You can't help but notice that the sludge pumps occasionally suck one of those acidic parasite worms up into the glass tubes, where it is vacuumed into the ceiling with the rest of the murky water.
...Implying that those worms are in the water.
The torso high water you're standing in.
You promptly turn around and head back up the stairs, inspecting your legs for worm action on the way. You also examine the items in your pockets--both to confirm that they haven't been ruined by sludge exposure, and to double check for changes caused by the dungeon.
Your money is moist, but still looks like normal paper money from The States.
Your ID card is a glossy The Fool card on the front, and totally blank on the back.
Your visitor's brochure from Temperance is still outdated, with a mention of Somniplan in the corner. It does occur to you that you haven't really looked at the brochure while awake yet, but you're not sure what kind of difference that might make. If it's not special in here, it really shouldn't be special in the real world. It is also pretty damp, but still functioning.
Wet paper feels... not quite right, both the brochure and the money. And your notebook. You can't put your finger on it, it just doesn't feel like it's supposed to feel. The good news is, it doesn't seem to have impacted the usability much. ...You can still write on the notepad, for instance, it's just a little harder.
Your cell phone is still, uh, snowy and weird. It doesn't seem to have short circuited from being in your wet pockets.
Your last Brainsate is--
You're pretty sure you remember the pill being orange and white, but it looks a little more... yellow-ish. On closer inspection.
Like an orangey yellow and a very pale yellow.
It may just be the lighting in the dungeon. You could also misremember it pretty easily, it's not like you've really sat down and studied and internalized the appearance of a Brainsate.
You also discover that you can't remove your dream ring. Like, it physically will not budge. It's practically fused to your finger. A little upsetting, but not especially inconvenient--you can't think of a scenario where you'd desperately want to take it off anyway. Maybe if you channeled someone's powers and those powers were uncontrollable? Maybe?
It's a stretch.
You return to the small office and, using your taped knife and some elbow grease, you begin prying the door free from its hinges.
You discover that the door is a little heavy when not hinged, but you still manage to carry it most of the way down the stairs before getting fed up and basically sliding it the rest of the way into the murk.
You have to push your weight on one end of it a bit to keep water from rushing up through the barred window, but otherwise, it more or less works as a makeshift canoe. You steadily paddle your way through the pump room, getting about halfway toward the huge monster door on the other side when you notice another exit on the left wall.
You paddle your way over toward that, because fuck the big monster door.
Hilariously, if you had a screwdriver and perhaps someone that could fly, you could probably just take this big metal grate off. As it stands, you don't see any other way to open it, and you can't possibly fit between the bars. Past the metal bars is...
what appears to be another glass tube, similar to the tubes used in the pumps.
However, the tube is much larger, aligned horizontally (forming a path away from here), and beyond the glass you can't see anything. Not from this vantage point, and not with this limited lighting. Outside the tube just appears to be... darkness.
You also can't tell where the tube leads.
and think about this.
You paddle your way back to the stairs, heading back to B1 and the small office to think about this. The gentle sloshing of the pumps and luminescent stare of the far door were a little off putting.
You stop halfway into the hall to yell and flail your torch while running at a right-to-know, scaring it back into the wall. Asshole.
Once back in the office, you consider your next move. The big scary door in the pump room obviously leads to something--maybe a shop, maybe a minigame, but if you were betting money you'd put your soggy dollars on either a miniboss or a gauntlet of regular enemies. It's very game appropriate. It feels like that kind of door.
You could circumnavigate this corner of the dungeon in search of a hole to jump down, potentially placing you PAST the spooky monster door's attached room--but if you go mindlessly wandering the place there's a good chance you and Cici could miss each other, and jumping down random holes has never been and probably never will be a good idea. You could be dropped off on the next floor, or you could drop like a hundred floors and break your legs on the surface of Hell. You really don't know. It doesn't help that you don't know what the map looks like beyond the pump room; B2 is so far arranged VERY differently from B1.
You still have a very clear image of the dungeon's layout in your head. At first, you reasoned that this was just a product of being an obsessive gamer--you memorize maps. It's a thing you do, and you do it all the time. However, as your vision of the dungeon's layout widens, it remains absolutely and perfectly vivid in your head--when you stop to think, you can remember exactly where every item you've encountered is, roughly how far apart rooms are... everything, even down to details you would typically have forgotten by now.
