Arranging a meeting between two cult members wasn’t easy, especially given the current conditions between the Colony and the Ka’armodo. Granin grumbled at a constant rate as he and his fellow triad members trekked across the dangerous terrain of the third stratum. It was a testament to how wild the land was in this layer of the Dungeon that even the Colony, with its enormous numbers, intelligent approach, and absurd dedication, hadn’t been able to construct countermeasures to ward off the never ending spawns. The best they could do was prune and manage the higher tier demons that still roamed the wastes between cities.
The Demon Raising program that the ants had launched was another initiative that Granin had followed closely. Raising demons to be strong and efficient in their builds to use as pets was hardly anything new, Invidia had been a perfect example of the practice, though some disregarded them due to their odd habits. Mass producing high quality demons on the scale the Colony was? He was almost certain it had never been done. After all, why would anyone bother? Nobody needed that many pets, and wild demons were liable to do whatever their obsession demanded of them. They were far from reliable allies.
Only the Colony had been able to harness the demons so effectively, probably because they allowed the third stratum natives to be themselves for the most part, whilst still surrounding them with an overwhelming structure of authority. If he had the time, he’d love to research that work more deeply. The demons were another group of monsters that needed more research. Although, come to think of it, the Red Truth had probably done plenty.
And not shared it.
“Did we really need to come all the way out here?” Corun asked.
Granin turned to the young shaper.
“Do you think we can wander over to a city controlled by the lizards and have a friendly chat right now? There’s significant risk for the other party too. Think about it for a moment.”
“I can’t imagine how it feels for someone with soft skin to walk around out here,” Torrina observed.
With the constant tongues of flame, ash and smoke that filled the air in the third, it was certainly an inhospitable place. Protected by the hard minerals that coated them, the three golgari didn’t have to worry too much about the environment, even if it was uncomfortably warm.
“Let the humans worry about that. The ants, Ka’armodo and us have other things to worry about. In fact, the lizards absolutely love this stratum. The heat makes them all fuzzy inside.”[Being cold blooded has that effect on a being.]
The mind connection snapped into place with such ease that Granin almost didn’t notice it until the bridge was formed. He rolled his eyes. They always had to show off.[Are you planning on showing yourself or are we doing this full clandestine?] Granin drawled. [Remaining hidden will be the wiser path in our current circumstances. I’m sure you understand.] [That’s fine, but I want to include the rest of my triad in the conversation. You’re sharing this with your retainers, are you not?]
With that, Granin wove mana of his own to extend the existing bridge to Corun and Torrina, allowing them to be part of the conversation.[Rassan’tep, these are the members of my triad, Corun and Torrina. To you two, make sure you are properly respectful to Rassan’tep, he’s old.] [Older than you?] Corun asked. [Shut up.]
A tiny hint of amusement leaked over the connection, which, culturally speaking, was equivalent to a hearty belly laugh. If letting Corun make fun of him helped to loosen the Ka’armodo’s tongue, then he would tolerate it, for the moment. When they got back to safety there would be hell to pay.[Well, you went to a lot of trouble to call me out here. Frankly, I’m not even sure how you did it.] [Unlike the Worm Cult, we followers of the Red Truth have many means. It wasn’t overly difficult to locate and pass a message to you.] [Come on Rassan’tep. I don’t need the pointless ‘my cult is better than your cult’ rubbish. Out with it. What did you want to say?]
There was a pause.[And Yarrum would totally kick Arconidem’s arse,] he couldn’t help adding.
Indignation railed against his mind.[That puffed up worm wouldn’t be a match for the Demon God! You can’t possibly expect me to let that pass!] [Oh come on. I don’t care how big a larval demon gets, there is no way it can beat the worm that wrapped around the world.]
Granin laughed out loud. It was always like this between the various cults founded, according to legend, by each of the ancients. The followers always bickered about nonsense rather than cooperate as they should, given that they shared essentially the same mission. Corun and Torrina were casting him odd looks as they listened to the exchange. They didn’t have much experience when it came to interacting with other cults; insulting their patron was a time honoured tradition.
Find the twentieth Ancient and usher in the new world.
Granin’s hands slowly clenched into fists.[What are you saying?] he growled.
Again, that hint of amusement over the link.[I got a little too close and was forced to defend myself from him. He nearly ate me.]
Such an admission from a proud Ka’armodo was not an easy thing to obtain. They were almost as stubborn and puffed up with hubris as the golgari themselves.
Granin relaxed.[I’m a little surprised. He must be quite angry with your people to do such a thing.] [There are fools amongst every race. This venture was a horrific idea from the beginning and the execution has only gotten worse.] [It’s going to cost your people a lot in the end,] Granin observed. [It will not matter. We have been gathering power for thousands of years. We are ready.] [Everyone has been gathering power. I think this might turn worse than you expect, by the end. At any rate, Anthony?]
There was a lapse in the conversation and Granin could feel the prodigious mind of the great lizard turning.
Granin raised a stony brow.[Made? Let me be clear, I did not make Anthony what he is. He did that himself. I saw his potential and decided that I should put myself in a position to advise.] [So to be clear, he isn’t a planned attempt by the Worm Cult to create an Ancient?] [He is not.] [That helps explain how powerful he is.] [That’s cheap.] [I wanted to meet you,] Rassan’tep continued, [because I am beginning to believe that he might actually have a chance.]
There was some residual shock over the connection and Granin assumed it came from the Set’sulah. They hadn’t been aware of their master’s thoughts.[I’ve thought that for a while now,] Granin agreed, [and believe me, I think that after he evolves again, we won’t be the only ones.]
The great lizard’s thoughts sharpened, his curiosity surging through the connection.[You have some information?] [I’ve been conducting some research with my triad. I don’t think anyone expects what’s going to happen next. Least of all your termite breeding friends.]