Chapter 14

[Snake Report]

Bad vibes.

Something is really unpleasant, and it’s fast on approach.

Waking up to this, in the middle of the night isn’t a good feeling, but it gets a heck of a lot worse when I can’t figure out “why?”

I can taste something “wrong” on the air, feel the pressure in my bones, on my scales, all around me: this isn’t right.

But, there’s nothing wrong.

It’s dark… but I can see, well enough.

Watched a few wagons off on some road from… I don’t know, at least six or seven miles away, this afternoon. [Tiny-Snake Vision] is more than reliable, and dark hasn’t been a problem for me in a long while. Not above ground, anyways.

But, right now, there’s nothing out there.

Just wind, and dust.

Which doesn’t fit the growing sense of dread. Beyond any measure of reasonable doubt, danger is approaching. I know something’s coming for me, but I have no clue what it is.

Sss…

I cleared everything away, earlier. Nothing but flat sand for fifty or so feet in any direction. Charred dust for anything further than that. Rocks and stones and dirt…

I don’t see anything, but I still feel it.

Wrong.

Danger.

Hate.

Death.

The other voice is bubbling up…

That’s about as sure a sign as any. This is real, then.

Great One… They hunger…

Approaches…

Not a very helpful warning, but I haven’t ever expected much from them. If the “other” guy talking, I’m pretty sure whatever’s out there: it’s real.

Tell me where. I know that something’s coming. Where?

The Depths…

The depths… the depths…

If you mean the Dungeon, I plugged that already. Where else?

The… Depths…

They’re getting quieter.

Of all the times for you to be tired out, this isn’t one of them. Can you tell me anything else?

Below… Great One…

Below…

Shit.

Okay, even the Golem’s reacting, now.

It’s a slow, heavy, pivot.

Shield is up. Weapon is ready. Something’s definitely coming.

Full combat prep.

Mana’s still at seventy… seventy-five percent. Recovery from constant Water Magic takes time, I guess.

Doesn’t matter: Earth Magic is spinning up.

Below.

Alright.

Pretty general, as far as directions go. Still, I can put some feelers out, see what Earth Magic runs into, or doesn’t…

Sss…

Where are you coming from…

Where’s the danger?

Get a defense going… I can lift us up a bit… get some spikes ready… fortify…

It’s…

That’s weird.

I could have sworn I stuff a giant lump of bedrock right about there.

No, I’m sure of it. I plugged this thing up tight.

Why the hell would the ground give-

Oh fuck.

………………………………………………

[Golem]

The Creator was yelling many words the Golem did not understand, but the Golem was not bothered, for the Golem did not know many things.

It was not meant to know.

A copy, of a copy. A blueprint of a relic, made anew and handed off. From one being of greatness, to another, the magic which brought the Golem into existence was formed by commands and logic unknown to its own core.

All it knew was housed withing he pattern of runes, sunk deep into the mesh of crystals which made up its “Heart” as the Creator called it.

Somehow, it remembered that, but again: it did not know how, or why.

The Core.

The Heart…

In time, the Golem was aware that more knowledge would come to it, but for the present: it could only understand the purpose for which it had been created.

Defend.

The single word was cemented into every inch of its body. From the shield of stone, readied before its body, to the thin decorative armor the Creator had bestowed up it, the Golem planned to follow this command until it lay broken.

The Golem knew little, but unlike so many living things, it knew its purpose. The very reason it was put upon the plane of existence.

And that was more than enough.

As the ground became alive with grasping claws and howling screams, the Golem stood strong. When creatures emerged from the abyss, and the ground did open, it knew little of the names or reasons. There were no great plans of tactics, or understanding what was to soon unfold, or even if it would survive the coming battle.

Instead, it drew back its weapon of stone, and delivered first blood.

Then, second.

Faltering, was not its purpose.

No, its purpose was to Defend.

[Lesser Sentient Golem - Rank up]

Its enemy screamed in pain and anger as a third, final blow was delivered, but the Golem continued as another replaced it. Already, the Creator was driving them back, calling upon Magic the Golem could not possibly comprehend, but until the battle was won, there would be many more enemies.

