Tungstant snapped back to alertness with a start. Her mind was still fuzzy with fatigue, but she pushed her feet beneath her with alacrity, energy surging through her body. There was so much to do! So much work, so much discovery! It was electric! How could a Formica Sapiens possibly rest when the tasks to perform lay spread before them like a delicious banquet? Impossible!
She charged out of the chamber in which she was resting to find the tunnels filled with frenzied ants. Pheromones blazed against her antennae, the air was thick with ants communicating at a rapid pace.
"Hurry up! I've gotta get to the new crafting district yesterday!"
"Not my fault you're late, slacker!"
"Quit polluting the air with your nonsense! Some of us are trying to discuss construction theories!"
"Take it a workshop or chamber. This is completely not the place for that!"
The Carver caste council member took it all in for a moment before she threw herself into the crush. In an instant she was buffeted on all sides by ants of all castes as they rushed to get to a hundred different places. Her position as a council member afforded her no extra consideration from her siblings, they cared only for the task at hand.
She followed the branches of the tunnel toward her first destination, the brood chambers. Upon arrival, he couldn't help but feel delighted by the masses of young she found there. Hundreds of them, lovingly cared for by dozens of tenders. This early in the day, the Brood were being transferred to higher chambers in order to benefit from the warmth of the sun.
Tungstant frowned. The humans used fires in order to warm enclosed spaces. It was a crude system, to be sure, and the smoke would be troublesome. Perhaps she should check in with the mage caste to see if they were making headway with enchanting. It should be relatively simple to produce a core enchanted to generate heat. With some care, the brood chambers could be at the optimal temperature for the entire day.
More work to be done, but rather than crushed, she was delighted. Her mind was afire with the possibilities. The visits to the human village had been everything the Eldest had promised they would be. Access to a civilisation with thousands of years of learning behind them had been invaluable. Of course, the people of the village were still struggling in the aftermath of their kingdom being laid to waste, but still the ants had been able to extract a tremendous amount of information. Forging, construction, enchanting, agriculture had all been new concepts to the colony but they had pestered the humans endlessly and then started experimenting straight away.
And with experimentation, came new skills and new skills meant grinding!
"Florence! How goes the brood?"
The brood tender turned away from her charges for a brief moment to speak with her fellow council member.
"Tungstant. As nice as it is to see you, we really are very busy here right now. Could you make this quick?"
"Who has time for a conversation that not's quick these days?" Laughed the carver. "I was asked by the generals to check in, they wanted to know how many hatchlings we were expecting over the next few days. They've been attempting to scout out hunting grounds in order to provide enough experience and they're worried there won't be enough.
Florence twitched her antennae but was able to recall the numbers in an instant.
"Three hundred and twenty four tomorrow and three hundred and fifty seven tomorrow."
"Fair enough. How long until we reach full capacity?"
"The first round of eggs from the new Queens hatched yesterday. We expect them to enter the pupal stage in five days."
"Great! Have a great day, Florence."
"To you as well."
The Tenders were always so polite. If only the mages could follow their example, as that was Tungstant's next destination. Back out into the connecting tunnels of madness before she made it to the mage chambers. Inside, dozens of mage caste ants were practicing their craft, grinding their skills and experimenting with enchanting cores.
"Got some more work for us, Tungstant? Need to hand more tasks to the big thinkers in the colony?"
"You do know carvers have higher Cunning than mages, right?"
"Speak not of this heresy!"
"Actually, Propellant, I had something that might be right up your alley. Fire enchantments to keep the brood chambers warm."
"Oh Ho! I see it. Yes. Yes! Simplicity itself!"
"Just make sure you test everything properly. I'll put a team of carvers on it as well. We can compare notes. Have your researchers made much progress?"
"We were only able to learn a small number of basic enchantments from the humans. Other that using those to grind our skills, making new breakthroughs is difficult. It's going to take time."
"Not to mention the lack of resources."
Tungstant looked out over the chamber. The colony still hadn't done much by way of architecture, most chambers were just hollowed out spaces of earth and rock without decoration, but she could see the beginnings of customization here in the space. Each mage had carved out their own little work space, demarcated by a small circle of raised dirt. Within each space, mage ants were meditating, shaping mana or engraving mana onto cores.
The cores were the key. They needed cores for new members of the colony, they needed cores for the core shapers, they needed cores for enchanting. The colony had an insatiable appetite for them right now, and there was only one way to get them, fight and destroy monsters.
"The soldiers and scouts are doing everything they can," Propellant said, "we just have to make do with what we have."
Tungstant could only agree. "Keep in touch. Things are moving fast right now, we don't want to miss anything."
"You could say, things are really heating up."
Only too happy to leave the mages behind Tungstant began to make her way back to the carver workshops. Of all the castes, theirs had been the one to receive the most new knowledge from the humans and with so many areas of advancement to keep track of she couldn't afford to be away for long.
The workshops were where the carvers had been doing the bulk of their work and it was a flurry of activity as usual when she arrived. Cobalt was watching over a team of carvers who were experimenting with new developments in earth magic.
"How goes it, Cobalt?" Tungstant greeted her sibling.
"Busy! Where have you been slacking this time?" Came the good natured reply.
"Has there been much progress?"
"Since yesterday? No, of course not. These things take time."
"I just can't help but feel a little impatient."
"I understand that, sister. If we rush we'll come to false conclusions. Steady progress is key."
"I've been told we will be getting four hundred new carvers in three days."
"That's more than we thought!"
"Well, do we have work for them?"
"We could find work for twice that number."
"Right. All of the castes are being pushed hard right now."
"We wouldn't have it any other way."
Looking out over the ever expanding workshop, Tungstant felt a burning passion rising in her chest. Here and there, ants were constructing forges, trying to create tools shaped to their claws to replicate the techniques they'd seen from the humans. Already a few had learned the Skill. Next to them were experiments in enchanting, earth magic, engraving. She could see along one wall where a carver was using earth magic to shape a wall, gouging neat and perfect lines into a mural. Artwork, a tapestry of stone and soil.
Curious, she moved closer to inspect the work. It was still taking shape, but it was clear already what it would be. The Eldest was depicted in bold lines, standing atop a fallen monstrosity, Garralosh. It was strange, the sensation of emotion that rushed through her abdomen as she beheld the picture. The power images, and storytelling. This was also something the colony would seize. They would seize everything.