Anthony had been prepared to share a few things with Granin, even though he’d remained guarded throughout their conversation. The revelation of Gravity magic had been the most startling to him, something that had surprised Anthony quite a bit. When Granin had pressed him, he’d been happy to admit that this was a force that was quite commonly understood in his own world. It was quite odd that in the Cult of the Worm’s long history of cultivating relationships with reincarnators, records of this branch of magic hadn’t become widely known. The ant had theorised that because deeper understanding of just how important and powerful Gravity could be was relatively recent on his past world, and that the time relationship between the two places was quite ‘wibbly-wobbly’, it’s possible that most of the individuals they’d interacted with in the past simply hadn’t known about it.
Regardless, the conversation had developed and Anthony complained that he was yet to gain access to the Gravity Magic Affinity Skill, which had given Granin an opportunity to share his knowledge. Magic, he’d explained, was divided into distinct tiers. Gaining access to the next tier required either a certain master of the previous one, or a powerful affinity with a particular type of mana. A monster who chose many death related mutations would be far more likely to gain access to that particular type of mana earlier, even if they didn’t have a Death Mana gland. It terms of what magic fell into which tiers, that was sometimes a little fuzzy.
The first and most accessible were the base elements. Water, Earth, Fire and Air. Almost everyone was required to start with one of more of these. Some Shapers chose to spend a significant amount of time mastering two, three or even all four of these base elements whereas others tried to level up just one of them as quickly as they could in order to move onto more powerful forms of magic. There were positives and negatives to both schools of thought, but Granin tended to think that having a strong foundation in the elements was useful, especially in the field. The spells were easier, the mana more forgiving to work with. When you were exhausted, stressed and mentally drained, it was far easier to draw on Air or Fire mana than it was to try and manipulate something like Lightning, Shadow or Poison.
From those base four elements, there were lots of places to go. At certain levels of mastery the base elements could be fused to create more powerful varieties, or ranked up to give access to specialised or powerful forms. Water could ranked up to unlock ice, fire could be ranked up to unlock blue flame. Earth and fire could be fused at rank three mastery to form Lava Mana Affinity. Similarly Ice and Water could unlock Fog Mana affinity. Or those options could be discarded and the practitioner could perhaps unlock the rare elements: Lightning, Wood, Metal and Decay.
Above that the more abstract powers began to appear. Healing, Mind, Life, Death, Doom, Fate, Space, Heart, Poison and many others. There was a great deal of disagreement about exactly which affinity belonged in which tier, because each individual was given different options by the System depending on a myriad of factors that nobody had been able to accurately map. Anthony himself was a perfect example, skipping ahead to Mind and Healing mana without having to progress through the rare elements. Granin had surmised that this was due to his Gravity Mana gland and regular use of that mana type, combined with his generally weak base element Skills causing the System to shunt him higher up.
Exactly where Gravity mana fell into the tier ratings, Granin couldn’t be certain. From what he’d been able to understand from the ants somewhat rambling explanations, it was probably on par with Space, or even above it. Granin had cautioned him not to be too flagrant with the more powerful aspects of this mana type. If he were to pull off something too crazy then he’d be set upon by the Cult who would be desperate to unlock the secrets of this new magic. At that point, he would never have any semblance of freedom.
Still, judging by the reaction around him, quite a few were growing curious about this strange purple mana that the giant ant seemed to be happily pelting at his opponent. The more the Rhinosergardron was hit, the slower and more lethargic it became. It’s originally vigorous and powerful movements had become increasingly sluggish and pained, as if the creature had the weight of a mountain on its back. Which it did, in some ways.
“What is going on?” Gravus couldn’t help but ask out loud.
Such a physically powerful monster was acting as if it had been drained of all its strength, no longer able to even support its own body! Had the ant drained its physical stats in some way? Or inflicted some sort of strength reducing curse? Such a thing usually didn’t stack well, each successive cast achieving less that the last, it wasn’t capable of achieving this sort of effect!
He ground his teeth in irritation. The more lopsided the battle below became, the more satisfaction radiated from the seat beside him. The blasted fool Granin wasn’t even bothering to hide it, openly grinning and even chuckling to himself as his charge fired spell after spell into the now faltering backside of its opponent.
“Such a powerful beast,” Granin happily mocked, “so strong! Look! It can almost stand up under its own weight! Oh. No. Never mind, it collapsed back onto the ground. For a moment there I thought the finest minds in the Cult had wrought a true masterpiece. The next ancient was right before my eyes!”
“It’s not over yet!” Gravus snapped. “Whatever curses that damned ant has applied will wear off eventually. I don’t believe it has a way to break through the Rhinoserrgardron’s defence!”
Granin couldn’t believe what he was hearing.
“Still not giving up? The damned fatty can’t even stand! Don’t be more stubborn than the stone on your skin, Gravus!”
Indeed, even the ant seemed to think that things were getting pathetic. Before the boggled eyes of the watching shapers, the ant ceased firing its spells and climbed directly up onto the back of the struggling Rhino monster. Goodness knows what the team who’d designed and reared this creature thought, watching a pathetic ant of all things literally walking over their masterpiece and standing on top of it.
What occurred next was even more jarring. The ant turned this way and that, its antennae tipping and tapping rapidly as it clearly tried to find a gap in the tough bone plating that covered the Rhino. When it was unable to find one, the ant almost seemed to slump with weariness before it reared back and bared its mandibles.
The bite was far more powerful than those observing had expected. The dark energy that manifested bit down hard on the plating, sending chips flying into the air. One bite wasn’t nearly enough though and the ant continued to chomp as the creature struggled weakly beneath it.
CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!
The gallery was then treated to the sight of an ant flopping down on its own opponents back to rest and recover its stamina for a full five minutes. At this point Granin was sure he heard the sound of the Rhino’s triad passing out from pure rage.
CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP! CHOMP!
“Uh. We have a victor! The Rhinosergradron has fallen to the… ant.”
Granin frowned. Even the adjudicator was being so unprofessional. Standards in the Cult had fallen badly. Sitting next to him, Gravus ground his teeth audibly as muttered conversations broke out amongst the stands.
Oblivious to it all, Anthony had once again slumped down to rest. After a minute or two he shook of the lethargy and watched by the apoplectic gaze of the Shapers who had sacrificed years to rear the perfect Rhino, he began to eat.