Chapter 4 – Conflagration
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Time lost its meaning in the dark. Eventually, Elania wiped her eyes and glanced around the room she was huddled in. Without the hanging moss illuminating everything, it was much darker. She gave thanks to her [Darkvision] skill for letting her see at all, even though it did cast everything in a dark shade of purple or violet from the sparse fungi scattered around the room.

Absently, she wondered whether either the fungus or the moss was edible because, while she might not have been hungry yet, she was pathetically low on supplies and knew she'd need to eat and drink eventually. 

The thought of trying to eat fungus made her stomach turn. The thought was highly unappealing and there was no way of telling if it was poisonous or dangerous. At least not that she knew of. Maybe if she had been a biology major...

If there was fungus and moss, that meant there had to be a source of water or humidity somewhere nearby to sustain them. At least she hoped so. 

Not having moved in a while, Elania stretched out and felt the rigid form of the rock in her pocket poking at her leg. The glowy stone. Right! She could use that if she needed to see and keep moving, even without the moss.

She pulled it out of the pocket but then had to shield her eyes. It was much brighter than she had remembered. Had something changed in it, or had her eyes naturally adjusted to the darkness?

Holding the stone caused a tingling in her fingers, and the answer to her question seemed to be answered as colors slowly replaced the shadowy purple hues. Everything was mostly drab grays and greens, with only a few exceptions like the fungus and moss. She supposed color wouldn't matter much to cave species if it was dark most of the time.

She stared at the crystal and frowned. ‘I wish I really knew what this was...’

 

[Mana Shard (Condensed)]

 

Her eyes widened at the response from the [System] as she had decided to call it. Was this the [Identify] skill? She had used its somehow!

She hadn't called it by name. She had just wanted to know what something was. Even if the information was... lacking, she wondered if that was because of the skill's low level or her understanding of the thing was poor.

Pulling out the dagger from her other pocket, she repeated the process.

 

[Steel Dagger]

 

Again, not helpful, but at least it was a start. Quickly, she turned the rock toward anything she could find.

 

[Glow Moss]

[Black Robe]

[Rock]

[Fenicia's Fungal Growth]

 

The last tidbit of information surprised her a little. The purple-hued mushrooms had a proper name she had never heard of before. That at least told her the skill didn't just name things as something generic using her own knowledge. It was able to provide her with answers she didn't already know!

She wondered if leveling it up would increase information or add descriptions, but she wasn't sure how or even if she could level it up. She knew from video games that using the skill was the usual way of increasing their proficiency, and this entire [System] thing had that kind of flavor to it.

[Identify] worked when she asked information about something, so what about [Mana Manipulation], would it work in the same sort of way. She picked up the the Mana Shard and the faint sensation of tingling returned to her hand. She wondered whether she could do something with that.

Cupping the mana shard in both hands, she closed her eyes and tried to make something happen. There was no response at all and she let out an annoyed puff. Maybe she needed some kind of intent. Trying again she pictured the tingling sensation moving up her arms and away from her fingers.

After a while, she thought she felt a change, but it was small—almost imperceptible. Frustrated, she put the crystal on the ground beside her. Elania realized that the tingly sensation in her hands hadn’t stopped. That gave her an idea. 

She tried to picture the sensation in her hand being forced out of her hand and out of her fingertips. The tingling seemed to resist for a moment before it suddenly concentrated and her fingertips began to burn. She yelped and whipped her hand away from her as if she was burned and the sudden heat was released.

Dozens of sparks flew from her fingertips, small little glowing red embers that didn't put themselves out despite flying through the air. They started as dim white flecks that changed hue as they followed through their trajectory ending up a deep yellow-orange as they neared their end.

The sparks bounced off the far wall of the room, falling to the stone floor. Most of them sputtered out except for a few that seemed to cling to the wall. Her eyes widened when she realized they landed on the Glow Moss.

She watched with growing horror as dim sparks began to grow brighter. ‘The moss is flammable!’

The small sparks quickly grew into small burning patches, and a burnt chemical smell filled the room almost immediately. ‘What have I done?’

Scooping up her few belongings, she rushed for one of the exits and was glad she did, considering the fire behind her was growing stronger. Fast. The moss wasn't thick in the small corridors between the larger caverns, but that didn't stop the spread. The flames continued to rush along the ceiling and sides of the cave in every direction. Wildfire seemed like too tame a word to give the growing conflagration. ‘Am I starring in one of those volcano movies now?’

Despite Elania's head start, the light and heat began to catch up with her. 

‘Fuck! You've really done it now, Elania.

She struggled to pick up her pace, but the cavern continued as before, unsympathetic and unending. There was a lot of light to see by now, and she did her best to ignore the pebbles under her feet and run.

It seemed the corridors acted as choke points, and the fire slowed down considerably at them, but once it was in one of the larger chambers, all the moss rapidly caught fire. Was it some type of natural chemical in the moss, or was it just super dry and ready to burn? ‘The moss didn’t feel that dry, so it must be the former.’

As she moved through the next corridor, she froze. On the other end, there was a faint light,  growing closer and getting brighter. She had either gone in a circle, or the flame had found a shorter path and somehow got in front of her.

Elania looked back over her shoulder. The cavern's ceiling and walls were brightly lit, and ash and burning tangles of moss were falling on the floor in small flaming piles. She needed to find another path!

Problem was that once in the cavern, she didn't see one. Wasn't this about time for a new, previously hidden path to be revealed so she could escape a painful and firey death? Trudging up to the middle of the room her only choice seemed to be a small depression. It was the furthest point from the ceiling, and had a bit of cover from the walls, so it seemed like the safest point she would find. Flames raced around the room and across the ceiling from every direction rapidly.

Elania didn't know enough about her skills yet to know if they'd be of any help. She didn't see how they could stop this. She hunkered down as the heat and light from the walls bathed her. Ash began to fall, and a small hot piece landed on her left hand. Quickly, she brushed it off, wincing in pain. She wrapped one of the extra two robes around her arm while pulling the other over her head, hopefully blocking any more debris from landing on her.

Several times, a burning jumble of moss fell and landed on her upraised arm and she batted them away. At least the robes didn't seem as flammable as the moss. ‘Probably because the moss burns itself out so fast.’

As the flames began to calm down and the raging heat was slowly replaced by a cloud of smoke, she had overestimated the danger of the fire spreading and burning her alive. Running out of clean air was suddenly at the top of her worries instead.

She still wasn't sure whether the fire had somehow spread around her faster or if she had been going in circles. And then another—more dreadful thought came to her. What if she had been going in circles the entire time and was still near the cultists' lair? That thought wasn't palatable.

As she came out from underneath the now slightly-singed robes and examined the aftermath, a new message appeared.

 

[You have met the requirements for Ash Demon evolution.]

[Do you wish to evolve your race to Ash Demon? Y/N]

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