“The fires of creation were loosed from the heavens and man cried out in agony, for no mortal flesh could stand its glory. Then Yamash Spoke and darkness passed over his face. The heavens trembled and cried out and day was split from the night. And thus was the start of the first night.”
- The Hour of Creation, translated from Unresa
For now Caden started with the basics. He got samples of everything that he could find. Crunchy crackling obsidian, grainy basalt, dusty limestone, a thousand flavors just from the variations in the stone. The water was richer, the flavors of life made an organic soup in an ever changing mixture.
Tiny life forms, too small for him to detect other than by absorbing them and knowing of their presence, were everywhere. The most interesting ones were definitely in the sulfurous waters found far below. Boiling waters and mud teemed with life. And the hot moist caves they created hosted even more. There was even some kind of plant, a tiny grey moss that grew on the ceiling where it was bathed in the volcanic steam. A tiny insect groomed the moss, trimming and eating dried moss that had grown too far out of the steam. And below, where bits of the moss and the occasional groomer fell to the floor, were a dozen different insects feeding on the leavings.
As on earth, the most common insect among all the caves seemed to be beetles. Apparently it was just an efficient shape. A relatively fat body that was covered in armor. Of course, Caden was no entomologist, so the odds were that many of them were not actually beetles. Heck, most or even all of what he was seeing might not be strictly insects. However, they looked like insects, and that was enough for him. Among them were many legged insects like the millipede and centipede. And in the water were more insects and tiny transparent fish.
Among all the more normal creatures were reminders that he was on another world. Down next to the steaming streams of water was an insect that reminded him vaguely of a cricket. However, it would jump and then craft temporary translucent wings out of mana, riding the thermals in the hot air to escape danger or find a new place to feed, its feet clicking together with ultrasonic speed. When it came to land the wings would turn back to mana and be reabsorbed into the insect with practically no waste.
Another insect was far more subtle. It was thin and burrowed into the stone. It had tiny strands of mana that extended from its hole in the stone. When any of the threads were disturbed it would come out and attack, retreating immediately afterwards with either prey or to escape an annoyed predator.
The air of the caves was rich with mana. Caden now had an answer. Life produced mana. Far greater mana came welling up from far below, but the caves that sustained life had mana seeping out of them into the surrounding areas. With this in mind, as he finished his initial sampling he was draining mana out of the air.
He had a reasonable amount of AP, so he could probably get a good start on buying creatures and plants for a proper dungeon environment. However, it would be a waste to do that before it was necessary when he might gain what he needed from leveling up. For now he decided to dig his aura deeper, following the flow of the mana in hopes of even richer sources. He also wanted to get to the surface so he could see how far he could actually extend an aura before it dissipated, as well determine his current location. So he extended his reach towards the heavens and the depths.
Extending his aura turned out to be a revealing experience. It extended like normal as he fed mana into it, but his aura would gradually grow denser and turn into dungeon area. He didn’t notice any additional cost from this, so it appeared to simply be a natural way for his dungeon to expand as he expanded his aura, though it was substantially slower than his normal aura expansion. This meant he might need to keep expanding all around, just so he didn’t waste time that his dungeon could be expanding. So he started expanding his influence in every direction, not trying to be particularly swift. He wanted to just stay ahead of the dungeon’s influence. For the moment, with the influx of mana gained from the life in the cave, the geothermal mana wells, and his own regeneration he was producing mana slightly faster than he was spending it. However, it was still slower than he would have liked.
Deciding a few tests were in order, Caden brought stone up to support his currently suspended crystal. After he had it cradled gently he decided it was safe to try to move. Now if it fell, it would be caught immediately. With a small bit of focus, his crystal lifted into the air above the cradle he had formed. He moved the crystal around, being careful to keep the cradle just below it, but his precautions appeared unnecessary. Here in his dungeon it seemed he could move his crystal around, even through the air, at will.
Immediately his natural curiosity got the best of him. One of his mental perspectives tried to see what was happening. As a pleasant surprise, it seemed for once that the answer was rather simple. He could see parts of his aura taut with the pressure of holding him up. As he moved that pressure eased and flexed as thousands of different strands changed the pressure on his core. He remembered when he was trying to move stone with just his aura before and had not had any luck. He had managed to embed the hooks of his aura into the stone though. It looked like the main aura strands had all their hooks embedded into the stone and were using that to move him around.
Hmm, maybe he would be able to move other things with just his aura eventually. For the moment he tried to hook and move a tiny speck of dust. Nothing… Oh well, he had not really expected that to work right away. It was just something he would need to practice. He suspected the only reason it worked for his core was that countless threads were tied into it and he was using the combined power of them all to move. He went to check his mana, but instead a tiny mana icon appeared in his vision and showed his mana levels.
