That which lies beneath the roots
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Year 206 (Part 3)

I wonder whether the demons essentially acquired their unique skills as a result of adaptations to their current worlds. If so, what kind of world created demons like Sabnoc and their army & encampment style? One of those ‘quirky’ worlds where everything was linked to some capture-the-flag system?

Meanwhile, Lumoof went down and around, and these giant demons created canyons out of their footsteps. Well, not in a single step, but the texture of the sands and rocks seemed to suggest that the entire canyon was formerly just a flat desert, but the weight of these massive demons had essentially carved a path where there was none.

“These demons moved the same path all the time.” Lumoof observed. The night was long. Really, really long. The day-night cycle in this demon world was essentially two-full-days long. 

It strangely repulsed me. A primal part of me rejected such an unusual day-night cycle, and it was uncomfortable, quite like the feeling I got from my clone on the Cometworld shard. 

“But why?” 

Magic was really, really faint here. The sands and everything absorbed mana, but yet, the demon’s heart clearly had some demonic mana. Did the rocks release the mana eventually?

The labs back home studied it intensely, and then, they tested a small spot by overloading it with mana. The sand exploded, and that explosion released mana. My researchers and Treechikomas quickly suggested that the demons’ rocks absorbed mana, and through a series of ‘controlled’ overloading of mana, released the absorbed mana through these explosions. 

But it was a net loss. The very nature of the sand drained mana from its surroundings and accelerated the decay of magical things. 

Then, we had the very obvious answer. Crushing the sand released small amounts of mana. Essentially, the demons ate the anti-mana rocks for the little bits of mana within them. So, they became the anti-mana demons. 

There was no vegetation whatsoever, and I wondered if it would've been really easy for the demons to conquer this world, since there was no resistance. 

The demons continued to walk and walk, and when the sun began to peek out of the horizon, they all stopped. They shook their bodies, and then sat down. They hid their legs, their heads  underneath their massive body of the anti-mana rock and sand. 

At that moment, they were very animal-like, and I felt a sense of wonder. These massive creatures were wonders in their own way, even if they were demons. Massive lumbering moving mountains. It’s a sight to behold when it wasn’t attacking us. 

The demons, as they are now, were just ravenous locusts with extra steps, meant to consume and extract each of their captured worlds to produce more of themselves. Could their nature be altered?

I remembered that Aiva said they have attempted to destroy the demons, but they still came back. So maybe destroying them was really rather futile. It’s like attempting to exterminate cockroaches. Perhaps, was there a way to change their behavior at their source, if it’s not something that could be destroyed? 

Was there a way to, like, with mosquitos, introduce less hostile variants into their genetic code? 

We looked at these hidden giants, and the vast deserts around us, only mildly accentuated by some rocky outcrops. 

“Lumoof, let’s capture one of these massive demons.” 

He gulped. He didn’t really enjoy mana sickness, and he guessed this one would be almost as bad as the demon king. 

“Later. Let’s find one of the rift gates.” I could sate my curiosity later. 

 

***

 

During the long day, we noticed that most of the demons just hid in the sand or the dirt. There were some rumblings and shakes here and there, implying that there was some subterranean movement, but for the most part, the hostile, mana-draining sun seemed to be so overwhelming that the demons entered this low-energy mode. 

With the sun above us, the demons frankly didn’t bother us, and it was entirely possible for us to walk everywhere uninterrupted. If this was a demon world, it sure wasn’t what any of us would have expected. 

Roon and Johann both joined Edna and Lumoof on the sand-demon world, and they moved quickly too. They had more scouting and exploration skills due to their heritage as rangers and archers.

Johann’s bird companion literally caught fire as it flew in the sky, and then exploded. Lumoof also transformed into the full avatar mode, and I attempted to perform more tests on the solar light that seemed to cover the entire world.

It took a while, but after a bit more detection and sensing, we noticed that the anti-mana rays of light carried a special kind of particle. It wasn’t mana, and it was highly unstable. But it was these particles that gave the rays their anti-mana qualities. 

It was the magical equivalent of super-strong UV rays that significantly increased magical decay. 

Our converted sand-lizard lost mana when it walked, and I felt it dry out as it moved. For my domain holders, their souls generated far higher quantities of mana than they lost, so it wasn’t that bad. But weaker creatures would find themselves drained from exposure, so they hid in the soil and sand instead. 

