“If danger arises in the present moment, there may be an emotion. There may even be pain. But that’s a challenge, not a problem. For a problem to exist you need time and repetitive mind activity.”
- Eckhart Tolle
“Rule # 23 – Be wary of working with amateurs. They will, with the best of intentions, claim to be brave. What they are not, however, is trained. In the moment of danger, they will instead do the first thing that enters their mind.”
- 50 Rules for Dungeon Divers
Caden looked at the countdown. Less than an hour and a half left. He looked at the flowing sewer water hesitating. He had two potentially very good options. If he followed the water to where it drained away he might find an entirely new ecosystem, plus who knew what might have floated away to be trapped there. However, going upstream was an equally good choice. Heavier objects and obstructions could yield materials he would not find below. Also, upstream would be both richer in nutrients, as well as remnants of creatures or plants from the surface. However, the closer he came to the sewer entrance the more danger of having to deal with people in some fashion.
Ultimately, the thought of creating a dungeon home that was more than merely an underwater ecosystem decided Caden. He missed Earth, the sun, grass, trees, and all the growing things. Water was beautiful, but he was certain that he wanted a dungeon that was more that that.
So, he followed the water upstream. A few new interesting species caught his eye, so to speak, and he arranged precision rock falls to collect them. He encountered junctions, and followed the current as the water grew deeper. As the water reached a few feet in height Caden encountered his first truly alien life form on this new world. It looked like a ball of transparent jelly, moving with exquisite slowness on the bottom of the sewer. The path behind it was scoured clean, like someone had taken a giant spatula and scraped a foot wide path in the bottom of the sewer. Even as Caden watched, the slime ball dissolved bits of creatures inside it.
He decided that this was exactly what he wanted to collect. He took great care in cutting free a large block from above the slime. A three foot cube of stone centered over the slime dropped down onto the water. It splashed through the water and flattened the unsuspecting ball of slime. Bits of slime jetted out from under the cube, thrown away by the force, and the rest oozed out to the sides of the cube along with the crushed remains of everything else under the cube. With eagerness Caden absorbed all the dead material. Unfortunately, the slime was not among them. Despite being crushed, the slime was utterly unharmed. Even the bits spurted away were still alive and could not be absorbed. Caden cursed even as he watched bits of slime slowly begin to move back towards one another. It was immune to being crushed to death and separating parts of it had done nothing. Whatever it took to kill one of these, he simply didn’t have it at the moment. Now he wanted it even more. Attempting to store some of it in his storage did nothing, and with a bit more testing he discovered he could not store any living creatures inside his storage. Surprisingly, fish eggs could be stored though. But he had no idea how to kill or store the slime, and so, grumbling, he moved on once again.
After following the main flow of the sewers farther upstream, Caden’s faith finally began to be rewarded. Seeds. It started when he found a tiny seed floating in the water. He found that absorbing it was difficult, but it went into his storage with no trouble at all. So seeds and eggs could be stored. Looked like potential living things could be stored just fine; it seemed an arbitrary distinction, but he did not make the rules. As he continued upstream he began to find more seeds, plus other organic materials. The seeds he stored away, and the various sticks, twigs, bits of bramble, and more were dissolved if they were sufficiently dead and Caden found himself with new patterns forming in his mind.
Caden treasured each new plant and species he obtained. Each one represented a prize he might never be able to acquire otherwise in the future. Continuing forward the fish and other life on the bottom got larger. Caden collected eggs where he could, but his countdown was getting closer and closer to zero. With less than twenty minutes left he hurried along the rushing current, moving through the stone under the sewer as fast as possible.
Finally he began to find corroded pieces of metal, welded to the stone by rust, verdigris, and other corrosion. He absorbed every bit of them and continued on. He found a glimmering coin, untouched, likely due to being made of gold and gladly absorbed it. It was not what Caden expected. All the ancient gold coins he had seen in history classes were oblong, crude, and barely held an image. This looked far more like modern coinage. It was small, about the size of a dime, and both sides were intricately worked. One side had an archway, the metal crosshatched to suggest depths within. The other side was a snake, with tiny scales detailed onto it. It felt more like a work of art, and it was the easiest thing to absorb Caden had ever come across. As he dissolved it he felt an intricate magic pattern running through it.
Caden had little time to consider the coin for the moment. He moved on, as he watched the clock counting inexorably downward. He started coming across some small dead animals floating in the water. No doubt the frenzied fish were very confused as their meals simply vanished. Many of the tiny corpses he came across were mice-bugs, or some close relative. He should really find a better name for them at some point… He also encountered a much larger variant, should he call those rat-bugs?
He also encountered more normal insects both dead, and alive, feeding on the various refuse. It seemed cockroaches were eternal. It figured the only familiar animal he had come across was one he would have happily done without. Oh well, they were tough, maybe he could scale them up into some kind of dungeon monster? If not at least they could feed some more useful creature.
Caden could feel the clock ticking down. He decided to ignore at least some of his caution and rose farther up in the stone so that his aura extended out more at the level of the tunnel. He could see some additional tunnels off to the sides now. And people. Shit!
