Chrysalis - Chapter 924 - Put A Toe Out In The Fourth
Some part of me is still buzzing about being in the fourth stratum. I can’t believe we managed to get down here without having to fight some epic war for survival in the third, or conquer an oppressive foe, or face down a full legion of metal death soldiers. It just seems weird. I mean, the kaarmodo are knocking on our door, and we have to fight to protect the tree down here, but I still feel like we got off easy. I mean, we had to face down Garralosh before we could even descend down to the second stratum.
I almost feel relaxed about it. We have tension with the kaarmodo across two stratum, which is definitely an issue, but I’ll keep my claws crossed so they don’t try to pull us into a conflict across the third and fourth. That’d suck. Big time.
Fortunately, it won’t happen! We’re cruising right now. All we have to do is hunker down, get ourselves properly dug in, and then hold off the termites in a war of attrition that they can never hope to win. Once we’ve fortified our hold on our territories in the third stratum, and expanded our numbers and nests within the second, we’ll be able to flood down here and smash our colony rivals into smithereens. Once that happens, we’ll be free to expand and explore down here to our heart’s content. Things are looking good!
Until Vibrant went and threw a wrench in everything. Where the heck did she get to? She was supposed to chase after the termites until they left the tunnels we’d constructed to funnel them toward us and then come back. Naturally, Vibrant being Vibrant, she’s probably found herself a pond or something and is trying to run on water or something ridiculous.
[Anthony!] a mind reaches out to me. [Wait for me!]
[Sarah?] I say as I turn and see the giant bear running up beside me. [You want to come along?]
[Yes,] she nods, [I’m not that useful for digging or constructing things, so I might as well come and help make sure you and Vibrant get back safely.]
[Sure,] I shrug my antennae, [feel free to tag along.]
I think for a moment.
“You need to be careful out there, Protectant. We’re kicking around in the fourth now, you lot should stay hidden unless you really feel the need to intervene. Even then, think twice.”
I don’t get a reply, but I know they heard me. Honestly, ever since my bodyguards showed up, I feel like I spend more time worrying about them being safe, as opposed to them worry about me. They’re probably constantly having to intervene behind the scenes to keep me on the straight and narrow though, so I suppose it all washes out in the end. Come to think of it, I should keep a closer eye on the guards through the Vestibule. Their hiding mechanism is incredibly strong and unless I focus they still tend to slip under my radar.
I spin up a mind construct and dedicate it to filtering through the wash of energy I receive from the Colony, spying on Protectant and her crew.
[Alright then, let’s get going.]
Without too much discussion we get ourselves organised and head out at a rapid pace. Vibrant and her group would have been really motoring along on the heels of the termites as they retreated, so I don’t doubt we have a lot of ground to cover before we catch up to them. The tunnels around us feel strangely heavy, as if the whole weight of the immense mountain and tree above us bear down on them. It’s kind of strange that it feels more claustrophobic here than it does when I can’t see what’s over my head.
The veins of mana that permeate the Dungeon are present here as always, pulsing bright with a green tinged light. The level of mana is so abundant that I feel as if I’m swimming through an ocean of it rather than walking through air. Perhaps it’s like humidity was as a human, if I can even remember what that was like any more. High humidity, as I recall, felt like the air would stick to you as you walked around. This level of mana feels far beyond that to me as a monster. It’s like the air is literally water. Or even thicker than that. Jelly, almost. My core sucks it in the second I lose a single MP and fills right back up again. The mana being absorbed through my legs is absurdly dense, to the point I almost feel like I move slower because of it.
Through the tunnels we go, soon passing beyond the point where the tunnel walls have been compressed and reinforced by the Colony and entering the wild territory of the fourth. Evidence of termite activity is immediately apparent, in the tunnels and loops that have been carved into the rock here that the Colony still hasn’t been able to erase. Beyond that, I start to sense a change in the air, a waft of life that brushes against my antennae before it fades away again.
[Do you feel that?] I ask Sarah.
[No, but I can smell it.]
[What do you think it is?]
[I – I’m not sure. It’s not like anything that I’ve smelled before.]
[Be careful, everyone. I think we’re coming up on the end of the tunnel.]
The group tightens up as we continue to walk and soon enough we can see the light beginning to filter through from the outside of the mountain. When we finally reach it, it’s almost blinding, it takes a few seconds for my eyes to adjust and when I do, the impossible vista of the fourth stratum is stretched out before me once again, but from a lower vantage this time.
We’ve emerged near the base of the Mother Tree’s mountain and in front of us, in the distance, another just like it towers high, beyond our range of vision as it disappears into mist and clouds. Between us and this new peak lies a wide body of water of perfect, crystal blue, the mana so thick within it that it rises from the surface in a haze. As we watch, a humongous form breaks the surface for a moment, a host of razor sharp fins glittering in the light.
[Anyone feel like a swim?]