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Chapter 741 - The one true path
Alir c.o.c.ked an eyebrow.
"What sort of insect?" he asked, his interest piqued.
It wasn't unheard of for an insect swarm to get out of control and pour into the second strata, their numbers making up for their generally weak individual strength, but that's usually where things would end. Generally speaking, the surface and upper layers of the Dungeon had far more to fear from swarming monsters than deeper down. For them to make it to the lower parts of the second strata was already quite the achievement.
"Ant," the ma.s.sive demon replied succinctly.
"Ant?" the priest was surprised. Ants? "How deep were they?"
Grokus steepled his fingers atop his own bulging flesh.
"My scout encountered one just inside our strata, blocking the path to the second."
"Inside the third?" now he was really surprised, "what tier was it?"
"SIX? An ant?"
"Do not make me repeat myself, priest."
Alir ignored the veiled threat, the novelty of the situation having tickled his fancy. Such a high tier ant was… exceptionally rare, if not completely unheard of. Without access to the complete Church records he wouldn't be able to check, but certainly he himself hadn't heard of such a thing in all his years. What could it mean for such a creature to emerge here?
"The ant in question had three pets, each of them fifth tier as well," the City Lord continued.
That information pointed in another direction entirely.
"Traveller. Has to be."
"That is my suspicion also," Grokus confirmed, nodding thoughtfully even as his larger mouth sn.a.k.e.d out a tongue to grasp a hunk of Bioma.s.s being proffered by a servant, sucking it into his maw with a wet slurp. "There were other ants present as well, a small number, but each of them were tier four."
"You think this traveller is raising up their colony? Creating an army?"
"Perhaps so, perhaps not? Without more information, it's difficult to say."
Alir considered this news, his arms folded across his chest and he ignored the disgusting sounds of eating that continued to emanate from the tumescent wall of meat in front of him. This news was certainly interesting, and highly unusual. He was tempted to put off his work for an afternoon to doc.u.ment this rare occurrence for the church records, though likely they wouldn't take a demon's word for it. He'd need to see it himself if he wanted to submit a report, and he wasn't about to go hunting through the Dungeon during a wave. Which brought him to the point.
"So why tell me?" he asked. "The church maintains only a minor presence here in Roklu and we have abided by your strictures to the letter. If the ants invade, I'm sure you'll be able to deal with it, it certainly wouldn't be the first time the city had been attacked during my stay here. If you want the colony exterminated, then you're capable of mounting an expedition above on your own, you have no need of us."
Grokus waved a hand.
"I have no great desire to leave my post, nor do I wish to send my precious forces above at this time. We have a war scheduled with Orpule in a few days and I simply can't spare them."
The priest tried not to roll his eyes. Orpule, the City Lord of the nearest neighbour to Roklu, was an Avarice Demon, an unhealthy species for a ruler. Her desire for control led to endless conflict between her and … everyone. Even so, Alir was taken aback.
"A war during a wave? Is that wise?"
"I am not the aggressor in this conflict, as I'm sure you know. Besides, the city's population has grown rapidly over the past week, with new demons tipping in every minute. We are in need of a cull."
"So you would like the Church to take up this challenge for you," Alir surmised, seeing what the demon wanted. With his own forces committed against his fractious contemporary, he didn't have the resources to try and nip the problem possibly growing above in the bud.
"There's a great deal of resources to be had in exterminating a Colony of such creatures," Grokus smiled with both mouths, a disturbing sight to say the least, "I'm sure the Church would be interested in mounting an expedition to claim such wealth."
"And you allow us free use of the gate?"
The demon grinned.
"I'm not sure free would be the right word. Discounted perhaps."
Alir grunted. Typical.
"I'll send word to my superiors and see what they have to say," he said, "I can't very well make a call on this myself. If that's all, then I'll be going."
"Do not be late with my next payment of Syrup," Grokus purred, "I am ever so eager for that flavour to hit my tongue once more."
When Grokus indicated his dismissal with a wave of one delicate hand, the priest turned on his heel and marched out, ignoring the repulsive sounds of eating that begun the moment he turned around. Back through the compound, his gaze strictly narrowed, through the city and into the temple once more. Back amongst his own people, he once again was able to breathe easy, or as easy as was possible in this cursed place. As he made his way back inside the inner sanctum and sat at his desk, the conversation with the City Lord continued to run through his mind. He was certain there was another angle to it, demons didn't live as long as that tub of lard without being clever at seeking out advantage. It's possible he just wanted someone else to deal with this problem for him, it's possible he just wanted the church to owe him a favour, or perhaps he wanted both at the same time.
A traveller, born as an ant. What a poor, unfortunate soul. He would love to take in such a creature, to help them put their experience to good use, to pa.s.s on that essence. At tier six, it would be a difficult capture, but not impossible. And all of those other ants, possibly thousands of them. It would be an immense harvest, and he was certain the bishops would be tempted, but he personally doubted they would commit. The church presence in Roklu, himself and a mere twenty acolytes, priests and priestesses, was hardly meaningful, and it was unlikely that they would be willing to move in force in this remote corner of the stratum.
Still, he took the time to write a missive to be delivered through the portal when the next delivery would be made, describing the situation and his own thoughts.
Speaking of the delivery, he had best get back to work.
Turning around in his chair, Alir stood and began to inspect the runic inscriptions carved into the floor in the centre of the chamber. Even unpowered as they were at the moment, they glowed with arcane power, the latent energy in the room enough to make them crackle with mana. He walked a slow circle around the edge of the room, studying every inch of the complex matrix with care. After two such circuits, he turned his eyes to the chalice that sat in the centre of the carvings, his eyes flaring with light as he enhanced his vision to inspect the enchantments woven into the vessel. Another slow circuit and the light faded from his eyes, his interrogation complete.
Satisfied, he turned his eyes to the form hanging suspended upside-down from the roof, the bright steel wire mesh of the netting s.h.i.+ning red in the dim light. A demon of ignorance, one of his most detested variants, filthy mind mages that they were, provided by the City lord himself. The creature didn't move, couldn't move, not so much as twitch an eyelid, such was the paralytic effect Alir had put it under. It was still conscious however, and he looked it carefully in the eye as he began the ritual once more.
"Monster," he intoned, "I take now your life, your experience, and your essence. In the name of the Path I do this. Be at ease, for you will not fade from this world, but be pa.s.sed down to another in your entirety."
So speaking, he tapped a foot on the floor and concentrated as the matrix came to life, reaching up to the creature hanging above with a ghostly tendril that emerged from the chalice to connect to the flesh above. After a few seconds a single, s.h.i.+ning drop of silver liquid pooled on the monster's head and dropped down into the cup waiting below. Then another. Then another. Alir watched, concentration never wavering as the holy work was done.
Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip.