“This is going better than I could have hoped,” mutters Rhea. I’m spying on the dragoness as she is doing her management thing, peeping at her from the comfort of my own core.
I’d be getting suspicious about how well things are going at this point, but I honestly think that this entire Nexus setup isn’t able to handle us. Another way of looking at things is that we have drastically overprepared. At the very least, we’ve more than managed to mitigate the threat of the defensive satellites. The rest, maybe not so much. We could get massively screwed if Nexus has a way to utilize the Dungeon Cores in an offensive manner.
I think that the Order continent is meant to house the thinking races and that the Chaos continent - where I’m currently at - is meant to be a last line of defense. Good thing that I’m here, then.
“And do I sound crazy when I say that Bord the smartest of us all?” I hear Rhea say.
“Not you too!” I reply.
“Drew? I was wondering what smelled bad and why I was feeling like some pervert was staring at me.”
“No need to be mean. How’re things going?”
“Very well,” she replies, an obvious thread of worry in her tone.
“Bord is pretty good, though. He must have felt that I’m tanking Nexus’ attention.”
“Your fingers are all still there?”
I make my eyeballs look down. They should be looking at my hands in a few minutes. “I’ll let you know in a bit.”
“This is a nice pace, though. Calmly watching everything unfold is rather cathartic.”
“Haha, yes!” I reply enthusiastically. “Isn’t it the best when the plan you’ve put so much effort in makes reality your bitch? That really is one of the best feelings. Just making everyone dance to your tune, because you can outthink them all?”
I calm my giddy heart down as I wait for the following awkward silence to pass. Rhea and I are both crawling around twenty times. For me, this is the level at which the pull coming from the Core beneath me is just bearable. I’m guessing that Rhea has a lot of managing to do, and needs a little more mental bandwidth to go through all the moving parts.
“Your rockets are very useless, though. Also, I got some good footage of the satellites from Bord and Angeta’s stunt. Have you seen that data?”
“My rockets are not! They are tanking the majority of the satellite damage, and are keeping their firepower down to a survivable amount. That slug that hit Angeta in the stomach would have torn through her if it’d been double the density.”
“That, I agree with. But the heavy slug launchers are also tanking a single satellite shot per launch, and need significantly fewer resources to produce the same results.”
“Rockets are cool.” I imagine dropping the mic and send her that image. There’s a complex cost-benefit equation I can pull up, but I don’t feel like it. I could have set up massive artillery launchers, but rockets are cooler, and I wanted to test a wide variety of things. I can’t test the satellites’ reactions to direction-changing targets with projectiles. There is no easy way to do that with fire-and-forget slugs unless I start making them even more complicated than rockets. And rockets are cool.
“Yeah, rockets are cool,” she replies, sending me an image of slumped shoulders. “Ket’s suits are doing mediocre, though.”
“That’s always the case with mass produced stuff. Hang on. Something is happening.”
We both shut up for a while. Rhea is busily coordinating various launch sites across the world, trying to deploy strategies that can take care of the artillery satellites. Bord pulled a large amount from the sky, but he can’t seem to reach the ones in higher orbits. Tossing Angeta to one and instructing her to use her own body as a flywheel to reposition the thing was an inspired move, but also a rather dumb one. The things could have had massively powerful gyroscopes or some high-level bullshit like that. But no, just like everything else in this place, they seem to have been cobbled together from concepts and technology that are way too advanced for this plane of existence.
I take another look at the data that’s streaming in from Angeta’s ring, and even my eyes hurt at the idiotic design. What seems to be a small pocket dimension is held together by some floating scraps of material. The satellites look like ornate modernist Fabergé eggs. Someone came up with a rather cool pattern, made the intricate decorations, but then forgot to connect it all up.
Inside this complex maze of ornate patterns seems to be a bare-bones pocket dimension or a sphere of compressed space. Inside of that space is a small production line, carving stone cylinders from an infinite amount of identical chunks of rock. I push the design and data from my mind. I don’t even want to comment on the fact that matter duplication, pocket dimensions, and spatially locked containment fields are being used just to provide an infinite ammo cheat. The dumb way in which these amazing technologies and concepts are being used is just infuriating to me.
