“Life is like a sewer: what you get out of it depends and what you put into it.
- Tom Lehrer
“Skills make all the difference. Prospectors will find gold in the stream were all others find only mud.”
- An Adventurer’s Guide to Prosperity
Initial Difficulty Assessment: Severe
+ Quick Completion
+ Initial Escape Unnoticed
– Damaged (Deduction Removed: Damage Integral to Escape)
+ Evaded Active Detection
+ Difficulty Level Escalated During Escape
+ No Escape Specific Skills Purchased
+ Low Level
+ Escaped on First Attempt
Rewards: Severe, Upgraded to Titanic with Bonuses
Hidden (Reward Deferred)
All Skills Start at Level II
Current Skills Below II Raised to Level II
Skills and Abilities Returned
Destructive Assimilation II
Matter Fabrication II
Some formerly disabled abilities are now available for purchase.
Escape Artist IV (Deception)
You are a master of stealth and misdirection. No one notices your escape until you are long gone.
+750 AP (50, 100, 200, 400)
Learn abilities focused on deception much faster, or purchase them much cheaper. (-20% cost)
Your Aura cannot be traced back to your core by anyone without a stronger detection title.
Destructive Assimilation II
Disintegrate an object, plant, creature, etc… to gain knowledge of its component parts. More complicated materials and enchanted items may require analyzing more than one sample.
Matter Fabrication II
Use mana to reconstruct items analyzed with Destructive Assimilation. Creating materials without an associated skill will be far more mana intensive. Some creations will require more than raw mana.
Current Associated Skills: Earth Manipulation
Create a dedicated dungeon space to attract adventurers. Subsections may be used to create separate areas with different properties. Dungeon areas are inherently easier for you to control. Only one dungeon may currently exist at a time, your previous one must be removed to found a new one.
Caden’s mind reeled with the amount of information he was suddenly getting. His personal aura immediately expanded outwards, no doubt the result of Aura Mobility II. He was, however, pleased with some his new abilities. There had definitely been things that felt lacking before, and he could do real work on a dungeon now. His thoughts were interrupted by the next popup.
Warning – Core Unstable!
You have received massive damage to your core. You have 2 hours to found a dungeon to heal in or you will receive further damage.
Well shit. There was no way he wanted to build a dungeon right next to Tam. Caden had had a hard enough time escaping once. Thinking about Tam he found his thoughts clearer than usual, he only had the faintest pulse of anger from Exsan. Was that because he was free now, or was that a side effect of the core being damaged? Did it damage their connection? Talk about silver linings…
For the moment Caden considered and looked at what was available for purchase now. His previously available purchases were now cheaper; it looked like each level of learning decreased the cost by 5%. There were, as had been indicated, new abilities available. They were mostly variations of each other, actually. For the first time Caden was seeing one time use purchases in the ability menu. All of them were related to teleportation. He could do random teleportation, a teleport to a generic suitable place for a dungeon, teleport to a known location, or…
Caden stopped and carefully read over the last option available for purchase. It was expensive, hugely so, by his current standards. He could only barely afford it, and only because he had just gained an extra 750 ability points and Learning II. He brought up his condition and could see a little ticking timer counting down. He had a little less than two hours to decide, and he wanted to make the most of his time, so he started moving upwards.
Along the way he decided to test his new abilities. He would check on any skill improvements later, though one thing Caden did notice right away was that his passive mana generation had doubled, presumably from Soul Mana II.
Regardless of his original intent, Caden found his journey halted when he tried using Destructive Assimilation on the stone he was passing through.
Taste. Texture. Joy.
He had consumed nothing other than mana for weeks, but it was clear that he was meant to do so much more. A tiny bit of stone dissolved and he could actually taste it. It… actually tasted how he thought stone would taste. Mineral and metallic, and he could feel the crunching texture of its dissolution, like a piece of candy cracking between his teeth.
If he had still been human, Caden knew the flavor would have disgusted him, but now he found the rich complexity of the stone’s structure delicate and refreshing. And as he consumed other pieces of stone, the faint differences of flavor were also backed by the information seeping into him about how to recreate the stone. So he did.
It was easy. He replaced the small pieces that he had taken, slotting the appropriate patterns into place. He could tell, however, that there was more information buried underneath. For all that his mind had expanded drastically, he could not grasp the actual molecular and atomic nature of his creation, let alone whatever lay beneath that. Perhaps some day…
Eager to try new stone he rose upwards once more. He tried the different strata of stone and savored the different subtle variations, and occasional major differences of the different types of stone. In a gluttonous haze Caden rose upward for a good ten minutes until he encountered something different.
It was flowing water. As he rose up more, Caden could detect that it was more than just that. It was a sewer system, draining away water and waste, and surrounded by faded brick walls marked by the occasional brighter repair. The stone beneath the water was solid and unmarked. Was the floor made by magic, or simply old enough that any tool marks had long since faded away?
He could tell that there was no light, for all that everything in his aura was crystal clear. The water was full of a haze of mana. These resolved into insects of some kind, and tiny fish. Along the bottom of the sewer were small creatures that looked like they belonged in the ocean, Each one was in a small hardened cone stuck to the bottom of the sewer, and from the top they extended slightly fuzzy tentacles into the water. Some kind of filter feeder if he had to guess. And they were not alone, other creatures filtered the water. Everywhere he looked the water became more alive. And getting closer the mana haze resolved further into countless tiny critters that looked like jellyfish, insects, and more.
