[Yeah, these Cultists are crazy. I shouldn't have to say that should I? They're Cultists. Just because they worship the biggest and baddest worm in this world doesn't mean they get to skate on that.]
[You make a solid point. Sarah didn't seem to share your point of view though. She seemed a little more forgiving of them.]
The massive worm gives a little wriggle that I can only interpret as dismissal.
[Sarah's just too nice. They took her in when she was desperate, gave her rest and someone to talk to and she was won over inside a year. They basically let her get out of the monster life, go back to being civilised. I can't blame her too much.]
[What about you? You've been here for a few years, so I hear. Gone native? Out of the monster game?]
[Me? Hell no! This incredible specimen of a Megadrile is still in the game! I'm just taking a rest and grinding my Skills. I had it rough out there, man. You think you had it tough as an ant? Try being a worm! How am I supposed to fight?]
The man has a point. Actually, the former-man-now-worm has a point. How exactly was he meant to fight?
[So how did you fight?]
[I didn't! I hid underground and snuck up to steal scraps of Biomass like the gorgeous detritovore that I am.]
[Not too dissimilar from my own early strategy to be honest. How long did you have to keep that up?]
[About a year.]
[Took a long time! Food was hard to come by, I spent most of my time starving, buried under the ground in the dark. The only way I could tell when monsters were near was through the tremors they sent through the ground.]
[That sounds rough. How the hell did you even get to this point?]
This is compelling stuff. I really didn't think that I'd ever run into someone that had a harder start than I did. It seems impossible that someone would be able to go from a blind, almost completely harmless worm to evolving at least three times by the look of him.
[Once I'd gotten up a few mutations I started to gain confidence. Defence was a little better, sneaking skills levelled up a bit and I was able to inject a poison with a bite.]
[You have a mouth?]
[Of course I have a mouth! You think worms can't eat?]
[You're right. Stupid question. Go on.]
[So I was able to start doing a little hunting. Small creatures here and there. Took another year before I was able to evolve.]
[Wait,] I broke in, [you didn't form your core first?]
The giant worm in front of me twists angrily.
[How the hell was I supposed to know that core first is better!? I spent two years getting to level five! You think I had the patience to wait before finally getting some safety!?]
[You make a good point, again. I apologise, Elemental Worm of Earth Jim. Do go on.]
Worms can't shrug, the lack of shoulders makes it difficult, but somehow Jim manages to convey the general sense of one.
[Not much more to it. Kept slithering, kept grinding. Got my core, evolved a few more times, snuck my way down here and got picked up by the Worm Cult. They like having me around, being a worm helps with that I suppose. Wouldn't mind meeting the big fella one day. Yarrum? Would love to know what sort of species he is? Wonder if he'd be willing to accept a worm bro. Worm son? Mini-me? I'll work it out.]
This guy seems to have bottomless confidence in his way of the worm. It's kind of inspiring. This is someone who has stuck fast to the path of loving the skin he's in, just as I have. I need to stick to my guns, not that there was much chance of me doing any different! My ant soul burns bright, too bright! James and his worm obsession have nothing on my love of ants. I literally died for ants, dammit!
[So you plan to just keep grinding here before leaving? Do you think they'll let you leave?]
[The Shapers? Oh yeah. They might be nuts, but they're usually on the level. Well, except lately. This whole death tournament thing? What the hell is this? Madness! They've lost what little they had left of their minds. Nuts, I'm telling you, nuts.]
[So you still think they'll let you go?]
James spoke slowly, as if he were explaining something to someone very young. Or very dim.
[Anthony. I'm a worm. I literally eat rocks and dirt. At this point of my evolution, I think I can melt down metals and eat that as well. How would they keep me here?]
I think he's being a little nave. These Shapers have a whole lot of tricks up their sleeves, even though they don't wear shirts. The moment he tries to wriggle out of their sight, I bet they knock him senseless with mind magic and drag him back up. Heck, maybe Jim knows that and he's working on his mental defence Skills. It's not really my business I suppose. Just like with Sarah, other than being formerly human, what do we have in common? James is living his best worm life and I have a new family, one that actually loves me.
God damn that stung me in the thorax. Something I ate?
[Well, judging the by shifting feet of my escort over here James - ]
[Please, Anthony. Call me Jim.]
[Alright, Jim. I think they're going to drag me back to my cell where I'll resume grinding away at my Skills in the hope that I won't die. Any advice before I go?]
[Yeah, I think you're right. Their faces don't change much but you can tell when they get fidgety.] Jim sounds a bit depressed as he confirms my suspicion. [Look, just try to cover your bases, alright? From what I know, the members of this Cult have been trying just about everything to create a new ancient. Which means that there's all types of crazy monsters in this place. Just be aware that they can come at you from weird angles. You're still young on Pangera, you haven't seen how crazy stuff can get. So just, be careful.]
[That's given me something to think about. Thanks Jim.]
The giant worm in front of me coils up like a plump snake and waves a friendly tail at me. I can't help but wave my antennae back and with a happy little wriggle, the worm dives, literally dives, into the ground and in a flash, he's gone. He can seriously move through that dirt! He might actually be able to do what he says. If he ever meets up with Yarrum, I hope he doesn't get eaten.
[Alright boys and girls. I'm ready to go back to my cell! And when's dinner around here anyway?]
Another march through the tunnels and back to my cell where Granin is waiting.
[Did you have a good conversation with James?]
[Oh yeah. He thinks you lot are as crazy as I do.]
Even Granin cracks a smile at that.
[I know. He's smart. If you survive the next fight then I'll try and get the three of you together. The least they can do is let you all talk together. That I had to fight so hard to get you to meet James is a disgrace.]
[They don't want me meeting the other former humans?]
[Hmph. I get the impression they think you're a bad influence.]
[Ah. I definitely am.]