Aby took but a moment to finish removing the pocket of sandstone on its upper floors it hadn’t known about until a recent sweep, replacing it with limestone to make it match the rest of its surroundings. It didn’t much appreciate widening the shaft between two floors only for the stone to become entirely different, but before it could check for any more deposits of sediments on its artificial limestone floors, a more pressing concern presented itself.
“Aby, is there anything invading right now?” Came the tiny voice of the core’s slightly larger partner.
“No, clear.” Aby replied, making sure that that was indeed the case. Not even a stray egg would escape its notice, and it was positive none had before it felt comfortable with Sela headed upwards. The core would still pay attention to her as she went upwards, ensuring that every critter she passed was informed to not cause her any troubles, despite being certain that it was already unnecessary.
Thus, Sela set off. Through their bond, Aby could read the slightest bit of hesitation and even trepidation beyond the normal sense of contentment, but it simply couldn’t tell why. It was even a bit more forceful in ensuring none of its less intelligent beasts would go up to her and cause her any problems than it typically was, though her fear didn’t abate.
And so, the core watched as she seemed on edge over some decision or another while she swam upwards. She popped her head into the fifteenth floor next, a floor she always seemed to avoid despite never actually explaining why that was. Judging by how enamored with its spirit coral she seemed to be, Aby couldn’t well think of any reason beyond simply some strange personal preference she had.
Preferences aside, her examination of the coral was rudely interrupted by its new flagship; the bloated blue bubble releasing its tentacles towards Sela despite the explicit message Aby sent to it to not harass her left it confused and even a little worried. As the creature began to send its tentacles towards her, that worry only grew stronger. Something about the action seemed to spark something within Aby, a distinct feeling of discomfort it hadn’t felt since Sela had been under assault so long ago.
For her part, Sela was more confused than fearful, but as the azure tendrils slowly floated towards her, the core could feel the former giving way to the latter. After having sent some rather forceful messages to the creature only to be summarily ignored, the core was losing patience much as Sela was slowly losing space. It had begun seriously deliberating whether it would be best to simply remove the insubordinate creatures from its halls, but would give one last chance to escape being reduced to energy, a chance that required the help of the wyvern.
Thankfully the wyvern was more responsive to Aby’s mental messaging, and in typical fashion, he had crossed the gap separating him from them at a blinding speed. Much like the last time it had its tentacles removed, the core felt a new bond form in its mind, vaguely centered around the flagship. This time however, the core latched on to it as soon as it appeared, though it was already swiftly fading. With little time, the core informed the unusual mind in no uncertain terms that it was strictly forbidden from even approaching Sela, a decision that was admittedly influenced by the frustration it felt at having something not even respond to a message compounded by the fact that it was in regards to Sela, something important to Aby.
The link faded shortly thereafter, and the flagship seemed to have understood the message, seeing as it was moving itself away from the pair even faster than it had retreated from the wyvern earlier. The core made sure to pay attention to it regardless, and even when Sela seemed to have had her fill of playing with the wyvern and left it ensured it didn’t make any movements towards her as she swam across the floor towards the path upwards.
Only after Sela had made it to the icy portion of the fourteenth floor did it lower its vigilance towards the flagship, and only because Sela asked it a question.
“Aby, do you have any tunnels from here to any of the first three floors?” Aby did indeed have a few tunnels running between most all of its floors, and there was even one which connected this floor to an earlier portion of the first relatively near Sela. The core went ahead and shared the location of that tunnel’s entrance with her, making sure that she was able to find it alright before it stopped guiding her. Since she was headed to the first floor, Aby also gave instructions to one of the rifle shrimp in that tunnel to act as her protector. Sela and the shrimp moved together slowly, and Aby was pleased that she didn’t simply abandon her guard.
This was especially true when they had finally arrived just before the entrance to its halls, a place Aby knew to be the most dangerous for any within its domain. The fact that Aby felt a group of four descending into its halls right then and there, that sent Aby flying into motion.
“Sela, leave” It wasted no time in sending a warning to her, the earlier discomfort it felt at her potentially being threatened by one of its own creature was nothing like the sense of urgency it was feeling now; it simply had to bring her anywhere but there. It was pointing her in the direction of the nearest way out, an entrance into the rifle shrimp labyrinth, and used an immense amount of mana to widen that hole so that she could fit into it, something which left the core far more mentally drained than it thought simply removing material could do.
