Up in the stands Granin can’t help but chuckle in relief as he watched Anthony gingerly approach the disgusting pile of Biomass that had seemingly been vomited from thin air. Perhaps at some point he could have told his charge that demons stored body parts in self-contained micro-dimensions, allowing large and powerful monsters to appear small and harmless, the bulk of their body mass shunted off into a pocket space. The Shapers would dearly love to be able to control such a piece of magic but it had eluded them for eons. The demons seemed to have access to it as a matter of course, simply for being born demons, as if it were a natural part of their biology. Whatever the case, it certainly made them creepy and deceptive enemies to fight against.
That had been close. Far too close. Going into the fight he’d given Anthony a ten percent chance of coming out on top, but even he’d been shocked by the amount of power that’d been packed into that little demon. A monster fully specialised in physical stats with great speed and power would have been much better off than the ant. Not only were his stats lacking, his Skills were also weak when compared to a more specialised monster since he’d spent so much time grinding his magic and mental abilities. This tournament was almost fiendishly set up to target his weakness as a generalised creature. But still, he’d been able to win.
That final manoeuvre had been dreamed up on the border between genius and insanity, Granin was sure of it. Who would think of using the blast from an explosion to propel themselves toward their enemy head first? It was insane, tremendously difficult to pull off and almost certainly suicide. And yet Granin was now looking down at a monster cheerfully chowing down on its defeated foe having utilised just such a move.
As the tension slowly drained out of Granin he couldn’t help but become increasingly aware of the shock and disappointment radiating from the Shapers around him, particularly from the figure on his left.
“Incredible. A truly brilliant tactical decision.” He mused out loud, seemingly to himself.
Gravus immediately blew up.
“Tactical decision?! It was a FLUKE! Pure luck! I’ve never seen such a disgusting display! That inferior creature had been outclassed the entire bout until that – that – idiotic display!”
The vehemence at which Gravus spat his vitriol shocked even Granin and he couldn’t help but turn to look at the elderly Shaper directly. The old man was visibly livid, chest heaving and eyes ablaze, his hands were gripped in fists so tight his true skin was starting to crack. A sensible and sane Shaper would clearly not poke the tiger and tastefully retreat in this situation. What profit could be had out of provoking a viper like Gravus? Sadly, Granin had never considered himself particularly sensible.
“An idiotic display? Are you daft, blind or both? That idiotic display secured victory from a clearly disadvantageous position. I demand you acknowledge the genius that has been displayed before you here today!”
If he was a roused tiger before, Gravus transformed into a volcano now. He turned toward Granin, face twisted with rage and arms flying wildly.
“Demand? DEMAND?! You don’t get to demand anything from me Granin you half qualified excuse for a Shaper! You’re just a big a piece of TRASH as that insect that you sponsor! You’re very presence in this cult makes me sick.”
Granin blinked slowly. The fire had begun to burn in him now, the other’s words had said too much that was usually left unspoken. He took a step towards the other Shaper until they were almost bumping foreheads and his voice dropped to a menacing whisper.
“And why might that be, Gravus? Is it because we get things done? Is it because we actually achieve something, instead of sitting on our ossified asses in a tower, cowering like a little grub? Why don’t you say it? Why don’t you tell me exactly why you don’t want me and my charge here in this cult? Hmm?”
Gravus was too lost in his rage to notice the dangerous glint in the other’s eye. Puffed up on indignation and anger he blustered forward, unafraid.
“You know exactly why you’re unworthy, Granin! Your family is a TRASH offshoot of a TRASH clan! And you, you are the perfect descendant of that line. The ultimate trash! Don’t pretend you don’t know it!” He sneered. “Your true skin announces your status for all the world to see! Filthy base stone for a filthy base Shaper! I’m still shocked you weren’t abandoned by your family in disgrace but it goes to show how little morals they have!”
Hold onto it Granin. Hold it in. You can’t be the first to swing. He took in a slow breath before he returned fire.
“Yet my achievements in the cult are piled high whilst you have done nothing to earn your exalted position. I bet it burns you deep inside, knowing just how much a fraud you are. What do you know? Nothing. What have you done? Nothing. You aren’t wrong. That insect down there and I are very alike. We keep getting things done despite you. Just how powerless are you Gravus? It kills you, but you know it’s true. At the end of the day, it’s going to be that ant and I standing at the top whilst you and your vaunted clan clap from the sidelines.”
“OVER MY DEAD BODY!”
He’d achieved his goal, the old man had completely snapped. With that final roar, Gravus threw aside his dignity, drew back his fist incited the first brawl to have ever occurred in the viewing area of the combat arena. The onlookers, stunned by the vicious display of words between their two colleagues who had been preparing to retire from the arena to spread this delicious gossip, but soon found themselves gobsmacked as they witnessed a full on fist fight. Even more than this, the words spoken on both sides had ignited the passions of more than a few in the stands, and as the fists flew more than a few arguments began which quickly descended into an all-out battle that drew in everyone in attendance.
Down in the pit, the ant couldn’t help but pause its meal for a brief moment as it watched the developing spectacle before dismissing them all with a flick of its antennae and returning to its meal.
An hour later Granin was grinning broadly as Anthony finished his meal. Torrina Laksham alternated between looking at the giant ant with an approving gaze and glaring at her triad leader with smouldering anger.
“You punched Oridene Gravus. The Oridene Gravus?” Corun asked, bewildered.
“I did more than that!” Granin boasted. “I thrashed him!”
He chortled delightedly at the memory. Gravus had never worked much in the field, he was a classic scholar, as physically weak as a Golgari could get. Combined with his advanced age, it had never been close to a fair fight. Granin had beaten down on the loathsome spectre until his low class granite fists had started to powder.
“And what are your heroics going to do for Anthony’s chances in this tournament?” Torrina asked sharply. “Gravus will stop at nothing to humiliate you now!”
“He was already doing everything he could to make things hard for Anthony. Nothing is going to change except that now everyone knows what’s going on since he admitted it openly. If anything, it’ll be better now!”
Corun looked at him, wide eyed.
“Do you really think so?”
“Of course it won’t!” Torrina snapped at them. “The bias is open knowledge now and so is the grudge. Gravus will pull the whole weight of his triad behind him to settle this now! We’re going to get squeezed for every resource between now and the next fight and you better believe they’ll be pulling out all the stops to put the hardest matchup they can find in front of us!”
As if her words had punctured him, Granin slumped forward.
“You’re right.” He sighed. “I know you’re right.”
He looked up at his two triad members and his charge.
“I’m sorry. I let myself get carried away.”
“Don’t be sorry, be better. We’re going to have to pull in every favour and get as many eyes on our candidate as possible if we want to pull through. We need to ensure Anthony gets the best of everything from now on. We need Biomass, training, cores and we need it yesterday!”
Granin wearily pulled himself to his feet.
“Come on Corun. You and I need to hit up the quartermaster before Gravus can wake up.”
“YOU KNOCKED HIM OUT?!” Corun shrieked.
“What does it matter now? Let’s go. Torrina, you talk to Anthony and work on a plan for training.”
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.