You're starting to suspect there's more to it than just your knack for complex open world game structures, and a habit of not buying maps in games that make you spend resources to acquire a map.
Making sure you don't hear any more monsters coming, you sit down at the desk... and close your eyes.
You can see the map, as clearly as if it was in front of you.
You cannot, unfortunately, tell where Cici is on said map. You might not have any sort of locating mechanism, or (and this is also very likely) she's in a part of the dungeon you haven't mapped out yet, and thus the system will not show her to you.
If you have a map screen, you should have a status screen.
Something to tell you how much mana you have. Maybe how much health Cici has, so you can at least know if she's doing alright on her own.
You focus harder.
something is coming through.
You can almost make out...
...So your house magic is designed for the Hanged Man. You're the Fool.
So your fucking status screen is broke.
Cool. Cool cool cool.
"Reconfigure physical arcana?" Does that mean the house itself...? How do you reconfigure a house?
Alright. Decision time.
The taped knife is the only weapon you have right now that won't go out if it ends up in the water. That means you probably want to take it with you through the scary monster door. On the OTHER hand, if you die here and the knife falls in the water, it will stay there and not reset. Your odds of finding it again in the sludge (in an area where there's grates and vents and pumps and shit, to boot) are very, very slim. Not bringing it makes you more likely to die; dying WITH it means maybe losing it forever.
You consider just... shoving the knife in your door raft downstairs. If you can do that right before dying, then--
would that cause the knife to stay in the door when it resets to the small office, or would that cause the door to stay as a raft downstairs and not reset at all with the added bonus of keeping the office unlocked?
All of that gambles on you being able to plunge the knife into the door right before you get hypothetically shit-murdered, and you're not sure you're ready to take that particular bet yet. You have no fucking idea what lies ahead or how suddenly it can kill you.
Plan B(1), you could leave the knife in B1 somewhere now so you can easily retrieve it on your next bullshit nightmare run.
You get up and wander to the office's entrance, where your raft was formerly employed as a door.
You place your taped knife down against the doorframe. That way when the door resets, it won't be able to close completely and thus won't be able to lock, AND your knife will be here, in a safe and easily reachable spot. Ta-da~
Alternatively, when the door resets its matter will overlap the knife's, their atoms will be mutually destroyed trying to displace each other and this entire dungeon will go up in a nuclear blastwave. If the system can't properly simulate wet money, though, you don't suspect spacial paradox based fission is going to be a real thing to watch out for.
Wouldn't that be a fucking trick though
anxiety get nuuuked
You run down a mental checklist of other ways you could procrastinate, but alas, your options have run thin. It's time to go through that big shitty mouth.
You head back downstairs, climb aboard your raft, and paddle your way through the pump room. You try to steer clear of the pumps themselves, as wormy boys may be collecting around the succ.
You also try to avoid floating directly under the drill-teeth-spikes of the monster door. It's not like you can paddle fast enough to dodge it if it does suddenly come slamming down on you, but still--it feels prudent not to hang out under spikes, regardless of circumstance.
You find yourself muttering on the way in.
"Shop shop shop, no miniboss, no gauntlet, give me a shop or something, no minibosses no gauntlets..."
The door leads to a short hall and an identical door, which opens up into a larger, perfectly square room. To the east and south are two more respective monster mouth style doors.
As soon as you have drifted a sufficient distance into the room, the exits all slam shut. You hear a series of loud SWHOOPs and splashes as, from tubes in the ceiling you had not previously noticed, three bodies are deposited into the water around you.
"Oh god dammit," you blurt out.
"I have a right to know," begins one of your guests.
"I have a ... a right to know," agrees the second.
"I have a right to know," concludes the third.
"Oh goD DAMMIT," you repeat most saltily.
. . .
Despite your attempts to focus Kate's power through the torch, it does not appear to work that way. You do feel ... something. A hint of beginning of building heat, but you can't seem to direct it outward.
