The New World Chapter 201
The vast waves of purple muck pushed away from us, my magic letting us dive into the abyss. After a few minutes of sinking down, Krog murmured,
"You'd better not overstretch your mana reserves. I doubt we'd be able to crawl out of this before drowning."
I waved away his concerns, "I'll be fine."
"I pray to Emagrotha your right about that," Chrona whispered.
Two hours later, we reached deep into the depths of the grimy tides. Thousands of feet down, we landed onto gelatinous mud. Gross, but we managed. After a bit of searching, we happened across some sort of pulsing through the depths.
Assuming it came from the life signatures, we walked towards the source. We found a compound at the bottom of the ocean, a plume of sludge rising from its center. As the ripples ebbed along with the edge of our capsule of air, Althea frowned,
"It smells so bad here."
Chrona nodded, "It reeks of the silver's lifeblood, fresh as the day Lehesion destroyed a portion of the continent."
"It's oozing from beneath some sort of facility," I murmured. "It's hard to make out, but I can get an idea based on how the sludge is moving."
Krog scoffed, "How is that even possible?"
"Look closely at the way the waves flow off the bottom of our air bubble. They're shallower than the ones at the top of the sphere. Something is blocking the flow of liquid to an extent, slowing it down. The bottom isn't colder than the top flow either, meaning this isn't some natural current. The colder muck should both sink and be harder to move."
"That explains how you understand that something is there, but how do you know it's a facility?" Chrona said.
"Well, that's because the interference in the flow is too even. A jagged rock would create a more chaotic flow, and the temperature would be more variable."
Althea pointed at the ground, "I can sort of tell too. The ground here is warmer than the ground we walked on earlier. I'm not a detective, but there's a source of warmth here. Considering what we're looking for, it's not that big of a leap to assume its the facility."
Chrona and Krog looked at each other. They stared back at us, "Your group's tracking is remarkably...detailed."
I didn't tell them about how Torix and I spent days and days looking for a giant Skyburner in a mountain. Keeping them in unjustified awe worked fine for me.
With the facility found, we planned out what to do before entering it.
"Several environmental hazards may be present," Torix pulled out a gas mask for Althea, "Spores and other hazardous conditions could be present as well. It would be better if we filtered out any kind of debris in the air as well. Perhaps creating our own personalized rebreathers would assist us as well."
The gialgathens stared at him, both of them nervous. Torix channeled some mana into his hand, "Fret not. There's little need to worry. I researched a spell for just such a purpose. I waited as long as possible before using it as it has a time limit before it expires. Simply channel your mana into this mana construct, and it will maintain a small area of air for you to breath."
Torix generated two semi-translucent bubbles of mana.
"That being said, if the facility collapses and Daniel is not nearby, you will come into contact with this...mush. While I no doubt trust that you both can tolerate it for a while, getting out from the bottom of this ocean might be impossible. Stick near us, and there will be no need to worry."
Torix pushed each contruct to them. Althea locked her hands behind herself, "Uh, thanks for coming here with us. I know it's a lot to ask for you to trust us."
Chrona guided one of the constructs onto her face with her tail, "He's here for the goodwill of our planet. It would shame us to let him do so on his own."
"Good." Althea smiled, "Still happy you're both here though."
She put on her mask, appearing downright menacing in combination with her suit of black wires on. It contrasted her politeness, sending a wave of dissonance at me. I shook the sensation as Torix cupped his chin,
"You won't be needing a mask, will you?"
I shook my head, "If the spores can kill me like that, then I doubt the masks and magic will stop them either."
"Excellent. That saves me a bit of mana. Now, It will do us good to scope out the facility before entering it. The chance of them discovering our presence is low, and we have much to gain if the facility is of notable size."
I gave him a brusque nod, giving him my approval. The others must have too as he opened a screen,
"I've already added some extra functionality to my one of my statuses. Using one of the Speaker's software updates, I can map out new dungeons and areas three-dimensionally. Based on your descriptions, we should be able to get a good grasp of the entire area, allowing us to efficiently peruse it. Whenever your ready, Daniel."
With his signal, I lifted us up into the air, carrying our air bubble around the first wall. I described the proportions of the walls and where they ended, using Hunter of Many as a reference. My depictions were foggy at best, but Torix drew in the details I missed, creating a graphic image in front of him. Althea murmured, "Did you practice with that before now?"
