I'm the first one awake.
Room's completely quiet.
Just the sound of breathing, just a slight chill.
Shutters on the window aren't rattling, but there's a breeze. Shaded air from an empty city street, cool flow of something that's not quite wind. The kind where warm is on its way, but not quite arrived.
I'm still on the floor.
Like an idiot, I'm still on the floor.
I've just been... just really dumb recently.
I haven't adjusted.
That’s a nicer way of putting it, I think.
Reality has pulled the rug out from under me. I've been pushed back an uncomfortable number of steps- slithers, whatever.
I'm not what I was before: that's what I'm trying to get at.
I also messed up, yesterday.
What’s worse, is I think this will probably keep happening unless I do something about it. If I act as if I'm still in control of the situation, this is exactly what I'm going to get.
Because, I’m not.
I'm not in control anymore.
I can't interact with the world the way I used to. For the second time now, it's like I've lost my voice and limbs.
Without Earth magic, I’m in trouble.
Almost as if I were once a master craftsman, but I've lost all the tools.
Like anyone, I got so used to looking at the world through this lens. The perspective of someone who could manipulate and adjust some of his surroundings, maybe even majorly: to change them if he wanted.
But now I can't.
If things get bad, all I've got left is one awful choice.
The whole mess, it was almost laughable. If I still had my Earth magic, I could have easily gotten us out of that situation.
It was so avoidable.
I could have raised the ground up, I could have dropped us down and sealed us off from danger- I could have lifted a statue. Some serious plans have been constructed for dealing with threats, and they were not all fire and brimstone.
Hell, if I'd had my [Spirit attendants] I could have probably just scared those bastards off.
I would have had a choice, but instead I took the easy way.
Way too easy.
I'm looking down from the edge of a slipperly slope.
Almost anything would have been better, but that was just it: I got cornered so quick, and suddenly that was the only thing left I knew would work.
What would a master craftsman try do first, if they lost all their tools?
Sure, they might- but then what?
Buy another set?
I think they would.
[Voice of Gaia] open the skills list.
This is worse than before. It's really nothing.
I don't get a sense of any sort of brooding silence, or judgemental anger: it's just not there.
That's exactly what I should be expecting, though.
Of course, there's nothing.
I'm an [Enemy of the World] now.
Why the heck would the system help me now?
Far as that mess is concerned I no longer root for the same team. Don't want to be a servant? Well, don't let the door hit out on the way out.
Fine, so let’s rule out purchasing.
Buying won't work. Safe assumption.
What then? I have to make one?
I suppose that makes sense.
[Imitation voice of Gaia] what magics do I have?
Level 99 and a half or something.
Titles: [Servant of the Tiny Snake God] and whatever. Guardian and some others I'd just rather not remember.
Branch: Divine something or another.
Unique traits: Something-something, I can eat whatever... something-something, Don't eat me... something something, Affinity with fire... I honestly can't remember anymore.
Status: [Blessed by the Tiny Snake God]
Resistances: A bunch, I think. I don't remember. Fire, Mana, Acid, and Poison. Whatever.
[Healing:] Healing magic, rank... I don't know. It's up there, but if Imra has taught me anything I'm going to need to work at it. Useless for combat. Passive healing, decent enough for combat. Rank whatever.
[Fire Magics:] Fireball, not the whiskey. Rank… I don't remember. Leviathan Breath... Rank twenty of something very high, but again I don't remember. No molding or manipulation allowed further than controlling the output in a general “less fire or more fire” so more or less useless for doing anything but killing people and party tricks… Or opening boxes.
[Earth Magics:] Sculpting, rank... I don't remember. Very, very high, but currently not working.
[Water Magics] Manipulation and molding, don't remember the rank but it wasn't much compared to Earth.
[Knowledge Magic:] Not working.
Well... mostly not working.
The passive stuff seems to work, as I can understand people. Spirit Attendants on vacation. Voice of Gaia is a jerk. In summary: no active abilities.
[Divine magic:] Seriously: No idea. Never figured out what these did in the first place. Probably not working.
So, in summary: I can either burn my enemies alive, heal them, or splash them with a bit of water.
Even with the gaps in my memory leaving out a few numeric details, this isn't looking all that great.
If I run into more danger and I want to protect the people with me, I'm going to have no choice but end up cornered again.
Either I murder people, or I heal them.
There is no middle ground: I'm like a coin flip.
Life, or death.
I don't like that.
Clearly, this is a case of being up the creek without a paddle. I used to have options, and now I don't. I need to make a plan.
No use in stressing over this and not doing anything productive, I just need to make a plan. There's a solution- I know there is. I just need to find out what it is, and then follow through.