I couldn’t quite capture this strange particle, it refused to be confined by my attempts to lock it, and slipped through me easily. 

It’s like cosmic rays passing through my body, igniting mana in the process. It gets weakened by obstacles or objects in its path. 

This was extremely fascinating, because I immediately realized there was tremendous weaponization potential for this sort of particle. 

Could we essentially ‘disable’ heroes and demon kings, with very high quantities of such particles? Or at least, weaken them to a state where we could then capture them and bind them?

I would love to conduct long studies on the qualities of this particle, especially how it reacted to various types of materials. But experiments are a long process, and I would need to have a semi-permanent placement here. 

“Lumoof.” Roon spoke through our familiars, routing it through the system. In this world, [message] spells were unusable. It was like trying to send mail through the ocean, without protecting it in glass. The water disintegrated the paper over time. “Spotted something. A strange valley.”

There was a valley that was more like a rift in the earth itself. The opening was small, but it went really, really deep. 

The top part of the opening had been battered by the anti-mana rays, and transformed into the same kind of material and sand we see everywhere else. But the lower half actually looked normal. Like... rock?

No. Water? Like, really deep down?

Lumoof’s body was surrounded by vines, and the vines acted as anchors. The vines and roots emerging from Lumoof’s body pierced the cliff walls, and like a massive multi-legged spider, we gradually went downwards. 

“The sand layer’s really quite deep.” Roon observed, as my four domain holders regrouped. They stood on wooden platforms created from the wooden roots. We were about fifteen stories deep, when we began to see soil and rock that resembled our own. “There’s... nothing here.”

“It’s likely they just appear at night.” Edna said.

“But I don’t detect anything.” Roon commented. I couldn’t sense them either, so it was probably nothing. 

We found the floor, or the bottom of the chasm about eighty stories down. There was water, just a bit, gradually trickling out of the rock. The rock felt wet. Lumoof touched it, and I attempted to extend my senses into the ground. 

Nothing. 

The parasite world felt dry before the demon king left. This was similar. 

Even in the depths, a sense of emptiness, a world parched of what once was. 

“Not here.”

 

***

 

We spread out again, and continued our search. There had to be a rift gate somewhere. What was a demon world without rift gates, and how would they invade us then?

There had to be a riftgate, because something was creating this pathway through the stars, and why was this pathway not destroyed by their hostile sun? I mean, void mana seemed somewhat resistant to the mana-destroying effects of the sun, but it still decayed faster. Unless the core mana had somehow offset the effects of the particle...

“What if the riftgates are hidden underground and they only appear at night?” Edna asked the clearly obvious idea. 

Everyone, of course, clearly looked at Edna with that ‘of course it does’ look. It made sense, and naturally we all felt a little like idiots. Especially Johann, who looked like he’d been absolutely disappointed that he didn’t think of nocturnal behaviors. 

“But the one with the demon king may not be? Surely it has to be visible?” Then again, Stella could open her portals even when she’s indoors. Not as if a roof actually made a difference. 

Edna, of course, furrowed her brows. “Maybe what we are looking for... is a huge mountain that blocks out the sun, and the demon king’s riftgate is hidden under that mountain.”

“It’s also possible that the demon king just hollowed out the ground and it’s beneath us.” 

“If so, it’s only visible to us at night. If at all.”

 

***

 

The long night came once more, and the demons emerged from the sands and the dirt. It wasn’t hard to defeat them, especially once we realised they were vulnerable to [skills], just resistant to [mana]. It was the equivalent of magic-resistant blobs that took damage from physical attacks. 

We didn’t capture any of the demons, and instead, tried to look for the rifts.

At night, [message] was usable once more. Magical interruptions were essentially driven by the sun. We were looking for the demon king, or the rifts, and at night, Johann’s bird could unleash it’s full strength.

In fact, it was a lot easier to find than anticipated. All we had to do was follow the line that the gigantic mountain demons took, and follow it to its end. 

It was a long journey that took one full day, amplified by their movement skills, and we found a large hole in the ground, so massive that it was easily four times bigger than the one on the Poisonworld. 