This was a full ecosystem. A complete balanced biosphere. How long did a city need to exist for evolution to create an ecology like this for the sewer? He could not even imagine. Many creatures had adapted to human cities back home, but nothing this complete. This system reminded him of a cross between ocean and cave life forms. It was beautiful and simultaneously insane. Caden realized that in some part of his brain he had made the mistake of assuming that because this was a game styled world that it was simplified. Nothing could be farther from the truth; this system was as complex as any biosphere on Earth.
Caden looked at the water now with a certain wonder, but also somewhat dubiously. There were valid reasons for consuming some of it, but… it was sewer water. Still, water was essential, and this water had living things in it. Some of those would be useful. Acquiring a complete functioning ecosystem was simply too great a chance to ignore.
With a sigh he began to consume what he could in the water. It didn’t taste bad. It tasted… organic in the same way that decomposing leaves have the sweet scent of cinnamon decay and forming earth. Caden’s mind opened. The water was a simple clear signal, a single pure note, but it contained a symphony. Thousands, millions, more, unimaginably complicated patterns layered over one another growing ever more complex the more that he consumed. Overwhelmed, it took Caden a few moments to come back to himself.
What was that? Bacteria? He could gain a sense of what he had taken in. It was a whole biosphere unto itself. He could only guess what it must all be, he certainly could not separate out the details of the individual organisms. He could sense that some things were less complex, though still sufficient to overwhelm him. Organic molecules maybe? Some of the patterns were simple. Water, he knew he could create that without difficulty now. And there were simple things dissolved in it, bits of stone, and other inorganic matter.
Something was missing though. All the living haze he had detected continued on undisturbed. None of the organisms that he could actually see had been absorbed. Caden focused on a small tentacle cone and tried to absorb it. Nothing, no matter how hard he tried. Were living organisms completely immune? Had he simply absorbed dead bacteria? There would be no shortage of that in the water. Maybe he needed to try with something smaller? He concentrated again, this time focusing on a tiny jellyfish, smaller than a mote of dust.
At first he thought that nothing would happen. However, as he focused intently on it, its mana grew dimmer, brightened, and then dimmed again. The mana throbbed, pulsing faster and faster. Finally the mana winked out and he had consumed the creature. Again, information flooded his mind and he knew the creature. He could create it. Admittedly creating a tiny tiny jellyfish was not exactly going to inspire terror in anyone, but it was a start.
Caden looked at his mana… it had actually taken a couple mana to break through the creature’s defenses. Okay, so not the most efficient way to harvest patterns. Caden considered the problem. Would it work if he just killed everything? He could presumably get their patterns from all the DNA residue left behind. Well… no way to know unless he tried it.
For a moment he considered the best way to kill everything living in a section of the sewer. When he tried to manipulate the stone directly underneath the water he felt resistance. The closer he tried to manipulate, the more mana it cost. The range restriction was not particularly far, but it became prohibitively expensive to manipulate any stone within a couple feet of the water. He could create stone to cut off the water and “drown” them with air, or push stone in from the walls… but there was no telling how long they would survive without water. No, probably best to simply overwhelm with sheer force.
Caden lifted his crystal farther up within the stone until the ceiling and a few feet more were comfortably in his aura range. There was a tiny amount of resistance near the ceiling, no doubt due to the small insects and fungus he could feel on it, but it was not even close to the difficulty near the water. With a quick manipulation of the stone he severed four vertical planes, leaving a stone that was about a dozen feet long, but smaller in width than the sewer by several inches on each side. Finally he cut the stone free from the top, starting from the inside and working out. He left several inches attached on each side, forming a hollow rectangle. Then Caden worked on all the stone remaining simultaneously, hollowing it out to make it porous. The connecting stone became weaker and weaker, until finally with a sharp crack it came loose. A block of stone weighing several tons plummeted towards the water waiting below.
The intricate ecosystem in the slowly moving sewer water below never knew what hit it. The giant block of stone only fell a short distance, but gravity could not be denied and it accelerated into the water below. Upon hitting the water, a shock wave of pressure propagated outward, claiming the first victims as various organisms collapsed partially under the pressure. The stone had lost much of its momentum, but it hit bottom only moments later, grinding shells and living tissue to a thin paste beneath its massive weight.
Caden was simultaneously delighted and sickened. Mana poured into him with the deaths, which he needed desperately, but the loss of life was unfortunate. He absorbed the paste from under and around the stone where it had been extruded by the weight. For a timeless moment Caden was lost to sensation. The flavor of life was inherently intoxicating. It was the closest thing he had experienced to actually eating so far. It was umami, the bold savory flavor of flesh, and the vibrant mineral flavors of salt, marrow, and bone. And amidst this flavor flowed information.
The information was a flood pushing away all other thoughts. Caden tried to comprehend what he was learning, even as it became available for his use, but even with all his new mental powers brought to bear he caught only flashes of the whole. A vast intricate fuzzy assemblage that he vaguely thought was a protein, parts of cells that he thought he could recognize, and dual helical strands of DNA stretching to infinity in both directions or folded and folded again into intricate knots. Gradually as he absorbed all that he could, Caden knew the creatures he could create, but the unimaginable details of the simplest of living things remained just that, unimaginable. For all his clumsy grasping, and the ability to recreate what he absorbed, Caden remained like a man merely drawing a creature. Having gained all the knowledge he could here, Caden moved on.