The Heart is a Void: Ashes to Ashes

by

MOROSE

Chapter 12: The MC gets loot, while the author contemplates the Chicken that is not a Chicken

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For killing Jaxon, Crucis had received some rare and valuable loot. He reflected that this underground area probably contained plenty of rare treasures, for people who knew where to look. If he could plunder Sardaukar's corpse as well, then he would probably get plenty of valuable items, but he had a while to go before that would be an option. As things stood, the most immediately useful item he found from Jaxon's inventory was a pair of gloves that boost Agility:

[Stealth Half-Gloves | Increase Agility by 55, and decrease Dexterity by 50.]

Crucis removed his [Hunter's gloves] and slipped on these fingerless black gloves, made of a light and flexible synthetic leather. The gloves only covered the palm, and had holes where he could pass his fingers outside of the glove. Since the Arch-Knight typically relied on Dexterity to pull off and deal damage with deft sword movements, Crucis wasn't surprised that the level 17 Arch-Knight had left these in his inventory. A decrease of 50 Dexterity would reduce Agility by 5, hence the 55 Agility from the gloves would actually add 50 once the 5 were subtracted.

The 50 Agility early on was still a significant boost for Crucis, more than the 10 Agility that the [Hunter's gloves] gave him, and made him much faster. His Agility was now 125, a very high amount for an Assassin at this stage in the game. This was largely due to his looted [Boots of the Deer], giving 20 Agility, and these new gloves, although there were other important Agility sources such as his 340 Dexterity - giving 34 Agility, since 10% of Dexterity is converted into Agility - and the 15% Agility increase from his [Shinobi Shozoku] clothing. As he squat down to further inspect his inventory, he was almost surprised by how quickly he swooped into a crouching position, in a flowing and almost immediate movement.

Other than these gloves, he also found a [Gold Enchanted Knife], a non-combat crafting item that could turn raw gems into cut gems without needing to visit an NPC. The gilded iron knife was quite a valuable item, but Crucis did not yet have any gems or equipment that he could use gems to strengthen. It would be better suited to a Mage, but a Mage would have a difficult time surviving down here at the moment.

He figured that, if Cael could plunder someone with a [Rare Treasure Map], he might have the luck to enter an area like this and obtain gems or crafting equipment for gems, and for a Mage this would be an excellent proposition if he could figure out how to survive. However, finding people with the maps and being lucky enough to get one as a drop would be difficult, especially as most of these players would keep the maps secure in Storage when they weren't being used. Only highly new players were likely to have not yet realised that they should keep their rare items in Storage.

He also obtained 5,000 gold, and a handful of rare items that could be used for crafting or sold for high prices. He decided not to count his chickens before they hatched, and that he could take a closer look through these items if he managed to get them out of this dungeon safely. Whether this decision was also based on his encounter with the chicken that is not a chicken is difficult to discern. For now, he tried to make sure to equip any items that were immediately useful, so that they would be less likely to drop on death. If items weren't likely to be of use in this labyrinth, then he could save them up and look at them when he reached safety.

On the Mathematics of the Chicken that is not a Chicken

It is often said that you should not count your chickens before they hatch. You should be especially wary of counting your chickens that are not chickens, because what you will find in that case is that the total count of chickens is equal to 0. However, this 0 is not merely the absence of chickens. It is an incarnation of evil. Since the ordinary chickens of the Mud People are not incarnations of evil, it follows that chickens are only driven to evil by becoming not-chickens. Expressed mathematically, it hence follows that evil = 0 chickens. Therefore, by contrast, the presence of chickens is the essence of moral good and righteousness, and this fact is obvious to all who possess moral clarity.

Some might ask: why isn't the incarnation of evil just a lack of chickens, then? However, it has often been observed that good and evil are not completely separable terms, but that a concept such as 'evil' implies a moral framework where something is designated 'good.' If there is good, then it might be defied or neglected. Good hence must involve the refusal to do evil: if you say 'be good' then you are also condemning any alternatives. 'Evil' ultimately expresses the vicious struggle of 'good' against an amoral and indifferent world, since good sees this world as akin to a slab of stone that must have the Commandments of morality etched into it lest it be defiant. Good and evil are hence always linked, and are not simply a difference in quantity like the difference between 0, 1, and 2.

We therefore cannot simply express evil as a lack of chickens, but instead as the Hegelian negation of the chicken, as the opposite of the good (ie. chickens) rather than just a different quantity. Hence, we may express it through multiplication as: evil = 0 x chicken. When 3 is multiplied by 2, the resulting 6 can be expressed either as 3 + 3 or as 2 + 2 + 2. Likewise, evil can be expressed as either 0 chickens, or as the chicken that is not a chicken. If you counted the chicken that is not a chicken, you would indeed find 0 chickens; however, if you counted a simple lack of chickens, then you would not find a chicken that is not a chicken. Hence, only the first of those is the true incarnation of evil.

