“We can’t. The reason they’re not attacking us directly is because they’re afraid of our power. They still think we’re hunting them. If we run, they’ll see our weakness and come after us.”
Nonetheless, sooner or later the enemy will question our lack of aggression and go all out on us.
That prediction came true sooner than I expected.
One of the archers stepped forward and let loose the opening shot that flew toward us with a loud buzz. The arrow went way over our heads.
A rain of arrows followed. We covered ourselves, but we could hear the wails of the queerats behind us.
“Shit. Should we retaliate?” Satoru opened his eyes.
“Not yet!” I said frantically. “They’re looking to see how we’ll respond.”
“Then not responding will just make them more confident.”
“If we retaliate half-heartedly, they’ll figure out the extent of our power. On the other hand, not doing anything will creep them out. They won’t expect that we’re waiting out the attack.”
“But, at this rate…”
The lead troop of the crane wing formation was advancing steadily. What should we do?
“Squealer!” I called the queerat waiting behind us.
“Yes. How may I be of service?”
“Where is the enemy’s base…its headquarters?”
“It has not been confirmed, but I believe it is straight ahead in the woods on the other side. The last line of defense for every colony is always in front of the headquarters.”
“Satoru! Set those trees on fire!”
He understood my plan and focused straight ahead.
Usually, it would take but a second for him to set something on fire, but this time it took a couple of seconds. But as the leaves of the Japanese snowbell tree started smoking and burst into flames, the enemy stopped. The rear guard rushed back to the nest and started hacking into roots of the burning trees with axes. It was a primitive way of destructive firefighting, but a few minutes later, the flames went out.
“Should I burn it more?”
“Wait. Let’s see what they do.”
We had to prevent Satoru from using his cantus ineffectively and wasting his energy.
If the enemy advanced, we could threaten them by attacking their home base. But I didn’t know to what extent it would work.
For a while, the Ground Spiders did nothing and waited. Then what looked like a messenger emerged from the nest and they started moving forward again.
“The queen’s been evacuated through the underground tunnels,” Satoru whispered. “They’ve taken care of what matters most. This time they’ll come at us seriously.”
Squealer let out a high pitched cry and ran off. His subordinates followed.
“This is it, huh,” Satoru sighed.
Once again, volleys of arrows flew toward us. Compared to the earlier attack, this was much greater. The sky was filled with arrows that fell on us like hail.
At the same time, the five catapult troops started launching boulders.