Chapter 1

“Three…” Joy gasped, slowly pushing herself away from the ground, even as her arms trembled beneath her from the strain. She couldn’t remember the last time it’d been so difficult for her to move her body… but then, she had died and been reborn. Her new body didn’t have nearly as much training or exercise, which was the entire reason why she was doing this.

Finally managing to straighten her arms, Joy panted, holding herself like that for three full breaths, then let herself collapse to the floor. The warm wax felt good against her skin, and she grinned to herself. Even if she hadn’t reached her goal of five push-ups, at least she’d gotten three.

A soft, curious chirp came from behind Joy, along with wafting, curious pheromones. She turned her head to see that eight of the other worker hatchlings were nearby, watching her. Another two were off in one of the other corners, trying out push-ups themselves, and she could smell their confusion as they discovered how hard it was. The other twenty were around the room, a few of them playing with a wax ball, and a couple making things out of wax, but almost all of them were paying attention to her.

Rolling over, Joy grinned at the apis who’d chirped at her as she sat up, her arms still aching.

“You’re wondering why I was doing push-ups?” Joy asked, tilting her head to the side as she massaged her forearms.

The apis nodded, her eyes brightening, and the pheromones grew more active as more attention focused on her again. Joy was the only one of the hatchlings who could speak so far, which the worker who took care of them had said was quite unusual. Normally new hatchlings couldn’t speak for a full week, but Joy’s influence had some of the others trying to figure it out, even if they hadn’t succeeded yet.

“These are called push-ups by humans and elves. Maybe other species too, but I don’t know, not yet.” Joy explained, climbing to her feet after a moment. The room seemed absolutely cavernous to her, with her current height, but she knew that would change soon enough. “They exercise with them to make their arms stronger, as well as other exercises like these!”

Joy began to squat and straighten, and much like the push-ups, she was startled at how exhausting they were, as her legs began to burn after only two squats, but she persisted anyway. The other apis seemed to grow even more confused, and Joy paused, realizing that they didn’t understand why she was doing exercises. She knew too much, she supposed, so she stopped, plopping onto the floor again.

“You have to understand, I was reborn. I used to be a worker, a full-grown one! I fought humans, spiders, and even wasps!” Joy explained, grinning at them as the ones close by followed her example, though they seemed excited and shocked at her claim of fighting wasps. “I saw all sorts of things I never imagined I would! I even started as a bee. I met nice humans and elves, too. They taught me something which is important.”

The others all stopped what they were doing to listen at this point, and since Joy had their attention she paused, then spoke gravely. “Being high level is important to the hive. We’re all level one right now, and some things are over level eighty. A bad person was going to release a nasty spider that could eat entire hives, which I was trying to stop. So we have to get to higher level to defend the hive. But how do we do that?”

Dozens of apis nodded through her explanation, growing worried, but at her last question they paused, and she could smell how unsure they were. Joy smiled at them and shrugged.

“We do things that are hard.” Joy explained simply. “The harder what you’re trying to do is, the more likely you are to level. Exercising is really hard when we’re this young, but that means it gives us the best chance to get stronger, and as we level, it makes us even stronger than that. I couldn’t protect my friends from the spider if it escaped, that’s why I sacrificed myself to lock it up again. I don’t want to have to do that again, though. I want to get strong enough that I can kill any spider or wasp that tries to eat them. That’s why I’m doing push-ups.”

The apis’s eyes brightened at that, their pheromones indicating their understanding, and several nodded vigorously. Joy grinned broadly at that, happy that they understood her.

“I’m glad you understand! Now, time for another try!” Joy said, and rolled over to try her push-ups again. Maybe this time she could get to five, or even six. She wasn’t surprised when nearly half of the others joined her.

“Fascinating.” The queen said, watching the new worker hatchlings through the door for a moment, what the young apis had just said echoing through her mind. It also appeared to have influenced the other apis, as many of them were trying to exercise with Joy. The thought of an apis hatchling with a name was strange, but no stranger than other things which had occurred over the past several months.

Beside her an attendant spoke softly. “I’ve checked with the others, and Joy appears to have had an effect on the other hatchlings after less than a day. They are investigating things and attempting to learn new things faster than the other hatchlings even five days older than they are. The priests have said that she is telling the truth as to her origin, and is not mistaken.”

The queen nodded, considering carefully. The thought of Joy lying never crossed their minds, not since her pheromones would have given her away immediately, but the possibility of her being wrong or confused was a possibility. Some of their workers had had delusions after being poisoned, after all. However, what Joy had said… it was wisdom which hadn’t been granted to the queen. She’d known the basics of leveling, but not the details that Joy apparently knew. That was truly fascinating. As was what the priests had said about Joy being an ‘apis champion’.

“Allow them to develop how they desire. Keep them separate from the other hatchlings until two weeks have passed, as I wish to see what differences arise.” The queen commanded at last, nodding slightly to herself. “If they ask why, explain it to them.”

“As you desire.” The attendant said, smiling warmly. Nodding, the queen turned to head back to her chambers. She had eggs to lay, and things to consider.

Chapter 2