The two right-to-knows to the north of you are already beginning to separate as they stalk around you in a circle. The one behind you moves forward a bit more boldly, but you turn quickly, pointing your torch its direction to keep it at bay. You can't tell if the monsters on B2 are more aggressive, or if these fuckers are just more confident because there's three of them--but they don't seem quite as worried about the fire as they normally are.
The obvious move would be to line up as many as you can and take them out with one fireball, but you can't paddle this door very quickly, and the right-to-knows are already doing their damndest to not line the fuck up. You're sitting at what feels like a little over half a tank, definitely not enough mana to be taking monsters down one at a time.
Your spite and video game prowess have left you without an answer.
It's time to reach deeper.
It's time to do some anime bullshit.
You can't shoot LESS fireball, but maybe you can shape the way it all comes blasting out. You don't need much control.
You point your free hand forward, palm out, roughly between the two monsters north. You keep your torch pointed south, alternating your attention between the two parties to keep them from rushing up on you.
You inhale deeply... and you concentrate on what you want to do.
You push down on one foot, tilting the door beneath you so it'll absorb some of the recoil, and hopefully travel backward with you rather than you flying off of it.
You let loose with your usual, mandatory amount of bright green fire (which is to say, a shit ton)
but this time
THIS TIME, MOTHERFUCKERS
YOU SHOOT IT EVERYWHERE
IN A GIANT
Your aim is not great.
It doesn't need to be. Fuck aim.
Aiming is for people who can't shotgun blast giant fireballs out of their hands.
You spin quickly in place as you and your door are launched backward, just as you predicted. With your torch held out like a lance, you ride your mighty wooden steed straight at the last bastard not currently on fire--
the rather thick water provides some resistance, and your door has almost slowed to a stop by the time it reaches the right-to-know. The creature narrowly sidesteps, and with a gangly hidden limb shooting out of the water, it reaches beneath your outstretched flame, slamming its bony arm into your chest. You instinctively drop the torch, praying it lands on the door and not in the water, with you, as you're ostensibly chokeslammed into the sludge.
The thin tendrils emerge, attempting to solve the mystery of your helmet; for how much more of an asshole this monster is than you're used to, it doesn't seem any smarter. Your hands alone are sufficient for keeping the thing's sub-tentacles (?) from getting up in your face holes.
Unfortunately, while the monster is failing to burrow in your brain meat, it is doing an admirable job of accidentally drowning you. One of your hands, confident that its opposite can handle things around the base of your helmet, begins to desperately fumble outward. For a weapon? Something you can grab onto to pull yourself out? An escape button? Fuck if you know, you're drowning and your hand is on a blind adventure through absolute pitch black and wet.
Your feet kick. There is no ground.
You are out of arms reach from anything, you quickly discover. Anything but the monster currently holding you underwater while it searches for your face. Despite having limbs shaped and (given their hardness) supported by bones, the actual texture of the thing's limbs is... squishy. Not like skin. ...Or maybe like skin. Like thick skin. Too many layers of skin. Just skin on cartoonish muscle on tubes of bone. Muscle that is the tendrils. And eyes. Sometimes eyes.
Big eyes that feel uncomfortably accurate in your brief experience with touching eyes, especially when compared to how not quite like anything human (yet mmm a little too close to almost feeling human) the rest of this grotesque god damn abomination feels.
♪ eye eye eye, I said I wanna pet your kitty
I said I wanna know your Cici yeah ♪
"Go for the GILLS or the EYES!," yells the Cici in your oxygen starved brain.
LIKE A SHARK
You begin to furiously wail on the nearest oversized eyeball.
You PUNCH will not PUNCH die to the first PUNCH fucking monster PUNCH of the god damn dungeon PUNCH especially not PUNCH after beating PUNCH a fucking BOSS PUNCH
You break the surface puking sludge into your helmet. The possibility of brain damage and/or water remaining in your lungs somehow crosses your mind before the fact that you're in a dream does. Brain's a little slow booting back up. You reach for what feels warm and, after initially burning the fuck out of your hand, you remove the torch from atop your door.
Your next move, perhaps the most pro move of all, is to spin wildly in place.
Torch out, flailing like nobody's watching. Your helmet visor (windshield?) is still blackened with murk, you don't know how many right-to-knows are still alive (minimum 1) and spinning around like a flaming hurricane is the absolute peak strategy available to you at present.
