Jailhouse rocks on all sides. These people seriously love their stones. I've made that observation before and I probably will again, but it bears repeating. There is clearly a strong physical and spiritual connection between these, Golgari? Golgarin? Gagarin? Something like that. Any information I can gather on their customs, thoughts, patterns, history, anything at all, could prove useful. Because this situation is desperate! There's no other way to think about it, I'm in trouble here. Fighting to the death against other powerful monsters, creatures that have been groomed for however long? Oh no. Anthony isn't going to let anything slip on this one. My mind is laser focused! It's like a laser beamed through a crystal to become a smaller, more focused laser that is then blasted through a person's eye, corrects their vision on the way through, hits the lens and is sharpened even further before melting the brain on the way out.
To that end, I've begun doing all I can to suss out my situation. The first key is to act natural. If the guards are suspicious of me then they'll watch me twice as closely as every other monster, which will make my life difficult. Far better that I appear to be the perfect candidate, cooperative and peaceful. So I've taken some time to engage in typical ant behaviour. I spend an inordinate amount of time grooming myself, which I have to admit is a wonderfully soothing use of time anyway. Cleaning the mandibles, picking out all the gross bits of Biomass that have gotten stuck in the barbed sections. I actually had to use water magic to get that done, blasting the filth off my magnificent face hands with a concentrated water hose. It made a tremendous mess of course, even the guards up above got splashed pretty bad. Another twelve guards ran in, yelling and pointing all over the place. It was quite a sight. I presume they were frustrated at the mess but I managed to use a little fire magic to dry the place out in no time. My display was so effective that another ten guards came in to admire my work. At least I presume that's what they were doing, seeing as they kept yelling and pointing at the fires.
After that incident, my usual number of guards was doubled from three to six, but I don't think it's due to any negative reason. My suspicion is that they want to make sure they catch any other brilliant ideas I have and admire my many talents and capacities. Other than that, cleaning the antennae is always important and requires careful precision, pulling the antennae through the elbow joints on my front legs with the utmost care, using the tiny hairs in the joint to remove dirt and detritus from the sensory organs. Usually ants would clean each other in teams to ensure that each and every member of the colony is spick and span, not bringing bacteria or mould into the nest. Mould can be a real killer to ants, since the nest is usually kept quite warm and damp in order to create the perfect conditions for rearing larvae. Some types of ants even have small glands that secrete an anti-bacterial that they use to clean themselves! Truly, the ant is the king of the insect world!
Apart from cleaning myself, I've been taking care to spread pheromones around my chamber in order to make it smell a little more like a nest. It's a small thing, but it does soothe me to have the familiar scent around me at all times. It didn't take long to accomplish this so I once again lapsed into boredom. Man this is tough. Being locked up with nothing to do? It's torture! Even as I thought that, I could feel my sub-brains screaming in protest. Naturally with all this free time on my hands, I made sure that each of the sub-brains was grinding hard at my magic skills. Each of them is being pushed to the limit every second, to the point that I frequently have three pounding headaches! Of course, the main mind needs to be kept focused and clear at all times, ready to respond to moments of crises, so I can't use it to train magic skills. That would be insane.
The goal is to grind away at the elemental skills and mana sensing, compression and shaping to bring my all around levels up and get as close as possible to the unity elemental skill. I need every edge I can get for the upcoming battles, I don't think for one second they'll be easy. The only monster I've ever battled that one of these cults supported was Garralosh and I don't want to say I'd be able to beat her again if you locked us in some weird cage and made us fight it out. That Croc was scary! So my sub-brains are on the grind twenty four seven. I'll work them until they burn into sludge and leak out my ear holes!
I hope Tiny is okay…
Granin told me he'd take care of him, and I hope I can trust the guy. The other members of his team were getting quite fond of the big lug, so perhaps I can count on them to intervene if their leader doesn't. Whatever happens, I don't want them to bring him in here. If he gets caught up in this stupid tournament business then I'm not sure if he'd survive. Although … I wonder if they'd let him participate alongside me? He's one of my pets after all, a part of my strength! Nononono. Don't be tempted, he's better off on the outside. I'll have to make my way out of here on my own.
After two full days have passed since my interview, I feel as if I'm going mad. I took a moment to surreptitiously try to interfere with the walls using earth magic. Since they're made of rock, I presumed they could be interfered with. Naturally it wasn't that simple. The second I did so the walls lit up with runes and I felt a force slam into my mind like a battering ram, sending me reeling. By the time my mind stopped spinning there were twelve guards staring down at me with decidedly angry faces. I can assume they weren't too happy with my supposed escape attempt. I tried to look like the most innocent ant I could, which I think had a solid effect. I fully expected someone to connect a mind bridge and yell at me for a bit but oddly enough no-one did. I'm not sure if this is a good or bad sign.
A day later I got my answer.
The first sign I had that something was changing was the door to my accommodations grinding open. The door itself was an impressive piece of work, thick and banded with strange, glowing metals that were obviously warded heavily. On the other side of the door six robed shapers stared at me with flat, unfriendly eyes as the six guards from above lowered a ladder and climbed down to take up a defensive position behind me. Still without speaking with me, they gestured for me to follow them before walking backwards down the tunnel leading from my chamber, eyes on me the entire way.
This is looking ominous. Is it round one already? Do I have to fight?! Are they going to execute me?!
I need to be careful…
I stop my sub-minds from spinning their shapes and give them a few moments to rest. They've been working hard the last few days and need a few moments of rest before I can use them to fight. I'm tempted to use my healing gland but I know that it has a limited effect on easing mental fatigue. If I was in range of enough members of the colony this issue would be resolved in just a few minutes, but sadly I can't sense a single ant in my vicinity.
Down the tunnel we walk, then a right at a T-intersection that brings us to another tunnel which we travel down. Every now and again we pass other doors which I give a cursory swipe with my antennae to try and get a scent of what's on the other side. I sense heat behind a few of them, and behind others I pick up some strange smells. Definitely monsters. These must be the rooms of my fellow candidates. I've passed six of them so far, I wonder how many they have locked up here?!
As I wonder about this, we come to a set of broad gates that rattle as they rise into the ceiling above my head. I have to say, this tunnel is quite spacious, able to fit my bulk into it with room to spare. Clearly this area is designed with monsters in mind.
As the gate finishes rising, my escorts back into the open space beyond, gesturing for me to follow. Alright brains, I hope you guys are ready to go. This might be showtime. Inside the space I find an open, circular area of flat ground interspersed with obstacles. Yep. This is clearly a monster coliseum. Looks like it's time to get it on like Donkey Kong. My weary sub-minds begin to pull on my gravitational mana and I begin to condense it with my main mind. I can't risk the weaker minds losing control of the spell, I have to do the heavy lifting myself.
As I'm settling into war mode and getting my game-mandibles on, I feel a tentative and hesitant mind bridge reach out towards me. Is this a test? The guards are still standing around and watching me. I'm confident it hasn't come from them.
Warily I allow the contact to complete and immediately hear a tentative voice echo in my mind.
[It's okay! I-I'm not going to hurt you.]