• hcmills

Chapter 211: With something like that, I would have white wine

My drowsiness disappears in a flash as I work out what I’m seeing.

I was right: reflections aren’t counted as sources of light, so my mirror works!

Interesting as that is, the more important thing this tells me is of course that the Lantern King is in this cavern. So I immediately tamp down on any urge to shimmy in happiness, and hold myself perfectly still, hiding my presence like Elder Ori taught me while I wait for the Apex to come closer.

It’s quite a simple technique, really. It relies on visualising your individual motes of Espir holding perfectly still, and not giving off any fluctuations.

It’s not perfect by any means, but between that and the mycelium covering me, I should not be easy to detect. Moreover, I suspect the Lantern King’s Espir senses actually aren’t that great. After all, he can simply rely on eyesight!

Soon enough, a large and dense mass of Espir—surrounded by smaller masses—swims into my detection range.

As the spiritforms approach, a familiar pressure descends upon my surroundings. One distinct to the unleashed presence of an Apex.

A shiver runs down my spine. One not born of fear, but rather of excitement.

An urge wells up inside of me to charge forth and challenge this creature, to defeat him and conquer his Realm.

I quickly put a lid on those dangerous, irrational thoughts and feelings, and maintain careful control of my presence by visualising still motes of Espir.

As the Lantern King approaches, his lantern bathes the clearing in front of me and the towering mushrooms lining it in an unearthly light.

The light reveals an eerie yet beautiful forest of huge pale stalks growing out of pristine white mycelium. My breath might’ve hitched at the sight, had I not already been holding it.

Then the Lantern King swims into view, trailed at a respectful distance by a swarm of angrily buzzing ants.

It’s the first time I’ve been close enough to get a good look at him.

It’s not hard to tell he’s not originally from this Realm, as he looks like a cross between a coelacanth and an anglerfish, swimming lazily through the air.

The sight of the glowing bulb on the rod-like structure emerging from his forehead sends a shiver through me.

Guess I’m still not entirely over the trauma from the anglerfish that tried to eat me in Hub Three...

Frankly, the main difference with those creatures—apart from the whole ‘purely a spiritual being’ thing—would be that the Lantern King’s roughly the size of a school bus.

Not the colour, however. Instead, his scales are a mix of dark blue and silver, in simple repeating patterns.

It’s kind of interesting how he’s already quite a bit smaller than some other Apexes I’ve encountered, most notably Schlorpy. Still, that obviously doesn’t mean he’s weaker. If anything, he’s stronger for being able to compress his Espir better, though his efforts in that area still seem lacking compared to me or Elder Ori.

To be honest, I expect that the size many Apexes maintain has something to do with them subconsciously trying to present a bigger threat. Though in the Lantern King’s case, I find myself wary that he might be purposely leaving himself some leeway to shrink down and escape from traps.

Still, he probably can’t bring his size down to anything much smaller than what it currently is, especially if he’s used to going around at this size, and therefore doesn’t practise shrinking down too often.

If he can only shrink down a little, he won’t be getting away.

It’s also the first time I catch a glimpse of a swarm of flying ants. Seeing their bright green exoskeletons reminds me that they’re not exactly ants—heck, they’ve only got four legs—it’s just the closest thing to them. Frankly, looking at their relatively short mandibles and wide wingspans, they also kinda remind me of dragonflies, though the bulbous rear ends are definitely more ant-like.

The most important thing I notice, however, is that there’s a couple more of them than I expected. No single swarm I’ve come across so far has consisted of more than a few dozen of these creatures, but I’m counting more than a hundred here.

Among them, I spot no fewer than three extra-large individuals, which I take to be swarm kings or queens.

Well, it probably won’t be an issue...

Anyway, being able to see again after such a long time is very odd and honestly kind of distracting, so I grit my teeth and close my eyes, determined to rely on my new senses for this battle.

My antennae no longer vibrate, as that makes it impossible to properly hide my presence. Instead, I perform the constant sweeping of the frequencies purely mentally at this point, using the analogy of changing the resonant frequency of the circuit by varying the impedances of the components.

Well, it works as long as I believe it works, which is the whole point.

The grey-shaded world before my mind’s eye shows me how the Lantern King slowly approaches my bait, seeming to be studying it sidelong with one of its large eyes.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t come quite as close as I’d hoped. I grit my teeth and wait, mentally coiled like a spring.

Bit by bit, the Lantern King approaches my mirror. Finally, he enters the clearing properly, his gills undulating rhythmically, his guards idly buzzing around behind him.

Close enough.

My tendrils of Devouring Energy, already spread throughout the mycelium, make contact.

The mycelium inside this cavern is massive, far larger than the one where Elder Ori started teaching me how to tune in. Naturally, its song is far greater and more overwhelming as well, the deep bass tones of the massive stalks reverberating through my spirit like a choir of foghorns.

