Chapter 6 – Ecosystem
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It was the increasing warmth that woke Elania from her deep sleep. She quickly pulled herself up into a sitting position and looked around the dark shadows of the room. Her heart was pounding in her chest, and she felt like the air was incredibly cold as it touched her bare skin. 

Despite the lack of light sources anywhere, she could make out the flat shape of the walls and ceiling and the small piles of rubble. The all-pervasive silence permeated from everywhere. 

Wiping the sweat off her forehead, she got her bearings but realized the heat wasn't going away. It didn’t come from the air either, but from within her. 

Was it somehow related to the poison? She went to check her [Status] to see if anything changed, and her eyes widened at the volume of messages she had received while sleeping.

 

[Your body is reaching the limits of its capacity for power!]

[Your body has reached the limit of its capacity for power!]

[Find a stronger body or reduce your current power!]

[Your body has exceeded the limit of its capacity for power!]

[You have gained a level in Demonic Aura!]

[Your body is experiencing slight thermal degradation!]

[Your body is slightly adapting.]

[You have gained a level in Darkvision!]

[Due to your excess power, your body is exceeding its limits!]

[Your body is experiencing thermal degradation!]

[Your body is slightly adapting.]

[Due to your excess power, your body is exceeding its limits!]

[Your body is experiencing thermal degradation!]

[Your body is slightly adapting.]

[You have gained a level in Demonic Aura!]

[Due to your excess power, your body is exceeding its limits!]

[Your body has greatly exceeded the limit of its capacity for power!]

[Find a stronger body or reduce your current power!]

 

The moment the status screen appeared, Elania knew the reason for this deluge of messages.

 

[Status]

Name: Elania Reyes

Race: Lesser Demon (S Class Monster)

Level: 5

Power: 168/112

Karma: 12

Attributes: [Locked]

Titles: [Locked]

[Some functions are disabled due to insufficient requirements.]

 

Whatever 'Power' was, there had been a dramatic increase since she had last checked. Even the maximum limit had increased. What she didn't know was why! She tried to think of a reason but couldn't come up with one. 

There was no one to ask for an explanation, no helpful manual to explain concepts that were probably self-explanatory to a native of this world. Elania choked back a laugh as she pictured a school of children being taught what their status screen meant and wished she could participate in one.

Power, maybe it was like mana? The concept of health, mana, and stamina was familiar to her from video games, but they didn't seem to apply in this world. 

She closed her eyes and wished someone would appear to help her. That, of course, didn't happen. She had no one to rely on but herself. Well, since she had made it this far, she wasn't going to give up. 

Despite her slight nausea and the heat that didn’t go down, she felt well-rested. That had to count for something. Elania got up, rolled the last extra robe up, and carried it under her arm.

As soon as she stood, she smiled slightly and shifted her weight on her feet. She could tell the footwraps were already working, and that was enough to improve her mood. Since her vision had adapted so well while she had slept, she didn't bother taking out the crystal to help her see. 

The other rooms were just as she had left them—bare, empty, and crumbled.

There was no other option but to continue climbing the endless staircase.

 


The ascend had turned into a mindless trudge, and Elania nearly missed the first signs of light. 

Reaching the landing, she stopped and stare out in amazement. The colors were a feast for her eyes as she took in the multi-hued landscape before her. It was a massive cavern, dwarfing the others she had considered large earlier. 

The ceiling was a tremendous distance above, and a brilliant lime-green covering of moss dominated it. Massive stalactite formations broke the carpet up in spots, but even they shined with orange and reds of some other types of a plant.

 

[Brilliant Glow Moss]

[Red Tangle]

[Underground Creep Vine]

 

It lit up the entire landscape below.

She realized that not everything around her was natural. Far away, she could see the remains of stone buildings. It wasn’t rocket science that they were not inhabited... or ‘Not maintained properly,’ she corrected herself.

 

[Stone]

[Worked Stone]

[Ruined Stone]

 

A few of them had been nearly destroyed by the massive, towering mushroom trees that had sprouted inside and continued to grow to be larger than the building. The entire landscape was dotted with those same 'trees' in various shapes and sizes. A few gave off their own vibrance.

 

[Fungal Growth]

[Fungal Wood]

[Tree-cap]

 

Bare rocks no longer dominated the landscape. Small groups of shorter plants—mostly mushrooms of various colors—formed a random patchwork pattern. Past the buildings, a small stream of water was flowing, and the space around it seemed to have the thickest growth.

 

[Water Spore]

[Fenicia's Fungal Growth]

[Rock Blight]

[Scour-Stone Moss]

[Itch Moss]

 

[Water]

 

‘Water!’

That was important, and she almost beelined for the stream, but then she paused. It was almost a complete ecosystem, but where were the animals or other creatures? Shouldn't there be at least insects?

She scanned the terrain carefully, but a few minutes later, she still hadn’t spotted a single thing. 

‘Maybe they are shy.’

Elania finally decided to investigate the buildings and the stream. Despite her long journey up the staircase, she still wasn't hungry or thirsty. Perhaps it was because, by the time she woke up, her body was burning up. 

The sound of running water was a welcome change to the complete silence of the earlier caves. She made her way around the fungal growths, making a point to avoid the ones with Itch or the like in their name. [Identify] was a useful skill to have.

 

[Due to your excess power, your body is exceeding its limits!]

[Your body is experiencing thermal degradation!]

[Your body is slightly adapting.]

 

Elania swiped away the messages again. She was well aware. Sweat continued to drip down her forehead, soaking both the wrap around her chest and the robe. 

It was getting hotter. She desperately needed to find a way to stop whatever was increasing her 'Power' and bleed off the excess, or she’d burn up.

 

[Power 188/116]

[You have gained a level in Demonic Aura!]

 

‘The excessive power is affecting the Demonic Aura as well... I still don't know what it does.’

Maybe it was because of the density of the buildings. Elania had hoped to find something useful in them. The first one was disappointingly bare, but the second contained something that sent a shiver down her spine.

Bones. Thousands of bones of all different sizes and shapes. Whatever had accumulated them had not been picky about the selection. A few seemed uncomfortably large to Elania, but most were small or broken into pieces. She backed out of the building and hurried to the next one, hoping she wouldn't meet whatever called that building its lair.

The rest of the buildings were all bare, except that a few had some stone furniture remains. Judging from the size of it, whoever or whatever had created it had at least been about the size of a human. Maybe even a dwarf or elf! Elania managed a smile at that bit of knowledge. At least she wouldn't be surprised if she ran into someone from a race like that.

Nothing could have prepared her for the truth, though. As she left the last building, it was only the faint sound of a few pebbles shifting and falling that alerted her. Spinning around, she lifted her head and came face-to-face with a pair of two large blood-red eyes and a savage expression full of teeth. 

It immediately leaped off the roof and fell straight toward her.

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