The training regime was brutal, and the hatchling ate it up. Lectures, followed by practice drills, followed by live practice, followed by a review. The brood tenders patiently explained every mistake, and stepped them through every decision, questioning the young ants' thinking and drilling their sacrificial tendencies out of them. Then more lectures, more drills and the cycle continued. They repeated the same thing five times before they were allowed to collapse into torpor.
The moment she awoke, the hatchling was greeted by the hard stare of another, large and intimidating ant. The general was gone, replaced by a similar sized, but smoother looking ant. Its carapace was thinner and more streamlined, the mandibles not as large. When her antennae picked up the scent, she realised that this was the ant who'd been thwacked by a tender in the tunnels the previous day.
"Finally awake? Didn't realise the Colony was raising such lazy brood."
The hatchling was still tired and hungry, but she wasn't about to appear lazy! She sprung up and poked her nearby siblings with her legs to get them up and alert. The brood tenders around the sides of the chamber watched carefully as the ants came to attention.
"Good. You've been yelled at by a general all yesterday. That's grand and all. Today we'll begin teaching you how to use the greatest weapon the Eldest gave you."
The scout bent one antenna back to indicate her head.
"The story goes that the Eldest was born smart, smarter than any other ant. The rest of us though? Stupid, regular old monsters. Then the Eldest learned a way to create a brand new type of ant. A way to turn all of us into something like them. Just like that, this Colony was born."
The hatchling felt the stirring of awe in her thorax at these words. Able to change the entire Colony? Make each and every member more powerful? Such a level of contribution was absurd.
"So if you aren't thinking, if you aren't using your Cunning to its fullest," the ant continued, "then you aren't achieving the incredible potential you've been gifted with. So today, we're going to be learning about scouting. I'm a scout, another soldier caste evolution. For the next four hours I'll lecture you on the Dungeon, expected conditions, hazards and dangers, teamwork when moving in the tunnels. Memorise it all and then we'll head out for a live scouting exercise. Understood?"
"Yes!" The hatchlings replied.
She listened intently to every word, devouring the knowledge just as her siblings did. When the four hours were up, her brain ached fiercely but there was no rest. The scout led them directly out of their learning chamber and the hatchlings were once again divided into teams with their brood tender mentor guiding them out into the Dungeon. Once there, they prowled the tunnels, crawling over the ceilings and walls as they practiced hiding, setting ambushes and tracking, then they returned to the nest for another lengthy debrief.
Then another round of lectures.
Then back out into the tunnels. When they were done, the hatchlings collapsed into torpor after shovelling down the Biomass that they were provided. Then they were up again, their brood tender teachers still present, but a new ant had replaced the scout.
"WAKE UP YOU, LAZY GRUBS!"
An explosion of flames erupted from the ant's mouth, causing all the hatchlings to leap awake.
"You've got the mental stats to use magic and every day the Colony learns new and important ways to employ it! No matter what caste you become part of, you need a basic understanding of the Skills and methods employed in the magical arts! First we will hunt for experience and Biomass in the farm, then we will consume mana infused water. This will help you to form your core! By the time we are done, every ant in this class must have formed their core. Then we return for eight hours of Skill training! Be prepared!"
The hatchling wasn't sure how she felt about being able to shoot flames from her mouth, but it seemed powerful, and powerful was good for the Colony! She would learn! The mage wasted no time and immediately led the class down into the farm where they engaged in controlled battles against the monsters that spawned there. Consuming Biomass and raising their basic Skills. Eventually they were led to a pool of water that was fed from above, a steady flow draining down from a gap in the ceiling.
The water tasted electrifying and the hatchling gulped it down greedily. Then more hunting, then more drinking. The moment a student reached level five they were no longer allowed to take experience, giving the rest over to the others. The hatchling achieved level five quickly but continued to aggressively hunt with her team in order to secure levels for her group.
Eventually each ant formed their core and returned to the lesson chamber for an extended grilling session from their mage instructor.
And on it went. The ants were given a thorough drilling in the basic Skills required for each caste. Instructed in the intricate network that made the entire Colony tick. If a single member of their class failed to understand even a part of it, they were sent back for another gruelling day of training. The hatchling worked tirelessly under the watchful gaze of the instructors to teach her siblings and ensure the class completed its tasks.
After a week, they were ready to evolve for the first time. There was huge excitement in the class. They were to be assigned their caste! This would determine the kind of work they would do for the Colony, what could be more important? The ants eagerly leapt out of torpor to find their teachers were already in position, the general in the centre of the teaching space.
"CONGRATULATIONS! You have taken the first step in not being useless! Each member of this class should have maximum mutations, a core and have attained level five once more. Along with a basic understanding of the roles of every caste in the Colony, this is the requirement to qualify for your first evolution!"
The general and the other teachers surveyed the class with serious eyes. Their antennae monitoring every stray scent.
"In accordance with the wishes of the Eldest there is a limited amount of choice given to you. We will tell you what evolutions are needed, you will sort yourself into groups so that the quotas are reached!"
The hatchling felt conflicted at these words. She just wanted to do what the Colony told her to do. Now she had to choose?
"TEN SOLDIERS are needed! SIX ARTISANS AND FOUR WORKERS! Soldiers to the back of the chamber! Artisans on the left, workers on the right!"
The students began to sort themselves, moving toward a direction that they preferred. The hatchling was frozen in place. She didn't know which one she wanted to do, which one was more important? What if she picked something and another hatchling wouldn't be able to go where they felt they could best serve? Would she deny the Colony access to a talented and willing member?! How could she make this decision? Just tell her what to do!
With a start, she realised that the rest of her siblings had sorted themselves and only she remained standing in place. The general stood in front of her, the overwhelming scent of authority rolling off her in waves.
"What's wrong, student?" she asked.
"Tell me what to do," the hatchling said.
The general looked down at her for a moment.
"If you don't pick, I will pick for you. But be warned, if I have to choose for you, then your task will be more difficult and thankless than any other task. No glory will come to you and your service will not be seen."
The hatchling felt only relief.
"I don't care. Please tell me how I can serve."
"Fine. Walk out of the chamber and speak to the brood tender in the tunnel."
She was shocked.
Without another word, the hatchling rose from her place and left the chamber. In the tunnel she found a brood tender who indicated for her to follow and then led the way toward a nearby chamber, wherein other students were being gathered, each led by a tender.
The chamber was much like the last, sloped downward toward the front where a flat space for teaching occupied the focal point. Twenty spaces for students were crafted into the slope, but in this chamber, twenty small glittering gems rested in each space. At the urging of her teacher, the hatchling moved to one of the student spaces and looked down at the strange, spherical gem. It was a core, she knew that, but it was larger than any core she'd seen before. Besides, she'd already absorbed all of the cores that she could before evolution. What could she need this one for?
She waited as the chamber filled up and when every student seat was filled the room became still. Shortly after, an ant with a powerful aura of authority stepped into the chamber.
The hatchling quivered in awe. This was a true legend of the Colony!
"You are here," she went on, "because you have displayed excellence in your classes above the expected level, and exhibited the traits the Colony most prizes. Selflessness, dedication, devotion, zeal and drive. For this reason you have been selected to become the second ever batch of special evolution hatchlings. The ants around you will be your team for the rest of your life. The colony has need of an exceptional group of ants and you are to become that group. Absorb the cores in front of you and evolve. After that, your training will get hard. Be prepared. But first, I will name you."
Advant moved through the rows of students and as he passed each one, she tapped them on the head and spoke to them their name. When the mighty soldier reached the hatchling she felt an antenna tap her on the head.
"Your name is Protectant. Serve well."