Note: if you read part 172 in the first hour of posting, it was originally this part. Click the back arrow to get the real part 172. Sorry about any confusion!
Poz stood up from where he’d dropped the five men that had found him, sliding the Songstone into his pouch. What if pouches were woven directly into trousers? A sort of self-contained pocket so they could not be cut by sneak thieves? Perhaps sealed by some sort of abrasive cloth – I shall have to investigate the properties of brambles to see if there’s a way to replicate. Poz stepped over a bleeding man. The man would die in another five minutes and thirty five seconds. Poz could end the man’s suffering immediately with a quick strike of the heel to the bridge of the man’s nose, but such an effort didn’t seem important. What seemed far more important, at the moment, was an observation that the blood spatters from the earlier slaughter had produced a fractal pattern on one portion of the wall which implied some interesting things about the air currents in this room.
Manflesh. It was foolish to act like he needed to be reminded of what this state was, but he still felt the need to do so. Manflesh was forbidden for several reasons. The first and foremost of them was, of course, the related decrease in empathy that came with the heightened intellectual state. Most of the Underfolk thought that this decrease was related directly to some inherent property of mankind, an implication that humanity was by its very nature more cruel than any other animal. Having experienced it, however, Poz disagreed with that assessment.
The truth was, suffering was not inherently interesting, and mankind was an inherently curious species. When added to the Underfolks own curiosity and intelligence, things like suffering just had trouble holding Poz’s attention, not when there were so many more interesting things to hold his attention. The interplay of blood on a wall. The theoretical possibilities of sticky fabric on pouches woven into trousers. And, of course, his survival odds over the next twelve hours and thirty minutes.
That timeframe was important. Based on his observation of Alohym ship movements and their proximity, it was the minimum amount of time before a True Alohym arrived with a new deployment of soldiers. Despite his earlier boast to whomever was on the other end of that Songstone, Poz couldn’t actually calculate them that precisely. Boasting that he could however, had a high probability of unsettling has adversary enough into to believe him, especially because he’d convinced Nicandros of that possibility during his last time in Manflesh. However, Poz was quite certain that his odds of survival dropped below twenty-five percent if he was still here when reinforcements arrived.
That timeframe was also important for the second, lesser known reason Manflesh was forbidden to the Underfolk. The Underfolk had evolved to adapt the traits of any animal life they consumed. They had not adapted alongside humans, dragons, or Sylvani. Now that Poz was again in Manflesh, he’d come to the same realization he had during his last bout in this form. Increased intelligence had a byproduct – increased energy required. The Underfolk brain had not adapted to handle the temperatures required to sustain this level of intelligence. In twelve hours and thirty minutes, he would begin to experience critical internal organ failure as the proteins in his body denatured from the heat. In sixteen hours that organ failure would result in permanent damage. In twenty, he would be comatose, and two hours after that he would only be producing heat from the various organisms generating it as they caused his body to undergo decomposition.
I think there must be another actor to produce those heats besides insects. The ‘invisible demon’ theory of hygiene has some merit, although invisibility is unlikely. Perhaps they are as small to insects as insects are to us, and thus invisible to our eyes. Also, you’ve now wasted twelve minutes in contemplation, which is decreasing your survival chances further.
Poz shook his head. That was another problem of Manflesh. The difficulty in prioritizing focus. Objectively, his survival was more important than the exact mechanisms of decomposition, especially since the decomposition would only directly impact his existence if he failed to survive. Yet part of him was imagining these too-small-to be seen creatures, ones constructed of simple proteins that could be controlled through the same heating mechanism that would slowly turn his brain into a liquid over the next several hours if he failed to shift out of Manflesh before the heat became overwhelming.
Also, while he was thinking this, his hands had taken out the songstone and began to open it. Another subconscious action, trying to tinker with an Alohym device that was millennia more advanced than anything humanity, sylvani, or dragonkind had managed to produce. Or is it? The Sylvani have shown remarkable adaptability to Alohym technology, perhaps it isn’t as unfamiliar as you previously believed. They were the ones to create the first arcells after all, and Sylvani physiology isn’t quite like any native to Alith, sharing more in common with deep sea life than it does with anything of terrestrial origin. Given that, there’s a high probability the Sylvani are, like the Alohym, beings not native to this world. Therefore it would follow that…
That train of thought was derailed by two simultaneous occurrences. The first was that he’d managed to work the back off the Songstone. The second was that three Alohym soldiers burst into the cellar where he’d taken refuge.
Human reaction time allowed them to respond to external stimuli in about a quarter of a second. Underfolk reaction time allowed for a reaction within a similar window of time. When those were amplified by each other, Poz was able to react in a quarter of a quarter of that time. Therefore, while the impending attackers were still taking in the carnage they were witnessing, Poz had already identified their presence, the threat the likely posed, and how swiftly he would have to react to be able to survive before they could begin opening fire with their unlight arcwands. At the same time they were raising their arcwands, Poz was calculating trajectories and force applications. Because, in addition to being exceedingly clever, there was one other things that humans could do better than any other native-born species of this world.
They could throw.
Poz whipped the back of the songstone between two fingers and let the disc fly directly towards the throat of the leading Alohym soldier. It crushed his trachea with a sickening squash of flesh. The man’s hands were flying towards his neck, but Poz was already moving out of the most statistically likely path of the remaining two’s arcwand fire. Their bolts followed their predicted path, bisecting the air Poz had just vacated, and his hand lashed up to snatch the disc out of the air on the rebound. He dropped into a crouch to avoid the next two bolts and hurled the disc again, this time aiming for the bridge of the soldier’s nasal cavity. It cracked the delicate bones there upon impact, and Poz followed its path to jam the heel of his hand into the base of the soldier’s nose. Shattered bones were driven directly into the cranium. For this particular soldier, death would be instant.
The third soldier took a step back, as Poz had predicted, and his action followed Poz’s expected models – to whit, he tripped over the corpse of a man Poz had stepped over earlier, falling on his back. Poz was able to catch the disc from the songstone again and hurled it forwards. It struck the man in his crotch, forcing him to reflexively remove his hands from his arcwand and bring them to the injured member.
Which meant there was nothing to protect him when Poz brought his heel down on the man’s face.
Seventeen seconds. I probably could have reduced that by three seconds if I’d dipped to the left instead of the right to reduce the distance between myself and the third man.
Poz mentally noted that last action and began to look at the exposed back of the Songstone. Metal cables, lenses, and an unlight arcell.
Perfect. I think I can survive what comes next.
And then there was the egg. It had taken Poz exactly three minutes upon emerging from his cocoon to collate the available data and figure out exactly what the egg’s primary purpose was, what the Alohym wanted to do with it, and why it was both essentially it be kept out of the Alohym’s hands without being destroyed.
However, if it came down to it, the egg’s destruction was preferable to Alohym acquisition.
He’d just have to make sure it didn’t come to that.
Whistling a tune he was composing on the fly, Poz began to work on the back of the Songstone.