I need a new skill I can rely on, and so far as I know, there are three ways to get that figured out. Buy it, earn it, or make it.
"Buying" a skill is out, and by the same reasoning "earning" a skill is probably out- so I have to make it.
That's decided for me.
Operation [Create a skill]
Alright, so I need to make something that fits the role Earth magic did- at least partly. I need to improve something I already have into a comparable of defense to go with my offense: shield with the sword.
Okay. Okay, so far so good. What's plausible?
Well, first up there's clearly Fire. That's been with me since the start- I know it pretty well.
No, that magic's good for nothing but burning stuff, and it can't be manipulated well. It's a danger the moment I set it loose.
So that leads right to Earth?
But of course, Earth has been mostly unresponsive, and that's the exact reason I'm in this situation. Okay, alright- just check that off too.
Healing? No, doesn't fit. Maybe I could [Heal] through damage, but I can't do that for everyone- and it's not like I'd survive a really well-placed attack. I can only imagine some of those guys trying to murder us yesterday could have easily cut me into tinier tiny snake pieces.
Besides, recently using that magic makes me feel like I've got an extra voice in my head.
Worrisome, and no good.
So… what's even left? Knowledge? Probably all tied to the system. None of it's been working but passive stuff.
Frankly, I don't even know what that stuff is, much less how to use it for something.
So that just leaves... Water. The good ol' two H and O: a form magic I might as well have shut away and ignored until recently.
That's what I've got left.
It's not ideal, but Water is the clear choice here.
Sure, I had plans to get better with this. Water magic, I mean- that's just cool sounding right? I seems like it would be so great- if not for the fact I'm a REPTILE.
Thank god I have Fire magic, or I'd be slowing down just thinking about it. Not like I've really been living in a warm environment to begin with, but damn. I can only imagine what my life would have been like starting Water instead of Fire, or Earth.
I'd probably have died to the spiders. Heck, I might have just died: can't grill a mushroom without some sort of flame.
Water magic hasn't really been that great for me.
Like how everyone after new-years has plans to hit the gym, I was telling myself I'd get around to working it out a bit, but I guess I was just leaning heavy on what I knew best. I mean, who needs a little trickle when you can mold the ground itself, or breathe a massive burst of fire?
It wasn't like Earth: it couldn't protect me. It certainly wasn't in league with Fire- it wasn't ever capable of killing monsters in the dungeon. In its full range of uses, Water magic was mostly just convenient when thirsty. Earth was clearly the favorite. Fire was a matter of survival.
I'm going to need a Tiny-Snake breakdown of the pros and cons with this. Think it through.
Alright. Let's go.
Pro: It still works.
Con: It's pitifully weak. Earth was better
Pro: It can make objects and hold its shape.
Con: Earth Magic was stronger.
Pro: It's literally the only option available.
Con: Earth Magic was way cooler. Earth Magic for life. Earth Magic best gir-
Obviously, this magic is a long, loooooong way from where I need it to be, but the pros force the cons into submission here. Technically speaking, it's close enough to earth in form and function. It can do most of the same things, short of burrowing tunnels. I can mold it into shapes, make it move as I want.
But again, it's weak. The only reason it can do much of anything at all if because I've got a lot of magic power to throw around. My mana capacity is pretty large I think, so that... that might actually help this along, but that doesn't mean I'm anywhere close to the level I was with Earth Magic.
But then... maybe I won't need to be.
I mean, I'm watching myself mold water right now, and there's one obvious difference between these so called “elements.”
Water's way easier to move. In fact, it's the mana equivalent of lifting feathers compared to... well, rocks.
It's not as dense, and it's naturally a liquid so it flows whereever I happen to direct it. Sure, it needs a bit more micro-management, but it's not so bad. Shapes are easy, and when I get what I want I can just make it turn to ice.
Liquid, to ice, to liquid, to vapor... simple now that I've got it all figured out. It's just a weird trick, spread it out, pull it together. Like casting a net, or something like that.
But… I never even thought to try this with Earth.
Could I have made Earth a liquid? Sure, I “molded” it to shift around, but I think all I was really doing was having it dissolve into super fine fragments and then reform. Could I have melted rock?
Alright, so that's a start.
See, that's something: I've got a plan coming together.
I obviously need to improve water magic, and so I'm going to need to practice with this. I had to burrow out from the depths of the world itself, miles worth of bedrock, just to get Earth Magic sorted out. For Water? I assume this is going to take a lot of usage.
Probably like a lot, a lot: just grinding its use over something I can easily repeat to rank it up...
Rank it... up... that will still work, right?
Wait a second.
That's a really good question. Will that work?
[Enemy of the World]
That's the stupid title the system gave me, and when it did, it capped my level. Does that mean it capped my skills? Does [Enemy of the World] come with additional fine print?
Can I even tell?
No, no no no- is there even another way for me to tell?
There has to be a way.
There has got to be a way to check- but what if I check and it just proves I can't?
Don't tell me I'm in a checkmate already.
What the hell, is this a “Kill the humans” or full-stop? Is this reality really that twisted?
Shit shit shit.
Okay, calm down.
This is way too early for this: total-panic comes after breakfast. Get it together, and simmer.
Start it all out slow. Vapor into droplets. Droplets into ice. Ice to droplets, droplets to vapor...
Get that nice and low mana expenditure established. Commence operation [Aqua Grinding] and relax.
Fall back to the oldest coping mechanism in the book, just focus on the magic.
Watch the magic.
Make it do what you want it to do. Make ice, mold the ice, shape it...
There we go.
Let's be optimistic.
Let’s just assume skills aren't capped. The messages didn't explicitly say they were capped, but they did for the level, so that probably means they're not.
Too early to be stressed out. I already know I've got my passives, passive healing, flame resistance. I had those, even if I couldn't check.
Most magic still works, too.
No reason to think that would fundamentally change. That's too much, wouldn't make sense. Leveling can get stuck, but skills still improve. I can get better, I can improve.
I just gotta relax.
Move the ice... back to water, back to vapor... back to water... back to ice...
Keep it going.
Keep it going, and stay calm. Think your way out of this: there's a solution here. Panicking won't do anyone any good.
Is there a way to tell?
What rank was water magic before all this?
Something sort of low... low, but not completely at the start. Maybe around ten?
Let's assume that. It was at rank ten or so, maybe something close. So, if there's a way to check, any number over ten could confirm: it ranks up.
I could focus and narrow down some sort of mana to magic-output ratio or something. Tough to test without any form of measurement, but that might work... maybe...
That second option is going to be tricky. All I've got to work with is gut-feelings and muscle memory. Not exactly refined forms of calculating values.
But lock it down.
Set the baseline for mana. Form a decent sized ice-pebble. Try to make it float.
Not floating, make it smaller.
There it is.
This is the baseline. It floats, now make it bigger again.
Doesn't float easily: wants a lot more mana. Don't give it. Keep it ice and cold. Keep it the same size, now multitask. Another set of mana, keep it separate.
Vapor, water, ice, water vapor. Keep that going. Get another layer.
Keep both going.
Another layer. Good.
Keep those going.
Oh. There, something changed.
Try to lift.
No... not yet, but... there: it's trying. Wobbling. Close.
Keep it going.
Another minute. One more minute... one more... one more...
There it was again, that slight change.
Try again to lift it... lift it... it wobbles... wobbles...
Keep it going.
Keep it going...
Call it. Too much mana, rein it back and recover.
That's proof. Sloppy proof, but close enough.
That was an invisible rank-up. Had to be.
So, they're still happening, just not out loud. The system isn't gone, it's just muted.
It’s trying to hide things.
I never considered this before.
Of course, I noticed that I haven't been seeing any rank ups at all- it clearly wasn't just [Voice of Gaia] that wouldn't respond, it was everything. Everything was dead silent.
But it was still working.
The system piped up when I killed those bandits- or whoever they were, and now everything has gone silent again: but it's still working.
Somehow, I'm still attached.
Does that mean it can't cut me off after all?
Wait a minute...
Does that mean the system is has limited control?
It can lock levels in some respect, clearly. It's got me capped out at 99. I know it can allocate or remove skill points, assign titles... but it can't actually stop skills?
Are these a loophole?
I shouldn't be questioning the laws that govern this messed-up reality before breakfast.
My mana's slowly coming back. It's so sluggish though, I remember this being quicker when I was in the Dungeon. I'm at about seventy percent full on that... now maybe seventy-one... maybe seventy-two?
Gut-feeling, but there it goes.
Slow and steady, I feel it coming back.
If using magic can still rank up an ability, though, I should try to find a balance. The most productive manner, by which I can casually grind up what I have into a tool I can use.
Everyone else is still out-cold so it's not like I've got an excuse to procrastinate.
Imra's in one of her trances.
She's dreaming about climbing an endless tree, always reaching one branch further as the winds try to throw her down to the darkness below.
The dark is following, though. Slipping up like reaching hands that whisper and burn- but not with light. They burn without a glow, but above her: above her is a light. A real light, like the sun- but it's not the sun. It's something else, like a glowing coil way up in the sky, whirling and twisting about itself in a massive spiral. It's watching, as it holds back the darkness.
Don't ask me how I know this.
Vapor, to water, to ice, to water, to vapor.
It's way too early for this shit.