Chapter 171 - Parley
“FUUUUUUCK!!” I glare at my right hand. All that's left is my thumb and pointer finger. This is going to take so much time and effort to regrow…
“CUNT FUCK BITCH-AAAAASS!!!” Okay, stop shouting. I should be focussing on halting the blood flow. Instead, I grab my sword with my left hand. The lower end of the handle and the pommel is gone, but that still leaves me with over thirty centimetres of grip. I channel my power inside the slab of metal and swing backwards at full force.
The blade of blue and red cleaves through the darkly glowing sea, making one-half shatter into snow while the other explodes into steam. The many, many transparent swordfishes are either shattered or vaporised.
The two hundred and twenty-ninth level has turned out to be rather difficult. The floor seemed rather harmless at first, a dimly lit body of water was all that was visible to my eyes. Instead, I found out that these floors now contain three different elements.
The water element filled the entire room. The darkness element sucked the light from everywhere, making the deep dark water feel even deeper and darker. The nature element - which I was not expecting - made the enemies natural beings that are near impossible to detect. They look like tuna fish with meat cleavers for noses.
Well, they would look like that if they weren’t completely transparent...
It came down to letting Lola get chopped in half or losing half my hand. Staring at the rabbit whose licking her crotch again while I painfully cradle my mangled hand, I doubt my own snap decision-making skills. Instead of complaining further, I mumble a mantra of “...shit shit shit shit...” under my breath while sucking up all the mana I can find.
The amount of power in the previous level is rather high, something I should have checked. But I’m starting to feel mentally tired, and messing with fake emotions has always been particularly draining to me, so I decided not to. I keep cursing the rabbit while creating a small vortex of power around myself, channelling all the generated qi to my damaged hand.
It takes me around an hour of manual reconstruction before my hand is in a usable condition again. I say usable, not perfect, as the strength in those three fingers are several factors below the rest of my body. I especially need to take care to not pull on the connected flexor and tensor muscles in my forearm, as that would shred the results of my hard work pretty quickly.
In the meantime, I have taken the time to explore the next room using my spiritual sense. It’s a massive blank space, a seemingly endless white floor that stretches into infinity. So this is the end of the Mana Dungeon? This floor is identical to the Tower’s last level. But that floor was the ninety-ninth… And this is around two thirty…
Ah well, I guess that’s just how far these things have grown over the years. I don’t even know what the dungeons need as food. Is it lives, matter, or just to have beings inside it?
I muse on these topics some more while stepping out of the stairwell. Blinking against the bright light everywhere, I turn around. I see a triangular construction encasing the doorway I just stepped out of, like a subway entrance emerging from the ground. The stairs go up, though.
This time my musings about non-euclidean geometries are stopped through enemy attacks. I jump high into the sky, flipping backwards while swinging my sword through the massive tentacle that just swept me. Breathing in, I feel that the mana levels around me are the highest I’ve encountered so far and are evenly distributed. I form my braincore into a small model of a turbine compressor, a piece of machinery that moves as much air as scientifically possible.
I start spinning the fans, willing it to only move mana. The small cyclone appears again, this time without me having to support it. The sheer vacuum of mana that I’m creating is enough to stir the multi-layered power into motion for a few kilometres around. The small flow of qi coming from my braincore turns into a steady river as I deepen my breathing.
Half my power is taken by my heartcore, who hurriedly channels it towards my regrown hand via my bloodstream. That taken care of, I inspect my immediate surroundings.
Lola is hanging off of the large octopus's eyeballs, gnawing its tender flesh viciously. I see her spitting out a large chunk of meat before she jams her horn - a swirling red this time - through the opening. She avoids the exploding eyeball goop by kicking off the monster, shooting towards an eagle made from long metal strips, her horn shining blue.
I look at the two dim bunny faces on my sword, a clear indicator that Lola has learned to hold both power flows while using them alternatively. I nod in appreciation of her development and also get to work.
I turn around and I'm greeted by a wall of bullets. I glimpse a forest of familiar metal trees in the distance, little clouds of smoke indicating that they are the culprits shooting at me. I hide behind my sword in reflex, driving it into the white floor as I duck. The bullets ping off, and I shift the blades angle after each impact, grinding the white floor to powder. I sense that the reflected projectiles do nothing as they bounce off the incoming horde of beasties.
