October 29, 2014 2:50pm
This chapter got way too long, so it is now two chapters. I don't want to go through all the numbering confusion I faced with LotE Volume IV, so the chapter numberings will start at chapter 1 in each act.
---- Chapter 15 ----
I recruited both Fahd and Ovbere to help me improve the village defenses. Though Ovbere was reluctant to cooperate with a goblin, Bradley managed to convince him.
With Ovbere's explosives, I blasted open a deep, rectangular trench around the village. With Fahd's precision instruments, I built a great brick wall in the trench, eight feet thick at all points, filling in the gaps with dirt.
When I ran out of resources, I mined extensively in Alabaster. "Trying to dig up the world?" laughed Luke. Surprisingly, he didn't seem to mind when I told him yes, that was precisely what I was doing.
Alabaster was rich with ore and treasures. With Luke's permission, I began to dig a vast mine next to Luke's house. This would drastically reshape the landscape, but it was the most efficient way to get at the resources buried underneath.
At Fahd's workbench, I combined Bradley's rocket boots with my flurry boots, crafting a pair of spectre boots. With the rocket boot's flight capabilities, I was now far more mobile.
I extended the platinum wall beneath the village, again eight feet thick, insulating the village from below. This blocked off the east hill's tunnel, but that was a sacrifice I'd have to make for Corundia's safety.
With the dirt and stone I'd mined from the desert, I filled in the west entrance of the grass-cave. I filled in the gaps under Frederick's house as well, melding the floating turf into the grass-cave's roof. It now had just two exits: the stairs from Frederick's house, and the tower itself.
It took a day to dig into the grass-cave's floor, wondering if it was actually part of the same cave as the underground river; and after discovering it wasn't, it took me three more days to fill in the floor.
Most importantly, I filled in the west hill's tunnel, since I never used it now. I sealed over the cavern where I'd fought my first yellow slime, and packed every inch of the tunnel with dirt until the hill was solid. Never again would invaders use it to enter my village.
This project drastically transformed the landscape. The grass-cave had once been the village's entrance, a natural passage with curtains of vines. Now, it was my private den, offering a firm wall to my back. I moved my bed here.
I filled in the corridor behind the heavy door in my basement. It wasn't needed anymore: the vertical shaft to the mushroom farm was a superior entrance to the underground.
There were now only two underground exits out of the village: A small gate by the underground river, connecting to whatever remained of the west hill's tunnel; and the vertical shaft to the mushroom cave, intersecting with what remained of the east hill tunnel.
Houses recieved remodeling as well. Bradley's house recieved gray stucco roofing, while Philosir's and Jenna's houses were reinforced with planked walls and stone. Ovbere moved into a brick shelter in the grass-tunnel, while Bruno moved into Ovbere's house.
Lastly, I tore down most of the extensions on top of the floating island. Once, I had envisioned building a floating city on its surface; but I had become too attached to the city below to ever abandon it. I left the sky mill and a few chests on the island, mostly containing feathers--including a large tail-feather from a harpy.
Reorganization! I remodeled the interior of my tower, as I wanted to move the sawmill into the workshop, but had to take out the chests to make room. At some point, the workshop ended on top of the patio.
The first floor was made from living wood. It had two grandfather clocks and Faye's original furniture, lit with star-lanterns. What used to be the front door was now the door to my grass-cave den, and the back door was now the front door. Parts of the original hill were still intact.
The second floor was made from stone and gray brick. It had four chests for building materials, plants and animals, potions, and tools. There was also an obsidian dresser, a glass chandelier, and two star-lanterns.
The third floor was made from a combination of wood and glass. It had four chests for weapons, metal ores and bars, furniture, and decorations. It also had an obsidian piano and several weapon racks.
The fourth-floor patio was rebuilt from platinum brick, gemspark, and glass. It now featured an anvil, a hellforge, a glass kiln, my workbench, and a sawmill. And as always, it remained open to the infinite sky.
"Increasing pessimism and impulsivity are early symptoms of Crimson fever," warned Jenna. "You absolutely must not forget to take your medication daily." Heeding her warning, I gathered handfuls of glowing mushrooms before I returned to the glass dome.
I built a lab on top of the dome--the Crystal Observatory, I named it. Located over the crimstone chasms, it became my main headquarters for my war against the Crimson. All crimstone, crimsand, and vertebrae samples were kept here for Tatiana to examine.