As the great Scholastic, Thomas Achicken, once said, "The most decisive proof for the existence of a chicken that is not a chicken is that good and evil have degrees, such that you could be more or less evil, or more or less good. Now, a degree is just a worthless piece of paper. However, clearly good and evil are not worthless but are rather of great moral importance, and hence there must be an evil thing that cannot be measured in degrees, but rather that is a paragon or ne plus ultra of evil. It follows that this is a chicken, but also not a chicken. QED."

As Hegel or Zeno may have added, the chicken of Minerva flies only when it does not fly.

Crucis backtracked to a rightwards, curving path near the gathering of minotaurs. He had heard the level 32 Sardaukar saying that this path would probably lead to some treasure, if the other pathway they took didn't. As it is, those two didn't get to find out because they died, so Crucis decided to check for himself.

The path opened up into a small, rocky square containing a doorway to a wooden cabin on Crucis' right side. Next to the door, Crucis could see a carved wooden mascaron hung on the wall, a grotesque and distorted carving of a human face which looked quite similar to the face of the minotaurs nearby. This seemed like an obvious trap. While there might be a treasure inside, it was highly likely that he would be ambushed if he entered the doorway. However, it was deathly quiet in the area. While the mascaron resembled a minotaur, it was unlikely that one of those large beasts was here, because their movements would usually be loud enough to hear. Crucis approached the door cautiously. He saw a Latin phrase engraved on it, 'finis vitae sed non amoris.' He pushed lightly on the door and peeked around the corner to see if anything was moving inside. Leaning down quickly, he picked up a small rock and tossed it through the door. He saw that there was no response, meaning that there probably wasn't an NPC waiting to attack him if he entered.

Sliding quietly in through the door, Crucis saw a dark, rectangular room lit by a candle. To the right side was a small table, and there was a deep red and grey painting of a rose framed on the right wall. The rose was on a white background, but the slightly faded red paint bled into the grey shades of the shadows on the rose's underside until the rose seemed to be greyscale itself. This was especially pronounced due to the dim lighting of the room. Squinting at the painting, he could make out the artist's scribbled signature in the bottom-right corner, 'Deon Martin.' Looking at the table to his right, he saw a black journal. Opening this, he saw that the owner was named 'Yorick.' However, the pages were empty.

Disgruntled, Crucis picked up the other book that he could find on the table, titled 'The Aquatic Monster.' It seemed to be a long book about eels, and he surmised that the eel must be an enemy that can be fought in the seas and oceans. He had heard that the game had a feature that allowed people to ride on ships across the oceans, but that feature was still not fully developed and a forum post described it as "sort of a demo version of sailing, not really much there yet." Seemingly, the idea of the feature was that you could go out to the oceans and fight powerful, high-HP sea monsters with your crew for rare rewards, as well as possibly visiting some islands or travelling more quickly across the map. However, at present the ships available were mostly restricted to travel near the coast, and the ocean was quite sparse save for some demo versions of sea monsters that had slightly lopsided stats because they had mostly been used for testing purposes and weren't fully fleshed-out. Crucis noticed that about half of the book was about the moray eel, meaning that this was probably a powerful sea monster in this game.

Since it was difficult to read the book in the dim light, and Crucis was still wary of an ambush, Crucis decided that he could look up the book in the library nearby at Sanra if he went there soon. There were typically multiple copies of books in this game, especially resource books like this one about aquatic creatures. Moving away from the table, Crucis saw that there was a small alcove in the wall opposite the door, and walked forwards until he reached it. He saw that it contained a small, black table, and this held a leathery green box. It must be the treasure that Sardaukar had mentioned. He reached out to take it, glancing around to make sure that he wasn't being ambushed, and as he rustled it open he found a [Lore Page] named [Trials of Narcissus], a rare artifact named [Vulcan's Hammer], and 20,000 gold.

He flinched when he felt a heavy hand lying on his left shoulder, and as he looked backwards he heard the door behind him slam shut. Glaring at him from behind, he saw a rotting, corpse-like human form whose eye sockets were torn into long diagonal gashes across their face and whose withering skin was sickly and pale. The creature's thick, splintered nails were tearing into his shoulder, and he rolled away to the left of the room to escape. It was difficult to catch his bearings. As he turned to face the enemy, he felt the creature roughly grab him near the neck and thrust him effortlessly to the floor. He landed with a thud, and noticed that he only had 70% of his HP remaining.

Using his high Agility, he tried to make some distance between himself and this enemy. Running near the entrance to the room, he saw that the enemy was named [Soulless Weeper (Zombie)], and was level 19. It seemed to walk slowly across the room, but if it got near him it seemed to lunge very quickly in a lurching motion.