Instead of watching the angry beastkin use the impossible thing as a convoluted turret, I pull my attention back to the operation at large. My current task is still going swimmingly. Whatever information beam Nexus is shooting down at me seems to be taking up all of its attention. I recall the threat level list I managed to get from the Mana Dungeon Core.
Level one through three are the low-level prep phases. Unknown energy signatures, property damage, large-scale destruction, that kind of stuff. Damage to critical infrastructure will trigger a level four alarm.
It seems that we have reached well into the fourth level by now. I don’t know what Nexus is thinking, but the amount of stuff that’s happening with the Core under my ass is sure to be considered as damage to critical infrastructure. I send Rhea a small message, telling her not to make any overt threats towards the moon itself, lest it begin the apocalypse early.
Level five will provoke catastrophic retaliatory firepower just to get back at the enemy and to prevent valuable data from falling into their hands. That is something I’d love to avoid. I want to provoke it under controlled circumstances at the very least.
The bigger picture firmly in mind, I go through all the relevant events that are happening one by one. First, there’s my position and task. I’m tanking Nexus, preventing it from focussing on or even coordinating the rest of its assets because there is potential damage to critical infrastructure happening over here.
The stream of qi is still neverending. The power is now being sucked into the Core at a low angle, as qi from over the horizon is being pulled into the thing. The volume of qi seems to have stabilized. The range at which it’s attracting power is slowing down. The fact that its attraction circle is growing in circumference is canceling this out, and keeps the incoming amount of power at a steady level.
I thought of putting myself in the stream of qi, but I suspect that the relatively small surface area I’m facing is allowing me to combat its power-sucking force. Other than that, I’ve been developing a vague feeling for when these types of items will become saturated. Even though this point might still be a relative eternity away, I’m starting to see the end. This means that I will need to start preparing for my next move.
I seriously try not to sigh, but as I pull my newly reforged sword from my ring, I sigh deeply and morosely. Slowly standing, I start mentally and physically preparing for what I need to do next. I'm sure to carefully cradle Lola, keeping her safe from the Core's power-sucking effect. That moon isn’t going to destroy itself, but that doesn't mean my rabbit needs to suffer for it.
While I’m doing all that, I go through the rest of my students. My original seven are all heavily involved in either assaults, with Bord and Angeta being the furthest ahead, or are working in the supply lines. There are no casualties so far. The armored suits that Ket made can tank a shot or two before breaking or bending in a manner that’s not great for the people inside.
Lot’s of massive bruising, broken bones and a few torn off limbs are keeping Ares, Vox, Danarius, a large mass of ex-light-mages, and a whole slew of other more peacefully inclined cultivators busy. Ket and Tess are just about to enter the field, after having stripped basically every single piece of metal from Tree. Only the stuff I stored in safe places is untouched; the rest is all transformed into various implements of destruction and protection.
The implements of destruction mostly consist out of massive cannons, both of the beam and projectile variety. They are being set up as I watch them move around, and a few of them are already firing. The beams just fizzle out in the atmosphere and don’t really do anything. They, at most, shine a light upon the satellites high above, and then their rays have scattered to such an extent they are barely even visible.
The slug launchers have more success. Each projectile above a certain size is taken down with pinpoint precision by a high-speed super-dense projectile. My rockets are also still being shot upwards, and I have to agree that even though the cannons have a higher upfront cost, their ammunition is much more economical than mass-producing single-stage rockets.
I just really love rockets, and I love seeing them blow up. From my perspective, it’s been a more than worthwhile investment.
The mages are also starting to get things done. They seemed to have taken a certain type of offense to not being the top dog on this planet. The younger generation might be extremely progressive when compared to the old mana hounds that fail to adapt, but their core belief of being part of the most powerful organization is still holding fast. They just switched alliance to my school instead of the old mage isles. Also, they are the only ones who have taken my slogan of ‘Ligna Relaxantur’ to heart. The way they scream it out loud each time they launch a new experimental qi construct towards the heavens warms my heart.
Despite their enthusiasm, their efforts bear little fruit. Most of the super-complex formations, spells, and overly-intricate magical workings either fizzle out or explode prematurely. A few do work remarkably, though. One large mass of self-propelling fire - a result of a collaboration between fire and metal mages - has hit one of the high orbiting satellites. It’s knocked its orbit so far out of wack that it’ll enter the atmosphere above the oceans in half an hour.
