Though barefooted, the steps of the couple still echoed wide and loud. The phenomenon and the darkness covering the staircase without a hint of torch made Angela's heart skip a beat. The usually frightened guy from ghosts, Nik, would have felt the same if not for him already having been exposed to the Temple's greatest secrets.
"The floor is... strange. It's not rock," Angela mumbled while Nik nodded, "A Vibranium alloy coated with rather sturdy rocks. Not a dent or crack on the surface even after so many years due to the Vibranium protecting the structural integrity. And the rocks themselves produce a lot of vibrations at the slightest touch. Without the Vibranium to sponge most of the vibrations, the temple would have collapsed long ago."
"Then why use such type of rocks at all?" Angela furrowed her brows.
"Because it is needed to contain the pieces of machinery hidden in the temple. The creators probably wanted to preserve the natural vegetation of the savage land but a part of it was still converted by cosmic cloud," Nik pondered, "Let's keep going. You want to fight and I want to play around. I got just the right place to take you to."
As Nik said this, he stopped and held Angela's hand to stop her from moving forward. Taking out a small stone from the dream core, Nik placed it on the third stair in front of them.
A soft glow filled with the carvings of the walls following the staircase as if milky white rivers filling the dried out canyons. The space was finally illuminated and the end of the staircase was now visible. Looking around, left, right, and up, even Angela felt enchanted by the elegant transition. The glittering staircase, however, failed to move Nik as he looked at the beautiful scene with a hint of indifference.
"This works both ways. We get to have a nice visual and so do the guards protecting and selfishly owning the temple. Let's go from here," Nik touched the left wall and let his finger rinse within one of the milky white lines until the lines moved and formed into a large rectangle.
With the sound of compressed air leaking, the rectangle slowly receded and gave another path to the couple.
"A secret passage?" Angela inquired.
"Heh, no. Why would such an advanced infrastructure stoop low to create secret passages? This is an elevator," Nik chuckled and walked in with Angela following promptly. As Nik stated the new passage was quite short. Merely a few steps in distance as the presence of the duo lit the room. Dark metallic surface covered the surroundings with similar lines of white light etched over the surface.
"Try scratching the surface with Xiphos. You'll be surprised," Nik suggested as the door to the elevator shifted to its original position while the lines on the outside returned normal.
"Really? I don't think this box can handle the sharpness," Angela scoffed while Nik leaned against the surface and shrugged, "You'll be surprised."
"Fine," nodding, Angela unbuckled her sword and slashed against the surface without holding back or going overboard. She still had her reservations but the moment the edge of her blade bounced off the surface, a destructive force traveled through the sword which made Angela lose her grip as the sword flew back. Before the situation of real-life sword ping-pong could begin, Nik caught the sword from the blade by stopping it using his fingers.
"This place isn't constructed from magic but extremely advanced technology. The surface of the stones and the interior of the structure, is in fact, layered with nanites. On the stairs, the nanites would ensure that every entrance is registered, thus the heightened sound of our footsteps. To maintain the defense of the interior, the nanites will act against any unauthorized force."
Nik smiled, "Those lights are a bunch of nanites, too. It is correct to say that the temple is a pseudo-intelligent lifeform due to the ever-changing nanites but the tech has its limits, too. However, Lava and other natural forces of disintegration simply haven't forced the temple to feel threatened by its existence. Not to mention a few other individuals guarding the place."
"Why not tell me from the start?" Angela growled, her temper flaring, as she grabbed the hilt of Xiphos and buckled it back against her waist.
"You're a smart warrior. Isn't that right that swordsman will use their surroundings to their advantage? Tell me, how often do you get to fight on a surface literally layered with billions of nanobots? Why not make your future fights more interesting? At least, that is what I would love to see, so, I demonstrated the defense mechanism of the temple."
"I don't believe this is the only defence mech here," Angela crossed her arms and tapped her foot against the floor impatiently.
"Of course, it isn't," Nik walked forward and placed his hand against the small box formed of soft glowing lines and then drew the mark that loosely resembled 'downward' and then added two horizontal lines. "Even I am only able to operate through the temple due to the instructions coded inside it. To actually learn the language of this civilization, I would need living subjects... but I think, I have understood their grammar for the most part."
"You're not going to tell me other defense mechanisms?" Angela cut through Nik's explanation as Nik chuckled, "Would it make a difference? Sure, there are 617 defense mechanisms spread throughout the seven levels. Now, most of the defense mech only activates when the power falls below the critical line which will cease other functions of the temple, such as keeping the savage land intact and only defending the temple itself. There are 3415 nodes on the outer surface of the temple which will activate a forcefield barrier of 11 kilometers in diameter, effectively destroying the cosmic paradise right above us."
"Too specific..." Angela grumbled before shooting a glare, "And I don't like it when someone is trying to be condescending."
