The Primal Hunter - Chapter 611 - An Offer Jake Can('t?) Refuse
Weird notifications all around. Well, except for the first one, as Jake had finally gotten a level. So that was nice, even if it was only one.
*’DING!’ Class: [Arcane Hunter of Horizon’s Edge] has reached level 201 – Stat points allocated, +50 Free Points*
However, that was not the notification bothering him. It was another message he had gotten shortly after slaying the Hive Queen, one he had never seen before. A weird one at that.
*You have been branded a heretic of the Endless Empire by the Fourth Desert Queen*
Now, Jake had no idea what all of this was about, but he reckoned that seeing how the Fourth Desert Queen was the one that had blessed the Isoptera Queen, then he had gotten this heretic branding from slaying her. However, that branding felt weird as he was already a heretic, which at least made the next message make more sense.
*Branding failed: True Heretic status already present*
Jake was apparently not just a heretic but a True Heretic. Did this mean he was an all-rounder heretic according to the system, hereticing all over everyone and anyone? He did find the notion a bit funny. Heretics did come in many forms, with the most common one being heretics of a specific Pantheon or god, branded by them like the Fourth Desert Queen had tried. The Holy Church especially liked doing this.
A general heretic – or True Heretic as Jake was called – was one that was just seen as a heretic against all gods. Someone who refused to acknowledge them or get any Blessings and perhaps even worked against them. It was people who conceptually hated gods. Jake didn’t entirely fit in this category as he just didn’t care much for them being gods, but few had the privilege to have that mindset.
Oh, but branding someone a heretic did have some limitations. Such as being impossible if the person already had a high-level Blessing from another powerful god, which is what made the next message even funnier.
*Branding failed: A Chosen cannot be branded a heretic*
Jake could not be branded a heretic because he was a Chosen, but also because he was already a heretic – which he couldn’t be because he was a Chosen. It was truly a nice little paradox. Not that either status mattered with the next message.
*Branding failed: blocked by Shroud of the Primordial*
Sure, Jake had only gotten the skill from his True Blessing, so maybe that shouldn’t count either, which left the last “branding failed” message.
*Branding failed: Successfully suppressed*
This one Jake knew was all him. How did he know? His gut told him. It was naturally the Bloodline coming in and being mad some damn god dared try to brand him. Seeing as this branding was likely a system feature of sorts, it probably didn’t directly take into account the power level of the people in question but relied more on qualitative and pre-decided factors to determine if it failed or succeeded.
As for worries if the Fourth Desert Queen knew all this had happened, the final message dispelled that.
*All tracking successfully blocked*
So, yeah, that entire thing was a nothing-burger, but it was something he hadn’t seen happen before, so at least it was a little interesting. He would definitely have to joke about it with Villy later, but for now, he saw no need to discontinue his hive dive.
But before that, he had an egg chamber that needed a good cleanup. Continuing down the tunnel that the Queen had tried to flee through, he soon made it there. At the entrance to the chamber, he felt remnants of a potent barrier, likely put down by the Queen before she had left for the cavern. With her now gone, the eggs would likely die on their own shortly anyway, but Jake decided not to risk another Queen taking over.
Mana gathered all around him as hundreds of orbs condensed. With a mental command, he sent them all out into the chamber. Hundreds of explosions later, not a single egg remained unbroken, making Jake nod as he looked towards the opening leading further down the hive. Ah, but not before looting all the natural treasures in the chamber, all placed there to nurture the eggs. He was sure some of those could prove useful, perhaps even in the egg ritual.
After walking for a few kilometers, he saw nothing but unmoving termites anywhere in his sphere. All were in a catatonic state, making Jake question if there perhaps only was one Hive Queen. That there were multiple D-grades made him relatively certain that there were also more C-grades, so he doubted that to be the case. There was also the fact that the hive kept expanding so much downwards, so it would be weird for the egg chamber not to be placed further down where the energy was stronger.
Soon, Jake came across something odd. A recently collapsed wall based on a snapshot he had taken earlier, leaving only one way rather than a fork. The one way remaining way was a vertical hole. That was the direction he had planned on going anyway, but he still found it odd.
After jumping down the hole, he was in freefall for quite a while. When he landed, he created cracks on the ground from the impact but quickly stood up and continued. Later down the tunnel, he found the same thing as before. Tunnels had been sealed off, leaving only a single path deeper down unless he wanted to start blowing holes in walls… but he didn’t even have to do that as shortcuts had already been made.
