Chapter 667 – The Siege pt 13

Granin sighed and scratched at the solid granite covering his leg. He could feel his hands against the stone as if it were a part of his own body, a product of the fusion process he’d experienced in his youth. He’d never regretted choosing the humble ore that now coated his body. Granite was common as mud, resistant to weathering and hard to grind down. It was the same kind of stubborn that he was and he liked how much it suited him just as much as he liked the message it sent.

Too many flaunted their wealth and connections, using the sacred tradition of bonding to the stone as a means to differentiate themselves from their fellow golgari. He found it distasteful. It was another sign of the degradation, the rot, that had sunk into the Empire of Stone through the centuries. Whenever they saw him, whenever those elites were forced to turn their gaze on his skin, he was slapping them in the face. He could see the distaste in their eyes, see the sneer that was born in the corner of their lips. Though he wouldn’t admit it, certainly not at his advanced age, he took a childlike glee in rubbing their faces in it. In forcing them to look at how the rest of them lived.

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Which was why, when summoned to stand before the High Blade, he took particular pleasure in scratching his leg and making no effort to conceal the boredom that he felt at being forced to stand and wait for his ‘betters’ to notice him. At least it gave him a little time to reflect.

He’d had to admit that he’d been right to trust his instincts with Anthony. That boy showed tremendous promise for a monster and had overcome everything Pangera had thrown at him so far. What he’d seen of the Colony so far from this conflict had impressed him to no end. There was clearly great potential in the ant-strain of monsters that had gone unexplored all this time. Granin couldn’t fault the researchers who’d gone before him though, he himself had overlooked them despite dedicating his research within the Cult of the Worm to other sidelined species.

If Anthony managed to survive and evolve another two or three times, his true potential would be unveiled. Thinking about it, the ambitions that Granin had thought buried with his youth ignited within him once again. The dream of every cult member was to create or mentor the final ancient and complete the circle. This had been their mission since the mission had been handed down to them by the Great Worm itself. Like all new cult members, Granin had yearned for that glory and devoted long hours to scouring books and roaming the Dungeon in search of overlooked, under-researched or unseen specimens. Whilst he’d contributed well above the average for a cult member and experienced many great successes, the dream had eventually died out in him.

Only for a strange ant to stumble into his path and open his eyes to new possibilities and a future that he had given up on seeing within his lifetime. At times he regretted not going with his younger Triad members when Anthony had escaped. He had decided at the time that he would rather stand alongside his people for the trials that were to come, but every day his people seemed to find a new way to let him know that they didn’t want him there.

A few metres away, the warrior caste muttered amongst themselves in a loose circle around the High Blade. Their glorious leader  listened to all of it with a pensive frown on his face, as if anything that was being said was in any way relevant. Granin doubted they had anything to say that hadn’t already been chewed over a hundred times. Despite spending golgari blood like water, they were no closer to achieving their goal and they were running out of time. All for the pride of the clans.

“Shaper Lazus, the High Blade wishes to speak with you.”

Finally they have time for him. He still isn’t sure why they insist on speaking to him at all. They have their own clan aligned Shapers, loyal to the house of Balta, why call on someone like him? Because of Anthony, obviously, but he wasn’t sure what it was about his connection to Anthony that interested them so much.

“I am here,” Granin announced himself, making a point of openly displaying his granite skin as he saluted. “What is your will?”

The High Blade stared hard at him, disgust and contempt clear on his face for all to see. Granin nearly laughed out loud but managed to stifle it in his chest. If he only knew Granin felt the exact same about him, how would he react? He’d probably cut off the Shaper’s head, to be honest.

“It is good to see you have survived the hardships of this expedition,” Kooranon Balta intoned in the needlessly formal way of the nobility. “You have proven to be a survivor.”

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“Shapers learn to adapt and survive in situations that don’t allow us control. The Dungeon does not bend to our will from birth, so we learn to manage it,” Granin replied.

Muttering and growls rose from the warriors around him for the implied insult to their caste. Every citizen of the Empire hopped when the warriors said jump. They truly were coddled from the day they were born. Though usually Granin would put some effort into concealing his jabs, he must be more bored with living than he thought. Insulting warriors to their face was a quick way to get into an honour duel. Totally fair one on one combat, with no magic allowed…

Surprisingly, the High Blade raised a hand and silenced those around him in an instant.

“You are bold,” he observed, “perhaps foolishly so.”

“With respect,” Granin nodded, “I think I’m merely getting old. One tends to lose their subtlety as one ages.”

“I have found the same. Perhaps I would be able to speak with you directly then.”

He waved a hand and an adjutant brought a chair over in a rush, placing it behind the noble and inviting him to sit with a quiet “by your will”. With his eyes still on Granin, Kooranon sat, placing his sheathed blade across his knees. The Shaper noted wryly that no seat was offered to him. Typical bloody nobles.

“You have a relationship with the reincarnated creature, do you not? He was under your care during his stay with the Shapers?”

“He was. I wouldn’t say we had a relationship, but we spoke many times.”

The noble’s eyes glittered.

“That is good,” he said, “I had hoped for as much. You may be fit to serve the purpose I have in mind then.”

Granin had a bad feeling about this.

“May I know what the nature of service will be?” he asked, not expecting an answer.

Surprisingly, the High Blade elaborated.

“I have made no secret of my desire for the creature to die by my hand. It is necessary to expunge the shame that filth has placed on my house. Sadly, breaking down this nest and slaughtering all within has proven more challenging than anticipated, and, strange as it might be, the possibility that the wave will force us to retreat before the work can be completed has become very real.”

He leaned forward, his hands caressing the sheath of the blade he held unconsciously.

“This is unacceptable.”

The  unbridled anger that burned in the noble was intense and the power of the man began to leak out, oppressing Granin where he stood. As much as he looked down on the warrior, his level was the real deal.

“So I have been forced to consider an alternate strategy to destroy the pest. I will use you as bait and demand the beast meet me in combat outside the gate. Should it refuse, I will cut off your head in full view of the nest and the siege will resume.”

Somehow, Granin doubted this was in line with what the High Blade had no doubt promised his allies in the Legion, but it wouldn’t matter to him. Clan honour was the only honour that truly mattered to the Blades.

“Typical,” he sighed.

A sharp blow cracked the stone on the back of his head and he knew no more.


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