There was an audible pop as Victor and Alice crossed the boundary of the floating island's mana sphere. Genus eyed Victor's shadowy body with a newfound caution and looked ready to run at any moment. Victor ignored the cat-like dragon and checked his status.
[Class: Demon Lord]
[Stat Points: 903+ Million]
(Life Force STABLE - 10451 Days)
[Raise Undead X]
[Shadow Magic X]
[Annihilating Aura X]
[Freezing Cone X]
[Doom Ray X]
[Spirit Movement VI]
Victor looked at his arms and noticed the usual shadowy evaporation was no longer occurring. 'So my status wasn't lying to me earlier after all... I really do have a stable body now. Is it because I am now part World Core, so the world's mana no longer targets me?' Honestly, that was a stretch. Victor refused to voice his true thoughts for fear of Axon hearing him, but he was suspicious. 'My status page was always a bit of a mystery, but it is rather obvious Axon wished me to pursue a solution to my falling stats. Because without my life force vanishing, I would have happily remained in the Cursed Forest and never delved down into this Grand Dungeon and seized the World Core... but then how did the other Netherborne who came to this world in the past die out if not from life force deterioration?'
Victor knew he was part of some elaborate scheme... a game involving the gods. Was Axon a god? Perhaps on the same level as one? If Axon was the destroyer of worlds, then who created worlds? Who put these World Cores here? 'So many questions with too few answers.' Victor shook his head and turned his many burning blue eyes to Alice. Her void armor melted away, and she gave him a sly smile.
"This humble servant greets the demon lord," Alice did an overexaggerated bow with her silky black hair falling over her face hiding her amused expression.
Genus tensed up to the side, and Victor tilted his head. "Hilarious, Alice. Stop messing around and tell me what class the system gave you?"
Alice chuckled, straightened her back, and looked up at Victor's looming form and many fierce eyes. "Demon Lord's Friend—Quite cute, right?" She put a finger to her chin and looked around. "So, who are we invading first? Eshnar? The Empire? Ooo, maybe the Frostlands?"
"Calm down... there will be no invading of Kingdoms yet." Victor waved the excited girl off with his claw. Her thirst for revenge on the humans seemed a little strong since she became a Darkness Mana Body. "We are actually the ones being invaded right now." Victor pointed a claw to the sky... Ceiling? Void? Which way was up anyway? Of course, with his connection to the World Core—Victor could confirm he was pointing neither up nor down...
They were in a pocket dimension with a definitive space. Space that could be extended or collapsed how Victor saw fit—at the cost of far more mana than he had to spend.
Alice gave Victor a weird look because he was just pointing upwards and saying nothing. Victor coughed awkwardly, "Ahem, as I was saying, we are being invaded from all sides at the moment—but the foe is rather tricky. If it were mere humans, I could deal with them myself. Alas, the opponent is the other World Cores, infuriated by my existence."
Genus lumbered closer, clearly letting down his previously raised guard. "Firstly, what is a World Core, if you don't mind me asking?" Genus looked to the distant void behind Victor where their pair had gone—yet he still couldn't see anything.
Victor was happy to answer. It was important his allies knew what they were fighting for and against. 'Even if Genus knows, it's not like he can survive in the void and go and deal with my Demon Core anyways.'
"From my understanding, the world generates ambient mana naturally. So someone or something, perhaps even the world itself, created these large circular objects called World Cores that can be found at the end of Grand Dungeons. They take in the ambient mana, charge up a powerful and focused wave, and then spread the mana to where it's needed. I also suspect these World Cores manage the system humans and other races use." Victor made sure Genus was following along before continuing. "Anyway, I can't feel any other World Cores in this pocket dimension we are currently in, so it seems each World Core has created a Grand Dungeon and pocket dimension to protect themselves... kind of like a firewall."
This made Victor pause and think back to the computer he found on the gem-covered floor in that castle. Then, ignoring the questioning gaze from Genus, Victor switched his mind back to the Demon Core and located all the dead zones of mana throughout the Grand Dungeon. 'There seems to be one on every ten floors. There is even one on this floor and on this very island.'
