Lieutenant Neera questioned thoughtfully, "You mean to say that the Vulpines had a mechanism in place to trigger the Lishan Volcano?"
"Yes," replied Ceres.
"But that makes very little sense if you consider that the Sixth forbidden zone borders Regiis, the Heavenly Wolf Mercenary territory as well as the Crimson Coyote territory. If they were really responsible for the Calamity, then why are the Coyotes helping them? Or, rather how do they have enough military force to spare even after allocating troops to combat the ant legion. The legion won't discriminate between directions after all. If Lishan erupts, it will be like stirring an anthill, the creatures will pour out in a dense tide, blanketing all directions centred on it, searching for the enemy that has disturbed their lair."
"This…" Ceres was at a loss.
The Lishan Volcano was the core of the Sixth Forbidden Zone. The Volcano housed the Fire Elemental which had been christened Zhurong by the locals after the Huaxian God of Fire and the South. It was an extremely ancient Volcano with an exceptionally large and active magma chamber. A colony of Fire Ants had settled down in its vicinity, utilizing the extremely high density of Fire mana to thrive and propagate. Its eruption every few centuries was the trigger for the Calamity.
Fire Elementals were born at Tier 5 and after they fused with a volcano, they were effectively immortal, in the sense that until the volcano itself became extinct, it would live on. Such a high starting point and glorious lifespan; they were truly nature's favoured children. Yet, they still had their drawbacks. Firstly, once they attached to a volcano, they couldn't move. Secondly, their population was woefully low. How many active volcanoes were there in the world of Ea? A few hundred? A thousand? Compared to the population of Hominum and Bestia, their numbers were positively dwarfed. Also, going a step further was extremely difficult for them. Most of them remained in Tier 5 all their lives, unable to break through to the Realm of Demigod.
Every time the volcano erupted was an opportunity to break through their Tier's shackles. The Elemental would accumulate mana over several decades, preparing for that very moment and when the volcano erupted, it would draw support from the extreme turbulence of the flame mana to try and ascend. Opportunity and risk co-existed. While every eruption shaved a substantial number of years off the Elemental's lifespan, it was a chance to evolve into a higher form of life.
The ant legion and Zhurong were bound by a symbiotic relationship where the Elemental was responsible for providing the ants with succour in return for their protection. The Sixth Forbidden Zone had naturally formed centred on the Volcano. The extreme aggressivity and territory consciousness of the ants that meant that man nor beast could base themselves within their domain without provoking an attack.
In the period when the Elemental was dormant, the ant colony would remain quite peaceful, only sending out squads of foragers to seek out prey and resources to feed the colony and support their multiplication. But after the Elemental had accumulated enough mana to attempt its breakthrough to Tier 6, the colony would begin to grow restless until it finally culminated in the Calamity.
The reason for this was quite simple. After the volcano erupted, there would be a trough period where the density of fire mana would drop sharply. The conditions would not be sufficient to support the swollen population of the ants. Thus, the Calamity was a way for the colony to cull their population and reduce it to manageable levels. Only the most formidable ants would survive and return to the colony, improving the quality of the legion.
Lt. Neera continued, "While it is quite simple to trigger a volcanic eruption – just dump a ton of Inflammation Crystals into the crater and you are done – controlling the trend of the ant legion is another matter entirely. I agree that the timely appearance of the Calamity is quite damning. Hotaru Vulpine has a clear motive – and if she is being subsidized by the Shogunate – sufficient resources to trigger Lishan, especially since it was nearing its date of eruption anyway. But, the Crimson Coyotes do not have sufficient troops to suppress the Calamity and tie up the Regiis Border Defence Forces simultaneously."
Major Tauros laid a hand on her shoulder, halting her speech. "You're missing the point, dear. It doesn't matter how the Traitor managed to pull it off. The fact is that she did. Now, all we need to think of is how to solve this dilemma. If we don't act and simply continue defending against the Legion's assault, we will soon be pincered by the Traitor's forces after she stabilizes her control over the South and Central Districts and attacks the East. I'm sure that the Southern and Eastern provinces are sending their aid as we speak but we don't have the time to wait for them. The Outbreak of the Tombs of Koschei means that they will have to quell the Undead tide before they are able to make any headway towards us. That delay is enough for the Traitor to advance upon us, especially if the Shogunate manages to land its troops within this time and bolster her forces. It is a race against time."
Father nodded. "Right now, our first priority should be halting the Calamity, even temporarily, so that we can free our soldiers. Then we need to rally the troops of the loyal clans within the Eastern district and lead them to resist her advance, delaying the time till reinforcements arrive. It is our only hope."
Mother frowned. "But how? Halting the Calamity isn't as simple as triggering it. The only two ways to terminate a Calamity prematurely is by either slaying all the ant Queens within their lair or interrupting the eruption of the volcano." She turned to Lt. Ava. "What were the statistics for the colony?"
Lt. Ava recalled the appropriate reports for a moment before replying, "As per the most recent survey, there are five ant Queens in the Forbidden Zone. Four of them are perched in Lishan while the fifth and the youngest Queen has splintered off from the main Colony, setting up a separate colony in conjunction with the newly formed Flame Dungeon of the Fire Elemental Gun, which is an offshoot of Zhurong. As for the second plan of coping with the Elemental itself? I wouldn't even think about it. Zhurong, in its Dungeon, is nearly invincible. It was able to drive off the combined might of two Demigods three-hundred years ago. They wanted to destroy it and wipe out the Sixth Forbidden Zone but had to retreat with serious injuries after engaging it in battle. Every eruption is a chance for Zhurong to ascend. If anyone tries to interrupt it during this time, it will bring its entire might to bear. We stand no chance."
I sucked a breath in through my teeth. Five ants at Tier 5? Among us, only Father could match off against one of them… did we have any hope of winning?
Just as the meeting room fell into a depressing silence, the resonant howl of a wolf cut through the heavy atmosphere. The howl was joined in by another and then another until a chorus of wolf-song drowned out the menacing buzz of the ant Legion.
I could see the startled expressions on the face of all present. It was the battle-cry of the Heavenly Wolf Mercenaries. Shit just hit the fan.
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