All of the power in this world flows from the Dungeon. Cores are its greatest wealth, experience is its greatest power. For this reason one might think that the bulk of the population would dwell within the Dungeon itself, pursuing all that Pangera has to offer to its people, but this is far from the truth. In reality, the majority of the citizens of this world live on the surface, leading much more mundane lives under the sky, farming, fighting the weak monsters found there, trading and travelling. Why is this the case?
Numerous factors come to bear and it can be difficult to determine which are the most impactful. The Dungeon is certainly more dangerous to live in than the surface, of that there can be no question and seeking out even more extreme risks in order to elevate oneself to the peak of humanity is a powerful lure to some, not so much for others. Many are disposed against violence in the first place, content to create instead. Without such individuals, society could not push itself forward.
There are other considerations also. For over a thousand years the Dungeon has been plumbed by the surface empires and the citizenry have been encouraged to explore its depths, but for many, life within the Dungeon is simply too alien, too strange, for most who are born on the surface. No sky, no space, the constant risk of attack and the ever present threat of a wave, these factors combine to put a great deal of stress on any individual who lives within the Dungeon.
But perhaps often overlooked is the issue of mana saturation. It isn’t known why some individuals are more receptive to mana than others, but it is a recognised phenomenon. Some people are simply better suited to absorbing this form of energy than others, which means they have an enormous advantage when it comes to securing a life for themselves below the ground.
An entirely different case are those who are born in the Dungeon. With their own set of advantages and disadvantages that will be discussed in a further lecture.
- Excerpt from “Introduction to adaptation and societal groupings: above and below.” A lecture series from Magnifico the Wise.
Falling down hundreds of metres with a group of tier seven demons and their giant dark-tinted fireball of doom wasn’t exactly part of my plan for the day, but here we are and I need to make the best of it, and fast! Without enough time to think, I react instinctively and implement my first impulse, which is to reach the demons in any way that I can!
Gravity mana floods my mandibles and I reach out towards the three demons, taking hold of each of them with an almighty YOINK!
The strain on my mana is evident. Even if these three aren’t exactly packing heat in the mass department, they aren’t slouches, but for whatever reason, likely the fact their attention is so heavily focused elsewhere, they seem unable to resist the energy taking hold of them and reversing the direction of their fall.
The three mighty tier seven demons suddenly stop falling, pause for a moment, and then reverse direction, lifting through the air towards me. Considering the shock of it, they react with incredible decisiveness, turning to lash out at whoever had dared to attach this foreign mana to them. Before I can so much as introduce myself I’m lashed by a series of spells that burn and damage my carapace. Thankfully the powerful demons didn’t have much time to put a lot of juice into this effort or I might have been obliterated on the spot. Instead I merely endure a solid roasting before I cut the connection between us and defend myself, allowing them to begin falling again, except this time they are above me, and way too far from their explosive magic to keep assisting it.
As I freefall through the air I can already feel the spell diminishing in size as the Colony rips into it without the demons able to compensate for the loss. Now I have another issue, namely that I’m currently above this veritable bomb as it falls and I’ll be caught completely in the blast if I don’t do something!
Dammit! I knew I’d regret not getting wings at some point and here it is! Seriously! Who wouldn’t want to be able to fly, Anthony you moron! Alright then… what can I do. Think, think, think, thinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthinkthink!
With precious seconds left before I splatter against the shields of my own allies before then getting roasted alive I do what I can with the resources I have available. Working at the speed of thought my brains whip up all the force mana that I can muster which I immediately spin into a series of condensed bolts. All I can think of is trying to move my position and the only way I can think to do that in mid-air is by using the kinetic energy generated by force magic!
Manipulating the spells outside my body is difficult and takes precious time but I gather the six bolts I’ve been able to create on my left side and let ’em rip at the same moment. My force magic still isn’t that strong, but since I’m free falling without any means to brace myself the magic knocks me to the right as all of the spells slam into my carapace at the same moment. Thrown violently off course, I tumble to the side moments before an enormously dense surge of energy registers on my antennae followed by a blinding flash of light.
Holy moly! That was lightning magic! Above me I see the enraged and twisted face of Brixin as her spell goes wide due to my last second manoeuvre. Yikes! I’d almost forgotten about them. I was so worried about falling. Speaking of which, I’m still falling! I seriously hope that terminal velocity is not a literal term.
My diversion is enough to send me sailing to the side of the many layered barrier the Colony has erected as well as the impact zone of the doom fire the demons created, but not by a whole lot. I likely won’t be able to escape the fallout of the fireball unscathed, but at least I’m not going to be dropping flat into the middle of it. As the ground rushes towards me I once again think that being able to close your eyes isn’t such a bad thing sometimes. Brace for impact!
I extend my legs out in the hopes of sacrificing them to absorb some of the impact and spare my insides from the pain that’s coming but at the last second a forest of tentacles explodes upwards, extending towards me.
