• hcmills

Chapter 209: I count the cobwebs in the hall


Short version:

I'm going to be discontinuing this site pretty soon, but you can keep reading (for free) on RoyalRoad and/or Patreon.

Long version:

When I originally built this site to host my webnovel, I had no clue that I would end up posting my webnovel on three separate domains. Of those three, this is the most complicated one to post my chapters on, the most liable to suddenly break, and the only one that actually costs me money.

That's why I've made efforts to transfer the hosting of the images in my webnovel to a different site, and why I'm now preparing to pull the plug on this one entirely. This site has been an interesting project, but frankly, since there are two more sites where my webnovel can be read, it's just not worth my time and effort to maintain.

So, see you on Royalroad or Patreon or Discord or Reddit, or any other place I might come across you. ;)

And for now, enjoy:

Seated in the empty cavern once more, under the, ehm, hearful ears of Elder Ori, I prepare to test my new filtering method.

I’ve got more ideas in case this one doesn’t pan out, but it’s definitely the one I feel has the most potential, so I really hope it works!

In my mind, I go over the steps one more time. Then I take a deep breath, and extend my antennae of Devouring Energy.

This time, however, my antennae are quite a bit longer. They stick up from my head nearly a foot, which is about as long as I’m willing to make them.

It’ll have to be enough.

Frankly, their actual length shouldn’t matter too much for what I’m about to try; they just need to feel long to me.

One of the things I learned in college, is that size matters. When it comes to antennae, at least.

Specifically, there’s a relation between the length of an antenna and the wavelengths it’s best at receiving. That means a larger antenna will more easily receive lower frequency signals, and a smaller antenna higher frequency ones.

Right now, I’m trying to convince myself that by making my antennae larger, I’m narrowing down the information I will receive to slower Espir fluctuations made by larger structures.

If I was actually making a radio, the size of the antenna wouldn’t be enough, of course. I’d need the right kind of capacitors and coils connected to a transistor in order to create an electrical circuit with a resonant frequency that—

Nope, gotta stop thinking about that. Things are simpler here, this will work.

After all, there’s no actual physical relationship between the size of my antennae and which of the Espir fluctuations I receive in here. I was quite capable of receiving all the fluctuations with my previous set of antennae, because they really only serve as a metaphor for how I’m tuning in.

So what I’m doing now is trying to adjust my metaphor, and convince myself that making my antennae bigger will allow me to filter out the tiny details of my surroundings and... it seems to be working!

The information that floods into my mind as I tune in still feels and sounds like a cacophony to me, but this time it contains mainly bass tones speaking of slumber and sturdy foundations.

It’s still too much, dizzying. My sense of self sways like a ship in a storm as the world around me sings, so I quickly lengthen my antennae just a tad more, and focus on trying to narrow the stream of information further.

It works, and the barrage goes from overwhelming to just... whelming. As I try to process it, something clicks. I start to hear patterns, meaning in the harmonies, and a grey-shaded world appears before my mind’s eye.

From sheer force of habit, I physically turn my head as I look around, stunned and overjoyed at ‘seeing’ the shape of the rock walls around me.

Compared to this, my previous method of sensing Espir was more like being blindfolded and trying to follow a wall by keeping a hand on it.

“Did you succeed?” Elder Ori rumbles in a friendly tone as I swivel my head left and right.

“Yeah!” I say as I start to get up. “At least, I think—woah!”

A problem rears its head as I try to put my foot down only to miss the floor and nearly faceplant.

“What is it?” Elder Ori asks in a worried tone.

“I... can’t see my limbs,” I reply sheepishly. “Or any of my spiritform, actually. I’m kinda... filtering for big stuff.”

As I say this, I hesitantly put one foot in front of the other, and attempt to walk again. I quickly find it’s honestly easier if I don’t try to judge the distance to the floor, and just rely on my feet to find their way on the relatively flat surface.

