When Caden found himself staring down at his own body he felt conflicted. Certainly there was the usual denial, anger, disbelief, and so on, but there was also the feeling that the moment was almost tawdry, pedantic. It felt so cliché. The scene of the scattered car wreckage and the distant sound of sirens approaching could have come from a bad movie. The world started to fade away and become a bright light. It was in this moment that the cliché was disrupted. Caden felt himself yanked sideways through the world, suddenly seeing the inside and outside of car, his body, and the concrete simultaneously. He was moving in a way he did not know was possible and then everything snapped back into place.
Caden found himself in a room carved directly out of stone. The room was fairly simple, with a single archway that lead out into a hall that turned abruptly into a corner. The stone itself was mostly grey and tan, through a few stray veins of marble ran through it. Caden’s emotions were dulled; for the moment he simply existed and observed. There was no concern; there was no curiosity. Both of these emotions would normally be appropriate, because he was not where or what he thought he would be after dying. Not to mention the issue of dying should cause some small emotion all on its own.
Caden saw in all directions simultaneously, though the view below him was mostly blocked by the object he was resting on. Caden was now a glittering red gem. He could not actually see himself, but red stained shadows pooled beneath him like blood.
The room contained other items of interest. Most unusual were the balls of light floating just below the ceiling giving off a soft warm glow. A close second was the presence of another crystal. This crystal was black, and roughly the size of a man’s heart. The surface of the crystal was translucent, and hinted at inky depths. The crystal was placed on a stand. The stand was about waist high on a man and was composed of two hollow circles linked by a helix. One circle rested on the ground and the black crystal was held aloft by the other. Above the circle on the ground a milky white crystal glowed dully, held in place by prongs emerging from the metal.. The metal of the stand reminded Caden of silver or stainless steel, though the faintly glowing writing that spanned the outside of the helix was decidedly not normal.
Time had no meaning for Caden in his current state, and some timeless moment later a man entered the room. If Caden had been capable of expressing an emotion, he would have been surprised. Caden had, correctly, overturned his entire world view and decided that he was here due to magic. This would normally have been far more difficult, but lack of emotion does have some benefits for rational thought. Caden had subconsciously expected the standard mighty wizard look: long white hair and beard, possibly glasses, an ancient face like a crumpled brown bag, robes, a gnarled wooden staff, a pointed hat, etc… What he got was far more mundane and practical.
The man was wrinkled, but it was the wear and tear of someone who had spent many days braving the elements, wrinkles carved into the face like water shapes stone. He was bald, with neatly trimmed salt and pepper hair forming a half circle near the level of his ears, more salt than pepper. His nose was thin, short, and perfectly straight above teeth like polished ivory. The man wore brown leather boots, with pants and a long shirt both the same shade of whitish tan. His hips sported a leather belt studded with various pockets and pouches across the the front.
The first thing the man did was examine Caden. He moved his hands and spoke words. As far as Caden could tell nothing happened, but the man’s eyebrows rose and he smiled broadly while nodding his head. He repeated more gestures and incantations several times, each time smiling afterwards. Finally he looked between Caden’s crystal and the black crystal on the stand. With a smile he rubbed his hands together and took a piece of chalk from a pouch at his waist.
First the man drew a circle around the perimeter of the entire room. He then drew two more circles. A large one and a smaller one. Each circle touched the outer edge of the circle around the room directly across from one another, and in turn touched each other. Within the larger inner circle he drew two new circles. These circles did not touch each other and were several feet apart. Caden, along with the stand that held him, was placed in the center of one circle, and in the other the man placed the black crystal on its stand. Between the two circles the man wrote out runes in a straight line from the edge of one circle to the edge of the other. Off that line the man drew branches of runes in many different shapes. Sometimes just another simple line, but sometimes these lines branched themselves; there were spirals, zigzags, and curving lines of text. Additional runes were placed at the perimeter of all of the circles, though they were less complex and did not cover the entire perimeter.
Once all the runes were drawn, the man carefully checked that each one was correct. Afterwards he did the same thing again. He made no corrections, but moved with glacial slowness, not risking any errors. Once he had finally finished he carefully moved until he stood in the center of the smaller inner circle. With a few gestures of his right hand, the chalk around the room lit up with light. He kept his right hand in place and carefully moved his left into a pouch on his waist. He emerged with a handful of silvery dust and tossed it into the air. The dust drifted down towards the chalk and stopped an inch above the ground, forming the runes and circles in the air. With a gesture of his left hand the chalk flashed and vanished.
