Chapter 2. Into the Abyss.
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Ding! You have enough essence to level up, would you like to proceed?

Ding! You have enough essence to purchase mutations, would you like to proceed?


I awoke feeling like I was ripped apart from the inside, but the memories of what happened worked better than any coffee at waking me. Sitting up, in a slight panic, I assessed my situation.

My phone was off on the side of the cabin resting in a puddle of brain matter, but otherwise fine. Cleaning it off, I checked the time and its battery level.

It was 11:22 Am, and the battery sat at 42%, likely drained so much due to keeping the flashlight on. As much as I wanted to save the battery, the way the beast reacted to the light, has me disregarding that for now. Instead, I grab my backpack and pull out my laptop, turning it on and plugging my phone into it. Once the laptop was on and lighting up the cabin I reduced it to the minimum brightness, and made sure it was consuming as little power as possible before I turned my phone's flashlight off and let it charge from the laptop.

With that done I began rummaging through my bag taking stock of everything I had, which wasn't much. I have a few books I got secondhand, and an old, cheap bottle of water half finished, along with a nearly dead battery bank I kept for emergencies. I wish it was fully charged, but I'll take anything I got in the way of electricity. At the very bottom of my bag, I found one very squished protein bar. I had stopped eating them as they gave me horrendous heartburn, but after what I went through earlier I can't help but laugh at my old self who had no such worries.

I decided to not eat the protein bar now because I worried the smell of it would be more enticing than my own. This left me with nothing else to do but confront the reality of my situation.

I was in a different world, Having gone through the "Cosmic" I couldn't help but find this whole situation ironic. When I was younger I loved these types of stories, but none of those were quite as dark, or grisly as what I was experiencing.

With a thought, I pulled my status up, determining that I couldn't ignore my situation any longer.

Just like before, I saw a diagram of my body that this time wasn't blinking red. On the left was a simple grid that listed, Might, Toughness, Mana, and Mind. when I focused on them I got the idea that Might was an all-around determination of my physical capabilities regarding offense. Toughness was similar but it focused on my defensive capabilities. Both had a rating of 1, which represents my current strength, and wouldn't go up until those aspects doubled in value. The third stat point would get me a 50% increase followed by a 25% increase for the fourth etc. The stat numbers seem to use my current strength as the standard. Although, that doesn't mean I can't get stronger before then, it's just that the status isn't that accurate. I imagine a higher starting point would result in far better gains, but I don't have the time to min-max this system.

Mana was next and I can't say the idea of magic doesn't make my heart race. like the two prior stats, it sits at 1 and has a notation beside it that says "Ice magic affinity" The notation makes me look down and press a hand against my chest as I shiver from the memory of almost burning up.

Mind was the last, unlike the others, this stat had a total of 10. like before I mentally poked it with a question but I got no real answer aside from the stat being a representation of my mental faculties, thinking speed, and expected proficiency with which I can use magic. However, it does not represent raw intelligence, which I can't say ever made any kind of sense in the books I read.

The next area I focused on was my Titles. I was surprised by how many I had but I had no way of knowing if this was a lot or a little. They seem to be organized by order received.

Cosmic Castaway- " Title grants heightened resilience to various environmental dangers, such as disease, temperature, pressure, and atmospheric compositions, allowing the holder to explore inhospitable regions that would normally be deadly."

First of a Kind-" Title grants the responsibility and ability to choose where the stat gains are placed when leveling, for the entire subspecies. *Note- Should the holder be surpassed in level by another of their unique subspecies title will be lost!*"

Scholar from Another World-" Title grants knowledge from the Akashic records to aid the holder in their journey, enabling them to communicate with the inhabitants and read their writing."

Nature's Guardian-" Title grants the ability to communicate through an empathic bond to anything living. *Note- Bond must be willingly accepted by other parties.*"

Legendary Champion-" Title grants an intimidating presence that makes others more likely to follow you and heed your advice."

Unbound Voyager-" Title grants an innate sense of direction and an exceptional ability to navigate unknown lands. Your intuition guides you unerringly, enabling you to find hidden paths, shortcuts, and previously undiscovered locations."

