As far as the eye can see, nothing; as in, absolutely nothing. There is no infinite stretch of darkness, white light, or anything. It was… nothing. It’s hard to describe, you’d think with sensory deprivation, akin to closing your eyes in a dark room that your brain would overlay darkness as a placeholder. I wasn’t even getting that.
And yet, I am conscious. I’m alive; surely, otherwise, I wouldn’t be monologuing right now.
What do I remember?
I can remember everything. Every last moment of my life, with perfect clarity. This is not something I could do before. Indeed, I can even remember…
One moment I was using the restroom and in the next I was instantly in space. I remember the ten following seconds of consciousness before I was here. Ten seconds of silence, pain, and confusion. I can gather that there must’ve been a hull breach in the section of Aurora Station I was in at the time. What could have caused it? I have no clue.
How do I know I’m not in a coma or some such? Simple, rescue would have been impossible. The rapid decompression would have launched me into the void at a relatively high speed. It’s impossible for me to have collided with another part of the station as I was in the Departures Promenade at the time.
Furthermore, assuming I was even noticed in the first place, no craft would have been able to intercept me before it was too late. I should know, I was a propulsion specialist before retiring; I’m well familiar with search-and-rescue spaceborne drone capabilities.
So, I’m dead, but I’m not dead. I can’t honestly say I was expecting an afterlife to exist, but boy was I wrong. It’s not exactly pleasant but not entirely terrible either. In fact, it’s sort of…cozy? Isn’t emptiness supposed to, you know, drive people insane? I don’t feel insane, but I wouldn’t if I was, would I? Eh, water under the bridge I say; I’ll just settle in—
And suddenly there’s a stone wall right in front of me.
As a gauntlet of emotions rush through my mind in response to what should’ve been entirely mundane, I try to get my bearings and look at my surroundings. There is stone all around me and a chunk of quartz as well. More specifically, the stone is of a beige color with streaks of red and the crystal is an opaque reddish-brown.
My now-robust memory gives me a hand and I identify the surrounding rock with certainty as rhyolite; a volcanic stone often found near caldera volcanoes. The crystal looks somewhat like cherry quartz but I’m not entirely positive that’s accurate.
It consists of two large conjoined crystals with eleven smaller crystals haphazardly clustered together, the crystals are full of unidentifiable impurities and coated in a layer of dust further giving the formation a beautiful and natural appearance. The cluster of ‘Cherry Quartz’ sits in a jagged, hollow cavity surrounded by and embedded in the aforementioned rhyolite stone. Having no sense of scale to go by, I’ve no clue how big the quartz cluster or the room I’ve found myself in are.
Where am I? Yes, I’m obviously in this subterranean cavity, but, where am I really? I can see my surroundings yet not myself. I can’t even feel my body.
But I can feel something.
I can tell that I’m ‘feeling’ the stone, but it’s not really so simple. For starters, it’s unfair of me to call it “feeling,” instead, it’s more of an abstract ‘sense.’ Sort of like taste, touch, and smell all rolled up into one sense. And how is it that I know it’s stone I’m sensing and not something else? Again, I have no clue, I just know. I know it as well as a parched man knows he’s thirsty.
Unbelievably, I can even sense the air. It is comparable to one’s sense of being underwater, but more nuanced. Mind you, I couldn’t say what the atmospheric composition is, not knowing the associated “flavors” of certain elements, but I can tell it’s air and sense where it is nonetheless.
I wonder what the “quartz” crystal tastes like?
I can’t taste it.
That is to say, I physically cannot taste it, which is not the same as saying it is tasteless.
This hollow cavity is perfectly sealed, with no apparent light sources and no shadows. Yet paradoxically, I can see, despite being aware of its darkness. This of course shouldn’t be possible. Though neither should everything else that’s happened so far.
In life, and I say that because I’m not sure if I can call what I’m experiencing right now as ‘life,’ I wasn’t claustrophobic. This was handy considering I lived in spaceborne habitats most of the time. Even so, I’m oddly at ease being completely sealed in a stone room. Remember what I said earlier about intuitively knowing that the stone is what I was tasting? It’s like that now, I’m at ease in this cavity, and it feels somehow correct.
What else have I noticed? Well, I can’t move, which makes sense seeing as I don’t have a body to propel myself with. My vision also seems to be incredibly acute. In fact, I can zoom in on things at will.
I wonder what will happen if I keep zooming in?