The man started to gesture with both hands and spoke firmly and clearly. The silvery runes grew steadily brighter as the man continued. Eventually the light grew harsh and blindingly bright as the runes blazed with contained power. Caden, however, missed much of this. As the chanted words progressed Caden found his view more and more constrained. He found himself focusing on the black crystal with inhuman intensity. The black shape grew before him. First it was like a black world beneath him, then like a black cave, and finally all he saw was darkness.
When Caden awoke his mind was functioning properly once more, although he had some doubts about that. Mainly because the first thing he saw was a few pop-ups that looked like this:
Your status has changed!
Type: Dungeon Core – Soul Hybrid
Crystal Status: 100% – Undamaged
Status Effects: Mana Drain
Available Mana: 0/25
Passive Mana Generation: 10/Day
Next level: 15 Mana Cost
Subsections Available: 1
Ability Points: 100
Skills: Mana Absorption I,
Limited Omniscience (Dungeon)
Soul Mana I
Dungeon Aura Expansion I
You have been given new titles!
Your soul was captured just after death and reborn into something new. You are aware of yourself as a soul in a way few people ever are. Take this new chance and make the most of it.
+250 Ability Points
Learn and level up soul related skills in half the time
First of its Kind
You are the first of your kind, a dungeon with a mortal soul, and are potentially the progenitor of a whole new existence. The weight of the world rests on your shoulders, but you have unlimited potential.
+500 Ability Points
Learn the first level of any skill in half the time
New Quest Obtained!
Freedom or Dominion
You are being held captive. Some of your abilities are removed. Escape or kill your captor to gain your abilities back. Exceptional accomplishments in this task can earn greater rewards.
Caden’s mind was a tumultuous blend of emotions, and the pop-ups were not helping. Caden first confronted his recent experience of being post-mortal.
I died! And… I am reborn… sort-of. And I think that I might be in a game, or a place that functions like one. And I am going to rip the throat out of this petty magician that dares to.. wait. That was not entirely my thought.
Caden could feel that he was no longer alone within his own mind. He shared his crystalline existence with something other. It was darker and more primal, a creature of urges and instinct rather than intellect. By comparison anyway, as humans were not exactly shining examples of intellect triumphing over instinct. Caden could feel the impulses of this other half, and how it was tied irrevocably into his own mind.
Caden’s other half resented being trapped. It wanted to expand and protect itself, to bury itself in tunnels deep within the earth. Most of all it wanted to lash out at the man that posed a danger by being to close. TOO CLOSE!
Caden marshaled his thoughts, trying to remain calm and tamp down the raving of his other half. Caden focused on what was happening now. Caden still had sight in every direction, but he could now feel and see everything within a few feet. Mostly what he was focused on was the man (too close), who was examining him with great interest. Caden was also keenly aware of himself. Unlike before he could see himself from inside and out. Caden was now a purple crystal, more like a gem really, that was a large oval with dozens of small facets. Caden’s lower end was firmly held by the same stand the black crystal had been in before.
Caden could see even more. He could see faint movements of currents in the air. And contained within the air he could see something more. He did not know what to call it, but his other half’s instincts recognized it as power. This power was everywhere, gleaming faintly in the air, and Caden could see the power slowly swirling inwards toward him. From there it condensed into a stream that entered into his core, but then it was pulled away diverting down into the helix of the stand following the runes along its structure until it was stored in the white crystal below. Caden’s other half wanted to rave and rant about this as well, but he refused to listen; his attention had been caught by something else.
The old man had made a few gestures accompanied by words. Unlike before, Caden could see something radically different. As his hands moved, traceries of power formed into a web. The web finished and sank into Caden’s crystal, though a filament of power connected back towards the man. The man squinted slightly, and his eyes went back and forth while he looked unfocused. If Caden had to guess the man was reading something, probably something that was similar to the pop-ups he had gotten earlier.
Caden had been trying not to think about that. He was a dungeon, or rather a hydrid dungeon, and he was dead. Of course, that was not exactly true, Caden had died. Caden found his mind was rather focused on this. The idea of death tended to occupy the thoughts of those capable of understanding what that would mean. And now Caden found himself past that. This was quite a shift. He was not dead but rather undead, formerly dead, not as dead as he used to be, the dungeon formerly known as dead. Caden tried to shake his head and nothing happened. It was the strangest feeling he had ever encountered, because he felt like something should have moved but nothing had changed at all. He hoped that he was not going to deal with phantom limbs.
