This is bad, Jake thought as the school of fish around him grew. He quickly chugged down another healing potion as he considered his approach. However, one thing was certain, he couldn’t abandon his focus on how to better move.
The poisoned fish around him became his stepping stone to understanding this. He felt the toxins circulate through their bodies, slowly being battled against. It was a struggle between the vitality of the fish in question and the poisons Jake had infused, and he saw this battle clearly.
Yet, he also noticed something else. Not in the clash of vital energy and poison, but more what was around it. Everything just felt so odd inside the bodies of the fish. The toxins constantly moved about, and he detected large amounts of water-affinity mana inside them too at all times.
It was a constant stream… but the amount of mana they had to consume at all times to circulate that amount of energy was just utterly insane. Again, one could compare to Jake’s Limit Break, where he naturally expended more stamina by circulating more stamina. In the same way, these fish constantly circulated large amounts of water-affinity mana.
One would think this was tiring, but they all did it in the same way. If it was Jake doing the same thing, circulating mana inside or around him, he would be out of resources within an hour. Yet these damn fish didn’t give a fuck, but just pumped mana through themselves like it was nothing.
He felt like none of this helped him. On the contrary, it only made him more uncertain of exactly how they managed to cope.
Firstly, how did they even deal with the sheer load of mana running through them? Or was the water-affinity just suited for it? Water was naturally able to flow and seemed like a gentle force. From what Jake knew, then water-affinity mana liked to be together and condensed. It also liked to conform to whatever shape it was in, being a liquid and all.
Was this why the fish could handle it? The water allowed them to handle it? Was it perhaps because it was in constant motion? So many questions, so little time with the fish becoming bolder and bolder as they came closer with every swim-by.
He wasn’t sure what to do as he prepared himself. Right in front of him then passed a smidge of red that seemed completely out of place. The blood of the fish wasn’t red but transparent and water-like. Which meant it was human blood from his own wounds.
Jake watched his own blood effortlessly flow through the water. Unaffected by the pressure or the concepts Jake had observed before. It seemed to almost meld into and become one with the water. In fact, when he observed it with his sphere, he saw it appeared almost to be the same as the water around him. His Sense of the Malefic Viper also told him that the blood had simply integrated the water - allowed itself to be integrated. It was mixed with the water, yet it still remained separate, with the poison still within it. Integrated but not assimilated.
That is when Jake remembered a certain quote that honestly didn’t really fit that well in his current scenario:
Be like water.
Because that is exactly what the fish did… they became one with the water around them. They, like his blood, integrated themselves without being assimilated. With this realization, another one also came… he asked himself why he fought his environment so much.
The mana didn’t hold any intent. It simply was. The only reason it damaged Jake was due to the sheer density and that concept, and while he wasn’t sure that could be eliminated entirely, he should be able to alleviate it, right?
Jake opened his mouth and took a deep breath, letting the water enter his lungs and body. He felt like choking but resisted. Instead, he also focused on absorbing as much mana from his environment as he could. His mana pool couldn’t contain all of this excess mana as it began damaging him… so he released it again.
He did discover that drinking the water was a grade-A idiot move as he only needed the mana, but in his moment of desperation, he wasn’t thinking very clearly. All he knew at that moment was that he had to not fight the water or find a way to cope with it; he had to allow himself to acclimate by taking it in. This was only possible because it was neutral mana and not something summoned by anyone. If this Vault had been made with water that held inherently antagonistic properties, Jake wasn’t certain how anyone could survive.
After around thirty seconds, Jake began seeing some results. His entire body began being affected by the water-affinity, and he actually felt his own weight increase. However, what he also felt was familiarity. His surroundings became clearer, and he began feeling like he could move. His headache also lessened a lot.
Jake wasn’t out of the woods yet, though. Because while he had found a way to adapt, this method wasn’t instant. He had to absorb the mana into his body and release it again to do this process, but if he did it too fast, he damaged himself and risked losing control. Too slow, and what was about to happen would be the result.
Three fish came at Jake. He instantly responded as his two blades reappeared. He managed to swing far faster than before, taking his opponent by surprise. A long nasty cut was left across its side. The second one found itself suddenly confronted with the edge of a blade that skewered it through the mouth as Jake angled it to avoid being hit himself. The final fish was frozen just before it hit him and collided with an arcane barrier.
Because one other thing had come from his realization. It had led to him recognizing that it was insane not to use his arcane magic too, using the environment and not fighting it. Before, Jake tried to use his own mana far too much to summon his magic. This was a necessity in the outside world, where the atmospheric mana was never this dense.
But here? Here Jake just had to not fight the neutral mana. Instead, he had to create a spark of arcane energy and then simply transform the surrounding energy with that as the base. Because Jake had learned that water very much wanted to conform once directed. Did this mean he could turn this entire shithole of water into arcane energy? Sadly not, as Jake couldn’t cast magic that far away from him, and he still had to direct this transformation.
What he could do was easily summon plenty of low mana-cost mana bolts and barriers.
However, their explosions and speed proved to be lacking as he fired one into the crowd of fish. More than an explosion of arcane energy, it was more an implosion where the moment the bolt lost its form, it was just compressed and consumed by the water, not doing anything to the fish.
Thus he switched to going full-on stable arcane bolts, pretty much just creating small crystal spikes and larger crystal spears of pure arcane mana to pierce his foes. He focused on this while also trying to absorb more and more water mana… which led to another wonderful discovery.
In this place, he had near limitless mana. In fact, the fish were expending copious amounts of mana every single moment; they just didn’t give a shit because they regenerated even more. Not that it helped these to have near-limitless mana, for they were utterly doomed now that Jake had a way of fighting back.
