The rare core sat on the ground in front of me and I knew it was time to pay the piper. As much as I'd derived a strange sense of joy forcing the hatchlings to absorb a special core, this process seriously hurts. I've already maxed out my core AND absorbed a special core. If I absorb this rare core, will I really be able to take it?
Or will my core just detonate and rip me apart from the inside?
Here we go.
Taking a deep breath I gingerly reach down with my antennae and touch them to the cold surface of the core.
[Compatible Rare core detected. Would you like reinforce your core or reconstitute the monster?]
I sure as heck don't want to create one of those crocs as one of my pets, I have to many bad memories of them to even consider it.
Nothing for it. Gimme dat core juice!
As soon as I give my mental assent, the densely packed energies contained within the gem-like sphere begin to flow into me, swirling throughout my body before settling in my core core, adding their strength to my own.
And it hurts immediately.
I'd gotten used to the vaguely stretched feeling of my maxed out core to the point where it didn't really bother me. I'm not sure if that was just because I'd become accustomed to the pain or if my body had adjusted to the extended core size. Ultimately it doesn't matter, as the vast energies within the rare core pour into me and my core starts to grow, the pain is instant and intense.
My body was not meant to hold a core of this size!
Damn that stings! Holy Moly! With a capital M!
This must be what it feels like to have a swollen stomach that is not a stomach but actually a stone formed of condensed mystical energies. The pain isn't even localised around my core! Unlike before, it is radiating outwards, zapping along my nerves to the ends of my limbs and rebounding off my extremities to come back to my centre even worse than before.
In complete agony, all I can think of is to endure as best I can. I don't know why, but the idea to immediately stop and just walk away doesn't occur to me. I don't need this in my life. I've suffered plenty in my new existence, perhaps someone else could pick up this burden for me. I've done more for the colony than every other individual in it bar the Queen herself at this point.
And it isn't as if I want to be all powerful, lord of all he surveys sort of monster. I don't especially crave individual power, I'm not deeply ambitious, I'm far too lazy for that!
And yet, I grit my mandibles and hold on.
Perhaps it was watching the twenty hatchlings be so stoic and selfless in their attitudes. Perhaps it was the acceptance of the Queen to what I had done, creating so much change to push the colony forward. Perhaps I'm just stupid. I haven't ruled that out.
Whatever the reason, I hold on.
It hurts and I hold on.
There is agony and I hold on.
I feel like my body and mind are breaking into a thousand pieces, but I hold on. As strange as it sounds, I felt clarity in those moments. As if the pain radiating out from my core as it grows is searing away the clutter and doubt that normally rattles away inside my mind.
I feel clean. I feel pure.
I'll endure this. I'll survive. There are things that are more unendurable than this. I have a family now, something I've never really had before. I won't allow them to suffer. I won't allow them to struggle. Deep down, I'm prepared to shoulder burdens to help them.
This core needs to be used and I'm the best one to use it. For whatever reason, there is no member of the colony as advanced as I am. For the time being it has to me.
And so I hold on.
There is nothing in my universe except for the pain and the ball of packed energy resting on the dirt before me. The transfer of energy is glacially slow, or at least it feels that way. This core must hold more than ten times as much energy as a special core. No matter how much I drain out it doesn't seem like I'm any closer to finishing absorbing it!
More pain. I endure.
I hold on until my thoughts fade away to nothing and my vision goes black.
DANG it still hurts!
When alertness rocks back into my mind I spring to my feet only to find my entire body is screeching with agony. Yeeouch! It's like every cell in body hit the gym with an enthusiasm they were not able to endure. Not a single part of me isn't radiating an intense displeasure with their present circumstances.
And my core.
Holy moly, the core.
As if I'd swallowed a rock that carried a grudge, it sits in the centre of my body and it just doesn't fit. I'm too damn full! Worst of all, I can still see the rare core on the ground in front of me. I must have passed out from the pain before I'd been able to finish the absorption process.
Perhaps that's a good thing. I really don't feel like I could take any more in right now. I really feel as if I'm on the edge of some serious damage here. I hope that after some time has passed the tightness and pain will fade to the point that I can absorb the rest, right before I evolve.
Gingerly, since every motion sends new signals of hurt rocketing through my nerves, I roll the core to one corner and bury it with the rest of the my stash.
The hatchlings appear to still be in the process of evolving. Which is good. I need a little rest and recovery time. Before that though, I'd told myself I would check in on the village, just to make sure that the changes to the colony weren't about to spark some sort of conflict or misunderstanding.
So like a geriatric grandpa ant with severe arthritis and three dodgy hips I make my way up the central shaft of the nest. Despite my condition, I can't help but notice the changes taking place in the colony already.
The first and most obvious thing is the pheromone trails that have been left. Where once they were very simple messages, "food here", "brood needs tending", "help dig", they have become much more complex. Swishing my antennae through the air I get a rush of conversations that have taken place lately and descriptive long term trails that have been marked down several times.
The first one I run into says "Hi there! Brood is over this way, need help with cleaning and feeding. Current food levels are healthy but expecting a spike in demand soon."
Followed by "Hi-hi! I've been told there will be a spike in demand for food soon! How exciting! Follow this trail above ground to join in the surface hunting. Make sure you hunt in a team! Groups of five, stay alive!"
I can tell that last one is Vibrant, apparently continuing to step up her leadership skills.
In general the messages are friendly are business like. Things like "This way for digging, keep that soil fresh!" or "Afternoon brood chambers this way! Can always use more help, lots of brood lately! "
How the hell did they invent the scent emoji in such a short time?!
Even as I slowly clamber out of the nest I receive lots of greetings and well wishes as I do so.
"Hello. Keep up the good work!"
"Hi. Work hard!"
"Stay healthy there fellow worker. Otherwise you can't work!"
I get it… you like working! At least they aren't talking about throwing their lives away in some pointless fashion. I suspect that the next time the colony is under attack that might come back out. We'll see.
For now I tip toe my way over to the human village to see how things are travelling.