“Memory is the treasure house of the mind wherein the monuments thereof are kept and preserved.”
There was a part of Caden that wanted to deny that he was the usurper in this body. When Exsan had possessed no sentience of his own it mattered little, but Exsan was sentient now. So he had made concessions, even as he demanded his own.
He had hangups, he knew this perfectly well. He did not want to lose them. It was part of who he was, and being human, or at least he thought so.
He was aware that even on Earth it had not been so simple, since he had consumed all knowledge with certain voracious intensity. He knew the ideals of his former society came from a specific time and place, and failed to cover the entire world. He was not sure if humans had ever shared the same ideals across the entire world.
For all that Caden had, at times, hated the culture of his world when he saw the worst of it appeal to the narcissistic, self-righteous, and or consumerist, he knew its virtues. Humans, according to all the psychology he had learned, were inclined to say and do that which made them look virtuous. What constituted a virtue varied vastly from one society to another. Much of virtue signaling was about perception rather than truth, but he knew he vastly preferred a place where education, knowledge, and helping others were considered virtues, even if they were competing with wealth, popularity, fashion, political correctness and a hundred other trivial values. Many cultures had signaled their virtue by their prowess via strength in war, combat, and outright killing their opponents. Warlords had been revered for much of history, as had other individuals who would have horrified modern sensibilities.
His thoughts swirled around, avoiding the issues which he had no desire to think upon. He could not go home. He wasn’t going to moan and bitch about it, because there was no point. He had to keep on keeping on. However, he could not lie to himself and say that he didn’t miss his mother, his father, his sisters and brother.
He was afraid of the darkness in himself. He hadn’t been trying to avoid killing people simply because he thought it was wrong, though he did. He knew he’d have to adjust some of his moral perspectives to this new world. That was inevitable. If you dealt with a different culture you deal with different expectations and morals and there was nothing wrong with that. He certainly intended to adjust whatever culture he found to himself in to make himself more comfortable. Human beings did that every time they colonized each other, though he hoped he could be more subtle about it. He was afraid of the darkness because it would be easy to give in, especially when his only company was a raging psychopath.
Humans needed company. There were the occasional hermits out in the woods who never saw people for years, but there was a reason they were the exception rather than the rule. Almost every single human needed the touch and familiarity of other human beings.
There was a reason people who were taken prisoner or kidnapped began to empathize with their captors. It wasn’t just self-defense, it wasn’t just so their minds wouldn’t break under the strain of abuse and torture. It was because those were their only points of contact, and the human mind could be remarkably plastic about changing its own awareness, its beliefs and ideas in order to survive. Part of that survival was contact. So if change was needed to get contact, to get self-affirmation, the mind would do that.
He was going to kill someone, it was inevitable. He was a dungeon. Even with all that he had done, with all the precautions he had taken and the gift he offered, someone was going to be unlucky or idiotic enough to die.
He wasn’t making a great moral stand simply because it was moral, but because he didn’t want to lose track of what he believed. He had done what he could to reinforce that, up to and including carving on the wall “humans are friends, not food.” It was also a reference to the common culture he had left behind.
The world he left behind mattered in other ways. Perhaps he was wrong and the magic of this world made irrelevant the hundreds upon hundreds of years of science and discovery. Perhaps magic gave them everything they could possibly want, but he doubted it. Not just because people were coming to enter a dangerous dungeon, but from other evidence too. The clothes of the man sewer were rough and handmade. They were, no doubt, tougher than an ordinary piece of clothing purchased on Earth, but he was also certain that they were much much more expensive and time consuming to make.
For most of history humans had been barely above subsistence. They had made enough to eat and a little more. That little bit more went to those with wealth and power. And in years when there was not enough, it wasn’t the wealthy and powerful who starved. There were people who saw the past as some idyllic paradise, but for most was toil, and sweat, and disease.
That was not to say that science had no issues. Since science was a process of gradual understanding, it often allowed and even encouraged solutions that turned out to be shortsighted in the end. And the culture of scientists determined what constituted acceptable research topics. Eventually science would catch up and other solutions would be incremented. However, obviously there were drawbacks.
However, those who protested against it and desired to go back to a past vision that never was, could only do so because of the vast abundance they were surrounded by. Nothing stopped them from going deep into the woods or mountains and making a community. Caden was aware that if he had been dropped into random wilderness, the odds were good that he would die. Nature was peaceful and beautiful; it was also deadly. Humans cut paths into the woods, but going for a hike was not nature. Humans knew nature’s true self when they saw it. It was as majestic and cold and implacable as a glacier grinding a mountain into a valley.
