A naked demoness took a step toward us with a gleam in her eye and a grin on her face.
[Race: [t3] Nether Demon]
“Hellooo,” she said in cheery as sunshine voice, and brushed aside a strand of auburn hair with fiery highlights. Her deep, sultry voice was in a stark contrast to her creator's. Globba's previous craggy horns were refined into creamy smooth obsidian spires, jutting up and around like a polished black crown.
“Ahh, what a wonderful day.” Globba bubbled with delight. She pranced around the room, hoofs clonking on the stone floor, tail whipping from side to side with a swish. It should be illegal to be so happy.
Her previously blobby figure had been replaced by the toned muscle of a body builder. The saggy tits were pulled up into shapely mounds that jiggled with every step. It was getting hard to watch her. Likewise, Estra was mesmerized by our refined companion, she followed her every move with a ruddy complexion.
"Much better," Milu said. "She is smarter now. Can talk."
I cleared my throat. "Yes, exactly what I was thinking." I felt something move, and checked to make sure nothing poked out.
Milu worked the control panel to produce a broadsword and armor sized to fit the slimmer Globba. Then, while still attached to the ground, it wrapped itself around the shield positioning most of its lithe form on the back side. A number of tendrils melded into the shield causing it to transform. The former rusted iron turned into a metal of deep blue color smudged with golden streaks. I knocked on the new metal and it sounded like aluminum would. The texture felt smooth to the touch, and less cold than iron did.
"Did you make my shield lighter?" I asked.
Milu nodded. "And stronger."
Once firmly attached, only four tendrils remained connected to the floor. Milu pulled and with a hiss a single long tendril detached. It slid the tendril under the sleeve of our shirt, snaking down to wrap itself around our chest a number of times. Though ticklish and cold, it quickly warmed up.
Milu hesitated a moment while hanging straddled between the old life and the new. Then with a strong jerk, all three remaining tendrils detached. At the same time the lights went out into pitch darkness. Estra summoned a ball of light and we waited for Globba to put on her new armor.
I motioned back to the hovel. "Are you taking anything with you?"
Milu peered into the room, then rummaged through the mess to pull out a wrapped bundle of feathers, meticulously arranged according to color and size. I found a backpack and picked out all the metal objects: forks, knives, spoons and a single frying pan. I placed the backpack under our old shield that hung on our back. Shield in the front, shield on our back, we were like a turtle .. err tortoise?
The ascent proved tiring, and the thin air didn't help in the least. Milu used its tendrils to help me glide the shield along. Like a puppy in a car going to a park, Milu darted from side to side on top. Besides the light it produced from one of its tendrils, it kept asking Estra to summon more and more balls of light. Maybe it wanted to sightsee, or perhaps it didn't have our [Darksight] racial.
On the next level with all the pitfalls, we ran into a horde of slimes that seemed to wander aimlessly as if in a daze.
"Can't you control them?" I asked Milu.
"Not anymore. But I know their weak spots."
"That's amazing. What about those there?" I pointed at a group of blue slimes.
Milu mimiced a chopping motion. "Cut them in half."
"Cut them in half?" I stared incredulously at Milu. "That's their weakness?"
"Yes. They are extremely vulnerable to that," Milu said without a hint of sarcasm. Estra chortled.
Globba did exactly that, and proved exceedingly good at it too. Essence gained messages flew by like mad, and all I had to do was keep up and stay out the way. Like a demon on the loose, Globba went from side to side clearing the place of anything that moved.
[Essence gained: +7,129]
We must have looked like some otherworldly octopus walking on land. Milu's sharp metal tendrils clicked and clacked like a crab walking on marble. And despite Milu's help, the shield moved like a fridge on wheels.
We were halfway through the great chamber when a large mass dropped down. It crashed with such a force as to make the ground shudder - we nearly lost our balance.
[Race: [t3] Large Metal Slime.]
"Bloody hell, maybe warn us about it?!"
"Heat it up. Then cut it in half," Milu said, unperturbed.
The Volkswagen Beetle sized boulder of metal rumbled toward us, and we ran. Good thing I had invested in agility and strength - no way I could have made the maneuvers around the pitfalls. The lumbering mass couldn't turn well once it picked up speed, but it had the brains to avoid pitfalls, despite my efforts to lure it in. Globba had no issues dodging it, even as she ran alongside hacking away at it, sparks flying but with little damage done.
"I need a line of sight!" Estra shouted.
I could tell the metal slime's distance to us based on the shaking of the ground under our feet, and Estra's frantic screaming whenever it got too close. We ended up running around a single pitfall in circles while Estra blasted it with fire until the slime's form melted down to fat pancake. Globba took care of the rest, hacking it up a dozen ways with the precision of a chef.
[Essence gained: +13,584]
Without Milu in charge of the dungeon the remains of slimes wouldn't disintegrate and vanish. We took a break to catch our breath while Milu 'fed' on the metal slime's remains by sticking in a tendril.
The short break turned into hours because Milu wanted to absorb all the pieces of the metal slime. While Milu fed, Globba cleared the rest of the level.
