I felt a bit stupid for worrying that Serlv was talking about me. Of course not-Blobby was the obvious choice; to the best of my knowledge, she was currently the only living being on the world based on a dungeon core, which seemed like a damn big advantage for hooking up to a subsidiary core. Although, why exactly Erryn had ever felt the need to shove a dungeon core into a slime, I'd never know.
Or maybe I would, if I asked not-Blobby in an hour's time.
This repair job was turning out to involve a lot of travelling. Leaving the damaged System behind, we had to first fly east to Serlv and Krana's lair to pick up the core, and then back west again to Synklisi. If they'd just left the core in the ark, we'd have saved a trip the entire length of the continent.
Not that the continent was large. With all the flying I'd been doing, even if a lot of it had involved keeping my eyes shut, it was increasingly obvious that the reason we got places quickly wasn't simply to do with the speed of the dragons. The planet was tiny.
Unless it was ninety-nine percent ocean, but that didn't seem likely either, given the percentage of portals that had opened over land. Or perhaps land attracted them?
Despite the relatively short flight, I still felt my nausea return, so I occupied myself by giving not-Blobby some prior warning.
"Hey. Me, Serlv and Krana are on our way. It's important."
"Anything to do with that 'connection lost' message that everyone just got? We were in the middle of something, when everyone else suddenly got distracted by inexplicable System messages."
Oh, joy. In the middle of something. At least they were interrupted before we arrived.
"Hey! We were playing chess! Not whatever you're thinking!"
Oh? I hadn't kept track of how far Earth board games had spread after selling some sets to the delvers' guild, but apparently they'd reached Synklisi. Not that I'd intended to think that out loud...
"Well, you did! And you still are!"
"Huh? But I tried really hard to keep my thoughts to myself that time!"
"Not hard enough, apparently."
Weird. Maybe it was the stress, making me lose control. And hopefully it wasn't a side effect of the System being in a million pieces.
"The System's what?!"
Ah. Oops. "Well, this is why we're on the way over. We hope you can help us fix it."
"What. Did. You. Do?!"
"Got into a fight with Earth. That Maximilian you met fabricated some sort of super-disease which some place on Earth used to try to purge our population. I shoved a bomb through their portal to make them stop. Then another place on Earth decided we were a threat because we dared defend ourselves, and pushed a bomb of their own through the portals the System built to infect Earth."
To be fair to them, we were a threat; we were brainwashing their kids. But since we couldn't stop brainwashing their kids without putting this world at risk, I'd decided to side with this side.
I could order the System to stop changing people's souls, if I could get the dragons to cooperate, which would solve that part of the problem at least. Not that I was inclined to, after the attack. The attack which was the reason I now had that power.
A telepathic sigh came over the link, suggesting that not-Blobby could still hear every stray thought that was flickering through my head.
"Yes. I can. And my name is Penelope, thank you very much."
"And how long has it been that? Seriously, wear a name badge!"
The response to that was a telepathic pout. Thank goodness I didn't call her Blobby, even in my thoughts...
... Don't think about who did. Don't think about who did. Pink elephants!
A psychic huff came over the connection, followed by not-Blobby forcibly killing it from her end, leaving us travelling in silence for a couple of minutes more.
"You should alert the slime to our arrival," suggested Serlv.
"I already have. She's expecting us, and she knows about the damaged System."
"Thank you," she said, just as Synklisi came into view over the horizon. It wasn't much to look at from above, with the great dungeon far out of my [Mana Sight] range and none of the skyscrapers or eye-catching architecture of an Earth city. Nor did it have interesting natural features, like the trees of the Emerald Sea, the scenery of the Sapphire Peaks or the obsidian spires of the Obsidian Spires.
The view didn't last long, and soon we landed in front of the great dungeon, teleporting to floor six, rushing our way through, and meeting an impatient temporary-Penelope hanging around the boss room.
"Well?" she asked. "Can you tell me what's going on without Peter dramatically oversharing?"
"Hey, I was mostly on topic! At least up until the pink elephants."
Penelope rolled her eyes, which wasn't even a particularly obvious gesture when her eyes were homogenous blue orbs of slime set into a bigger ball of slime. Why did she bother? I wouldn't even have noticed, if I hadn't felt...
I could still feel her emotions, if not her actual thoughts. Now who was oversharing?
"What are you talking about?" she snapped. "You're the one who just... Huh?"
It had always been the case that ignoring sensations from my finger became harder the closer we were, but we'd never had issues with our telepathic connection switching on against our wills before. That was another step above simple oversharing; at least I'd deliberately triggered the connection during our flight.
I switched on [Soul Perception], but didn't see anything strange. My arm was still slowly pushing out the yellow of not-Bl... I mean... Penelope, and the infected patch on her orb-shaped soul had shrunken, too.
... I really hoped this was just stress.
"What is happening?" asked Krana.
"That idiot can't help messing around with souls," snapped Penelope, causing Krana to immediately forget he'd asked.
Serlv, too, although I couldn't help but notice that in her case there was a moment of confusion before the blank stare took over.
"While I am loath to ask this of you, we request that you take on the memories of Erryn, that you may search them for a method of repairing the System."
My mental connection to the slime went wild. There was intense honour in there, that they would offer her such a chance, but also disgust that anyone would treat Erryn's memories as a mere tool to solve a problem. Underneath that was anger at Earth and at me for messing up Erryn's neat world, and fear, too, not just because of the System, but also because she didn't know why our link was suddenly playing up any more than I did.