Rear back, swing down.

Simple motions, were all it could manage, after all. The Creator had worked hard to provide it a body far above its rank. It had the height, to provide leverage, and the Limbs which could lift for a fast downward swing. Certainly it was capable of delivering a more powerful strike, while the shield it carried blocked the worse of the counter attacks.

Again, the Golem lifted back up, then struck back down.

It recognized that it could win. A mind oriented for combat could understand this. So long as the shield held, perhaps, it might win against two… or three. But, beyond the shield it raised and the weapon beside it, there were many more enemies.

Too many, the Golem recognized.

They tore the ground apart, ripping their way out through tunnels most narrow, or breaches of open stone. The sand was trembling, as more split open: like scars being pulled until they ripped and bled. More and more enemies emerged. Each as dangerous, if not more, than the last.

The enemy died, but dozens more replaced it.

Victory was not possible.

Even with this powerful body: what came for the Golem was a flood. Just a handful of the beasts which approached might be enough to break the its body, and crumble the core it held to dust.

But, thankfully, the Golem was not alone in this fight.

Mana surged forth, commanded to perfection, as the Creator brought forth a reckoning.

“BEGONE.”

Fires of green which raged across the soil. Earth turned to spikes- then glass, as the fires touched them. Ripples of stone, burred like waves of ten thousand spears as they descended upon the threat.

The violence was tremendous.

As the Golem stood, all but fixed, the Creator lifted. Stone rippled across ground, Magic propelling the blue serpent back, forward, up. Splinters rose and intercepted claws. Shafts of burning stone cut back hungry teeth, and the Creator moved like a spear. Not burdened by a heavy body, not sluggish or slow: for every creature which grasped for it, they found nothing but air, blades, and fire.

As the battle was met, the creatures died. More took their place, and they too died- but the Golem cared little for them. Without magic, without superior strength or intellect: In this battle, the Golem knew its purpose.

The beautiful shield soon shattered. Its armor was slashed and melted.

It arms crumbled.

But the Golem did not concern itself, for again: it knew its purpose.

No matter what.

Even as it was chipped away, broken to nothing.

It would defend.

………………………………………………..

Chapter 15

[Snake Report]

News just in: a Dungeon entrance can’t be closed.

Actually… on account of absolute generalizations being a scary concept, allow me to correct that statement:

This particular Dungeon entrance will not stay shut.

There.

That’s a little better.

And yes, trust me on this.

It won’t.

I even tried one solid sheet of bedrock, fifteen slithers thick.

No, it doesn’t give a crap how many slithers thick it is.

It hasn’t stopped me from trying quite yet, but in rough summary, there is no way to keep this thing sealed. At least, not for very long.

Thus, midnight monster attack.

Lessons were learned.

Mistakes were made.

Hey, show me my status.

[Voice of Gaia]

No more of this crap.

I’m not joking.

We might not like one another, but to say I’ve had a bad couple days, would be a terrible understatement, and we both know you have a job to do.

I said: Show me my status.

… [!]

————————————————————————

[Level 1]

[TITLE: INHERITOR, GREATER ENEMY OF THE WORLD, LESSER GOD]

[BRANCH: Divine Being]

.……………………………………

[UNIQUE TRAITS]

[Extremely Toxic] [Crystalline Scales] [Omnivore] [Affinity of Flame] [Legendary]

[Greater Enemy of the World - SYSTEM Access Restricted]

.……………………………………

[STATUS]

[WANTED - Humankind] - Bounty issued for capture, or proof of execution.

[HATED - World] - _______________

[INFLICTED - MADNESS] - No longer completely sane. [Resisted]

.……………………………………

[RESISTANCES]

[Poison resistance: Rank 27] [Fire resistance: Rank 22] - Affinity* [Mana resistance: Rank 47] [Chaos resistance: Rank 11] [Steel resistance: Rank I] [Iron resistance: Rank I] [Acid resistance : Rank 11 ]

……………………………………

[Skills]

[Healing]

[Greater Passive Healing: Rank 21] [Greater Heal: Rank 13] [Lesser Miracle: Rank I] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title.

[Flame element] - Affinity

[Leviathan breath: Rank 42 ] [Fireball: Rank 11]

[Earth element]

[Earth Sculpting: Rank 58] [Lesser Sentient Golem: Rank IX] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title.

[Water element]

[Water Manipulation: Rank 26]

[Knowledge element]

[Voice of Gaia - Rank 16] - [RESTRICTED]

[Language Comprehension] - [Human Language - Northern Continent: Comprehension] [Human Language - Southern Continent: Comprehension] [Lukra Language - Comprehension] - Great Forest Dialect

[Spirit Attendant - Rank III] - [IN USE]

[Divine element]

[Lesser Possession: Rank I] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title. [Lesser Divine Blessing: Rank I] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title. [Lesser Holy Ground: Rank II] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title. [Lesser Future Sight: Rank I] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title.[Lesser Eyes of Familiar: Rank I] - Granted by [INHERITOR] title.

[Royal Spirit of Man] - [IN USE]

[Ancient Spirit of Depth] - [IN USE]

————————————————————————

Good, the skills are ticking up.

Next time, throw out those roman numerals. I don’t want those in the read-out. They’re giving me a migraine.

Just use normal numbers.

I know you can hear me.

You jerk.

Sss…

A total disaster.

Until I come up with some sort of solution, I know what happened last night is going to happen again. I don’t have to ask [Voice of Gaia] to be keenly aware that the World hates me. [Greater Enemy of The World] and all that comes with some perks, no doubt.

[Hated] as a status…

Yeah, reading this loud and clear.

They are not happy.

As for options, though, I’m not sure what I’ve really got available.

Plugging the tunnel up was a no-go, and covering the leftovers after the fight has turned out to be an even bigger joke. Fiddling around with things has shown me I can minimize the breach, somewhat, but I can’t stop it completely.

Maybe there’s some sort of special magic I could use to seal this, but I’ve found that [Lesser Holy Ground] doesn’t appear to be doing much of anything except help the sprout grow.

The little guy is almost as tall as me, now. If I rear back up, puff out my “chest.”

Nice as that is, this was not what I was hoping for.

Besides, that comes with its own problems.

Now I’m going to need to figure out how to more efficiently get water. Trying to catch molecules out of the air, as they evaporate is practically the definition of futile in this environment, and I’ve found this sprout tends to just pull water up and let it go.

At least it’s not dead, which- on that particular note: Congratulations are in order.

Good work, Golem.

You, uh… you really took one for the team, huddling over the sprout.

I really appreciate it.

Kept calm, performed admirably.

I’ll admit, unlike you, I might have lost my temper somewhere in the middle of the mayhem. Burned a heck of a lot of stuff, so you made the right call. Though, I might have originally recommended a bit more fighting back and less huddling on the ground, I guess I did tell you to protect the plant above all else.

So, yeah.

I’m really sorry the monsters hacked off a majority of your body.

I’m also sorry I set you on fire…

At least twice.

I apologize for both of those instances.

Occupation hazards aside, you did well. Excellent first night on the job. Just… uh… lay over there for a bit, all crumbly-like.

Rest up.

I’ll get back to you.

Sss…

I will.

You know, once I figure out how to deal with this stupid Dungeon.

This stupid, rigged, dungeon...

At least it sticks with the running trend of things. The game, the system, the whole damn world- I don’t see why the Dungeon entrance would be any different. Getting this to stay shut might well be impossible.

Closing the opening can’t be done without the damn ground trying to rip back up somewhere else. Using a variety of methods, I might add. The ground has burst back open with random winding tunnels, abrupt splits, jagged tears. Never in the same place, never predictable…

I’ve been learning. Fifth attempt here, going on number six. Getting more creative with my own methods, seeing if that can make a difference or not.

And…

Sss.

That’s a bust.

Heavy, segmented, rough, gravel to fill in the tears only works until it recognizes. Then, it opens up bed rock and swallows the stuff whole. Low and behold.

Oh, it might be mad this time.

I killed all the monsters the Dungeon must have had handy, so this time it’s just trying to make me fall into a crevasse. Like that would ever work. The hell do you think I am, huh?