By now, he would be an idiot if he didn’t realize that he was being purposefully directed further into the hive. This pretty much confirmed that there was at least one more Hive Queen, but it did make Jake wonder… why? Why would it lead him further down like this? For what purpose?
Was it because a trap was prepared? If that was the case, Jake welcomed the attempt. He wanted to see what these damn insects were capable of, and if that required him to walk into a trap, so be it. Picking up speed, Jake began running faster, speeding up his freefalls and teleporting when there were long straight tunnels. No termites got in his way, but some did hide out of his way, with others scrambling to run once they saw him. He left them alone as his curiosity grew with every second. They seemed almost too non-hostile. Were they trying to bury him again or something?
Kilometer after kilometer, he went deeper and deeper. The temperature grew the further down he went, but small formations were placed on the walls of the hive here and there, helping keep it down. Pockets of magma were purposefully avoided by the termites digging.
Jake occasionally released a pulse to see what was up, and soon he spotted another egg chamber, which also had a large cavern in front of it. A massive cavern, in fact, and natural-formed as far as Jake could see based on the plants within. It had to be at least twenty-five kilometers across and more than four kilometers tall, making it quite a bit larger than the one he had fought in before.
The tunnel system that had been created for him led straight to this cavern. Straight to where he expected a Hive Queen to be, and inspecting the snapshot, he tried to see if one was there, but he couldn’t. He was pretty sure she was, but all he saw was a mass of energy a few hundred meters across, making it look like a dense sphere to his Pulse.
Curious, Jake picked up speed even further, following the only path available to him. By now, he estimated he was nearly ten thousand kilometers down, which seemed like a lot, but one had to remember the planet was now nearly the size of the freaking sun pre-system. That meant it had a diameter of more than a million kilometers, and if these termites were truly aiming for the Planetary Pylon at the core, then they had a long way to go.
Jake soon reached his destination as he saw the cavern in front of him. Within, he heard the clattering of termites, but more so than that, he felt two powerful auras. Two auras that actually made him pause and then grin. Finally.
Walking forward, Jake entered the cavern, letting the dense mana within wash over him. At the entrance, there was only a single termite waiting. It looked like the Guards from before but was a bit larger and stronger-looking. Still just a Guard, though.
[Isoptera Queen’s Guard – lvl 256]
Decent level. If it was a high-tier creature, Jake would maybe even feel fear. The termite just looked at him for a bit before clattering its mandibles and turning around as if wanting him to follow. Jake obliged as he walked after it, sending out a new pulse. He counted a total of thirty-two Queen’s Guards in the cavern, enough for him to maybe get properly serious if they all jumped him at once.
Following the Guard, they walked to the center of the giant cavern. Once there, Jake saw a giant pillar of sorts extending from the bottom of the cavern to the top, pulsing with power. It looked like it contained giant crystals within, each glowing with a yellow light, giving off intense earth-affinity mana. High-tier earth-affinity natural treasure. Maybe helped these termites evolve into what they are today.
In front of the pillar was a large platform of stone, and as he looked at it, he saw them. Two forms stood on it, waiting. One was a creature Jake recognized as the Hive King that had whopped his ass the last time he had invaded the hive, looking stronger than ever. Using Identify, he could see that he had underestimated it.
[Isoptera Hive King – lvl 272]
Firmly a mid-tier C-grade. It wasn’t a horrible variant either, meaning it could no doubt offer Jake a proper match. But the other creature on the platform still stood out more. He used creature and not termite as it looked quite a bit different from anything Jake had seen before. It was a lot smaller than the Hive Queen he had just killed and looked a bit similar except for one thing. Rather than a head with mandibles, the body just ended, and out of the top grew… a humanoid upper body.
[Isoptera Hive Queen – lvl 272 – Greater Blessing of the Fourth Desert Queen]
Jake stared for a few moments as the Hive Queen – the true Hive Queen, as far as Jake could tell – turned around. A female upper body with long hair, generous proportions, and not a single shred of clothes stared back at him, her skin brownish like the rest of her termite body. The upper part was entirely human-looking, except for the eyes that still looked firmly insect-like, now staring back at him. As he stared at her, he also felt her try and use Identify. Failing.
“Human,” Jake simply answered, surprising the Queen.
“Truly? A human has made it down here already… my Patron assured me such a thing happening was nearly impossible. Your species is not known to be very exceptional,” the Queen said, not a hint of mockery in her tone but more as if she was just speaking facts.
