“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”
― Jonathan Swift
It took Exsan a few long moments, as Caden waited impatiently, to reply.
Having people die in the dungeon is not the only way to get survival points right?
Right. Not much of a talker.
How else do we get survival points?
Prey come, they leave. Get points. Survive other dungeons, get points. Quests give points. Special things.
Special things? Caden sighed inside, he obviously needed to teach Exsan to speak better. Admittedly he got the main points across, but the finer points were either beyond him or he simply did not see any reason to tell. Anyway it was mostly what he had expected. Though there was one…
What do you mean survive other dungeons?
Touch dungeon, can be conflict.
So only if we grow to touch another dungeon?
No, some move. Treat like prey.
That’s actually something something Caden should have considered. He had an ability that let the core pack up and move out. Presumably there were greater abilities that could move an entire dungeon. These kind of dungeons would be exceptionally dangerous.
How often do dungeons get attacked by other dungeons?
No, this time he needed more details than that.
How uncommon? Several times a year? Once every year or two? Decades, centuries?
Not sure. Long time. May never happen.
Caden breathed a little easier for a moment before realizing he wasn’t breathing at all. Right… all in his head. Okay, so the answer was probably closer to centuries than months. That was good. It also brought up the possibilty of preying on other dungeons rather than people. He was actually far more okay with that. The only problem was that he was a ridiculously young dungeon. No matter what dungeon he ended up attacking it would probably be way out of his league. Not to mention the not so small issue of how he would manage to attack them in the first place. Well… something to add to the extreme long term plans.
He had gotten distracted. Right, back to the issue at hand.
So we get points when people come in and then leave again. Why kill people at all?
Small. Points tiny. Death is big.
Again, it was about what Caden had expected. There had to be some reason dungeons wanted to kill rather than say… throwing an amazing party and then kicking everyone out at dawn and just collecting the points.
Tell me how the points work when they leave. Are the points altered by anything?
Yes, not always same. Points change.
He was obviously going to need to adjust to Exsan’s brevity. Exsan answered the questions, he just failed to understand the implicit request for specicifity.
Right. So what makes the points change, and how does it change?
Time. Longer time more points. Struggle. Danger. Almost kill prey, get more. Travel. Prey go long way, change level, more.
A sudden thought struck Caden. He had English at IX right? Shouldn’t that apply to Exsan? What if Exsan knew how to speak better and simply did not bother becasue shorter sentences worked just as well for him? If Exsan had simply not bothered to speak properly because he had failed to ask… Head meet wall.
Exsan? Do you know how to speak properly? Speak like I am for example, using complete sentences, and so on?
Not understand. Am speaking.
Apparently not. He wished it were that simple, even if he would have felt like the biggest idiot in the universe.
Right. Nevermind. Anyway… I … wanted to talk about people, about prey.
What about prey?
Do you remember how you said I belong to you?
Okay. So I feel you belong to me too. We each belong to the other. We also own this dungeon, its space, creatures, plants, and so on. It belongs to both of us. Do you understand and agree?
Yes. All one. All same. Belong.
Good. Do you know what I used to be before we belonged to each other?
No. Before absent.
I used to be a person. I died, but I was what would consider prey. I was combined with you, our souls were joined.
You were prey. Now dungeon. Predator.
Well at least Exsan did not seem to care about him being a person. He seemed to be very focused on the present. If he had no need for the past or future right now in the present, he seemed to ignore it entirely. Caden was trying to get Exsan to understand something very ephemeral. Humans had a hard enough time with ethics as it was. Where was a professor of ethics and philosophy when you needed one?
I still remember my old life. I still feel like a person.
You will? How?
Teach. Help kill. Make good predator. Consume much prey.
Oh. Yeah, not that easy. He was going to need to approach this from a different angle.
Okay, so everything in the dungeon is yours. However, you could let much of it be destroyed and not care, but you would not want me harmed at all. Is that right?
Okay so what is different between me and the rest of the dungeon.
You me. You hurt. Hurt. Dungeon remake. No hurt.
Well he supposed that was basic. Pain was a good deterent. Humans had pain so they knew they were not supposed to do something, were approaching some limit of their body, or something was wrong. Since the dungeon experienced pain, it was a good bet that it responded to it.
People belong to each other. One dies, others hurt. It is not pain of the body. It is pain of mind. My mind is still human. People die and I will hurt. People that come in, they will belong to me. If they die it will hurt me. Do you understand?
Prey come, they die. You hurt?
