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Chapter 843: Mind Control?! (954)
I strain. I push. I fight with every fibre of muscle and every strand of brain matter to get my body to move forward! Nothing. As an experiment I try to move backwards and find no resistance, but once I move forward again, no dice. I'm frozen in place as long as I attempt to move forward.
This is crazy! The Dungeon is basically refusing to let me walk forwards?! Are you telling me I don't have control of my own limbs?
Dammit, Gandalf! Get your scrawny wizard backside out here and explain this. I won't take another step until this unpleasant phenomenon is spelled out to me. I mean… I can't take another step… but that's not the point!
[Master? Is everything alright?]
I realise then that my comrades have been watching me skuttle backwards and forwards, straining against an invisible barrier in front of the gate for over a minute now. I can imagine it doesn't look at all that sane, prompting Crinis to check in with me.
[I, uh, seem to be experiencing technical difficulties?] I reply.
Crinis is confused.
[I'm not sure what you mean. Is there a problem?]
[In a sense. I can't walk forward.]
[You can't?] She extends a tentacle forward toward the gate and meets no resistance. [I don't think anything is there?]
[This is a little hard to explain. It feels like the Dungeon itself is preventing me from going through the gate. As if it refuses to let me move somewhere that's going to take me up a stratum.]
[The Dungeon isn't letting you move?]
[Yeah, it sounds weird, I know.]
[CONTEMPTIBLE DUNGEON! UNHAND THE MASTER!]
Exploding with wrath, the tentacled shadow-ma.s.s unleashes her fury upon the Dungeon. In the literal sense. Stones fly and the bark beneath us splinters as Crinish lashes out blindly. Tiny, witnessing this chaos, naturally does the first thing that pops into his head, which is to join in. Chunks of wood start flying everywhere as the giant ape joyously smashes his mighty fists into the root beneath his feet.
[Hey. HEY! Knock it off, both of you. That's not the Dungeon, that's the Mother Tree!]
The plants nearby rattle and hiss in fury as my two friends restrain themselves, Tiny much more reluctantly than Crinis. A Grove Keeper stomps over, a rare expression of anger plastered on his face. I reach out to him with my mind before he can go off the deep end.
[Sorry about that! Misunderstanding! We didn't mean to attack the Mother Tree at all.]
Obviously this doesn't satisfy the Grove Keeper one bit and he replies in a tone rumbling with anger.
[You would brush off this attack so brazenly? Hmmmmm. There must be a reckoning!]
[Geez, we hardly chipped the bark, don't get your logs soggy,] I retort, [besides, since you're here I have a question for your mum. She might be able to help me out.]
[And why would she help you?] the Keeper grumps.
[Because you'd be dead if I wasn't here?]
There isn't much he can say to that. Still bristling with anger the Grove Keeper turns toward the bushes and engages in another rustling session with them before he turns back to me.
[Mother is most displeased at her roots being disturbed. What is your question?]
[The Dungeon is preventing me from moving through the gate. Does she have any idea what that might be about?]
[Hmmm. The Dungeon, you say?]
[It sounds crazy, I get it. Talk to the tree would you?]
I'm being a little rude, but to be honest the inability to walk where I want to walk is freaking me out more than I'm letting on. Not being able to go back up a stratum is one thing, I kind of expected that to happen as I kept evolving, but this constant tug dragging me downwards is something else entirely. Now that I'm aware of it, I'm starting to think it's been there for quite a while and I just wasn't conscious of it. Ew, that's weirding me out. I have to wonder why it's so much stronger now than before, has something changed? In fact, when was the last time I travelled up a stratum?
This could also explain why I was so eager and reckless when it came to descending.
[Mother has some understanding of what you refer to,] the Keeper sounds just as surprised as I am at the answer we get back. [The Call. She says that many monsters have felt it at one time or another, even Mother for a brief time. She believes that any monster with the potential to become the final Ancient is called to the depths to take up the mantle.]
Are you serious? Does this mean the Dungeon itself has acknowledged me or something? I don't want it, the Dungeon can get stuffed!
[She experienced it herself? But doesn't now? What made it go away?]
This is an important point.
[She believes that when she evolved to her current form, sacrificing much of her potential to be able to create us, her children, she no longer qualified.]
[So if I take on some useless options during an evolution I won't have to put up with this?]
[Ah! Sorry, poor phrasing. You know what I meant! Useless in the 'becoming an Ancient' sense. I like you branchies, always have, honest!]
The Keeper gives me a long look before he confers further with his mother.
[She has said all she wishes to say on this matter. Please refrain from attacking her any further.]
[That was totally a mix-up!]
I slap Crinis' tentacles down with an antenna as they start to extend past me to throttle the Keeper as he turns to walk away.
[Crinis! What the h.e.l.l?]
[… he was being rude.]
[You weren't connected, there's no way you could know if that was true.]
[I could tell.]
Ah… I can't deal with this right now. Actually, didn't Garralosh mention something about a pull or call? Was this what drove her over the edge as she spent all that time locked in the first stratum? Holy moly, that's horrible. Doesn't forgive what she did, obviously, but having this d.a.m.n hook yanking at my guts for decades would be enough to make me crazy too.
Gah! I need more information. I have to know what's going on, if it can be subverted or overcome. If the Colony needs my help in the third, I'm supposed to just sit here and do nothing? Ridiculous! But who can I talk to?
Granin. He has to know something, surely. He's the most informed when it comes to Ancient stuff. If I can get back to the third I can track him down, or I can put out a call and get him to come here.
Wait a second. I've got an idea.
[Alright. This might sound a little weird, but listen in guys. Tiny, Crinis, I want you two to pick me up and throw me through the gate.]
Crinis freezes on my back whilst Tiny just looks confused.
[Look, I can't walk through the gate, so I need another way to get through. Invidia, use forcefields to bind me up so I can't bite or move my legs, then you two pick me up and toss me through.]
[Master, I can't do that!]
Crinis is appalled.
Tiny, on the other hand, is grinning widely and flexing his hands.
This might have been a poor idea.