[Essence gained: +6,591]
The long break proved worthwhile - Milu wasn't just feeding, but also absorbing materials for use. I asked and Milu created a metal handle like some mobile 3d printer, then polished and welded it to the shield. Milu also cut the back portion of our leather vest with a tiny laser cutter into a pattern, folded it up and riveted to the shield.
"Better?" Milu blinked.
I tested the new handle with the forearm strap. "Much better. I'm happy to have you with us."
Milu's tendrils fluttered in excitement.
We moved up to the top level of the dungeon and had Globba clear it out while Milu snacked on an assortment of slimes like it was a box of chocolates.
[Essence gained: +3,178]
Estra beamed, clapping our hands. "We got essence to spend."
"We're gonna need a lot more strength for this shield."
She scrunched up her brows, gnawing on her lip. "More strength?"
"Don't act so surprised." I shook my head. "You can feel how much effort it takes yourself. What did you spend the last ten thousand on anyways?"
"How much do you want to spend on strength?"
"All of it."
Estra snorted, pointing a finger at me. "We agreed to the one-thirds rule."
"Yeah, alright. Have your one-third, but it better be worth it."
She nodded along, smirking, her eyes already focused on an invisible screen in front of her. "Oh, it will be. It will be."
I raised our strength from 240 to 300 for 16,230 essence, and a warmth spread through our body. Our muscles bulged out, veins stood out. I moved the shield from side to side getting the feel of the new strength. It took less effort to move it, but another 100 strength would have been perfect.
"We should stay away from Arthur," I whispered to Estra.
"Yeah, let's not risk it,"
"Than again, he's gonna get hungry, and I'd like that cannon."
"I still don't trust him."
Satisfied with the day's work, we trudged back to our bat camp - starving and exhausted. I hoped we had something we could eat once we got there. Instead we found the one person we wanted to avoid.
Arthur and Zoey sat at the camp fire enjoying bat-kabobs. Arthur's eyes went from a pleasant smile to pure terror. He dropped his food, and scrambled away in a hurry, croaking incoherently.
"Arthur?" I called to him.
"Arthur? Arthur the moocher?" Milu asked. "He's been wanting to destroy me. For years!" Milu's form shuddered, and hid behind the shield, peeking out slightly, trembling.
Estra and I looked at each other puzzled. This was not a reaction I had anticipated from the great Arthur the Terror, maybe Arthur the Terrorized?
Arthur must have regained his senses, but from a distance and behind a good-sized boulder. "D-Do you have a-any ..." He paused. "Do you have any idea what you let loose?"
"Let loose? I'd hardly call it that way, it's attached on my shield and would die without us." I regretted saying the last part as soon as I said it. Stupid Kevin.
"Arthur? About that dungeon core," I said. "It turns out it just wanted to see the world and explore. So ... so we freed it and brought it along."
"You can't trust it!" Arthur shouted from behind the boulder, shifting to get a better view of Milu. "It's an extra-terrestrial."
"Ahh, yeah? So?" I shrugged. "Technically everything here is extra-terrestrial, except you and me. Well, actually I'm sort of an alien now in this ogre body. Right?"
"These things are not from this planet."
"Neither of us is."
"It's not just that, it's what they're doing on this planet is the problem."
"What's that?" Estra asked.
Milu looked up over the shield, glancing at Estra, myself and Arthur in turn with curiosity.
"Enough!" He barked. "Don't go prancing around with that in plain sight outside the mountain."
Arthur came out from behind the boulder, crouching, ready to dart. He pointed a finger at Milu. "We're not done with you." Then scurried away as soon as he picked up his dropped food, and vanished out of sight.
"What is he talking about, Milu?" Estra asked.
"I uhh. I forgot." Milu shrugged with it's tendrils. "I stopped listening to them many years ago."
“Who is ‘them’?” I asked, and Milu perked up at the question.
“Oh … the voices.” Milu said. A schizophrenic dungeon core? I heard and seen everything now.
“Y-you … you don’t hear them?” Milu stared back at Estra and I in turn. I shook my head. “The constant jabber? They are always talking. Talking, talking, talking. Always!” Milu exclaimed, its tendrils vibrating with emotion.
“I don’t," Estra said slowly in uncertain tone. "What are they saying?”
“I don’t know anymore. I can’t even understand them now. They came from below, over the mana flow.” Milu said.
This made Estra alert. She furrowed her eyebrows, focusing her eyes on Milu. It made me wonder if she knew something about it. What else was Estra hiding from me? What are these voices in the mana? What’s below us?
“What does it mean? What’s below us?” I asked Estra.
“I-I don’t know. I really don’t. Just … nothing.” Estra shook her head, clearly upset about something, she chewed her lip.
"What exactly happened to you Milu? Why were you eager to leave the dungeon? I understand it felt like a prison, but out here you're in greater risk. You would have been safer back there."
“I .. I don’t understand it myself," Milu said. "I was happy, and then I wasn’t. I became aware? I started thinking. Thinking, thinking, thinking. It made me sad, it made me question why I was here. I felt despair. I stopped listening to them. I started dreaming of going outside. I had to leave!” Milu was agitated, it uncoiled its limbs and tendrils to extend out to full length. It reminded me of a centipede.