So instead, I pull my sword free and start swinging it like a baseball bat. I take control of the fire flows for a single millisecond, enough to heat the bullet I’m batting back into a supersonic cloud of plasma. A few hundred hits later, I conclude that it’s a rather energy-inefficient way to fight.
So I change my approach. Deciding to act on a total whim - a combination of an old video game and something I've been secretly wanting to try - I change my braincore into a perfect scan of my sword. I then make a few modifications while double checking that my braincore and sword are linked in all ways I can think off.
I put my sword on my back, letting it freeze itself to my torn clothes with a flash of frost. I then pull on the handle, which causes my modification to activate. A long and slender baseball bat slides free from the much larger blade. One third is glowing red while the other is a frosting blue. I somehow can’t get the smile off my face as I turn into a blue and orange blur.
The projectiles and monsters I smash back leave frost trails or streaks of flame in their wake. The blue ones punch through the constructs with shattering coldness while the red ones burn deep holes. My heartcore gets used to the new mode of fighting rather quickly, and the Dungeon reacts.
No more projectile shooting foliage forms, instead, the beasts I destroy are replaced by an endless amount of fast, smaller creatures. Seeing that there will be no more bullets to hit back, I shove the bat back into the hollow sword.
This time, I shift the lines inside my braincore, letting the bat-shaped chunk of weapon fuse back into the main sword while forcing another form to separate. A mere few seconds later I will the massive hunk of metal to disconnect and split. I pull a slender sword free that’s longer than the base blade itself. My grin is getting painful now, this is so cool.
I press a button, and the slim sword clatters to the ground in pieces. Small parts of the blade are connected by a central length of chain. Each sword section has a red and blue part, black metal filling the middle.
I should have Rhea dress up in scant strips of purple leather while wielding this thing later.
The endless mass of small critters is eviscerated as I become a storm of red and blue again. This weapon is fun too. I catch a glimpse of Lola and see her sitting on top of the entrance we came in through, doing absolutely nothing. I shrug and continue whipping the long blade around.
One endless horde of small elemental constructs later, I'm faced with monsters that are over thirty meters large. My grin still going strong, I snap the weapon back into its original longsword form, perfect for piercing those hard to reach places.
Many, many hours later Lola and I are both panting heavily. The little rabbit is also surrounded by a small cyclone of mana. The power levels have dropped by a few per cent, quite the feat when considering that I can’t find an end to this level in combination with the ultra-dense mana.
I look away from our latest victims, a nearly endless parade of flying monsters and suddenly appearing traps. I've had a relatively easy time of it, thankful for the fact the dungeon doesn't seem capable of summoning those spatial tears.
Lola is looking a bit worse, her pools of fire and ice ran dry a while ago and she does not have the mass needed to be a super efficient physical fighter. Instead, we are cooperating, me doing the damage while she is doing small-scale battlefield control. She can't do a lot against the large monsters we've been up against, but a kick here and a nudge there is all that's needed to imbalance a foe or make a heavy attack hit the floor instead of me.
I also kept my sword the same shape after some more experiments, the things internal energy is depleted by a rather large amount after each shift in form.
But it seems to be over now. I look behind me, and the massive tiger that we just killed is also gone, pulled out of existence by the dungeon’s odd quantum fuckery. I put my sword on my back and rub my hands. Let’s have a friendly chat with the dungeon now that the introductions are over…
Spreading my qi across the entire floor, I find a small hole kilometres away. I start jogging, determined to get some answers. The memory of nearly being pushed out of existence is still fresh in my mind, so I start taking precautions.
I carefully start shaping my braincore into a miniature version of myself, correct down to the placement of each individual cell. Once the model has a sufficiently realistic resolution, I zoom in on my own head and find the model's braincore location. There I start crafting another miniature version of myself.
I manage to craft sixteen of the things before my nose starts to bleed too much. I sit down a bit, regaining the qi I spend with rotating it through my skull and relax for a few minutes. The chain of miniatures in my core solidifies as I rebalance my mental state.