"Ah, you noticed," Torix gloated. "I spent several hours on this task, ensuring I owned the tools to create something of value. My skills are by no means perfect-"
Torix pressed his four fingers together, pulling them apart, lines drawn between each bony of his hands. He let his hands stay still for a second, allowing the rectangle to sync into place, becoming a part of the hologram.
"But they should be acceptable for this purpose."
We mapped out the rest of the facility in relative silence, everyone watching us work. This took some time and effort as we positioned ourselves around the facility. It was a good thing we did too; the facility was massive considering where it was. The map could be invaluable when exploring the inside of it.
It turned out to be a fully functional headquarters. A dozen warehouses, hallways, and rooms littered the structure. It left us scratching our heads as to how the hell they kept it running, though Torix had a few ideas. Without any clues on the surface though, we explored our final option.
We selected the best place to enter with the lowest probability of being found on entry. One of the buildings was connected by one hallway to the rest of the buildings. That meant less sound would leak out into the rest of the place. It looked like a storage warehouse as well, saying fewer people were likely to visit the site often.
With our point of entry scoped out, I floated us towards the wall. Althea cleaned through the two-foot thick steel wall with ease, her spacial slicing ludicrous as always. There was something strange about watching her grow a blade of bone over the rifle I made her then cleaving through iron with it. It was one of those moments where I realized how insane what we were doing was.
I shook off that feeling as we went inside. We found no one left alive, as Torix suggested. Blood was spattered onto the walls, though no corpses were left to linger. The lights blinked on and off, giving an ominous vibe to what looked like a pantry. Well, was a pantry. Something had eaten large swaths of the food stored here, and they did so by mauling any packaging the food was stored in.
Along the paths of its destruction, circular imprints were embedded in the concrete floor, marking the size of the killer. They mirrored Althea's foot size. Damn. Smaller then I expected.
Before leaving, I channeled mana, heating the steel wall into molten metal. After fusing the welds, I cooled it by pulling the heat out of it. Without needing to hold the gunk off the wall, I slowly shut down my gravity well. It was like setting the pressure of the ocean back onto the base. We all waited for a minute, making sure the wall would hold.
It did before Krog, and I paced forward and scoped out the area. It didn't take long to for me to verify that the facility was, in fact, empty as a ghost town. Everyone following close behind us came to the same conclusion not long after us.
Krog murmured, "It smells like death."
"Do tell us what death smells like?" Chrona said while rolling her eyes.
"Like dry blood and stale air," Krog said.
Chrona took a whiff, "Hmmm...It does."
The entire building smelled like a butcher's store. It was clean and sterile in most place, but every now and again, there was the curdling smell of a fresh corpse still here. The entire mood of our journey changed at that point. Everyone sobered up, getting on guard. Without wanting to wait any longer, we moved into our formation.
Krog and I stayed out front, both of us survivable. Chrona readied one of her massive blue orbs above her, keeping it contained. Staff and magic prepared, Torix marked into his 3-d map in his obelisk as we walked. Althea held her new rifle out, ready to obliterate anything in sight. With my back covered, I kept my eyes facing forward.
I reached the end of the food warehouse, finding doorways large enough for gialgathens to step through. Surprised but undeterred, I stepped ahead of Krog, ready to take the brunt of whatever infested this place. I knew I was the least likely to die if something hit me without warning.
Despite our worry, we found nothing in the vast hallways outside of more blood splatters. There were no signs of fighting, no bullet casings or chipped concrete, and especially no corpses. It was unnerving, like walking through some surreal nightmare. Despite our unease, we made steady progress through the facility, stepping through dozens of warehouses and corridors.
The spotty lighting from the flickering lights was fixed when Torix created a ball of white fire. In tandem, he and I kept our guard up the entire time, even as minutes of searching turned into hours. The others faltered at times, unable to handle the constant tension of the situation. It wasn't much of a problem, however. Torix was right with his reading that nobody was here.
We sped up our search from then on out. Even if something was here, it wasn't the most perceptive creature. Either that or it didn't find us to be a threat worth taking on. If so, I reveled in proving the damn thing wrong. After eight hours of searching through offices, cafeterias, and educational facilities, we hit the jackpot - we found the research labs and an open rift.
Turns out, the facility was connected to an active dungeon just like the last research lab. We explored the open cavern first, an entrance made for it and everything. What we found were harvesters identical to the ones I saw with the Hybrid from before. They were creating artificial dungeons and harvesting the denizens inside them, somehow. Either that or this place conveniently had a dungeon right were Emagrotha died.
I wasn't quite gullible enough to believe that though.
