Chrysalis - Chapter 599

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Chapter 599: A Strange New World
Many a recruit has been lost to the Demons of the third strata, despite the Legion's best efforts to prepare them. It provides some comfort that Delvers who belong to the Mercenary Union fall at a higher rate, which means our training does have some effect. Independents have it the worst. Without prior knowledge, or the proper mental preparations, their chances of success in that burning hell are almost nil.

Records indicate that the earliest expeditions launched by the Legionem Abyssi had similar expectations of the dangers they would confront there that most delvers hold today. The Dungeon is a place of violence and death, the first and second strata offer no comforts, every living thing, plant or animal, is a potential threat. It stands to reason the deeper you go, the more violent and merciless the strata would become.

And that is indeed, a true inclination. The third strata is far more deadly than the second, but in a much different way. The Dungeon is as cunning as it is brutal and as brutal as it is cunning. The lesser demons of the third strata swarm the plains, feasting and warring in roving bands of mindless beasts. Like swarms of vermin, they fight and kill endlessly, the spawn rate absurdly high for such a powerful class of monster.

But once they reach a high enough tier, they rise above the rabble. Above the plains tower the fortress cities of the Demon aristocracy, palaces of intrigue, wealth and guile that have entrapped so many a gullible soldier. If a Demon tells you something, it's probably true, just never in the way that you expect.

-Abyssal Legion training manual review - dated 640 AR.

Leaving the golgari Shapers to their business, I wander a few doors down to check on the newest of our additions. Not wanting to intimidate them, I leave Tiny and Invidia in the corridor. Crinis, predictably, doesn't want to peel herself off my carapace, so I give her direct instructions not to terrify the two humanoids.

[How am I supposed to know what scares them, Master?] she asks, genuinely interested.

It's a valid question, different people are afraid of different things. Not to mention the culture gap. What's terrifying to a human may be hilarious to these fur-people. Crinis has horrifying fangs, perhaps they do too? I didn't get a great look at the tooth situation, so I'm not sure how much maw they'd be able to handle.

I mean, what is it that Crinis does that's scary? The way she moves is pretty creepy, with the slithering, tentacles and inky flesh that's black as the depths of evil. I mean, the mouths are surely out, right? Unless these people are descended from sharks, which seems unlikely, given the fur, then I can't imagine they'd be pleased to see that trio of horrendous, all-consuming portals of death. The tentacles are likewise out. Tentacles in general have a weird sort of vibe, add the ripping barbs that cleave flesh and sanity like a chainsaw and you have a recipe for disaster.

[You know what Crinis, maybe just remain as still as possible and don't do anything. I can't imagine anything you might do that wouldn't be scary to most organisms.]

[Thank you, Master!]

She seems genuinely pleased by my statement and gives a happy wriggle before settling back into herself. So she wants to be terrifying? I mean, why not, right? Go with what works for you. Crinis has been scary as hell since I first saw her original form, before she was my pet. Her power has skyrocketed since that time, and she's only become more fear inducing. The memory of that horrific scream she unleashed in Rylleh pops into my head. That was something to see/hear. It didn't have that much of an effect on me, I assume allies aren't affected, but the people in the city who heard it didn't look too flash afterwards.

I'll worry about Crinis another time, for now, I need to put my best claw forward and represent the Colony to this new community we've stumbled into. Hopefully this group won't declare war on us…

The guards are relatively unobtrusive around this cell, hanging back from the door and not making themselves known. A team of mages are still present, of course, to sense the mana inside the 'cell' and react to any suspicious fluctuations.

"Anything interesting happen?" I ask them.

"Eldest," they salute, "nothing unexpected. A few tentative communication attempts were made by Coolant, but not much came of it. They've remained very quiet, haven't heard anything out of them, really."

"They sound like model guests. I'll pop in and have a chat, see if we can establish communications."

I rap on the door with a mandible before pushing it open. The ants on duty haven't bothered to lock it. Honestly, what would be the point? If someone can escape from the middle of a nest with tens of thousands of monsters flooding every tunnel, room and surface within, fair play to them, they deserve to get out.

The door, if you could call it that, is large enough to be a gate, plenty of room for the more bulky castes of ant to fit through, even so, it's a bit of a squeeze for me. I move slowly, not wanting to unnerve anyone on the other side. Having a giant pair of serrated mandibles poke through your door would be enough to upset most people.

I reach out with mind mana and find the two people within the, as it turns out, quite extensive chambers. Wherever the ants have taken their interior decorating tips from (I suspect Enid), they've really taken the style to heart. As I enter the rooms in which our not-quite-willing guests have been stationed, I find them once again to be lavishly decorated with fine, carved wooden furniture, lush woven rugs and plump cushions on every chair.

The two … prisoners… are currently seated on the floor, thankfully better dressed than they were the last time I saw them. Their position seems rather unusual, seated on the floor facing each other, their eyes closed and their breathing regular. Some sort of meditation?

Not wanting to intrude, I settle myself on the floor, my carapace protected from the rough stone by the rugs. Did some ant somewhere weave these? I can't even imagine that happening. As I look closer, I can see an image of myself, bravely leading a cluster of smaller ants to follow me into a tunnel that appears to rise out of the Dungeon.

Yep, some crafter has actually taken up weaving. I can't even…

I'm left waiting for a few minutes, so I use the time to examine these two new creatures more closely. They are mostly humanoid, though assuredly more animalistic in many of their features. The fur, for starters, but also their faces. Slightly more confusing are the ways the two of them differ from one another. On the left, the larger of the two, has more canid features, almost wolf-like in the shape of the jaw, whereas the other is more sleek. Not quite like a cat, but perhaps an ermine, or something along those lines?

[You know, it can be considered rude to stare.]

A gruff voice rings in my mind and the wolf-person opens a pair of piercing, golden eyes and turns them on me.

[But I must commend you for your patience. What business do you have with the Folk?]

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