Reeks of angry desperation, if you ask me.

Almost like someone really, really, really doesn’t like me.

That what this is about, [Voice of Gaia?]

Ha.

That’s definitely what this is about.

Yeah, rumble ominously. See what good that’ll do you.

Sss… maybe taunting the ground isn’t a good idea.

I’m still mad, though.

Honestly, this is irritating as all hell. Being able to resolve something, only to have it undo itself in some unpredictable manner is a real pain.

Doesn’t matter what I patch this with, it’s like a corrosive force is undoing any efforts to patch the hole.

I could sit here all day, and it would still find a way to get around me. Hell: if I did sit here keeping it constantly sealed, I bet it would probably just shuffle over a few hundred feet and then open up somewhere just out of range.

I’ll admit, putting my hopes in the [Lesser Holy Ground] spell was a bit of a let down. The Large Frog God left me with some interesting stuff, but it seems to be my mistake in hoping that this particular one might be useful.

It really wasn’t.

Does seem permanent, though.

I can “feel” the ground better, without using [Earth Sculpting] or anything, if that makes sense.

Uncertain at this time.

Getting back on topic: The Dungeon can’t be shut. Annoying as that might be, I’m aware of the problem now, and it doesn’t really change much.

I’m used to things trying to kill me.

Besides that: I already decided I’m not going anywhere. Just because the big-bad-Dungeon decided to throw some shade- if it wasn’t them, I’m sure someone else would be coming after me by now. Humans, or Mister Bolder’s buddies, or some other random horror that’s bored enough to seek me out.

So, this changes nothing.

But…

I guess it does me with a question.

How many [Lesser Sentient Golem] does it take to pacify a Dungeon?

…………………..

Chapter 16

[Snake Report]

I call him Rocky.

In honor of his valiant fight and capacity for taking a beating, I have bestowed this name as a sign of deep and heartfelt respect.

Then, I did my best to make sure he was restored back to normal.

Or, at least close to normal.

There seems to be a trick to doing repair work on an entity that is actively being held by the [Lesser Sentient Golem] spell. Although it’s not as troublesome as building from scratch, just like when originally enacting the skill, the “template” tries to take my Earth Magic rebuilding attempts and push it into the crappy cookie-cutter form. So, it continues to prioritize the Golem body that the spell is based on, and not what’s actually been built.

There’s still a decent amount of focus and attention required.

My rough understanding is that imprint of the spell can be overwritten, but it won’t completely go away. I’m probably not a high enough rank with the [Lesser Sentient Golem] to tell it otherwise, either.

End result, though, is a success.

He lives again.

Rocky, the chosen Golem: Slayer of monsters, honorable guardian of the weak, destined to continue his noble task. A froggy testament to all who might dare to encroach upon this place. Here above ground, he will remain a dangerously sentient umbrella.

But, above ground isn’t really what I’m concerned about, right now.

The harsh environment is a problem, yes. But, the sun can’t get through a shield made out of solid stone, so it’s not worrisome as long as Rocky stands guard. Creatures might wander in, like those red lizards or some smaller versions of Mister Boulder- which might be a problem. Still, unless something really dangerous shows up, I’m not concerned. Rocky will handle those, too.

On the subject of less natural threats, there are some distant wagon caravans. Just today, I saw another one go by. Luckily, those seem to have little to no interest in leaving the road, but humans are just as dangerous as the Dungeon, in my opinion. In time, if more people find this place, they might be a problem.

But, not right now.

My immediate problem is beneath my lack of feet.

The Dungeon.

I’m not going down there alone. I might make terrible life choices, from time to time, but I’m not a total idiot.

That place hates me.

Same point, I’m not going to leave the sprout up here alone, either. Rocky is going to stay put.

So… more Golems.

Why not?

Being honest, outside of philosophical dilemmas of constructing pseudo-living entities and forcing them into an existence of eternal servitude, I found my answer to that question appears to be “almost nothing.”

Sss…

So, it goes.