He was keenly becoming aware that he might be dealing with a medieval society. He had no idea what level of industrial development they were at. Was he dealing with the Enlightenment, the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution, or something completely different? He did not know, though likely it had no exact parallel on Earth. This world had produced the steel dagger he had taken, but he did not know enough metallurgy to say what that meant about development. He knew a few of the basic alloys, like pewter, which was silver and lead, but he didn’t know exact proportions or when they were developed. He knew that high temperatures for smelting used a blast furnace, and that it helped if the air was recirculated, but he didn’t know what temperature was needed for any given material.
Thanks to his education and his curiosity he did know a large number of things, but he knew the specific details of few of those things. He knew a basic generator was constructed by having a magnet turning and causing electrons to move in coils of wire. That at least was relatively simple. The fact that he could create rotating objects that never stopped meant that he would have no problem generating electricity. However, he had little use for electricity. Sure it might be useful in traps, but he hardly had the knowledge necessary to create a functioning radio. He could use it for lighting, but he already had a solution for that, and while he knew that light bulbs required a filament and he was pretty sure light bulbs were filled with a neutral gas, he would have a hard time making one. He remembered that tungsten was used for filaments, but aside from the somewhat esoteric knowledge that tungsten was the letter W on the periodic table, he didn’t actually know how to find tungsten. He didn’t know any of the characteristics of tungsten. And light bulbs, for all the time they took Edison, were a relatively simple application of electricity. He would not be bringing this world into an electrical age anytime soon.
He had no doubt that he would have the time to experiment and learn what kind filaments worked. And he did have the great advantage of knowing what was possible. And as a dungeon he could re-create materials perfectly. Eventually he would likely reach the point where the dungeon was complicated and powerful enough that it would require little oversight. Science was probably going to be something he used to fill all that extra time.
He’d already taken the time to create a relatively incomplete periodic table. It was hydrogen, helium, lithium (he thought), he couldn’t remember the fourth one to save his life, boron (which he remembered was weird and had weird elemental characteristics as to how many electrons it liked that was very different from anything else). After that came the more common elements, carbon which he was fairly certain he could identify the pattern for just because it was a common link in all living things and it was in the black residue when things burned.
Nitrogen was next, and he had tried to get the pattern for that, but patterns from absorbing the air were as ephemeral as the air itself. He could feel that there were primary components present, but no more than that before it was muddled by the thousands of chemicals in the air. However, he did have the pleasant surprise of discovering that absorbing the air replicated smell. As training he had a shard that was constantly devouring the air in his garden and trying to separate out different patterns.
Oxygen was next. Easy to isolate from water’s pattern, so that was nice. Pure oxygen was highly flammable and highly reactive too, maybe something to think about for traps. After oxygen was fluorine, the most chemically unstable element Caden could remember. If he ever isolated an element and found that it reacted in explosively fiery death with everything, he would assume he had found it. Then were the noble gases, they were mostly unreactive, neon was first, then xenon, krypton (also the only reason he knew all the noble gases), with radon coming in last… wait pretty sure argon went in the middle of there somewhere. After neon came another row. It started with one half of salt, sodium, followed by heck if he knew, then to aluminum, which he only remembered because it was the lightest of the stable metals. Silicon came next and everyone got excited about that one when they talked about aliens since, like carbon, it could make four electron connections. After that his recollection was increasingly spotty. He knew copper, silver, and gold were all the same column. Mercury was liquid at room temperature and right after gold. Iron was around twenty-five. Beneath fluorine were chlorine and bromine. His was also pretty sure lead was the last stable element.
His new ability to appraise had let him know the name of the materials that he knew about. So he’d found ridiculous amounts of various uncut gems. He probably would have had a hard time finding them otherwise, since they did not seem too different from any other rocks in terms of structure. He could create the gems any shape he wanted, but if he wanted something fancy he would probably need to wait for adventurers. He could now create diamonds, emeralds, rubies, topaz, sapphires, and far more. Once this would have greatly changed his life, especially with his ability to re-create them perfectly with the natural flaws. Now it was just more decorations and adventurer bait.
He had taken the time to start inscribing the walls of all his private areas since his memory was not perfect. What little about chemical formulas had been written down. He created the shapes of the various electron orbitals, which were actually probability fields if you ascribed to quantum mechanics. He was aware his knowledge was a vast simplification. He hoped to eventually be able to manipulate atoms and molecules directly, since he did know about fun things like nanotubes and buckyballs. However, even molecules that were titanic, for molecules, were beyond him. He could barely make out the cell wall outline of larger cells. The greatest success he had had so far was taking a unique plant cell structure he had found in only one pattern, and after a great deal trial and error, putting it into the leaves of a tree.