There were no towers here, instead, it was just this massive hole that looked like someone mined all the way into the core. There was also no water, unlike the Parasite-world. It was just a pit that seemed to lead down.

“Where’s the riftgate- oh there.” Roon pointed at the edges of the hole, and we noticed that the riftgate was also supersized, and built into the hole, like the rims of a bottle. 

“A giant demon king.” Lumoof commented. “There was literature like this.”

“A very physical demon king with high levels of magic resistance.” Roon stared at the surroundings. There were demons on the other sides that threw more rock and sand into the pit. These massive demons were like dump trucks, dumping their load of sand, soil and rock into the massive pit. 

“Is it feeding the demon king?” 

A part of me felt like animal observers, trying to discern demonic behavior from what we see. 

“I have no idea.” Lumoof said. Roon’s bird continued to search the lands for smaller rift gates, and there were none. Or at least, none that we could see.

“Do you think we should go down there?” It was a massive pit, but the edges were still rock, and we could move down there slowly. 

“Yes.” I said. If we wanted to see what the hell was happening, this had to be our best chance.

The rest of them gulped, and we slowly made our way down into the biggest pit ever. It was dark, and here, there were no demons. We just had to avoid the sand and rocks that the demons dumped overhead. 

If we fall, magic won't save us. We felt a strong anti-magic drain in the entire pit, and, as we went further and further down, the team noticed their magical items started to fizzle and make strange sounds. 

Thankfully, my four Valthorns were domain holders, and their domains protected most of their mana from the mana draining effects of the surroundings. 

As we went down, we noticed a ray of light starting to emerge overhead. It has been almost three days.

“The sun is rising.” 

The earth rumbled, and we saw something cover the entrance of the pit. It looked like a massive demon, or perhaps, a few massive demons.

“Oh fuck.” Roon said, and here, strangely, our voices did not echo. Roon made an actual fire to brighten up the darkness. 

We kept going down, my roots and vines are like the feet of an insect, crawling along the walls of this pit. There was nothing for another one day, and then, we saw a horizontal tunnel, along the vertical pit. 

It was filled with demons. 

“There. Let’s go in there.” Johann pointed, and my roots pierced through the demons in that horizontal tunnel. It’s like we’ve taken a lift down, and then we went sideways.  

There were similar demons, these were smaller lizards, just like the ones on the surface. But how did they get so deep?

It didn’t matter. They died easily to my roots. Thank goodness my roots were technically skill and physical effect. Once we were in that tunnel, we found that it led to more tunnels, and it was a labyrinth. Tunnels and tunnels, and we followed them. Here, in the depths, the rocks did not drain mana. The only thing that did were the demons, and here, they were active all day long. 

In these tunnels, far away from that vertical pit, my guys rested. Here, their mana could regenerate normally, and it seemed, mana, attracted demons. 

The demons were drawn to mana, like ants drawn to sugar. They were ravenous. 

Hungry. 

And we killed them. 

We explored these horizontal tunnels somemore, and soon found a large cavern with something we’ve always been wondering about. Rift gate. A normal sized rift gate, exactly the same model. 

“Subterranean rift gates. Interesting.” Should’ve seen it coming when my own rift gates are in the Valley of the Unrotten, hidden from view. 

We moved to capture it, and cleared the place of demons. Those guarding the rift gates didn’t pose much of a challenge, and my aura meant they were mostly frozen in place. Lumoof briefly entered avatar state, and created a few subsidiary trees around the rift gates. Then, I activated the star mana variant of my [Vine Ropeway Network], and shoved the rift gates back home. 

“Alright, that’s one. Bet there’s more.” Roon commented. 

The group explored the tunnels for days, and found one more. We also captured the rift gates and the nearby daemolite, and then sent them back home. This part of the tunnel now fully explored, the team went back down the pits.

 

***

 

We went deeper, and the journey down took even more days. It was also getting really hot as we approached the core, and the magical forces in our surrounding got even more wild. It wasn’t difficult to deal with the heat, since I had the ability to adapt to all kinds of environments, so I protected the domain holders in a sphere of wood. As these woods were linked to me via Lumoof, like a small enclosed space. 

Essentially, they rode a wooden pumpkin wagon going down a deep hole. Sadly, it’s not Alice in wonderland or Cinderella, because down there was probably a monster. There was magic here, but it struggled and fought an extremely strong draining force.

