Granin and I end up sitting facing each other. Though in my case 'sitting' is more of a comfortable crouch, which brings us reasonably close to eye level. Although again, in my case, I technically have a heck of a lot of eyes.
[There were a hundred and twenty-eight monsters at the start of this tournament. After just two rounds, we're down to thirty-two.]
Even through the rock on his face, I can see his disgust plain and clear. He looks like he wants to spit.
[Nearly a hundred projects that the Cult had invested in, gone to waste. The amount of effort, care and expertise that has been utterly wasted here is a travesty.]
I'm a little confused. Don't these monsters always end up dying? What the heck do they do with them?
[Usually, we release them into the Dungeon,] he replies after I query him. [Once we've done everything we can, training and raising the monster to the best of our collective abilities, we let them go out to the Dungeon to seek their destiny, hoping that they'll descend to the deepest Dungeon and become the final Ancient.]
[You just let them go? Like, releasing them into the wild?! Surely they all die?]
[We don't know if they're all dead,] he grumbles, [and even that's beside the point. Unless we let them out to fight and grow on their own, there's no chance they'll become an Ancient. The idea that you can keep and control a creature of that sort of power would be insane.]
He makes a decent point there. Trying to hold onto a monster as it grew increasingly strong would be difficult. These aren't pets; they have absolutely no issue biting the hand that feeds them. While many of the monsters are smart and can be reasoned with, eventually they'll get to tier eight or nine and can the Cult keep them caged at that point?
[Anyway,] Granin waves a hand, [the third round is coming, after which there'll be four more.]
[Four more rounds?! Holy moly.]
[Four. Round of sixteen. Round of eight, Semi-final and Final. That's why I wanted to talk to you. If you go ahead and use your mega spell, or whatever it's called, in the next round, then you'll have to contend with the knowledge of it being revealed for the remaining four. Those monsters that are left are going to be no pushovers either. Regardless of how I feel about this tournament, the winners are getting stronger as the competition goes on. Some of these beasts are powerful.]
I hesitate for a moment. The first fight was a piece of cake, but the last round nearly killed me. It was way too close, insanely close. If I have to go through that another four times I don't want to go through that another four times.
[What are you thinking? Do I need to hold off further? Wait for another round? I barely made it past the last opponent. If the next one is going to be even worse, then will I even be able to survive without using my most powerful card?]
The crusty old Shaper leans back till his head thuds into the wall and he's looking straight up. The stone head must be helpful sometimes.
[I'm not sure,] he admits. [It's a risk, either way. I'm reasonably sure that we'll be able to protect you in the event your magic leaks out. Is this spell something you can try and whip out mid-battle?]
I think about it. It takes a significant amount of time to create a gravity bomb. Compressing the mana is mentally taxing and draining as hell. I was able to do it against Garralosh mainly because she was incoherent with rage. Perhaps one day I'll have the raw mental strength to crunch out a Gravity Bomb on the fly, but not yet.
[Unlikely. I'd need to prepare it before the battle started.]
Granin sat up.
[You need to compress and prepare the spell? Are you sure it'll hit?]
[Oh yeah. It's hard to get away from it.]
[So it's fast.]
[You'll just have to see it for yourself, Granin. Try not to be sitting anywhere near it when it goes off.]
He looks at me for a moment before nodding and standing up.
[If there's nothing else, then I'll leave you to train and prepare. There isn't much time, try not to waste any time.]
[What have I done except train, collapse into sleep and feed my new pet?]
[That's what I'm talking about.]
[Gasp! Feeding an adorable little monster is never a waste of time! Is it, little guy?]
Slowly growing every day that passes, the small demon looks up at me with its one bulbous green eyeball and flutters its wings.
[You have food. I desire it!]
Talking already! He's growing up so fast! In fact, my pet speed raising Skill has already grown to three also. It must be accelerating his growth speed more and more as time passes.
[Of course little guy! Food is on the way!]
Like a doting parent, I grab some Biomass and pass to it the greedy demon who materialises his mouth out of the air and starts shovelling the food into his extra-dimensional belly.
Back to the grind, I suppose. I need to name this little dude. It'll have to wait for another time, however. I train alone until Torrina returns to push things harder and push my brains to their limits. In the moments where I have the energy to think I wonder if the Colony is training like this, and how well received the methods would be by the Mages. What the heck do they care about pain? That's just how you know you're working hard!
Energised by the thought of my siblings doing what they always do, I throw myself into practice and reap the reward of sweet, sweet levels. Before I know it, the third round is underway and who else would be asked to lift the curtain but the best insect in the Dungeon? (It's not you, Jim.)