I spent the next two days training my Skills. In order to maximise my training speed, members of Granin's triad came to assist me. Something I'd already noticed is that Skills train much faster in a combat situation. Field practice, so to speak. The System doesn't seem to be too picky about what exactly counts as combat since I can shape the earth beneath Torrina's feet over and over again and hey that counts. I'm not complaining about it, it means my Skills go up faster after all, but I can't help but feel a little put out that there are such obvious loopholes in the mechanics of the System. Surely Gandalf could have thought of some of these exploits.
I've no idea where Granin has got himself off to, but I don't seem him across these two days. Torrina and Corun keep me company instead. The former doesn't say much but her quiet competence and advice with handling magic are well received, the latter doesn't shut up and keeps me informed of all the goings-on back in the combat area. I can feel the battles occurring now and again. Even here in my chamber, over a hundred metres away from that arena the floor shakes and dust shakes loose as the roof and walls rattle from the force of colossal impacts.
It's going down out there in a big way, so I'm told. Every day, multiple battles, occur as these mad Cult members throw their proto-ancients at each other to see which monster comes out alive. After every fight Corun runs into my chamber to rave about the battle, filling me in on all the gossip. I'd prefer it if he stopped telling me about how all the Shapers were reacting to the results. What do I care if some ancient stone person was reduced to tears and movingly eulogised his monster pupil of ten years? I don't! I don't at all! These people are maniacs running a death tournament!
I mean, monsters kill each other all the time, right? We fight and eat each other, it's only natural if you can call anything considering monsters that are born out of pure magical energy to be natural. But being forced to fight by these Shapers for their reasons is really rubbing me the wrong way. However, I have to admit that making use of their resources and knowledge will help me, and I can take all of this knowledge back to the colony if I ever make it out of here. Just thinking of what the family will be able to do with all of this knowledge is enough to make my mandibles quiver. The teleporting ant empire of doom will become a reality!
After two days of grinding, I manage to get my Earth Mana Affinity to level eight of the second rank and my Fire Mana Affinity to level nine. With a little more time I'll manage to get both of them to rank three, then I plan to switch over and start working on Air Mana. I also manage to gain two levels in Mana Moulding. I love that Skill. Every time it levels up the knowledge of how to handle mana just matures in my mind and I gain a little more speed, a little more finesse and a bit more confidence. With my multiple minds, each sunk into the blessed tranquil sea of meditation acting as a force multiplier, I get faster and faster at weaving my spells.
Toward the end of the second day, Granin finally reappears along with another team of three Shapers, each looking super serious. Torrina had been acting as my 'opponent' for training and she quickly stands to one side as the others enter my chamber through the above door. Very swiftly a mind bridge stretches out toward me and Granin's voice echoes in my mind.
[How goes the training?]
[Good, I suppose. Numbers are going up, still a long way from where we want to be.]
[From where you want to be, you mean,] he can't help but throw that in, [I'm pretty sure you'll be able to reach tier three in each of those basic elements before the next bout. But no matter. Get ready to move out, these three are going to be your escorts.]
I'm a little confused.
[Uh... Why? Didn't you just say I'm not fighting now?]
[Not a fight. The matches for the day are done. Tomorrow will mark the end of the first round and you'll be up fairly quickly after that I imagine. No, I've gotten permission for you to meet the other reincarnator that the Cult has taken under its wing.]
[Oh, right! James, I think his name was?]
[Right. He's also not in the tournament, mainly due to some higher-ups pulling some serious strings. Lucky for him really. He's not that strong in a fight.]
Poor guy. At least he's not in this deathmatch tournament, so it's not all bad.
Much the same as when I was brought to meet Sarah, the three escort Shapers bring me out of my cell and through the tunnels before guiding me through the gates and out into the combat area. The space looks a great deal different after two straight days of brutal monster combat. Chunks have been ripped out of the ground, stones are smashed to pieces, the walls are scarred or outright destroyed in a few places. Not to mention the ichor stains on the ground and about the place. Phew, this is grim stuff.
What I don't see is a monster. Where the heck is this James guy? Is he hiding behind a gate like Sarah was? If I wasn't scared of the huge bear of death, I'm not likely to be scared of whatever this 'weak at fighting' guy has become.
After a few more moments of confusion, a mind bridge connects to me from somewhere in the chamber.
[Eyyy. My fellow invertebrate! How's things?]
I still don't see anything. My antennae twitch but I can't sense any heat either. Where the heck is this guy? Is he invisible?
[Uhh. Good! I guess? Not really? Where the heck are you? Hiding? There's no shame in being a monster, man. Come out and own it!]
[Me? Ashamed? Of this glorious form?! Never! I just prefer it down here is all. I think you'll understand when you see me. I'm coming up!]
Twenty metres away the ground begins to rumble before abruptly bursting upwards to reveal a weird, pointy mash of flesh that bulges outwards to reveal a giant worm? A body divided into segments, a bright pink colour, a distinct lack of eyes. He looks nothing like the intimidating worms of death but rather a squishy style worm ready for the end of a hook. The only remarkable thing about him is his size, more than twice as long as myself, possibly as much as fourteen metres in length.
[Soo you're a worm James?]
[Yep!] His voice rings happily in my mind. [Check out this glorious body. Have you ever seen anything like it? I mean, technically I'm not a worm, I'm a Mature Elemental Worm of Earth.]
[Well, I mean, most of my friends call me Jim.]
[Nice to meet you, Jim. I'm Anthony. As you can see, I'm a big 'ol ant.]
[I do see! Spines are overrated!]
Finally, someone who speaks a little sense.