About fifteen days in, the core was not molten lava, and instead, was a dried lattice of what appeared to be volcanic rock, and the heat had mostly stabilised. In fact, that strong draining force seemed to be keeping things cool. 

The walls had now transformed into what was probably a really intricate latticework of rocks, and as my vines touched these rocks, I could tell there was once a really strong magic in these rocks. 

They were a little like the core shard I got from the Cometworld. 

We kept going. This deep, there were no demons. Nothing.

And we began to feel a really strong pulse. 

The anti-mana energies pulsed periodically, and it flared outwards in a rhythm. 

“We didn’t see the sand or rock that was poured overhead.” Roon commented. 

“Maybe the anti-mana draining effects transformed them into something else.” 

Indeed. So deep down, everything was just these ‘dried’ lattice-like black rocks. There was once a flowing thing here, maybe centuries ago. 

It took a total of almost a month, and it actually became really cold. All heat was sucked out of the air, and it would be impossible to breathe outside. There was no ice, no water, and as we reached the massive core cavity. 

The entire core of the planet had been largely hollowed out. There were still some massive rock pillars similar to the dried lattice-like rocks. Filling up the gaps was this structure resembling a really complicated web of flesh and demonic spire-like structures.

They all radiated a small, faint pulse.

The structure was demonic for sure, filled with streaks of demonic energy that was familiar. Yet, at this point, we both sensed it. There were two forces here, both similar to a demon king, and yet different. 

One of the structures itself, here, up close, it radiated a really strong corrupting energy, quite like the effects of the Rottedlands, and a [Forest Rod]. The structure was like a network and web that spread out. 

“The structure around that cocoon is something...” We began to look around, and then we saw an area where there was a very large mass of demonic flesh. It was a large lizard-like creature, but many parts had been hollowed out. That part of it’s body was wrapped around a large rocky structure that had an extremely faint energy. 

A demon king, or, it was a demon king. The first source of the demon energy, and this demonic energy was throughout the structure that covered this hollowed out core. It wasn’t hard to put our observations together and conclude that our earlier theory was mostly correct.

“Damn to think there really is a demon king in the core.” Edna vented. “It’s ‘possessing’ the world?”

“It is.” Lumoof nodded. “So that huge it’s holding must be the core of this world. Or what’s left of it.”

The demon king itself was just a massive [Forest Rod], meant to capture worlds and control it, such that it transforms into a demon world. The win condition for the demon kings isn’t just defeating the heroes. It’s also to reach the core, and then possess it. 

With the core, I suspect they would gain system-rights to the world, and that allowed them to spawn demons instead of the usual monsters. There should be something similar that lives within the core of the parasite world, and we should reach it.

It’s the equivalent of a hacker getting access to the mainframe and then reconfiguring it for it’s own purpose. Or capturing a mine and using its resources to support its own war effort.

That second source of demonic energy was a large cocoon. A nascent demon king. It was coiled up, and it was a gigantic lizard or wurm of some kind.

It was massive, and was the single largest object I’ve ever seen. It was the size of an entire mountain, and would blot out entire cities with any single one of its legs. 

My first suspicion was mostly confirmed. Demon kings were made out of the energies gathered from the core of the world. If so, that explained the ‘drained’ feeling, and why that recovered slightly post demon king. But, if there was a demon king still in the core, continuing to possess it, it also meant the parasite-world would never fully recover. Once it reached a certain threshold it would start producing another demon king. 

“How the fuck were the heroes supposed to fight this?” Roon said. “Without magic!”

“Hack it repeatedly.” Edna answered. “There should be a core somewhere.”

Lumoof looked at the rest. “Aeon?”

A demon king, still in its earthly womb, without its will. If it is a machine, is this a mecha without its pilot? A body without a soul? Could I hijack it? I felt all sorts of torment, but would I ever have an opportunity like this ever again? What do I lose, and what can I learn from this? 

Frankly, a lot. 

But what do I do with the demon king around the core? Should I attempt to destroy that, and free the core? 

Or do I attempt to control the growing demon king, and use it to destroy the structure? 

“Lumoof. Take my seed out, and throw it into the cocoon.” 

In any case, all I’m sacrificing is just a seed. 

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