The super complex stone shooters seem capable of some limited maneuvering but at such low levels of acceleration that they can only adjust minor orbit changes. And they seem to be programmed to avoid land when landing as much as possible, and I’ve spotted a tendency for them to gravitate towards the poles.
I’ll study those later, as I’m pretty curious about how they're designed. It looks dumb from this perspective, but I suspect that it makes a lot of sense when looking at it from a few layers of reality above this one.
I check in on Bord and Angeta and see that they are still working together remarkably. Bord just pulls himself back and forth, avoiding fire by moving unpredictably. None of the satellites seems keen on firing upon others of their kind by themselves, but don’t seem inclined to stop when pointed at one another.
Vox is making his way up, short flashes of speed interspersed by long sprints that paint white streaks across the sky. He dodges the incoming attacks with ease, his entire body twitching back and forth as the fire misses him with barely any space to spare. I see him getting one slightly wrong, and the bullet shreds his shirt, turning it into a cloth shotgun spread. He heals the small wounds with ease, looks at the sky with a very angry expression on his face for a second, and starts dodging the dangerous fire with even narrower margins.
It’s a shame that I’m around because that redhead has the perfect character for a protagonist.
Then I see Ket and Tess arrive. They drag something muddy along as they step through the gate onto the mountain peak in the Shi-Eit kingdom. Ket tosses it to the side like its a wet rag, and I spot a few locks of blue hair.
I’m spying on the outside world through my many, many drones, and the resolution on their mass-produced cameras are nearly the same as the human eye. Usually, that's enough, but it takes me a couple of relative seconds to recognize that it's Selis under the mud.
I ignore Selis’s fate - she did cool down Database a bit but did so out of pure spite - and observe Ket and Tess as they prepare. They both point towards Nexus as it hangs low above the horizon, and I see them conversing. I can't hear what they are talking about, though. The amount of chatter and noise on the launch site is too much, and none of the audio feeds running through Database are usable.
Ket pulls a wide variety of things from his ring, before pulling another ring from a pocket. I knew the kid was a greedy fellow, but I never really kept count of his possessions. The sheer mountain of steel he piles up around himself has even me slightly impressed with his hoarder tendencies. Tess, for her part, has crouched down and seems to be gathering shadows. The bright daylight is blackened by a sphere of void, the edge of the coalescing darkness qi extremely sharply defined.
Selis has started moving at this point, and I sense her taking massive breaths. I can’t quite make out what she is doing, so I take a closer look at the girl. Spreading a bit of my qi around her, I feel her pulling in all power in the air towards herself. Right above her mouth, a small droplet condenses of pure power. The little minx seems to be using her Foundation concept to pull liquid qi straight from the air! A small stream of clear power starts dripping into her mouth, and she starts getting lively again.
Ket explodes upwards, pulling half his metal with him while bright lines of grey surround him. Tess disappears without me noticing. I just observe her there one moment and not the next. Then I see a black haze following Ket in his shadows as he shoots upwards.
Selis rises like a mud-covered zombie, her arms hanging and her back bent. She twirls around once, and the mud flows off of her in majestic swirls. The little princess preens for a bit, patting non-existent dust off her blue dress, before starting to ascend while accompanied by trails of fog and water.
When did she change? She was wearing simple boy shorts and a shirt when she was flooding Database. How did she manage to change clothes while covered in dirt?
Then my attention is torn away from Selis’ flashy ascent by a roll of cloth plopping down on the mountain. Ragni unfurls in all her bounteous glory and looks around. She points at the satellite Angeta is clinging onto - even though she shouldn’t be able even to see it - and shoots upwards.
She pulls roll after roll of fabric from her ring as she constructs an oddly similar exoskeleton to what Angeta employs. Instead of multiple slender transparent membranes, she uses large butterfly wings. The insectile plant appearance is detailed finery instead, creating a gracefully dangerous form instead of a dangerously graceful one.
