Chapter 184 - Supposition (1)
Re-Haan is in a pickle. She’s tied up, her arms and legs bound to cold corners of a stone slab she's quite unable to break, and access to her cultivation is blocked. Her thoughts are about to slip back in time as she wonders how things had turned out this way, but the rustling of brush nearby is enough to snap her wandering mind back to the present. A rhythmic crunching of branches and trees has her training her eyes at the shaking undergrowth. A cloud of leaves comes down in a green rain as the ground shakes, and one of the bloody things has the nerve to land right on her nose.
Twitching her face into all kinds of distortions to get rid of the falling itching irritants, she tries to keep track of the direction the sound is coming from. She tries shaking her head again, but she's bound up in a very interesting way. In short, she can’t move a single muscle but feels oddly comfortable despite the many metres of rope digging into her flesh.
Then a hundred-meter large tree comes crashing down, it’s furthest branches missing the trussed up woman by mere centimetres. The silence that follows the rumble of broken branches is interrupted by a chittering roar. This is then followed by the cause of the sudden deforestation itself, a fifteen-meter high combination between a chicken and an octopus. It slithers and struts closer to the bound woman, clucking in a rather slimy manner as it crushes all underfoot.
“Uhm… Hello, being. As you can see, I’m in no state to welcome one such as you properly. Please free me so I can be a proper host.”
The beast responds to her gracious request by stalking closer, lowering its toothy head. Re-Haan closes her eyes in order to prevent the spray of mucus from entering her orifices, not keen on tasting the mutant’s bodily fluids by any means.
“I’m not tasty, you know. Just nibble at this rope.” Here she wiggles her hips, trying to indicate one of the knots sitting on top of her naked skin. “Just cut it there, and I think I should be able to free myself shortly.” Re-Haan is starting to worry now. The misshapen head - a mixture between a dinosaur and the aforementioned chicken - is nearly touching her tender flesh. Her breath becomes slightly more rapid as her struggling intensifies. “Yesh, that spot. No, don’t lick it! Dungeons, stop that!”
Re-Haan squirms like her life depends on it. Honestly, from the way the slimy chicken is licking its beak and herself, it very well might. A furious squawk distracts the large predator for long enough to look backwards, just in time for it to be snatched by a praying mantis the size of a house. The two beasts fight, the chicken using large gouts of water to fend off the fire using oversized insect. An epic battle unfolds, and Re-Haan has hope for a few minutes. None of the lethal shards of splintered tree or stray gouts of magic breaks her ropes, though.
All in all, it only takes the large chicken three minutes to peck the shit out of the interloper. It doesn’t even eat the opponent it defeated, merely kicking some dirt over its battered corpse before strutting back to Re-Haan. “I would very much like to be rescued right about now. Why did I-”
Seconds before the large beak tears into her soft flesh, a black flash interrupts the chicken. “Hah, you fiend! How dare you. Have no worry, my lady. I will defeat this vile opponent and get thou down safe-”
Despite her well-meant warning, the hooded figure that saved her in the nick of time does not avoid the beasts’ attack. Instead, Re-Haan catches a glimpse of surprised irritation on the shadowed persons’ face before he is flung backwards, a large beak picking him up by the scruff of his neck. “Release me, you savage beast! Hnnng.” The man tries to wiggle around but fails to reach far enough behind him to get free. He is then flung upwards, the beasts’ mouth opening below him. “Shit shit shit!”
He manages to get a single finger around the sharp edge of the beak, barely flipping himself from between the chicken’s violently closing mouth. Grabbing hold of a nostril, the dark man holds on tight. The fight that follows is as impressive as it is clumsy. The way he barely avoids lethal attacks is almost worthy of praise if it weren't for the many, many ways in which he fails to inflict any damage to the beast. The farce is ended when a tree - which had been on the edge of falling over for the last half an hour - falls on top of the chicken.
“Haha! Fear not, milady. I managed to vanquish this foul beast, preventing it from tarnishing your noble self, preserving your chastity and purity.” The man walks over to the still tied up Re-Haan, panting hard as he stumbles closer. “I will have thee free within seconds.” Lecherous hands roam across her body under the pretence of loosening the knots. The malicious smirk on her saviour’s face rivals that of the chicken, in terms of hunger for her flesh.
Re-Haan clears her throat and meekly addresses the hero. “You saved me. I would have perished for sure. How could I ever repay you?”
“Have no worries, my fair lady. I’m sure we can come to a mutually beneficial conclusion.”
“That was fun,” I smile at Rhea.
“You thought that was fun? I thought it was kind of sad. But I can’t really tell what is so sad about it.”
We're lying on top of the stone slab, catching our breath. “Limiting our power to match the opponent was your idea, remember? It took me a long time to manoeuvre the stupid oversized piece of poultry in the correct position. A mere few centimetres to the left or the right, and it would have seen that falling tree.”
