Chrysalis Chapter 495

Chapter 495: Deal with devil - ant

The thing about Golgari is that they're totally covered in stone. It's easy to forget it sometimes, since the rock moves and shifts along with their movements, as if it were a part of them. Scratch that, it is a part of them, just not something they were born with. I've been able to get a little detail out of the few members of the species I've spent my time with, and picked up a few other morsels of insight through observation. Essentially, they're born without that rocky outer coating and when they get old enough, fully grown, I assume, they choose a mineral or some type of ore and then bond it onto their skin, forming a second skin.

Although the process seems to bring the stone to some sort of life, making it an actual part of their bodies, you have to remember that these are people with actual rock on the outside of their bodies. It makes reading certain social cues difficult. Males and females aren't quite as distinctive in their body shape, for example. I suppose the rocks sort of round out the edges, making it a little harder to tell them apart. For another thing, changes in expression are hard to read, since their faces tend to be quite immobile. A smile is easy enough, but something like a frown can be tricky since the stone doesn't wrinkle like a human's skin would. Anything around the eyes can be difficult also, the muscle movements are usually small and get almost completely washed out by the second skin.

I mean, this is me speaking as a former human turned insect. I'm sure they have no issue telling all this stuff apart and if I mentioned it they'd look at me like I was nuts. I also can't dismiss the possibility that after spending a significant amount of time around monsters and other ants that my ability to discern humanoid social cues is beginning to degrade in a massive way. I mean, I can tell what an ant is feeling by the movement of their antennae, which is pretty cool. It's trade-offs.

Anyway, the reason my mind turns to Golgari expressions is because I can easily tell that the Plamine lady is SUPER cheesed off. No doubt about it. The glare is there, the eyes are almost hot enough to burn a hole in my carapace, the brows are drawn, I can tell and that jaw is clenched like an iron vice. Holy moly lady, you're going to crack a molar, ease up a little!

I'm not sure what's got her so mad. If they're willing to let me out of this death tournament of death, in which I might die, then I'm happy to trade a little knowledge. It's not as if they've ever unlocked gravity magic in the history of their species, so they aren't likely to get it anytime soon. For whatever reason they've never been able to create pets with it either and I seriously doubt just knowing its possible will cause the system to slip it into the menu for them.

[You seek to bargain with the Cult of the Worm?] Even her mental voice sounds as if it were pushed through gritted teeth. How does she even do that?

[Sure. Why not? I have something you want, you have something I want, why not do a trade? What I want, just in case you weren't aware, is to leave this place alive and go back to where you, you know, abducted me, a sapient reincarnated person, against my will.]

If anything her glare grows even hotter. Jeez. If this is getting her so mad then imagine if I was talking to Gravus! That moron might have just popped from sheer indignant rage.

[Considering that you are our captive, it would seem that you have a significantly weakened bargaining position, wouldn't you say?]

So far this mental connection has been private, but with her last words I feel her reaching out to Gravus to bring him into the conversation. Not to be outdone I spin Granin into the loop as well.

[Captive. Prisoner. Slave. All great words to describe my situation. The situation you put me in. Because, you know, that's apparently something that you're comfortable with. As for leverage, I'm not exactly sure what you think you've got. If I don't give up my knowledge willingly, how are you planning on getting it out of me?]

[Oh, there are ways, insect!] Gravus kicks in as I knew he would. [I will rip it from your mind if I have to!]

Even Plamine winces a little at the barbarity of that suggestion.

[You want to get in a tug of war with me, Gravus? I notice you brought six other Shapers in here with you, very brave.] I snap my mandibles with a sharp CLACK! [And if you tried it, maybe I'd turn you into a little ball of hardened mush and eat you. Did you think of that?] For emphasis I nudge the remains of the Creeper and let it roll a little before it comes to a rest.

Granin eyes me warily but I don't need any reminding that I'm playing a dangerous game. The risk that they'll simply overwhelm my mental defences and knock me out is very real. I'm gambling that they can't get any real information out of me if I'm not conscious.

Just, let me go you stupid rock people! I want out of here and back to my family! Why'd you idiots bring me here in the first place if all you want is me dead?!

That's actually a good question. Maybe I should ask that. After Gravus stops choking on his own spit after I threatened him, of course.

[Not only do you think you're in a position to bargain with us, you now think you can threaten us?] She asks coolly. It appears she's managed to get her temper under control.

[Look, all I want is to leave. I don't want to be here, I'm not a big fan of having to fight for my life every few days and frankly, the hospitality has been very lacking. You want a bit of knowledge out of me? Sure. Have at it. Just let me go. I vanish into the Dungeon and you'll never hear from me again. You seriously don't seem like you want me here anyway. Let's make a deal and we all get what we want. Juicy new magic for you and me out sight.]

Granin clears his throat before he joins in.

[Anthony has raised a valid point, Plamine. Many have made note that Anthony has been deprived of resources and the questionable matchups have raised more than a few brows. It was hardly necessary for Gravus to open his blowhole and confirm the leading triad's bias, but he went and did it anyway so now every Shaper in this facility is aware of it.]

[Do you have a point, Granin?] Plamine turns to face him. I get the feeling she is mentally standing on Gravus' foot otherwise there's no way he'd have kept his mouth shut.

[My point is quite simple,] Granin replies, smooth as silk, [I have gathered the required quorum to move a motion of no confidence in your triad's leadership. Should you push me, or Anthony, to give up his secrets against his free will, or engage in any further blatant manipulation of this event, then I'll be forced to push that motion ahead.]

A tense silence descends in each of our respective minds, which I promptly break.

[What's this motion of no confidence? Is it bad?] I say openly, knowing that Plamine and Gravus can hear me.

Granin's lip twitches in amusement and he responds openly as well.

[Very bad. For all of us. Remember that the Cult of the Worm is supposed to be a secret society. Not every Shaper is a member, not even close. If the motion is passed then a high ranking Shaper would be sent to investigate and mediate. It would be rather difficult to keep what has been happening here under wraps at that point. The leading triad would be outed as Cultists, as would I and my triad, and we'd be put to death.]

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This move seems to have caught Plamine by surprise, her eyes narrow as Granin explains his ploy and her hands clench and unclench.

[Give us some time to consider.] She says coldly before turning on her heels and leaving the way she came in, followed by Gravus and flunkies.

Great! Now I've got more time to try and eat this stupid Biomass. I refuse to let it go to waste this time!