With the threat of another hybrid on our hands, Althea and I warned the others about the likelihood of facing another one of the abominations. It set Chrona and Krog both at ease and on high alert. On the one hand, we kicked one's ass already. On the other, it shocked them to discover that one hybrid killed an entire troop of Skyburners.
Krog took that last bit particularly hard. He was a Skyburner after all, so hearing that he was among fodder was hard to understand. As he stared in the distance with hollowed eyes, Althea walked up beside him. She laid a hand on the beast's side,
"That thing caught them by surprise. That's the only reason they didn't win."
Krog shook his head, "I never imagined that the eldritch could destroy us so easily given a chance...It's harrowing."
I waved a hand, "Not quite the eldritch, but yeah, it can happen to damn near anybody. That's why Schema's so adamant about everyone getting off their asses and killing them."
"I've heard it from weaklings, but to hear the same adage from someone I respect puts it in a different light." Krog sighed, "We must rethink our approach if we are to remain living on Giess."
I pointed at him, "Now that's what I like to hear. We can't save your planet on our own no matter how badass we are."
Chrona nodded sagely, "When we go back to Rivaria, we shall spread the word of what we found here. Krog and I will scour the land of these eldritch, though we will need help to find them. Our tracking isn't as advanced as yours."
I cupped my chin, glancing up, "Hmmm, I know a guy who might be able to get you into Schema's system. God knows he owes me some favors."
Althea walked up beside me, "You're talking about the Overseer, aren't you?"
I smirked, "Bingo. Who knows. They might even let gialgathens into the system after they start clearing out enough eldritch."
Krog shook his head, "Few of our kind own the work ethic necessary for that kind of task. It would be like throwing jewels to lightning elk. They would just eat them instead of understanding their value."
Torix clapped his hands behind us, "We have a base to uncover. Back into the formation everyone."
Krog grumbled as we followed Torix's command, but he followed the lich's order. We all did. Chatting while in enemy territory was an easy way to get killed. The hybrid could quickly destroy the place around us, putting us into the surrounding ocean. If that happened, I'd encompass everyone in another gravity well, allowing us to flee without getting smothered.
I needed to react if that happened though. On top of that, evasion would be our primary concern in that circumstance. Feeding a hybrid and making it stronger was our worst-case scenario, so we planned accordingly. Even then, nothing about that kind of situation was comforting.
The pressure here was extremely high. The gunk above us was denser than water, and that's what made the facility so unlikely in the first place. Althea and Torix would be crushed. It cost quite a bit of mana just to maintain the sphere of air around us and prevent its collapse as we descended. Doing all that while fighting sounded like a chore at best and a deathtrap at worst.
We had a job to do, however. After exploring the eldritch cave and gathering a basic dungeon core, we scoured the labs from top to bottom. As we stepped into one of the data rooms, Torix, Althea, and I tried downloading the filed there. The computers didn't enable uploading of any sort, and I mean that literally. The first few terminals we tried connecting with blew up the moment we set up a data link with our obelisks.
Without an obvious way into the devices, we skulked around for a while, trying to break through the security. We weren't very successful. After a while, we discovered that most of the information was encoded, adding yet another layer of protection. Even on their desks, they used a language that wasn't logged in Schema's language database. In fact, it resisted the algorithms used by Schema to decipher words.
That required intense technical and insider knowledge. Schema decoded Hod's language in seconds after I met him, let me understand the eltari reasonably quickly. Even after hours of searching through documents, Schema couldn't decode this new cipher. It was a steel wall to discovering what was going on here.
Without an accessible, clear log of info about the place, we focused on inferring what we could. The first tip we found was that they were using devices disconnected from Schema's network. They had their own intranet for the facility. This place was connected with simplex fiber optics to the outside world a well. The cords enabled them to send messages out but not receive them.
This system would allow them to research without relying on obelisks or Schema's built-in network. After a few hours of inspection, we figured out a few other interesting tidbits. The entire facility used a lot of paper to do their documentation. It was a hell of a lot more secure than using anything tech related.
Most of the tech they did use was in the form of fat terminals. We figured out why after trying to take one out of the ground. As I grabbed the metal box welded to the floor and pulled, the damn thing exploded. Turns out, carrying these terminals to a Sentinal would be a hell of a lot more difficult than laptops.
Even worse, the tech was outdated even by human standards. This made the devices like lead blocks. Storing one in a dimensional ring was damn near impossible unless you were massive. Yet I would struggle to hold more than two of them since the terminals took up so much volume.
