Holy mother of all that is good and gracious in this world, puh-lease let me make it alive! I'm burning up! The light is fading! My soul is running before the light! Is that you mum? What is that you say? You wish I'd never been born? Get the hell out of my death vision, human mum! Bring out my real mother, the Queen!
Gawd, I'm delirious. Which is interesting since I've actually not quite run out of mana in my core yet. I'm down to vapour, make no mistake, but not quite out of gas just yet.
No, wait. Check that, just ran out.
Oh my word, it hurts! I feel like my soul is suffocating!
[How much further Crinis?!]
[I don't know master, I can't see!]
[Tiny! Do you know how much further we need to go?!]
[I KNOW that! More than anything in this world I know it! Do you have any idea how much further we have to run?!]
I swear by all that is sacred and loved in this world Tiny, if I survive this, I'm going to shrink your muscles until your arms are limp noodles and you have the brain power of two young Einstein's. You won't be able to fight and will have to sit around sipping tea, discussing the latest in particle physics. Only then will my wrath be sated!
It can't be that far away. I feel as if we've been running for ten hours but that can be attributed to my panic and anxiety. If I were to try and guess now it would have to have been closer to two hours.
Argh! Holy smokes! That tickled me right in the pain zone. How do describe the pain of having an empty core? It's as if my magic lungs are empty and I'm in a vacuum. No matter how hard my core tries to pull mana in it just isn't getting anything like enough from the air above ground. My monster body consumes far more mana to operate than can be replaced outside of the Dungeon.
I need to get down below, fast!
I shoved the pain into the back of my awareness and focused on pushing my little legs until they were on the edge of snapping. I don't care if they break, as long as I get below ground and away from this agony!
As he so elegantly communicated, Tiny is suffering also. Crinis isn't quite at the point where this is going to be an issue for her but soon enough it will be. Wait, is that sign pillar Morrelia told us about?!
I ran closer for a look. Ten feet tall, the stone column stood to one side of the cobbled road, words and arrows carved onto its surface. Fantastic! We're close! I circled around the edifice and found an arrow that pointed away from the road, into the surrounding woods. That'd better be it. If I could read the native language it would help.
[Quick, Tiny! This way!] I hollered at him before I sprinted away. Trees and branches flew past my face as I motored with all of my might. I'm not willing to dash in case the drain on my core is increased but I'm sure as heck going to run as fast as possible!
How's my HP looking? GAH! Already down 10%?! This is ridiculous!
Is that it?! Up ahead a stone structure rose before us. A small fort in the middle of a forest. A ludicrous thing in normal times, but now, a lifesaving fortress of blessed mana.
I ran straight at the fort and then straight up the wall. Once I crested the moss covered stone I beheld the most glorious sight of my life. Inside the walls, cut straight through the earth is a wonderful crack, dim blue light leaking out of it. Precious mana! Without a shred of hesitation I leapt from the wall and scrambled toward the crack, Tiny not far behind.
Too much to describe this place as a 'fort', more of a guard post, maintained to keep an eye on this particular crack in the ground. Not wide enough to be considered a 'Dungeon Entrance' and not worth the cost of excavation the Kingdom must have decided to leave well enough alone and not worry about it.
But I will!
The pain is excruciating but I grit my mandibles and bear it. It's time to dig!
The entrance to do the Dungeon here is only a foot wide, not enough for me to slither into and certainly not enough for Tiny to back his commercial barge into. There is only one choice!
Embrace the zen of ant living and dig you mana-less insect!
My face hands pummelled the soil at a relentless pace, dirt and stone was flung into the sky as I whipped my body back and forth, a rhythm of soil extraction achieved in a blink of an eye.
And with each blessed mandible load of dirt, the sweet, sweet touch of mana flowed more smoothly out of the Dungeon and into my parched core. It still wasn't enough, each second that passed a new kind of torture as I almost got enough of what I needed but it wasn't sufficient to quench my thirst.
Dig! Dig! DIG!
Tiny was there too, his massive hands scooped out enormous amounts of earth before he threw it over his shoulder. In a short amount of time we had managed to dig out a bowl shaped basin deep enough that both Tiny and I had our heads below ground level but it still wasn't enough, so we concentrated on digging a narrow tunnel straight down, following the crack into the Dungeon with the idea of widening it out into a chamber once we were deep enough.
The deeper we went the more mana seeped into our cores until finally sweet relief was at hand.
At that point we collapsed in a heap.
It was a few hours before Morrelia found us. I awoke to the sight of her head poked down the impromptu tunnel we'd dug.
This is what I imagine a hangover feels like. I feel gritty and sore across my entire body. After a few hours of torpor at the very least I'd managed to recharge my core back up to capacity, my feet helping to recharge the batteries once I'd managed to jam them into the crack.
All six of my legs twitched as I stretched them until the joints cracked. There is still some residual pain in my body from the damage I sustained when my core was empty. I wonder what exactly causes that damage? Does my body fall apart at the cellular level without mana to sustain me? Does the core draw on the energy contained within my cells to prevent itself from damage when there isn't enough mana for it?
[Tiny, how are you doing bud?]
The big ape grunted at me and raised one massive hand to slap over his head.
Above me Morrelia has been pointing to her temple and gracing me with her traditional scowl as I've taken my time to stretch.
Hey, I nearly died, I deserve a little rest after that sort of existential crises. Did I bring the problem down on myself? Yes. Yes I did. I've resolved to try and address my shortcomings, namely my stupendous idiocy, in future to the extent of my ability. I wonder if there is an evolutionary option that would add common sense to my list of abilities?
I could really use that.
I sighed wearily and crafted the necessary mana to form the mind bridge with Morrelia.
[Hello Morrelia, what is it?]
She snorted from her position handing upside down in a tunnel.
[Slept enough down there, Anthony? Any chance you want to get of your lazy backside and do some work?]
[Hey! I'll have you know my business district is diligent and flourishing! We're very excited to be announcing the delivery of new products that will cause our target demographic to positively melt!]
Bemused, Morrelia shook her head.
[As usual I have no idea what you are talking about. We have serious business to deal with. I've found the tracks of another group of monsters heading north. By the looks of things there is a massive Garralosh type monster with them. If we hurry we might catch up to them before they make it Liria.]
Well now. That does sound interesting. Another one of the big momma crocs eldest children caught gadding about on the surface?