It buys you exactly long enough to wipe off the front of your helmet, and exactly long enough for a series of tendrils to reach your shoulder.
You begin to spin and flail far, far more deliberately.
There's two right-to-knows left.
...One and a half. You burned a lot off of one with your opening salvo.
Make no mistake, burning something to death somewhat slowly with a torch while it attempts (poorly) to put itself out is a very distinct experience. It is not like cutting something, or pointing and blowing something up with a fireball.
It sucks. A lot.
It is not satisfying, not even in a fucked up way.
You jab one of the creature, and as it flees, you turn your attention to the other; by the time you've thrust your torch at that one, the first has returned to the fray. They do not learn. They do not understand retreat and they do not accept mercy. They're evil and so fucking dumb.
Jesus CHRIST why are these things in your brain
You discover that that the right-to-knows die when there's 50% of their mass or less remaining. Burning a right-to-know in half basically accomplishes this, but if you torch their surfaces long enough you will also get there.
There's zero right-to-knows left.
You heave and gag up a little more water.
Status update: You still have the torch. You have a little over a fireball left. Like a fireball and 3/4ths of a fireball. Your door is on fire, presumably from when you dropped the torch on it. You are physically tired and a little drowned. The big metal doors are not open yet.
You begin to dig around in your pocket (under the water, with your MMA gloves partially melted to your slightly burnt hand) for the Brainsate when you hear the next two SHWOOPs
Swollen corpses stand from where they landed.
One, who has somehow squeezed his bloated head into a helmet, appears to have the majority of his worm tumors on his back--forcing him to walk hunched over, like...
like a hunchback. Hnng maybe cerebral hypoxia IS a right now kind of problem
The other worm nest corpse man is--J
JESUS FUCK okay the acid worms took a liking to his neck throat area. His abdomen's a little stretched out, too, but his head's just kind of
The longer necked of the two corpses is intent on reaching you, but isn't any faster than the previous versions of it you've fought. ...A little slower, actually, because of the water. The hunchbacked corpse is trying to keep its distance, though, which is... weird. You're not sure what his game plan is, but this should make it easier to keep the two managed and, maybe, group them up for one fireball.
The more cautious of the two is fumbling with... something under the water. The more daring zombie is almost trying to distract you, though, by attempting to stalk around your door aggressively. You hold onto the part of the door that's not on fire, turning it, keeping it between you and the approacher.
You can definitely feel something happening with this torch.
Not... with the torch, per se, but there's definitely a feeling that you're onto something, trying to channel fire out of your hand and into said torch. You're definitely doing something with your hand.
You just... can't figure out what. Or how to make it finish doing whatever it is you're making it do. It's just a feeling. It's not a thing that's happening.
Your frustration builds. You wave the torch, thrust it forward, but with no results.
The ring's not doing anything, either. You can't sense Cici, or... teleport her to you, or teleport you to her, or. Fucking. Anything.
The more distant of the two corpses pulls a fucking bow and arrow out of the murk.
Instinctively, you turn, and attempt to shoot the torch--
and your hand explodes.
it doesn't explode-explode, but an amount of fire roughly equivalent to one of your giant fuck off fireballs erupts from your hand in every direction. The massive burst of emerald fire going off in your face shocks you enough to almost drop the torch
you do drop it, technically, but after several awkward fumbles in which you almost drop the torch repeatedly you manage to recover it with your bad hand.
In the meantime, the sudden explosion was enough to throw the aim off Bow Corpse (The Corpse With A Bow), and the arrow that comes whizzing past you misses by at least several feet.
The hand explosion is good science, but it also cost about as much mana as your fireballs normally do.
You suppose it's time to stop fucking around.
Strafing with the door, you use the flames coming off of it to conceal you. The next few arrows that come your way miss narrowly, but you stay low and dodge as well as you can while you reposition... and while you fish the Brainsate out of your pocket. You buy yourself a little extra distance from Melee Corpse before you pop the pill, because if you're right--
and it turns out you are
you grip the door and your torch tighter as the mana burn kicks in. It's just like the wine, though the pain and motion sickness are less severe than they were the last two times. It IS still enough to pretty well lock you down for several seconds, though.
