• hcmills

Chapter 210: ’Tis the season

Floating between some stalactites, I coldly ‘look’ through solid, Extant rock at my approaching prey.

My antennae don’t really appear to grow and shrink anymore, but they actually still do. As I sped up my range sweeps, I found myself forced to keep making the expansions and contractions smaller and smaller to keep up. At this point, the changes in size are simply so small and fast that it feels more like my antennae are vibrating than anything else.

Either way, it works like a charm. Much like our eyes can’t detect the changing frames on a television and thus see video as a continuous stream, my mind no longer distinguishes the constantly shifting wavelengths I take in, and my grey and white ‘vision’ now shows my surroundings in full detail all the time.

At the same time, I’m really only taking in a fraction of the fabric’s full song at a time, so the stream of information never becomes overwhelming!

I can even shift the spectrum up or down a little if I want to study some fine detail or distant tunnels.

Because that’s another thing that’s great about being tuned in; while the Espir fluctuations of the fabric thankfully do weaken with distance, limiting the range, there’s very little occlusion by Extant materials, which is why I can perfectly ‘see’ the approaching gliding squirrel-thing, even though I’m hiding behind a stalactite.

As a relatively weak and non-aggressive creature, it’s very suitable for me to start hunting. The only prey that would be even easier would be the caterpillars, but I’ve been requested not to hunt those, for obvious reasons.

In fact, I’ve been requested that a lot. About as often as I’ve been requested not to eat any buildings.

Such worrywarts.

Once the gliding squirrel is almost beneath me, I kick my tail and swoop down, trident in hand.

In a split second, I’m upon it.

It notices me just before my attack lands, and with a shrill cry, tries to barrel roll out of the way, but it’s too late.

A web of tendrils envelop the first prey I’ve actually sought out in this Realm, and my trident sinks into its flesh.

It puts up quite a struggle. The Espir density of its spiritform is definitely higher than mine, making it stronger, and it gets in a nasty bite or two, but it ultimately succumbs to the relentless assault of my Devouring Energy and Extant weapon.

Once I’ve cracked open its Core, all its struggle ceases, and I quickly find a hidden spot to absorb its Essence.

One down, many more to go.

Once more, I’m calmly waiting for my prey.

I’ve gotten quite good at ambush hunting, if I do say so myself. It’s something I previously didn’t do too much, as it can take a lot of time. However, my new, superior senses give me a massive advantage with this style of hunting in this Realm.

While all the creatures here have learned to compensate for the lack of vision in one way or another, apart from the bats, very few creatures are capable of actually tuning in. Which means I can ‘see’ my prey coming from a large distance away—even the moths, though they’re still a bit harder to detect—and quickly find a place to wait along its path while they’re none the wiser.

This hunt’s a little different though; I haven’t even spotted my prey yet, which leaves me with lots of time to think.

I’ve been in this Realm for quite a while now—roughly the equivalent of six months, to my best estimation—and I’m quite sure I recently even passed the 3000 mote milestone!

However, within that period, two more attacks on the colony took place.

During the first, I was unfortunately out on a hunt. But during the second, I was there, and thus able to help defend the colony.

It might seem like there’s not much I’d be able to do in such a large scale battle, but that’s actually not true!

One of the things I’ve learned from Zuni since, is that swarms have a queen or king who controls them.

Thus, whenever a swarm attacks, the highest priority is always to take them out. Something usually accomplished by Elder Ori and some of the senior guards.

During the second attack, I was the one who struck the finishing blow, ambushing the queen from behind as she fought Elder Ori.

The effect it had on the swarm was instantaneous. The soldier ants remained aggressive, but many of the smaller ones—which made up the vast majority—grew timid or even started fleeing uncoordinatedly, often ending up in the Bloodborn’s many nets and webs.

The quality of their traps isn’t great, but they make up for it with quantity.

Even from the initial swarm’s numbers only about half made it into the colony, apparently.

Anyway, the remnants were easily defeated after the queen perished, and thanks to how quickly she was taken out, there were relatively few casualties at the side of the Bloodborn that time.

I also managed to spare a little attention to the behaviour of the swarm. Particularly the swarm queen seemed devoted, zealous even, in the attack.

Frankly, the vibe she gives off reminds me a bit of Father Johnson’s followers. My preliminary conclusion therefore is that the Lantern King is indeed using the Radiance side of Persuasion to influence them.

At the very least I’ve confirmed that the Lantern King is controlling them, because one time he passed by in the distance, I made good use of my eyes, and noticed some familiarly shaped shadows pass over a nearby wall.

It looks like he’s under constant guard of at least one swarm.

The attacks happened with seemingly pretty random intervals, so I’m guessing the Lantern King simply sends over any additional swarms that’re attracted to his lure. Well, perhaps he eats some of them... Anyway, swarms are a perfect target for Persuasion, because you really only need to Persuade the queen or king to control the entire swarm.

I considered trying to Charm some swarms myself to occupy his guards, but I fear he’d just turn them all against me.

So my plan to counter them is a little different.

Because that’s right: I’m hunting the Lantern King.

My growth slowed down a lot once I approached 3000 motes, because of a lack of suitable prey. At this point, even the moths can’t satisfy my hunger for dense Essence.

Impatient as I am though, I suppress it, because this is not a hunt I can perform rashly. After all, it’s a hunt for the ultimate prey, the ruler of this Realm.

So far, I’ve cautiously avoided him, so I can only estimate his level of strength, but he’s clearly stronger than Elder Ori.

I’m positive he has an Espir Pool of at least 6000 Espir, making him twice as strong as me. That’s a gap that’s not easily bridged, especially with a creature cunning enough to travel around under constant guard.

