Chapter 92 – Abstraction
A wooden house with a triangular pattern wall sits next to six houses of even weirder colour and shape. A squat tree with a door in its bark and square windows sits next to a modern architect’s wet dream. A cosy log cabin is beside an impossibly lithe and slim construction, made from thin beams and open spaces. Two small gothic cathedrals, one made from dark stone, the other white, round out the odd collection of domiciles.
A classic castle, complete with watchtower and crenellated balcony, sits a bit away from the small village. A Greek temple is placed on opposite side of the clearing these buildings are in. Heaps of various objects, ranging from swords to spoons and bolts of cloth lay in a corded off area. A massive tree stands in the middle of the clearing, a lake and a garden behind it.
All of these marvellous structures and scenes are completely ignored by the occupants of this space. Crunching sounds can be heard as a group of seven people – ranging in age from teenager to young adult – sit around a projected screen while munching on snacks.
“What level is he at now? I lost count.”
“This is level ninety-five,” replies Ket to Ares’s question. “He finally can’t just pull the crystals from the ceiling anymore. Focusing on a few at a time is just as time-consuming as beating the mobs from here on out.”
The display zooms out a bit while a storm of metal shards swirls around the bearded man. A white rabbit is seen ploughing through a wide variety of metal made monsters in the distance.
“Ooh, that’s a big worm.”
“Hah, that was a big worm.”
“He seems to be better at controlling metal than you, Ket.”
“He is also a couple of dozen times more powerful than me.”
“What is he doing with all those piec-”
“Well, that ended quickly.”
Various comments come from the peanut gallery as Teach rampages through the dungeon. The next level is filled with fog, limiting sight to but a few scant meters. A massive wind rips the mist apart, leaving sheepish-looking monsters visible.
“He is also better at controlling water than me, Ket. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.”
“Could you all shut up? I am trying to watch this. Bord, give me some more of those banged grains.”
“He called it popped corn.”
The group happily chats as they watch their Teacher demolish dungeon floor after dungeon floor with mechanical precision.
Valerius Arrhenius is having a bad day. That doesn’t really say much though, the last few years have been pretty miserable for him. All these frustrations have caused the poor sod to talk to himself even more. Pelted by the cold wind and light rain, he huddles in an alcove while mumbling.
“…and who gets the blame for all this? Not the one guilty, of course. Oh no, that would be too logical for the old farts. Everyone except the ones who screwed up get the blame for allowing a couple of kids to stroll inside the mage’s holy sanctum. I knew Tonn Vink was a sly old bastard, but I would never have guessed he could fool everyone into thinking he didn’t screw up by getting knocked out. He gets a nice position and servants just because he has some power, his control is way worse than mine, but oh no, that is not important of course. Only the large-scale destruction matters…”
He mumbles some more, sighs and continues walking. His new patrol takes him across the dungeon entrance, going from one side to the other and back again. He spent the last week patrolling the many walkways, bridges and backstreets around the single tunnel going inside the massive stone sphere. He greets some robed figures here and there, most ignore him or sneer in his direction.
He suddenly stops in the middle of a narrow bridge between two protruding buildings. The only thing that moves is his head, which is slowly turning upwards. His neck creaks a bit as his usually slumped posture changes. A large round object seems to block the little light piercing through the clouds. A low thump sounds as the round object disappears from his sight, but the damage has already been done.
“IT’S THE HAPPY IMMORTAL!”
“Was that the happy immortal?”
“THE SMILING DEVIL!”
The mages around Valerius go into a frenzy. There is a single tale told by generation upon generation of mages, that of the smiling immortal. A round-faced old man, who only smiles and never speaks. Interaction with this mythical figure will net all involved fortune or death, it is told. Valerius wants to crawl away into a corner and wait for the storm to blow over, but the tolling bells sounding out across the entire outer dungeon calls all mages.
He makes his way over to the closest gathering space, a large common room situated to the right of the dungeon entrance. Standing in a corner, he watches mages stream in. He stands there alone for an hour, watching the mages around him have lively conversations. Then the room is suddenly quiet. An ornate man with an ornamental staff standing on a small podium drawing all attention as he speaks.
“The smiling immortal has been sighted. He carries a large bag with unknown contents and is standing on top of the dungeon. He has not moved since arriving, as the legends tell. No Flight has been spotted. None shall disturb him as he waits.”
