Antionette and Victoriant sat in the secure chamber in which the Eldest was evolving. Soldiers and scouts lined the walls, Brood Tenders, with their soothing growth auras were in attendance and the two guardians watched all with a sharp eye from their positions on either side of their master.
"How long until the Eldest wakes up do you think?" Antionette asked for the fifth time.
"I have no idea," Victoriant gave the same reply.
The two juvenile Queens fidgeted for a moment, giving their antennae a restless sweep through their knee joints, before they settled once more. The Eldest had undergone many changes over the last hour, a dramatic increase in size being the most obvious, but still they showed no sign of awakening. This deep in the nest, the battle could neither be felt nor heard, but it weighed heavily on their minds.
"I didn't think it would be this frustrating," Victoriant sighed.
"I'm beginning to understand why the Queen is getting so restless," her sibling agreed.
"At least mother can actually perform her function. She can lay eggs and create a future for the colony. What about us? We aren't allowed to fight, can't try to gain experience and can't lay eggs. I just feel so useless."
"Cheer up, Victoriant. We knew we would need to be patient when we chose this path. If you look on the bright side, the two of us are closer to our next evolution than the other members of the council."
"That's only true because other members of the colony risk themselves and fight in order to bring monsters to us so that we gain the experience."
Speaking of which, after a short tussle near one of the walls, a soldier came toward the two of them carrying a heavily damaged shadow beast which was promptly deposited at their feet.
"Thank you very much," Antionette called as the soldier returned to her post.
"I'm level fifteen," Victoriant told her sibling.
"Me too," Antionette confirmed.
"Then, who got the experience last time?"
"I believe it was me."
Victoriant leaned down and finished off the heavily wounded monster with a quick snap of her mandibles. In truth, the two juvenile queens were weak fighters. Their large size was less due to a powerful physique and more to create space for the numerous organs necessary to facilitate the egg laying process. Unlike the Queen, their evolution wasn't designed to battle in order to get the colony off the ground. The Eldest had designed their path with pure egg laying in mind.
One more evolution and they would be able to start producing a small number of eggs per day, and one more after that until they would fully mature as Queens, able to produce hundreds of eggs each day, so long as they were provided the Biomass to do so.
The two siblings absentmindedly consumed the Biomass in front of them. In truth, the pair of them had already maxed out their mutations. They only ate to stockpile Biomass for their impending evolution. Indeed, the colony had been willingly funnelling resources into the pair, hoping to increase the growth rate of the colony as soon as possible. The two of them already boasted maxed out cores and had both been presented with special cores some time ago. Five more levels and they would be ready to evolve on the spot.
The two Queens to be were interrupted in their contemplation by Tungstant storming into the chamber from above and rushing down the wall.
"How is the Eldest?" the harried looking carver ant asked.
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Victoriant flicked a curious antennae at her sibling before she responded.
"No change since the last time you came in, as you can see."
The smaller ant slumped in frustration before she wandered over to where the Eldest rested. The two guardians shifted at her approach, not hostile, but ensuring the little carver was aware they knew she was there.
Fortunately, Tungstant was familiar with this task and gave the guardians their due as she approached. Victoriant and Antionette watched as the carver performed the now familiar dance of measuring the height and length of the Eldest by stepping out the distances with careful, measured steps. This job done, Tungstant began to wave her antennae over the Eldest' carapace, using her sense of smell and the fine touch of micro hairs to examine any changes she could detect in the Eldest.
Job done, the little ant turned back despondently, only to be pounced on by her two siblings.
"How goes the battle?!" The two juvenile queens demanded.
Tungstant jumped back at the surprise attack before she sighed.
"Preparations are being made to retreat from the second wall, the call should be made any moment now."
"Only the second wall? There's still six to go! How long will this battle go on?" Victoriant exclaimed.
"It takes a long time to kill tens of thousands of monsters," Tungstant replied, irritated. "We've made our calculations to the best of our abilities. This was the maximum amount of defences we could prepare in time and it should be enough to eliminate the horde whilst preserving as many lives as possible."
Victoriant deflated a little, frustrated at the prospect of having to sit, under guard in a chamber so far from the battle. With no capacity to influence the battle they could only sit and wait as others battled to protect their future.
Tungstant softened her voice.
"I know it's painful, I'm in much the same situation as you are. It isn't as if I can dig or build anything to influence the battle at this point. I'm just running messages and checking on the Eldest. Who still doesn't show any sign of waking up!"
"It doesn't seem as if they've grown since the last time you were here," Antionette offered. "Perhaps the evolution is close to completed?"
Tungstant shook her antennae.
"I'm afraid that may not be true. The change in size is probably the first and easiest part of the evolution. I can't sense much from the outside, but I believe there are significant changes taking place within the body of the Eldest. It may yet be some time until the change is completed."
"But…" Victoriant protested, "what about the battle?!"
"We'll just have to hold on," the carver shrugged her antennae, "according to my predictions, we won't be able to end this battle without the Eldest taking part, we'll just have to last until they can join the fight."
The ants fell silent as they contemplated the next few hours and the future of their colony. The struggle up above would be brutal, vicious and filled with danger, but each of these siblings would rather they be allowed up there than trapped down here, waiting.