“Ack!” Joy yelped, a twinge of pain radiating through her wrist as her rapier was knocked out of her grasp, and the force of the blow almost knocked her over. She swayed, milling her arms, and barely managed to keep herself upright.
“Are you sure you want to do this? You can’t block me when I use more than half my strength.” The warrior said, frowning at Joy in concern, her longsword a couple of inches from Joy.
“Yes!” Joy replied immediately, grinning at the much taller apis. While she’d grown almost a foot over the past week, she was still only half the height of most apis, which made her even more enthusiastic. “I told you, I want to get as good as I can, and you make me struggle!”
“If you say so. I just don’t like seeing you lose all the time.” The warrior replied, smiling as well as she pulled her sword away. “But if you really want to train with us, why not? I’ve never seen a hatchling with so much eagerness. It’s spread to some of the others in your group, too!”
“Yup! They don’t like being left behind, so they started to exercise and stuff, too. It’s all for the good of the hive.” Joy said, nodding firmly. “Even if I want to leave after I’m grown, most of them don’t. They want to protect the hive.”
Leaning down, Joy picked up her rapier with her left hand this time. She hadn’t been quite as precise with her left hand as she’d liked in her previous life, so she was trying to use it more. Besides, her right wrist was sore.
“Very true! Well, if you’re ready, we’ll continue!” the warrior said, raising her sword, then stopped suddenly, as did Joy and all of the other warriors in the training room.
The room wasn’t enormous when compared to a non-apis one for the same purpose, but it was quite large for being inside the hive. There were about two dozen warriors in the room, plus Joy, which meant that it was easy for their sparring to interfere with one another. Which was the point, Joy knew. Fighting wasn’t always one on one.
In the doorway was an attendant, her pheromones commanding their attention while she looked at Joy curiously.
Straightening, Joy asked. “What can I do for you?”
“The head priestess wishes to meet with you.” The attendant replied simply, her pheromones revealing her curiosity. “She has information for you, and believes that you have some for her.”
“Okay!” Joy agreed, and she sheathed her rapier quickly, then nodded to the warrior. “Thank you for the training! I hope I can come back again!”
“You’re welcome whenever you like, though I’ll likely be patrolling.” The warrior replied cheerfully. Joy waved while quickly trotting over to the attendant, sheathing her rapier as she did so.
The attendant smiled down at her, her curiosity and amusement apparent in her pheromones, then started out of the chamber, keeping to a pace that Joy could keep up with. It might take three or four steps from Joy to equal even one of hers, but it was something Joy could do.
“You’ve convinced your fellow hatchlings to work much harder than normal.” The attendant said, pausing to let a worker carrying a large pot pass them. “Did you mean to?”
“Nope!” Joy replied happily, breathing hard as she explained. “I just want to get stronger, so that when I’m grown I can go find my friends again. They’re probably really sad, and don’t know that I was born again. They’re also probably level twenty or something, which means I have a lot of levels to make up again. The others just wonder why I’m doing the things I am, so I tell them! I learned a lot while not in the Tulip Hive, so I think it’s good to share.”
They continued through the hive, which Joy thought was fascinating in its own way. She wasn’t sure if it was carved into a massive tree or a bunch of them, but either way she somewhat liked how the wax walls were interspersed with a warm-colored wood.
“I agree. So does the queen, though at first she wasn’t certain if you were correct. There was always the chance you could be mistaken.” The attendant said, smiling slightly more. “Also, the things you’ve talked about have been beneficial for more than just the hatchlings. We knew levels were important, but nothing detailed.”
“Glad to help!” Joy said, grinning broadly. “I didn’t know either, which was why I asked!”
That was when they came around a corner, and Joy’s antennae perked up as she heard a sound she didn’t recognize. She wasn’t sure how to describe the faint scratching sound, but it was vaguely familiar. Not a worker carving out new tunnels in the tree, that was for certain, and not one of the carpenter beetles chewing its way through the tree… the hive had had a large-scale clash with them the previous day, so Joy would have recognized them.
The next moment they entered the chamber, and Joy’s eyes went wide, because it was something she’d never seen in a hive before. She’d never even conceived of something like what was before her.
Numerous desks sat around a larger room of the hive, their surfaces made of wood and supported by solid wax construction. Some of them were bare, but most had piles of thin, hexagonal wax tablets resting on them. In the middle of the room were dozens of pillars, each covered by honeycombs, some of which were filled with similar wax tablets. There were apis in the room as well, ones that looked similar to a handful of apis Joy had met at the Shadebough Hive. Unlike most apis, their armor didn’t appear to be leather or even chitin plate, but instead it seemed to be made of some type of flowing fabric that surrounded them in loose, swirling folds. The women, and a handful of drones, were sitting at the desks, using what looked like thin metal loops attached to handles to carve lines into tablets.
Most interesting was the sheer bouquet of pheromones Joy could smell swirling around the room. Many scents, a little different from those she normally smelled, came from the pillars, and as she watched she realized that the apis were deliberately imbuing pheromones into the tablets they were working on. Only then did she realize what she was seeing.
“Is this a library?” Joy asked, a little delighted at the sight before her. “I’ve heard about them, but I’ve never seen one before!”
The attendant paused at that, tilting her head, then spoke, her pheromones revealing her slight surprise. “No? This is the temple. The priestesses and priests are recording the knowledge that was bestowed upon us by the gods when we transformed.”
“Exactly. That said, it appears I have more questions for Joy than I did before. Have you seen a temple before?” another apis asked, and Joy looked at the attendant who’d set aside a tablet and the carving tool to stand. The woman was wearing the same clothing as the others in the room, which explained everything to Joy. One of the queen’s attendants must have been the first of the priests to transform, or among them.
“I did! I saw, um… two churches and a temple. The temple was really big.” Joy replied, nodding her head vigorously. “You could probably build an entire hive inside it! Humans waste a lot of space.”
“Good. That means I can ask a few more questions about them.” The priestess said, smiling, then nodded to the attendant. “Thank you.”
“Your role is more important than mine at present.” The attendant replied with a smile. Then she left, and the priestess offered a hand to Joy.
Joy considered, then took it, asking. “Why did you need to talk to me?”
“I need to tell you what you are, and to ask you about the outside world.” The priestess said calmly, starting toward a room in the back. “Before you leave, your knowledge needs to be added to our records.” “Okay!” Joy chirped happily. It would help the hive survive, so she could entirely understand the sentiment. She just hoped it wouldn’t get in the way of her training.