Chapter 201 – Cosmological Pun
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"Hey Keeper! How does flux carry different forms of energy as a single material? Is it a property thing?"

"Keeper! How exactly does the gray mist neutralize the properties of different energies? Does it simply remove their attributes? And speaking of, how can mana attain attributes from matter in the first place? Is it through flux?"

"Keeper! What is influence anyway? It can impart properties onto various energies like mana and flux and whatnot, but it has to get its energy from somewhere right?"

"Keeper, my guy! Do you never rest? Have you been standing like that for all the time that nobody was here? I mean, you should try getting yourself a hobby. Maybe carpentry?"

Across an indeterminable amount of time, Dream continued to go through all the monoliths. As he did, he gained huge amounts of knowledge and invaluable techniques. The monoliths taught him about all the energies that he knew about and their special characteristics. 

However, as he went through the lines of script, he would always come out with questions. And to the Keeper's distress, all the questions were thrown at him. 

Dream would just ask the question as it popped up in his mind. He didn't even bother waiting until he went through all the script of a given monolith. Naturally, he had many questions. Hundreds actually. There were so many things he was curious about, and his mind was being broadened constantly. It was to the point that he had forgotten all about the trial. 

{...Your answer will be answered after 23 lines.}

The Keeper looked over and brushed off the questions lazily. He of course knew all the answers to his questions. But the assistance he could give to Dream was limited by the rules of the trial. 

Thankfully, Dream didn't actually need any help. His mind was just running a million miles per hour and he blurted out his confusions sometimes. Of course, some of his questions were beyond the monoliths. Questions about the origin of the universe, the source of life, the Keeper's personal life, and other questions of that nature were thrown out all the time since Dream's thought process went down all those different roads. The Keeper didn't answer any of those for reasons totally different than the restrictions of the trial.

Either way, things went on smoothly. Dream continued to scan through the monoliths and study everything he was given. After new batches of scripts came into his mind, he would attempt to connect everything. Although he knew that he probably didn't have enough knowledge to do so, he was trying to create something like a theory of everything. He created a framework in his mind that encompassed all the energies he knew about.

And things went well. Although he had many unanswered questions, most of them were specifics. Those could be answered when he did some experiments. The broader, conceptual knowledge was easily picked up by him. 

With that, Dream gradually made his way through the monoliths. In the beginning, he had been a bit of a chatterbox, asking all the questions that came to mind. But after he got through about half of the monoliths, he became quieter, and by the end, he was silent. He was thoroughly enraptured by everything he was absorbing. He didn't have the mind to even speak. 

............

Dream sat in the middle of the space, not too far away from where the Keeper was. His blank silhouette stared off into the vast cosmos. 

He had been like that for a very long time. At least, he thought that it was a long time. Time was a complicated concept when it came to this place. By now, he was convinced that time simply didn't move here. He couldn't tell either way. 

Sitting there, Dream was processing the knowledge he was absorbing from a monolith. This monolith was the last of the 42, and he was pulling off the script from a distance. 

Soon, the last line on the monolith went dark. The line appeared in Dream's mind, and all the knowledge, wisdom, and even some memory fragments were infused into him. He took it all in stride, already having done this tens of thousands of times.

Finally, the last line was processed. He had now gone through all the knowledge of the greatest prophets under the Archons. Putting it another way, he had attained all the legacies of those prophets. It was like a sub-legacy within a much larger inheritance. 

The Keeper remained silent as Dream sat there motionless. After a while, the silhouette spoke.

"Hey Keeper."

{...}

"Aether. It's an energy that's different from mana or flux. Why haven't I encountered it before?"

Hearing the question, the Keeper didn't immediately respond and contemplated for a second. 

{...You come from the outer reaches of the universe. Aether has not yet spread to the world you came from.}

"I see..."

Hearing that, Dream went silent once more. 

Aether. It was one of the energies that Dream learned about. There was mana, flux, destruction mana a.k.a ruinous mana, and then Aether. 

