Chapter 212: Shoop da whoop
Back during my test, more than a dozen of the creepily silent killer-moths ended up converging on my location in minutes, and I had to flee for my life as a result. If I hadn’t learned how to tune in, I definitely wouldn’t have noticed them in time.
At first, I was flabbergasted at their sudden appearance, but then I remembered something crucial. The moths evolve from the caterpillars, and the caterpillars... are born from the mushrooms. Basically, the moths are protecting their parents.
And now, thanks to my meddling, there’s an unprecedentedly powerful and widespread distress signal spreading through the mycelium.
Soon enough, the first moths appear within my senses. They fly in utter silence, hiding their existence as best they can. However, for someone who’s tuning in like me, it’s not hard to detect the anomalies that indicates their presence.
After all, while the Espir in their own spiritforms may be practically still and barely sending out any fluctuations, their passing still disturbs the air currents.
I anxiously wait for more moths to trickle in while the Lantern King organises the swarm into groups of about two dozen, and begins directing them to the bundles of hyphae restraining him.
Truth be told, I’ve never tested out a distress signal on this scale before, so I’m not entirely sure how many—
My brows rise to my hairline as I suddenly pick up on a wave of disturbances. The trickle turns into a stream, as moths converge from all sides. While I’m able to detect them, counting them is easier said than done. Still, within half a minute, my estimate of their number swells past a hundred.
Then, just as the ants start to seriously attack the mycelium clinging onto the Lantern King, the moths strike.
Multiple silent fly-bys are performed at once, and several screaming ants are pulled away from the swarm, only to receive a set of sharp jaws to the throat a moment later.
Beheading might not technically be deadly in a Spiritual Realm, it’s still a rather effective, disorienting strategy.
The Lantern King lets out an angry roar that seems to shake the whole cavern, but the moths, hopped up on the distress signal’s pollen, pay it no heed.
In his struggle to get free, the Lantern King has unfortunately moved a bit farther away from the clearing, so with his guards being taken care off, I renew my efforts. A stream of signals bursts forth from my tendrils, as I attempt to get the mycelium to pull him back over my mirror.
By now, it’s much harder to get the mycelium to listen, but I do hear my patterns echoed back to me, and as hyphae snap and new ones replace them, the Lantern King gets pulled back into the clearing bit by bit.
Almost there, almo—
“YOU DARE... RESTRAIN... THE LANTERN KING?!”
Oh shit, he’s actually sapient!
This is the first sapient Apex I’ve come across, which might complicate matters. Still, it doesn’t change much, as I was prepared to face a cunning opponent. Perhaps I can even use his intelligence against him...
However, the Lantern King apparently wasn’t done speaking.
“COME TO ME, MY WARRIORS!”
His voice echoes through the cavern, and quickly dies out. In the near-silence that follows, a distant buzzing erupts.
Shit, he’s got more swarms in reserve?!
Looks like I underestimated his resources. Well, I’ll just need to work quickly.
At this point, the mycelium has already dragged the struggling Lantern King all the way back into the clearing, and he’s now nearly where I want him.
Come on come on come on, almost there. Just a bit—
Suddenly, I notice that the heat picked up by the mushrooms increases. My eyes snap open, just in time to see the light welling up from the Lantern King’s mouth reach a crescendo.
A massive, searing beam of light bursts forth from his gullet. Just the diffuse reflections from it are enough to light up the whole cavern and momentarily blind me, and the sheer chaos it causes threatens to overwhelm my senses to the point I need to stop tuning in for a moment.
I hear the aftermath through the mycelium even before I manage to bring my senses back online.
Several stalks have been burned clean through, and are now slowly toppling with mighty groans.
As I cautiously tune in again, I quickly sense about a dozen no-longer-hidden moths dropping from the sky, their wings and pale fur burned clean off. They’re not Fading yet, but they’re hurt pretty badly.
However, the Lantern King didn’t spare his own soldiers either. He wiped out a good number of the ones in front of him, including one of the swarm queens. Not that he cares, probably. There are more coming anyway.
Taking in the devastation, I swallow. Elder Ori mentioned remembering something about a blast of heat from the fight between the Lantern King and his mother, but this was beyond anything I expected. I fear The Lantern King’s Espir Pool may contain as much as 8000 motes! Only a qualitative difference in the density of Espir would allow an attack like that to wreak such havoc. Probably. To be honest, I’m having a little trouble understanding what I’m sensing around me at the moment.
Either way, it’s too late to back out now. I’ve committed to this fight, and I’m seeing it through.
I grit my teeth and start corralling the panicking mycelium into lashing back before the Lantern King can escape its slightly weakened grasp. Anger and grief well up inside of the mycelium, and my reminders of the perpetrator help direct it.
The mycelium responds. A massive wall of hyphae rises up with little to no guidance from my end, and grabs onto the struggling Lantern King.
