180 Upon Closer Inspection...
With the geode of souls removed, descending into the bottom-most depths of the fissure proved far easier for Reed and Lu'um, barring a few minor complications.
Though there weren't any dangerous Anima storms to contend with or shattered spacetime mazes to avoid, there was a striking manifestation within the fissure that had caught the couple's attention... and concern.
About four kilometers into their descent, an unexpected transformation in the scenery around them had prompted them to stop and assess the severity of the damage that contained within the fissure.
Reed gasped when he recognized the gravity of the situation and said, "I didn't think it'd be this bad. Holy shit, it's pretty much total anarchy down here! I think we might've popped the lid on something we shouldn't have."
"You think?" replied Lu'um. She too had come to the remorseful conclusion that they shouldn't have removed the geode of souls — at the very least, not before they had ventured past it first.
It had become evident to both of them that the geode of souls had actually served a purpose before they had taken it out for themselves. It had not been so much as a barrier to keep outsiders out, but as a net to keep what laid beneath it contained.
Past the area where the enormous geode once blocked existed a predicament that could only be described as a shitstorm for the history books.
"In a way, we've pulled off the scab on this wound," said Reed, hitting the nail on the head. "The only thing that we can do now is double-time it to the source of the problem and fix it."
It was an ocean of souls. That was what the geode had been blocking off the entire time by pure coincidence. A seemingly endless deluge of swarming motes of light swam mindlessly in perpetual unrest.
They were all uniquely different than one from another upon closer inspection, flickering in a variety of colors not visible in the narrow wavelength that mortals viewed the world with.
To a normal mortal, they would have seen nothing more than a faint, almost illusionary light show, but to Reed and Lu'um it was far more than that.
They saw them clearly. Though their forms were spectral in nature, they could distinctly make out the figures of an innumerable amount of people as they wandered to and fro in the fissure.
Every single one of them was undoubtedly deceased, though that did not stop them from behaving in strangely erratic ways that made them seem... alive.
As they descended further, Reed and Lu'um were bombarded with an incessant stream of intrusive, disordered thoughts and memories that belonged to the flock of loose souls.
Memories of children, adults, the elderly, and everyone in between. The impulsive desires and feelings from criminals, parents, lovers, and the lonely. An endless flood of unrestrained wishes from the deepest parts of their souls, no matter how pure or debased they were.
It was the complete sum of a person's identity, both the bad and the good — multiplied by several million individuals.
Pain alone could not describe what they had begun to experience as they descended into the psychic melting pot of souls because... pleasure also existed in the midst of the mindbending chaos.
For every painful memory, rejection, and failed wish these people possessed was equal parts euphoria, delight, and rapturous ecstasy.
The joy of becoming a parent, of a love realized, of accomplishing one's dreams, of raw physical pleasure from a variety of debauched acts — there was no end to the constant stream of multifaceted delight that continued to assault them.
In an endless number of ways, they were simultaneously experiencing the loss of a million failures and another million successes.
Reed had been absolutely right in preventing Astor, Ophelia, and Horatio from coming down with them. Had they tagged along, they would have surely turned into catatonic husks from what he was currently experiencing at the moment. Their minds would have been melted into a soupy mess, their unprotected egos torn to shreds in the unending psychic tempest.
Worse still, the small possibility of their souls being lured of their bodies could not be excluded. Tempted by the subconscious call of their swarm of souls, they could have suffered a terrible ending...
Even Reed, who had the protection of his soul being confined in his mark of responsibility, had not been completely exempt from the constant input from the souls around him.
It was akin to highly pitched static noise that could not be silenced, regardless of the auditory protection one could afford. The combined psychic wail of millions of souls was too much, even for the mark of responsibility.
The static noise pierced through every additional barrier Reed had mustered. There was no stopping it, they could only endure it with some limited protection.
Ugh... I can't think... straight with all this... clutter in the way...! Goddammit!
At best, simple thoughts were easy to construct without too much difficulty. Something along the lines of "Keep going down!" or "Ignore the voices!" weren't too hard to formulate. But anything more complex than that had become a chore to do without getting interrupted by an invasive thought or memory from someone in the pit of souls.
His mind was slowly being chipped away, despite his best efforts and recent experiences with psychic warfare. Reed's torture at the hands of that bastard had taught him just how terrifying a mental attack could be.
He had learned from that looped nightmare in Cem-Elle that not all battles had to be fought with one's fists, weapons, or over-the-top Anima techniques.
Breaking into and defiling the enemy's mind was a far more effective and efficient method than beating them into a pulp. It was also far cleaner too, leaving no evidence of the assailant's crime. After all, a drooling madman would never be able to disclose the identity of the person who turned them into a babbling nutcase.
