930 Stadiant (1041)

Hello my dear readers! I hope you are all well, snug, warm, and ready for another rendition of my adventures amongst the Colony. Within the second stratum, the ants certainly had built a kingdom for themselves. The wonders of Anthome seemed endless, and with Emilia as my ever patient guide, we wandered the many tunnels and chambers, visiting historical sites, admiring the most incredibly detailed sculptures, carvings and artwork I think I have ever seen.

Nobody would have expected the soul of an artist to live within the body of a monster, certainly not me, but I was quite moved by some of the works I saw, almost all of them depicting the 'Eldest' at some point in their journey.

"Many of the most celebrated pieces produced by the Colony were created by Michaelangelant. She was perhaps the first ant to really dedicate herself to artistic pursuits. Most of the carvings in the old nest were done by her and her acolytes," Emilia informed me.

"She single-handedly… well I suppose she didn't have any hands now, did she? She was solely responsible for this aspect of the Colony's culture?"

The young woman nodded pleasantly.

"That's right. At least, as far as we know. At the time this nest was built, there wasn't that much civilian access. By the time more people were allowed inside, the bulk of the work was completed, so no one can truthfully say they saw it being done."

I cannot emphasise enough, my precious audience, just how remarkable some of these works are. The attention to detail, the intricately fine work, the patience required to complete such work was simply inhuman! Which I suppose is no surprise, given that the artist was no human!

But it wasn't just fine artworks that Emilia entertained me and my escorts with as we acclimated to the mana. One fine afternoon, we were invited out to witness a truly remarkable event.

"Have you witnessed a live sporting event?" Emilia asked me innocuously as we departed.

Now, I'm sure you understand where I'm coming from, reader, when my nose rose somewhat into the air as I stated proudly: "Of course!"

I make my home in the Golden City, as you well know, and we are a proud bunch, I am ashamed to say. Here we were, in one of the most frontier areas of the continent, and alongside a young woman who likely hadn't travelled more than a hundred kilometres from Renewal. I described with great pride and flowery language the great contests held in the famed Arena.

Spectacular duels held between the finest and most powerful warriors on the face of Pangera in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. The spectacle! The whole city could be rumbling for weeks after a particularly amazing bout. Of course I knew about sport!

As I prattled on, Emilia simply nodded calmly.

"Wonderful," she said when I finished my overly flowery explanation, "I had hoped you would have such experience. The Stadium can be a little overwhelming for people who see it the first time."

The tunnel we walked through became wider and wider as more and more people filed into it. Not just people, but ants also. From the teleportation chambers, there was a flowing stream of eager beings, all rushing into the flow and making their way towards wherever it was we were going.

"There are certainly a lot of people," I noted to Emilia, "is this a particularly noteworthy event we are going to see?"

I wondered what secrets of Colony-culture might be uncovered. For so many to gather, this must be a rare event indeed.

"Oh, nothing of the sort," I was assured. "The Stadium hosts matches three or four times a week."

"This happens multiple times per WEEK?" I goggled.

"Of course. Tunnel Ball is very popular."

At that moment, the ever-widening tunnel opened in front of us, the ceiling rising a hundred metres to a cavernous, vaulted dome. Before us, the enormous wall, entirely adorned with carvings, swept away to the left and right. Scene after scene of ants, humans, golgari, bruan'chii and even the elusive Folk engaged in some sort of activity, usually holding a strangely carved rock, covered the surface, so many my eyes couldn't possibly take them all in.

In the centre of the open space, ringing what I assumed was the exterior wall of the Stadium, were large statues that loomed over the passing spectators. Again, a curious mix of races and individuals. I remarked on it to Emilia, though it was becoming difficult to hear each other over the hum of the crowd. There were SO many people!

"Yes. These are all individuals who contributed to the sport in a serious way. Some statues are quite revered. If you look down there, you can just see the top of one."

I could indeed. It seemed to be a colossal ant looking down haughtily on the patrons as they walked past.

"That depicts the one and only time the Eldest competed in an official event. They retired immediately afterwards, but the story has become something of a legend. To our left, though we can't see it from here, is the statue of perhaps the greatest ever player. Jordant. She doesn't play anymore, but she is fondly remembered. On the other side of the Stadium, in front of the main entrance, is a statue commemorating the person who created Tunnel Ball."

"This isn't the main entrance," I boggled.

"Oh, no. Not at all."

"And who invented the game?"

Apparently, a farmer named Peter is credited with turning a simple ant training exercise into the sport that took over the Ant controlled lands, and then entranced their allies. Even now, his humble visage watches over the grand entrance to the Stadium, and people come from far and wide to pay respects at his stone feet.

Emilia explained the rules to me and my increasingly bewildered escorts as we made our way into the Stadium. We joined the hurrying throngs, the buzz of energy high as we walked with purpose. It was clear from the clothing and paraphernalia of the audience that the two teams playing today were represented by green and pink, as the two colours simply blanketed everything we could see.

I have to say, my dear readers, I have no idea how we managed so promptly to reach our seats. From what I recall, we simply followed several winding tunnels that branched several times, and there we were. Emilia later explained the finest ant engineers had worked tirelessly on the most efficient system for funnelling the crowd to the appropriate seating, mostly because the ants got sick of waiting for the matches to start.

I was so focused on not getting lost amidst the crowd that I didn't take in the Stadium until I sat down, and when I did, I almost fell right off my seat!

It was huge!

Although huge doesn't really do it justice. It's not often that I, erudite writer that I am, find myself at a lack of words, but it really is difficult to describe the sheer scale of what I witnessed.

So I might instead give you a few numbers. The maximum capacity of the Stadium is over five-hundred thousand individuals.

That's impossible! Perhaps you had that thought? I assure you it isn't! Especially when you consider the 'seating' the ants use.

"Are they on the roof?" I asked Emilia, agog as I stared upward.

"Of course, they don't need chairs, and they get an excellent view from directly overhead."

The entire ceiling of the dome that overlooked the field of play was covered in ants, a dense cluster of them that seemed to be in perpetual motion. The seating rose all the way from the sides of the playing field until it connected with the dome, and it seemed as if every seat was full. All sorts of people, from every walk of life, packed into this one space.

The atmosphere was pulsing with energy and I found myself quite caught up in it, excitedly waiting for the game to start. They even provided snacks! The food was delivered via a strange mechanism that caused it to pop up right beside me through a slot that opened in the stone! Such convenience!

And when the match itself started, the roar of the crowd was simply deafening. There's something about that afternoon that still hasn't left me, reader. Only in the Stadium of the Colony can one experience a mixing of such diverse peoples, only there does the crowd produce that distinctive sound. The clacking of mandibles, the screams and roars, the ocean-like rush of leaves rustling.

And the game itself was jolly entertaining as well!

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