A few hours later, Granin barges into the chamber and pushes past my ever watching triad of guards to climb down into my cell. When he reaches the bottom and sees me feeding a little mini-demon, he freezes for just a second before he bursts out laughing.
[You as well?] I complain.
[I mean - I just - Can you imagine their faces if they heard?]
Not this again. I'm almost starting to feel guilty.
[He's an incredible piece of work!] I point out defensively. [I didn't even need to do anything to change his core, just fiddled with his evolutions a little.]
[I know, I know.] Granin waves a hand. [I have to say I was pretty impressed they managed to raise a demon so well, it's notoriously difficult to do.]
That's intriguing. Now that I have a demon in my little group, I'm quite curious to learn more about them. The more I know about my team members, the better I'm able to support them.
[Why's that the case? Is it something to do with the basic shell mentioned in the profile?]
[Demons are a bit of an oddity in the Dungeon. You can effectively think of them as being divided into two groups. The lower-tiered demons spawn as basically brainless, violent monsters who are even more bloodthirsty than your average beast. Sometimes they don't even eat what they hunt, just move onto the next battle to satisfy their bloodlust.]
[What a waste of perfectly good Biomass!]
[I know. As they evolve, they get stronger, but their basic instincts don't go away. All demons are capable magic users basically from birth, even those who focus on it and evolve down the path to becoming like our little friend here,] he gestures to the Envy demon, [get more adept with magic but are still enslaved by their instincts.]
[So they get smarter, but remain mindless killing machines?]
[Basically. They become more cunning killing machines.]
[The Third Strata sounds terrifying!]
[It is. But we aren't done yet.]
[Oh, yes. Once they reach tier six, the demons begin to take on aspects and transition to the second group. These are the upper demons. More powerful, more specialised and entirely in control of their instincts. Just as smart as the surface races, they have their own society down there and believe me when I say that it's brutal.]
[Waaaaait a second. You're telling me that when demons evolve enough, they 'graduate' into a fully formed demon society?]
This is shocking news!
[Indeed,] Granin confirms, [ruled over from far below by Arconidem the Demon Lord and author of the Red Truth. The Demon Cities are a massive threat to the civilised people of Pangera.]
[Wait, so you guys don't trade or interact with them in any way?]
[With demons? That's illegal. The penalty is death. The Abyssal Legion wages a constant war or the Demon Cities, trying to exterminate them entirely. To any delvers, the demons are a continual menace. They don't want us down there and hunt down any delvers they find like animals. Thankfully, they spend far more time fighting each other than they do us.]
[Why's that? Aren't they intelligent?]
Granin shrugs helplessly.
[They just like killing. Doesn't matter what it is. If you can't kill the demons in your own city, then the demons in the city next door are fair game. They might be able to control their urges, but that doesn't mean they don't enjoy indulging them. Be careful with your new friend there. He's not able to betray you, but you might find he gets a little erratic if you don't let him cut loose now and again.]
I look at my new pet. The mini-eyeball is quite adorable. He can't support himself on his wings just yet and has to 'walk' around on his little stick-thin arms. When I try to feed him a tiny mouth appears in thin air to start nibbling on the Biomass I offer. Obviously, I'm not feeding him the Biomass from his own former body. I don't know if that has a bad effect, but it's surely very weird.
[Enough about the demon, we need to work out what you are going to be doing between now and the next fight.]
[Keep grinding on my elemental skills? The ice magic turned out to be quite effective.]
Granin frowns, his rocky face turning stern.
[That might do for now, but I feel like we're going to need something else. You're aiming for the rank five fusion, which is unlikely to happen before the end of the tournament, so raising the elemental skills won't be a massive help.]
[I have a uh special attack that I can use. If the enemy is taken by surprise, it basically a guaranteed win. I could use it in the next round to buy some more time.]
Granin stares at me for a moment.
[Is it a Gravity spell?] He asks astutely.
[It is,] I confirm reluctantly.
I don't want to spill all of my secrets. I still don't fully trust Granin and his team. More than that, I don't trust the broader Shaper community even a little bit. Granin thinks for a moment and speaks a few words to Torrina. She nods and concentrates hard for a time before nodding back to her leader.
[Alright, they aren't listening in. I've told you already that Gravity magic is risky, but we might have to pull the trigger on it this time. Even in this short amount of time, Gravus' allies are moving on his behalf. Things are going to get rough for us and the next matchup is going to be a serious problem. If you blow up the next opponent with some powerful unknown spell, then they'll be screaming to have you taken out and interrogated.]
[So I shouldn't use it?]
[Not necessarily. If I get to work early, we can lay the groundwork for our counter-argument. The leading triad doesn't have universal support in their suppression of you and between now and then we can stoke those attitudes and point to the numerous abuses that start popping up. With a little luck, we'll have enough sympathy on our side that when they try to seize you, we can deny them.]
[You don't sound completely sure that'll work out.]
Granin sits down heavily and sighs.
[I'm not. But our backs are getting pressed harder and harder against the wall. You've set yourself up for long term success, but these monsters have been tuned to be super-efficient at these low tiers. It's not a fair matchup to begin with and the more rounds you win, the more optimised monsters you're going to run into.]
[If I don't make use of every trick in the arsenal, it's going to be almost impossible to win.] I finish his thought.
[Right,] he agrees. [We were going to have to uncork Gravity magic at some point. Hopefully, you've given me enough warning that I can protect you from the fallout.]
He pauses for a second.
[Just how powerful is this spell anyway? Like, stronger than that eye laser?]
[Granin, I don't think you'll believe it until you see it.]
He shakes his head.
[Alright. I'll get to work right away. We're going to be busy over the next two days. Get right into training and consider your next mutations. You need to get the maximum value out of whatever you choose to go with, so think carefully.]
He says a few words to Torrina before turning to climb the ladder and hustle out of the cell.
[Alright then Anthony,] the younger Shaper speaks up, [you ready for elemental training?]
My brains still ache like mad, and my body is exhausted. But I stand up and shuffle my new pet back a little with one leg.
[Of course. I'm always ready.]
This isn't the lazy holiday I had in mind.