And my vision goes blank, if I zoom in too far apparently my sight just abruptly stops; still, I can zoom in on the rhyolite and identify individual grains with ease! In fact, some grains even taste differently!
So, I can taste the rhyolite as a whole but when I zoom in, I can more easily taste its constituent substances which obviously form the medley of flavor which inherently is rhyolite stone. Unfortunately, this trick doesn’t work on the air, and it seems I can’t taste distinct individual atoms.
That’s fair, it was worth a shot.
Since there’s nothing better for me to be doing right now, I suppose I’ll just look around and taste everything in sight.
I had been caressing the stone wall, like a lover would their partner, for an indeterminate amount of time; tasting each shape and substance while observing every detail when I unwittingly sampled a blast of bright flavor that came from seemingly nowhere, and I mean that in the literal sense, it truly tasted bright. It tasted like…light? It did, I swear it did! It’s another one of those feelings again; instinct, if you will, it just feels correct. It was so delicious, so scrumptious, so bursting with yellow flavor, I must have more.
I’ll be ready for it next time, I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know I’ll be ready.
And so, I continued to lovingly fondle my surroundings while staying alert for the flashy thing again. Not in vain either, very soon I tasted it again! This time I wrapped my ‘sense’ around it and instantly blacked out.
Waking up is strange when you don’t have eyelids or a body, you’re just suddenly conscious with a powerful voice blasting into your mind, such is life.
I can hear a disturbingly generic, normal-sounding voice speaking to me in English.
<Congratulations are upon you, newborn Dungeon Core. You have grasped your first mana flare and will now passively absorb ambient mana.>
Dungeon Core? Mana? Who are you?
Assuming the mysterious voice is telling the truth and it means what I think it does; mana exists and by extension, it’s reasonable to assume magic does as well. I’m also a “Dungeon Core,” which means I’ve reincarnated as a magical stone.
Well isn’t this just fantastic?
Now, I’ve read my fair share of ‘dungeon core’ stories; and frankly, it all makes sense now, if those (fictional, might I add) stories are anything to go by, that crystal? That crystal is me. It’s a whole genre, quite fascinating.
Make no mistake, this took me a while to figure out.
Oh, and this is supposed to be the part where a blue box full of information pops up in my mind, no?
So, where’s my blue box?!
Where’s my LitRPG system?!
Do I need to think “Help?”
Nope, that didn’t do anything.
Am I not the main character? Don’t I deserve some cheat abilities for doing nothing at all?
If only things were so easy.
So, unless a ‘dungeon core’ isn’t what I’m thinking of, I’m a magical stone who controls a domain around myself using magic. In fact, some of the stories I’ve read consider that domain an extension of the core’s body itself; a cool idea, to be sure. But a fictional fantasy trope shouldn’t be real, should it?
Well here I am.
Oh, and according to the stories, my ‘purpose’ is to kill people.
Nope! Not on my watch!
I am not going to kill people if I can help it. It’s not going to happen, and it’s just that simple. Ah…but that’s what they all say, isn’t it? ‘They’ convince themselves that they’re not going to murder others but then some group of plucky adventurers comes along and attacks them. I’ve read it too many times.
Naturally, the dungeon main character proceeds to, often brutally, kill them all in self-defense at which point they get power or something from absorbing their corpses. Then the story kicks off properly and the dungeon in question is constantly under siege with no end in sight other than the dreaded ‘hiatus hell;’ the final boss for all dungeons.
Yeah, I don’t think so.
You see, in those stories, the dungeons must have some sort of connection to the surface for whatever silly reason the author comes up with.
Me? I feel fine! No cliched pesky instincts telling me that I must make an opening to the surface or anything like that! I’ll just chill down here in my little cavity until the end of time. I’m going to have so much fun not dying!
Maybe it’s a good thing I’m not beholden to a ‘system,’ as it’s often called in such stories.
Back to that voice though, was it from a person? Was it a god? Was it the dreaded ‘system?’
Why did it contact me if it was going to be so useless? Other than telling me what I am and that I’m now passively absorbing mana (which I have yet to notice), it really didn’t do much for my situation.
Some things simply don’t have meaning.
So, I’m a dungeon core, which means I should be able to move my view around my domain. I imagine that is the room I’ve found myself stuck in.
Without thinking, I manage to do exactly that. How? I couldn’t say, I just did.
Finally, I can pan around my view of the world. Why I couldn’t do this earlier, no one knows. It appears as if I can shift my vision to anywhere within this subterranean space; though I don’t gain any new information from doing so having already analyzed my surroundings in detail.
There is still no entrance in sight, which is probably for the best.
I should also be able to absorb and create objects, that’s a normal dungeon-y thing to do, right?
I will the rhyolite around me to…be absorbed? Nothing happens unfortunately, but I won’t be defeated so easily!
As I did earlier with the ‘mana flare,’ I wrap a portion of stone with my sense and then will it to be absorbed.
Nothing is happening. No, wait! No, nothing is happening. Wait! Yes! I saw something move! I saw it with my own…sight?
A pebble crumbled away from the wall! In the exact spot I was focusing on! That was me, I did that!
I managed to make a pebble break away from the wall, which is more than I was expecting to happen, but I still didn’t manage to absorb anything… Did I absorb the material holding it to the wall or just magically cut it away somehow? More testing is needed.
I proceed to cut the pebble into two pieces, and then those two into four. I keep at it until I have a pile of coarse sand. The pile seems to have about as much material as the original pebble did. Though it sure would be handy if I had a device to measure the mass of the pieces so that I could be more certain that I’m not absorbing any mass when I make a cut, I think it’s safe to say that I am, in the truest sense, cutting stone.
As far as I can tell, I can’t absorb anything. This is a conundrum because that’s usually the first thing a dungeon learns to do in the stories. Honestly, if anything, I see this as a good sign that I won’t be forced to constantly murder people. The less my new reality conforms to my expectations, the less likely it is that my darker expectations will be valid.
What else can a dungeon typically do? They can conjure matter from nothing except mana; the potential for abuse is astronomical!
Just as I cut stone and grasped a mana flare, I wrap my sense around the target area, in this case, an empty space near my core, and will into existence a piece of iron!
Well to be honest, I expected that to happen. You see, one of the most common tropes in a core story is that a dungeon core can only create things which they have first absorbed. I find it likely that similar restrictions apply to me because everything else that’s happened so far has closely resembled those works of fiction. Hopefully cutting a piece of rhyolite is enough to be able to create some. Fingers crossed!
I proceed again, this time willing a tiny pebble of rhyolite into existence and…
Nothing. I even simultaneously envisioned its flavor! This is bad. A potential showstopper, really. What’s the point of being a dungeon if I can’t, you know, create things? Surely there’s a reason I became a dungeon core after death, presumably so that can make a dungeon and kill people, as many stories suggest. Which I have no intentions of doing, mind you.
Again, I can’t assume anything has a meaning.
It’s time to try again. Rhyolite is composed of several different substances; this time I’ll focus on one of the substances I tasted while I was zoomed in as far as I could go. It’s probably not a fundamental substance as I doubt I’d tasted a pure element like Silicon or something like that, but it’s the closest thing I’ve got to ‘fundamental.’
This time I focus on the flavor of a specific component of rhyolite.
How about I try a different substance?
Maybe I can make air instead?
I can’t create matter, at least not this way.
I’m a dungeon core, so it stands to reason that there should be mechanics in place which allow me to, hypothetically, create a dungeon. It’s in the name.
I can cut solids or rhyolite at least, but I can’t create anything from mana alone… Can I perhaps move objects around telekinetically? More testing is needed!
I cut a fresh pebble from the wall and wrap my sense around it while willing it to move. And by golly it does! Not only can I roll it around, but I can also even cause it to levitate!
I can cause it to levitate, yes, but it sure is tiring. It actually required quite a lot of focus to do, I was consciously counteracting the acceleration due to gravity to achieve the observed effect. This is useful, I definitely need to test it more!
After taking a short break to recuperate a bit of my ‘strength’ (It’s probably not too much of a leap to assume that my fatigue correlates to how much “mana” I have) I attempt telekinesis again. This time, I apply a force which accelerates the pebble to the side at an acceleration of roughly one gravity, instead of upwards, with great success too!
The pebble shoots across the floor almost as if it was falling sideways; which, in a sense, it was. The potential for abuse here is immense! Can I make a mana-powered railgun? Particle collider? More testing is needed! More testing is always needed!
I try my ability on pebbles of different masses; accelerating a pebble which is approximately twice as massive as another seemingly tires me out twice as fast.
Which makes sense. If I was to achieve an acceleration equal in magnitude on two pebbles, one twice as massive as the other, that means I’m applying a force twice as strong on the more massive pebble. Therefore, I can conclude that effort (or mana consumption, I suppose) is directly proportional to the magnitude of the force being applied to an object.
What happens if I attempt to levitate multiple objects at once?
