theme, traveling abroad, who happens to love reading and who learned most of her knowledge from said books, as well as constantly referring to Nast as Hero (yuusha), not to mention she's trying to end a race war between her own people and, well, you get the idea.

Parallels all day erry day. So why not a direct reference? Hell, they even have a similar figure and a concern over getting too much "useless flab."
Zeraligator 24th Jun 2018, 4:14 AM edit delete reply
I know it´s of no real consequence but I would like to mention that ants here on earth almost exclusively communicate through scents and because of that, if these were regular ants (which they are not), the pheromones would not necessarily be a big deal. Though once again it´s a fantasy universe and these are far from normal ants.
Green Visitor 24th Jun 2018, 5:46 AM edit delete reply
Ranse gave us burn resist potions. I think she wants us to enter. Talk with Emerald Scholar, explain that the ants have usually been aggressive to us in the past, and if we enter we probably have to fight them. Describe their fire attack. If slime queen is up for it, we enter.

First, down the burn resist potion and try to steal from the ant carrying the chest.
Green Visitor 24th Jun 2018, 5:48 AM edit delete reply
I meant if Emerald Scholar is up for it we enter. My mind slipped, I was thinking about whether we should tell *Emerald Scholar* that most ants are lead by an egg laying *ant queen*.
Sonico 24th Jun 2018, 6:25 AM edit delete reply
I'm totally in favor of hit, catch that chest and run, at least for now. The Bandit Bandana might be pretty handy for that.

We can deal with the whole colony, diplomatically or not, later when we are better informed and prepared.

Also, we have Ranse and the Emerald Scholar at hand - i'm very much in favor of us experimenting with the development of the Slime Sovereign performatic skills. In a sexy way.
Lapdragon 24th Jun 2018, 8:25 AM edit delete reply
Lapdragon
If we were to attack the ant mound, the entire fight would likely be underground or at most next to the ant mound, and Valley's two specials are both earth-based - if we're going to take the ants on, I'd say that we should at least have Valley with us, and probably Inzo (as his mech is more or less pyreproof).

My vote is that the ant mound would likely make a better target for an alt-party raid by Valley, Inzo, and Justice (with her Little Blue for fire-extinguishing duty) while Nast & Co. are working on finding the gargoyle and fungi for the ass potion.

While we have Ranse in the party with us we should find out what she needs to make a chem thrower that is better against fire-based enemies like the pyre ants, as her pyrespewer is likely nearly useless against them.

I also don't think we should discount what ES is capable of "unarmed" - I think that if she got some practice with her tentacles she could put out some serious damage with minimal risk to herself. A solid hit from a 4-5 foot tentacle (especially one with a dense end) is likely to be a very effective crush attack (like from a mace), and she can probably get at least both of her "arms" involved in a fight, if not another couple tentacles also sprouted specifically for fighting with. Just think of how much of a fight the Mantrap put up with it's tentacles (it might actually be a half-decent idea to find one to fight, so that ES could get an idea of how it's done).

I think we should ambush the solo ant and then book it with the chest before the rest of the ant nest gets involved - ES will get some combat experience and we'll get the chest, and then we can head to Threeroads and talk to the locals about where to find a gargoyle.
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 9:10 AM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
While I agree with nearly all of this, I'm on the fence about attacking the ant. It's got loot, sure, but if there's an intelligence at work here and we want to try chatting it up like we did with the Gobs, Slimes, Spider, and, well, just about everything else, killing and looting this thing right on its own doorstep does not make for a good first impression.

Even more so if it does like some bugs and marks us with a pheromone that screams ant-killer for half a mile as it dies.
JiggilyJoe 24th Jun 2018, 12:50 PM edit delete reply
JiggilyJoe
+1 agreed. We have several members with different abilities. This looks like it needs a better build team. The previous page would have been a better strike point, but t least now we know where the nest is.
MakePeaceAndLove 24th Jun 2018, 3:24 PM edit delete reply
I agree, other than I'd hold off on the attack entirely and let our other party handle them when they arrive here. Like I said above, if the pyre ants found treasure in that chest, the chest will still be there ready to be looted when we return later, most likely.
Hellbovine 24th Jun 2018, 9:07 AM edit delete reply
Hellbovine
+1 for diplomatic approach. This is not the best party for a fight, but it might just be one of the best for diplomacy, with king slime and Nast together (but bring the crown back if we're gonna try that)
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 9:12 AM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
Yes to the crown, but it needs to be hidden until we're in the mound proper, and again before we leave.
G. Sansa 24th Jun 2018, 9:59 AM edit delete reply
If we want to try diplomacy, rum is a good start. Open a bottle so they can smell it. Who doesn't like rum?