I then take the smallest one - the seventeenth level if you count my own body - and pull it outside. This takes some more mental prodding, and I end up with all my qi rotating through my core and brain again. I manage to reverse the entire array after only losing a few more litres of blood through my nose.
I pat Lola’s head a bit, who has been anxiously whining as I went through my self-imposed psychic torture. I spread my qi through the blood still dripping from my nose and on the floor, picking it up with a simple application of a fluid control technique. I make it float upwards and surround my blade with it. Once all the iron is absorbed into the black sword, I filter the rest of the sediment through centrifugal force and drink the clean water.
I also eat around ten kilos of food in the meantime, giving Lola a large pile of leaves to nibble on. I felt the veins in my nose burst a while ago, but didn’t dare spare the mental effort of keeping them closed, my preparations taking a bit more focus than I had expected.
Now I’m feeling clean, full on food, water, power, and ready to tussle with an alien supercomputer! Snatching Lola away from her food, I start walking towards the hole going downwards, taking it slow to get used to the weird feeling of being surrounded by multiple layers of my own braincore.
Once again, I'm not completely sure how this works, but my heartcore seems rather insistent about this being a good idea. It hasn't steered me wrong yet, but I do make a process that'll stop me from going too far into this instinctive acting habit I'm developing.
An hour later, I am looking into the dark hole that leads downwards. A smooth ramp at a steep angle and I see shifting lights at the bottom. I grab onto the air surrounding me and force myself upwards with a bit of mental effort. Keeping my core in this unnatural shape is not easy, leaving me little room for applying my will on other subjects.
I float downwards at a leisurely pace. The moment my toes go lower than the floor level, I feel them wavering. I smile grimly and focus on the image of me that I hold in my mind. My toes stop trying to disappear as I do so and I continue floating downwards.
I blink rapidly as the most overbearing and incompetent attempt at communication nearly blows me off my feet.
“Hello to you too, Root. I want to get off-planet after accidental teleportation,” I reply in a neutral tone.
“Speak up man, this is no way to talk. Just will some air into and out of existence away from my sight. That should allow you to form sound waves right? Oscillating your entire being like that seems rather painful… And do you mean that getting off the planet is impossible or that teleportation is impossible?”
“Ah, my apologies. Lola, stop looking everywhere. It can’t do stuff in observed space. Some beings are shy like that. Be a polite and civilised rabbit for once.” I grab Lola from my shoulders and hold her to my chest. A quick calculation later tells me that together, we were observing nearly the entire room. I retract my qi to form a shell around my body instead of the spread out spiritual sense I had going on before.
I've continued floating downwards during the odd conversation. The experience with Tower’s dungeon core flashed through my mind. There it felt like certain possibilities were taken away, preventing me from even considering them. But that seemed to have backfired back then, allowing my heartcore to sense which two possibilities were left open for me. Leaving or destruction.
My hair waves from the strong shock waves produced by the thundering noise. This place doesn’t feel like the Tower's core at all. This feels like a petulant child pushing at an adults leg. Completely incapable of removing said adult through brute force, but still pushing back while screeching.
Instead of the two doors that the Tower had at the bottom, this is just a solid ramp leading into a large room, around fifty meters high and a hundred wide. The ramp leads to the room’s centre, where another of those pitch black rectangles rests. Lights play across its surface, like an endless abyss of stars springing to life and dying seconds later.
“As I said, I want to get off this planet. And I’m not willing to sacrifice large amounts of qi, time, or materials to extensively test the space-based defences. Portals and shit won’t become available until I’m much more powerful, and then I’d only be able to hop a few light-seconds at first. I want to know what’s up with this shitfest of a planet.”
I have reached the large object. It looks like a plank, one by four by nine. One squared, two squared, three squared. This shape seems familiar, but I fail to remember.
I raise an eyebrow.
I nod encouragingly.
“Hmm. Then what about two?”
“TWOOO… DAAMAGE… GUUUIDEE AAND ACTIIVATEE POOWER”
I start smiling at the thing. There we go, this is progress. I sit down and proceed to have a long conversation with the sparkling slab.
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