Chapter 5 – Stairs
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Elania agonized over the choice presented to her. It seemed like an opportunity to increase her 'strength’ or gain new abilities, but she had no idea what becoming an Ash Demon or evolution entailed.  

Ultimately, she swiped the message away. She didn’t want to change and become a monster no matter what the status screen said. She was quite happy with just being normal Elania. Becoming another type of demon might help her now, but what about later? Until she learned more, it wasn’t wise to jump into potentially reversible things. Besides, she still had her own doubts about the [System].

The room's heat was slowly dissipating, but smoke continued to pour out of the few smoldering remains. The cavern's air was thick with the smoke even though most of it was swirling around the ceiling. Pulling out the Mana Shard for a bit of extra light, Elania decided to look for a more hospitable location.

As she passed through the next choke point, she remembered her earlier thought about going in circles and decided to test that notion by placing a small rock in the middle. Now she would know if that was the case.

Several more passages went by, all touched by the flame. The ash and soot in the air began to fall like snow on her head as it began to settle. The air quality that had been bad before managed to plummet further, and it made her cough and choke a few times. She might not have had a clock or any way to tell time, but she knew she was getting tired.

Frustration gnawed at her as everything around her was nothing but endless caverns that didn't change. She checked the junctions in both directions on the few times she came to one, hoping that one way or another might be different.

 

[You have gained the poison resistance attribute!]

 

Elania stopped suddenly and frowned. 'Why?'

She thought it might mean she was being poisoned, but how? She hadn’t had any encounters and was still not desperate enough to eat anything. Nor had there been any sources of water.

Then it dawned on her, the chemical smell in the air from the fire... Was the air turning poisonous then? Was that why she had begun to feel tired and sleepy suddenly? 

The realization made her pick up her pace and continue through the caves.

 


 

She almost missed it. The staircase had been nestled behind several large boulders and was pretty well hidden halfway through the cavern. That was the point she was usually paying the least attention before hurrying to the next.

'Stairs.'

That wasn't natural, and it was the first sign of anything other than the 'natural' cave system she had found since leaving the cultist's lair. The stone of the steps was roughly hewn, or, rather, it looked like it had suffered abuse without repair for a long time. However, it didn't crack or crumble as she stood on the first step like she had feared. There wasn’t any evidence of the prevalent moss growing into the space and the air seemed to be a bit better. Elania didn’t see any other choices presenting themselves so with the help of the Mana Shard’s light, she carefully made her way up.

Stairs meant people, and she was worried that whoever she met might be worse than the cultists or the holy knight who had meant to kill her. Still, she wasn't about to give up this opportunity to possibly escape the monotonous caverns below. As fantastical as the caves had been she really didn’t like ones that went up in flame faster than a Cali brushfire.

The spiraling stairs seemed to go on forever, and in several spots, they had crumbled, forcing her to climb over the rubble to continue. Realizing just how old the steps had to be reassured her that she was unlikely to meet whoever had built them.

Her legs felt like jelly when she reached the first landing. The stone room wasn't large, and a second staircase continued to lead upward. There were openings where, at one time, there might have been doors, but they had long ago worn away.

Elania decided to explore the rooms and rest before continuing her ascent. Except for rubble, there was nothing in the rooms, so she decided to take over the one furthest from the staircase. She didn't find any other entrance or exit, so possibly the people who had made the stairs had used this place as a rest spot when traveling up or down just like she planned to do.

As she got off her feet a pained wince creased her face. If they had been sore before, now they were raw and burning in protest of her long march. She shined the light over them to take a closer look and gasped. Her feet were covered in grime and dried blood. She realized that the blood was probably from when she had slipped before. Luckily, she didn't see any open wounds or cuts. ‘That will change really fast if I don’t rest and find something to cover them with.’ 

With no water, she had no way to clean up. Not having any water or food would soon become a problem, even though she didn't feel thirsty or hungry yet. That seemed strange considering how long she'd been moving, but maybe it was because of how stressful everything had been so far.

Since she was finally off her feet and set on staying for a while she decided to improve the situation at least a little. Examining one of the extra robes closely, she made a few plans in her head. The dagger came out, and she began to cut the material.

Elania would never have claimed to have been a resourceful person, but after some work, she had three large serviceable strips of fabric along with a lot of extra scraps. Without any other tools, she wasn’t sure what the small bits would be useful for, but she stuffed them back into a pocket.

Taking up one of the long strips she had made she began to wrap it around the base of her toes in a weave that went up to her leg, ending above her ankle. It seemed to work well, although she found herself wishing she had an Ace bandage instead. She repeated the method around her other foot and after tying them off, they seemed like they'd stay in place. The third strip was wrapped around her chest, and she fastened it on the front. That was a relief as all the running had been quite unpleasant with her breasts completely unsupported.

 

[You have gained the skill Improvised Crafting - Lvl 1!]

 

[Status]

Name: Elania Reyes

Race: Lesser Demon (S Class Monster)

Level: 5

Power: 47/100

Karma: 12

Attributes: [Locked]

Titles: [Locked]

[Some functions are disabled due to insufficient requirements.]

 

She immediately noticed that the mention of 'Skills' being locked had disappeared, and 'Power' had increased substantially. She wasn't sure what power indicated or why it had risen.

She pulled up her 'Skills' next and confirmed that [Improvised Crafting] had been added to her list.

 

[Skills: Elania Reyes]

[Class: None]

[Affinities: Demonic, Mana]

[Magical: Demonic Aura Lvl - 1 (Activated), Mana Manipulation Lvl - 1]

[Physical: Unarmed Combat Lvl - 2, Darkvision Lvl - 2 (Activated)]

[Mundane: Identify Lvl - 1, Universal Speech Lvl - 5, Reading Lvl - 4, Writing Lvl - 3

Improvised Crafting Lvl - 1]

 

She had gained poison resistance as well, but it wasn't listed. Then she realized that the [System] said it had been an 'Attribute,' not a skill! However, according to her [Status], the attribute function was still locked, and when she tried anyway, nothing happened. What did she have to do to unlock it, and what about titles?

A yawn took her by surprise and she realized that she really felt tired and exhausted after stopping. Wrapped up in the oversized robe, she pocketed the Mana Shard and dagger. Then it was relatively easy to fall asleep in the quiet darkness.

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