The mycelium quickly regains a firm hold, but unfortunately, in his struggles, the Lantern King has once more drifted out of the clearing.
Ugh! I can’t let him get off another shot like that; just one more would probably already be enough to render the mycelium incapable of holding him. Moreover, if it’s aimed in my direction...
In the meantime, the moths have rallied—with even more showing up—and they’re quickly picking off the remaining ants, but the distant buzzing of the Lantern King’s reinforcements is growing louder.
No time to waste.
I retract my tendrils, and a split second later, shoot out of my hiding spot.
Time to grab the king by its lantern!
A kick of my tail sends me out of the mycelium and into the forest of pale stalks.
Going out myself is a bit of a gamble, but I’m quite sure the Lantern King would be able to see through any attempts to conjure a likeness of myself.
Any creature with a certain level of intelligence and at least some sense for Espir density would easily recognise a fake. And once it did, it would definitely smell a trap. The Lantern King might smell one regardless, but I’m hoping he’s arrogant enough to risk attacking me anyway.
I quickly make my way over to the clearing and stop to hover at the outskirts, opposite to where the Lantern King struggles for freedom against the bundles of clinging, hair-like hyphae.
He doesn’t seem to have noticed me yet—or he’s ignoring me—so I take a moment to sprout some new tendrils, and direct them down into the mycelium to reconnect with it.
Next, I draw in a deep breath, in preparation for my time-honoured battle tradition.
“Hey, you!” I yell. “How d’you like my little welcome, ya overgrown glow-worm?!”
His eye—the one that I can see—swivels towards me. Then, a deep voice comes rumbling over, my antennae sensing the pressure waves even before it becomes audible.
“Jeesh, you’re a one-track record, aren’t ya?” I interrupt tauntingly as I drift a little closer, trying to make it look casual. “Are you all bark and no bite?”
Come on, take the bait...
The Lantern King, who’d been straining to fly away from the clearing all this time, causing the hair-like hyphae to be pulled taut, suddenly reverses with a powerful swish of his tail.
The lightning-fast move reveals a surprising amount of slack in the hyphae holding him.
In an instant, a huge maw opens up before me, approaching at an alarming rate.
Of course, this was my aim all along.
Cunning enough to try and surprise me, either not cunning enough or too arrogant to fear my trap. Perfect.
Several more bundles of hyphae erupt from the clearing, guided by my own tendrils of Devouring Energy, and latch onto the Lantern King as he flies over the mirror in the centre.
His jaws slam shut disturbingly close to my face.
Despite my careful planning, the seeming brush with death sends my instincts haywire, and I have the sudden, powerful urge to call off the hunt and flee.
However, I forcibly suppress it. Since the Lantern King is sapient, I definitely need to finish this now.
Besides, I’ve finally got him right where I want him.
Careful not to glance at it, I will the conjured ropes holding back my trap out of existence.
Now to just keep his attention a little longer!
I quickly back up to the edge of the clearing, jeering as I do. “Oof, you nearly killed me there, with your breath! Do they not teach personal hygiene in fish school?”
My hope to elicit another verbal response is dashed when light starts to well up in the beast’s mouth.
However, at this moment, several large shadows approach him from above.
My heart beats in my throat by the time the light in the back of the Lantern King’s mouth reaches a crescendo once more.
Please be on time, please be on time!
Then, right before he can fire, a huge net weighed down by seven massive stalactites comes crashing down into the clearing from above.
Gravity may be optional for living beings here, but lifeless Extant materials still follow its rules.
The conjured ropes I just allowed to Fade were holding up the massive stalactites that I spent a lot of long hours chipping away at with my Imagium pickaxe.
I did receive quite a bit of assistance from the bats with this. Though they couldn’t help much with the chipping—as they lacked appropriate tools and limbs to carve through rock—there was a lot more work involved. They helped clear the debris and, once I stopped dropping more chunks of rock, helped bind the stalactites together with Extant silk ropes to keep them elevated. More importantly, they provided and attached the massive Extant net!
I only had to promise not to eat it, like, a dozen times...
Then, later, when I was actually ready to start the hunt, they helped me replace the Extant ropes holding up the stalactites with the conjured ones I just used to activate the trap.
Anyway, the ceiling is quite high and the gravity acceleration here is a bit slower than it is on earth, which is why it took a tad long for the stalactites to get here, but they arrive just in time nonetheless.
Four of the massive cones of rock actually hit the Lantern King himself, helping to send him crashing down into the clearing.
My dome-shaped mirror shatters under his weight, bursting into pieces with a loud pop.
Then, his second beam attack erupts.
Earlier this week, my audio publisher informed me that, apparently, we're on sale, and the first audiobook for 86% no less! ^^
The sale should still be ongoing, but for not much longer, so if you're in the US and you'd been considering checking out my audiobooks, now would be the perfect chance to nab 'em. ^^
You can check both of my titles on sale out here: