“The gods are masters of souls. Your actions in life are a mirror of your soul which even as it reflects is altered. In death you are drawn to whomever you are most closely aligned with. Heaven and hell are both the same, they are simply the people you spend eternity with. Be who you want to live with forever.”
- Ecer the Wise, Prophet of Otga
Caden had been working on the entry cave for longer than he thought. Between his own mana and Exsan’s, they were close to being able to level again. He decided now would be a good time to meditate. The impact of his soul was not so fresh and he was ready to see it again. Hopefully he would learn more about his own soul. He was not sure what it meant that he could examine it now, but he knew he had a strong affinity for soul skills and he would be a fool not to use that.
Caden settled into himself. He decided to use the constant flowing of the water as a focus this time, since Exsan might object to him turning the mana absorption on and off. The noise of the water ranged from an almost inaudible lapping at the edge of a subterranean lake to a rushing roar of water cascading down farther into the depths. He focused on the loud noise first, slowly tuning it out as he progressed to softer and softer sounds, tuning out each in turn. It was easier than it had ever been. With the vast area his dungeon and aura now covered, there was far more information than he could process at once, so he had practiced focusing on just what he wanted to know without thinking much about it. Now as he shut himself away and sank into himself that skill became obvious. Even as he realized this, he acknowledged it and put that thought aside with the rest.
Eventually he lost track of the world completely and found himself next to his soul once more. It was not as he remembered it. His perception had grown, and he could see his soul as a sphere from all directions at once. It was, actually, quite similar to seeing with his aura.
His soul was as glorious as ever. Its outer shell was constantly shifting, complex and yet with a single unifying purpose. Almost. There were flaws, scars, in a few places that seemed to slowly be healing. His shell was also not completely closed. Beneath, if that word applied here, it was open and a part of his essence was pulled out. Beneath that was a machine.
That was his first impression. It was regular, and moved in impossibly precise geometrical motions. It took him a moment until he realized that this too was just a shell, folded open to match his own with gleaming threads brought out to match his own essence. Its shell too, bore scars, far deeper and terrible than his own.
He knew in a moment of wordless thought that this was Exsan. He could see too what had been done them both. He could feel that even this perfect all around view of his soul was an imitation of was his soul truly was. It was in directions and dimensions he was either incapable or not yet ready to see. However, for a moment, seeing the matching scars he could see how his own soul had been wrapped around to smother Exsan’s. That was what Tam had done. If he had stayed as he was before, his soul would have strangled Exsan, growing over his soul and becoming complete master.
Caden touched the threads of essence that poured from each of them. He could feel what had been done. When he had no longer heard the voice of Exsan, it was not Exsan dying, it was him detaching from Exsan’s soul. He had been a hairsbreadth from death. Exsan was the master of this body by right, but Caden had power over the mind and had initiated the dungeon. So the system had compromised. From his core was drawn threads of memory, skill… his mind. This was what he offered Exsan, and the reason he was progressing from instincts to thought so quickly. Exsan, by contrast, had threads of all the dungeons gifts, abilities, and power. This was what was given to Caden. He could see it, feel it.
Caden could also see that their souls were gradually opening further, and expanding toward one another. The progress was tiny incremental growth when perceived as a whole, but if he zoomed into his soul as he first had seen it, it appeared to growing at lightning speed.
He lost himself for a time, dwelling simply in the pure joy of watching the two very different souls as they went through an ever changing panoply of shapes. It was hypnotic, and relaxing. He felt as though he was meditating inside his meditation. All of the universe coming to reflect back upon itself. Here, as he lost himself, he finally noticed two tiny threads leading away from their souls, one from himself, and one from Exsan.
He touched the thread leading away from himself. He felt, far distant, the feeling of someone else. A man, who felt almost familiar. There was a sense of identity to it. He could not tell much about it, but when he pressed upon the thread he felt a single idea resonated through him. Debt.
Confused, he released the thread. He honestly had no idea what that was about. He could tell enough to say that it was not a debt he owed, but nothing other than that. Some debt from another life? Honestly, he had no idea what happened to the soul normally when it wasn’t yanked unceremoniously to some other world and shoved into a dungeon core. He couldn’t be absolutely certain, be he was at least reasonably certain that was not the normal experience. If it was the universe was even stranger than he thought. He lost himself in contemplating what it would mean if that actually was a common experience. He was fairly certain it would mean that whatever god might be out there was a colossal dick. Since he preferred his, somewhat limited, remaining sanity he moved on.
He touched the other thread. This one had no identity that he could feel. It carried a more complex series of ideas. It was a series of images. Growth, a crystal growing and glowing, changing shapes as it went. Death, embodied as a crystal in pieces falling through the air. Rebirth, a crystal shard hitting the ground and bouncing into the air to blossom with light and life once more. These were repeated, the image varying each time, but the core idea remained the same. This, he thought, was Exsan’s nature as an immortal soul. Dungeons could die, but they would always come back. That phoenix image was apparently more apt than he knew.
Caden dwelt for a time in the soulscape simply enjoying the peace, until he felt himself drawn back once more toward the world. He allowed himself to drift back to full awareness. His mind blossoming back to the world as everything came back clear and vibrant. Including the small insistent pulse of a notification icon. Well that explained why he felt drawn to come back.
He opened the notification.
Exsan is attempting to level up.
Total mana required: 120
Current mana totals:
Would you like to level up?