“Ah, yes, there are Bloodborn who work with such methods as well,” Elder Ori rumbles amusedly, his presence still hidden to avoid overwhelming me. “It can be an effective method, as long as you can overcome the difficulty of needing to constantly switch your detection to different sizes of objects, lest you overlook something important that’s right in front of you.”

“Like wha—ow!” I yell as I stub my toe on something hard. “Damnit!”

“Like that rock,” Elder Ori helpfully supplies.

With a huff, I sit back down. Carefully.

Okay, so the principle works. Now I just need to figure out how to properly use it...

Elder Ori oversees my continued experimentation for quite a while longer, until he finally announces that I should be fine to practise on my own—as long as I don’t do anything too crazy—and leaves, promising to come back to fetch me later.

Frankly, I’d almost forgotten he was here. Whoops.

I started by slowly decreasing the size of my antennae, to study what the world ‘looks’ like when I tune in to different wavelengths, so to speak.

When I do so, the larger structures slowly morph and fade into smaller ones, like the stalactites hanging from the ceiling and larger outcrops of rock on the walls. When I continue down that trend, those structures similarly morph and fade to smaller stuff like cracks in the wall and loose rocks on the floor, then to even smaller grooves and tiny pebbles—plus the needle of the Moral Compass swinging back and forth, mocking me—and finally to textures, individual grains of pulverised rock, and air currents.

What I don’t sense—unexpectedly—are any of the Moral Compass’s internal parts. I’d kind of hoped tuning in would allow me to get a look at the insides of the thing, maybe allow me to figure out how it’s operating, but other than the needle, it just shows up as a surprisingly dense blob of Espir.

Honestly, even just its main body is hard to sense, somehow. Weird.

Right now, my working theory is that it has something to do with the fact that I brought the Moral Compass here from a different Realm, and thus it’s not really part of the fabric of this one.

I’m not sure why the needle does show up to my senses then, though... maybe it’s because the needle interacts with the Realm because it keeps brushing against the air, in a way the inner mechanism doesn’t.

That theory seems supported by the fact that I can’t even pick up any air currents from the insides of the Moral Compass, not even when I shake or spin it.

I’d really like to figure out what exactly it’s measuring, so I can actually do something about it. However, I’d probably have to crack it open at least a little to figure out how it works, and while I’m sorely tempted, I’m not about to risk breaking it. It’s a borrowed item, after all.

Also, if it stops working, it’ll be even

Anyway, frustrating as the unresolved puzzle is, I don’t spend too long trying this stuff, as the part of the range where I pick up on air currents is the only part I still have to watch out for. The flood of details when I go to the really fine stuff can be overwhelming. But realistically speaking, I should never really need that level of detail anyway.

That’s actually my first conclusion from my experiments: I don’t need the full range!

Frankly, at the very long wavelength I started out with, all the walls looked like flat, smooth surfaces, even though they’re anything but. While it might in a pinch be able to help me sense things like distant tunnels, in everyday life—or while hunting—it’s not the most useful range to look at.

Similarly, the very fine detail would really only be useful if I was looking for a literal needle in a haystack. If prey that size even existed in this Realm, it wouldn’t be worth my while.

After all, a creature with a meaningfully sized Espir Pool should not be able to compress themselves that far down. And I wouldn’t want to meet a being that could.

Anyway, the point is, I can already exclude a lot of the fabric’s overwhelming song by limiting the range to exclude the very high and very low end of the spectrum of Espir fluctuation wavelengths.

But my earlier attempts to try and tune in to the whole centre range were a failure. It very quickly grew overwhelming again, to the point Elder Ori had to help snap me out of it.

Instead, I’m working on a new solution now: sweeping the range.

Basically, my antennae are constantly moving up and down on my head as they shrink and grow, and the world I ‘see’ around me changes accordingly.

The constant fading back and forth between stalactite-sized structures, little pebbles, and everything in between is kinda... nauseating, to be honest. But at least in terms of the total amount of information coming in at any time, it’s not overwhelming, which means my method is feasible!