He just kept moving for the moment. The two people he detected were in a side tunnel. The side tunnel had small ledges on the sides for people to walk on. They wore leather of some kind in boots that extended past their knees. They both seemed agitated, their glances searching the tunnel by the torch one held slightly behind and above his head. Huh, was that the proper was to carry a torch, who knew? Caden wasn’t sure if their agitation was because they were in the sewers, they could somehow sense him, or something else. They were arguing now. He could see the gestures even if he could not understand.
The one with the torch turned and tried to run away. The other man pulled a knife from his belt and threw it at the other. Caden guessed he was aiming for the heart, but the man’s running steps caused the knife to go lower severing the spine in the middle of his back. Blood seeped out around the wound, but it was less than Caden had expected. He felt the faintest stirring of blood-lust from Exsan, but it was almost imperceptible.
The man’s legs collapsed under him, he hit the wall, and bounced off into the water. The other man took a step toward the body, grimaced as he saw fish already attracted to the scent of blood in the water, pulled out a stone that shone with light, and ran in the opposite direction.
He quickly ran out of Caden’s range, and for a moment all Caden could think about was why the attacker hadn’t used the stone before instead of having the other man hold a torch… He shook off his thoughts. Shit! He could feel the man in the water, the blood seeping out, and countless fish coming to eat. Caden hesitated, should he just let the man die? That would be easiest, and he could take the body… No, no. That was not who he was. On this new insane world life might be cheap, heaven knows it was even on parts of Earth, but he was better than that.
Caden tried to take a deep breath to steady himself. Right… no lungs. The man, first he had to get him out of the water and away from the fish so he wouldn’t drown, be eaten, or both. How the hell was he going to get him out of the water? The man was buoyant and floating on the top of the water face down, the knife sticking up out his back like a macabre fin.
Well… Caden couldn’t actually do much other than to manipulate stone or dissolve things. And he couldn’t move stone too near living things… right, this was impossible. How could he save someone when he cannot even touch them? Wait… storage. He had stuff in storage. The chair, it was wood it would float right? Oh, he really hoped so.
With a faint ripple the chair appeared in the water beneath the man and floated up beneath him. It didn’t do much to lift the man, but it was a start. Moving as fast as he could, Caden extended a tendril of stone out of the wall down stream. As the man floated by Caden clamped onto the protruding chair’s back with the stone and lifted the chair out of the water, keeping the man firmly centered. Water and fish poured back into the sewer.
Caden created a hollow in the wall and drew the man into it. He eased him off the chair and onto the floor, wishing Tam had left that rug in the room. He put the chair back into storage and simply looked at the man. Now what? He could feel a faint pulse through vibrations in the air and stone, but the man was not breathing, and various bits of flesh had been nibbled away in the short time he had been in the water. Blood was mixing with the water beneath him, forming a reddish pool.
Well… he could replicate anything he absorbed, right? And he had absorbed things right next to living objects. So… there might be a couple ways to help. God, he hoped this worked.
Caden absorbed the pool of blood and he was over-whelmed by patterns once more. He could tell that something was missing though. He had the shape of the man, but not the actual sense. Maybe he needed to absorb more than just the DNA? Maybe he needed the various types of cells. He may have smashed his previous prey to bits, but there would have been mostly intact cells of all different types amongst the debris.
Right. He examined around the body more closely. Well… he knew the top layer of skin was actually dead, but the mana layer was clearly covering it. No… there. A small gobbet of flesh hung from the wound on the back, and it was definitely dead and unprotected. Cannibalism ho! Caden absorbed the flesh, disturbed that it tasted ridiculously good. More information flooded into his mind. It was not a conscious knowledge now, but he could see the pattern and how it was supposed to go, mostly. The man’s pattern was definitely off, not that that surprised Caden in the least.
The pulse was weakening. The man’s mana signature wavered for a second before resuming. Okay… there might be something he could do then. Caden grabbed the handle of the knife, preparing to extract it. The mana dimmed again. With a flash Caden extracted the knife straight out and stored it while simultaneously absorbing a small cross section of the wound. He needed a complete sample of bone, nerve, and everything else in the wound if he was going to repair it. Simultaneously, another section of his mind was absorbing the water straight from the man’s lungs. Another absorbed anything else that didn’t belong in the blood. He had fallen with an open wound into the sewer, after all; it would be foolish to repair the man’s body only for him to die of sepsis. Immediately after that, as the man’s pattern finally resolved into a complete image, all of Caden’s mind focused on repairing the various wounds simultaneously.
The knife wound in the back was the most serious issue, so that received the most attention. Mana poured out of Caden and flesh knit to flesh, bone to bone, and nerve to nerve. Other parts of the man’s pattern had felt off inside and those were repaired too, Caden figured they might be old injuries but he wasn’t certain, no use taking chances. An instant later and it was done. Caden was almost dry of mana; everything he had gained by killing in the sewers, and more, was gone.