I look for a few more familiar faces and see Rodrick flying in the higher atmosphere. Ax in hand as he cuts through one stone projectile after the other. The fact that he doesn’t seem to be moving his tree-felling tool at all makes his imposing presence even more intimidating. A rather battered green woman keeps trying to fly up to him, but somehow, round after round manages to strike her head. Her forehead is filled with perfectly circular bruises, but she seems fine other than the few streaks of blood running down her face. I take a closer look and see that most of her wounds seem to be caused by fragments of precious gems. Was she wearing jewelry, which got shattered, and wounded her? Why would anyone wear jewelry into battle?
Ignoring that, I see that the medical people are still working hard, mending bones and removing stones.
Bord and Angeta are also working hard, and the amount of satellites they have taken down grows at a steady clip. Angeta’s satellite is about to move behind the horizon, and Bord is waving at her. I also spot that she hasn’t moved for a while. She just seems to be kneeling on her haunches while having her eyes closed.
The moment I see the slightly glowing spring of greenery under her feet, she disappears. Pulling back the scale of my focus, I find her half a second later, soaring back towards Bord while the incredibly powerful spring trails behind her. Her suit is venting gasses to the back, and even without being there, I can nearly smell the stale-ness of that air. She must have been running low on oxygen. Her plants seem capable of providing a bit, but it seems she isn’t focussing on that aspect of her flora at all. Honestly, I’m just amazed at the concept of a plant woven spacesuit. It seems to be air-tight, capable of being pressurized, and freeze-resistant.
Some of the satellites fire at her, but every single shot seems to go in front or behind her. Most of them glow with red light for a little bit. She careens towards Bord, and I sense Vox approaching from below also.
Bord freezes for a moment, a single stone bullet ponging off his forehead as he swings his arms to the side. Because I’m still crawling at twenty times slow motion, and because I build a rather thorough spying feature into every single ring, I get to see Bord getting shot in the face. His skull is the first thing to move, his squishy cheeks and rolls of chin following after, jiggling in glorious slow-motion.
Bord then snatches Vox by his foot, moves to the side, snatches one of Angeta’s loosely trailing vines and spins them both around. The speeds at which they both move should have torn Bord’s hands free, even if his foundation realm heartcore level of power is taken into consideration. Instead of that gory display, Bord furiously shouts while covering Vox and Angeta in deep red light. “I WANNA!”
The first true new path, the first true Dao made on this planet explodes from those two words. Meaning beyond greed and purpose beyond bullheaded stubbornness lets itself be known inside my mind and core. A brief glimpse of an angry kid, who insists that he really, really wants that, so he will get that, no matter how, what, or why.
Angeta and Vox fly away from Bord at top speed. Vox has this shellshocked expression on his face. He only snaps out of his stupor when he instinctively shifts to the side. A super-dense projectile smashes through the flash of light he leaves behind. Angeta manages to deflect a bullet or three using some more of her plants before they both violently smash into their respective satellites.
Vox just holds on to the thing for a long time, his mouth flapping open and close as he watches Bord. The fat boy is still happily pulling himself back and forth, many, many kilometers away. Angeta reforms her suit a bit, slimming down the rather bloated appearance she used in order to grab hold of as much air as possible. She forms a spherical backpack, which slowly shrinks down until it reaches the size of a large cooking pot. She is going to be screwed if that gets hit, but I don’t think I ever gave a lecture about the danger of showing obvious weak points, so I let it go.
Angeta continues sniping the satellites with excellent precession, and I finally notice that there is an entire group of braincores coordinating a lot of this. I quickly check the communication standard they are using and notice that they are giving Bord’s directions the highest priority. There are several cases in the last minute where the calculations would have told Angeta to aim the satellite somewhere, but Bord’s hand-waving overruled those results. In every single case, Bord’s signals caused some form of hard to predict cascade effect, causing much more damage than they had initially predicted.
Deciding I might as well see how deep this rabbit hole goes, I find that there is a betting pool running in the form of a slowly growing reward. The person to figure out the exact mechanics of Bord’s sometimes omniscient ability will get to claim a couple of million points, I see.
I firmly close that section of Database and once more focus on the big picture. One by one, the satellites are de-orbited. They all create fancy falling stars, giving the entire planet a true spectacle to see. At this point, it’ll only take a few days to get all the satellites that are being pulled down from their previously untouchable orbits.
Then someone must have pushed some button somewhere, as every single cannon fires at once, an entire battery of beam projectors I'd not seen before switches on. Overall, hell breaks loose.Previous Chapter Next Chapter