A note from InadvisablyCompelled


From here on out all the chapters are multipart...

Between them, Blue and Ansae’s Presence pushed back the heavy pressure on reality, but she could still see the distortion of the dungeon’s enormously dense mana. [Phantasmal Space] was actually harder to move through than normal space, a solid miasma of whipping mana outside of the Field that Blue could project. The depths of the Great Dungeon were an alien place, stranger even than the Underneath, and it felt very much like a place she should not be.

There was no intent there, nothing like Blue’s overwhelming attention or Ansae’s crushing superiority, but the dense, depletion-laden, almost artificial nature to the magic swirling about still made her feel almost claustrophobic. It didn’t help that with so much energy in the air, things were spontaneously popping in and out of being beyond the influence of Blue’s mana.

Mostly it was air and storm Affinity mana, so clouds, wind, lightning, and hail suddenly blew themselves into existence nearby, howling at them and then just as suddenly vanishing into nothing. The cavern layer they found themselves in was five hundred miles tall and thousands of miles from end to end, so this made for a lot of disturbingly sudden weather visible in every direction.

The mana crept into everything, not just the air, removing all sense of up and down and making it hard to maintain any concept of floor or ceiling. Everything was floating or actively flying, with essentially nothing tethered to any wall aside from a fuzzy moss that looked like green carpet. Even the trees had giant leaves for sails, boughs creaking as they twitched and guided themselves along the gusts of wind, heading from one hovering sphere of water to another.

It would all make for an amazing story for mom and dad, who would be incredibly jealous that she had the chance to go so deep into a Great Dungeon, but it was still oppressive. The sheer energy involved reminded her that she was still a tier four, even if she did have the best armor in existence and was practically a tier five with all the advantages Blue gave her. She wasn’t a Power, even if she was a Hero.

“So which direction?” Blue asked, and she could feel his attention shift here and there as he examined the surroundings, probably trying to pick up on the same subtleties that Ansae had. She could almost discern it herself, the density of the surroundings making it easier. In some places the physical forms of all the flying things, be they animal, vegetable, or even mineral, shifted visibly as pockets of mana swirled about them.

“That way, I think,” Ansae pointed to where there seemed to be more activity than other directions, and she stretched her wings as she banked alongside Blue’s seed-ship and headed in that direction. They’d covered an unbelievable amount of distance straight down, descending for well over a day at that point, so going sideways was almost novel.

“Do you think there’s any way to save the people, or almost-people, in here?” Shayma had little sympathy for the blightbeasts and monsters attacking Tarnil, but the overwhelming scope of the Great Dungeon made the idea of purging the whole thing rather daunting. Assuming Blue could take control of it, which was something they were all banking on. If he couldn’t, they’d have to move onto more dramatic ways of dealing with depletion.

“I’d love to, but I’m not exactly in control of what happens when I convert a core. All the monster stuff tends to go away. That said, that’s all with Red Cores. If this was a Great Dungeon, it might not be a red core?”

“Nobody’s ever seen a Great Dungeon core, we just assume they have them because of the red cores, and now because of Blue,” Ansae remarked, flying alongside Shayma in formation. “But we don’t know which they’re more like. One core or many, or something else altogether”

“Yeah true. They definitely do things differently, or at least, the other Great Dungeons do. This one, well, we’ve got the depletion.”

“Well, one of the mage-king ancestors saw a core, presumably,” Shayma pointed out. Unfortunately, not even Tor Kot had known the origin of the first core. Or rather, the sixth tier Kon Nar had simply appeared with his one day, and established his presence at the center of the island, above the rift. Apparently Kon Nar had never passed on that the rift was a Great Dungeon, or chock full of depletion.

“Yes, I am curious how someone at that level found one when I didn’t.” Ansae sounded a little aggrieved, which made Shayma grin, and given her current form it was wide and toothy indeed. While Ansae generally enjoyed learning new things, she was very put out by everything the mage-kings had kept to themselves. When it came to some people, Ansae didn’t like surprises at all.

“You couldn’t have looked very hard,” Shayma teased her. “I know we’re deep but it hasn’t taken that much time.”

“This dungeon is not trying very hard to deal with us,” Ansae said grimly. “Consider things like those giant floating beasts actually trying to attack us, instead of just reacting. Imagine if all this magic around us supported them and opposed us. That’s what I found when I went deep enough into other Great Dungeons, so it wasn’t worth the risks of going deeper.”

Shayma took a moment to consider that. If the Fields they went through were suppressive just by existing, how much worse would they be if they were something like one of Blue’s? The thought of [Corona] or [Event Horizon] on the scale of worlds was enough to make her shiver.

“Then maybe this one is dead. Or close to it. I know the blightbeasts notice us, so you’d think the dungeon would too.” Her scales prickled at the thought of tunneling into a corpse the size of planets. Wandering around inside a living dungeon didn’t seem nearly so terrible, since that was what they were for.

“If it’s dead, what killed it?” Blue wondered aloud.

None of them had a good answer for that.

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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