Focus, focus. Caden was getting distracted; he thought he was letting himself because he was avoiding the suddenly massive issues facing him. He died. His former life was over. A lot of the time characters in books and movies got transported somewhere else and whined and moped about how much they wanted to go home. That was not an option for Caden, the going home part, he could moan and whine all he liked for all the good it would do him. He was dead. He repeated that in his head, because while he understood that on an intellectual level it was hard to convince some remaining part of himself of that truth. His friends were going to mourn, his parents and family cry over a grave which would contain what remained of his flesh after organ donation (assuming the crash made donation still feasible). His old life was over.
He was something else now. From what he could tell his soul was more or less the same, which was a relief, but the rest of his world was vastly different. He was in a world with magic, and one styled like a game at that. There were infinite possible worlds, and Caden supposed he should be grateful he landed in one that was within his ability to comprehend, but it was beyond merely strange. He was a dungeon… sort-of. He was a crystal. The heart of a dungeon to be, even if all that belonged to him for now were a few feet in every direction. He could feel the intense possessiveness of his dungeon soul; it was not much but it was his.
Caden finally read through the pop-ups now that he had calmed down somewhat. The mana drain status explained why he could see that energy was passing through him as he consumed it. He was being kept at zero mana so he could pose no threat to the man studying him and keeping him captive. The mana that was siphoned off of him seemed insignificant compared to the total amount around, especially around the mage, so he assumed that the man was not trying to use Caden as some kind of mana battery.
Caden still didn’t understand the mage as he spoke. He had been half hoping that he would gain that knowledge from the dungeon core, but no such luck. He guessed he had better get familiar with himself. He focused on each of his abilities.
Mana Absorption I
Raw mana within your aura can be drawn into your core to increase your available mana.
Limited Omniscience (Dungeon)
You can see and hear everything within your aura. Living entities and dense mana sources can block your senses.
Soul Mana I
Unlike any other dungeon, you have a mortal soul. Mortal souls naturally create raw mana. This mana flows into your available mana.
Dungeon Aura Expansion I
You may convert any available mana to expand your area of influence (aura).
Right, well that all actually seemed straight forward. He could draw in or create mana and then store it, and then he could use it to expand his influence, known as aura. He also had some perks because he was both unique and reborn. He assumed he needed to level before he could do anything else, but that was not going to happen as long as he had no mana. He needed to find a way to fix that.
Caden focused on his ability points and a massive array of purchasable options appeared. They were neatly organized and he could search in various ways. His dungeon half lacked the wherewithal and or interest to understand anything he was doing, so he assumed it would just do this kind of thing on instinct. Most of the options were plants and animals, some both, Caden could learn to create, but since none of the associated mana costs were zero (no surprise there), he would need to do something else before he tried getting any summons. He searched through the list, finding what he could on mana. It looked like he could not buy an increase for any of his current skills, or if he could that option was not available yet, so there was no help from that.
There were a few skills that looked promising. There was a skill that resisted magic with the dungeon core as its target, or which altered its immediate area. Another would allow him to resist magical drains of any kind within his area of influence, and from the description it looked like it would benefit monsters in his dungeon to a lesser extent. Many others allowed him to get far more mana under certain conditions, like the death of his own monsters or other creatures, but would not be helpful now.
Since he had special affinity with souls he looked up anything with that too. There was not very many options for that available. He was not sure if that was because he was not high enough level or skill to get them, or simply because he was the first dungeon who had a soul that could use them. There were some options for undead creatures using the souls of killed adventurers. Another option used the death of creatures to generate soul energy, though he had no idea what he would even use that for. The only remotely useful option he saw was for some kind of soul perception, it could more accurately see the power of creatures and people. Mostly he was looking for ideas of what was possible.
The titles that Caden received had actually provided him with vital information. One skill said that he would gain the first level of skills easier. That meant that he did not have to purchase skills in order to learn them. He could potentially learn any of the skills that were available for purchase, which was good because most of them were not cheap and he did not want to waste his Ability Points. Caden wondered if certain skills could only be purchased though. At the moment he had no idea how many points he would get each level. If he got 100 per level then they were rare enough that he would want to conserve them. He could end up getting a lot more, or a lot less. He had no way of knowing. So long as He was not in any actual danger he was not going to waste his resources. He wasn’t just going to sit around though. He didn’t want to kill the old man like his alter ego demanded, but he sure as hell was going to escape.
Please feel free to comment.
There are what I am always most interested in hearing:
1. What promises have I made to the reader?
2. What do you think is going to happen?
3. What confuses you?
4. What do you like, so that I can be sure not to edit it out?
5. Misc issues in grammar, spelling, etc…
And of course, general discussion about everything else.
Comments on the series as a whole may be placed on the Table of Contents, spoilers are allowed there.