"This is it." Valera hovered over a cocoon of thickly woven grey matter. Unlike the gaseous clouds, this was a far more solid structure, as if someone had taken the cloud matter and turned it into thread to spin and weave with.
The cocoon was just big enough to contain one large person, and Valera knew who that was: Aldrich. She could sense it from the magical energy radiating around the cocoon in shimmering waves of pure blue.
In this dimension of lifeless, color-drained grey, the blue of mana stood out in sheer, stark contrast. The mana had given Valera the connection she needed to pinpoint Aldrich's presence. She had lost track of how long she had spent traveling.
It was most definitely more than a month. But after a month, she simply lost track of time. It was easy to do for her. Vampires like her that lived for many centuries, if not an eternity, had an innate capacity to mentally phase through time.
It was something like an active hibernation. A necessary adaptation for long lived creatures to prevent their minds from falling to the forgetfulness and, in extreme cases, flat out madness of Immortalic Rot.
Roughly, Valera guessed, she could have spent several years traveling, moving from grey cloud to grey cloud in this infinite dark expanse. But to find Aldrich, her love, she would spare no effort. No, rather, it was simply necessary.
Still, this place was…odd, to say the least. When Valera looked around, she saw a vast network of grey cocoons all connected together in a massive web. The web spanned far into the horizon to the point where she almost thought this mega structure could be infinite.
There must have been thousands, no millions of cocoons here, but Valera paid no heed to any of them. If they contained other beings, it was dangerous to try and mess with them to wake up what was within.
All she cared about was Aldrich.
But how was she going to get him out?
Valera knelt down atop the cocoon, feeling the magical energy emanating from it warm her. Her grey body regained proper color as the mana infused back into her.
In the first place, she had little idea where this mana was even coming from, but she did not complain.
The fact that it was here was a godsend. With it, Aldrich could teleport them out once he awakened.
The awakening part was the important thing here.
Aldrich was in a 'dormant' mental state here, preventing him from using the mana given to him. Liches and undead could enter dormant states to pass time, say, for example, when resting in tombs of graves or whatnot. It was a form of hibernation to reset the mind and counter Immortalic Rot.
But somehow, Aldrich had been forced into a dormant state. Normally, Valera could awaken him with telepathy, but it was impossible to reach him through the cocoon.
Valera tentatively sunk her hand into the cocoon. It yielded surprisingly easily. She felt her hand sink into what felt like water. Sensing no harm, she put an entire arm in. She felt it plunge into a deep space far larger than what the cocoon showed from the outside.
Aldrich was deep within this strange dimensional prison, and, though it was hard to tell, Valera could sense that the further she went down, the stronger her link with Aldrich became.
If Valera dove down fully, swam into the heart of this cocoon, then she determined she could touch with Aldrich's mind again and forcibly awaken him.
There were so very many things to consider, though. What if there were threats within? What was within in the first place? Would she actually be able to awaken him, even if she managed to make contact with him? And if she dove deep enough, what guaranteed that she could get out?
Valera shook her head. All her doubts, questions, and fears dissipated.
The man she loved needed her.
That was all the reason she needed.
Without hesitation, Valera sunk into the cocoon.
"Arghh! When is this going to end!?" Falco hunkered down behind a metal crate, hands over his head. His Aztech Enervator-2 was out of his hands, dangling from a smartlink chord attached from gun barrel to his wrist port.
Ahead of him, in a narrow hallway, a ceiling turret unleashed a constant salvo of bullets, as did several humanoid battle bots wielding smartlink rifles of their own.
"We wouldn't be in this spot if you didn't trip the motion sensors in the first place," said Kris, taking cover beside Falco. "My cloud disables cameras and surveillance from IDing us, but tripping a physical sensor's going to mess shit up no matter what."
"I'm sorry, okay, I didn't see it!" protested Falco.
"Now the elevators are locked out." Kris put his knuckles to his forehead in frustration. "We have to go down three extra floors that we wouldn't have had to to get to the vaults."
"It's fine." Diamondback's voice rung clear through the earlink comms.
The turrets and drones redirected their aim from the crate to straight down the hallway, right to Diamondback as he trudged forwards without giving a damn for cover.
Or, to be more accurate, with his diamond metamaterial skin, he WAS the cover.
"INTRUDERS DETECTED. UTILIZING LETHAL FORCE." The drones chanted in robotic unison, firing at will.
All the bullets pinged off Diamondback. Even the high caliber rounds from the turret.
Diamondback sprinted forward with heavy, clanking steps like an armored tank, ignoring everything thrown at him. He leaped into the air and grabbed the turret, his crystalline blue hands sinking into the metal with a wrenching grip.
With a grunt, Diamondback tore the turret right off in a shower of sparks and shredded metal parts. He spun to make momentum before tossing the large turret at the drones. The turret was like a cannonball, shattering the first line of drones in half outright while knocking more behind backwards.
The rest, Diamondback dealt with methodically, throwing out palm strikes that shot out diamond buckshot that shredded through the battle bots like they were made of paper.
"Fine? I would have thought you would be the last one to be fine with this," said Kris. He was not the type to raise his voice, but he was getting close.
"What's done is done. How we adapt to unforeseen events is how we'll succeed," said Diamondback. "There's no point wasting emotions and energy on mistakes."
"Cleared out the Cyclops here," said Stella's voice. She, Tox, Ace, Alan, and Alexis were at the other end of the hallway where they were dealing with two Cyclops bots.
Diamondback had taken Kris and Falco, the weaker members of the group, passed the dangerous Cyclops to the end of the hallway where Kris could jack into a control panel and open up the doors to the next floor.
"Good," said Diamondback. "Any losses?"
"No. EMP charges don't work as well as you advertised on the Cyclops. They can still move around," said Stella. "But it does mess their aim and movement up. Enough that dealing with them was just a matter of breaching their tough hides over time."
"They must've upgraded," said Diamondback. "The data we got from Casimir about this place is about a year outdated. But upgrading bots as high end as the Cyclops would've taken time and resources…"
Diamondback trudged forward, thinking while throwing out diamond shards on autopilot, as if the drones were just minor nuisances.
"It's like they expected this place to get attacked."
"They couldn't have predicted us," said Stella. "Unless there was a tiny ass chance that they had a seer with them."
'Seer' was the term given to Psionic class Alters who could see through the flow of time. They were extremely rare with only a select few individuals even known to have this ability across the entire globe. And even then, most could only see into the past.
Seeing into the future was deemed near impossible, with most visions being extremely inaccurate. The only Alter in the world who had relatively accurate visions was Prophet who was part of the AA, and he could only give vague visions of wide scale disaster.
"Unlikely, like you said," said Diamondback. "What I'm thinking is that they've made some breakthroughs here that's netted them something valuable. Something worth upping the security over."
"Well, whatever it is, we either blow it the fuck up or we take it," said Stella.
"Agreed. The mission stays the same. I've cleared the way to the next floor, but stay on your toes. The defenses are light now, but they know we're in here now. And anyone that isn't blind or stupid will know we're after the vaults.
We don't have the element of surprise anymore. They'll have time to stack their defenses sky high down in the vaults."