Theory: The amount that you consume doesn't affect how bad the side effects are, all that matters for calculating that is how much mana you recover. You weren't that low the first time you drank the yellow wine--but you were pretty damn low when you took that sip later, and pretty drained when you swallowed the Brainsate. Any mana you recover that puts you over 100% doesn't contribute to your suffering.
In addition, you're building a resistance.
Let's say that, hypothetically, you started with 100% of 100 mana. You receive in damage an amount equal to the mana you recovered, not the yellow you consumed.
Let's say the first time you drank, you were at 90% of your mana points (or 90 MP). You had zero resistance. You recovered 10 MP and thus, took 10 damage. Again, just to put a hypothetical number on it.
The second time you recovered mana, you were at maybe 25 MP, so you recovered a total of 75 MP. This should have made the sip worse than the first drink, (75 damage!) but drinking the first time ALSO gave you 70 resistance. ...So you took 5 damage, almost 10 but not quite.
You were at about 20-25% of your full mana, you would say, when you took the Brainsate just now. Your resistance has increased slightly, to 71-ish. So it hurts, but it's not even 5 damage.
Those numbers are rough and extremely wrong but (really, you shouldn't have started theorycrafting at 10 damage, that sort of devalues the amount of pain and discomfort involved compared to other sources of pain and discomfort but the numbers don't matter and you're bad at math fuck it the point is) you think that's the basic principle. If you chugged like ten gallons of yellow wine right now, the suffering would be minimal, if any, because you wouldn't actually be gaining any mana. You would be at 100/100 already, assuming the mere act of taking a drink does not itself cost mana (it probably does).
That all assumes a controlled experiment, though, and this technically wasn't. The size of the pill may not affect how much yellow it "represents." It may not be like drinking an equivalently sized amount of the wine. The different wine barrels could have different potencies, but you still highly doubt that.
What you do know, with absolute certainty now, is that Brainsate restores your mana if taken in the dream--just like the wine does.
Also like the wine, it has fully restored your mana.
The second you feel well enough to make your move, you push the door aside, hold out your hand and unleash a single big ass fireball at both zombies.
The water, the door, and some careful pre-blast footing help minimize the recoil so you don't go flying off your feet.
There are zero worm filled corpses left.
You heft yourself up under your door raft and, with some effort, you manage to flip it over (dousing the flaming side in the dark water below). You carefully but quickly scramble back up onto the door.
You then frantically remove the worm from your shoe, and the two worms that are just beginning to acid their way through your pant legs.
You hear a single (and based on the 3-2-1 count of monsters and the fact that you're running out of monster types TO fight, final?) SHWOOP
and a very loud splash.
On the one hand, it's the smallest one of these chain cocoon snake fuckers you've ever seen. You suppose a normal sized one wouldn't have fit through the tube.
On the other hand, it being smaller means the water in this room isn't too shallow for it to get its swim on, and you're well acquainted with how much god damn faster these assholes are in the water.
You're out of the water.
You still have a torch.
You have most of your mana to work with.
The chain snake is JUST getting its bearings, so if its vision is motion based it should see the cell phone hit the water and--
it just shot right past that and is coming straight for you shit shit shit the rushing wake is difficult to miss, it might be heat bas--
you try to scramble to your feet but a wet door on the water is a precarious situation and the water is REALLY choppy, you can't--
is your mana draining a smidge faster than normal, or is it your imagination?
You lean back.
It's all you can manage.
You tilt the top of the door toward you, angling it to block the creature's open maw.
It grabs the door between its teeth. Not wanting to be dumped back in the worm-filled water, you also hold onto the door.
You hold onto the door as it is hoisted into the air.
The door is breaking quickly in the cocoon's big metal jaws.
You do the first thing you think of
and shove your fist between the bars of the door.
You explode your fist.
You, a torch, the bottom half of a door, and what remains of the top half of a door go soaring through the air. Your body plunges deep on impact, the back of your helmet smacking against the floor before you begin drifting back toward the surface. You start to regain your footing, but there's no time
it's not dead and you have seriously pissed it off.