Bookworm-" Title grants perfect recall of anything ever read. *Note- Does not allow for perfect understanding or comprehension.*"

Deceptive Mating Strategist-" Title grants a passive aura that subtly influences the opposite sex into finding you alluring by increasing the effect of qualities they already find attractive while ignoring those they don't. This aura does not discriminate, affecting all creatures of the opposite sex."

Supreme Underdog-" Title grants enhanced mental resistance against the aura of enemies within 50 levels of the holder."

Unconventional Tactics-" Title grants potential strokes of inspiration during battle that may help you win."

Unintentional Bait-" May cause those preying on the holder to underestimate the danger they pose."

Weakness Exploit-" Title grants the holder an uncanny sense of the enemy's weaknesses. The longer the battle, the sharper this sense becomes."

I must have read all of them twice over. Most of them were awarded for things I accomplished back on Earth, like the legendary Champion Title. I got that for a video game tournament when I was a teenager. The Unbound Voyager must have been earned during my time in the military. I find all of them helpful as I need all of the help I can get. Except for the charm ability, that one makes me feel dirty.

Back at my status menu, across the top, I see my current level at 0, the required essence for the next level being 0/100 and my earned Essence or Exp, sitting at 10,231. last I remembered it was far higher than that. I think the core cost is the difference I'm missing. I wasn't even sure what a "Core" was, only that I now had an ice affinity and that the essence I have is stored there.

I wanted to open the beast mutation menu, but I knew how large it was and how long it would take, so I stayed on the main status page and mentally willed the Essence to be used to level up.

Ding! 100 essence used, you have reached level 1, your Title "First of a Kind" allows you to assign stat points manually.

After I leveled up I looked at the stat section and found a singular stat point available. I allocated the stat point to Might and could feel the change occurring in my body. My skin tightened, my muscles compressed, and my weight shifted slightly. Picking up my laptop, I noticed it didn't feel lighter, just easier to lift, and less awkward to hold. My legs itched to go for a run, but I knew better than that.

Back on my status page I saw that the required Essence was reset to 0/200 and my new essence total was listed as 10,131.

To figure out the pattern of Essence required and stat points awarded I dumped another 200 into leveling.

Ding! "You have reached level 2. 1 stat point awarded."

Again I only received the singular point, to my dismay. This time I added it to toughness and felt my bones and skin thicken, even my eyelids felt heavier. This made me realize that I should try to keep these two stats in balance, I worry that if I increase toughness too much I'll be far too slow. Balance seems to be important, for at least these two stats.

To reach level 3 I only need 300 essence, but as before the meter reset to 0. Perhaps the essence requirement changes at a certain level but I had no idea at what point that was. For now, the pattern seems stable, and I have 9,931 left. If the pattern increases at a rate of 100 points per level that will cost me a total of 5,500 to reach level 10. Seeing as how I'm already at level 2, that means I need another 5,200. However, I didn't rush it just yet, because the return on investment makes less and less of a difference as I level up.

Opening the beast mutation menu I pull up the core tab finding the ice core I had recently bought greyed out. The price is still listed as 5,500 essence which makes perfect sense. Reading for lack of a better word the "Flavor text" I find that the core will eventually allow me to use magic in my attacks but not actual spells. I imagine this was intended for Beasts and not intelligent beings. It is only now that I realize the potential I have with this beast mutation menu at my disposal, but it also brings with it worries. I'll have to be careful with what I pick, and I can only hope that once I get out of wherever I am, that I'm not chased by people with pitchforks. The last thing I want to do is become a wanted anomaly, due to my use of the beast mutation menu.

As I look through the menu I find many mutations that are straight out of a horror film. Everything from bone protrusions to fur, or a better metabolism. However, I already know what I want. Outside this Elevator cab is a pitch-black expanse of unknown size, and I can't rely on light from my phone for very long. So I sort the mutations by their price in the category of senses and begin searching until I find one that looks promising. Hopefully, this could be useful long term.

Mana Sight-"Allows beings to perceive the flows of mana in the environment, objects, and living beings. Range 30 meters. *Requires core & 2,000 Essence*"

When I select the mutation I notice that the diagram of my body updates to now show my new projected appearance. My eyes' only outward change is that they now shine a deep blue. This must be due to my ice-type core. It's a little disconcerting but none of the night vision mutations allow for vision in areas with no light, only in low-light areas would they work, which makes sense from a scientific viewpoint.

