Chapter 332 – Stepping forward

Deep in the nest, the Queen contemplated. She thought back to the difficult days just after she had spawned in the Dungeon, when she awoke by herself in the dark tunnels that bordered the shadow levels, surrounded by the roar of monsters and consumed with a burning desire. She had battled hard in that time, born with a powerful body, she had nonetheless come close to death many times as she had frantically tried to satisfy the instinct that had burned within her mind.

She had been hungry in those days, aggressive and dominant. She had fought brutally, crushed her prey between her mandibles and squeezed the life out of them as her carapace cracked, life’s blood dripping from wounds that covered her body. She had to push, had to be faster, stronger, more vicious, more deadly, more voracious. There had barely been time to eat before she’d been forced to fight again in those days, an endless battle where she had pushed herself forward with an indomitable will.

Only allowed on

When she’d had enough Biomass, she’d tunnelled into a wall, carved out a small chamber for herself and begun to rear her first larvae, laying the eggs, then hunting so she had food to provide for her young when they hatched. And when those grubs had finally emerged she had felt something that she had never felt before.

Satisfaction. Peace. Fulfilment. Creating the colony was her reason for existing, she had realised it in that moment. She had been expressly created for this purpose and in starting her family she had begun to scratch the itch that had burned inside her since the moment she had awoken beneath the ground.

Since then, her life had changed dramatically. No longer was she hunting, battling every moment to realise her purpose, she was now a defender and protector to her family. The constant flow of workers throughout the nest was like a warm pattering of rain that quenched her spirit.

There were many missing from the nest now and it wounded her to know that they were fighting and dying so far from where she could help. When she’d offered to advance to the front lines and fight with her children, they had protested vigorously until she had agreed to remain.

She was still miffed by that. She had been fighting for this family before they had even been born, why couldn’t she fight with her colony? There were two Queens in waiting that could take her place, a thought that filled the Queen with gladness, and not even because the pressure of being the sole individual capable of creating young had been raised from her shoulders, but rather because the burden had been taken from the colony as a whole. No longer did the fate of the colony rest on a single individual, the threat of extinction had been pushed further away and the Queen felt only joy.

“Still not evolving, Mother?”

The Queen turned her large frame so that she could look directly down on the individual who had spoken. Bella, the core shaper, had crawled into her chamber and now clung to the roof, looking at the Queen.

“Are you also disappointed to see that I haven’t rushed my decision, child?” the Queen said, thinking of the troublesome one who had so obviously pushed her to evolve as soon as possible.

The smaller core shaper shook her antennae in denial.

“Not at all, Mother, I think you have made the correct decision to weigh your options. I am simply surprised that the pressure of our current situation hasn’t pushed you to move sooner.”

The Queen thought for a moment. It was true that the colony faced a dire set of circumstances, peril such as this had not gripped them since the onset of the wave. She felt pressure, of course. Her family must survive, she would not permit otherwise, all threats would be removed with any force necessary.

“I am troubled over the decision somewhat” the Queen admitted, causing every ant in the chamber to freeze for a moment before continuing about their business as if nothing had happened.

Really now. What is that big of an issue for the Queen to admit to being troubled?

For her part, Bella simply nodded her head.

“I imagine there would be many options for you to choose from, Mother. After taking the rare core, and being such a powerful creature already, I can’t imagine what sort of choices you are being presented with.”

The Queen didn’t think Bella was aware of it, but when she spoke of the rare core and evolution, her antennae twitched excitedly. Clearly the child was taking her role very seriously if she was already this enamoured with the power contained in monster cores.

“In truth, I’ve not yet looked at the menu” the Queen said mildly.

Bella nearly fell off the roof in shock.

“You haven’t even looked at it?” she sputtered, “then what are you thinking about?”

What indeed, the Queen mused to herself. Perhaps the younger members of the colony did not grasp this, they were new to their roles and perhaps they thought they were unchangeable and permanent, that the demands of the colony now and the colony in the future would be the same. The Queen knew differently, she remembered when she had been alone, now she was surrounded by hundreds of her children, in a massive nest. They weren’t even the same species as when she had started. The amount of turbulence and change that battered this colony felt strange, unprecedented, to the Queen, as if her instincts were wary of such dramatic shifts. She had a feeling she knew who was the catalyst of all this change…

What the Queen was trying to consider was the colony of tomorrow. She was trying, with the limited life experience and intelligence she had, to grasp the flow of events and understand what it was that her family would need from her tomorrow.

“What do you think the colony needs from me?” the Queen asked Bella suddenly, causing the young ant to twitch at the unexpected question.

“What do you mean, Mother?” the young Core Shaper asked.

“Exactly what I said, child. What do you think the colony needs from me?”

Bella was still puzzled. What exactly was the Queen asking her? What did the colony want? From the Queen?

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“Continue to live and be yourself, Mother. We could ask nothing more” Bella said as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

The Queen absorbed those words slowly as she pondered, then she nodded.

“Thank you for your words, child. I will take some time to consider my menu now.”

“Of course!” Bella gushed, the words still hung in the air after she had departed, so quickly had she moved.

The Queen had decided on her path. The family who put so much trust in her would not be allowed to fall.

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