Dream learned that each energy was basically like a higher dimensional form of the energy and matter in the universe. Mana was like matter. It could be structured to form definable shapes. Flux was like the binding energy, or forces. It held mana together and could bind it with matter, allowing the two to affect each other. Ruinous mana was like antimatter, the direct opposite to normal mana. 

Aether, though, was something much more special. It was the spatial variant. Aether could directly affect space. Of course, there were some conditions. Weaker people had to use it in conjunction with flux to use low level spatial manipulation techniques. But if you were stronger, you could use pure aether to bend space to your Will. 

Manipulating Aether could unlock supremely powerful abilities. With it, you could teleport across vast distances, create your own pockets of space, and in some cases, use it to manipulate matter on an unprecedentedly small scale. It could also bind with matter to bring it up to a higher dimension. This fact answered Dream's question of how the heart could be a material and also exist in the 4th dimension with his soul. The heart contained Aether, giving it those higher dimensional properties.

However, according to the monoliths, Aether was everywhere. Dream had never discovered it though, thus the question to the Keeper.

There were also some other things Dream learned about the universe from the monoliths. One detail was that at one point in time, the system, or the Record, hadn't existed. He found no mention of it in any of the monoliths. He didn't even find terms related to it like an inventory or levels. In fact, the trial monolith was his first clue to this fact. 

In the scenes he saw from the trial script, Dream saw the battle with all the purple-bodied people. When someone was killed, a wisp of light would appear and the killer would draw it toward them. If that light was experience, then it meant that there was no system to do things for them. 

Whatever happened, the universe back then was vastly different from now. If this were the case, then it might provide a vague explanation for the absence of Aether from Earth and Kaban, the only two worlds he knew and has been to. Though it also brought up many more questions. The biggest of which, was this:

"What the hell is the system?"

Dream blurted this out. The Keeper though just stood there like he always did, not intending to answer. Dream shook his head seeing that and went back to being silent. 

Eventually though, after lots of thinking and solidifying what he gained from the monoliths, he stood up. 

"Alright. I guess I should get to the trial now."

{Usually people form their bodies as they gain information.}

"Why would they do that? Seems a bit reckless to me."

{Many already know how they wish to form their bodies. Unlike you, they understood their true forms and only needed to fill in the shell. They would slowly build themselves up over time as they solidified the foundation of their study. After all, this is a very important step in their growth. However, I suppose this is a special case.}

"Uh-huh."

{Anyway. Do you still need help with the extraction of the energy below?}

"No."

{What about the conversion of energy?}

"No."

{Are you sure?}

"Yes."

{Are you absolutely certain?}

The Keeper smirked slightly as his voice became a tiny bit sarcastic. This was his little way of getting back at Dream for bombarding him with questions all the time. However, Dream caught him off guard with his next answer.

"No. I'm not certain actually."

{...Then why..?}

The Keeper was confused. Was he really not sure how to manage these tasks? But he had gone through all the monoliths. 

"I've obviously never handled this kind of universal energy before, so I'm not sure how it will go. But don't worry Keeper, I'll figure it out. If I don't, then I'll be sure to ask you for help. You've always been so accommodating to my questions."

{...Little insect.}

The Keeper scoffed a bit and then closed his eyes, ignoring Dream who was smiling mischievously.

"Huhu, alright then. Now, I need to form my true self. What exactly is my true self? What should my true, most primal form be?"

Focusing himself, Dream spoke and drifted off into thought. He began recalling the script that showed him examples of a true self forming. 

The way he understood it, your true self was a manifestation of your alignment. Mana could take on alignments like fire or ice. This change in alignment is either caused by the environment the mana is in or the user of the mana, whose alignment will convert the mana. So each soul and person had an alignment, and to form your true self in your most primal form, you needed to understand your alignment and form your self around it. Basically, it was a representation and image of who you were and the power you did and sought to wield. 

So, for this trial, Dream had to understand himself at the deepest levels and then design an image around that. When that was done, he would have a body that was most compatible with who he was. The more true to yourself the image was, the better the results. 

