“There are beings besides man that have minds. And certainly various monsters, even without intellect, have a certain animal cunning. What then makes man enlightened? What raises him above the beasts?
It is his own spark of the divine. He may choose between order and chaos, to seek balance or any extreme. His nature is not fixed, but in fact molds to the demands of his own intent. That which he wills of himself, if he pursues it unrelentingly, will be. Monsters and animals are made. They are fixed. A man makes himself.”
-Hatere, Arch-Priest of the Order of Divine Intent
Caden watched these new people enter the dungeon with fascination, not least because one of them was clearly not human. He had been away from people for only a short time, but between all the various parts of himself constantly funtioning, he had experienced much longer. And even more than that it was fascinating to watch people. It was funny but he had already begun to distance himself from what he had once been. Simply watching them walk was nostalgic. And their senses, they were so different from how he experienced the world now, even if the plant man tapped into them somewhat. He felt, but it was not the same.
It felt like the, occasionally helpful, voice in his head had been there forever. Watching these people enter he reflected on what he had lost. There was no constant physical touch, no running his fingers over or grabbing things. Everything he did had feelings to it, but it was as though it was at one remove from himself. If he reached out with stone he felt the stone as it moved, and everything that it touched, but it was no more prominent than the millions of touches and sensations he felt constantly. A part of his senses was only important because he focused on it, not because it was more viscerally real than the rest. He missed that. When he had had a body of flesh his brain had experienced so much less, but it had greater impact.
It was at that moment that he got the idea to try creating something akin to a golem. And, in terms of utility, it actually turned out well, but in terms of feedback there was simply not one iota more. It was just a piece of stone that he manipulated, and as far as his senses were concerned it was no different than any other. He wished it wasn’t so, but it was true.
So he focused on other things. It was funny, Caden had already started to differentiate from being human, and even started to take that into account. He could split up his mind into multiple focuses of attention and had, in a fit of self irony, called them shards to fit his own newly crystalline nature. However, in watching his visitors he felt truly alien.
His various shards were constantly focused on different things. The main thrust of his attention was on his guests, but even though that was true he was constantly aware of a dozen other perspectives simultaneously. He watched the monsters and was constantly culling or separating different lines to see if he could get specific traits.
He knew he belabored the point as he turned it over agian in his mind. He knew what it was to be human, even if he no longer was one. He knew what it was to walk on fresh cut grass on a summer’s day. He knew the deep breath of air turning crisp toward autumn. He knew that cold could burn as surely as fire, and as deep.
These were not what he felt now. He felt the flex of earthquakes run through him. and the gradual temperature change that went from the cold surface down into the heated depths of this world. As a human he had felt a constant thrum from the beat of his heart as it moved blood through his watery flesh. Now he was mostly stone, but even more than before he could feel the water run through the veins and chasms.
All this induced in him a certain melancholy, and he reflected back on Earth. He had so many different things that he could have done. He had still been in college, still figuring what he wanted to do with his life. He’d had a thousand thousand options and so he found himself majoring in biology simply because it was a medium solution. It was something that could take him a great many places, even as he considered what it was he wanted to truly do.
He had considered becoming a doctor, simply because that was one of the options for someone who was bright, liked science, and was not particularly squemish. However he had considered also what it would mean for him to take the Hippocratic oath, to do no harm, even if nowadays that oath was greyed as doctors freely used medications with a thousand side effects. It had become more a case of causing as little harm as possible. In all honesty, it had probably always been so. Certainly the doctor that amputated a leg in prior times had caused a lessor harm with the intention to avert a greater one. However he would not bind himself with an oath lightly, for he took those promises he made seriously.
Oaths mattered. This was something he had learned from history: the word of people had once meant something far more. To break a solemn promise could have easily left one outcast, untrusted, so that none would help or speak for you. If you broke a vow now, well everyone lied all the time, or so they would say. And Caden would be the last to say he never lied, but people seemed to no longer care if you made small lies, broke a well intended promise, or broke a legally binding oath. Politicians made lies their whole career; people lied in court. Oaths seemed to have become a convienient fiction.
This had also turned him away from police work or law. Certainly there was true evil out there, and he might have found joy in slaying it, but he knew himself well enough to know that slogging through the grey swamp of the law to do it would sap him of all enthusiasim. Each of these had been rejected, even as he studied biology and basked with joy in the sheer amount of information and beauty in everything he learned. However, he would be the first to acknowledge that he didn’t particularly enjoy working in a lab. For all that he enjoyed precision, there was such a thing as too precise.