"Follow me. We can talk as we walk. I'll show you something." Victor started moving toward the dead mana area on the island, and his travel companions followed him without question. However, they could tell by his constant dimming eyes and shifting attention that he was focusing on other things.
Alice used her float spell and casually floated alongside Victor. Genus opted for a gliding. Meanwhile, Henry stayed silent atop a zombie dragon's back, and Wiggles happily tunneled through the island.
Victor's ancient voice drew their attention, "The other World Cores are invading the Cursed Forest from all sides with their mana. However, I have confirmed through a test that someone under my command can fight back against the mana. Other types of fortifications may also help. So I think it is time to pay the dragons a visit as their help will be valuable... but first, remember that weird green metal room we found?"
"I think there is another similar place just up ahead."
The island was relatively flat, covered in lush grass and picturesque lakes of crystal clear water. A few monsters resided on the island. When Victor went too close to one of the lakes, an enormous mouth with razor-sharp teeth erupted from below the lake's surface in a spray of water and sand. Naturally, it died instantly to Victor. 'So the monsters in the Grand Dungeon don't recognize me as their master? That complicates things a little...'
There were also weird creatures disguised by leafy shrubs waiting in ambush, and as the group passed them, Genus would dive down and gobble them up like a snack. It seemed whatever creature was hiding among the leaves had blue blood as it dripped between Genus's teeth.
After ten minutes, the group stumbled upon a grove. Average-sized trees and dense foliage of shrubs helped obscure what Victor was looking for. Coming to a standstill over a seemingly ordinary bit of land. Victor used his claw to slash the shrubs and move the thin layer of soil in his way, exposing the green metal floor below.
Alice wandered forward and went to stand on it, but to everyone's surprise, the metal rippled as if it was water, and Alice fell through. Victor pushed his hand against the green metal, and at first, it felt solid, but only a second later, it rippled again, and his arm went straight through. "Well, that is strange. Why didn't it do this before?" Victor mused as he let his body fall through. Genus followed close behind.
Inside the hidden room was the same old computer with its yellowing plastic. "You got in here too?" Victor asked with surprise as he saw Wiggle's head poking through one of the side walls. Maybe poking was the wrong word. The titanic earthworm's gaping maw took up an entire wall, and he could see all the way down the thing's throat. Neon green saliva dripped from the thousands of razor-sharp teeth, and if Victor could smell it, he was sure it smelt awful—which was confirmed by Alice coughing to his side.
"Patrol the area. You aren't needed here." Victor told his pet, and the thing seemed to understand. The room rumbled as Wiggles slowly backed away, the green metal rippling and finally returning to the solid metal once Wiggles had vanished.
Shaking his head, Victor ignored everyone and went to inspect the computer. It was placed on a simple wooden table that showed some evidence of decay, and the computer itself looked worse for wear. As he got closer, the screen lit up as if detecting his presence and a single line of blue text shone through its dust-covered screen.
Victor had obviously seen this message before, not that long ago. The last time he tried to log in, Victor remembered it had shown this statement:
[Error: Dungeon entity not found]
And then it had teleported them outside. This time, however, it felt different. They could somehow get through the green metal so the computer might recognize them. Ignoring how ridiculous of a sight it was for a six-meter-tall void creature to be carefully pushing a mouse with the tip of its claw, Victor selected the option.
Like before, the room lit up with an azure blue as an expansive runic formation engraved into the dull green metal floor sprung to life. The computer screen flashed blue, and a green laser scanned the room. Everyone waited with bated breaths—would it succeed this time?
The green lights vanished, and a line appeared through the dust-caked screen.
[Dungeon Master: Login Success]
The screen flashed, and data was sent directly into Victor's mind. Which raised... even more questions. His previous rant about how the World Core's managed the system wasn't entirely true. Whoever put these computers here was the genuine creator.