Silly as all this sounds, this was a vital element of the facility's defenses. If I took a terminal and gave it to a Sentinel, they could call on a personalized A.I. to hack it. No matter how multi-layered the monitor's security was, Schema would obliterate any defense no matter the complexity. I refused to believe that was possible considering what he was. As an A.I. hacking should be one of his primary worries as far as killing him was concerned.
Point is, with the bombs implanted in the terminals and them being welded to the floor, we couldn't just waltz out of here with them.
A Sentinel wasn't about to walk to the bottom of the ocean to find one of these either. This made storing and removing the damn terminals both tedious and time-consuming. This evolved from a thorn in our side to a pain in our asses after blowing up three monitors. With everyone exhausted, we set up camp and slept outside the research rooms. Well, everyone that needed to rest that is.
After everyone woke up again, we set back to the task. Getting past the welding was simple enough. Althea sliced through the steel plating using an elongated claw from the tip of her finger. After that, there was a sea of wires ingrained into the floor. Althea and I were mystified, but Torix helped us out.
While not a tech-lord by any stretch of the imagination, Torix understood simple wiring. Using several online video guides, we spent two hours of slicing wires and rerouting power sources. It was a slow, painful process. After that, the terminal we painstakingly dismantled blew up.
Still, it was a solid fourth attempt by my standards at least. The next terminal we attempted taking out was better but again a bust. Turns out, each terminal used a different wiring scheme. Another hour and a half later, we got rid of the wires. Before lifting the terminal, we took out three bombs from inside the structure.
Althea's polymorphism proved pivotal to reaching the nooks and crannies of the machines. The issue came when a killswitch activated as I picked up the device. A sand driven mechanism in the damn thing shut on when the terminal tilted any direction by even the slightest degree. Great. Fucking great.
I wasn't about to let some ruthless, unliving machine continue to kick our asses. The sand in the terminal activated a killswitch when poured in any direction. This would set off a surge of electricity, wiping the disc and its contents. On the sixth terminal, I did something useful aside from offering moral support.
After removing the plating, wires, bombs, and the killswitch, yet another failsafe activated. A tiny emp grenade stored beneath the monitor activated. It began charging the moment I opened up my dimensional storage. Before it unleashed a burst of electromagnetism, I set my palm onto the device and drained the energy from it. It was electricity, so it proved simple enough to use with my Lightning Eater skill.
Dodging a bullet, we all sighed in relief before raising our guard back up. A few minutes later, and we finally set one of the monitors into my dimensional storage. Eureka, we were victorious. One monitor down, over a hundred left to go.
How could we take a hundred? See, most people were limited with how much volume they could put into their dimensional storages. The rings Schema gave out were like that. Even if you stored very little weight in them, the size of anything stored would cost an equivalent volume of flesh and bone. For each terminal, that was a lot to ask.
I could regenerate the damage done, but if anything snuck up on us after I stored something, we were fucked. Fortunately, my personal storage didn't have the same limitation. I gained a perk called Independent Space when I became a living dimension. It wasn't limited by volume, only mass. Without the restriction of space, I could store hundreds of these terminals in my storage and carry them out. I weighed many tons after all.
My advantage was the worst case scenario for whoever designed the security here. I could carry all of the chunky machines out of this place without risking our deaths hundreds of times.
Over the rest of the day, we industrialized our terminal stealing process. Turns out, there can only be so many different kinds of wiring schematics. After mapping a dozen of them, Torix could guide Althea through the process with ease. After the next score of grounded screens, Althea could feel her way through them, going through the motions out of habit.
I abused my abilities to their utmost extent as well, packing away anything that wasn't bolted to the floor. Figuratively speaking of course because we stole quite a bit that was bolted to the floor. Our sheer resourcefulness left Chrona and Krog dumbfounded.
"I still can't fathom how you're carrying so many of those devices," Chrona mused.
Torix cackled, "I would go so far as to say all that matters is that he can do it, not how he does it."
"I...I suppose." she murmured with a telepathic wave.
Krog eyed us as I put yet another terminal into my personal storage,
"Are we going to store this entire hellhole in that portal of yours?"
Torix glared at him, "If we could, we would. This is a wealth of data, and since we've no method of accessing it, we need an outsider's help."
Krog pointed his tail at us, "I thought you dirtwalkers-"
Chrona smacked his side with her tail. Krog continued, "Ahem, I thought you Earthwalkers were the best at using those...things."
Torix rolled his fiery eyes, "We each carry different qualities. Neither I, Daniel, or Althea know enough about hacking and security to harvest the information stored in these."
"So then they're useless," Krog said with a brow raised.