He found his mind adrift. He hadn’t been thinking about his family. His father, mother. sisters and brother had been out of his mind, but it had only been truly a month or so since he had arrived on this unknown world. He had yet to even learn the world’s name. He had spoken to no one here save for a voice which had very different beliefs from himself. While Exsan was beginning to get better at communicating, he was no a human being. All Caden’s long talks with, or mostly to, him failed to give the same satiation of talking with another person. He had known he was missing contact with other people, but he had not realized the depth of his craving until he had seen these four strangers enter the dungeon. Their camradery was almost a physical blow.
And oh what people they were! A single shard, even above his own main attention, was focused on one person in particular. One who was not human, who was human-ish, humanoid. His skin was light brown and looked like beech bark with a tracery of green veins showing from beneath the skin. Skin was the wrong word, it overlapped faintly with slightly raised edges in a manner halfway between scales and bark. Though he could not actually feel the skin, the person’s magic and presence was sufficient to obfuscate that, there was more than just skin color to indicate they were something new. Their hair was green, and not the neon green from people dying their hair he had seen at home, it was in fact a lush green, plant green. Hair was not truly the right description either, though he had no better word. There was first of all, less of it, in terms of individual hairs, than would be expected on a human being. However, each one branched out from a main stalk into small subsidiary branches, so it was more accurate to descibe the being as having small furry ferns which grew from the top of their head. Their lips, like the visible veins and hair, were green, though this color was the deeper green he expected from someone with green running through their veins. The eyes though, that was the one startling contrast, they were a vibrant amethyst.
Other than this, there were a few notable characteristics. They were articulated in the same way as humans, though their elbows and knees had an inward curving thorn jutting from the upper part, on the arms, and the lower part, on the knees. The thorns curved just a tiny bit into their flash when the limbs were fully extended and that thorn was hidden beneath a protrusion of shaggy bark skin extending almost shieldlike a couple of inches past their joints. Their clothing was wrapped around them to accommodate the difficulties this would naturally cause. It was, if Caden was to simply use his first impression, a plant person who took his features from a moderately temperate environment.
The others were less spectacular, but still interesting. There were two men and a woman. One of the men was enormous, his bulk further enhanced by the wrapped fur and clothes around him. Indeed all four were wrapped up tightly in furs and radiated more warmth than was natural, which Caden attributed to small pockets of magical energy within. He thought they must be minor artifacts producing heat wrapped within all the furs. About halfway through the tunnel they actually all unwrapped, one at a time as the others kept watch. The big man had a Nordic look to him if you were describing someone from Earth, though his features were slightly blunted. His nose, his ears, and his chin were rounder than he would’ve expected from anyone on earth with similar coloring. The woman was similar with her blonde hair standing out once it was uncovered from the furs but again her features were just slightly rounded away from the Nordic bent that they appeared to share. The last man was shorter and thinner, nearly wiry. He was dark-haired and seemed of a different background altogether. He had large ears, a pointed nose, and was almost constantly in motion. Even when he was standing still he shifted from side to side; his entire body seemed to want to vibrate.
Caden had been amused by the whole bathroom experience. Simulating a human being using a statue had been exceptionally hard. Creating a mobile statue was fairly easy, between his ability to create anything that he imagined and the constant feedback as he created something. So some small detailed change was quite easy to create. However, creating the image he had in mind and moving it while he kept it perfect even while it was in motion required unusal concentration and coordination. In fact it had taken seven different shards to do, and he would not have managed even that if he did not already have the pattern taken from the man he saved. Of course that meant he had needed to borrow that man’s exact shape, but that was unlikely to cause problems.
He had hopefully made it look effortless, even while his attention and ability to concentrate was tested to the limits of his focus. Human beings were, he reflected, really complicated and simulating musculature in motion perfectly was exceptionally difficult even when he was cheating. He had not even needed to keep its balance perfect because it was in contact with the floor at all times with one foot or another. He was certain that the statue would have fallen over at some point otherwise, and that would have been less than impressive.
As it was, he wanted to make sure that people who entered the dungeon knew exactly where and what the bathrooms were, and that they used them. Since he had gone to the trouble of providing them he was not going to be happy if someone failed to use them. He was also taking a certain amount of relish in enforcing that people had to wash their hands and since enforcement was, literally, for their own good he could force the issue and not release them until they had. Oh if there were some drastic emergency to get out of the bathroom his ability would likely fail and let them out. He was not a biological being anymore, but despite that, people failing to wash their hands still made some part of him crawl. He may not be in any danger from disease, but he was going to insure that their hands were clean even if he could utterly eradicate any dirt and bacteria they left behind. Apparently logical worries were immaterial compared to the fact that his brain, or whatever, still had hangups; that was apparently part of having a human soul. It didn’t just go away because he left his own world and had gotten planted in somebody else’s body.