Booms and thuds shake my cell as the battles continue out in the arena. With my Meditation Skill blunting outside influences my magic practice continues smoothly as Torrina batters my mind with her expert magical handling. To make things even more rude, she suggests that I order Invidia to participate in the training and somehow I'm talked into letting Invidia attack me with mental magic. After just ten minutes under their combined assault I'm ready to beg for mercy, which Torrina doesn't grant. After thirty minutes I want to collapse on the floor like a puddle, which Torrina refuses to allow. I could just order Invidia to cease his mind magic but somehow I feel like if I did that I'd lose.
[I was blinded by the sweet lure of levels! Damn you Torrina!]
The harridan in question frowns at me.
[If you still have the mental energy to whine at me then we aren't working hard enough.]
[I HAVE FOUR BRAINS DAMMIT. IT'S NOT THAT HARD TO THINK THINGS AT YOU.]
[Way too much energy. I'm going to increase the pressure.]
Me and my big…. Brain… The presence of the Colony within the range of my Vestibule is working against me now. Even as my brains strain to their breaking point, the cursed Vestibule is refreshing them with nourishing energy from my siblings. The end result is that I last another two hours before the threads of magic twist out of my grasp and collapse into nothing.
[I'm out! No more!]
Torrina nods, seemingly satisfied with my efforts.
[You've done well this time. Much better than before.]
[Guess I'm finally getting the hang of it! Ha! Ha… ha.]
[Hmm,] she eyes me suspiciously before leaving the cell to get some rest.
Speaking of which, time for me to do the same. Invidia and I snack on some Biomass and I have to whop him with an antennae when he tries to take my food. He didn't even bother eating his own food first, he didn't want his own food, he wanted mine! Being an Envy Demon must be a massive pain in the backside. He's almost totally incapable of being happy with what he has. That's rough.
Following the food it's time for torpor. I'm so out of it I could practically hibernate. I'm done. Time to snooze…
HAP! I'm up!
Wasn't out for too long either. The Vestibule continues to do its work, turning me into an inexhaustible dynamo. Along with all that energy has returned the persistent whispers that drove me to separate myself from the Colony in the first place. To be honest, I'm still glad to have them back. I'll take it over the complete silence that I endured before.
Awake once more there is precious little to do in my cell until Granin turns up some time later. When he sees me up and about a look of surprise flashes over his face before he climbs down to my level.
[I hate this stupid ladder. I'll bet the other monsters have cells with stairs…] he grumbles as he moves hand by hand down the offending contraption.
[Wait, there are better cells than this one?]
[Of course there are! This is the sort of holding area we use for dangerous, uncooperative samples. Why do you think you have those three chuckleheads up there?] He jerks a thumb at the triad of Shaper guards whose presence is so constant it almost doesn't register on my mind anymore.
[Typical. There has got to be some sort of phobia to explain this prejudiced treatment.]
[I didn't expect you'd be up this quick. Thought I'd have to wake you.] Granin sighs as he settles himself down onto his seat.
[Oh? Something that needs attention?]
[Managed to setup that meeting, but it'll only be with James, I'm afraid. Sarah is off limits right now.]
He holds his stone covered palms up toward me.
[I have no idea, officially. I haven't been told why she's been isolated, only that she has. I can make a few guesses as to why, as I'm sure you can too.]
A cold fear blooms inside me as the first thought to strike is that she betrayed the escape plan, but it quickly fades. No, I don't think she would betray us. Much more likely that the jerks who keep jerking it up all over the place have continued their jerking ways of jerkhood.
[They're forcing her into the tournament, aren't they?] I say.
[I can't be certain, but that's what I think as well. I don't know if it's because they want you dead or if this was their intention from the beginning, but I feel almost certain that your opponent in the next round is going to be Sarah.]
Well, that sucks.
[What do you think my odds would be if it actually turned out to be true?] I ask.
I really want to escape before that happens, but if I have to fight her I'd like to know where I stand.
[None.] Comes the blunt reply.
[What?! Really?! What about my magic, my defence, my Gravity Bomb?!]
Granin slaps a hand to his forehead and drags it down his face.
[Look, I don't want to go into all of the details right now, but yes, none. She's way more powerful that you, with far higher levels in her Skills and her species is both rare and dynamic. She's also just much older than you and the other monsters in the tournament. If she actually enters and decides to fight, then she'll win. It's that simple.]
Yikes. She didn't seem all that intimidating when I met her, but she wasn't exactly flexing her strength or anything. Granin's the expert on these things, I'll just have to trust that he knows what he's on about. Which means I need to get the heck out of here, as soon as possible!
[Alright then, off to see Jim!]
With my escort leading the way I once again make my way to the arena to find the worm wriggling his way through the sands.
[Hey, Jim!] I call out. [Have you heard what's going down with Sarah?]
I get a nod from the tail. At least, I think it's the tail.
[Yeah. No. Kind of? The friendly Shapers I talk to have gone quiet on her and I've not been able to get into her compound to speak with her for two days now.]
[She has her own compound?! What the hell man.]
[Don't look at me, I won't know you're doing it. Blind and all that.]
[Look, I've been told that she's most likely been forced into the tournament and she'll be my next opponent.]
[Ouch. You have nooo chance.]
[Thanks, worm breath. Appreciate the vote of confidence.]
The big worm slithers itself into a complicated knot, clearly agitated.
[Look, she's tough. She was strong before she got here, right? Her problem isn't in Stats or Skills, it's mental. She's a freakin' beast when she wants to be.]
[Which is why I need to get out of here stat. How are things with the plan?]
[They've been better. I'm being watched, pretty damn closely, but I think I can finish by tomorrow.]
[Tomorrow?! That's going to cut it mighty close.]
[I'm doing what I can, alright?! This isn't easy work. In case you haven't noticed, we're literally surrounded by mages.]
[Well, at least you won't have to tunnel Sarah out, not much chance of being able to bring her along now.]
[Yeah.] Jim deflates at the thought. [She's a good egg. She deserves better than this. I wish I could have made her listen to me.]
[Not your fault, Jim. Look, if we can get out, there's always a chance we can come back and get her, right?]
The worm and ant conspiracy is ready to be launched!