《Drip-Fed》Leaving the tiny, dank cave
The slime couldn’t know this, but when it finally figured out how to manipulate the ants accurately, it had turned one year old. Indeed, a lot of the actions it had to wait for, it had to figure things out for, all of these things had taken weeks to months. Large gaps of nothing or boring safety between the occasional chaos and risk.
For the slime itself, all of that had just been one large, continuous blob of experience. It didn’t need to sleep after all, although it did prefer to just sit around while digesting. None of this was really important at the current moment, however.
Because it was about to find a way out of its birth place.
After taking over several more ant queendoms, the slime had started a large-scale search for cracks or any other possible way to escape the confines of the cave. Not that it had anything against its birthplace, but as the slime got bigger and left without any enemies to supercede, it felt confined and bored.
Several such cracks had been found over time. Usually leading nowhere or being too narrow for the slime to pass through. Even while being an amorphous blob, it still needed to get its solid nucleus through. Finding a crack that was large enough and led somewhere seemed to be an impossible combination.
Good thing it had lots and lots of tiny helpers. By signalling all of the ants that it was time to relocate the nest all the time, it sent them into a search frenzy. Granted, this was immensely bad for the ants’ health, especially the brood, but that was a sacrifice the bored slime was willing to make.
Eventually, they did find a path the slime could fit into, then they scouted it out, removed the tiny obstacles that were lodged in there and so on. Then, several dozen ants went out, only to return with some odd smell to them, something that smelled new and exciting. It was like moss, but fresher and more intensive and less stuffy, if that made sense.
Excited, the slime squeezed into the crack. It had to get rid of its shells and basically every other Growth in the process, but it managed to get in there and keep crawling along. The only thing it kept was the pheromone duct, lest the ants suddenly broke free from their spell and attacked it. Such a tiny organ didn’t hamper it.
The travel was long, ants skittering after it being the only feeling it had for orientation as it blindly probed its path. The further the slime got away from the chamber, and the magma inside the nearby earth that had heated it, the colder the world got. More than a few times, the slime wondered if it should turn around, if that chill was a warning.
Then it got warmer again, the air went from stale to fresh and even though the slime didn’t breathe it felt relieved. And then it had another one of its instinctual revelations.
Having conquered and left an ecosystem of appropriate difficulty, the slime was allowed to upgrade one of its currently attained Growths to something that wouldn’t become irrelevant, that would actually scale with it.
Basically, everything else it had gotten in that cave would become useless. Aside from eyes, noses and other sensing organs, even then not all of them, everything was bound to become just too small.
There was a multitude of decisions. Legs would be good, not having to hunt for another new creature every time it needed a new pair was bound to be advantageous. Same was true for mouths, but then again it didn’t yet find one it really liked. The axolotl had come close, but the really interesting bit, the suck-in, didn’t work out of water. Its nose was good though. Maybe it should have gone with a sensing organ after all?
The slime didn’t think any of that. It just went right with the pheromone gland.
There was not a doubt in its mind that ants were controlling the world wherever they walked. With this organ it would be able to take control of them and in turn immediately win over the ecosystem. It had no idea what other things pheromones could do, nor that ants weren’t the one true master of the universes everywhere.
Immediately, the formerly fairly inconsequential organ became a permanent part of the slime’s structure. It did so by first disappearing and then appearing again all over the slimes body in the shape of small pores, too small to be seen by the naked eye. It just transformed the slime’s texture from perfectly smooth to slightly wavy, the difference between glass and lacquered wood. Basically none at all, unless someone had incredibly sensitive fingers.
Assured that its decision was genius, the blind, amorphous and now weirdly well-smelling slime oozed out of a crack on the side of a mountain, or volcano, rather, as it was the result of the magma chamber. It was noon and, for the first time, it felt sun rays falling upon it.
Maybe it should have been panicking at the inexplicable source of heat or the blinding light that burned into its eye once it had formed one. However, the warmth was a pleasant feeling and absolutely natural. Not looking at the ball of heat in the sky was a pretty easy rule to follow.
If there was something it was panicked by, it was the sheer scope of its surroundings. There were no walls. In the cave, it could clearly draw a border of where it ended on every side. Now that it was out here, the same thing couldn’t be said.
As a matter of fact, the thing that stopped its vision was the fact that it was looking through a rather bad axolotl eye, which sadly enough was the best it had. The world, to its limited perception, was an endless stretch now.
Most of the terrain was rather boring, especially up here at the side of the mountain. Trees and grass scarcely covered the earthen ground, a lot of dark grey stones sticking out everywhere. Further below, there was an ocean of green, which the slime failed to identify as the mass of trees that it was, its eyesight just too bad to do so.
Well, it was time to get moving, better set up shop somewhere with its ant army and see what it could get up to. For ease of movement, it got itself a pair of axolotl legs. To better hold its balance, the slime also got itself the tail. Then it was up in the air.
That last part was entirely unplanned and also rather unpleasant. It was inside the talon of an eagle and moving at an absurd speed. If the slime could have screamed, it would now have been loudly doing so.
Things could swim in the air? How, since when, why? That was entirely unfair! Also, what the hell would happen now? The answer came, in the shape of the eagle sitting down on a tree far removed from the position it had picked up its meal and ramming its curved beak into the slimes form, ripping off one of its legs.
The north Ctonian mountain eagle was an impressive creature. With its wingspan of over a metre and the ability to use very basic air magic, it was something adventurers began to hunt for after getting out of the initial levels. This was not only because it was a popular pet for monster tamers, but also because its beak was worth a fortune.
A beak that, as the eagle noticed, suddenly started smelling rather sour, just as its tongue started burning. The highly acidic slime was deemed an improper meal by the avian creature and untraditionally released from its claws. The eagle wasn’t hungry enough to damage itself like that, so it swallowed that one meaty leg it had ripped off and left the rest to rot.
The slime, in a lot of pain from just having a leg ripped out and eaten, fell to the floor. It would have died right there, if it hadn’t landed on a patch of grass that slowed its fall. A bit further or with just generally more energy, its insides would have been squeezed rather catastrophically out through that wound.
Even now, It was oozing precious acidic life-slime out of the hole. Its outer layer was a membrane that wasn’t meant to be pierced like that. Prey could travel through it via a somewhat complicated process that opened the membrane and closed it behind the prey.
Thankfully, the slime’s base form was rather simple, so it could be stitched back together by simply pulling the surrounding areas until the wound was sealed up. The membrane would need a bit to heal back together at that point, but that was a different problem.
Having survived by the skin of its teeth and being aware of that, the slime realized how fragile it was. It had almost become as much of an afterthought to the eagle as one ant was to itself. It was soft, slow and the only thing that saved it was the fact that nothing wanted to eat something that would melt it from the inside. Getting a bit of it eaten in order to convince its predator that it wasn’t worth killing wasn’t a good survival strategy in the long run.
Eventually something that wouldn’t even eat it would kill it by mere accident. That was somehow more insulting than being preyed upon. If it was devoured it would at least serve as sustenance to what murdered it, with how it was currently likely to end, the slime was just going to rot or get washed away by rain.
Well, if there were predators like that hanging around the area, that could cheat the laws of gravity, then the slime had just one choice. It pulled in any and all growths until no part of it looked fleshy or tasty in any way, then it began eating grass.
Time to start from the beginning again.
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