“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
– Thomas Aquinas
Caden hated waiting. He was good at it when it was necessary, but he still hated it. He had managed to reach the surface with his aura, but his dungeon was expanding slowly. He had tried to speed it up, but nothing had happened. So, since it seemed waiting was inevitable, he had continued on with other projects.
The most important was simply continuing to spread his aura in every direction so that the dungeon could expand without any delays. He had no idea whether there was a maximum size for the dungeon, but the more area covered by aura and dungeon, the more mana he would draw in.
Caden had expanded his aura along the surface once he reached it. Even though he could not see the surrounding territory, he was definitely getting a mountainous feeling from it. Much of it was buried under tons of snow, but there were areas with sharp inclines where there was bare stone. He had reached an area that was higher than any other, but he since he was still expanding outward it was difficult to tell if it was a mountain summit, or just the highest point of a stony outcrop. Time would tell.
The depths beneath the dungeon were more interesting. As he had extended his aura into them he continued to feel a rise in the richness of the mana he was accessing. He was following the many branching paths of the geothermal activity to find the source and get closer to the origin of all the mana. His aura looked much like tree roots down into the depths, branching off into cracks, and vents, and springs into the world. He guessed he had extended about a half mile down by now. The roots were not going straight down, there was a definite curve. They were extending down and away from the tunnels Exsan was still working on.
Exsan’s tunnels had reached somewhat farther than his own aura, though he had the advantage of making his tunnels perfectly straight. Caden had taken some time simply to watch what Exsan was doing as he build the tunnels. He would reinforce and fill in cracks in a hollow cylinder and then compress the interior stone into the walls. It was an interesting method and he could see how it would prevent cave-ins and other structural problems. He had started to use a similar method in the entry hall.
He had eventually decided that shock and awe was probably the best way to go. The dungeon might not get thousands of visitors, but he had decided that if it did they would more than fit into the entryway. He was going to work on the tunnels after Exsan reached the surface and was done, but for now simply worked on the room.
It had taken him a little while before he was satisfied with the size and shape of it. It was now an elongated oval shape a little more than a half mile long and a quarter mile wide. The two tunnels entered the oval across from each other on one of the narrow ends of the oval. He had created a textured stone road that was slightly elevated in the center and had gutters as drainage. At the moment various water systems were redirected around the giant cavern, but he intended reintroduce them as well as creating a functioning sewer system underneath. There was no point wasting the fully functioning ecosystem he could create.
He had curved the roads until they met and then continued straight toward the far side of the oval. He intended for the entrance to the dungeon proper to be on that side. For noe he had the roads lead there, but he needed to find a solution for lighting.
Over the last half day or so since his last level, the feeder had continued to steadily produce more mana. He did not want to break it, but he did want to understand the crystal it filled up and made glow on the top. So, immediately after it had expelled mana he had turned it off. He had then consumed a small portion of the crystal on the top. It had an unusual crystalline structure made of overlapping helices. The overlapped crystal was very strong, and he could see lingering traces of mana trapped in the grooves. The mana was resonating, and the crystal structure resonated in response. Every time the mana resonated inward the surrounding mana rushed in to the fill the gap, drawing faintly on the mana in the surrounding area. When the mana resonated back outward the outer mana was forced against the crystal structure and produced light, consuming a tiny amount of the surrounding mana. As this mana was removed, more moved to fill in the gap and the cycle continued.
He decided he needed to experiment. Since his core was the only part of him that was properly able to see light he set up a test chamber in the core room. First he created a hollow cube of perfectly clear quartz, three feet on each side. Then he had created a series of quartz walls, reinforced against the direction of the test cube. If something went wrong, he wanted it contained and absolutely no danger to himself.
Precautions ready, he created a tiny flawless piece of the crystal about the size of grain of sand in the hollow of the cube. Then he started to pour mana into it. He kept an eye on his mana while he did so. The speck quickly grew eye searingly bright. He had not even invested a single point of mana when it blew up, becoming a host of glowing dust particles in the center of cube. He also felt some of the mana as it dispersed. It was fascinating to watch the mana in the area, since it was now very lightly flowing towards the dust in the crystal, maintaining the glow. He absently noted that he could probably make a good blinding trap by releasing a bunch of the dust.
