Sensation returned to the Queen in increments. A leg twitched, then one of her antenna crackled into life, overloading her fuzzed mind with sensory information she wasn't ready to process.
As she drowsed, the feeling of change, of difference, rose within her. Even without being fully alert she knew that she was not the same as she had been when she'd gone to sleep. Her thoughts continued to swirl in languid circles as her body came to life piece by piece. It was always thus for her. She knew that the workers did not enter torpor as she did, her rest was longer, deeper and took longer to emerge from.
For this reason she tried to rest as little as possible. If something were to happen to her family as she rested, how could she forgive herself? An idle thought stirred vaguely in her mind, if her noisy child were to find out about her lack of rest, surely she would be pestered into sleeping more. If was of vital importance that she conceal her tiredness.
The sensation of change grew stronger as she continued to wake. It was difficult to say exactly what it was, whatever had occurred, had happened within her body, it wasn't easy to feel the difference when the changes were applied to one's own mind.
However, a picture was taking shape. The Queen was able to feel her own thoughts moving faster than before. Even half awake, she could sense the change. Her mind felt agile and quick as thoughts moved quicker and things that had seemed complex suddenly seemed simpler, more manageable.
When she had finally awoken, she shifted her body slightly to ensure her body was alright. Then she tried to find out what was happening in her chamber. Her loyal guards tended to her needs and protected her in this space from spawning monsters, it would be horrible if she were to move too quickly and crush them by mistake. The Queen was under no illusions just how much stronger than her children she was.
It was a good thing that she checked before shifting herself, her loyal guard were still here with her, except that they were all resting. All of them! Some of them were even deep in torpor on her back. It was hardly unusual for her children to climb on her back, ensuring that she was clean and defending her from threats spawning overhead, but for them to sink into torpor without first moving to another chamber was unheard of.
What exactly was going on?
Curious, she brought up her status and stared with surprise at the new species listed there. Formica Sapiens? What exactly had happened?
Her antennae twitched slightly with exasperation. This had to be the work of her meddling child. Always with grand ideas and strange plans that somehow worked out, the family would be in a far worse position if not for that one's meddling. It's a shame that the smartest of her children would also prove to the most frustrating.
What had they done this time?
"Good! The cores have been formed well and we've reinforced them. Don't look at me like that, special cores are a rare resource for us, don't be so ungrateful. A little discomfort/extreme pain now, but you'll be thanking me when you evolve!" a voice echoed from below, followed by several weary groans.
Who do all of these voices belong to? The Queen didn't recall hearing them before. Other than her meddlesome child of course.
"Let's go back to the farms. We need to get back to level five as soon as possible. Before the day is done you'll have completed your first evolution, that's our schedule. Up and at 'em. Gogogogo!"
At the noisy urging of her meddlesome child a sorry looking cluster of young ants climbed into her chamber from below at what she guessed were the entrances to the 'farms' that she had been told about.
She wasn't sure she liked the idea of spawning so many monsters so close to the nest but she had to admit that the Biomass supplied had been more than expected. The repeated harvesting had given her enough Biomass to push for the second set of two hundred eggs as quickly as she had.
"Wait a moment children" she called out, causing the young hatchlings to turn towards her with surprise.
"Mother? You're awake!" they cried and rushed forward to stand before her.
"What?! Mother?!" the meddlesome one yelled and rushed into the chamber, brushing aside the much smaller hatchlings effortlessly before fussing over the Queen, pestering her with questions.
Internally, the Queen smiled, touched by the obvious concern being show by her meddlesome child, externally however.
"What have you done this time, child? The workers, even myself, have been dragged into torpor. My species has also changed. Can you explain?"
Chastened, the meddlesome child rubbed at their head with an antenna whilst attempting to placate the Queen.
"Well, things worked very well in the plan to create smarter, more capable workers. The first twenty have hatched and I've started training them up. They've already formed their cores and are well on the way to their first evolution with complete +5 upgrades and fully upgraded cores" the unmistakable note of pride was resonating in that voice which had taken on a lecturing tone.
The Queen was also proud of what her meddlesome child had achieved. If what had been said was true then these twenty young workers were advancing rapidly and would be a great aid to the family. However…
"And the sleeping?"
"Right, the torpor. Well, Mother, it turns out that when these hatchlings were born, the system decided that they were a new species. As the 'creator' of the new species, I was given the option to convert our existing colony over to the new type. I selected yes and everyone fell asleep, including me! I didn't know it was going to happen! I promise!"
The Queen slowly nodded. It made sense. Her own species had clearly been changed after waking up, and in her opinion, changing the species of the entire colony was the best option. Different species of ants went to war, this was something she knew instinctively.
Reaching down with her antenna, gently this time, she patted her meddlesome child on the head.
"You have done well child. Now give me a moment to speak to my new children."
Visibly pleased to be off the hook, her meddlesome child hopped to one side and began herding the smaller hatchlings towards her.
The Queen looked down on her new children carefully. The twenty hatchlings were clearly smaller than those born before the change, but there was something different about them. A glimmer of light in their eyes, the way they looked about the chamber taking in information and thinking. The Queen was slightly disturbed to see that sort of behaviour from her children. She had come to expect it from the meddlesome one, but were these new hatchlings ants as she understood them? Or were they something new?
"How are you children?" she asked gently.
The twenty hatchlings perked up at her words, but were clearly suffering.
"We are well Mother!"
The Queen smiled down at them, their bravado fooled no one.
"I can see that you are in pain children. Do you require rest?" she enquired.
Rest was not something workers, nor the Queen, generally indulged in. Part of her was genuinely concerned to see her children suffering, another part was testing their response. She wanted to understand her new children, how were they similar to those who had come before? How were they different?
"Rest?!" the twenty spat in unison, sounding almost offended at the suggestion.
"I require no rest, not for another hundred years!" declared one scrappy looking hatchling close to her right foreleg.
"I will not rest in this lifetime! Death before rest!" cried another.
The others took up the chant.
"Death before rest! Death before rest! Death before rest!"
The Queen's heart lifted in her thorax. These were ants, down to their very hearts.
"Always to the death with you lot. Stop shouting at the Queen!" the meddlesome one interrupted, shouting louder than the other twenty combined.
"Sorry to disturb you Mother" the meddlesome one continued, "I should get back to training this bunch. Apparently I need to add a lecture on the necessity and importance of rest!"
As the meddlesome child glared at the hatchlings, the Queen shifted guiltily. Rest was important It just felt like such a waste.
"Very well, child. I hope you children continue to serve the colony into the future."
The hatchlings waved at her vigorously with their antennae as they responded.
"Of course Mother! We will work tirelessly for the family!"
"Indeed, our efforts will never falter!"
"I'm honoured to bare this pain for the colony!"
"Alright, alright, get into the farm already, we're on a schedule here!"
The meddlesome one herded the young hatchlings back down towards the farms and out of sight as they continued to declare their boundless commitment to the colony. The Queen couldn't help but feel warm inside. The future of the family looked bright. Perhaps soon there would be another Queen and they would truly start to expand as her instincts demanded that they should.
Conflict would follow, it always did in the Dungeon. The Queen was still young but she had learned that lesson early. Still, she welcomed it. Her family wouldn't be found wanting against challenge, she firmly believed that.