The moral travesties of not wanting to die to some ancient lurking horror beneath the ground. Still, I’m happy to report that the second generation of [Lesser Sentient Golem] seems to have bee a success.

The team has been assembled.

Built with far less intricate cores, and more utilitarian body shape, a second generation of Golem have come into the world, each swearing their loyalty to the Tiny Snake God!

They’re not as pretty, I’ll admit. Despite my scavenging, I couldn’t scramble as many many crystals together as I did with my first attempts at this spell- although I did find a few in what was left of the larger monster corpses. Or, piles of ashes, that were once monster corpses.

Which, was not something I’d ever considered before this, but makes a strange sort of sense if I think about it…

Do I have one of those?

Ug.

Rather not think about it.

Regardless.

I made do.

Built in roughly identical fashion to my original design, with smaller frames and less detail work. The spell didn’t let me go bigger, so I suppose the core size scales with that, somehow. At the very least, I’m confident that they won’t get stuck in tight places as easily. Sure, Rocky stands about a head an shoulders over them, but I’m optimistic.

These guys… I can see it in the polished stones that form their decorative eyes: these are the elite of [Lesser Sentient Golem] that all hope to be.

[Froggy A Team]

With bodies molded by yours truly, instead of that crap template the spell keeps pushing. Faces of frog-visage proudly standing in the afternoon sun. Weapons ready: They’re prepared for anything.

All they’re waiting for, is an order.

Yes.

Alaster, the spear.

Steward, the sword.

Granus, the… misshapen.

And Gorf, the…

Okay, so I ran out of steam while making these last two, but this guy…

Wooo.

He’s even worse than Granus.

I call him Gorf, the lump.

I know.

Considering they’re about to go into the Dungeon, naming these guys might have been a mistake. Any farmer will probably tell you: “don’t name things you’re going to have put down.”

Not that I’m going to put them down.

Well, literally, I might tell them to go down…

But I’m not going to execute them.

You mean what I know.

Sss…

I’m just very mindful of the fact that that the Dungeon has a habit of murdering pretty much everything.

Already feeling a little guilt.

Look at these adorable stone-cold war machines… They have no idea what is about to happen to them, and that’s probably for the best.

Standing here with froggy stoicism.

Elites, the best of the best, soldiers to their literal crystal-core.

Sss…

I don’t intend to just let them die.

It might happen, but I’m not just throwing them down the hole, or anything that shameless.

No, if we’re going down into that mess, we’re doing this in style.

Nothing but a large and ornate winding staircase will do, because if the Dungeon needs an entrance, it might as well be a nice one.

No more of this evil crevasse stuff, or pitfall tunnels.

It’s important to have standards.

Ssss…

Alright.

Come on, you lot.

Time to get to work.

……………………………

Chapter 17

[Snake Report]

[Inheritor]

The gift I received.

The frog… person… God… entity… I’m still not quite sure what they were. But, when they died, I know they gave me something.

Something, with a purpose.

The title seems to infer as much.

Magic was a large part. In their final seconds, they fixed my Earth troubles once and for all. What’s more, is they gave me some of their own talents to go with it.

Still, it wasn’t just a simple gift. There was clearly more to it.

Knowledge.

The farther into their domain we traveled, the stronger I remember those vision had gotten. With their voice guiding me- guiding me until I couldn’t see anything else: I saw the edges of what they were.

Someone like me.

A person, or a ghost, or maybe just a soul? An outsider, snatched and forced to play a role, here in this strange place. Forced to play the games of killing for rewards. To be a [Servant of The World] as the title seems to suggest.

To gain that sort of power… how many people they murdered, I can only imagine. And yet, they made me witness enough. Just enough, until I could understand, what they hoped to accomplish. If only in a small part, I understand.

They chose me, to finish what they started.

Back down in the Dungeon, surrounded by my loyal Guards, looking up at this entrance of carvings: I think I’ve finally made a bit more sense of their message.

The faces stare ahead, stone given the imitation of emotion, as they fight and die in a never-ending battle. Swords, spears, teeth, and claws, all tearing one another apart. All meeting a horrible fate for the sake of war. Humans and monsters, together. Both sides, caught in a never-ending struggle of violence and war.