Your status has changed – Level Up
Displaying only changes since last status check
Status Effects: Location Bound – 491 Days
Available Mana – Caden: 0/200
Available Mana – Exsan: 7/200
Passive Mana Generation: 110/Day
Survival Points: 500
Next Level Cost: 240 Mana + 100 Survival Points
Ability Points: 2225
Mana Diffusion II
Dungeon Control Menu
Mana Specialist II
Dungeon Progression I
Mana Diffusion II
Your aura distributes the available mana throughout the dungeon. This mana is stabilized and capable of numerous uses. This skill is passive and will increase by extending into richer mana and by acquiring more mana than can be held.
Dungeon Control Menu
The primary interface and system used to control and manage a dungeon. This allows you to control constructs, structures, monsters, loot, environments, and more. Various schematics can be purchased, and some will already be available. You may add your own designs into the system to be easily replicated.
Mana Specialist II
You have acquired and developed numerous skills that direct, generate, and perceive mana. Your skills reflect a special talent for dealing with mana. Bend the mana of the world to your will.
+100 Ability Points
+10% Bonus to mana based skills
Dungeon Progression I
You have finally acquired all the basic skills needed to craft, control, and upgrade a dungeon. From now on you will need to struggle and triumph to grow, not just mana
+50 Ability Points
+5% Increased Dungeon Expansion Speed
Hidden Rewards Revealed
+500 Survival Points for Escaping
+10% Survival Points when adventurers exit active dungeon areas
Well that was a help. He had been in contact with Exsan a few times over the last few days, but so far his use of English continued to be terse. Caden was actually wondering if he would need to teach Exsan how to speak properly. There were so many concepts and assumptions that were wrapped up in language. Admittedly it was very important to communicate well with Exsan. They both needed each other, but proper communication kept getting pushed back.
For the moment seeing that survival points were what was needed to continue leveling he was just glad that he had received some from his previous actions. He was also glad to finally have his hidden rewards revealed. He had been wondering about those for a while.
Caden brought up the new menu he had access to. The first section was structures. These were items and such that were permanent once made. They required no upkeep of mana and simply existed. Among the simple options already available to him was a pitfall trap. It was a rough pit of any depth that was poorly concealed. Presumably this is what would be found in beginner dungeon areas. There were links to purchase other kinds of traps like spike pit, etc… but he was fairly sure he could make most of them himself from scratch. In fact, he fully intended to.
Other structures were things like stairs, basic hallways, etc… Nothing here could hold a candle to what he could make on his own, but the option to save his own structures for later use was going to be used heavily. While he was here he actually took the time and added in a copy of all his statues, both in the entrance area and his core room. He also saved his lights, the buildings, and the dungeon doors. There did not seem to be any limits to what the menu would hold, so there was no reason not to be thorough.
The next menu, called constructs, showed the reason that he had acquired the mana diffusion ability. All of the skills in this section ran off the ambient mana of the dungeon. There was brief note at the top that the current mana access was above average. He assumed this was due to the geothermal mana he had continued to trace. His probes were more than a half mile from the dungeon by now, though the twisting paths they followed were actually much longer.
Each item here had a fixed ambient mana cost. And the first items made him want to hit his head into something. They were: s light globe (small), and an ever-burning torch. He had worked so hard on getting the lighting up and running already. With a sigh he made a couple copies of each to see what they were like. There was no upfront cost of mana, they just slowly grew out of the ambient mana. The light globe was a glowing sphere that hung in the air. It was a reasonably constant white light, and quite bright. The ever-burning torches created a flickering red orange light that covered a small area. They were attached to the wall via a stone bracket. The torch part was a bit of a misnomer, since it was just flames flickering over the sconce in the wall with no wood at all.
They both cost about the same in terms of ambient mana. Each was very cheap, though lighting any large areas would still stack up.
Struck by a thought, Caden created a few of the firefly style lights. He looked at the available ambient mana listed in the menu. It had not changed. Good. So he had two methods for making lights. One cost mana up front and then was free. One cost nothing to get going and then had a small price indefinitely. Between the two of those he would be able to make the dungeon to his liking.
Other options on the construct end included attaching reset options to normal structures like traps, so that they would regain functionality after a set time. Also there were basic components for making moving parts and traps. Making stone spin, rise, fall, expand, retreat, etc… Between all the very basic options, he should be able to design incredibly complex traps. And again, he could save what he made here.
The next section was on monsters, but it was greyed out for the moment. Yep, he still had no idea what was going on with that.
The next section was loot. It did not have anything designated other than a basic copper, silver, and gold coin. He could, of course, add more type of things that he could offer. He just wished he had some idea what the value of his various materials actually was. He could set up chests and assign rarity, etc… Quite a few of the options were supposed to be related to the monsters in some way and were currently locked. One thing that was interesting was the option to design, in detail, what would appear on the coinage in his dungeon. He would definitely get to that.
He pulled up the next area and was interested to see customizable environments. Several options were already available by default, all from the cave system. It explained that it would provide the nutrients and conditions that were suitable for cave dwelling organisms. There were different variants for the geothermal areas, swift moving vs slow moving streams, deep waters, etc… It appeared that any type of environment that was under his purview became something he could replicate and maintain. This option should finally let him set the sewer up properly, as well as help him grow the various plant seeds he had been holding on to.
The next section was the last, but was kind of a catch all. It had options for locking and restricting areas so that they required some kind of key, basics for releasing an area after solving puzzles, options for resetting or closing the entire dungeon, overall environmental controls for normal areas of the dungeon, random creation of areas, and more.
For the first time in a long while, Caden wanted to grin a grin filled with joy, anticipation, and sharp teeth.