He could make out deep scars across the zombie's body, which was clothed in a tattered grey dress with a small, pink floral pattern on the chest. It looked like a corpse that had been tortured before death. While it was difficult to tell at first from the zombie's torn visage and body, it was now apparent that it was a female zombie. Crucis checked on the door as he passed it, but as he had guessed it was locked.

He used [Stealth] as the zombie approached, and dashed behind the zombie to use [Stunning Dagger] on its shoulder. He tried to use [Agile Step] to enter the wall and try to escape, but was still slightly shaky due to the sudden, unexpected fight and misjudged the step, missing the wall entirely. Deciding that he would have to fight his way out, he skipped quickly towards the right side of the room as the zombie resumed its pursuit of him, and he stood with the table between himself and the zombie.

Since the zombie's movement patterns were quite straightforwards from what he had seen, he assumed that it would walk in a straight line towards him and then lunge fiercely across the table. This is what occurred, but Crucis was prepared and sidestepped quickly to the left as the zombie begun its fast, heavy lunge, telegraphed by raising its arms and twisting its shoulders upwards. It launched across the table with a wild cry. He figured that this enemy's attacks shouldn't be difficult to avoid, since it telegraphed its moves heavily. As one might expect a stiff, unthinking corpse to do.

As the zombie lunged out and grabbed the air, Crucis grabbed its head and slammed it into the table, then used [Ripper] to slash a further gash in the back of the zombie's head. The zombie cried out, with a sound somewhere between crying and choking. Crucis kneed it harshly back into the table as it tried to get up.

Equipping his [Trap Talisman], he waited for the zombie to slowly raise itself from the table, then kicked it sharply across its feet until it tripped towards a wall. Using [Chokehold], Crucis shoved it sharply against the wall and pinned it there. His legs felt much lighter, as the Talisman doubled his Agility. Though the strong zombie shoved him harshly backwards, due to his increased Agility he was able to interrupt his backwards fall mid-way through by softly leaping his feet onto the table beside him and perching there. He kept the zombie pinned to the wall.

Raising his dagger in his right hand, wrapped over the zombie's throat, he knew that he had to act quickly before the zombie's high Strength dislodged him. The zombie still had 60% HP, and if Crucis didn't take the initiative then this battle could become close. He used [Black Spot] to slit the zombie's throat, removing 10% of its HP, and immediately used his arm and dagger to jerk the zombie's neck sharply upwards. Due to his increased Agility, this fast motion pulled harshly on the zombie's neck as if it was being hanged. With its throat slit, the zombie was in an even worse predicament, and it hence took a hefty 30% of its HP in damage, reducing it to 20% HP. Due to the upwards tug, the zombie's body raised sharply across the wall, but Crucis made sure that it was still pinned to the wall and in his grip.

He placed one foot against the wall, so that he could push off it. Using his high Agility from the Talisman, Crucis leapt at a blinding pace from the table, leaping away from the wall and slamming the zombie's head and neck harshly to the ground as he landed. The zombie had been dragged from the wall to the floor at a high pace, and the loud impact caused its head to fall off as it died. Crucis noticed that this 'weeper' zombie seemed to let out a loud, wailing moan for a few seconds after it died.

Looking back at his inventory, he read the [Lore Page], titled [Trials of Narcissus]. It was a piece of paper with this poem on it:

Like Narcissus in the garbs of Prometheus, bound Loki
stared at the snake's venom dropping from above,
as if it was kindred to his own soul's venom, the snake's
cunning reflected in his. This serpent was the cunning beast
who is said to have despoiled Eve in her garden, and brought
death to Adam, just as Loki had to Baldur, in God's palace of Eden.
As he squinted to see his reflection, he saw a serpent instead
as if he was himself the old serpent dripping venom,
yet as he looked again, the serpent's face had changed
into a face like his, but feminine. The reflected snake
had transformed into a woman. This woman, who was Loki's reflection,
seemed to excitedly whisper myths about Ragnarok. He trembled at
the destructive thoughts she incited.

Just as Eve's voice echoed the serpent's, as she called
Adam to consume of the tree of knowledge, so Loki now
heard this woman - his reflection - calling to him, and called
her Sigyn. Her body was like a snake's, and slippery
as the shapeshifting Loki when he had routinely taken
the form of a salmon to hide from the gods.
The venom fell, and caused him pain, yet still
he heard the woman whisper of Ragnarok, as she was
imprisoned tadpole-like in a droplet of venom.

Like Narcissus, who stared upon his reflection
in the water, and became indifferent to the world,
imagining that it was another person,
so Loki viewed this reflection of himself in the venom
and as he looked at her, he no longer felt the pain
of the venom, and was indifferent, as if her whispers were shielding him.
Someday, Ragnarok shall be the narcissus flower
that Loki leaves in his wake, and in the grandeur
that only apocalypse can have, it shall shine bright gold
like the harsh sun rising over the desert.

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MOROSE

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