Also irregular foliage, which, according to the lore, is natural prey for pyre ants.

Possibly one of our antidote albacores? That's something ants could use, I'm sure they fight with spiders sometimes.

So: drink concoctions. Open rum. Rub panties on outside of rum bottle, and have Emerald leave some non-harmful slime pheremones on bottle, so that rum bottle smells like all three of us. Leave rum, foliage, and albacore beside entrance of anthill, standing nearby. If an ant just grabs it and goes back into anthill without acknowledging us, open another bottle of rum and hold onto it, then attempt friendly communication with the ant that comes out to get that.
G Sansa 24th Jun 2018, 10:18 AM edit delete reply
And hope that we don't have the same problem as we had with the fairies. Does the queen even wear p-ant-ies?
MakePeaceAndLove 24th Jun 2018, 3:26 PM edit delete reply
If you try diplomacy then be careful and ready to back off, in case the ants decide we smell better than the rum... I'd prefer to leave unnoticed while we still can, or even attack before trying diplomacy here, since these are, well, pyre ants, but you never know...
Just a random Fox 24th Jun 2018, 2:08 PM edit delete reply
I might continue to read this, despite my asexuality. IT UPDATES ALMOST EVERY DAY, OFTEN MORE THAN ONCE! this is the fastest updating webcomic I have ever seen, and I freaking love reading; this is like a dream come true!
1977 24th Jun 2018, 2:24 PM edit delete reply
If you look at the dates in the archive page you can see the current record is 4 updates (23rd April 2018) and only one missed day (12th May 2018).
RicardtheDragoon 24th Jun 2018, 2:37 PM edit delete reply
Morgenstern is pretty impressive in that regard. I believe the stated update schedule is twice per day which I haven't gone back through the comics to verify, but I think it's far closer than the readers would usually expect. The cynical side of me says that's because the chosen art style is of such low resolution.
On the other hand, the heavy writing component is more to my taste anyway. Plus, Morgenstern does a nice job with character development and world-building, not an easy task. Maybe it's not professional quality, but it feels more alive than some of the work of professional authors I've read.
And then there's the unique and refreshing, in my experience, interactive component and exceedingly low censorship standards. I have the impression that the interactive component is more common than I have experienced, but it's still rather impressive how effectively it works here.
Though to be fair, my experience with web comics is rather low since I've hardly read more a dozen distinct comics so far, but I am quite well-read in more mainstream area of books.
I realize a comment like this isn't quite appropriate, but I've been thinking it since I started reading this comic.
Thanks Morgenstern for your magnificent efforts so far.
MakePeaceAndLove 24th Jun 2018, 3:30 PM edit delete reply
I love this webcomic too, Morgenstern does an amazing job with it, the pixel art is a really cute style and with very memorable characters, the writing is top notch, the porn is like art itself, the update rate is blazing fast (at least for what I'm used to, where once per week is the norm instead) and the interactive aspect of it and this great community are icing on the cake.

Thank you for bringing us this wonderful comic, Morgenstern. ^_^
Twelveseal 24th Jun 2018, 9:00 PM edit delete reply
Twelveseal
Agreed, Morgenstern does good work. Nast and Blood is Mine are both excellent, with the former being more of a freeform romp with the distinctive feel of a D&D session that someone brought the Book of Erotic Fantasy to, and the latter being a more serious narrative of dystopian sci-fantasy.

His characters are fun and believable, despite the limitations of the pixel medium at that resolution for depicting detail. In fact, its copy-paste potential is likely why he can update multiple comics so often. His writing is pleasant to read, entertaining, and believable, and particularly in the longer-running BiM, manages to elicit strong emotional responses from the readers despite the characters being little more than blobs of color visually. He uses his chosen media well, making both quite enjoyable.

I find myself refreshing these things entirely more than I should, looking for that next update.