Chapter 11 - Tunnels
The tower is even more imposing in the pitch black of night. A pillar rising up into the dark void, just a shade lighter than the surrounding blackness. It must be cloudy tonight as no stars are visible and no moon is in sight. The streets are also empty. No night watch and especially no lanterns grace the dark streets. Works for me though, I don't really enjoy being in public unless I planned it.
Part of my core is still puzzling out the language, methodically plodding through the data to form a dictionary and another part of my mind slowly seeps qi into the atmosphere to form a passive radar. Mana is still being turned into qi with every breath automatically, but any significant progress will take years with the speed at which I’m currently gathering the stuff. My core is still extremely small and the tempering of my bones took quite a bit of liquid qi. Solid cores don't grow unless the rest of the core is filled with liquid qi and pressure can start building up. I smile to myself. This basically allows me to go wild and use all of it. Making a mana tornado in the middle of town seems like a very, very bad idea. I won’t be able to refuel in the city, so why not use it all and cultivate in the forest later?
I walk towards the stairs and stop. My qi sense has reached the tower and finds nothing. My eyes open wide; this is not normal. I can see the tower right in front of me, but to my qi senses, there is nothing there. I focus on the area and realize that I sense nothing there. Every physical place that the tower occupies registers as a hard vacuum to my spiritual sight, my eyes open even further in shock. This seems like one of the few high-level body cultivator training grounds I’ve been to before. Scanning with qi was useless there, so you needed to rely on your own physical senses in order to progress.
Sending out a thick wave of qi I sensed the exact same thing, nothing. Was there a spell of some sorts in place around the tower? I can't wait to find out! Now filled with enthusiasm I walk up the stairs. I nearly stumbled on the steps because of the odd dimensions. It felt like the steps should be a little bigger? I shorten my stair going stride and nearly fall on my face. Now my steps are too small? This seems like a subtle barrier of entry.
I reach the top and look inside to opening. The doorway is square, about five by five meters with a swirling darkness inside. Keeping my senses peeled I take a step forward and plunge into the darkness.
Tess is currently in a right pickle. Those were her exact thoughts. Why she was thinking about fermented cucumbers while she was running for her life was anyone’s guess. Cursing Noll in her heart for setting this up, she pumps her feet like her life depends on it. Which it totally does.
Dungeon sneaks usually crawl around levels that they have no business being. Why would a monsters' fighting power matter if the entire plan is to avoid them entirely? If you have the fighting power of an angry kitten, the difference between a level one goblin and an ancient dragon is not that important. If you are seen by either one you need to run or you are dead.
“This time,” Tess gasps, “I might be in truly deep shit.”
A small smirk is still on her face as she keeps pumping her legs, desperately looking around the roughly hewn cave for a hiding place. She glances backwards and immediately regrets that decision.
“AAAAARCH, WHY DO I KEEP MAKING MISTAKES TODAY!”
She roars loudly. Stealth was out of the window the moment that guy Nik threw a potion on her. The pungent stench caused her face to pale immediately. She had been guiding the fucker through the first few levels to get to a shortcut. Their initial goal was medicine, and she knew a path that could get them to the precious resource in a few hours. A simple sneak through level one till five, hop through the level gap and climb down through six and seven followed by a wall climb and a drop down into the tenth level. Level ten has various monster and plant habitats that have medicinal properties.
It all went swimmingly until the meek guy following her threw something at her when they were climbing the big wall in level eight. Moments later her charge was sprinting around a corner and she stunk to high heavens. Now all she can do is run.
“I smell like a rotting honey covered turd that’s on fire.”
Mumbling through gritted teeth she darts into a crevice in the dark grey rough wall. The pungent stench wafting from her will attract the monsters no matter where she hides. Level eight is famous as a new guy killer. Levels one through seven are dangerous, sure, but anyone with a pair of eyes and hands can make it through them fairly easily. The most dangerous creatures on those levels are elemental animals. Imagine a wolf that has caught on fire. Or a bug that drank a chilled growth potion. Only dangerous for the completely unprepared.
Tess isn't unprepared by any means, but she doesn’t feel quite prepared enough at the moment. She touches her sides, feeling the flat iron flasks hidden under her clothing. Taking inventory, she comes to the conclusion that she is screwed. Hiding doesn’t have much effect when beasts in a mile radius can blindly follow their nose to her.
She takes another whiff of herself. “I can't climb back up the wall like this, the flying shits would pick me clean before I got halfway. Going deeper down is probably worse. I can keep running around for a few more hours but I don't want to. This smell will stick around for a few days at least, more if it’s an everlasting lure potion.”
Fear flickers in her eyes as she starts to realize the situation she is in.
“I wash myself every day and I’ll still be done in by my smell? And I’m sure it's getting dark out, fuck my life. I hate these creepy fucking bats...”
Further rambling can be heard as the lithe figure creeps out of her hiding place and slinks on, keeping an eye on the ceiling.
A lobby is visible from the outside, so the plunging darkness part was slightly incorrect. But plunging into darkness sounds a lot cooler than stepping over a threshold, in my opinion. The lobby I’m standing in is just so clean. The design and state both scream clean. Light grey rock is visible from the little light that falls through the door opening. Clean lines delineate simple benches and tables.