“Then I am impressed you managed to make such a calculated move look like pure, dumb coincidence.”
I mull over her words while stroking her hair leisurely. “Thanks, I guess?”
“So, that was the damsel in distress scenario?”
“It should have been a dragon, not a chicken. And you should have been wearing even less. Also, some anxious encouragements would have been nice. At least you really got into your role after I rescued you.” I wiggle my eyebrows at her and am relieved that I manage to make her blush slightly.
Rhea sits up, stretching her limbs out and showing me another nice sight. “What I mean is, your scenario is done, right?”
“Yes, I guess I would call this done?” We are both sweaty and sticky, and the jungle around us is reduced to pulp for dozens of metres. Why do I feel a sudden cold chill going up my spine? Rhea and I are still not using combat mode as per our agreement, or I would have entered it in order to analyse this weird feeling of apprehension.
“Great. That means it’s now my turn, right?” Rhea grins at me while letting a length of rope run through her fingers.
“Well…” So that is where this creeping feeling of doom is coming from. I surreptitiously edge away from her.
“You let a monster slobber all over me. And you had me tied up for hours. You seemed like you were having fun, so let me have some fun too, okay? Hey, Drew, where are you going?”
“Call me Teach,” I shout back at her. I need to scram, right now. Why did I leave Tree’s necklace behind again?
“I…” I hold back tears.
“What is it, honey?” asks Rhea with an extremely contented expression on her face.
“I can’t marry anymore,” I wail.
“Oh, shush. There was no monster drool involved. You got off lightly.”
I just wrap my arms tighter around my knees. “Right. Are you satisfied now?”
Rhea takes another drag of her cigarette, her arms around me as I lay next to her. Since when did I become the small spoon. Where did she get that cigarette? I shrug away the useless questions and decide to focus on the things that matter. I can always create a new mental process if these memories keep cropping up, after all. Memories are slightly rewritten each time you recall it, and I can harness this power to basically change or eliminate memories. It takes a lot of effort though, so I only do this for truly unpleasant stuff.
I take a deep breath and stand up, resuming my cleaning process as I put my clothes back on. “Alright. I admit that was kind of fun. We got to get going though, the weave is done.”
“Already? Alright. Explain it to me again. I still don’t really understand it.”
“I sent you the data, though. Just read through it one more time.”
“Knowledge isn’t understanding,” she retorts, a cast to her face that tells me she is not willing to have this discussion again.
“From the top, then.” I start walking towards the new drone I build as I put my thoughts in order. I pick up the autonomously flying object, carefully avoiding bumping the large plane against the rocks. Its three-meter wingspan allows it to fly forever - in theory - but makes it a bit unwieldy to launch. I could have let it circle around us while we were occupied with other things, but the skies have been getting more and more dangerous over the past few weeks.
“This shitty planet has a weird form of anti-virus protection. It seems to work on a level based system, with harsher threats being answered with harsher security measures. You with me so far?”
“What’s an antivirus?”
I ignore her. “Level zero is normal operations. The Dungeons produce mana, the Flight consumes it, all is well, and the military potential of this planet grows slowly but surely. Level one triggered when I arrived and made qi. Two and three are still relatively low level, activating space-based defences and allowing for rudimentary control of enforcer class mutants. Level four will trigger upon damage to high-value property, like dungeon cores. Level five is moon damage, and presumably allows for planetary annihilation class countermeasures.”
“I understand this. The next bit is what eludes me.”
I didn’t want to test this theory of mine this early, but here we are. “I want to know what’s inside a dungeon supercomputer, so I’m breaking one open.” She keeps staring at me blankly. I have lifted the large flying drone above me with one hand and am holding out the other to Rhea.
“Grab my hand, please.” She takes it, and I throw the drone up into the air. The second I let go, I jump through my necklace into Tree, pulling her behind me. We land next to the shining trunk, golden light illuminating half her face. I repeat my previous explanation verbatim. “I’m going to open up a dungeon supercomputer.”
“Ah, why didn’t you say so before?” she asks while looking at me funny.
“I did, though.”
I transfer a packet of my memories, showing her the last minute from my perspective. I see her go pale immediately. “Does this suffice a crisis with a major chance of irreversible and slash or lethal harm?”
“No. This is just a bit of inbuilt mind control. Somehow or another, the very thought of letting harm come to, or harming critical stuff yourself, is not available to you outside of Tree. No big deal, just a few parameters you need to account for.”
Rhea starts walking in small circles while repeatedly touching her earlobe. She looks around with frantic eyes that are slowly turning more and more bloodshot as the realisation sets in that something has been directly messing with her thoughts.
“Right. I seriously wondered where the sheer lack of interest in your origin came from.”
“I even spouted that shit about trees not honouring a shitting bird. Flight save me.”
I can’t help but crack a smile. “That sounded so profound, though. You really had me going there.”