However, right now, an entire one-way transition still takes about three seconds. If I want to be able to hunt, I’ll have to bring that down by a lot.

Come on, Emma. You’ve got to catch up.

Motivating myself, I grit my teeth and keep sweeping the range, trying to acclimatise myself to the constant transitions even as I slowly increase the tempo.

After a long, continuous training session, I manage to bring the duration of a single transition down to about half a second.

I’ve made the growing and shrinking movement of my antennae a bit smaller as the speed increased, as it was starting to feel rather ridiculous. In the end, since there’s no real physical relationship between the size of the antennae and the ‘frequencies’ of Espir fluctuations I’m tuning into, there’s no need for them to reach a certain size each time. It’s mainly a means of establishing the metaphor I’m using to tune in, a way to ground it in a motion I can control.

Anyway, half a second for a one-way sweep is still relatively long, but at least fast enough that I can safely use my mermaid’s tail to fly through the tunnels by myself when I at last decide to take a break.

Elder Ori came by to check on me earlier, but I told him I’d be fine making my own way back once I was done practising. Frankly, with my new senses, the previously nigh-impossible task has become child’s play.

With every sweep of the lower frequencies, I can vaguely ‘see’ Ancestor Azu’s corpse in the distance, as well as the rough layout of the tunnels leading there.

As I near it, more and more detail starts to appear in my sweeps, causing my anticipation to build.

Finally, I properly enter the cavern, and come to an abrupt halt as I truly take everything in for the first time.

It turns out, the clock-like wall fixture I’ve turned into a little nest isn’t the only wooden thing in the cavern. Elder Azu’s corpse is actually seated on a massive chair, which I’d never really parsed before, probably because it was simply too big for my senses. Her leathery wings lean on wingrests covered in silk, there’s a hole in the back for her tail—though the bones making that up seem to have been mostly dismantled—and there’s even a footstool in front of it!

Must’ve been quite an endeavour to get her on that...

This is all stuff I more or less idly notice, however, as the main impression I receive comes from the lively colony itself.

The bat-like Bloodborn are everywhere. Some are in the houses dug out of the massive mushrooms growing through and out of Elder Azu’s skeleton, or seated on their caps. Others hang from cracks in the roof or fly around. And many of them are chatting with high-pitched squeaks, or laughing as they play tag, some are even making music and—

I get dizzy for a moment and have to rein myself in, slowing my sweeps to avoid being overwhelmed.

After adjusting for a moment, the feeling passes, and I go back to joyfully taking it all in.

I honestly hadn’t realised how much I’d actually missed being able to see. It’s like I’ve been walking around with 20/100 vision, and now I’m at last wearing prescription glasses. Finally, there is detail, like how there are some small feathers on the wings of the Bloodborn, and how expressive they are with their tails.

For example, there are two prospective ‘parents’ whose tails intertwine anxiously yet supportively as they watch their little one start to hatch from her cocoon.

I also notice two more parents up ahead who are a little farther along in the process, cooing praise at their toddler as he starts to learn how to fly.

I let out a sigh at the wholesome scene.

Frankly, seeing the whole picture makes the Bloodborn seem a lot less creepy. Well, I suppose it makes sense. Fear of the dark is ultimately fear of the unknown.

Hopefully I’ll be able to leave a safer Realm behind for them by the time I leave.

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. Though my senses have improved greatly, there’s still too big a delay in my sweeps for fast-paced combat. Moreover, tuning in remains inherently risky. If I get overwhelmed and dizzy like I just did in the middle of a fight, I’d be in deep shit.

However, I’ve no doubt that I’ll soon master the use of this new sense. And then, it’ll be time for my first hunt.

Author's note:

Thanks for reading! ^^ Book 1: Unnatural Laws Book 2: Unusual Enemies Book 3: Unimagined Adventures Book 4: Unchained Potential Discord/Mailing List/Patreon

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