Caden hesitated. He could lie, but he was potentially going to be stuck with Exsan forever. He really needed Exsan to trust him.
No, pain only. However, I do not wish to be in pain. I wish to make a compromise.
I want to offer a better chance for people to survive. If they give us a sacrifice that allows us to grow, then we shall spare them if they die. They will gain a certain… leeway. It is not infinite. They are not preserved forever. However, by helping us to grow they are given another chance.
This will encourage them to help us grow more. We can gain new things. New animals, new plants, more types of loot, items.
Not enough. Slow down. Gain not worth levels.
It is. If the dungeon gives people a second chance then more people will come. And by getting so many new things we will draw in more people with better loot.
There was a pause.
Gain not certain. Not enough.
It will also reduce my pain.
If you believe that then I will show you a type of mental pain.
For the first time he could recall, Exsan sounded a bit wary. Caden wanted to smile. He could be patient and ruthless if he needed to be.
Caden had prepared for this. He knew Exsan might not agree, but this was not something he was willing to give on. If it had been flatly impossible to get survival points any other way, he would have learned to live with that. However, as long as he had a choice, he wanted to cause as little death as possible.
Death was inevitable. Hell, he had died. The fact that people had souls was some comfort, but it did not make their lives unimportant. If he was going to consider himself a moral person this was a path he needed to tread his own way.
Splitting his mind into multiple points of focus, he began.
First he created an enormous mana crystal and began to drain all his mana into it. Then he used his mobile dungeon ability to unravel the aura at the end of each of the tunnels Exsan was creating. He placed all his focus on holding the mana crystal in one piece and on pulling any mana he had into it.
It only took a moment before Exsan fought him. The aura frothed in a fury of creation and destruction. This, however, was not a battle Exsan could win. Their wills were equal, but the mana gained from unraveling the aura was shared between them. However, creating aura took only from the one who made it.
Aura was cheap, so the battle continued for hours without any change. When Exsan finally started to run out of mana he spoke again.
Stop! There is no point. This useless.
Do you agree?
Then I will not stop.
Exsan took a page from Caden’s book and began to dissolve aura from the surface, drawing mana in so he could continue the fight. Caden let him succeed for a few moments and then began to replicate what Exsan was doing, creating aura.
The fight was interminable. The aura from the surface was drained away and replaced as Exsan fought to keep enough mana to maintain the aura in the tunnels. The speed of creation and destruction was evenly matched. Exsan took another tack and attacked the mana crystal itself. Caden did not fight him directly. Instead he quickly stored the mana crystal and then released it from his storage at the edge of his aura in the empty air of a cavern. The mana crystal quickly fell out of their aura and out of reach.
Exsan tried to expand their aura to go after it, but immediately faced the same problem as in the tunnels as Caden dissolved the aura as fast as it could be created.
Stop. Will win.
This is not a battle that either of us can win.
You meditate. Can wait. Will rebuild.
It won’t be enough. I will demolish all our aura. Dismantle our dungeon. Destroy everything.
No. Will not agree. Fight you.
You will fight, but it will not be enough. For even if you do all of this: Fight me constantly. Battle for every step and make gains while I cannot fight you. Even if you fight me every step of every day for every foot, for every speck of mana to keep the dungeon working, this feeling of frustration will never end. You cannot win, because if you do this, and you succeed in killing people and gain the points you desire so much it will profit you nothing.
You. Need. Me. To. Level. If you do this then our pain shall be shared forever. I shall have the pain as you kill, but you shall have pain as you rack up survival points and can never ever spend them to level, because I will never agree. My compromise might be slower, it might be faster, but anything will be faster than an eternal stalemate. In truth I do not need to fight at all. All I need to do is never agree.
I will stop fighting you a moment so you can think properly, so long as you do the same.
There was a long pause then as their furious stalemate ended. He opened a notification he had not noticed and snorted with amusement. Aura expansion had reached level III. Apparently fighting endlessly with aura had acted as fantastic training.
As the pause extended Caden could practically hear Exsan thinking. No doubt he was looking for a way to win. Maybe he could, but battling Caden everyday would probably be slower than simply compromising anyway. It was not like dungeons did not already understand the idea of compromise.
Exsan had told him how he would lure in prey and balance between danger and loot. He even intended to make sure that the first people who came survived so that they could bring more people. Exsan simply had no desire to make this particular compromise. Well… too bad. Caden would let the dungeon kill people, that was an enormous concession on his part. However, he was going to give people the best chance possible before they died.
Mental pain. This… frustration. Understand. Will compromise.