"Understanding who I am. Strip away everything, reduce me to my most vulnerable and basic form, and what then will I be?"

Dream started hypothesizing. Not about himself, but about others first. 

He had seen many examples of true images from the monoliths of all different types. He had also seen the methods people would use to draw out someone's true character. Sometimes, they would break the person physically or mentally. Sometimes, they would back the person into a mental corner. Sometimes, they would toss the person into a scary situation, like stranding them in a dangerous forest or in the middle of the ocean. And sometimes the person would be isolated for a long period of time, forcing them to be alone with their thoughts.

There were many methods, and they all had their own results. For many, arrogance was their true image. People believed themselves to be higher than others, or they wished to be higher than others. It was natural after all. Everyone desired to grow, and arrogance was a part of that. 

Another common trait was violence. Fighting was the way of the world. It was the easiest and most direct way to gain strength. Naturally, the majority of people were inclined to violence in one form or another. Then there was greed or envy, which was the desire to acquire more. This often tied closely to arrogance. 

Of course there weren't just bad inclinations. There were many who had kind inclinations. There were those that wished to heal, to bring justice, to provide. These people were very virtuous at heart. 

And then there were other more abstract inclinations. Some people were manipulative. Some were apathetic. Some were obsessed with certain subjects. There were also those who inclined toward concepts. Some people were inclined to fire. Some to water. Others to magic, to crafting, and many other things. 

There were countless inclinations, and everyone usually had multiple with certain inclinations taking priority over others. Your image could be a mess of many different alignments. Or, on extremely rare occasions, there were those who were strictly aligned to a single concept. 

So, Dream had to find out what his alignments were. However, he also had to make sure he dug deep. This trial was about finding your most primal form. You had to find what your Logos, your wisdom and being, were aimed toward. This was why methods to find one's true nature often involved desperate and deep situations. 

And while it was both fortunate and unfortunate, Dream already had a good sense of who he was at his core. After all, he had been reduced to his most miserable state and shoved deep into darkness. 

At his very core, Dream sought knowledge. He had always been surrounded by darkness. He had seen the darkness as his cage, as a miserable and lonely place. However, after he lost everything, lost all his purpose, he turned to the darkness, and there he found discovery. He found purpose in exploration and understanding. While he had always been one to study and learn on Earth, it was only after everything was gone when he had realized that only one's thoughts and understandings were permanent, and that they had to be cherished.

Nobody could take away the knowledge and thoughts in your head. Nobody could take away your wisdom. However, it would either be a tormenting ghost or a loving friend. Depending on which you picked, you would lead your life scared of the darkness, or happy that you had someone there to explore with you. 

Dream had come to terms with his darkness. When he ended his own life, he had been throwing himself into the unknown. Only that way could he discover what he wanted. Only that way could he get the answers he needed. 

.........

Coming to this point in his thought process, things started to change unknowingly. 

The Keeper watched Dream. For a while, nothing happened as Dream just sat there. Suddenly though, energy started to rise from the floor. 

The gray fluids within the ground started to pass through the invisible barrier. After that, they swirled around Dream. The fluids started to fill his silhouette, and starting from his heart, the body began to turn pitch black. 

{Unconcious?}

The Keeper muttered as he watched. Dream didn't seem to be controlling the energy intentionally. The Keeper could feel his thought process and how it affected the surroundings, bending everything to his deepest desires. 

This was one of the rarer ways to form your image. Upon delving deep into your subconscious, one's mind would unconsciously form the image. It could end one of two ways: Either the person would gain an image most true to themselves as it was formed directly with their core being, or they would mess up horribly from the lack of control. It was unpredictable, and the most common route was to for the image consciously as it was more stable. 

The Keeper just kept silent though. N matter what, to interrupt this process would be a horrible sin. 

He watched as the entire silhouette turned pitch black. The process didn't take long, and soon, the empty body was now like the void. 

However, when this was complete, Dream's thought process began to change. 

........

'I gave myself to the darkness, but not because I desired darkness.'

This thought crossed through Dream's mind. 