However, I’ve been planning and preparing this hunt for a long time now, and I’m confident I have a decent chance at success.

Still, I’ve left Kirri back at the colony out of precaution. While the Lantern King shouldn’t be able to damage her directly with his spiritform, I’m not sure how well Kirri’s wood would hold up if he started repeatedly hurling her into a rock wall, or something like that. We’re not in the lowest Realms anymore, and Extant stuff is becoming denser and denser as we travel up.

I’ve grown used to hunting without her anyway, as Kirri’s just a tad obvious in an ambush.

That’s not to say I’m planning to fight this creature all by myself.

One of the things I’ve learned while exploring this Realm, is that the ‘pillars’ Kirri and I had to dodge back in the cavern where we arrived, were actually the stalks of huge mushrooms, tall enough that their caps brush the large stalactites high up on the ceiling. And they’re all connected to each other by a massive mycelium.

Making use of that fact is actually one of the main parts of my plan.

Therefore, the spot I’m currently hiding impatiently in is actually a small hole in the mycelium that covers the floor of this massive cavern.

Near it, and well within the range of my senses, is a small mycelium-covered clearing between the stalks, where I’ve prepared my trap.

Currently, there’s only one thing visible on top of the mycelium, something I’ve conjured to lure the Lantern King. It’s the ultimate lure against the lone master of light of this Realm.

A mirror.

Of course, a flat mirror wouldn’t be very effective for this purpose, so instead, I’ve Imagined a dome-shaped mirror. No matter from where in the cavern the Lantern King looks at it, as long as there’s no stalk between him and the mirror, he’ll see a reflection of his own light.

As long as my mirror actually works that is. I’m quite sure the rules of this Realm only forbid the creation of new light by anything other than the Apex, and not the reflection of what the Lantern King produces himself. After all, without reflection, the light wouldn’t return to his eyes, rendering his lantern rather pointless. Still, reflection off of rocks and mushrooms and prey is mainly diffuse reflection, and a mirror provides specular reflection, so I can’t guarantee it’ll work.

If it does work, I strongly suspect the sight of his own reflected light would draw the Lantern King over, hopefully right to where I want him.

He’ll first have to arrive here, of course. Thankfully, the Lantern King moves around a lot, so it should only be a matter of time before he shows up in this cavern.

Guess there’s nothing I can do but keep my antennae active, watching creatures come and go in this mushroom forest, as I lie in wait on the soft mycelium.

I’m bored.

A while ago, I watched a moth sneak up on and kill a kind of lizard that was slithering up a stalk with six agile legs.

While it was annoying to have to fight off the urge to shoot out of my hiding spot and pounce on them, their presence was at least diverting.

The only interesting thing since has been when one of the mushrooms unexpectedly gave birth to a little caterpillar.

Last time I witnessed such an event, I had yet to learn how to tune in, and could only get a vague gist of what was going on.

This time I was able to see it worm its way out of the mushroom’s cap in extremely high definition. Frankly, it was more disturbing than diverting, but at least it broke the monotony of my wait.

In preparation for this hunt, I’ve discussed my theories and plans with Elder Ori a lot. Frankly, he’s of the opinion that I’m trying this too soon, that the gap in strength is too wide. Basically, he thinks I’m not ready and should be more patient.

He suggested waiting until I’ve reached 4000 motes, at least.

Touching as his concern is, however, I simply don’t have time for that.

After all, it took me roughly six months to get from 1500 to 3000 motes, and my growth has been getting slower and slower. I’d estimate getting to 4000 motes in this Realm would take at least a year, probably a year and a half.

Which is why I chose to do this now. I’ve made ample preparations, and found out as much about the Lantern King’s habits and methods as I could. Worst comes to worst, I’ll use the network of tunnels I coaxed into the mycelium to flee so I can try again later.

I really hope it won’t come to that, however, because setting this trap was a lot of work.

With a sigh, I allow my attention to drift over to the swinging needle of my Moral Compass. The amplitude of its swings has gotten worse again over the time I’ve spent here, despite my frequent meditations.

I’ll be interested to see if the swinging of the needle changes after this hunt. After all, if I succeed in taking down the Lantern King, I’m helping to create a more peaceful Realm for a lot of creatures, which should be pretty ethical. If that doesn’t help it calm down, I’d consider it pretty much confirmed that this thing doesn’t actually measure anything related to morals or ethics.

For the umpteenth time, I yawn. That’s been happening a lot the past half an hour. Not from any physical need to, though, obviously. I think it’s more of a psychological reflex to keep myself awake.

My eyelids have been getting a little droopy, so—

I freeze. Something remarkable has appeared in the clearing up ahead.

A spot of light.

Despite this, however, nothing has entered my detection range.

Which means... it’s a reflection!

Author's note:

Hey everyone! ^^

Figured I'd give you guys a bit of an update about my writing progress. ;)

I'm still slowly rebuilding my buffer, up to nine chapters ahead now. It's not going as fast as I'd liked, but... well, c'est la vie.

Some chapters I can bang out really fast, but some take an almost agonising amount of time to write and rewrite, only to end up so bloated that I have to split them...

I gotta say, it's hard sometimes, but I'm actively trying not to look too far ahead, to not focus on quickly finishing up Book 5, let alone the series, but rather on making sure I keep producing quality, and that I give the tale all the love and effort it deserves.

Thank you all for your patience with my relatively slow writing speed (for a webnovelist, at least ;) ) and thanks for reading! ^^

(Oh, and don't forget, this site is going to disappear somewhere at the start of October, but you can continue reading on Royalroad or my Patreon!)

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