"Believe me, they aren't treating her as a tool," I said. "Erryn herself made the suggestion in her last communication, and they didn't even mention this was a possibility until we'd exhausted every other option we could think of. It's a last resort."
... And the next burst of emotions made it clear that I should not have revealed I was listening in. I felt her hold herself back from the urge to lash out.
Instead, she poked a hand inside herself, slime sliding through slime, grabbed my finger, and pulled it off her core. The link immediately cut out, but it felt like gravity had suddenly been dialled up to eleven, forcing me to my knees. Penelope was no better off, blobbing to the floor with a squelch.
"Again, what is happening?" demanded Serlv.
I didn't have the wherewithal to respond, distracted by something incredibly alarming; when she'd plucked my finger from her core, the soul it contained hadn't moved with it. The finger she'd tossed at me was soulless, with one finger's worth of me still welded to her spherical soul. That wasn't a thing that should happen...
I climbed back to my feet, the feeling of weakness slowly passing. Likewise, Penelope pulled herself back up into her usual slime-girl form.
"You can still hear me, can't you?" I thought at her.
She frowned in response.
I was still in contact with her. Just in soul, and not in body. Still, her violent reaction had helped; she wasn't giving any sign she could hear any thoughts I wasn't deliberately trying to send, nor was I getting the constant stream of feelings and emotions from her. Her impulsive act had weakened the link, even if it hadn't severed it.
... Thankfully. If it had severed it, we'd presumably have both ended up paralysed again.
"Please answer," said Serlv.
"Like I said before, Peter just can't help messing up souls," said an angry but weary Penelope, once more erasing the event from the dragon's memories. "So, you want me to search through Mother's memories to find a way to fix this mess, which I'm sure is all Peter's fault somehow. You never should have traded or negotiated with Earth."
"They'd have come eventually, regardless. Rather, cause and effect are the other way around. I didn't cause them to come; I was only born here because they were already on their way."
"Fine. So, how exactly do I look through her memories?"
I turned to Serlv for that one, but neither she nor Krana had anything to offer. "I assume you connect it to your core?" she suggested.
"How?! I'm a slime, not a dungeon! I'm not going to experiment with something that important!"
Yay, a crowbar-in-a-box situation. Erryn's memories would assuredly contain the correct method of hooking her up to Erryn's memories.
"Try touching it?" I suggested.
"I'm not going to try anything! I want to know exactly how it works before we start."
"They're touching it and nothing bad is happening. Nothing bad is going to happen just from touching it."
"Oh? Just like the time you told me that touching you would fix me?"
"It did! Mostly."
Penelope sighed and reached out a tendril of slime to the core, still in Serlv's outstretched paw.
"Well?" she asked, when nothing happened.
"Touch it with your core, not your slime?"
In my case, it had been a soul thing, but maybe something similar applied here. The dungeon core was 'Penelope', with the slime just something she controlled.
"Bah. If this goes wrong..." she muttered, leaving the threat open ended as her slime wrapped around the subsidiary core and sucked it inside. She dragged it up her tentacle and into her main mass, where it touched gently against her own core.
Our mental link went crazy, and Penelope collapsed from slime girl to puddle in the time it took me to wince. Thankfully, I knew what was happening.
"You are Penelope!" I shouted, recalling my skill shop abuse and resulting hospitalisation. What she was going through would be orders of magnitude worse. "Focus on that!"
Nothing but confusion came over the mental link. Of course, how would she empathise with the name 'Penelope' when she'd probably only had it for an hour, and would likely be someone else in another hour's time.
I grit my teeth, both against the mental noise and the fact I was probably about to get smashed by a level seventy sociopathic slime girl.
"You are Erryn's daughter. You are the sixth floor boss of the great dungeon. Remember yourself!" Still nothing but confusion, darn it. I was going to have to go nuclear. "Your. Name. Is. Blobby!"
I woke up on very-definitely-not-Blobby's bed, [Regeneration] having already fixed my cracked ribs.
"Oww..." I groaned. "Please tell me that was worth it?"
"It was worth it," answered someone, and it took me a few seconds to place the voice as Serlv's high-pitched miniature form.
Once I trusted myself to open my eyes and look, I saw Penelope grouching in a corner, with the subsidiary core safely back in Serlv's possession and Krana cutely curled up on the carpet.
"What did I miss?"
"Erryn knew little about the inner workings of the System, the enchantments involved being beyond her ability to understand. But there is a backup; it is simply distributed among the shards. If we repair its communications and let it reconnect to everyone, it should be able to restore itself."
That sounded promising. "Then let's get going."
Penelope treated me to a glare as I stood up.
"Sorry, but it was the most sure-fire way to bring you back to yourself."
"That has nothing to do with it! For a few minutes, I knew what you'd done to me. To us. Exactly how you'd mutilated our souls, and the state we'd have been in had the System not stepped in to mitigate the worst of it. And how little time we have left, now that it's not there to constantly patch us up. And now I've forgotten almost all of it. All that's left is the horror I felt while I knew."
Oh... Crap. So, not stress, then. Best we finish repairing the System before the violent slime felt the need to punch me again.
"I heard that!"
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Bio: Just a random person who took up writing as an indoor hobby during covid, and somehow forgot to stop once it was over. I take commitments seriously; I promise to always finish every story I start writing, and to stick to any advertised schedules.