"Fascinating," muttered Tatiana, who was studying a clump of crimsand with a twig-woven magnifying glass when I arrived. "The microbes' behavior aren't merely cooperative... they're in perfect synchronization."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
She hesitated, perhaps trying to find words that I would understand. "They appear to be independent life-forms, but they appear to exchange signals and cooperate with such rapid speed that they might as well be a single life-form."
I constructed an elevator of sorts under the lab, pouring down high stacks of silt that reached from the ground to the top of the dome, touching the Observatory's underside.
With the silt-stacks to protect me, I built a massive glass tower beneath the Crystal Observatory, located in the dome's center. It was a glorious thing, with star-lanterns and thick rope extending from top to bottom, connecting the inside and outside worlds.
About halfway down the tower, I started a glass walkway to cut across to the dome. This served two purposes: First, it would allow easy access to the tower, the base of which served as my entrance to the Crimson. Second, it would eventually allow me to lower the dome's height considerably in the future.
Growing confident, I began attacking the Crimson's surface directly. With bombs and powder, I began to purify the crimsand desert--the part of the dome west of the tower--digging deep pits to reach every last bit of sand.
But while the desert was gradually cleansed, the grasslands and forests remained bloody. The weed-choked lakes were also worrisome; they were vast and murky, their lakebeds concealed.
Tatiana was waiting for me when I returned to the Observatory. "My current hypothesis is that the Crimson is some sort of hive-mind, controlled by a central entity--one most likely connected to the crimson hearts underground," she told me. "I'm still conducting tests, but so far, my hypothesis has been valid."
Both Crimson and Corruption swallowed their surroundings, transforming grass, stone, ice, and sand. The red evil or the purple evil, the man in shadow armor had once said; that was hardly a choice of any sort. "What's the difference between the Corruption and the Crimson?"
She nodded. "Corruption is a rampant force of nature--it's completely decentralized like Terraria. No single force really guides it, not even the demons who once created it. In contrast, the Crimson acts like a single organism. Each part is completely dependent on the others, a polysymbiotic hierarchy of some sort. And I suspect there's "
She handed me a small chunk of crimstone. "Feel it. Ebonstone is permeated by Corruption fibers; but this isn't just permeated. The very structure's been transformed. It's warm, living, breathing. It's as if..." The dryad hesitated. "It's as if the Crimson is literally the flesh and bone of a greater being, trying to metabolize this world."
I stared at the crimstone, one hand patting my pockets for my glowing mushrooms. "What can I do?" I whispered. How could I defeat such a being? Surely, it was impossible.
Sighing, she sat down. "I think it's best to take a break from this," she told me. "There's a seal on the Crimson, you know. Right now, it can't metabolize sand, stone, or ice. It can't even swallow more of the jungle; the nutrients are too rich. You need to spend some time not worrying about this.
A break? "But I just got back from a break," I muttered. "I can't leave the Crimson unattended for too long."
"Jenna told me you were developing Crimson fever," said the dryad sternly. "That platinum brick wall is a wall you might never need. Anxiety and fixation will only worsen your symptoms. You need to spend a good deal of time away from the Crimson, not thinking or worrying about it."
Bloody images were imprinted in my mind--images of the lakes, the hills, the village, the grass-cave, all consumed by the Crimson. "And do what?" I asked.
"Go back to the Dungeon, and try to break the old man's curse again," said Tatiana promptly, looking me in the eye. "You're stronger now, even if you don't realize it; you're better equipped and more experienced than last time. Go, now. I'll still be here when you return."
---- Chapter 16 ----
Letting go of my obsession with the Crimson wasn't easy. As I crossed back through the desert, I thought of my sister Frosti, wearing her bucket-helmet and fumbling with her axe, carving a crude sword from shadewood.
I thought of Rose, who'd explored the Crimson before I even knew of the Crimson's existence, who'd smashed the beating hearts beneath the deadlands in a desperate bid for glory, who ransacked the mushroom cabin.
From my weapons chest, I grabbed a space gun and wired it up to my internal meteor armor. The suit itself would power the gun, which would otherwise feed on my low supply of magical energy.
I also took that crimtane broadsword--a "blood butcherer", Bradley had called it. Though gruesome in appearance and greasy to the touch, there was no denying its raw strength. It was, by far, my best weapon.
"Good luck," said Bradley, grinning. "I'll be cheering for you." Armed with throwing knives and spiked balls, I set off beyond the west hill and over the lakes.
On my way through the tundra, I delivered a boreal wood bed to the snow-tower. Though it was now uninhabited, I suspected I would see a good deal of use from the tower in the future.
A good number of meteorites had fallen since the last time I'd come through here; one had landed just a few hundred feet from the snow-tower. Another had landed on the opposite shore of the lake that separated tundra from the west woodland.