By the time Sela had reached the newly widened shrimp tunnel, it had already begun rallying the resting shrimp, and finally took time to investigate the invaders. Four sapients, two mermen and a creature it would’ve mistaken for a mermaid had it not had Carmine, a siren. Following behind them was a bipedal woman, if Aby was correct in its thinking she was an elf.
All four wore the same equipment, scale-leather armor which fit snugly atop the tight robes, all four were emblazoned with the image of a sword and harpoon affixed over where Aby knew their hearts to be. The four had barely managed to enter the dungeon proper, unable to even get their heads above water in fact, before Aby gave the order to the rifle shrimp which had stayed behind.
The shrimp was barely five meters away from the invaders, behind a large piece of fan coral, and the blast it released was brutally effective at getting the attention of the four interlopers. The foremost merman found himself reeling as he was assaulted by the sheer noise of the event, and the blast of high pressure which followed shortly after only served to further discombobulate him. Small pieces of rock and swiftly dissolving coral flew towards them in a wide spray right after, and despite not having enough power behind them to do more than leave them covered in material, it was enough to block their line of sight on the shrimp which was currently propelled away by its own power.
The four were very clearly taken by surprise by this, and while the merman was clearly having the worst time, the other three weren’t much better off. The siren especially seemed to be displeased by the sheer noise, and she was clenching her jaw so tightly that the core was certain it heard the noise of something crunching, her hands clasped tightly around her ears. The second merman seemed the least affected, and while the elf struggled to cough up the water she inhaled in her fright, he was searching for the source of it all, though his gaze lingered on the hole in which Sela disappeared.
By this point, the initial shrimp had managed to right itself, seven meters from them this time, and began preparing for its next strike. A second bang rang through the floor, aimed at the same merman which had fallen victim to it initially, but with the increased distance between them it was nearly ineffectual beyond making all four grimace once more. The merman was able to find the shrimp this time, its dull grey body causing it to stand out against the bright and colorful floor.
He quickly barked out a spell, Aby already knew what would happen, and it came as little surprise to the core when a lance of ice condensed from the waters around him then shot towards the shrimp, spearing it in midair and skewering it to the wall by its claw. It wasn’t lethal, but the fact that the shrimp was pinned to the wall, unable to even use its only form of defense meant that the four invaders could now gather their wits before the mob of shrimp arrived, or any of the sea-boar could make it to the area.
However, what Aby expected to happen did not, the merman mage turned to the elf and shouted something to her.
“You! When Jenna gets over the noise, tell her I left to relay something urgent to the employers!”
“Yes, Sir.” Came her prompt reply, somehow managing to choke down her gasping and wheezing as she spoke.
The merman took that as all the confirmation he needed, then turned and left in a rush while the elf began healing the other two.
Aby was left with three invaders, now, but despite the fact that it was even less likely for something to go wrong, the core was a bit frustrated at the escapee and urged the shrimp to go even faster. It was a difficult feat for them, their cumbersome bodies made it difficult to climb even the shallow incline to the first floor, and Aby’s apprehensions were realized when both aquatic members were freed from their daze before they could arrive. Aby’s only consolation came from the fact that neither appeared to be in top shape, and the core could even make out some blood trickling out of the right ear of the siren despite her not being the target of the shrimp’s percussive blast.
Even with their evident hearing impairment, they rallied astonishingly fast, a simple nod between the two aquatic races was all it took, and the siren barked something at the elf before she began to follow along mechanically. She recited the parting words of the merman verbatim as they moved forwards, all three moving at a brisk but cautious pace deeper in. They had just rounded their second turn when the merman shook his head slightly, turning to his partner and saying something the core couldn’t entirely parse along the lines of finding a ‘safe spot’ they could ‘wait the dungeon out’ in, but the rest of his sentence was cut off when the refreshing noise of a rifle shrimp sounded from directly to the siren’s left.
Aby found the following bursts of noise, over ten from different angles sounding out with a short delay between each, to be incredibly cathartic after the scare they had given it and Sela earlier. Unfortunately, after each fell, what it learned from them left it more agitated that it had been before they had shown up. It still reviewed them in detail, but some of what the core learned from them left a poor taste in its metaphorical mouth, something that very few sapients had done.