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Chapter 842: Hooked (953)
"They found WHAT?"
Pulled aside by Sloan during a break in the fighting, she drops some heavy ordnance on me.
"Tier eight demons," she repeats grimly, "fighting in the deepest layers of the third stratum, right beneath the land claimed by the Colony."
Pants. This is the last thing we need right now. We've got these termites to deal with, along with the ka'armodo pulling the strings as well as acting aggressive along our border in the third. There might be hundreds of thousands of us by now, but even we can be stretched too thin!
"I'll have to go back up there," I declare, firm in my conviction. "n.o.body else in the Colony is equipped to fight them, not without suffering extreme casualties, so I'll do it."
Sloan slaps herself with an antenna as if frustrated by my reply.
"What?" I ask defensively.
"Eldest. You might be the strongest member of the Colony, but you cannot do everything yourself. Grokus was only tier seven and he came close to killing you. If you were to go head to head with a tier eight, what do you think the outcome would be? Honestly?"
Well, if I think about it that way.
"I would be flattened like a pancake in a machine specifically designed for the purpose of crushing pancakes to be a single atom thick… would be my guess."
"I don't understand all of that, but I think my point got across. Even if these demons had abysmal quality evolutions, they would still be far above you, and there are two of them. Any thought you have of defeating them yourself needs to be cast aside."
It feels kind of sad to be pushed aside like this in a moment of crisis, but she certainly has a good point. I can't very well yell at the Immortals for trying to throw their lives away and then replicate that behaviour against even worse odds.
"All right then, so what is the plan then? I presume we aren't just hoping they won't come for us."
Now she looks insulted.
"Of course not. We are in the process of putting together a strike team of tier seven demons that we can call on in the event these powerful enemies find us. Observation and deep scouting operations have been increased dramatically and teams of generals have been put in place to game out possible scenarios. We are doing all that we can."
I have a question.
"Generals aren't really the smartest ants. Are we sure you should be the group in charge of the theory crafting?"
They are the most intelligent of the soldier caste, obviously, but that doesn't mean a whole lot. Not that Sloan appears to appreciate me pointing that out.
"Instead of insulting my intelligence -"
"That's not what I meant!"
"- what I wanted to ask, Eldest, was what level you are currently?"
My level? I honestly haven't looked in a while, which is a bad habit I've been falling into. I've probably got skills that need to be upgraded and a fair chunk of Bioma.s.s to spend after all the fighting we've been doing down here. I take a quick look at my status and almost jump in surprise.
"I'm at eighty one," I say, more than a little shocked.
That's past the halfway point! Tier seven is approaching fast!
"Good. If you continue at your current pace then you may be able to reach the next tier before anything happens with these demons. Jumping two tiers is too much even for you, Eldest, but one might be possible."
Considering the boost to evolutionary energy doubles each evolution, I'm not sure how a tier seven would cope against an eight, hopefully it's not that bad! Despite the rea.s.surances of the coolheaded general, I can't help but look up nervously. The threats on the third are becoming more dire by the day and I'm stuck down here in this endless insect war.
"I still feel like I should head upwards. Even if only for a little while," I say. "I can help steady the situation before I return."
Even if I'm only there for a few days, with me and my pets being such powerful tier six monsters we can make a dent in whatever our enemies throw at us. Within that stratum anyway. Once I'm confident no ma.s.s invasion of lizards, or uprising of uber demons is around the corner, then I can back down and continue to chomp on termites as we gear up for the final push.
Sloan considers my proposal for a while before she reluctantly agrees.
"That might be a good idea. At the very least it will help settle a few nerves. You must ensure that you are back within two days. I worry that after that much time the enemy will realise you are gone and try to take advantage."
"Good call. I'll get the group together and depart immediately."
Which means kicking Tiny awake and going to look for Sarah. She's been fighting all over the place recently so it takes a little while to track her down.
[Hey there, Sarah! I'm going to be heading back to the third for a couple of days. Interested in coming along?]
The giant bear is currently being tended to by numerous healers as she heaves breaths that sound like the forge bellows operated by the Colony in the main nest.
[Just… give me a minute… I'm still… I'm still calming down.]
[Oh, shoot. My bad.]
I wait a few minutes for her to get a better hold of herself before we continue.
[It seems like you've been getting a lot better at controlling the rages,] I observe. [That's great stuff! Well done.]
She smiles, as much as a terrifying death bear can.
[Thank you. I've been trying hard. I still lose control sometimes, but I can feel the improvement.]
[Nice. So, about the third?]
She hesitates before shaking her s.h.a.ggy head.
[I think I'll stay. I'm helping here and I'm making a lot of progress with my own problems. Besides, I don't want to go back up there to where Jim is…]
[That's fair enough. Don't go too wild down here. Take care of yourself.]
With that done, it's off to the gate. Back up toward the trunk of the world tree, past the village, up the roots to where the gate stands waiting. After so much time fighting against the hated enemy, I'm almost looking forward to going back to the blazing hot land of the demons. All that smoke, and ash, and … and… what the h.e.l.l am I looking forward to again?
Ah well. Here we go.
The gate looms in front of me, glowing with incredible mana that makes no sense to me. Wait a second, what am I sensing?
"Where the h.e.l.l are you hiding? I can sense you but I can't see you."
"I'm working on something. Something dimensional."
"Are you in another dimension right now?!"
"But I'm hiding in a pocket s.p.a.ce!"
"There's a lot of research to go, but the team and I will crack the secrets soon!"
"I look forward to it."
Nice to see the second champion making strides. If she can make pocket s.p.a.ces, will gates be far away? My hopes are up!
Feeling positive and not wanting to waste any time, I step toward the gate and brace myself for the disjointed feeling of being transported via magic.
Except I don't feel it.
I look down. My leg hasn't moved. That's odd.
Let's try that again. Take a step forward. Into the gate. Aaaand now. Nope. What about… now! Nothing. HAH! Still not moving…
What the h.e.l.l, leg? Why have you betrayed me?!
In fact, the more I try to force myself to move forward, the more something deep within reaches out and yanks on my being, locking my body in place. I'm just a few metres away from the gate, but I can't move into it! This is so strange…
Then I feel it, more clearly than I ever have before. A tug. Like a hand taking hold of my leg and pulling on it ever so slightly. Except it isn't my leg, it's my soul. And it isn't a hand, it's the Dungeon.
It's calling me down.