The truth was right there. Right here at the start, in these carvings.

This world is at war.

Not the kind where armies are pitted against one another, but war all the same. The kind of conflict where one side hates the other, so badly, that there’s nothing off the table of what might be attempted.

Hatred.

Something I’m all too familiar with, now. Personally, and…

Sss…

Down to the tiniest detail, riding along on Gorf the lump’s shoulder, I’ve got a pretty good sense of the dread that comes hand in hand with descending into a place that despises me. That which whispers in anger, at our very presence. That wants me to die, and die terribly.

I can’t hear it, exactly, but I can feel it.

Like a deep note, entire octaves out of range, but still shaking in my bones.

The World does not want me here.

[Enemy of the World]

I can almost feel that branded title pulse with rage.

The World doesn’t want me, or anyone, here. No one at all is permitted, unless they’ve bent the physical or metaphorical knee. So, someone like me, being here, is an act of defiance it can’t tolerate. Something that will naturally invoke retaliation of the grandest of scale, time and time again.

But, it probably should have thought about that before trying to murder me.

“Alaster, Steward: go to the hall entrance and keep watch. Granus, make sure there’s nothing else down here.”

Simple orders.

Nods of acceptance and now the Golem are… going.

I’m not entirely convinced these guys can carry out exactly what I tell them, yet. Not trying to say they’re entirely stupid, considering they understand speech, but they’re not quite geniuses, either. On the way down here, I saw Alaster hit his head so many times I had to rework the stairs.

Sss…

They’re good enough. I know they can fight, and if things go ass over teakettle, that’s what counts. The rest, hopefully, will come as the skill improves.

Hasn’t changed much down here, though. Which… well, it’s interesting.

I expected, from all the efforts to make the entrance open back up, there would be more differences from what I remember, but seems like that’s not really the case. Despite all the efforts to resurface and kill me, the Dungeon’s layout hasn’t changed much.

Still a large room, to start. Ruins and carvings on the entrance to go further in on one side, and almost natural cave-like layout for the rest of it. Minus, of course, the newly added staircase.

I tried to do a fairly narrow descent, but making room for the Golem crew was difficult on account of their size, so the new opening ended up being quite large. Little bit dicey on the approach, and I didn’t aim all that well. My interpretation of a glorious archway ended up in the far back, almost haphazardly bursting out and ruining the feng shui of the stalagmites.

Nothing a little touch-ups won’t fix, though.

Hmm… Alaster seems to be clunking around looking into the nooks and crannies, but looks like we’re in the clear. Nothing’s burst out of the shadows and latched on to their face, or anything.

Good start.

Steward’s actually the one in real danger, if there is any. They went right for the real entrance, down the incline a bit. Standing just inside the threshold of the passageway, any further and they would be heading into the winding hall, down to the Large Frog God’s throne room.

Or, what was his room.

Way down that long, winding, hall. Like a spiral to the center of the earth.

The farther in, the less I remember, but I imagine that’s where the monsters came from before trying to ambush on the surface. I’d bet good money they were drawn in from the deeper Dungeon, now that there’s no all-powerful frog to stop them. Either that, or…

You know, while I wasn’t in the best state of mind, I clearly recall there were some side tunnels towards the start. I think they were being mined by the people who were here before us, which means-

Ah.

There we are: I even spy with my tiny eyes, several boxes.

Mana crystals.

Looks as though they were never retrieved. The fake-wood crates are all piled, minus whatever Eveth, Alem, and the others must have brought out with them before they ran off.

Mine now, I suppose.

Gorf, your time has come. Start lugging those upwards. You’re on shuttle duty.

Yes, you.

Yep.

There you go. Just pick up-

Up, not down.

Gorf.

Ah.

Alright, I could see how this assignment might be difficult for you. I clearly didn’t think about how hard this was going to be for someone lacking in the defined “hand-structure” required.

OK- scratch that. Granus: your time has come!

Get to work, buddy. Just bring them back to Rocky. We’ll deal with them later. Gorf, you just… stick by me.

Yeah.

Hey, Gorf. Don’t feel bad.