With every moment, he grew faster and stronger. His magic sped up too, and soon all that surrounded him was the blood and bodies of fifteen newly killed fish.
Jake cheered internally as the enemies stopped coming, naturally continuing to absorb the water mana and adapting. He checked his notification which instantly put a damper on it all.
*You have slain [Deepgorge Terror – lvl 119]*
*You have slain [Deepgorge Terror – lvl 128]*
To feel proud about slaying these fish was honestly a bit… sad. Yeah, sad had to be the right word. These fish were weak, as in, among the weakest any D-grade of their level could be. They had no skills or abilities. All they could do was swim into people and try to poison them with their nose swords. No magic or anything was ever displayed by them. They weren’t even durable or overly fast…
They were just fucking fish. Barely magical fish.
Of all the D-grades he had killed, he didn’t doubt these were the weakest on paper. Yet, he had to admit that this had been the most danger he had been in since fighting the Altmar Census Golem, a level 150 foe created by an ancient faction to test talents. And he had gotten significantly stronger since then in every way.
Matchups aren’t a fucking Joke, he told himself, shaking his head.
Jake chose to remain where he was, slowly healing himself and getting used to the water for the time being. The entire acclimation thing was fast in the beginning, but he soon noticed it slow down significantly. Finally, after an hour or so, with him having also consumed another health potion, he noticed nothing more was happening, to his disappointment.
While he could now move far more easily than before, he still felt like a pre-system human in water. But, then again, could he expect anything more? In the end, he wasn’t an aquatic animal but a human. Shaking his head, he closed his eyes and reentered meditation, not reemerging until all of his resource pools were full.
On a side note, Jake was forced to continue the mana circulation from the environment. The moment he stopped, he felt the pressure on him begin to accumulate, making him begin the process again. This meant that there was a constant mental element to keeping himself functional while underwater.
It took him another three hours and two potions before he was back in top condition. He also had to wait out the Limit Break weakness, as he had naturally used that during the fight.
Opening his eyes once more, Jake believed it was ripe time to actually begin exploring the shitty Vault he found himself in. He had moved little more than ten meters from where the teleportation had originally taken him, and he seriously doubted all there was to this Vault were a bunch of fish.
Maybe he could have stayed put to try and think up more methods for fighting in water, but he had to remember he was already on a timer. He would hate to miss out on anything important happening outside just because of his own tardiness.
Jake began swimming upwards first, but after less than a minute, he saw a ceiling. On the subject of his sphere, he had chosen to keep it at thirty meters, as anything more and the headache from information overload would resume. While he now understood the mana and could see through it, he still had to filter it.
The ceiling he encountered appeared to be made of rock, yet he noticed it was just a small layer when Jake got closer. Behind the rock was metal, affirming that he truly was just stuck inside some artificial space. Was this a giant cube of water or a sphere or something? A labyrinth?
Either way, he began following the ceiling until it began sloping downward. He then followed the wall until he reached the bottom of wherever he was. When he reached the bottom, Jake got a brilliant idea. He waved his hand as a much-helpful metal staff appeared.
[Pillar of Encumbrance (Rare)] – A metal rod made of a type of metal with the natural ability to change weight based on the intensity of the mana infused within. Incredibly durable.
He wrapped it in arcane strings and infused some mana into it. At the same time, he infused his feet with mana to anchor himself to the bottom, and voila! Jake suddenly felt like he was standing on solid ground. The seabed - if you could even call it that - was made of stone too, and he doubted this method would work on sand, so he had to do it while he could.
There was something inherently entertaining about walking at the bottom of a pool of water. It became even more entertaining when you didn’t have to breathe. So, finding some amount of fun in this Villy-forsaken Vault, Jake continued his journey exploring the bottom of the Vault – or at least what he assumed was the bottom.
For he soon came to learn it wasn’t. After exploring the edges of the area, finding nothing, he walked to the center and found a circular hole with a peculiar magic barrier covering it. He frowned as he saw it was a path downwards into a new section, and his new theory was that he found himself in some kind of giant metal cylinder.
Jake leaned closer to the barrier and tried touching it. To his surprise, his hand just phased through without any problems. Well, any problems weren’t entirely accurate as his hand began feeling weird as hell on the other side. It almost felt like it wasn’t really his own hand, or that it was wrapped tightly in a glove or something like that.
He quickly noticed why. The other side of the barrier wasn’t the same kind of water as where he was now. There was another density to it, one far lower. Either way, he would have to dive through as he saw no other exit to where he currently was, and clearly, this was the way forward.
Phasing through the barrier, he found himself in a new room. This one actually being a room and not a cavern of any kind. The walls were made of metal, and he saw several instruments and magical devices scattered about. All of them looked broken and corroded, but he had a feeling this place had once been used for research of some kind. He scouted the room out a bit, finding nothing of particular value. Everything was attached to the walls or the floor, and while the devices looked complicated, they were all ruined.
That is until he spotted something. A faint light. He moved closer and removed some debris and saw a still-glowing panel of some sort. Jake looked at it and saw a big red button with huge letters over it: ACTIVATE COMPRESSION.
Jake pressed it. It was big and red, he had to.
Also, it did exactly as he expected it to. A loud noise was heard, and dormant magic circles activated all around the room. The mana density and thus pressure in the room began heightening at a steady pace as Jake began adapting once more. It quickly became clear that this next area would be even more pressurized than the last.
He severely hoped this would be the last part of this water level, but alas, water levels also had one more important trait:
They were often too fucking time-consuming and dragged on far longer than they had any right to.