It seemed counterintuitive at first, but he understood exactly what it meant. Dream didn't desire darkness or a cage. He desired light. Thing was though, light shined brightest in the darkness. In the void, you could clearly pick it out. It was clearer, more defined, and you appreciated it more. 

This was Dream's thought process. He hailed the unknown for what lied beyond it. It was the same with darkness. Because of how deep into the abyss he fell, he could truly understand how important the light around him was. In fact, you could say that he hated the dark, but he threw himself into it anyway as if he couldn't live without it. 

It really was counterintuitive. It was almost paradoxical. But he saw it as two sides of a coin. You can't have one without the other. With light came dark. With hate came love. And he stuck himself in the middle to see both. Then, he chose which side he wanted. He could have both, just one, or none. This was how he dealt with the pains and joys of his life. 

When it came to this point, yet another change occurred. Within Dream's previously void black silhouette started to appear spots of light. One small speck popped through the void in his chest. Then, it started to grow, and more spots appeared in other places. 

His chest, arms, legs, and head. All over his body dots of light appeared. Some were white, some were blue, some were red or orange. There were big spots, small spots, and some even came together to form clusters. 

The Keeper, who was watching everything, suddenly felt his eyebrow raise a bit. 

'Those look like stars. I wonder what's going through his head.'

The Keeper got curious as the stars shone with a soft but intense light. They were clearly visible even though they were within a void. 

However, things didn't stop there. After the last spot appeared, Dream raised his head. He didn't have eyes, but his vision was definitely piercing through the void above. 

All around him were nebulas, galaxies, stars, and countless other luminous objects. For Dream, the greatest symbol of the unknown and discovery was the cosmos. Light and dark. If there was ever a greater representation of the two, it would be space. 

So as he looked up toward all the dazzling lights, his body started to take form once more. The spots of light started to move, as if time was accelerated. All the stars within him started to collide or collapse, and out from them exploded vast seas of nebulae. His body was suddenly painted with streaks of color. Purple gas clouds, blue spirals, and red blazes. 

Then, everything settled. Curiously though, the cosmos within his body looked strangely similar to the cosmos around him. It was as if his body imitated the cosmos surrounding the space they were in, and looked just like the vast universe itself. It looked dark and lonely, but glorious and wonderful as well. If one looked at him, they would think that he was a part of the space around them, or that he was a window to the void beyond. The cosmos in his body changed depending on where you observed from, and it created the illusion of him being semi-invisible, blending into the space beyond him. 

With that, the form ceased to change. The image was officially created, and the Keeper nodded his head.

{Congragulations. You've done a good-}

"Hang on."

Suddenly, Dream spoke, interrupting the Keeper. He tilted his head, but just stayed silent and watched. 

Out of nowhere, on Dream's head appeared a large galaxy. The galaxy was circular and looked flat from the side. Its center glowed with a bright ball of light. However, after a bit of manipulation, the bottom of the orb was erased, leaving a hemisphere of light to protrude from the top. It looked a lot like a hat...

Seeing what he did, the Keeper was puzzled.

{You've already made a perfect image. Why did you add a galaxy?}

"Do you not see? It's the Sombrero galaxy! I'm wearing the sombrero galaxy as a hat!

Dream laughed as he saw the image of himself. He had thought of this last minute and thought it was absolutely genius. How could he pass up the opportunity for a cosmological pun?

The Keeper though wasn't amused and stared blankly at Dream for a bit. Eventually, he spoke up.

{I may be breaking the rules a bit, but I feel that I must. Get rid of that hat.}

"What? Why?!"

{It ruins your image. In more ways than one.}

The Keeper spoke gravely. He had been feeling impressed with Dream and his image, but then he had to go and add the galactic hat. He honestly felt a bit embarrassed. 

'How did this child manage to create that image? He really is an insect.'

The Keeper scoffed and returned to his apathetic stare. Meanwhile, Dream huffed a bit and got rid of the hat. 

 

Hope you guys liked the chapter! Also, the second prologue chapter of Serum is posted. Go check it!

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