What the hell? Wait… that message he got earlier did say that his interface had been customized. Well that was convenient. He thought about his level requirements and that popped up too before fading away as he stopped paying attention to it. He tried thinking about other items from his status screen and each popped up as he willed them. Nice! The system really had gotten much easier for him to use.
The system… now there was a trip. He had no idea what to really make of it. Did the whole universe just run this way here? It wasn’t impossible; if there was truly an infinite number of possible universes, almost all of them would be nothing like where he came from. He had been thinking about it the entire time since he had come here, but he still had no answers. He stopped for a moment as a thought struck him. Well, it was worth a try. He cast a thought out to the cosmos:
Admin?… System administrator? … End Program … Log In … Root … Game Options … Difficulty Mode … Language Settings … Settings …
He tried a litany of commands. He tried everything that he could think of that could relate to computers, games, and even started calling on any deities he could remember. Nothing. Well it was worth a shot. It’s not like he really expected that to work. Whatever system of rules governed his new existence it seemed to mostly interact one way. He could buy skills and level up and such, but that all seemed fairly automatic. If there was some higher mind that oversaw all this he doubted it was paying any personal attention to him.
A little after his existential crisis, slash, universe hacking attempt, he felt something odd. He was busy focusing on where he was expanding up through the layers of old hardened lava when he felt his entire being shiver. He had a hard time understanding what it was, and it was over as quickly as soon as it began. It happened again a little later, and then again. Eventually it happened again, but it was more drawn out and he finally had a chance to see what was actually happening.
The entire dungeon flexed as the earth moved and then it went back to normal, and then it happened again several times in very quick succession. If he didn’t have such a wide reach he doubted he would have even noticed. It took him a moment to realize what it was and then he felt like an idiot. Earthquakes! With the geothermal features and the old lava he should have expected them. Volcanoes often had dozens of tiny earthquakes around them every day. It wasn’t something that was generally noticeable without modern seismic technology readings… or apparently if your body was a massive hunk of stone. Once he realized that it was not a cause to be concerned he moved on, though he did make a note to himself to reinforce his entire dungeon against earthquakes.
He could feel that his thoughts felt a bit scattered. It had been several days since he had meditated and while he hated to waste any time he knew that meditating was very important. Ultimately he would lose more time from distraction and mistakes if he failed to meditate, and then he would be forced to meditate after that anyway. So, meditation it was.
It felt different to meditate now. Caden wasn’t sure if he should attribute that to his sudden jump to Meditation II, the much denser aura of his dungeon, or his newly restructured self. Regardless, he felt different and tried to put the thought of why out of his mind with the rest of his thoughts.
Let the mana come in. Halt. Let the mana come in. Halt. Repeat.
It took him longer than usual, but eventually he could feel himself fading into the quiet darkness within. He was aware, but mindful of nothing in particular. Every thought that came was acknowledged and then set aside. A flicker of something else inside the deep stillness drew his attention. And he fell out of meditation. With a mental sigh he resumed meditating. Again he eventually felt something and his awareness of it pushed him out of meditation. This happened several times until he managed to just be aware of the presence without focusing any of his attention on it.
Resisting that focus was insanely difficult. As he continued his meditation the flicker became more solid and present. It was gradually drawing closer and becoming more detailed as a tiny part of his awareness focused on it despite his best efforts. This, unfortunately, kicked him out of his meditative state several more times as he grew closer and closer. He tried to resist even guessing what it was, though his curiosity was enough to kick him out even more times than anything else.
Eventually he found the right balance. He suspected without his meditation skill having leveled up he would not have managed it. The presence gradually resolved into some kind of object. He could only see a tiny piece of it, and as he continued it grew and grew before him.
The outer layers that he could see were a diaphanous mix of layers that seemed to be constantly shifting. It had a distinctly organic feel to it. Momentary fractals, curls, tendrils, and roots would appear and disappear. The longer he was next to it the more familiar it felt. He felt like he should know what it was. Finally, when it had grown so that it seemed like a wall stretching to infinity in every direction he finally felt himself touch it.
Oh… He knew exactly what it was. Himself. This sudden awareness was enough to jar him out of his meditation once again. He was going to try to meditate again when he saw an unobtrusive icon of a speech bubble with an exclamation mark in it flashing lightly. With a thought he willed it to open.
Your skill Meditation II has changed and improved through your efforts. It is now:
Soul Meditation II
You are aware of your own soul and can meditate to gain a greater understanding of your core self and strengthen your soul. Enhances mana regeneration while you focus inwards. Leads to greater awareness of the soul.