"No. We can uplink them directly to a Sentinel. Considering the importance of this base, it shouldn't be too difficult to get a personalized A.I. of Schema's to crack open the secrets within these devices."
"Hmmm," Krog tilted his head, "So you're all too dumb to do this on your own is what I'm hearing..."
Torix scoffed, "Do tell, can you access these devices? Do you even know what they are?"
"Then be silent," Torix snapped.
Krog frowned but chose to remain silent. As much as we enjoyed finding all this tech, the entire process of exploring this base was exhausting. Everyone's patience was wearing thin by now, even mine.
"Calm down." Althea groaned, "That's the last terminal here. Let's move on and get this over with. Please."
She had the hardest job out of all of us, yet she complained the least. I was impressed, but Althea might snap at any moment. On the other hand, I waved my head back and forth, trying to shake out my boredom. For such an exciting find, I expected more action. So far, we walked around and cut wires the entire time. Yay, fun.
I was keeping relatively alert and ready to jump at a moment's notice though. A quick reaction was necessary if we were to all survive this. Even though the two life signatures Torix found were contained, they were massive and still here. We needed to find whatever they were and extinguish them after getting out of here.
With that in mind, we finished the final lab up, moving towards one of the last remaining research facility. It bolstered moral as Torix announced that fact. Up till now, gathering all we could had been the priority. We had no guarantee that the facility would survive the battle against whatever was down here. This was our only chance to gather intel before then.
With the last lucrative room of the facility left, we trecked onward into the depths of the facility. I stepped inside the lab first, ready to take the brunt of a heavy-handed attack. I expected resistance since this was the last room left. Like all the others, it was empty of any movement. Unlike the others, quite a few things looked alive.
In a long room, dozens of tubes lined a series of walkways. Inside vats of blue fluid, twisted bodies were suspended. Floating in liquid nitrogen, dozens of these experiments were set up on display. What lied within showed the horrific origins of the Hybrid.
At the start of the line, the experiments were just fusions of flesh and wire. The silvers were in the process of converting espens into metal. Others had the harvesters stitched onto their bodies, their meat conjoined. These victims were showing signs of being consumed by the eldritch energy coursing through their veins.
As I paced back through the room, the vast majority of the victims were in the middle of screaming. After showing signs of rejection, they must have thrown them into the nitrogen for further study. After a bit of walking, the bodies looked less warped, showing fewer signs of rejection.
Before I walked any further, the others stepped in and discovered the sick sights as well. I couldn't blame them. Even now, a bit of nausea welled up in my chest, but I held it down.
Whenever she got a good look, she vomited onto the floor. This was a carnival of horrors with all of it out in the open, so I didn't blame her. Even Torix was given pause as he stared at one of the flickering vials,
"Even I never sunk so low as to graft eldritch onto civilians."
I turned to Torix, "You experimented with eldritch?"
"Does that truly surprise you?"
I spread out my arms, "Well yeah, yeah it does."
"It was a long time ago and long before we met. I've changed since then. I've grown in both character and ability. Those trivial pursuits no longer enthrall me. That being said," Torix placed a hand on a chilled vat,
"This goes far deeper than any research I attempted. To fuel this kind of initiative would require unequaled levels of will and drive. This level of supply would involve orbital deliveries at a regulated rate."
Torix mused, "To keep it secret, they must have used some large group of unknowns, perhaps the revenants? If so, the making of this compound must have been unbelievably expensive. Few have access to such funds."
Krog growled, "It was Thisbey."
Torix shook his head, "No, this wasn't the work of some planetary conglomerate. Hiding an operation of this size would require multiple solar systems worth of Thisbey's working together. A far larger threat is looming on our horizon."
Torix waved a hand, "Simply keeping the scientists engaged in the work would require tremendous charisma and inspiration."
Chrona murmured, "Either that or fear..."
As they talked, I trecked deeper into the storage unit, finding less deformed bodies towards the back. Over the years, they made steady progress towards their goal or what I assumed was their goal. A few experiments left in the end weren't even deformed, showing few if any signs of mutation. That happened first with fusing the eldritch and silvers. The eldritch and espens followed soon after that.
Several dozen vats later, I found a collection of hybrids frozen in place. They were progressively more humanoid, each one looking more stable. At the very end of the tubes, I found the final vat in the line. It was empty, broken glass on the floor. Above the glass, there was a name tag written out. It was the only name that wasn't in gibberish. It sent chills up my spine as I read it aloud,566t
"The Hybrid - Version 2.0."
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