Nik's expression froze before he whined, "But I wasn't. That was me genuinely explaining the situation!"
"That's more like it," Angela looked away as the elevator began to move the moment Nik took his hand out of the box.
"Oh, one more thing, the seven levels are divided into various numbers of floors. So, we actually have a lot of time in our hands. The agents will keep sending reinforcement until they fully occupy the temple but by then, Netherion, the avenger of darkness will repel all of them back."
"Who's Netherion?" Angela felt a little ominous after hearing Nik speaking so gravely but all her fears vanished, leaving a trace of annoyance when Pickle covered Nik and transformed into purplish devil flame mode.
"Why, me. Netherion, justice of darkness and the tamer of unending coochies, at your service," Nik smirked while making an exaggerated bow.
"You're sometimes... so..." Angela pursed her lips before chuckling herself.
"Oh, and I was thinking that I might just make the Savage Land a base for myself... this will be a first for me so I'll be depending on all of you for the management of the place," Nik smiled, "After all, a hero needs his arch-villain and what better rival for Vanish then Netherion?"
"Gladly," Angela nodded, and as if on cue, the elevator came to a stop. The lid of the elevator opened and allowed the couple to view of the rustic interior.
"Please, stop it, Tigra!" Shanna shouted as the camp of agents was covered with a cloud of silence. The agents were tongue-tied at the sight of a humanoid 'beast' sitting on top of Ka-Zar's back. Ka-Zar's face was dusty and scratches littered his body. On top of him, a woman with strange features smirked and didn't register Shanna's plea.
"Agent Grant," Holt began as the red-headed woman glared towards the agent. Her eyes similar to feline with yellow-green iris surrounding the dark vertical pupils. Her lips thin and dark. "What?" the woman snapped, "I am done with this 'hero'," the woman hissed in a sarcastic tone, "From Fall People to Fall People. Every barbarian knows not to mess with Tigra. Still, this pervert thinks that trying to overpower me at every stage will get him in my pants," she growled as her 'paw' dropped on the man's back, the dark black nail from the feline claw drew another line of blood, "And he's not even that strong. Kevin Plunder, this is the last time you will ever try to get in my way. You either lead us to the interior of the mystic mists or you kiss Shanna and your unborn kid goodbye."
Shanna's lips trembled as Ka-Zar's gaze widened. His struggle intensified but he didn't admit to anything. The surrounding agents' expressions grew grim. Even Holt sighed as he stepped forward, "That's enough, Agent Grant. This is a direct order."
Agent Grant, the feline-human woman sitting over Ka-Zar wished to say Screw you but held herself back. She respected Holt to some degree and knew not to make a scene and embarrass him. Snorting, Greer stood up and straightened her collar. Like other agents, Greer wore a military vest and blue patterned pants with tough, climate-resistant shoes. Unlike her upper limbs, her lower limbs were fairly regular in the sense that they weren't paws. She wasn't a complete feline human but rather half-cat and half-human. On either side of her waist, mechanical claws could be seen buckled, clearly, her choice of weapon.
"Shanna, we cannot take you with us due to your condition. You will follow Agent Kent and Velvet to the base and get yourself tested."
"Is it true?" Ka-Zar walked past the group towards Shanna, for the first time, not taking time to disparage Tigra for not getting into bed with him.
"... yes," Shanna nodded, "It's been a few days since I am late and I think it's true. How Greer knew about this, I don't know."
"You stink of pregnancy," Greer snorted, the ring on her left paw shining with a mystical light, turning her paws into human hands with which she adjusted her hair once again. However, the ring failed to change the rest of her appearance.
"You can control your transformation?" Holt inquired with a surprised expression as Greer nodded plainly.
At this moment, an echoing crash reached the encampment, making everyone more alert as the remaining agents stood and readied their weapons.
"It's from the inner swamp," Ka-Zar turned around before addressing Shanna, "Go, you need to take care of yourself. I will return." He spoke with a sincere expression as he picked his spear and untangled the pearl armband from the base of the tip. Handing the armband to Shanna, Ka-Zar leaned forward to kiss Shanna's forehead as she sighed softly, sadness filling her heart.
"Do not worry," Ka-Zar whispered, "My father was helpless. He couldn't return to me but I will. I have never been the one to take on... outside traditions but, once I return, let's get married."
Shanna nodded, pressing her forehead against Ka-Zar's, "I will wait," she smiled.
"Let's go," Ka-Zar took the lead, "The last time I came here, there were a lot of man-eating plants"
"I've found something!" Greer suddenly called out as she walked past Ka-Zar before her hands turned back into Paws and she ran up on a nearby tree. Her vertical pupils contracted slightly as a feral snarl echoed from her throat, "There!" She pointed, "Only dozens of minutes ago, probably forty minutes, two unknown scents passed through this location. One of them is heavy-footed. I've got a trail."
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