Thankfully, my technique of sweeping the frequencies works here as well, allowing me to listen in without it being too overwhelming.

Moreover, I’m not much interested in what they have to say, so I’m not listening too closely. Instead, I’m sending my own patterns.

This is something I’ve practised a lot during my preparations. It’s actually surprisingly easy to infiltrate the mycelium, add my own patterns, and change their song, as the mushrooms will repeat whatever patterns are sent to them like an echo chamber.

Here we go!

I waste no time in spreading patterns of alarm, alertness, and danger. The song changes as the mushrooms grow agitated, swept up in my up-tempo rhythms.

I quickly follow up by adding aggression, and the need to protect against the threat.

The most complicated part of this is actually describing the Lantern King to the mushrooms in a way that allows them to accurately target it, as their senses are quite limited. Thankfully, the Lantern King has a unique feature.

His lantern.

While the mushrooms don’t have eyes or anything analogous, they are pretty sensitive to temperature. And with the mycelium working together as a whole, they’re quite capable of pinpointing the source of the warm glow that I label as the enemy.

Despite my precautions, I find myself getting swept up in the song a little, to the point I’m not even sure if the idea of attacking the Lantern King actually originates from me or not.

Either way, it’s working.

A shiver pulses through the mycelium.

The Lantern King shifts, looking around curiously, but without any urgency.

Good. Pride cometh before the fall.

Suddenly, several thick bundles of hair-like hyphae burst out of the mycelium and wrap around the Lantern King.

A sharp-eyed observer might notice that the fastest ones are guided by a core tendril of Devouring Energy.

Sorry bud, I don’t do fair. Since the gap between us is too big, I have little choice but to borrow strength to close it.

The Lantern King roars in anger and struggles in his bindings, beating with his powerful fins and tail, light blooming as his lantern flares.

However, that just sets the mycelium off even more. While the Lantern King may be the strongest being in the Realm, that’s only on an individual basis. No single mushroom here could possibly hold it, but together...

Signals of pain flare through the mycelium as many hair-like hyphae snap and tear, but that just incenses the mushrooms further, and more bundles shoot forth to take their place.

I may have started this fight, but I wouldn’t be able to stop it now if I wanted.

Anyway, the mushrooms may have the advantage in numbers, but the Lantern King didn’t come here alone either. Agitated by the Lantern King’s fury, the swarm buzzes angrily. However, lacking a clear enemy, the ants fly around uncoordinatedly, attacking mushrooms, random sections of mycelium, and even rocks!

Hah, suckers! Now I just need to pull him a bit closer to the mirror, and then—

Even through my closed eyelids, I notice a change in the light, causing my eyes to flicker open. The white light coming off the Lantern King’s lantern has turned to a bright yellow, and has started pulsing rhythmically.

Despite myself, I feel a flicker of desire to help this magnificent, glorious creature break free of his bonds and once more soar majestically—

I quickly direct some Espir into the section of my Core that contains my mountainous Mental Fortitude, and fight off the influence before I start unconsciously suggesting the mycelium to let him go.

Definitely the Radiant side of Persuasion. Sheesh.

Perhaps the real reason he doesn’t deal directly with the Bloodborn is that they don’t have eyes...

Fortunately, neither do the mushrooms, which seem unaffected. However, the signal that I fought off obviously wasn’t meant for them, nor me. It was aimed at his guards.

The previously uncoordinated swarm starts coming together into smaller groups, which then begin to converge upon the struggling Lantern King.


It looks like I’ll have to accelerate my countermeasures against the guards. I can’t let them organise and free the Lantern King; I’m nowhere near done with him yet!

My countermeasure against the guards is something I happened across more or less by accident. Well, the experiment that led to its discovery wasn’t an accident, but the result was something I’d never expected.

As part of my preparations, I naturally decided to test the mushrooms. I wanted to see exactly what would happen if I placed them under lots of stress, so I set out to chop one down with an axe, while monitoring the reactions in the mycelium.

It wasn’t a great feeling, but I needed to know if the mushrooms might be cowed by the Lantern King’s violence, or come loose and flee like the cowardly jellyshrooms back in the Realm of Imagination.

The reaction of the mycelium was beyond my imagination.

The distress signal I picked up back then is something the mycelium normally doesn’t activate until it’s badly damaged. However, with a little push from me, it now quickly starts singing around the fungal collective. As a result, signalling spores are released, attracting some of the scariest predators in the Realm, which double as the mycelium’s ultimate defence.

The moths.

Author's note:

Hey y'all! ^^

Quick announcement: I brought out books 1-3 of The Whispering Crystals in the form of an e-book Omnibus. So, if you're in the mood for a reread, and you'd like to support me, please consider getting it and leaving a nice rating/review. :)

Especially if you have KU! ^^ (Rereads through KU do not provide an author extra money, but this is technically a separate book... :p)

Anyway, thanks for reading! ^^

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