With that, they are dismissed. Valerius just sighs a bit, a lot of hustle and bustle over nothing. Walking back outside, he continues to wander around.
Just when the sun is about to set, he nearly has a heart attack. A hand suddenly grasps his shoulder. Slowly moving his head, he sees his immediate superior.
“I follow, magus. What is your wish?” he asks while bowing, the subservience to his betters drilled into him by long years of following the strict etiquette.
“Your command.” With another bow, Valerius walks after the high mage.
“So this is level hundred and one? I’m guessing this dungeon is older than the Tower, hmm.” I’m talking to myself again. Wait, Lola is here, and I can feel my students observing me through my necklace. I wipe the imaginary sweat from my forehead, talking to yourself is a sure sign of beginning madness, after all.
After keeping my mental demons at bay for over a thousand years, losing it just because I have to cultivate all over again on a planet decidedly not ideal for cultivation would be a real pity. I feel rabbit teeth biting me in the neck, waking me from my musings.
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go wreck shit.” Light is everywhere, partially hiding the shape made from liquid metal that rushes me. I punch it, and it explodes into a beautiful display, like an explosion of mercury. Looking around, I see more shiny monsters forming from the floating drops of metal. Catching the large metal mana crystal, I think about that fact that the levels have been getting more and more abstract.
The first level was a nice sunny, grassy field. Now I am inside an undulating liquid metal cave. A glimmering stalagmite forms into an insect-like monster, only for Lola to kick it back into loose drops of metal a second later. Let’s go see what the other levels have in store.
The levels somehow keep getting weirder and weirder. I’m standing in the middle of a forest of diffused white pillars. Light is everywhere but I can’t make out a source. My current theory is that everything around me is made of frozen radiation, somehow. I have a film of qi over my eyes letting only a fraction of a fraction of visible light through. Even my heartcore-qi-reinforced retinas started smoking at the massive amounts of visible photons coming from every single direction.
I take a random step and lose my sense of direction even further. Lola nudges me to the left, so to the left I go. I can’t smell, hear, taste or feel anything different over there but I have learned not to underestimate the instincts of a body cultivator.
I’m technically a body cultivator too, but I’d still rather follow my braincore logic than trusting vague gut instincts. Stepping around a white pillar a few meters in diameter, I see more pillars. They stretch upwards into infinity. I see them disappear into a white glow as I try to follow one with my sight.
I’m going to randomly guess that this level has something to do with light, but I am not entirely sure. I feel a damp nose nudging me forward and nearly fall into a barely visible pit. DANGERCRISIS!!
Fling self to side. Block eyes with hands. Eyes still hurt from light getting through eyelids and sunglasses-qi. Land on floor, roll between pillars. Decrease friction, slide onwards. Safe? Safe, for now.
Phew, good thing I linked at least a part of my heartcores instincts to my danger scanning process. That beam of light I just dodged had a photon density similar to a small sun. Spreading qi in this environment is less than useful, the massive amounts of illumination everywhere here has some form of corrosive ability. It’s like it burns my qi away.
Ten minutes later I am standing over the only dark thing I saw at this level. I didn’t spot any enemies either, so no mana crystals. I feel kind of robbed. The mana density is extremely high, but converting it into I shrug and jump into the dark stairway going down.
The next floor is just leaves everywhere. Okay, from floor hundred on the levels got kind of abstract, but this is just weird. The leaf I’m standing on suddenly closes like a venus fly trap, but a swift kick shreds the thick green sheet.
Kick again. Another leaf, kick again. This is getting irritating. Let’s try fire. Imbue kick with fire. Plants are mainly water, it just sizzles. What is opposite of nature mana? It should be fire, but these things are like succulent leaves. Plants come from ground, let’s try earth.
‘HEAVY EARTH, UNMOVING ROCK, SHIFTING PLATES, I GOT A BIG CO-’
I stop my chant as I see the plants under my feet literally melt. Shrouding myself in a cocoon of earth intent qi seems to do the trick here. My knees nearly buckle as I land on solid dead plant matter. Looking upwards, I only see waving green stems and a wide variety of leaves.
The stairway to the next level is visible a few meters away. Let’s see if the next level is less weird.
Nope, it’s even weirder still. It’s like I’m surrounded by water surfaces everywhere. Waves somehow overlap and flow through each other, the occasional ripple moving over and under the composite oscillations.
