It's a heck of a lot easier for Brilliant to walk down the face of the pillar than it is for me, her light body proving no challenge for her claws. Tiny has a rough time of it, having to climb on the rock much like a human would, using his hands and feet to find holds, but thanks to his unbelievable strength it doesn't prove too much of an issue. Invidia and Crinis have no problem at all, the demon fluttering along beside us as we slowly make our way down, with Crinis attached to the back of my carapace as usual. I have to say, facing directly downward into a several kilometre high drop is intimidating stuff. The air yawns open like the maw of a furious beast, vast and empty. Flickers of flame and ash brush past us constantly, the heat as thick in the air as the mana. It almost feels energising to my body, though perhaps if it gets too hot, I might run into trouble.
Ants can't sweat, so temperature regulation is a real issue. I wonder if it's an issue for monster ants? I can't say that it's been a huge problem before… The cold of the second stratum was unpleasant, to be sure, but as far as I know it hasn't put any ants to sleep. If it did, the torpor police would be having a much easier time than they are. As time passes and we climb further down, it becomes clear that we are not the only monsters on the pillar. Far from it.
Despite the wave subsiding, there are still demons climbing upwards. Nothing like the bottomless swarm that I saw the last time I was here, but still a steady trickle. Perhaps they have sensed that the mana above is still high enough to sustain them? Given that they are only tier four or below, I wouldn't be surprised if they can survive up there, not that they get the chance. Any monsters we come across are blasted off the pillar in short order, either by Invidia detonating them, or me smacking them in the face with gravity magic until their own weight is too much for them to handle. Something that surprises me is that I don't see any evidence of flying demons as of yet. Obviously some of them can, Invidia is living proof of that after all, even though I wouldn't call his stilting flutter anything like actual 'flight', he's still proof of concept. Considering all this open space that's available, the third stratum is by far the best place in the Dungeon I've yet seen for a flying type monster to exist. So where are they all?
Apparently, non-existent, at least in this area.
After an hour of careful climbing, we're still not close to the plate on which the demon city sits, which is annoying but I can see it better than I could before, even make out some small figures moving about on there. So weird, to think of a community of monsters living together in some sort of harmony. The Colony does, obviously, but we are literally one family, as far as I'm aware, the demons don't have anything like that binding them together, so how are they able to do it? Is it simply a case of a high enough level of intelligence means they are able to understand the benefits of coexistence? I guess we'll find out eventually.
We slowly climb down, step by step, resting every so often on an outcropping or when we find a good foothold, just so my aching claws and legs can get their strength back. This far from the Colony, my Vestibule isn't much use either, which means fatigue is a thing again all of a sudden. It's kind of weird to have to think about it again after basically ignoring it whilst I was fighting around the nest during the wave. Without my twenty bodyguards, I'd have no trickle of energy through it at all. It's impossible that the council was aware of how useful these babysitters would be for me when they assigned them to me, but at least they turned out to be good for something.
[What are you able to make out down there, Crinis?]
[Lots of strong mana signatures, although the ambient mana is still very high, which makes it difficult for me to see much. At the very least I can say that there are some powerful monsters down there.]
[How about that, Tiny? Some strong monsters might be just what you need to stretch after this painful climb, what do you think?]
A savage grin is all the reply I get.
[Just keep a lid on it,] I warn him, [we don't want any trouble.]
"Are we going to keep going down?" Brilliant asks, eyeing the growing width of the plate beneath us. "That's the demon city, isn't it?"
"Are we really going to go in there? On our own? Without the Colony to support us?"
I turn to face her, not an easy thing to do, given the circ.u.mstances.
"What's the matter? Your thirst for knowledge has dried up already? Your hunger for answers?"
"No! I'm just... Is it normal for us to be out here on our own like this?"
Huh. Unlike me, Brilliant has never been a human. Being so far from the support of the family must feel paralysing. But for me? Something is always pulling me forward.
"No way, no going back now, little one!" I turn back to the descent and continue on my way. "Don't you want to see what's next? Don't you want to experience the adventure?! Ever since I saw this place I've been wanting to take a look, to get closer and see what it's like. There's no way that I'm going to leave without seeing it for myself!"
"And after I've seen it, what about the things that lie below? Aren't you curious, Brilliant? Can you resist the lure of the impossible things that the Dungeon makes reality? How could I possibly throw away this second chance?"
"Are you alright Senior?"
"I've never been better. Come, let's see what the demons have to say to us!"
Moving faster than before, I lead the group down as the demon city grows in our eyes, until we are so close I can see them pointing up at us as we descend. What will greet me when I arrive? Battle? Friendly conversation? Come now, show me!