844 Origins of the Call (955)

I'm not sure what anyone on the other side of the gate was expecting to see, but catching a glimpse of 'the Eldest' as I soar gracelessly through the air probably wasn't it. After I hit the ground I roll several times, legs flailing wildly as I try to slow my momentum.

Dammit Tiny! Was it really necessary to put that much arm into it? That lousy ape piffed me like a baseball. Just how strong is that idiot? I weigh multiple tons at this point!

As I finally get my legs under me and manage to slow my roll I can see many ants standing guard around the gate boggling at me. I wave shakily with one antenna.

"H-hello all. Nice to see you again."

And then the hooks in my soul decide to make themselves known.

HAK! Holy moly! That suuuuuucks…

Tormented by the sudden intensification of the drag I flop onto my back and flail at the air. It hurts! Great googly-moogly that stings! I feel like a fish with a shark hook lodged in my guts. It's deeply unpleasant on a level I cannot hope to communicate.

Heedless of the damage my dignity suffers I thrash my legs like a poisoned spider and shudder in agony. Without realising it, I've actually started to drag myself back towards the gate. Is this what Garralosh put up with for all those years? HOW?! It's not possible, no way.

[Master, are you alright?] Crinis asks, her voice thick with concern once she rushes through the gate.

[No!] I yell. [Not okay! Not close to okay!]

[Should we take you back to the other side?] she asks.

[Yes! NO! Just give me a minute here… ugh.]

Tiny stomps through the gate and, seeing the situation, he rumbles over and mimes picking me up again.

[No, don't throw me again you idiot! Just… don't let me crawl over to the gate. Alright?]

The big ape nods, though he looks slightly disappointed. You enjoyed throwing me that much eh? I silently endure the horrific and persistent tugging on my soul until it eventually becomes something like bearable. Honestly, it's worse than walking around with an inflated core. It's a pain I can't adequately describe. If it's like this on the third stratum, I can't even imagine how I'd feel going back to the second.

This sucks! There are still monsters on the third that are a higher tier than me! I refuse to believe they all trundle around enduring this sort of agony! In fact, aren't there tier eight demons beneath me right now? How are they exempt from this when I'm not? According to the Tree, this sensation supposedly means I'm 'qualified' or have the 'potential' to become the final Ancient, which means all these other monsters who are stronger than me don't possess that?

It's flattering to have my awesomeness acknowledged, I just wish that appreciation manifested in a different form.

Once I'm up and walking I head away from the gate and toward Roklu. If I'm going to find Granin, I'm likely to find him there. Increasing the distance from the gate is met with a corresponding increase in the yanking I feel from the Dungeon, but I grit my mandibles and try to endure it. This is seriously awful. I don't think I'll be able to last up here all that long unless I find a better way to cope with it. Once I evolve, will it get worse? Or can I mitigate it in some way?

Gawd I hope so.

Feeling utterly miserable, I drag my sorry carcass all the way back to Roklu. Sadly, not even the sight of the utterly enormous nest the Colony has constructed is enough to shake me out of my misery. Although it's impressive as hell. I wonder how on Pangera they managed to make something that big? Surely the weight of it would be enough to collapse the foundation. Unless there's some form of superstructure inside? Scratch that, I think they did manage to distract me.

I approach the foundation of the massive anthill and park my rear outside before asking a nearby worker to see if they can fetch the golgari triad. I'd love to crawl around inside this comically impressive construction, but right now I'm just not feeling it. What I am feeling is the incessant claws of the Dungeon pulling at me, demanding I head back down to the fourth.

Get stuffed, Dungeon! If I want to stay here, I will. Maybe, I'll head back to the second stratum for a stroll while I'm at it!

Oof. Or not.

It doesn't take long for the familiar, grumpy face of Granin to appear, thankfully, and he's flanked by Corun and Torrina.

[Granin you curmudgeonly boulder wannabe. What the hell have you done to me?]

The shaper huffs and folds his arms across his granite chest.

[What have I done? Given advice. Everything else that's occurred is on you. I hear you've been mighty busy down below, risking your neck and blowing yourself up.]

[On me eh? And how the hell could you know about me blowing myself up? Wait… you're distracting me. I won't be deceived! Explain this infernal 'Call of the Dungeon' that's yanking my chain. I'm not fond of it! Not fond in the slightest!]

Probably for the first time ever I get to witness surprise on the face of Granin. It looks weird. It's like I walked past a section of stone wall, then turned back to see a shocked expression on its face.

[You feel the call?] he asks.

Even Corun and Torrina appear stunned.

[Are you referring to the immense pain I feel as a result of existing on this layer? When I tried to come through the gate I couldn't even move my body. Having my body controlled by the Dungeon isn't what I signed on for. If this is what becoming an Ancient entails, I want off the ship!]

[Anthony, this is a great honour! Do you understand what this means?] Corun implores, his face ecstatic with excitement.

[Honour my glittering, golden commercial empire! By which I mean my bum! This hurts like crazy!]

[You idiot,] Granin huffs, though I can tell he's excited. [That's not the Dungeon calling you. That's the Ancients. You've got their eye now, boy.]

Next chapter