It would be a lie to say that Granin wasn't nervous as he shifted in his seat and watched the gates rise to commence the third round of competition. That damned ant had been quite adamant that his spell would be a spectacular one-hit kill for any creature that didn't know it was coming. Granin himself knew of some pretty potent artillery type spells that required a triad to work together for an extended cast, compressing and shaping mana before releasing it in a glorious burst of devastation. Still, such spells were not at all useful in a one on one duel.
As he tried to contain his nervousness, he also did his best to ignore the muttered whispers of the Shapers around him in the stands. Gravus was a notable absentee for this round, and not a single person in attendance had failed to notice. Since the old stone was unlikely to back down on his own accord, there was little doubt that his triad leader had forbidden him from attending. After the campaign, Granin had waged bringing attention to the open bias against his sponsored monster the leading triad had to step a little more carefully lest they jeopardise the legitimacy of their tournament.
Having Gravus blow-up and get into another fistfight would not be a good look for them. Even as he understood their motives, Granin was a little disappointed. Baiting Gravus into another explosion would have served his purposes perfectly.
With a rattle and a crash, the gates slammed into their frames fully raised, and the gathered Shapers leaned forward in their seats as the two monsters emerged from their respective tunnels. From one side came a gleaming ant, barbed mandibles already gnashing at the air. Even from where he sat, Granin could feel the mana concentration within Anthony growing by the second. He was already working on his spell, and everyone could sense it. That happened to include the monster who'd entered opposite. A ponderous mound of dark goop, the Death Creeper was a pain of a monster to kill. Capable of rotting flesh that even approached it, the Creeper exuded a powerful aura of decay that few monsters of the Second Strata could match. As it sensed the powerful build-up of mana within its opponent, the creature wisely began to disperse its mass.
This creature was a tough opponent for Anthony in Granin's eyes. His acid would do little to the beast since the acid itself would dissolve to nothing before doing any sort of damage, and if he tried to close in and bite, he'd be suffering damage just from being close to the thing. Magic was the best way to deal with the Creeper but even that was hard to achieve. Without a doubt, the triad in charge of raising this Creeper had taken the necessary precautions and built magic resistance into the monster from an early stage.
The Creeper didn't appear overconfident at all and moved cautiously, spreading itself out and oozing its way toward its opponent. For his part, Anthony continued showboating and snapped at the air with his mandibles while his antennae swirled wildly. What the hell is he doing?
"Mind if I join you?"
Granin started when someone spoke nearby and turned to see a smiling Shaper standing nearby looking down at him. He frowned a touch when he realised who this was: Inaron, triad leader responsible for raising the Creeper fighting below.
"Sure. Take a seat."
It was a little unusual for competing sponsors to be sitting next to each other during a bout but not unheard of during this tournament. Some Shapers found the process too emotional, whereas others remained quite detached.
"My thanks," came the reply as Inaron took his seat. "That seems to be quite the spell your creature is working on there. The mana feels dense and almost unstable."
"His best chance of overcoming your Creeper is overwhelming it with magic. I get the feeling this fight is going to short and decisive either way."
"Oh, I agree. If the spell fails to do fatal damage, then I believe the ant will find itself quickly overwhelmed."
Inaron sounded immensely confident in his assessment, enough so that Granin turned to him curiously.
"You don't believe the spell will be effective?"
Not wanting to appear impolite Inaron simply nodded.
"Indeed. The weak point of the Creeper is its slow movement combined with its poor ability to contest ranged opponents. In the Dungeon, as I'm sure you know, they are typically an ambush predator, not suited to chasing down their prey. My triad and I have put a huge amount of effort into designing this Creeper to overcome those issues. It's ability to resist magical offence and disperse damage is first class."
Granin nodded. He'd seen the Creeper's first two fights, and they went much as Inaron said. Closing in against the monster was playing to its strengths, and it would use its liquid-like flesh to engulf its opponent and allow its death aura to do the work whilst absorbing whatever punishment its victim dealt out in its death throes. In the tournament the opponents of the Creeper had taken the safe approach, attempting to kite the monster and punish it from range. Neither had succeeded. The Creeper had spread itself out across a disgustingly large area and slowly cornered its foe while absorbing the damage sent its way. In both cases, the opponent had been cornered, wrapped up and succumbed shortly after.
The same scene was playing out again, except this time the opponent hadn't even bothered to cast a single spell, choosing instead to pose dramatically. Granin had to resist the urge to slap his forehead. What is that idiot doing?
Iranon almost succeeded in keeping the pity from his face as he observed, "I believe your monster is ready to unleash its spell. I'm most curious to see what it is."
"You and me both," Granin muttered.
Before they had a chance to continue their discussion, the ant ceased his antics and opened his jaws wide. The vast build-up of mana within the creature had reached a crescendo; the spell was ready.
Granin sat forward and watched intently. From what he understood, Gravity magic was able to change weight. Useful, but not in any way as impressive as tunnelling through space. For Gravity Magic to be as high in rank or higher than Space magic, there had to be more to it than that, he just had no idea what it might be. Anthony had refused to tell him and if weren't for the life or death situation the tournament represented he would never have had a chance to see.
"Come on, Anthony. Show me something special." He prayed.
Then it happened.
From between the open mandibles of the ant monster, a ball so dark as to appear almost black flickered into existence. After a moment that stretched out in silence, it blasted toward the Creeper. The uproar was instantaneous.
As the ball shot forward, the air in the combat arena stirred to a mighty wind within a second. A piercing shriek stabbed Granin in the ears, causing sharp pain. Every Shaper watching stood in the same moment as they witnessed the spell fly toward the Creeper. Granin's eyes bulged in his head as he fought against the buffeting wind. All of the air in the room was being sucked toward that damned ball! What the hell was it?!
Even the light around the spell seemed to fade into darkness which made it difficult to discern the edge of the spell. Where did the sphere end and the dark begin? Nobody could say! In response to the appearance of this shrieking magic, the Creeper had reacted as it had been taught to, spreading its malleable liquid-like flesh out as wide as possible. Like a wave crashing onto a beach, it covered almost half the combat area in its dark body.
It took only a few seconds for the spell to cross the distance. Powerful or not, Granin still didn't see how such a small spell would be capable of destroying that much magic resistant monster flesh.
The ball slammed into the soft flesh of the Creeper and vanished within. For a heartbeat Granin feared that nothing would happen, that the spell had been absorbed and destroyed just like that, but then the body of the monster expanded in an instant and that horrifying shriek stirred the air once again.
A black sphere several metres in diameter appeared, the body of the Creeper around it was just gone, somehow vanished. The pull of the air was even stronger now, the light dimmed even further, and Granin could feel something that stirred in him a deep fear. He was being pulled forward. His feet slid toward the edge of the area slightly before he blinked and braced himself. He could see other Shapers around him doing the same. The spell was trying to drag him in! If he could feel it from up here, what was it like down there?
He only had to look at the Creeper to get an idea. At first the monster had accepted the loss of a chunk of its body, such a thing was normal after all, but as it had tried to pull away from the spell, it had found that it couldn't. In fact, it was being pulled toward it! Granin could see the monster trying to pull its flesh away, but it was useless. With every second that passed more and more of the Creeper was pulled into the sphere where it simply vanished, as if it had never been.
The Shapers watched the whole process in shocked silence until the spell flickered and disappeared. The vast Creeper was nowhere to be seen. The only thing that remained in the arena was a gleaming ant, still posing up on its hind legs with the front two extended wide on either side.