Since then, Reed had begun devoting his time into grasping the intricacies of cognitive manipulation techniques and their associated counter-defenses. Never again would he permit such a heinous thing to befall his psyche again, not while he still drew breath. It was one thing to be toyed around in reality by forces greater than him, but he would not tolerate being oppressed inside of his own damned mind by a goddamned fragment of a bastard...
That was the thin line in the sand for Reed. He would not let the parasitic, freeloading, piece of shit asshole hiding within him act like he owned the place anymore. And as far as Reed was concerned, it would only be a matter of time until he booted the motherfucker out once and for all, consequences be damned.
Nevertheless, it'd be a fair while before that dream of his would come true considering the current level of mastery he possessed with cognitive Anima techniques.
He was only barely managing to keep out the brunt of the nonsense that was barraging on the metaphorical front door of his mind. That alone spoke volumes of the state of his goal of one day purging Him from his body...
Lu'um herself was in no better situation than Reed as well, all things considered. One would think that someone like her, who was a bonafide grandmistress when it came to Anime techniques, would not have encountered any issues with mental contamination brought upon by the swarm of souls, but...
It had simply not been her day today. Her unusual mental state, brought on by Reed's peculiar behavior had created a tiny mental chink in what would've been her otherwise impenetrable mental defenses.
Her weakness, borne of Reed's genuine sincerity and bizarre consideration, had come to bite her in the ass in the strangest method possible.
In the end, only Reed possessed the almighty ability to turn a well-intentioned and constructive act of affection into a negative ailment for his partner. Not even the Infestation or their masters, the Outsiders, had such a twisted ability in their arsenal.
Although Reed should have felt something for them, the poor souls stuck in limbo beneath the fissure, he couldn't help but feel a sense of... indifference for them. For someone who had been touched by death and abused by many people, including Fate itself to some extent, whatever compassion he once held for the fallen and oppressed had slowly evaporated since the Twilight War.
He'd simply seen too much it. Of suffering, death, and injustice. They were immutable concepts that could not be purged, even with the greatest of intentions and capabilities. The Ancient Mulians were irrefutable proof of this, thought Reed.
For all, they had accomplished with their mastery of Anima, it had not been enough to prevent the Infestation from ravaging the greater multiverse in the end.
There was too much misery to go around, so Reed had developed a somewhat callous heart. He had not gone off on the deep end yet, but it had definitely started to affect him.
Reed just couldn't afford to care for the souls around him, not with the already stacked plate of problems on his hands. Rather than focus and sympathize with the dead, he preferred to keep his mind on the living.
Perhaps one day when he was far stronger and more capable than now, he'd consider attending to the grievances of the deceased, but until then...
He'd block out their cries, to the fullest of his abilities.
The descent into the fissure's deepest section ended up taking them longer than they had anticipated, but after an hour of dealing with having their sanities tested, Reed and Lu'um reached the source of it all.
At the bottom of the fissure laid the unresponsive body of the titan, or rather only a portion of it. Still what had been unearthed along with the fissure was so large it could have overshadowed the entire city of Itroch and more.
Were it not for the gravity of the situation though, Reed would have probably said something incredibly inappropriate. The reason being stemmed from what he had only know discovered about the unconscious titan — the enigmatic being's actual gender.
Reed couldn't have been blamed for not knowing, given the limited number of times he had observed the titan. This was also not considering how much of the titan he'd been allowed to see, for much of it still remained buried under the earth.
From a distance, a gigantic mound could be seen below them, covered in an expansive field of silver hair. Though concealed, it was fairly obvious what it was to Reed, even if he wasn't an authority on the anatomy of the fairer sex.
So it's like that, huh... I'm a dumbass. Of course, it's like that with this twisted family of His. Unbelievable...
Were it not for the bright patch of crimson staining a certain part of her immaculate hair, it would've proved a troublesome headache for them, but this time the situation had been quite easy to identify.
The source of the injury this time was near the woman's collarbone, a little bit below her neck itself. A gnarly, rotting lesion had grown across the female titan's skin. It was completely different from the other sites Reed had visited in regard to the severity of the damage inflicted.
Horrible couldn't even begin to describe it. What little flesh hadn't turned a sickly shade of green, purple, or black had already disintegrated into nothingness. As unbelievable as it sounded, there were even portions of the titan's uppermost chest where bleached bone could be seen.
The past injuries in the other fissures they'd seen had been nothing more than a prelude for the true extent of the deterioration that currently threatened the female titan's life... and by extension, all life on Mulia.
Reed couldn't have worded it better if he had intentionally tried to.
They were now, for all intents and purposes, responsible for something larger than they could've previously imagined...