Caden looked at his timer. Crap! Less than a minute. He looked at the man. He had started breathing again, and his mana signature was strong. He should be fine. He was about to leave when he realized the man couldn’t see down here. There was no light. If Caden left him like this then he would probably still die. Okay, he needed to move as fast as possible.
Caden cut a slab of stone under the man and lifted him up, simultaneously approaching the man closer with his actual core. He had been cautious up until he encountered the men but the time for caution was over. Caden’s core came up and merged with the slab of stone. Tendrils of stone came out of the walls as the slab was lifted up and out of the recessed hole and into the tunnel. A tendril reached from ahead even as tendrils pushed from behind, catching the platform and moving Caden as swiftly as he could manage. Not that that was much; Caden was fairly sure he wasn’t moving much faster than a brisk jog.
Caden followed the tunnel upstream and instantly knew when his timer had reached zero. He felt searing pain. He had no body, no place to ascribe the pain to, but he felt it nonetheless. Very faintly he could feel Exsan screaming in his head. For a brief moment the pain made Caden reel and the stone stopped moving. The man started to slide off from the deceleration and Caden hurriedly started up again, wishing he could go faster. The pain did not subside, if anything it seemed to be growing. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. He repeated this mantra over and over in his head, losing himself in the action.
His reverie came to an end when he sensed light passing through his aura down a parallel tunnel. He immediately opened a passage between them and hurried his unconscious passenger through. Caden brought his core out to the front of the slab so he could actually see the light. He saw it in the distance now, a faint window of light that he hurried towards. As he neared he could see that it was stairs leading up into daylight, but they were barred with a gate at the top.
Always something more… Caden hurried himself up the stairs. As he got near the light he could sense much more. Dirt, and leaves, and grass, and sprouts of various plants, all under a layer of snow. The bars of the sewer gate were magical and extended far into the stone. For a normal person this would be quite the barrier. With a small thought, Caden pushed the door through by moving stone until the door came free in the open air and he stored it away.
The stone he left behind was smooth and unmarked and would no doubt prove a great frustration to someone in the near future. Caden emerged into sunlight. The area was clear and there were no foot prints that he could see. Behind him was a stone cliff. Okay, he just needed to make sure the man was safe and he could leave. He kept himself attached to the cliff moving to the side. Other parts of him frantically scavenged everything that they could within reach. Dead branches, seeds of dozens of types, snow and ice, dead leaves, insect eggs and carcasses buried within the dirt. And the dirt itself was absorbed in great heaping handfuls.
And one part of him, that was simply relishing being outside, had simply started focusing on the various details. The beauty of the snow covered landscape and trees, the mountains visible on each side, the sun… What the hell was that? There, in the sky, was a large dull red ring. It was faint, but at least triple the size of the sun, though admittedly Caden thought the sun here looked smaller than Earth’s sun. He had no idea what it was. Planetary rings of some near planet ought to have a shadow passing over them, but Caden could think of nothing else that even seemed plausible in the brief moment. One part of his mind marveled, even as the rest of him worked.
His hurry increased as he felt his aura begin to diminish. At the edges, where his aura was in the open air, it was unraveling. The threads disconnected, unfurled, and vanished into raw mana once more.
Caden found an area with a small quartz outcropping, it would have to do. He cut a section loose in the shape of a door. Just before he entered, the quiet screaming of Exsan went abruptly silent, and he heard a distinct crack in his core. Caden had no time to think about it. Quickly he absorbed the stone moving backwards into the cliff as fast as he could. His aura stabilized as he came back underground. As he entered he replaced the section of stone, forming almost invisible hinges and barred the door from the inside. The quartz let in enough light to see dimly. Even from the short exposure outside the man was shivering and his lips were turning blue. The man would freeze if he left him with wet clothes too close the snowy landscape. Caden went back as far into the stone as he dared, the pain growing beyond his ability to bear, and lowered the stone platform. There should be enough air in the chamber for a long time.
He absorbed a piece of string trailing far enough from the man for him to reach. He replicated the rug he had made of stone, forming it out of the thread instead. All his work with the stone had been practically effortless, but he could immediately feel the drain from creating a single rug. He slid the man off the platform and on to the rug. He replicated another rug a couple feet above the man’s body and watched as it dropped onto him. That ought to hold off hypothermia. He looked at his mana, almost completely drained. There was nothing more he could do for the man, so he prepared to leave. Well… he could do one more thing. He replicated the pattern of the strange gold coin he had found, a dozen or so clinked to the ground and then Caden was truly out of mana.
Even as he took an instant to make the coins another part of his mind made his purchase and 1575 ability points drained away.
You have purchased:
Optimal Dungeon Location
You will now be teleported to the best location for you personally to found a dungeon.
In a brief moment Caden was elsewhere. Without even looking Caden immediately founded his dungeon.
Sevso woke feeling better than he had in years. In the dim light gold coins glinted in a pile next to him and two new titles announced themselves: Lucky Fool V and Back from the Brink I. However, he froze on seeing a single new Status Effect: Life Debt.