So, in a large crystal he got diffuse light, but in small ones he got a bunch of very bright point sources. No doubt if he poured enough mana into the large crystals they would far outshine the smaller ones. However, for light sources, a multitude of small dust sized particles embedded into some other crystal should work both cheaply and well. It was all a matter of surface area verse volume. He quickly repaired the feeder and turned it back on. He was not looking forward to it running out, though that would inevitably happen. The shear amount of mana stored away made him wonder just how powerful Tam had been. It had not seemed to tax him when he performed any of his magic.
Caden moved his core to the entrance chamber so he could properly gauge the effect of the lights and got to work.
Along side the road he raised up a six foot tall hexagonal pillar of perfectly clear quartz. He injected copies of the shining motes of dust and wrapped each in slightly opaque white crystal. Then he formed them into a pattern. They were sparse near the bottom of the pillar but they formed an ever thickening spiral until they made a globe of glittering white lights at the top. He absorbed the entire pillar back into nothingness to get a pattern of it. He started adding identical copies of them along both sides of the road.
He looked at the pillars. They were perfect, but they were not really bright enough for what he wanted and even though each pillar cost practically nothing the total cost of lighting the enormous entry chamber was going to be substantial. He had intended to make it feel almost like day inside the cavern, but it looked like he would need to settle. Well, properly judging the lighting was the entire reason he had moved his core here in the first place. He continued making pillars along all the road leading to both entrances and toward the dungeon entrance proper.
By the time he had finished, the cavern near the roads had taken on an ethereal quality. The quartz was clear enough that the pillars looked like a frozen swarm of fireflies, and the flash of the pillars sides reflecting light intermittently due to changing angles as he floated down the road only added to the effect. The area was bright enough to see the ground, but the light felt insubstantial, and the surrounding area quickly faded back into pure darkness.
He was not sure what else to provide for any visitors. Water was an obvious necessity, as was food, though he honestly had no idea what among all that he had absorbed was edible to a normal individual. As a dungeon, pretty much everything was edible. The water at least, was easy. Several pure streams of water, devoid of much life, and incredibly cold, had been diverted to make this cavern already. He would need to make proper drainage for them, but he had intended on a basic sewer system anyway.
He formed a grid of empty tunnels underneath the cavern floor. He did not bother connecting them to anything in the cavern yet, but now he had the basis for what he wanted. He enhanced the tunnels, reinforcing the stone and carving channels through each so that walkways now existed on each side of where the water would flow. Maybe he could even create a dungeon area in here. The idea of adventurers killing insectoid mice and rats in sewers felt like a intro level in a video game from back home. Well he could do it as a personal joke if nothing else. No one else in the entire universe might understand, but he would.
He also had an entire culture, more than one culture, worth of imagery, history, and creatures to play with. Myths and legends from his old world probably had at least some parallels here, humans being humans, but the specifics were likely very different.
Caden started with a nod to his dual nature, and created enormous statues of an angel and demon fighting over where the dungeon entrance would go. Wings stretched behind the angel, its marble face a resolute mask of determination with brilliant blue eyes, and it held a sword in both hands which met the trident of the opposing demon. The demon too, had wings, though its were bat-like and inky black obsidian. Its face was contorted into a snarl, exposing needle sharp teeth and a sinuous tongue. Most of the demon was roughened obsidian, but its teeth and horns were an ivory off white, and its eyes and tongue were a brilliant red.
He had put light into both their eyes, so they blazed brightly. Lighting the rest of the statue had proven tricky, and Caden had finally resorted to placing an incredibly thin layer of mana crystal over both statues. He had pumped just enough mana into the layer that both statues were luminescent in the darkness, and looked limned in light by an inner power. Overall the effect was otherworldly. Especially in the surrounding darkness.