Oh, come on now. Not having real hands is perfectly normal. I’m in a similar boat, and I seem to get by just fine. Your lumpy arms are great for other things, like pummeling monsters, or pounding giant pizza dough. You’ll get your chance to shine.

Sss…I have to admit, it’s amazing how a Golem that’s more soggy ginger-bread man than defined sculpture, can convey disappointment.

Didn’t expect that.

Gorf, I’ll tell you what. How about you go knock down some of those stalagmites.

I mean those weird pillar things, coming out of the floor. Give ‘em a good hit. Start swinging.

Yeah! There you go!

Nice job.

Good Golem.

Certainly got a knack for breaking things.

Keep that up, Gorf.

Man, he’s like a giant, extremely dangerous, sentient, wrecking ball of enthusiasm. He’s really going to town on those…

Right.

So, we’ve got our lookout guards, our package delivery, our demolition… Everyone’s got a job to do, now. So, I suppose it’s time I did mine.

Hear that Gaia?

This isn’t your Dungeon anymore.

No.

Starting now: this is mine.

………………………..

Chapter 18

[Snake Report]

The past few days, I’ve had a lot of things on my mind.

Thoughts of grief, mostly, but other things, too.

Set in deep, the best I can do is accept them, but mostly I’ve just been trying to find the space between them and making an effort stay there.

Distract, redirect, focus on the moment.

This is probably not the best approach. I’d call it a creative form of denial, but my alternative is talking to the “other” guy instead of a therapist. and I’d rather not go down that road.

No, there’s absolutely zero chance of that going well, for anyone.

Keeping myself occupied with busy-work is preferable.

In respect to that, I feel there’s something to be said for Magic.

More specifically, creating things with Magic.

My old friend, Earth Magic, has returned with a vengeance.

I’ll admit, even for all the negative emotions I’ve been coping with, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about it, in some small way.

It’s like I had lost a part of me, in the same way you might feel if you suddenly went blind, or lost your sense of touch, or taste, or smell.

I might not be in a good place, but it’s still a relief to have the Magic back. Something other than Water, where I can lose myself a bit.

Just work.

Once I get rolling, there’s no need to think. Each piece, each pattern, each leap and bound towards something new- something I’ve never tried, and I find myself moving quicker. My ability to work around my own restraints seems to shift. Setting the limits a little farther, a little bit further down the line, until what once seemed impossible, is now just difficult.

Until what was once difficult, is now simple.

Until what was once simple, is now effortless.

This, is what I imagine the great artisans have been chasing. Not to be restricted by the limitations of their bodies. Be it music, or buildings, or feats of engineering: Since the first caveman set paint to wall, and everything that came after, I feel as though it must be this.

When you’ve mastered something so completely, that the act of it can take over. Swallow everything else whole, until there’s nothing but you and what you’ve set out to do.

I’ve mostly lost track of how long I’ve been down here, now.

The light from the stairway has dimmed, come back, dimmed again.

One mana crystal, turned to two, turned to three, turned to four, while the stone sang and the whole cavern was shifted beneath my touch.

There’s not a single grain of dust in this room that’s been left unfamiliar to me.

The ground, once to the form of a natural cavern, has grown flat. The ceiling, domed. The walls, covered in the visage of some ancient battles and legends long past, wiped away, and reformed to something new.

No more images of slaughter and bloodshed: but of an Elf, standing on the peak of a beautiful tree. One with roots that stretch out along the walls, reaching like an embrace.

It’s beautiful.

Even as the feelings of work settle down into exhaustion, and reality comes creeping back.

I’m proud of it.

This room was the Dungeon, once. A place that had been claimed by hate and hunger… Maybe it will be again, some day.

Right now, though?

It’s mine. I’ve made it mine.

Sss…

Tired doesn’t even begin to describe. With the Golems standing guard, it’s probably okay to rest.

It’s not a bad thing, to sit back and appreciate one’s own work, sometimes.

Just for now.

Tired.

I’ll rest for a bit.

Not sleep, just rest.