I take her in my arms and rub her back for a bit. “Wanna try deploying the weave?”
“Won’t that risk level four?”
“Yes. We just got to use non-destructive methods and lift the weave after a month or so.”
She sniffles a bit, the shock of having her thoughts influenced so thoroughly leaving her reeling. She doesn’t react in any way other than to snuggle into my chest. I might not be the most social of butterflies, but I know that just being there is sometimes more valuable than trying to solve problems. I knew that something was still messing with her mind - as it did with Angeta before her - but I had little idea of the scale or method.
The scale is pretty apparent now. Rhea didn’t even register it when I tried suggesting damaging this planet’s vital infrastructure, which is a pretty large invasion of thought. The method still eludes me, though. The entropic contrast coming from the moon as reported by all the eye-core’s is a valid theory, but I have yet to detect any trace of this frequency or radiation.
Wasn’t there something like that, though?
Wasn’t there some form of weird radiation I detected when I approached this continent for the first time?
“Didn’t you and I do a bunch of soul experiments a while back?”
“Soul experiments? I can remember… Wait a minute.” Rhea takes a step back. The freaked out aura around her resolves into something more solid.
“Weren’t we working on deciphering the frequency, decoding the way in which these outdoor chaos dungeons function, create new bosses, and control them?” I get the feeling that I might be just as compromised as Rhea.
“Why did we stop again? I was learning a lot about my soul.” Rhea starts pacing in a circle again.
“Tess came across the hordes.” I follow in her footsteps, following half a circle behind her.
“And you concluded that they were your fault,” she stops while looking at me.
“With good reason, the composition of the non enforcer mutants all-”
“Yeah, it matched that mana attraction circle inside Tree. But that doesn’t mean that-”
“No, that probably wasn’t the only reason. It might have just given the antivirus systems more ammunition. Shit, I made a rookie mistake. The simplest answer is not the one most apparent. I forgot to be objective.”
“Drew, does this weave block everything?”
I think it over before answering. I stop myself from pacing back and forth. “I think so. The rotation is enough to disrupt most useful wavelengths. The Mana Dungeon was blocked from communicating with the moon when I was down there.”
“Fuck the All-Dragon. I nearly killed you.” She clasps her hands across her mouth in the first reaction of true shock I have ever seen of her. “I nearly killed you. I had them switch woven formations. The moment the shield came down, you appeared, looking beat up. Even Lola looked like hell.”
“Sixteen times, actually.”
Rhea has tears running down her face. Lola hops over as if summoned and nuzzles the crouching woman. “And your fur, it was singed! I sent a request, and you… No, that was made by a process, I knew even back then, and yet I let them switch it for the qi gathering formation.” Burying her face in the small animal, Rhea suddenly freezes. Her face slowly emerges from the bed of soft fur. “Sixteen?”
“I died sixteen times before I managed to escape. Tower Dungeon let me know the class of consciousness that's present - whether actually there or channelled is of no consequence - in those dungeon cores. I clad myself in my braincore, layering it a couple times.”
“And it forcefully demanded your disappearance, sixteen times?”
“I really didn't feel so good afterwards. I might have been a bit rude.” I’m not sure what to feel right now. I already figured out that the weaves where switched, allowing Nexus - as I have come to call the mysterious controlling present on the moon - full access and control to the dungeon core I was having a conversation with again. I didn’t know that she was in direct command.
“I think this qualifies as a crisis with a major chance of irreversible and slash or lethal harm,” murmurs Rhea.
“No, we shouldn’t. The only reason we even noticed this mental fuckery is because of our presence of mind. We should keep refraining from spending long amounts of time in solo time dilation.” I rub my eyes while sitting down. I completely underestimated this planet’s defence system. Or maybe not, I suddenly realise. I make an analysation process and give it a high priority. “Actually… Yeah, nothing like this happened on the ordered continent.”
Rhea looks up. “What?”
“Dungeon design, I think. Why the ever-loving fuck did we suddenly become horny teenagers the moment we arrived here? There are over a thousand creatures here that have a significant chance of becoming potentially world-ending entities that even we won’t be able to stop in just a few short decades.”
Rhea blushes as she looks down. “I… didn’t mind that much.”
I grin and walk over. “Me neither, but I know myself. I’m not bored with the vanilla stuff yet, so why the roleplay and bondage?” Rhea blushes even further. “I’ll be fully entertained for a couple centuries at least with just the normal stuff. Afterwards, we can get into shapeshifting play. Props and theatre like that is not something I need right now.” I look her up and down, only now noticing that she is still wearing the getup from our little session.
I shortly ponder whether or not I'm even being influenced inside Tree’s dimension, but quickly conclude that the only one to blame for my current ready state is Rhea herself. I lick my lips and observe Rhea squirm. Lola sighs deeply, stares at the both of us and hops away quickly. Maybe waiting a few more hours before resuming all the serious stuff isn’t so bad.
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