“Well, we got outliers, me being one such outlier,” Jake shrugged. “You even asking that makes me wonder if you have any idea what else is happening on this planet.”
“The world above ground is of little interest,” the Queen said dismissively. “Perhaps a mistake if beings such as you are up there. Human, are you a leader of your species?”
The question came a bit out of the left field but was probably relevant to why the Queen was not hostile. “I am a leader of sorts, yes. At the very least, I have an open line of communication with leaders of humanity.”
“Good. Are you capable of making decisions for your race?”
“As I said, I got influence, but that does not mean I can or want to just make decisions for others. If you told me what you wanted, it would be a lot easier to say if it is something I would even try to help with,” Jake answered honestly, wanting to know what the Queen was getting at.
The Queen looked at him for a bit before answering. “The Isoptera Hive has already laid claim to this planet in the name of the Fourth Desert Queen of the Endless Empire. Humanity and the factions of man are of no interest to us, and thus we offer you the chance to avoid a war. We are willing to offer humanity a small area of Earth to live in but ask that all major factions backed by divine forces leave or risk facing extermination. Others are also free to leave, of course.”
Once more, the tone was impersonal and spoken with a matter-of-fact tone.
“I don’t see that working for me or the rest of humanity. For anyone on this planet besides you, really,” Jake said dismissively. “Not to say I am not open to some level of negotiation. Extermination isn’t necessary as long as healthy boundaries can be established.”
The United Cities Alliance didn’t have anyone representing underground monsters, so maybe having the termite hive on board could be a thing? There was just one problem with that.
“Impossible,” the Queen dismissed him. “The hive shall not limit itself.”
Ectognas were hardwired for domination. Total domination. It was their nature to constantly expand their hives, to control whatever territory they had access to, and to consume any and all resources they could get their mandibles on. Even if they became sapient like this Queen, that instinct didn’t change, and fighting your own instinct was bloody hard. Jake knew that better than anyone.
“See, diplomacy won’t work then. You will want to keep expanding the hive and taking control of the planet, while I and others simply won’t let that happen,” Jake said, knowing they were at quite an impasse. “But I can try and connect you to people who you can at least try to reach an agreement with?”
Hey, if diplomacy could work, Jake was open to it. While he did need the core of the Queen, he would feel a bit bad about just attacking them when they extended an olive branch. Maybe they could just leave the planet or something.
“Can you contact these people from down here?” the Queen asked, confusing Jake.
“I should be able to, but it will be quite hard for you to talk to them. It would be easier if I just went and fetched someone,” Jake answered. He planned on having the Sky Whale come and negotiate as both were monsters, and out of everyone on the council, the Sky Whale was the strongest bar-none, making any threatening behavior from the hive ineffective.
“That is not an option,” the Queen said dismissively.
“Why?” Jake asked, his confusion growing.
“You will stay, human. I feel your power and find you worthy of remaining here with me as my consort. My human form is closing in on perfection, and once it is finished, we shall breed children, and you will give me new and more powerful spawns than the ones you have killed. See it as paying recompense and a privilege,” the Queen said, smiling and using her mental-affecting skill at full force.
It was Jake’s turn to be taken aback as he scratched the back of his head. “Flattered, but you aren’t really my type.”
Insect bodies weren’t a huge turn-on, and while taking a direct approach was commendable, this wasn’t it.
“It matters little what you think of this form or any other I might take. What I need is only your Records to bring about a stronger next generation,” the Queen said, clearly not viewing it as a big deal.
“Yeah,” Jake said, shaking his head. “Not gonna happen.”
The Queen stopped smiling and stared at him with condescending eyes. “I never gave you that choice, human. You can stay either as a willing participant or a servant. That is the only choice I will offer you.”
Oh well, Jake thought. At least I’ll get a good fight and some cores.
“I believe I also only ever gave you a simple choice. Surrender and negotiate or be exterminated. Those are your two choices,” Jake said in a sharp tone.
“A shame. This could have been a pleasant encounter, but now you must either break or die,” the Queen shook her head in disappointment. Behind him, the Queen’s Guards cut off the entrance to the cavern, and a barrier blocked off the only other exit, sealing them all in.
“Lady, I think you are severely misunderstanding something here,” Jake said as he looked at Hive Queen. “I am not trapped in here with you; you are trapped in he-“
Jake suddenly had to teleport as a Queen’s Guard attacked him from behind, making Jake curse internally.
What fucker interrupts a good one-liner movie reference!?