I’m getting a headache. Level hundred forty-nine was made up of black, chunky tentacles, but that level at least had enemies I could fight. Level hundred fifty was an ocean of frozen flame where the monsters formed from shattering gouts of still fire. Now it seems to be getting weirder still.
I take in a deep breath and jump upwards. Aerodynamic stabilising surfaces and a few turbines made from qi form around my body as I try to reach the ceiling. The moving walls play a weird trick on my eyes, making me totally unable to tell how far away the moving surface is.
I manage to smack into said ceiling with only half my original speed. My nose hurts a bit, that’s all. I catch Lola who went flying and study the solid blue surface above me while stabilising myself in the air.
Then I realise what is going on. The entire room is covered with mana crystals. Instead of a few crystals on the ceiling, the mana densities are so high here that the whole room is covered in the stuff. I grin maniacally and punch out with a good portion of my strength.
It’s like I was surrounded by mirrors and shattered them all at once. A dense web of cracks shoots across everything around me. The blue shards then start falling, shattering as they land. I am now in a massive cave with a dense carpet of blue shards and dust covering the floor.
How am I going to find the exit now that it’s covered in a few meters of mana crystal? Shit…
“You sure it’s that way, you shitty rabbit?” She bites me in the left earlobe this time. I shrug and move through the dense soup of darkness, trusting in her instincts as my own senses have totally failed me by this point.
This feels like I am walking through pitch black water in the dark of night while clouds cover the sky, no moon is out, and stars don’t exist. It’s horrendously dark, is what I am trying to say.
I feel a slight prick on my left thigh and the automated process I set up immediately retaliates with a network of crisscrossing beams of light. I had to form a touch-based fighting process to get through the last few floors. It’s an effective but boring way to get through these levels.
I can’t sense anything here except for the floor under my feet, so touch is the only sense letting me know that I am under attack. The floor is obviously darkness, so the retaliation process just blasts the general area with concentrated lasers as soon as I feel an ything.
Luckily I have Lola along for the ride. She somehow knows where the exit is. I’m not jealous of a rabbit not even a year old, no way.
The exit is found after only half an hour of stumbling around. By falling into it face first. I tried punching the floor, but that did nothing. I even put in my full power and I think I felt something break, but it had no effect on my non-existent vision.
I sigh in relief as I see the dark stairway going down. I think I have had enough fun for now. I still made out like a bandit though, the shattered mana crystals covering the walls the last couple of decads are now all tucked inside my ring. Adding that massive amount of solid mana to the qi generation circle above Tree should double the qi generated by the thing.
But for now, I am happy to be away from the sense-numbing last few levels. I like some weirdness now and then, but total disorientation along with sensory deprivation is only fun for so long.
I pull my necklace over my head and drop it in the corner. I don’t bother weaving protective spells around it this time. I’m willing to bet my mother on the fact that not a single mage has ever been on levels this deep.
I appear in the clearing, expecting to see a group of students consuming popcorn as they watch Lola and me fight through the dungeons. Instead, my eyes are greeted by a grand spectacle of water in its various forms.
Selis is dancing like a water goddess. She must have a substantial percentage of all the water inside this dimension under her control. Shards of ice make intricate geometric patterns as they flow through thick streams of mist while coils of liquid water snake in between.
I see blobs of water with unnaturally high surface tension freeze into large snow crystals. Honestly, words kind of fail me here. It’s like she’s a walking art installation, focused on the many properties of water. Then she sees me and the serene expression on her face changes into a wide smile. Water crashes down around her as she comes skipping towards me.
“I’m a braincore too! Did you know that you can’t squeeze water? You can push air together, but water resists that kind of stuff. And freezing it slowly makes really pretty shapes Teach! It’s really cool.”
She pauses for a bit, only then realising the pun she made. A short fit of giggles later, she continues to speak rapidly. “And I can make it thicker now. This water is like pudding while this is like sand.” A rounded stream of water dances around a misty coiling water snake.
“And it can become very big if you make it hot, that is really useful for making stuff go ‘BOOM’. Also, Teach, did you know that squeezing water really hard and then poking a single hole can make it cut like a knife? And Teach, water also can be used to make stuff like salt disappear. And…”
I already regret coming in here. Who thought it was a good idea to let a manic explosive chatterbox like Selis get the thinking capacity to literally never stop talking? I feel the headache that only just now disappeared coming back with a vengeance.