This had left him with a more brute force approach to manipulating biology, essentially a much faster and twisted version of the culling and breeding that humanity had done for thousands of years to produce dogs, sheep, cattle and everything else. He did have more tools. First, everything was growing and reproducing far faster than normal; the slowest creature he had produced so far had a reproductive cycle of 12 hours. Many of the smaller creatures and plants grew far faster than that, not surprising since they needed to feed the rapidly growing predator population. Second, the dungeon was selectively mutating to make organisms more dangerous. Third, his dungeon abilities let him cheat outright. He could tell an organism it was not allowed to attack other members of its own species, or another species, or not allowed to go into a specific location. Fourth, he could turn off the overaggressive dungeon mutation, though then he only got the extremely slow process of natural mutation. Fifth, he could lock particular creations into an exact state, for example he could make a tree regrow into the exact same shape every time it was damaged.
Caden was doing everything he could to guide this evolution. He may not be able to pick the exact path, that was apparently not how it worked. For now there were still things he could do. Every time a species became dominant over a particular habitat he would introduce it into new habitats with other successful predators. He kept changing the variables.
He introduced cave organisms into areas with gradually increasing light to one side of the habitat. He mixed together organisms from completely different areas. He completely removed certain species in some habitats, to see how the creatures and plants would mutate in its absence. And every time he got something more interesting or dangerous he would do his best to make it more so. He introduced every environment he had access to or could create: snow-scape, heat, cold, wet, dry, light, dark, and environments where those factors changed over an artificial day, so that it might be cold and sunny in the “morning,” but then turn hot and humid and dim in the afternoon.
Some of his best success had occurred when he slimmed an environment down to having only two animals, predator and prey. The predator did get better at eating the prey, but the prey usually developed defenses even better. And then he could introduce that prey and see how those defenses worked against other predators, or introduce a second prey, or second predator, etc.
It had taken a while before he had gotten something that qualified as an actual monster. This was not particularly surprising when you considered the most dangerous organisms he had started with were insectile mice and rats. He just kept combining and recombining until there were massive pockets of underwater ponds, forests in their own isolated caves, grasslands, and every biome that he could possibly re-create.
Using his command ability, he could give groups general instructions for tactics, and those tactics would gradually become part of the evolved instincts of the creature. It was amazing how quickly he saw results in some cases, though his attempts to get water-based organisms onto land by commanding them to use their fins like legs and putting them in shallower and shallower water was still in progress.
Others he commanded to be territorial, so they would be perfect to guard treasure or traps. Most traps would get harder if you fell in and were suddenly swarmed by something that stung or bit.
He had gained a fair amount of traction with his approach. He suspected his intelligence and methodical approach were quite different from what most dungeons did, and gave him an advantage. However, even with his shards constantly sorting organisms and patterns out, and the ability to add notes with a thought into his interface, he was getting quickly overwhelmed.
His methods were working, and for now he was simply maintaining the best he could. He still had many experiments to try, and he suspected that as he continued to spread his aura deeper into mana rich territory his growth would happen even faster, and his monsters would become more dangerous.
One thing that did concern him was his own growth. He thought he was expanding at a little more than 100 feet a day. When it was said like that it didn’t sound like much but it added up. That meant that roughly every fifty days the radius of the dungeon would increase by a mile, the total diameter by two miles. Over the course of a year that would equal a diameter increase of 14 miles. A decade would see hundred and 40 miles, a century a thousand miles, and a thousand years would be 10,000 miles. With that kind of growth any ancient dungeon should be truly massive. In fact the entire planet should be covered by different dungeons, even if they could not cover the surface. So that meant that either he was vastly different, or his growth would stop or drastically slow down at some point.
However, he didn’t know when that was going to happen. It could have to do with his levels, a total hard cap that he had yet to reach, aura growth becoming more mana intensive, or anything else.
His general shape was a sphere with with a very long, but very thin protrusion that led to his current entrance. He could not say exactly how long that tunnel was. 6 miles? 10 miles? He thought it was somewhere in that range. That extra protrusion was almost like an antenna and had actually made him far more sensitive to the earthquakes he had gotten used to. So far the total dungeon sphere of his influence had reached its maximum in a few places when it had hit the sides of the mountain. He had yet to reach the peak but he was looking forward to taking his crystal and getting a panoramic view of the world when it did.