The role of the Brood Tender seemed straight forward enough. It was mostly in the name, after all. The Brood consisted of the unhatched eggs, the larvae and the pupae that were the future generations of the colony and ensuring that they were cared for in as optimal a way as possible was the Brood Tenders primary responsibility.
"How goes the Brood today, Florence?"
"Theresant? Nice to see you! You've been at the academy for days! The darlings are busy little grubs, as usual!"
The two council members approached each other with gladness ringing from their antennae. The two ants had a peaceful and motherly disposition which was why they had volunteered to take up this role, despite the immense pressure involved.
"Are we going to reach our target for today?" Florence asked her sister, "two hundred hatchings, two hundred graduations?"
"I believe so," came the reply, "my people in the academy have assure me the current crop of hatchlings will be ready to graduate on time."
The two ants fell into a companionable silence as they moved to a brood chamber near the surface. The larvae needed warmth to accelerate their growth, so they were moved to chambers closer to the surface during the day as the sun shone and then deeper underground at night, where the heat remained trapped. With the wave at play however, the Brood Tenders were unwilling to risk their charges in the Dungeon proper, so they'd asked if some fire mage ants could assist in warming the chambers for the Brood.
The two siblings arrived and were greeted by their fellow tenders already hard at work in the chamber. The overlapping nourishing auras washed over them and gave them both a little shiver of joy. The aura gland was an expensive part of the evolution from worker caste to Brood Tenders, which seemed like a waste because the gland itself didn't have a powerful effect. It essentially calmed and nourished infants of aura owner's species, helping grow faster and stronger.
When the aura effect was overlapped with others however, the effect became more noticeable. When it had first been noticed that those hatched from chambers with more Tenders in them were slightly more developed, even having a few extra stat points, the colony had decided to produce a large batch of Brood Tenders to further investigate this caste.
It was no exaggeration to say that currently, apart from the soldiers, the colony was pouring the most resources into the Brood Tenders. In order to combat the crisis facing the family, soldiers were needed desperately, but so were the specialised ants required to raise them.
Theresant and Florence cleaned the larvae, tickled them and played with them before they moved onto the next chamber, doing the rounds so that they could keep an eye on the progress of every member of the brood. As they passed through the tunnels, other ants made space for them respectfully as they called out words of encouragement.
"Tenders, work hard today!"
"How fares the brood today, Tenders? Can I assist in any way?"
"Make sure those hatchlings are putting forth all of their effort, Tenders! We don't want lazy ants in the colony!"
"Small chance of that," laughed Florence.
The Brood Tenders were given space wherever they went, nothing was allowed to impede their work. The brood was the future of the colony, it was ingrained into ant nature to prioritise the rearing of the young above almost everything else and that hadn't changed when the species of the colony had shifted.
They'd only grown more thoughtful and calculating about how they went about it.
Florence and Theresant gathered in the main brood chamber, where the pupae, those young in their final stage of development before they emerged from their cocoons, where being nurtured by large cluster of their caste.
"Greetings sisters" Theresant called to them as she entered the chamber.
"Greetings, senior" they replied.
"Has there been any further developments regarding skill development or progression?"
One of the Tenders stepped forward.
"No, senior. Only a few of us have managed to raise the Nurturing skill to the third rank, but no new skills have been unlocked."
"Make sure that the test groups are kept separate. On different sides of the colony if possible. We need to ensure we can isolate the cause in the event that new options become available."
"Of course, senior," the Tenders acknowledged.
The colony was accelerating their efforts to grapple with the system. Test groups for every caste of worker, soldier and artisans were hard at work trying to unlock new skills, test skill fusion options and explore the benefits of ranking up skills were. This would enable the paths of future generations of ants to be smoother and more efficient as they didn't have to waste time or effort in crafting the perfect build for their role.
It had been Florence who first unlocked the nurturing skill by raising a young single handedly from egg to hatchling. Such a thing had been more likely back when there were fewer Tenders about, but it was still a complete fluke that no other worker had touched that particular larvae other than Florence right up until it spun its cocoon and then hatched. The skill granted knowledge and instincts when raising the young, turning the Tenders into almost supernaturally gifted carers. Which in turn caused the larvae to develop more rapidly and emerge from their cocoons stronger and smarter than they otherwise would.
Now every Tender was assigned an egg on their first day in the caste. They felt sure that there were further skills to be unlocked to deal with rearing that would allow them to provide even better care for their charges.
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Theresant had been the one to unlock the teaching skill. She'd been one of the council members assigned to training new hatchlings and helping to develop the process that turned a hatchling into a thriving member of the colony. The system of teaching young hatchlings had developed rapidly in the colony, a far sight from the early days when the eldest had handed responsibility over to the twenty.
Now the Academy was a formal, tested education program that aimed to maximise efficiency and effectiveness. It was discovered, thanks to Theresants efforts, that the Tenders had a key role to play here as well. She had been the first instructor to take a class all the way through the program solo, thus unlocking the Teaching Skill. It was believed that the unlock was tied to a certain number of individuals gaining a certain number of skill levels under an individual's tutelage but they hadn't managed to pinpoint the numbers yet.
After teaching had been unlocked the associated Instructor Clarity skill had been discovered, allowing instructors to better structure their lessons to ensure the message was received during a training session. This skill had been a lifesaver and greatly expedited the time it took for a new hatchling to grasp the eldest' decree to preserve life.
So the Tenders had become a key part of the Academy as well, as they were in a better position than most to spend their skill points on these non-combat, non-craft related skills.
"Who would have thought," Theresant asked Florence, "that our caste would so quickly rise to such a key role in the colony?"
Her sibling dipped her antennae in acknowledgement.
"I have to say, I didn't expect us to be quite so in demand, or effective."
"I have to praise the supreme wisdom of the eldest," Theresant admitted, "only they could have foreseen how critical the Brood Tenders would be to the colony."
"Oh, I quite agree," said Florence, "the academy, the Tenders, the way the colony continues to grow and develop is all according the grand design of the eldest. Such foresight, it takes my breath away."
The two members of the council nodded solemnly to one another as they each committed to never forget the incredible being who seemed to hold the very future between their mandibles. How lucky were they, to be the creation of such a creature?