Against your objections, you enter a mouth.
Your body armor slows the teeth down. Buys you a second.
You're not fully armored, though, and teeth hurt.
The pain is immense.
The brain is still
hit or miss
lungs should hurt
lungs do hurt
except when they don't
You've been blocking the pain out subconsciously.
No. Fuck you, brain, not just blocking it out you can switch that shit on and off. The amount you were blocking out the brain damage was fluctuating because you have fucking brain damage, but when you focus on spending mana on it it just disappears.
What the FUCK.
You stop the pain of being eaten.
You feel your mana drop--first a small but noticeable reduction, then a steady (and almost immeasurably tiny) drain that continues as you hold the pain off.
You do the thing you did with your fist, but with your entire body.
You become the center of one of your fireballs, and you erupt in every direction inside the chain snake.
You are summarily ejected from the creature's mouth. The sound it makes is the coolest thing you've ever heard, but every other tangible aspect of the experience is absolutely awful.
The big metal doors all slide open. There is no fanfare, no treasure chest magically appearing, no confetti. No balloons. You're just... allowed to leave now. Whoop whoop.
You drag yourself to the bottom half of the door and climb aboard. You paddle yourself over to one of the flaming shards left over from the top half; it becomes your new torch.
You paddle your way over to where the hunchbacked zombie died, and begin to search for its remains while you ponder what the fuck the implications of the last few minutes are.
You can spend mana to ignore pain.
You're doing it right now.
Not just pain; the effects of oxygen deprivation on the brain.
Wait wait hold the fuck up.
You reach deep.
All that pain and nausea and dizziness you experienced from restoring your mana? You're still experiencing it. You haven't been building a tolerance to a brief side effect, you've been experiencing momentary bursts as you subconsciously try to catch up with your mana to pain ratio. It's actually an amazing sort of suffering to test with, because holy shit if you unblocked all of this the pain would probably kill you.
As it stands, you can willingly waver how much of it you're experiencing. It seems that there's an initial cost for blocking any particular source of pain or discomfort, and then a slow drain for as long that source continues to afflict you.
You attempt to put mana into healing your physical wounds; it does not work. You're still bleeding from the teeth marks, your hand is still burnt. You can make them not hurt, but you can't fix them.
It almost makes sense--pain isn't real outside of the mind. The mind creates it. This place simulates it. You can think you're being hurt in a dream, feel like it... but it's entirely in your head. So, the dungeon accepts mana as currency to just... turn the pain off.
Or the brain damage, which is a little more confusing but you're not going to argue with it. Your body's your body, though, and more yours than the system's so it can't do as much with it. Or something. You don't fucking know.
There's only one thing that bothers you.
You are currently stopping a lot of pain.
Like, a shit ton, from numerous sources. You're stopping pains you didn't even know you had. Apparently you fucked your ankle up at some point?
Several of these would each, on their own, be completely debilitating and you're shutting it all out just by thinking that you want to. You've been doing a lot of it accidentally, that's how easy it is.
It has taken you THIS LONG to notice the drain on your mana, and even NOW it's still very, very faint. If you weren't really paying attention and really getting a feel for this mana shit, you still wouldn't sense the trickle.
Is that normal?
Kate sure as shit didn't realize she could do this, if she even can.
You're ignoring enough pain to stop like ten people, and it costs about as much mana as walking or reading does. That math does not check the fuck out--and yet, here you are, barely losing more mana than you do just existing at the start of a run. It costs more energy to get out of bed than it does to block this kind of agony for five seconds.
Is this your fucking niche?
Kate's the blaster, Cici's the warrior, you... can take a lot of pain?
It floats back into your mind.
No increased stamina or durability, just resistance to pain.
You can hurt more for less mana.
You suffer on the cheap.
The god damn Fool.
Your class role is fucking slapstick.
You find part of the bow, and a quiver of arrows you assume the corpse had strapped to its lower back (because where the hell else would he keep them?). The bow was... very destroyed by your fireball. There's eight arrows here, mostly intact.
You're also back to being pretty low on mana.
After a couple of small tests, you figure out that you can pre-emptively stop pain so as not to even feel it at all, as long as you're aware it's coming. So there's that.