Wait, You’re Not Insane? – Chapter 6
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Welcome to the stealth edit, no major changes have been made to this chapter but I did break up some mixed conversation paragraphs

As Doyle is about to lose consciousness one last thought passes through his mind, “why does this hurt when being atomized didn’t?”

An indeterminate amount of time later Doyle comes to. All he can see is darkness and when he goes to stretch, he can’t feel his legs or arms. This of course freaks him out and he would have flailed about if not for the aforementioned lack of limbs.

His state of panic lasts until he can remember what had been happening. Others might have fallen into the trap of believing this was all a dream, but that doesn’t matter to him. He never understood other’s problem with it either. After all, even if this was all a dream, the safest thing to do is take it at face value until he wakes up.

With that in mind he must be a dungeon core now. Why can’t he see anything? Well, he was told that he could not claim any territory in Flisle’s dungeon. If the stories he read were anything to go on, he can only see with that territory. No territory means no sight. Where are his limbs? What limbs? He is a small magical gem now. One last thing to confirm it. Now is a good a time as ever to try a mental command, ‘[status].’

{Name: Doyle Huxley

Race: Dungeon Core

Paths: 0

Level: 0

S[6] A[7] C[9] I[10] W[9] P[5] D[12] K[20] L[16]

Skills: }

‘Yep, my race is now dungeon core. Besides that, though, my karma is now through the roof? Now how can I check it. Before I just used my finger to press on the K. Can I just mentally press it?’

{Karma: The finesse of one’s soul. The System restricts info on this stat for those with a soul stat total less than 1000. This represents the depth of your connections to those inside your territory. A vital stat for dungeon cores as it affects one’s ability to interact with their dungeon’s structure.}

‘Quite the change in description there. I wonder how the rest of my stats have changed? Flisle should notice I am up soon enough so I probably don’t have the time to go through them all. Strength is an excellent place to start, I guess.’

{Strength: The power of one’s territory and core. This does represent how much weight you can lift in your territory, but it goes much further than that. On a very basic level, your core will become stronger. You become harder to bludgeon or damage in general. Materials that are a part of your dungeon will also shift around to optimize themselves for the things you most often use them for. A stone wall meant to contain others will differ greatly from a sheet of stone meant to break so as to drop people into a pit. Beyond these aspects strength affects a number of small miscellaneous things in your territory and core.}

‘Strength didn’t actually change all that much? The biggest change is to replace mentions of a body to the territory and core. This would make it quite important if you were going for a maze dungeon, I would guess. I do wonder how much and to what degree it can tou’

Flisle interrupts his thoughts at this point, ‘hey, you don’t seem to be mentally breaking down? I guess you could just be one of those types who break down quietly. If not, think a response to me.’

One mental sigh later and Doyle responds, ‘doing fine here. What’s up?’

The shock is obvious in Flisle’s response, ‘wait, you’re actually sane at this point? It hasn’t even been a full week yet! Most people take months to regain their minds stability in such a complete state of sensory deprivation. Some never recover. It is not a clean process to take a fleshy brain and squeeze it down into a fist-sized crystal.’

More sarcasm leaks into Doyle’s voice than he meant to as he replies, ‘that doesn’t seem like a safe process there. What was that you said about being in my best interests?’

Flisle coughs, ‘from a certain viewpoint it was. Better than my original intentions anyway.’

A silence ensues broken only once Zela butts in, ‘the System would have stopped him if the ritual would have broken you. We still are in the tutorial after all!’

You can almost hear the record scratch for Flisle, ‘wait, it would have? You mean I didn’t find a loophole?’

Doyle can hear a bit of scorn in Zela’s mental voice as she responds, ‘please sit down in the corner dear. We both know if you were stronger than the guy who set up the System, you wouldn’t be here right now. I let you go through with your little play so let me fix things up.’

Flisle sulks, ‘but it wasn’t a play! I am doing an experiment here. Just some of the start conditions were out of my expectations.’

Before he goes silent and Zela takes over the conversation. Doyle feels the sensation of movement and it turns his non-existent stomach before it stops. ‘Sorry about that. I just moved you from the ritual to a nice pedestal. I know dungeon cores have a severe case of motion sickness, but the residual mana from that ritual could mess you up after you’ve regained your sanity. Helps with restructuring your mind but at this point I advise you not take a blender to your mind any time in the future.’

‘Anyway, as I just said, you were never in danger. While the System isn’t omnipotent, it might as well be in the tutorials it sets up. Now to explain how things will go from here. You’re a dungeon core stuck in another dungeon’s territory. Doesn’t get much worse than that. Since Flisle is your tutorial guide, though, it only limits you from doing the general tutorial new humanoids get. It would not be of much use for you with how non-humanoid you are at the moment.’

