153 Closing the Dungeon
After a few minutes Sethrii spoke to Zoey again, "How did you manage to come by this place? Last I remember you were heading to eastern Frenach to hunt a corrupted there. Now you're in a dungeon?"
Zoey then told her of her adventure since the last time they met, about the first corrupted, the second one, and finally following the trail to their current location to take care of the last one. She also pulled out the 3 corrupted essence stones she had collected and handed them to Sethrii for safekeeping.
After hearing it, Sethrii nodded and said, "It's good that you made it here when you did. If you remember what I told you after you killed that first corrupted, the corrupted that you killed here was in the metamorphosis phase, only halfway through development. The corrupt essence trace that infected it was transforming it into a true instrument of corruption. If it were allowed to complete the phase and progress to the next stage, it would have been too strong for even you to handle."
That was a sobering thought for Zoey. She had estimated that the exoskeleton clad creature that she fought was at its peak, not only halfway through its development! It reinforced the fact that she needed to get stronger, and fast.
Reminded of that she turned to look at the crystal orb on the pedestal that had been used to keep the strange portal open. Sethrii noticed and with a wave of her finger brought the orb floating to them.
"Ah, it's a dungeon core. This explains where the power came from the keep that rift open," Sethrii said as she inspected the orb. "Whoever set this up was quite inventive. They used the power meant to maintain the dungeon to open and maintain a rift to the Divide, therefore allowing the corruption to seep through."
She handed it to Zoey with a smile and said, "This should be plenty for you to get to the next rank, but make sure you take your time to get adjusted. The gap from Rank 4 to Rank 5 is considerable."
Zoey thanked her as she took the dungeon core.
After a moment, Sethrii continued, "Well, now that we have all that out of the way, I have another request for you, if you are willing."
"Sure. What have you got?" Zoey replied.
The goddess gestured around them and said, "Since you have so admirably completed my last request, I need you to keep going towards your original goal; finding this mystery organization that is 'protecting' Harmonic Heritage users. As you can guess, I don't think that this organization is as good as they make themselves sound."
Zoey nodded, then asked, " Any idea where to start? I have yet to uncover any leads myself."
"The only information I have for you is to go north. Any more than that, I cannot say," Sethrii said to her.
Zoey nodded in thanks and got up from the table. She wanted to be out of this place already. Sethrii also stood, then looked at Max, addressing his presence for the first time. She looked at him curiously, then narrowed her eyes in thought.
"What was the name of your mother child?" she asked him gently.
Max looked at Zoey, uncertain if he should talk to this woman. Zoey nodded to him, and that gave him some reassurances. He had been paying attention while Zoey talked with the strange woman, but there was a lot of words he did not understand. He was able to figure out that this woman was a goddess, and from that guessed that it was who Zoey had gotten her Arbiter's Mark from. Other than that he did not understand much else.
"My mother was Naomi of the Asurai clan." he said quietly.
When Sethrii heard that, her eyes seemed to widen slightly in realization. She looked at Max thoughtfully, then turned and smiled at Zoey.
With a wave of her hand the goddess produced a small black book and handed it to Zoey, then said, "This is for him, look through it when you have time. It will help you out considerably in the future."
Zoey was a little surprised, but accepted the book and kept it. It seemed like Max had some mysteries of his own, perhaps some that he didn't even know himself.
"That should be all. I will send you out of the dungeon with the core. Once the core leaves the dungeon it will start to collapse. I will manage the cleanup from there," Sethrii said as she looked at the pool of corrupted fluid nearby. "I can't have this floating about in the network after all."
Zoey took Max's hand and held onto Viridi, then nodded to Sethrii.
The goddess smiled at them with a wave, "Until next time!"
Then with a snap, Zoey, Viridi and Max were placed gently on the ground directly outside the dungeon portal that they had first entered through. There was a hissing sound and then a loud pop as the dungeon portal dissipated into thin air behind them. Zoey then felt a large surge of energy flow into the dungeon core she held as the energy was reclaimed.
In the cave where they were the only thing left was the anchors that had held the portal open. Zoey collected those as well. She wanted to study the arrays that had been used to make them function. Whoever had created them was likely considered an expert array master in this world, and she could probably learn a lot from studying the techniques used.
Just as she finished and turned back to her companions, her interface chirped at her.
[TIME DIFFERENTIAL ANOMALY DETECTED
[TOTAL TIME IN DUNGEON: 20HR
[PROJECTED LOCAL TIME PASSED: 480HR
Zoey stared at the alert in confusion. Time differential? This did not make sense. She quickly used her commlink to ring up Custodian 704 who had been left in charge of the Tenebris while they were out on their expedition.
"704, status report!"
"Greetings Miss Zoey. The situation is nominal. All systems green and functioning. However, the passengers are a little anxious about your return."
"How long have I been gone?" Zoey asked as her mind whirled.
"By my sensors, you have been in the dungeon for 20 days Miss Zoey," came the reply.
20 days?! Had the dungeon been under some sort of time compression effect? It had only been 20 hours for them on the inside...
"Additionally Miss Zoey, I do believe some of your high altitude drones have spotted something," 704 continued.
"Ok, thanks. I will check it out when I get back," Zoey replied.
At the moment her head was trying to figure out how it was possible that they had been gone for 20 days. She would have to look into that some more when she had time. For now it was time to head back.
She looked at Max who was busy giving Viridi a thorough scratching behind the ears and smiled. She was glad that they two of them were getting along.
"Come on you two. Lets head back," she called out.
So they all headed back to the Stella, leaving the empty cave behind with barely a trace that anything had been there at all.