Thank goodness for amorphous blobs of terror! The tentacles twist through the air beneath me, creating a dense noodle stack that I plunge into like a boulder that fell off a cliff. Everything melds into a blur as I plummet the last fifty metres and then –
Oof! In an organ rattling collision I smack into the hard stone of the plate with nothing but the tentacles of Crinis to cushion my fall. Predictably, my legs fold like a house of cards before my carapace is rocked by the impact and my head starts spinning. Yikes. Not a fan of that.[Thanks Crinis! You’re a life saver…] [I almost didn’t make it in time!] [But you did. That’s all that matters.]
I trigger my healing gland and sigh in relief as the cooling fluid rushes throughout my body, mending everything that was damaged in the fall and beginning the process of once again restoring my legs to full usefulness. Luckily they haven’t been ripped off this time, merely shattered in several places, so I should be good to go before too much time has passed.
I must have been falling slightly faster that the spell since at this moment a cataclysmic detonation resounds from the side. My antennae scream of danger and I use my mandibles to sweep as much of Crinis behind me as I can whilst my brains throw out the fastest barriers that I can. They’re flimsy as heck but the best I can do on such short notice and certainly better than nothing. Thank goodness I already triggered my healing gland.
The heat is immense as the fireball unleashes its remaining payload of doom but there is more at play than pure fire magic. The spell was always miscoloured, flecked with darkness where one would expect fire mana to be bright and I can feel the difference now as the flames seem to eat into my carapace even as it burns me. This must be a combination of ash and fire magic, putting the two most prominent elements of this stratum together into one horrific concentration of death!
My HP drops steadily as the fire rages and I find myself fighting on two fronts, trying to utilise my magic to hold off the worst effects of the spell, eating into the mana and countering with renewed barriers once my old ones are shattered whilst at the same time I fight against Crinis as she tries to wrap her limbs around to protect me.[Dammit Crinis! You’re weak to mana like this, you’ll just melt in an instant! Stay put!] [I can help protect you, let me go!] [Absolutely not! Just sit still will you?!]
In the face of a direct command there’s nothing that Crinis can do, though even then I see her limbs shivering as she tries with all her being to force herself to disobey my instruction. My heart clenches in my chest in the face of her devotion and I draw her ever closer to shield her from damage.[You just saved me, now it’s my turn to save you,] I tell her firmly but she does not yield in her attempts.
By the time the detonation has finished, the area around me is a smouldering ruin and I am in a not insignificant amount of pain. Checking my HP bar, that I was too scared to look at prior to this point, I see that after everything I just endured I’ve been chunked down to just under half of my pool. Considering I had regeneration fluid making its way throughout my body throughout the explosion it’s a shocking amount of damage to remain. The carapace on my back has almost entirely been eaten away and what’s more, it is very slow to regenerate.
Perhaps a lingering effect of ash mana? I don’t know enough about the stuff to say for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion that my hunch is correct.
I know that I’m alright, but what about the Colony?! Taking in the sights as my eyes gradually lose the glare I can see that my siblings have not escaped unscathed from the blast. Closer to the centre of the gathered ants they were safer, having the full benefit of the shields that were woven overhead, but towards the outer edge of that circle things look much more grim.
Already the healers are picking their way over the wounded, administering desperately needed first aid. Every ant who can be saved, will be saved, of that I have no doubt. But the fires of vengeance have been lit in me now. No chance I let them get away unscathed for this!
My sentiment is also echoed by the Colony who bristle with outrage and determination. The ant tide will not be denied! CANNOT be denied!
My mind constructs spin furiously, bringing yet another mana type to the fore, namely healing magic, to try and get me back on my feet again. Far above our heads, the magic oriented tier seven demons that Brixin reserved to defend her seat of power float, looking down on the remnants of their failed strategy. Doubtless they had hoped to triumph here in one fell swoop, but it wasn’t to be!
I’m not sure what their next play will be, but I have the utmost confidence that we shall sweep that aside also.
“Come down here!” I roar using my pheromones and waggling my broken legs at them. “I’ll bite your ankles off!”
In the distance I can still hear Sarah’s endless bellow. She must still be tearing through Orpule on a rage-drunk rampage, followed by a squad of ants who are going to try their level best to keep her from wrecking the entire place. I feel sorry for any demon that gets in her way at this point, once she gets wound up she is absurdly hard to stop.
Speaking of squads following me around.
“Protectant? You lot still alive?”
A short pause.
“Yes. Please don’t jump into shadow portals that we can’t follow you through in future,” comes a clipped reply from thin air.
Well that’s a relief, I was worried that they’d gotten themselves baked in the blast.
“Alright then, it’s time to bring these demons down and show them what’s what. Can someone go and get Tiny for me? I’m going to need him for this.”
“Are you talking to us?” Protectant asks, again not revealing herself.
“Of course! Who else is here to smell these pheromones?”
I turn my mind to Crinis and connect with her.[How’s things Crinis? Did you pull through alright?]
She was badly singed on the extremities and I don’t doubt she lost a lot of her flesh in the blast, especially before I ordered her to pull back.[You should have let me protect you,] she mumbles in my mind.
I shake my head.[No chance. You aren’t allowed to die before me, that’s an order.]
She falls silent, a helpless pile of unshapen shadow goo on the ground beside me. I feel a little bad about ordering her like that, I hate restricting them, but I feel this one with all of my heart. None of them are allowed to die before me.
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