I send my qi out and notice that all is well with my sensory skills. I can't even sense any dust, not even in the corners. The barrier around this place is fascinating though, does it disconnect the place from the main dimension or something? Shaking my head in wonder I walk onward, passing a few clean and empty booths. Two doors are visible on the far end of the room, one a dark opening, the other showing a tunnel leading down.
My qi can't sense anything but stone around me. No proof of magical construction, there is only pure rock in a very dense form.
Alright then, inspection of the holding area complete! Let’s go further and explore. As I walk through the open door I touch my necklace, probing it a little bit. Lola is asleep, sitting still on top of a tower is not really interesting, I would take a nap too. She might find what we are about to do interesting, so I call out and ask her to come out.
As I step through the door a cave opens up around me. Looking at the wall I can't decide if this is a natural or an artificial cave. Rough chipped stone is visible and the walls have a flow that suggests it is formed naturally. The straight corridor that is formed by this rock is clearly artificial. Natural rock forming unnatural structures. I can even see some layered strata crossing the tunnel with a slight diagonal plane. This suggests natural sedimentary rock.
As usual, I will chalk this one up to magic. A geologist would go clinically crazy if they saw this, a perfect blend of the natural and man-made. It really takes a load off your mind when you can simply blame magic for stuff you can't understand yet.
Lola is hopping around, slightly glowing eyes indicating that she hasn’t forgotten the eye enhancement trick I taught her. The slight amount of glow coming from her eyes is enough for me to see the cave by. That also means that the floating light specs in front of me are monsters capable of night sight.
“Lola, pay attention.”
She skids to a halt and looks up at me.
“We are going to do some training. I think there will be animals up ahead, we're going to fight them. Just kick them really hard and it will all be fine, okay?”
Two black eyes with glowing pupils stare back at me. I can’t read the expression on her face, I really suck at ethology. I rub her head with a finger and she flops on her side. This isn't going to work. Bunnies stomp the floor when they sense danger right?
Standing up I stomp the floor. “Enemies!”
Lola leisurely stands up and waddles ahead. She isn't the epitome of alertness but I don't think she’ll die from the first floor of a dungeon. I now see six lights ahead of us. The air is slightly foggy, the murkiness combined with the darkness doing a great job of obscuring vision. I walk after the little bunny.
Sending some qi into a specific part of my necklace I check what my little companion has been up to. Eating, sleeping and running is all she did the past day. I think I should bet on her instead of myself when racing with her now, she has been practising running a lot.
The six glowing points creep back into the shadows when we approach the doorway. The half natural cave widens into a room. It’s not a nice square room though, it looks as if someone let nature carve out their own design over the span of a few million years. Four openings line the room, coming in at odd angles and heights. I really like this natural rock style this dungeon got going on. Nooks and crannies litter the ceiling and walls and I spot some moss, grasses and small plants growing around the environment.
Enough sightseeing though, my qi senses have been tracking the four shapes surrounding us. Lola and I are now standing in the middle of this cave. This seems to give the occupants of this room enough courage to poke their heads out.
Big black eyes stare into my soul. Are they racoon badger dogs? They have white, grey and black fur and seem… anxious? They are twitching around, sniffing the air, shuffling in place. And they are incredibly cute. Their fur looks soft too.
“Alright, I want some new pillows now. Maybe some fur lined boots? That tail could become a mighty hat.”
A sudden yip pulls me from my delusions. One of the racoon dog things is flying through the air. Lola must not have a lot of patience. I pull my spear from my ring and throw it through one of the dog's skulls. Kicking another dog across the room I spot a white blur. Lola appears from the blur, replacing one of the dogs. Head-butting is effective, but not economical.
Quickly taking care of the rest I keep one alive. With a finger, I try to direct Lola’s attention.
“Use a bit of qi like this.”
I punch the last living dog thing with a qi filled fist. My fist hits the poor things chest, I use the moment of collision to trigger the qi, shooting if forwards from my knuckles. The thing squeaks and collapses on the spot, chunky blood dribbling out of its mouth, it's inside shredded by my qi. Looking at Lola I doubt if she followed any of this. Blinking at me she hops on, sniffing some grass at the edge of the room.
“Use your head, you stupid rabbit. You have excellent kicking legs, don't just head-butt everything.”
Her nose keeps twitching up and down. It's pretty cute but I can't tell if any of this is getting through. I sigh and use some qi to skin the doggies. I don't really need it but their fur is really soft…
Standing up I walk through a random door. Slowly breathing out more qi I begin spreading it through this maze. A mental map begins to form, showing me that this entire floor is set up like the previous room. Nooks and crannies litter the caves. Do these passages lead to breeding chambers? My qi seems to fade from my control when it comes into contact with the walls. I assign a new process to keep track of my surroundings, keeping my spiritual sense back from the rock.
“Ahead are four...” I stick four fingers up in the air. “...beasties, want to take them on yourself? Try kicking them maybe.”
Twitch, twitch goes her nose. Big beady eyes peer at me from a patch of grass. I need a 'raising rabbits for dummies' book. Will she grow up alright?
With worry in my heart, I keep walking.
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