I select the mutation and spend the required 2,000 Essence on it. The eyes, just like the core form harmlessly, but the explosion of color was not what I expected. I could see mana flowing in the air like streams of water. Each color I saw filled me with wonder. The vast majority was black, darker than darkness itself, but here and there I saw browns and reds. the cabin of the elevator itself looked like a void of magic, having none of its own. I looked outside testing my vision, and I was glad to see up above wisps of white magic flowing. If I had to wager a guess I would say this relates to wind somehow, and my Title "Unbound Voyager" kicks in letting me know I should follow it upwind to possibly find an exit.

Before I left, I decided to spend all of the Essence I have. While I would like to keep some in reserve in case I need a particular ability. I run the risk of dying and never getting that chance. I still remember that swarm of bugs that crawled over the cab and would like to not die due to a swarm of creepy crawlies eating me alive due to being too slow.

I have 7,931 Essence left and choose to dump the 5,200 needed to reach level ten.

Ding! " You have reached level 10, 8 stat points awarded."

I was slightly disappointed that I reached no sort of milestone, but that could very well not exist or be something reached at a higher level. However, I was happy that the Essence required kept the same pattern. to reach level 11 i needed another 1100, but I only had another 2,731, so i moved on and added 6 points to Might and Toughness, alternating each point, with the intention that if any other human arrived they could level up in balance. I'm starting to believe that having this much essence at once is not normal, but neither is a level 0 killing that Umbraclaw creature with a cell phone flashlight. Regardless, I have no idea what normal even is for this world.

The effect of the points was less and less noticeable, but I knew that each point was adding my original strength to my new total. With both Might and Toughness now at 5, I was five times stronger and five times more durable than I was upon arrival, but I still retained the deftness of my movements and nothing felt awkward yet.

The last 2,731 Essence was burning a whole in my metaphorical pocket so I looked for anything else in the beast mutation menu, and two caught my new eyes.

Echo location-" Grants the ability to emit sound waves and detect their echoes to perceive the environment. *Requires Enhanced Auditory Cortex & 1,500 Essence*"

like many other mutations this one is dependant on another. It also changes my ears and not in a pretty fantasy Elf fashion, but in a disgusting abomination of a bat man way.

Bioluminescent Skin-" Grants the ability to produce a soft glow at will. Color is determined by core type. *Note Shadow core types are not compatible & Requires core+500 Essence.*"

Making my own light is a game changer, but it also makes me a target. I have no idea if all of the creatures here share the same excessive weakness to light, nor do I know if the light made with this mutation will have the same effect as my phone did so I continued my search, until my eyes landed on something I never even considered.

Telepathic Awareness-" A limited form of telepathy, granting the ability to sense other living beings nearby. The more dangerous the being, the stronger the reaction. *Requires mind stat of 5 or higher. & 2,500 Essence.*"

I looked towards the diagram of my body and I saw no changes at all. This was an expensive ability but it would help me avoid danger and that's exactly what I want, I have no intention of fighting, if I can avoid it.

Paying the price and confirming my selection, I felt my awareness seep out into my surroundings. I could feel the lack of life near me. The barren lifelessness of the cave helped reassure me of my decision. With only 231 Essence left I closed the menu and gathered my things. My phone is fully charged and I can't wait here any longer, I need to get out of here as soon as possible, or i could very well starve or die of thirst.

Using my newly enhanced body, I tried to pry open the doors, but I was humbled as the door failed to budge, i guess the massive dent jammed something.

The hole the Umbraclaw made was a bit too small, so I looked up. Above me the missing tiles showed an access point. So I threw my phone in my pocket and jumped, easily making the leap and hoisting myself up and through.

I didn't waste a second and pulled out my phone. Even with my mutations I didn't feel safe without my Umbraclaw killing light in hand, but my new eyes showed me so much more. them in combination with my titles, gave me an easy path to follow.

jumping off of the elevator's roof without a hitch in my step, I followed what I believed to be wind mana, and made my way out into the abyss.