Strange to think, but I was never a great builder, as a human. Not much for art, either. At least, I don’t remember being that sort of person. What I do recall, if anything, was how difficult it was to find the right tools for the job.

Wood, screws, nails, paint, polish… metal bits with strange dimensions that I couldn’t get to work the way I wanted, or drilled holes in places just a bit too far from the intended mark.

I remember a lot of my trouble was taking what was in my head, and actually making that vision a reality. Eventually, I would get impatient, or frustrated, and I’d go do something else.

But, Magic isn’t really held by that same standard.

There’s no… limit?

I suppose that word fits.

When you use mana and willpower, a person doesn’t need a dozen different tools to achieve their goal. You don’t need to slow down and measure, or find the one thing you forgot in the back of the garage, or the tool bench.

You can just “go.”

Go, and work.

I like that.

It took time, though.

Looking back, I was betting my survival on a uselessly under-powered set of skills, vastly inferior to all other options. Almost a joke, really.

The tiny candle’s worth of fire is nothing to the ability to spit venom. The small burrow you might be able to mold with Earth Magic is useless compared to the strength that comes with being a bigger, larger example of your species. What’s a small tunnel in the wall going to be worth, when placed beside being able to swallow your enemies whole?

It’s a slow pay-off.

As a tool on its own, Magic is almost worthless. With the mystical arts, there is a level of initial dedication needed to make it viable. Even then, it is a long and strenuous journey to be “powerful” in any real sense. I had to work at it, had to practice with it. Until I was laying half-dead in some unfinished tunnel, dreaming of the day I’d finally make it to the surface. But, practice makes perfect. The weird degree of separation between what’s in the mind and what can actually be done, starts to blur an bit. given enough blood, sweat, and tears.

If you imagine something, if you can hold that image, pick it up, and rotate it about in your brain: you can create it. Then, it might as well be unstoppable.

All these facts put together: the long grind to power, the easy rewards from taking some other ability, the early advantages to raw power… These are probably the reason I haven’t met a lot of monsters like myself slithering around out there.

Not a lot of creatures wake up one day, and decide to burrow through a few miles of solid rock.

But, in a more abstract sense, it is strange to be so good at something, and barely know anything about it.

Not in a technical sense, but a more literal and fact oriented way. I have a long list of questions, and no [Voice of Gaia] willing to answer them.

For example: The Elves didn’t have Magic.

Why is that?

They had blood Magic, and rituals- yes. But, I never saw one of them shoot a fire or lightning. Not even when it would have been very convenient for them to do just that.

No, The Elves only used blood for their Magic. Rituals and bargains, and only those.

Why, I wonder?

Monsters have Magic.

Humans have it, too.

So, why not the Elves?

It’s something that’s been bothering me. Something- one of many, I wish I had asked Imra about when I had the chance.

I mean, Monsters… well, most monsters: we’re not all that smart.

Not trying to say I identify as one in a traditional sense, but I’ve met my fair share. Enough to say that they don’t typically fit the criteria for “intelligent.” Some are scary-good at killing and eating things. Some are talented in working together with others of their kind, or using some sort of trick or skill, but there aren’t a lot of monsters I’ve met that happen to be recognizably intelligent. Unlike humans, there’s not really much of an innate desire of knowledge or learning.

And, from personal experience, I think that’s what limits Magic the most. There are all these spells out there, but as far as I know, they’re really just short-cuts. Complicated “cheats” to doing it yourself. Like how, for the most part, I can build a better Golem than the spell I know.

It stands to reason that humans are good at magic because they can think about it. Because they have the knowledge and the patience to sit down and learn.

But Elves were plenty smart.

So, why didn’t they have it?

Did I simply miss something? Did some of them have Magic, and I failed to notice?

I feel like that doesn’t add up.

They use blood, and nothing else. Which, troubles me. The [Construct] Eveth was suicidally keeping- she said it was a Dwarven creation that relied on blood. Just like the Elves, and their rituals. Not the Magic that monsters or humans use.

Gifts, Imra called them.

Stolen Gifts.

What was it, exactly, that the Large Frog God said to me?

We are chosen warriors, little serpent.

Rising to the top on an ocean of blood.

……………………