When I reached the bunker from my first journey to the Dungeon, I hesitated. For some reason, I had no desire to open it up again, to deal with the wandering zombies who would tumble down into the pit at night.
Filling in the bunker permanently, I chose a relatively small but round hill. Digging a small cave inside the hill, I built a dwelling from planked walls and gray brick, setting up a shadewood bed on the floor. It was a warm, cozy, and peaceful place to sleep...
I crossed over rivers and pools, lofty trees towering overhead. My pockets were brimming with red potions, some concentrated and infused with glowing mushrooms. My time in the Crimson had given me a newfound appreciation for nature's beauty.
A third meteor had landed in the lake before the Dungeon's entrance; I crossed it quickly, tiny flames lapping at my boots. The old man was still here, still weary-eyed, still wearing ragged clothes. "You again," he croaked as I approached, his bones outline in the torchlight. "I did not expect you to return."
I took out my chain knife, a finger flicking open the catch, my other hand at my spiked-ball pouch. "I can't leave you like this." I hadn't forgotten about the Crimson. If anything, seeing Skeletron's host only reminded me of that bloody landscape. But right now, it was too far away to horrify me.
"I fear you underestimate the monster inside me," warned the old man as the sun dipped below the horizon. "What terrible feats would you be capable of accomplishing, if you could vanquish him? Surely, you would need a monster inside yourself as well."
Moonlight filtered through cracks in the ceiling, casting thin pale stripes over the old man's eyes. "I'll have to make do with what I have," I said finally. "Host of Skeletron... I invoke your curse."
I didn't win. Nor did I win the following night, or the night after that. But I didn't give up. Battling the Crimson had seemed an endless, hopeless cause, but this... I felt as if I just might be able to win. A spectre was protecting me, after all.
"Why? Why do you persist?" asked the old man hoarsely one night. Leaning on a pillar, he stared as I approached him again, shaking his head. His eyes carried an old, heavy sorrow. "You endanger yourself, and all under your protection. Be not tempted by the Dungeon's treasures. Go, save yourself."
I wasn't going anywhere. There was a parallel between Skeletron's curse and the Crimson's hunger, the unliving god eating away at the old man's soul and the deadlands eating Corundia from the inside. "It's... it's not about the treasure," I said finally. "Evil... evil must be purged."
The old man scrutinized me carefully. "You've been training," he admitted, bones creaking as he slowly circled me in small, shuffling steps. "The glow of life... six crystals... seven, eight, nine... perhaps ten?" He shook his head. "Perhaps... perhaps you just might be able to break my curse."
I saw thin cracks in the weathered, hardened face. And so, I seized my opportunity, raising my crimtane blade. "Host of Skeletron! By Cenx's divine light, I invoke your curse!"
As Skeletron burst forth from the old man's body once again, I flung spiked balls across the floor, into the god's skeletal hands. Bone-fingers tried to shove their way through the heavy projectiles as I grappled up to the ceiling, lashing down with my chain-knife.
Listening for the giant skull's roar, I sprang down and opened fire with my space gun as Skeletron's head came spinning down through the ceiling. Green jets of light illuminated the dungeon entrance as they burst on the great skull. Twisting around, I slashed across the skull with my crimtane sword.
Survive, I thought numbly, drinking down a red flask in mid-leap. My body took a full sixty seconds to metabolize the potion before I could drink another; any sooner would result in nausea and heat flashes.
How painful was it to be ripped from the inside out, again and again? The old man's curse--and the curses upon all of Skeletron's hosts--had persisted for decades. Young, they were young once, but ages of servitude had hardened them, shriveled them, stripped then of their best years...
As I leapt over the skeletal hands--both buried to the wrist in spiked balls--giant fingerbones strucking my greaves, sending me crashing to the floor. Skeletron's hands were growing sluggish and tired, but so was I. Tipping down another potion, I flung throwing-knives into his palms, lashing out with my chain-knife.
Finally, both hands burst into dust. Furious, Skeletron came whirling upon me, slamming into me, sending me reeling back. Scrambling away, I rapidly squeezed the trigger of my space gun, firing into the hovering skull's eye-sockets.
Just a little more. I could see the cracks spreading over the great skull... but I was dazed, bruised, battered. Another hit would surely finish me. Come on, I thought to myself numbly. I had to hold myself together.
As the spinning skull dove at me again, I swung my grappling hook high, swinging over Skeletron's head and landing behind him. Tiny embers rose from the meteor-lake behind me, hissing as they touched my armor.