Other mythical and not so mythical beasts found their way into statues placed along the walls and by the roads. Dragons, lions, minotaurs, great feathered dinosaurs, elephants, unicorns, and others menaced from shadows or pranced proudly into the light. After those he created six pillars that connected the ceiling all the way to the ground. Inside water from above drained down from large cisterns into a pressurized water network under the cave. He used the pressurized water to shoot fountains into the air which in turn cascaded into tiered pools until they drained into a final depression that he connected to the sewers.
He made a single large building next to each entrance. He would raise up other buildings as needed, but for now he made due with these. Each building was well lit. The floor of the entire building was paneled in wood modeled from Tam’s chair. The entryway lead into a large hall. Chandeliers hung from the ceiling, each crystal containing a speck of glowing mana stone.
It was here that he ran into a problem. He had started to use metal for the chandeliers, but stopped when he saw his mana draining radically. He had not actually tried to create metal since he had been working exclusively with stone. It had felt natural after being trapped from weeks with nothing else but mana and stone to work with. Apparently, either his earth manipulation skill was not high enough, or metal did not count. The fact that Caden was absolutely certain that some of the various types of rock he created had a high metal content made no difference. Why would logic matter, it was magic. Heck, aluminum was almost as common as dirt. He had no idea what type of rock it was in, or the chemical reaction that had made it cheap to manufacture, but he knew that it was ridiculously common.
Longing once more to bang his head against a wall, he stored away the metal he had made and remade everything with stone or wood. Eventually he was finished and the lower half of the building contained the grand hall, a large kitchen complete with a fireplace, a dining room, various sitting rooms, a room with shelves everywhere for storage, and a large long room with targets on the far end consisting of cloth dummies over a wooden frame. The upper floor was smaller with ten bedrooms.
He wished he had a sample of more types of cloth, but he had made due by creating a copy of the thread he did have and then then pulling it apart to get to the actual fibers that made it up. Eventually, with some trial and effort he had managed to had various grades of cloth. He was fairly certain that the thread he originally had was fairly rough. Now he could make cloth with threads that were far finer than human hair. It resulted in a pure white shimmering silk-like cloth. Using dyes made of various stone types dissolved into water, he was able to learn how to make several different vibrant dyes that would not wash out. It helped immensely that after discovering a dye worked he could literally fuse it into the structure of the individual fibers making up each thread. Eventually he started to fuse in colors that had not worked when dissolved in water as he refined his technique.
He used this knowledge to dedicate each room to a different color scheme. Subtle shades of orange, yellow, and red cloth created a room that evoked flame, and the stone of the walls were a mosaic of matching colors. Overall, the effect was a little overwhelming, but he replicated it with different color schemes anyway. These rooms were more than mere decoration, Caden was using them as a showcase of what he could create. He was certain that gold, silver, weapons, and more were fairly common loot, but how many dungeons would give intricate works of art, or exquisite cloth? He needed to be unique, and everything he was doing here would emphasize that.
He finished the room for the moment by creating the door to the dungeon itself. For this, he splurged with his mana a bit, covering the outside of the door with copper verdigris, which he made flawlessly smooth and covered with mana crystal. The door shown with light and looked as though one were looking at shimmering water. Over this Caden placed the symbol for his new life and his new dungeon.
He had died before coming to this world and been reborn. He had almost died again and been remade into another form once more going through a rebirth. There was only one symbol that evoked what he wanted. He was not only reborn but intended to rise higher and should anything cast him down once more he would rise once again every single time.
Upon the front of the double doors that lead into the dungeon was a massive phoenix. Its feathers were made with translucent layers of red and orange crystals and they were coated with mana crystal charged to varying levels of intensity. As one approached they would see the overlapping layers from a constantly changing perspective, making the entire bird shimmer and glimmer like firelight. The phoenix had its head turned to the side, its eye overlooking the cavern and its pure gold beak was open in a cry of wordless triumph.