Tested, successful; with seemingly no limits except a proportional mana expenditure.
What happens if I apply a large force to a small object in order to achieve a, relatively absurd acceleration? I.E. what happens if I make a bullet?
Proceeding with the experiment, I find that annoyingly, I lose control over an object once it exhibits an acceleration of what I approximate to be one and a half gravities of acceleration relative to the ground. If I’m being fair, this is entirely reasonable. I mean, as long as I have a long enough barrel, one and a half gravities is still enough to lob a lethal projectile; especially if the barrel forms a repeating loop before the projectile is ejected. Not that I would need to make any weapons or anything. Heh.
Speaking of making things, can I…make things? I already know I can’t poof matter into existence; but I wonder, can I combine objects? More testing!
For this experiment, I will be attempting to merge two stones in a manner reminiscent of cutting objects, just in reverse.
Advancing along, I find that it’s doable, but it is worth noting that it requires substantially more mana to carry out then an equivalent cut.
To test the integrity of the merged objects, I attempt multiple experimental trials where I launch a projectile at a small rod I’ve carved directly from the ground as well as a rod which I’d merged with the ground.
Unfortunately, and as I’d expected, the magically merged rods were easier to break from the ground than the ones carved directly from it. This is a valuable lesson; items created from solid material are more durable than ones made via the magical merger of components. From my previous life experience, this behavior is very similar to that observed in machined items, but the mechanism behind this property is likely completely different.
At this point I’m feeling extremely tired from all the tests. Just as I’m preparing to turn in for some rest, I have an idea. What happens if I try to cut the air?
Upon attempting to do so, I immediately blackout.
It seems the final mana expenditure pushed me over the edge of consciousness. It’s good to know that I don’t die when I run out of mana... Still, I should be more careful in the future. Fortunately for you, I mean me, that won’t stop me from attempting to cut air!
Nothing seems to be happening, but I do lose mana. Noted.
Moving on, I think it’s time to ponder about my situation and plans moving forward. First off, I need to consider the consequence of my abilities. I can’t truly expand my cavity because I have no way of ‘deleting’ stone. That is to say, if I cut stone from the wall to expand, I have to put it somewhere. As it stands, I have nowhere to displace the excess material.
Second, there’s only so much stimulation I can get from carving trinkets from the surrounding rhyolite, I’m no artist, I’m a machinist! An engineer! If I don’t find some more interesting materials, objects, etc. to play with, I’ll probably go crazy down here! I’m thinking of the long-term.
The obvious solution is to breach the surface. I see two immediate problems with that idea: One, there could be dangerous animals or people. Two, it will take ages to dig a large enough tunnel.
Hold up, I don’t follow the rules! Who says the tunnel must be person-sized? That’s only asking for trouble! With that thought in mind, I begin to carve a narrow tube straight upwards.
I stop to think, what happens if I dig into the bottom of a body of water? Can I drown? I fashion an emergency tunnel plug from stone just in case; if needed, I can seal my tube with this makeshift stopper using my merge ability. I proceed with the excavation until I suddenly find myself unable to cut the stone ahead of me. I cannot exert any control over this area which I gather to mean it’s not inside my ‘domain.’
I take a break to recuperate mana and consider my approach to this problem. The simple solution would be to claim the space as my domain using an ability that I dearly hope I have. In fact, merely considering the possibility sparks a primal urge in me to do exactly that! I instinctively wrap the space in my sense and will it to be mine.
To great success! Though I’m glad I have this ability in my toolkit, I can’t help but wonder where my instincts were when I tried to grasp a mana flare or cut and merge stone? Those are curious inconsistencies.
Once again, the digging proceeds. Pebbles and chunks of volcanic stone tumble down my vertical tube inducing a zen of sorts in my mind.
Some time passes as I dig. How much? I couldn’t say, but I eventually discover loose boulders in my way. More importantly, the gaps are filled with soil! Beautiful dark soil which is surely packed with nutrients! I even see bits of decaying plants among the soil particles!
The presence of life has been confirmed! I take a break to top-off my mana supply and sample all of the new substances mixed into the soil. It tastes absolutely divine! With so many complex components, especially the organic stuff, how could it not? I would do this all day, but it seems the flavor gradually loses its appeal the more time I spend tasting it.
On a whim, I attempt to cut a dead bit of root.
Thankfully it was a success. It’s good to know the limits of my abilities, or the lack thereof.
I proceed a few more centimeters before I encounter a living worm; one obviously related to life from Earth. That poses some profound implications which I’ll have to look into later.
