Granin felt hopeful in his heart as moved closer to the creature. He had anticipated this moment since he had been informed a new ancient candidate had been identified. Even better, one whom the Abyssal Legion was ignorant of. He'd had to exert a great deal of effort, alongside the other members of the cult, to put together a few delves to search the Second Strata beneath the ruins of Liria and by some miracle they'd found it.
Golgari stood in their triads around the monster, their weapons drawn and eyes darting attentively. Several bore exterior damage to their true skin, a testament to the difficulty they had endured, but Granin focused his attention on the creature. It was large, larger than he expected. Six thin, dark legs rose from the second of its body segments before they bent sharply back down to the ground. The mandibles looked barbaric. Long and jagged, with spikes for gripping, ridges for crushing and tearing and judging by the broad head, plenty of muscle mass behind them. Surprisingly colourful for an ant, the monster's body was a rust red colour, but the gleam of light off that carapace showed it had been coated with another substance. Most disconcerting were the eyes. Multifaceted and unblinking, those eyes stared in all directions at once, watching all of them. He felt certain a fierce intelligence and powerful will to survive resided there.
Surrounded by six warriors with blades drawn and held down by weighted netting, Granin didn't doubt for a second that the monstrous ant would be desperate to escape. He would need to communicate with it, and soon, to prevent tragedy from occurring.
"Are you listening to me?" an outraged voice broke into the Shapers' thoughts.
The old Shaper suppressed a sigh and turned away from his magnificent catch to address the younger Golgari. He reminded himself to be patient, that out in the Dungeon, it was not he who made the decisions. One false move could undo the work that the cult had done to get to this point. He wouldn't let it come to that.
"I apologise, Warrior Balta. I was distracted by the monster you and your brave men and women have been able to capture. Your family's reputation is clearly well deserved."
One didn't become an Elder Shaper without a century or two worth of schmoozing practice under the skin. His smooth words had the desired effect as he witnessed the puffed up scion of a wealthy house swallow his anger at being ignored and allow his childish temper to be tamped by the praise directed to his family.
"So long as you understand who is the leader of this expedition."
"It is you, of course," the words came easy to the wily shaper's lips, "as the highest levelled warrior among us, the responsibility is yours."
The Shaper smoothed over the rough stone and placated the younger warrior, inwardly muttering at the ridiculous necessity of it. Calm now that the proper deference had been shown, Coriinam Balta gestured with one glittering hand to the restrained monster.
"I'm not sure why it was so necessary I come out here to restrain this thing. Should I remove the core?"
"No!" Granin exclaimed before he moderated his tone. "No," he repeated, "it is not for the core that the Shapers sought to capture this monster. Now that we have it we are to transport it via gateway to the field academy beneath Ogrinnore."
The silver flecked face of Coriinam twisted at the incredulous nature of these instructions.
"Transport the creature? Has your true skin turned your brain to granite? This monster wasn't easy for us to capture! How are we supposed to march through an expanse and bring it with us? Just kill the thing and be done with it!"
As if you could have caught it without us, Granin grumbled internally. He interjected to cut off the hot-headed idiot before he took a sword to the precious specimen, keenly aware that all this time they were being watched by the unblinking eyes of the monster.
"Whilst I defer to your command in the field, Balta, I will have to remind you that the Shapers' circle has provided the funding for this delve and set the terms. Should we return without the creature alive then that would surely become a blemish on your record."
Balta's eyes widened as he felt outrage boil up inside him. A blemish? On his record!? Unthinkable!
"Fine!" He spat. "We will bring the creature back, alive! But I will ensure it is crippled for the journey. I won't accept arguments on this. The safety of the triads is my highest priority."
Being a vengeful little ass is your highest priority. Granin controlled himself and refrained from speaking. So long as they could get the candidate monster back to the cult, all would be well. Hopefully it wouldn't be too angered by the limestone idiots antics.
"If you will allow me, leader, I would like to have a moment to work my craft on the creature. I may be able to intimidate or dominate it into cooperation."
Balta grunted and turned away, displaying the contempt for Shaping that was so common amongst his class. This suited Granin just fine. The less eyes on him for this moment, the better. He took a breath and closed his eyes to centre himself. His head still throbbed from his earlier exertions and this was a risky thing to do. If the monster attacked him, it would be difficult to fend it off in his weakened state. The fact that the ant was capable of mind magic was one of the few things the cult knew about it.
Granin steadied his breathing and centred himself before began to weave a mind bridge between himself and the creature. He didn't try to hide what he was doing and the giant ant watched him from only ten metres away, perfectly, disturbingly still.
An old and experienced Shaper with extremely high Skill levels, it didn't take him long to form the connection. He was hesitant to solidify the link, but he couldn't hesitate for long, who knew how much time Balta would give him?
[Do not be alarmed. I only mean to speak with you. I do not mean you harm.]
The ant didn't move or react in any way. Not even a twitch of its long and dangling antennae. Finally, a voice echoed back in Granin's mind.
[You've got a strange way of showing it, rocky.]