672 The Siege pt 17

It didn't take long to locate the two golgari advisors within the Colony. Corun and Torrina were anxiously awaiting news of the outcome in Enid's rooms. The Colony had been unwilling to allow the two to fight on the frontline, despite them putting forward numerous requests. In the end it was the Eldest himself who shot them down, relegating the pair to tea and biscuits with the mayor as the fight to determine their survival went on without them.

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Needless to say, they were more than a little shocked to be summoned to the gate during the battle, and even more shocked to learn of the circumstances when they got there.

"By the granite gonads of my forefathers!" Corun swore. "Is that idiot noble seriously trying to fight an honour duel against a monster here and now?! With Granin's head on the line? This is madness!"

Torrina stared hard at the gate, as if her gaze were enough to pierce the hundreds of tons of metal that stood between her and her mentor.

"We have to save him," she turned to her fellow triad member, "we can't just leave him there."

The usually cold and distant Torrina was nowhere to be seen, replaced with someone whose eyes brimmed with fear. For once, the talented Shaper appeared to have no clue how she should proceed. Seeing the change in her, Corun drew quiet as he wracked his brain trying to find a solution.

[I have to tell you,] Coolant told them, [at the moment we have no intention of bringing the Eldest here to do battle with this person.]

Corun was taken aback by how direct the mage was being with him, but he couldn't support their decision when his mentor's life was on the line.

[I assure you], he pleaded, [Anthony would not want Granin to die!]

Coolant eyed him.

[They probably wouldn't,] she admitted, [but is the Eldest willing to sacrifice hundreds of their siblings in order to come here and fight to the death against a foe of unknown strength? Indeed, it would seem to be in the best interest of the Colony to take this decision away from the Eldest, and allow them to focus on the battle in front of them.]

[Is that how the Colony treats its oldest member now?] Corun asked. [You control Anthony and make decisions for him?]

[Do not presume to judge how we treat members of our own family!] the usually placid mage displayed her rising anger in her furious tone, [the Eldest is fighting for the survival of our entire species. What is one golgari, regardless of who, against that?]

As much as he wanted to argue, Corun could not tell Coolant that she was wrong. He wrestled with himself for a moment before his shoulders slumped in defeat.

[Is there really nothing we can do?] he pleaded. [Granin has done so much for Anthony. It's not right that we would abandon him.]

He brightened as an idea struck him.

[You could let me go,] he said, [perhaps they would take me instead. I could reason with them, or fight in Anthony's place.]

Torrina had kept her mind attuned to the conversation, listening with stone faced silence as Corun tried to negotiate for the Colony to save her teacher, but she couldn't remain silent now.

[Corun, you mustn't!] she broke in, [you'd be cut down in a second!]

Her fellow triad member set his jaw.

"You can't be sure of that," he said out loud, "I'm stronger than you think."

"I know you're good, but that's a High Blade! In a one on one fight, you wouldn't stand a chance. If you get yourself killed, they'll kill Granin too, and I'll be the only one left."

The heartbreak of being the lone survivor of a triad was not something she was willing to bear, not when she could save at least one of the most important people in her life.

"Then what do you propose we do?" Corun hissed, his frustration bubbling up, "they won't get Anthony, and if nobody goes out there then Granin is as good as dead!"

"Please, calm yourselves," a new voice pierced the gloom that had descended over the two Shapers, "I may be able to assist in this matter."

Outside the gate, Balta was rapidly growing impatient.

"How much longer before they bring the beast here for me to slay?" he demanded.

"We do not know, High Blade," the leader of the Shaper triad managed to hide his exasperation and reply with proper deference. How could he possibly know?! These were ants he was negotiating with! Who knew how they would react to anything!

He was positively relieved when he realised there was movement at the gate once more, the giant, looming ant head split as one side of the gate was pushed open slightly and a figure emerged. It wasn't an ant, which was disappointing, but at least some form of response was coming their way. The mage could only hope it was enough to relieve the irritated noble's temper before he started taking it out on them.

Balta watched the distant person approach with hooded eyes, scanning for every detail his eyes could pick out. What he saw intrigued him. This was no ordinary messenger. Something about the way they moved told him that this person was high level. There was a confidence, a balance in every step that only those with true power possessed. From what the High Blade knew, there shouldn't be such a person here with these miserable ants. He resisted the urge to lean forward to see better so as not to give away his curiosity as he tried to gather more information.

There wasn't much to glean. The figure was shrouded in a dark robe and appeared to carry no weapons, with the hood pulled up to cover their face, it wasn't even possible to determine race or gender.

"Halt there," called the Shaper as the mystery person drew within twenty paces. "Reveal yourself and state your business."

The figure made no move to draw back their hood as they responded. The voice that emerged was steady and sure, confident and calm. When he heard it, the High Blade's eyes narrowed.

"I have come to negotiate, on behalf of my people."

There was a moment of pause before Balta himself replied.

"Who are 'your people'?" he demanded, "if you are an ant, you are surely a strange one. My demands are clear, bring me the abomination or this one dies."

He gestured without looking at the silent Granin who remained forced to his knees, tied and bound securely. The figure laughed quietly as they revealed their face.

"I am indeed, no member of the Colony," Grey said, "but the Folk have something to say regarding what is taking place here."

The wolf-like features of the representative struck the golgari dumb momentarily, except for Granin who chuckled through his gag. What in the name of the Great Worm is one the Folk doing here?! Not even he could have predicted this! Anthony truly did bring chaos wherever he went.

Almost against his will, Balta sat straighter when Grey revealed himself. The currents were shifting quickly beneath his feet and he struggled to hold his ground. He still needed to get what he wanted and he would not allow this turn of events to deny him!

"Your people hold no claim to this territory," he sneered, "and have no authority in these tunnels. Were I to cut you down where you stand, the Folk would have no ability to seek redress from me. You are obstructing us in prosecuting an extermination."

"Things are rarely so simple," Grey chided as he massaged his palms and forearms, "and never when the Dungeon is concerned. I have applied to have the Colony recognised as one of the New Races. The tribes deliberate as we speak."

"It will be years before they come to any sort of agreement," Balta scoffed, "why does this concern me."

"Because," Grey said, "it means I am within my rights to fight to defend this new race, according to the Laws of my people."

The wolf flexed his hands and from each finger snapped a wickedly gleaming claw several inches long.

"What are you proposing?" The High Blade asked as he eyed those edges.

"Well. I could take a position at the gate and carve your people apart by the dozens as they approach, dooming your expedition to failure…"

"Or," Balta grated.

"… or, you could accept me as a substitute for your duel," Grey smiled fiercely, his pointed teeth on display.

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