Raising the blood butcherer above my head with both hands, I hacked at SKeletron repeatedly, my heavy sword vibrating as it rebounded off the great skull. Once--twice--thrice--
Cracks formed on the skull beneath my blade, spreading, widening. Howling, Skeletron began to crumble, stripped of hands, powerless to reverse his fate. Sinking to my knees, I stared as the great skull exploded in a shower of marrow and bone.
I'd done it. I'd defeated Skeletron.
Without warning, I felt a fierce power stir within me, like some wild creature of the jungle. My blood throbbed and pulsed, warming my flesh, a haze filling my head. Unbidden, I heard a savage cry coming from my throat.
For a brief second, my senses erupted. The shapes of the night were clear, thin blades of grass and the patterns on the dungeon's walls. I could hear every sound, from zombie growls to the grasshopper's whistle; I could detect all the pungent scents of the earth, feel each link in my chainmail.
Like a waking dream, images splashed over my vision--a shining city on the edge of the snow, rows of young guides-in-training gathered in the shadows of a tall Living tree.
A giant worm with a long spine of eyes descended from the sky. It had the molting, half-rotten skin of the eater-of-souls, thick pincers with which to tear open dirt and stone.
I saw people emerge from their homes as the great worm descended upon their city, staring in horror. With terrible purpose in its eyes, the Eater of Worlds crashed into the great tower at the city's center, swiftly ripping through its floors in one fluid movement.
Screaming, shrieking, groaning, weeping; the people of the city fell to their knees as the tower came tumbling down. Rising back into the air, the Eater of Worlds burst into dozens of segments, one for each eye.
Glowing with green flame, the segments dove back into the earth, tearing up pavement and houses in their paths, burrowing deep chasms into the earth. Some were swallowed whole; others, in their panic, tumbled down into the chasms.
Purple filaments began to spread through the city's bedrock foundations, permeating it, dulling stone into ebonstone. Where they touched grass, the filaments swelled and flourished, forming roots and blades, quickly overtaking the natural growth, choking them out. Fetid droplets fell on compact ice, staining them purple.
The Corruption was forming before my eyes. Chasm after chasm formed as the Eater of Worlds' segments gutted the city. One by one, the remaining houses crumbled and sank into the darkness, leaving homeless survivors stranded in the snow, lost and broken.
As the last remants of the city disappeared beneath the falling snow, each worm-segment burst into a shower of greenish-gray spores, one after another. Spiked altars deep within the chasms where the spore-clouds landed. And where each segment's eyeball had been, a tiny orb of pulsing shadows began to form.
As sensations and visions faded, I slowly got to my feet, trembling. What had come over me? I stared at my hand, at my crimtane blade, at Skeletron's remains. I'd never felt such a thrill, such a rush of adrenaline... never felt so alive.
The land I had seen was not Corundia, nor Alabaster, nor Minaria. And yet, something tugged at me from across the sea, calling me from afar...
Past the dungeon, grass and trees gave way to sandy beaches, palm trees swaying in the night. At the water's edge, I gazed across the moonlight-speckled sea. Breathing slowly, deeply, I took off my helmet, letting the wind sweep through my hair.
I caught sight of a rowboat approaching from across the sea; but I could see no one in it. Frowning, I watched as the boat drew close, hitting the shore with a soft thump.
The boat was manned by bunnies--three on each side, operating fixed paddles with their little paws. At the back of the boat, a large white rabbit stared at me with her soft, round eyes, beckoning me to come aboard. I was astonished.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" muttered a voice from behind--the spectre's voice. "You recieved the distress call, didn't you? Get on."
I didn't move. Bradley, Jenna, Frederick, Tatiana, Fahd, and the others were waiting for me at the village, weren't they? "Where am I going?" I whispered. "And what about Corundia?"
There had been many times when I thought I might abandon this land forever--but my experiences had bonded me with Corundia inextricably. I'd built and torn down houses, explored caverns and discovered countless wonders.
I'd come through purpose and challenge, sorrow and victory. How could I depart for another land, when I could finally call this world my home?
"I'll let Bradley know what's happened," the spectre promised me. "Bradley will take care of things here while you're gone, just as he always does. Don't worry; you can always come back. But we need you right now."
When I looked back, the spectre was already gone.
Reluctantly, I climbed onto the bunnies' boat, taking a seat between the rowers. Pleased, the large rabbit smiled at me. At a short sequence of taps from her paw, the bunnies began to row away from the shore, into open waters.
And so I set off across the sea, into the unknown... destined for a strange new land.
TO BE CONTINUED IN ACT 2: AVALON