Not long after the Eldest had departed the colony, Cobalt stood in the Queens chamber watching the small Aphid Queen amble about under the watchful eye of his mother. Another ridiculous, unheard of practice, brought to life with a seeming absence of effort at the hands of the first of their kind.
The Eldest puzzled the Council of twenty, as the first hatchling of Formica Sapiens were beginning of think of themselves. Respect and deference was due to the Eldest by the simple nature of seniority, not to mention the conditioned fear that had been beaten into them over their whirlwind 'training'.
Even so, the Eldest puzzled them. So often engaged in thoughts and actions that seemed to have no place within an ant mind. Supposedly the twenty were of the same species, but they would never have dreamed of engineering an entire breed of … cattle?
And yet it was such an elegant solution to a problem they hadn't even realised they had. A sustainable, constant source of Biomass which they could completely control. The colony would determine how many aphids were created and the colony would deploy them as they wished. The only limiting factor was the available space within the expanse below them.
It wouldn't be a problem for long, Cobalt felt confident the colony would soon extend their grasp out to encompass further expanses. If those others included sufficient plant life for the aphids to feed on then their population could be grown to allow the harvest to continue in those places also.
Lost in his thoughts, Cobalt didn't notice the young aphid Queen approach him. With a start he realised the small green insect was looking at him appealingly, it's antennae waving to tap into his own.
"She's hungry" the Queen's voice sounded from above and Cobalt turned to see her looking down on him.
"Mother, it's wonderful to see you so cheerful" he said.
By a strange twist of the Dungeon, the Queen was no longer the eldest of their kind and thus technically no longer the leader of the colony, a position reserved for the Eldest, who didn't seem to want it, except when they did. Irrespective of this, the Queen, as mother to all the members of the colony, received the devotion and adoration of every worker. To see her tending her new pet with such cheer brought joy to every ant who saw it.
"Thank you child" she said, warmth overflowing in her words, "I must admit I quite enjoy having a pet of my own. Obviously my children bring me the greatest happiness, but they must work for the colony and it can be sometime between visits."
It was true. Even the ants in the Queen's chamber were rotated on a regular basis in order for her to be always protected by rested and prepared ants.
"If you were to ask for them to visit you then they would" Cobalt pointed out.
The Queen waved one antenna dismissively. "We must all do our work for the colony, child. I would never stand between a member of our family and their task."
Cobalt could only nod. It was true. An ant should life for their work just as they worked to live. The soldiers were busy training, scouting, planning, getting ready to commence their hunting forays into the Dungeon. The young queens were helping with the training of the current crop of hatchlings, along with the mages and healers. Already the training process of raising hatchlings to their first and second evolutions was undergoing refinement as the colony learned of more skills and mutations that would assist the ants as they prepared to take on their more specific roles.
Even the Core Shapers were busy, engaged in demanding practice of new skills they had uncovered and utilising the inspiration the Eldest had gifted them with to push their understanding of their role to greater heights, Even if they weren't able to craft pets for the colony yet, it was only a matter of time as they improved their techniques every day. When more shapers were added to their ranks they would have a clear path of progression established for their new initiates to follow.
Whereas the Carvers…
Cobalt sighed heavily.
"Why so glum, child?" the Queen enquired, as she noticed his sombre mood even as she directed several workers to feed her pet.
"I am feeling confused, Mother" he mumbled, "I am unsure of my purpose within the colony. What exactly is the work that I am expected to achieve? I have thought and thought but I am still unsure which tasks I have been created to achieve."
The Queen pondered briefly before responding. "There is always work to be done child, an endless supply. There is digging, teaching, tending to the brood, hunting. For what reason are you unable to fund a task?"
"It isn't that I can't find a task to do, Mother, but rather what task is for me alone. When the Eldest designed our siblings it was clear what work they were needed to accomplish. My comrade Tungstant and I find ourselves at a loss. Look at me."
Cobalt used his front legs, thinner, more mobile and articulate than those of his siblings, to gesture at himself.
"Too small and defenceless to fight on the frontline, without the skills and mutations to fight on the backline. I have not the Will for spellcraft, not the tending instincts for brood rearing and not the healing gland for restorative magic. The advantages of my own evolution seem almost pointless."
"What are they, child? What are the advantages of your form?" the Queen urged.
Cobalt thought on it for a moment.
"I'm smaller than most others, but not faster. My forelegs are more mobile and I can move them like this" this was demonstrated by raising them in front of Cobalt's face, giving a clear view of the three claws that tipped each leg, arranged in a triangular formation.
Cobalt had only recently made note that the ability to rotate the claws wasn't shared by Cobalts' peers. When viewing the humans for the first time, the connection between this strange anatomy and humans wrists and fingers became apparent.
The Queen watched Cobalt demonstrate his dexterity for a moment before questioning again.
"And what else, child? I doubt that these claws are the full extent of your gifts."
"It pretty much is mother" Cobalt groaned, "I have a very high Cunning stat, but I don't know what I can do with it."
Cobalt couldn't be a general or a mage. What use was all of this brain power?
The Queen looked down at Cobalt thoughtfully, before turning her eyes to upwards to the stone and dirt above.
"The nest is getting quite haphazard, don't you think?" she enquired, almost to the air.
Cobalt frowned. It was true. The rapid expansion of the nest had been done too fast, with not enough thought given to proper planning and aesthetics. The whole place was turning into a horrid mess of tunnels and chambers, no foresight, no beauty at all.
"I believe someone should take control, before it becomes a problem. Perhaps you could take on the responsibility? Until you find your purpose?" the Queen suggested.
Cobalt barely heard her, mind already spinning with ideas, plans and designs for the layout of the nest. There's the farms, the brood chambers to accommodate of course. The above ground portion of the nest would need to be expanded, no doubt about it. Head buzzing and the previous concerns forgotten, Cobalt went to find Tungstant and rope the other Carver into this task. Two minds are better than one after all.