For science, I decide to try cutting it in half.
It was a success, however, that cut depleted substantially more mana than a regular cut would have.
I observed the worm until it stopped moving. Soon after, I felt a slight tingling sensation which lasted a fraction of a second. It was so easy to notice because it registered on a sense I hadn’t stimulated until now and that I wasn’t even aware I had in the first place. Suddenly, the voice of indescribable normalcy returns.
<Unidentified Earthworm 0000000001 added to memory.>
My dark suspicions have been confirmed, there is in fact a system. A so far useless system, but a system, nonetheless. There must be some sort of computer behind the voice providing information to me. I’ve guessed this because I figure no normal human being would have phrased it like that.
Every time a new aspect of this life conforms to the reality portrayed by those fantasy stories I’ve read in the past, my fear grows. I enjoyed those works for a reason, they featured conflict. It shouldn’t bear mentioning, but I would prefer it if I could avoid that altogether.
On to the worm.
The voice of normalcy said it was “added to memory” (Whose?) right after I felt the tingling sensation which also somewhat coincided with its death. Though further testing is needed, I conclude that killing a creature (or having it die in my domain, the exact requirements remain to be determined) will add it to ‘the memory,’ whatever that means.
Does it mean I can spawn a worm now?
I find it likely, so I try a test. Like my early attempts at creating matter, I focus my sense on an empty area and will an “Unidentified Earthworm 0000000001” into existence.
I’m met with failure. What’s the point of having a creature in “memory” (My memory, the system’s memory? I’ve no clue!) if I can’t do anything with it? Am I supposed to complete a Pokédex or something? Thanks again for being useless Mr. Normal.
At this point, a quaint pile of soil has accumulated on the floor of my cavern just below the opening to my tunnel. As my absurdly convenient, near-perfect memory helpfully informs me, soil is supposed to be loaded with mesofauna; tiny animals who live in the soil feeding on decaying material, fungi, bacteria, roots, each other, etc. I bet killing them would yield similar results to the worm incident.
To start, I carve a heavy slab of stone from the wall and slide it over to the pile of dirt. I then lift it atop the pile and grind it up against the rhyolite floor in an attempt to kill any tiny animals that may have been living in the soil currently being ground up.
<Unidentified Mite 0000000001 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Springtail 0000000001 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Symphylan 0000000001 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Terrestrial Isopod Nymph 0000000001 added to memory.>
<”Silo Bug” Mite 0000000002 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Nematode 0000000001 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Mold 0000000001 added to memory.>
<Unidentified Enchytraeid 0000000001 added to memory.>
Mr. Normal keeps on going but I tune him out.
I think I’ll consider that experiment a success. I didn’t hear any microorganisms being mentioned and I also see that ‘he’ specified when a juvenile (the Isopod was listed as a “nymph”) was killed, rather than an adult. Furthermore, the “Silo Bug” wasn’t listed as unidentified, is that supposed to mean it has already been identified as a “Silo Bug?” I doubt I’m on Earth anymore, even considering the similar organisms, so does that mean the mite in question was named by the locals (If there are any.)? How would that even work linguistically or scientifically? How would you standardize it? I need more information.
I continue onwards, passing more tiny subterranean animals and even roots until I finally breach the surface. A powerful beam of sunlight instantly pierces through my tunnel. Interestingly, I can clearly see where the light falls, yet I’m also able to see perfectly in total darkness. I have no trouble claiming a portion of the surface as my domain but still limit myself lest I run out of mana. Looking around, I can see that I am in the middle of a dense clover patch surrounded by a lush temperate forest bursting with life.
All around me are exotic plants and animals that I recognize, and many I don’t. For example, I can see a stand of short plants whose orange flowers appear to be on fire! No, they’re definitely on fire and yet perfectly unharmed! Around the seemingly eternally burning petals are numerous red sparks flitting in and out of the flaming petals with minds of their own and occasionally flying off elsewhere into the forest. I may not understand what I’m seeing, but I’ve resolved to learn all that I can about this new world! In the distance, towering above the forest is an enormous mountain with gentle slopes.
While marveling at the majesty of the environment, the mountain explodes. Soon after, a pressure wave sweeps through the forest causing the plants to sway madly and the wildlife to instantly fall silent. The burning flowers turn grey and the dancing sparks zip away.
That’s no mountain, it’s a volcano. As an enormous pillar of ash rises to the heavens, I silently contemplate what this will mean for my surroundings.
The forest is doomed.