"How was I supposed to know he was going to escape?" Granin said. "You think he was likely to admit such a thing right before he attempted it?"
"I've had reports that much of the mental communication between yourself and the ant were shielded from prying. Why would that be?" Gravus rumbled, uncharacteristically keeping his temper in check.
Granin's eyes widened.
"Because, as my charge, and as a reincarnated individual, Anthony had those rights within the cult. I swear by the Worm, you boneheads don't even remember what he is!"
"He was a monster under the control of the cult," Gravus growled.
"He was an individual under the care of the cult," Granin ground out.
The two old Shapers glared at each other, openly indulging in their mutual dislike. Granin felt his knuckles itch with the desire to punch this sorry sack of a stone right in the face again, just to prove a point, but he restrained himself. He was being interrogated and didn't particularly want to drag the rest of his triad down with him.
"And I suppose the frequent meetings with the other reincarnated individuals under our care, leading to the escape of one of them, had nothing to do with your machinations?"
"Machinations?" Granin snorted. "The only plotting here has been going on in the vast space between your ears. It's natural for them to want to communicate with each other, given their shared history. Each of those meetings was approved, by your triad, and, just maybe, James was eager to escape because he feared being forced into combat to the death. You know, like you did to Anthony, and then to Sarah."
Gravus puffed up with indignation.
"You know very well that the specimen known as Sarah volunteered for the role. She has relied on the Shapers for many years, it's little surprise that she wants to give back."
Silence hung in the air for a few long seconds as Granin stared his adversary in the eyes coolly. It was hard to believe the old blowhard would be able to spit those lines with a straight face. If it were Granin, he expected the shame would be enough to melt him down to slag.
"There's a few rumours going around the outpost," Granin said, "ugly rumours. People are talking about Sarah, about how scared she was of returning to the Dungeon. There's even speculation "
He leaned forward conspiratorially.
"Terrible," Gravus said through gritted teeth.
"Shocking," Granin forced through his own rictus grin. "It's this kind of disgusting conduct that gives Shapers across the empire a bad name."
The two returned to their silent, hate filled staring contest whilst behind them Torrina and Corun rolled their eyes. He couldn't help himself, this leader of theirs. If he wasn't so busy sticking his nose into messes and stirring the pot, he'd have been inducted to the leadership decades ago. But, if he was able to practice that kind of restraint, he wouldn't be Granin, and they wouldn't respect him nearly so much.
Behind Gravus, his own triad members sat, equally frustrated, though they were more disciplined and didn't show it on their faces. It had been a long, tiring night for them as they tried to organise the pursuit of the escapees and manage the increasingly shrill demands of the city, and of the Warriors network who supported them. When word came back a few hours ago that the majority of the triads sent out had been destroyed by an overwhelming force of ants, the entire city had exploded. A few things had begun to happen at once. Officials scrambled to put together a suppression force. Warriors scrambled to insert themselves into that force in order to reap glory and rewards. Shapers rushed to get out of that force in order to avoid having their study routines disturbed, not to mention all that nasty danger that would be involved. But the most fierce and determined competition was surely the intense round of blame shifting that occurred amongst the leadership circles all over the city.
Warriors and Shapers were dead. An ant colony was on the city's doorstep and nobody knew about it. The citizens were in an uproar, every Circle in the city from the Merchants to the Crafters was up in arms. The Noble circle had, to this point, been mercifully silent, but for how long nobody could guess. Yet another reason to find someone to point the finger at when things got grim. Naturally the leading triad in the outpost had come to the most logical conclusion in regards to their own scapegoat. Granin and his triad had been working closely with the specimen in question and had agitated on its behalf most aggressively. It was very plausible that they knew the extent of its plans.
Plamine leaned forward, her elbows on her desk and her hands laced beneath her chin.
"It's going to be difficult to convince the city that you had no knowledge of what was going to take place, Granin," she managed to sound regretful. "If or when they come here asking questions then we are going to need to have some answers for them. What should we tell them?"
"Through your own idiotic policies you pressed intelligent and dangerous creatures against a wall, forcing them to make desperate choices that have endangered us all?"
"I don't think we'll be saying that," Plamine smiled.
"Why start being honest now?" Granin grunted.
Cryslas stepped forward and inserted herself into the dialogue.
"If you don't want to be detained then you are going to have to give us a compelling reason. Is there anything you can say in your own defence?"
Corun yawned widely and Torrina stifled a chuckle. The two of them immediately drew glares from the leading triad opposite, but they couldn't bring themselves to care. Not to say that the threat to their own freedom and safety wasn't real, it absolutely was, but these individuals no longer held any awe or fear for them. They now saw them as Granin did, foolish and desperate Golgari who'd made a mess and refused to clean it up.
Granin too was tired of playing games.
"Detained? That's a big word to be throwing around so casually"
"Casually?" Cryslas snapped, "do you think anything about the current situation calls for such a relaxed attitude from you? Shapers have died."
"Yes, they have," Granin muttered and his eyes burned with rage as he stared at the idiots who'd caused this mess. "Let's make something very clear. Very obvious. If you try to have me and my triad detained, we are going to have a little civil war right here in this outpost."
"What are you talking about?" Gravus spat.
"You can only be so incompetent, for so long, before people start looking to kick you down a peg. You three have been so transparent with your manipulations, so brutish with your methods, that even the die-hard idiots are finding it hard to justify supporting you. I have the numbers to remove you from office right now if I wanted to."
"You're bluffing," Plamine said.
"It'll take you an hour to confirm I'm right. So why don't you scurry off and do that. Once that's done you can let me and my triad members leave this outpost and get busy trying to pin your mess on someone else."
Granin remained calm to the end, though his immense disdain was plain to see. He still had no idea how such fools had reached such a high post within the Cult. They'd had standards once upon a time. What had happened?
Cryslas, Gravus and Plamine shot each other a worried look. If what the crusty old fool said was true
"We'll have a brief recess before we reconvene this meeting," Plamine declared before the three of them marched out together.
The silence in the room stretched out for a few minutes before anyone spoke.
"We going to get the heck out of town, Granin?" Corun asked.
"Absolutely. I have no idea what Anthony has planned, but I have no intention of being here to see it."