‘The upside is you get to be a part of the tutorial! How this thing usually ends is a group gets ported to the first floor and have to bumble through until they survive to the second floor. Not that hard as the first floor is mostly critters on small floating islands. Though the number of deaths to people being spooked off the edge is non trivial. The critters aren’t even scary! It is just rabbits and such. Anyway, your tutorial trial will be to stop at least half of a group from completing your first floor. What first floor you ask? Simple enough, we kick you out of here and the tutorial pairs you up with some fae to be your companion.’

Doyle speaks up at this point, ‘so in the end I still get a tutorial?’

Zela snickers, ‘yeah, but don’t tell Flisle. He has been a bit obsessed with getting one over on the System ever since he was put in community service here. He isn’t the only dungeon tasked with this job, but he has been here a while and is honestly getting a little fidgety. Sure before he gained awareness he would just sit in a universe till it died around him. After he got a bit of control, though, he has been flitting around the multiverse. He could barely stay in a universe for a thousand years, let alone the billion year sentence he is currently only a quarter of the way through.’

Zela pauses long enough for Doyle to ask, ‘is that a lengthy sentence or a short one? You know what, I don’t care. When you outlive universes that is functionally immortal from where I stand.’

Zela laughs, ‘that is one of the requirements.’ Doyle cuts her off, ‘once again, don’t care. When do I get to start and who gets to hand hold me?’

Zela huffs, ‘you don’t need to get snotty about it. If you get off the ground, this sort of timescale will matter to you as well. Dungeon cores are not technically immortal, but their crystals don’t degrade much either. As long as you keep advancing in floors and levels, the slight amount of decay will be fixed. If it wasn’t for the fact you need adventurers to enter you and some of those might just try and kill you, I don’t think any dungeon would ever die.’

‘Oh, and you’re about to ask why you need adventurers, right? Your culture hadn’t completely developed the dungeon core genre, but some got close enough. Every living creature takes in some form of energy and then puts out something else. Most humanoids do this by eating other animals and some plants, and well, we both know the next step to that. Dungeon cores don’t eat physical materials but rather mental detritus and release mystical energy.’

‘All the magic, all the qi, and every other mystical energy out there once used has a trace of the person who used it. That is why, even with a constant supply of potions, a magic user can’t just keep casting spells. They need to recover their mental state to control more mana. These mental traces add up over time and make the energy harder to use. This doesn’t matter all that much. Sure weaker magic users could no longer use magic but after a certain step in power the detritus doesn’t stop them.’

‘However nature is loathe of such imbalances. If you have a field of rabbits then some foxes will tend to show up for dinner. Dungeon cores are the foxes to the mental dust bunnies that clogs up mana and such. They are actually one of the few species to generate spontaneously. Up there with things like True Dragons, World Golems, Primordial Prokaryotes, Fae Royalty, Creator Gods, and Sun Crows. All other creatures are born from something. Though that is getting off track.’

‘As I said, dungeons eat the traces people leave on any energy they control with their minds. This happens passively with the energy flowing into the dungeon. But that could be seen as breathing and not eating. To get something to chew on you need people to go into your dungeon influence and be in danger.’

‘See, while the traces do float around, the people who can leave those traces or the target of mystical effects are like electro-magnets for the stuff. Once they are in danger, it loosens the traces up as if you cut down on the power to the compared magnet. Death of course is cutting the power completely free and then some, but you need to be careful with that. Your companion will take the time to explain the pros and cons of that later.’

‘Though there is one pro I will go over. A reason to let some people leave besides to attract more to you, that is. After you eat all those traces on the energy what it leaves will be some grade A pure energy. Problem is pure energy lacks all those mystical calories you need, so how to get rid of it? Sure, some will leave naturally, but that is not fast enough, especially for deeper floors. Instead, you get those same adventurers to haul it out for you.’

‘Your planet was advanced enough in physics to brush up against the whole energy is matter thing. Dungeons at their very core are a crystallization of this principle, literally. Natural dungeon cores form over millennium as mystical energies with excessive amounts of mental traces collect deep in the ground. The traces will reach a critical mass and coalesce into a perfect jewel while the previous encumbered energy breaks out.’

‘This is how the first room forms, an explosion of magic which separates the dungeon from strictly physical dimensions. But that coalescing is the act of turning energy into matter. Those mysteries of the universe are now baked into your being.’