Chapter 1 (cont.)
The ratio between words in the book I’m reading to words in the commentary I’m writing should favor the former as much as possible. If I’m writing lots of commentary, it’s usually because something has gone wrong and I’ve noticed. When things go right, I sink into the story and it can be several pages before I notice that my readers need an update on what’s going on or my readthrough will get hopelessly confused. So it’s a bad sign that I had to go for a mid-chapter break like this because I hit my wordcount in the middle of chapter 1, far from a chapter break.
As my puddle finally overflowed, more rocks appeared to me, but the water also sloshed over moss.
Long story short, moss is worth way more magic food points than any kind of rock that Jimmy Protagonist has encountered so far. Also, it’s green, and the addition of this color to Jimmy’s monochrome world blows his mind.
It’s not without side effects, though:
I looked back at the moss and was horrifically shocked at what I saw. It was no longer vibrant and living. It was crumbling before my eyes, turning to dust.
After that, we finally get what the goddamn story should’ve led with:
<Hello, little dungeon.> A measured, powerful voice reverberated in my mind.
<What?! Who. . . how?> I looked at everything I could see, but there was nothing around me.
<I am Kantor.> the voice continued.
<What is a Kantor?> I panicked a bit, a potential threat could find me, but I could not see it.
<Ha. So much to learn, and we have but moments. I wish I could explain all to you, but already the wind moves me along. I must go as the wind takes me, and the air is turbulent in recent times. I digress. Youngling, do you know what you are?> The words Kantor gave me reverberated in my mind like a clarion call, so full of power I was afraid I would be killed by his speech, let alone whatever he could bring to bear against me.
<I… I’m a gem. I’m shiny.> I was unsure of how to answer, Kantor’s words were confusing, intricate, and hard to understand.
<While. . . technically true, you are much more. You are a dungeon Core,
I could respect trying to write a story about a dungeon core just figuring everything out for themselves. I could also respect cutting to the chase by having a tutorial NPC drop a page or two of exposition on them to get things rolling. This is the worst of both worlds. There were a dozen pages of figuring out what rocks are and then a tutorial NPC shows up to drop exposition anyway.
<Sentience?> I questioned, trying out the word.
<It means you are aware, young one. It means that you understand that things beyond yourself are alive. Also, it means that you want. Food, knowledge, power. To stay alive. You can now think of the future, and make small plans, retaining memories of your own.>
Because why limit yourself to fucking up just science when you could also fuck up other fields of academia? “Sentience” means being aware of one’s environment and surroundings. It’s also sometimes used to mean “sapience,” which is being aware that you are aware, and thus that your awareness might be flawed. Sentience is being able to perceive the world, sapience is being able to wonder if the world really is the way you perceive it. Dogs are sentient, but not sapient. This distinction isn’t well known and I’m usually pretty forgiving of people who use “sentience” to mean “sapience,” but Dungeon Born isn’t even getting that far. It’s grasped that sentience means some kind of awareness, but apparently it’s using it to mean awareness of life and death? Which is completely unrelated to either concept. Or maybe something to do with long term planning abilities or memories?
<I am going to help you, tiny one. I am moving along, and it will be a long time before you hear from another one of your own kind. I wish I could do more, but it would do more damage than good. If fates are kind, I will speak to you again someday.> He paused, thinking. I feared he had disappeared, when his voice sounded again. <To survive, you will need assistance. I am going to send you a helper, this is the absolute limit of what I can do for you currently, I… I wish it weren’t so. Please don’t absorb her, her mother would be furious with me.> He… joked? I think? Kantor’s voice was fading, becoming more strained as he worked to speak with me.
This here is basically the reason why we actually care about Kantor. He’s going to give our dungeon core some starting personnel to get this ball rolling already. He also refers to Jimmy Protagonist as a “Beast” core, and apparently it’s important somehow that he is blue colored, and fair enough that this might be important later on, but we’re just now catching up to where we should’ve been by, like, page two: A second character is showing up, giving Jimmy someone to interact with, he’s got a goal, and he’s getting enough power over his surroundings to actual interact with them. It took us way too long to get here, but in fairness the beginning of a book is one of the hardest parts to write. Maybe this one will manage to right itself once it’s got some momentum going. Sure, this lack of competence early on suggests there will probably be some problems later on, but if it also has some strengths, it should all work out north of mediocre. If.
In this chapter, a second voice appears, which we know is physically proximate on account of the quotation marks around the text, rather than the ripped-straight-from-Animorphs triangle-y telepathy brackets, which Wikipedia informs me are called guillemets.
“No! Nope, not even slightly tasty. I’m a wisp. As in ‘will-o’f-the’.” The echoing voice assured me.
That’s not a copy/paste error up there, this book just apparently couldn’t decide between will-of-the-wisp or will-o’-wisp.
The wisp’s name is Dani, and since Kantor ditched her, she needs to attach herself to a new dungeon before she starves to death from insufficient blue juice. Unfortunately, Jimmy Protagonist is dumb as a box of rocks – dumber, really, since he’s just the one rock – and requires some persuasion in order to accept his first minion.
<Well, when you put it like that… and Kantor sent you…> I trailed off. I really did not want to let down Kantor. <Sounds good! Teach me those big words and it’s a deal. Um, I don’t know how to do all the things you want, but if you teach me I am. . . amenable.> I could already feel my intellect growing, just being in her presence. I was proud of that new word.
It’s like someone decided Wheatley from Portal 2 should be the protagonist of an entire book.
“Yes, you are a blue Core, so you cultivate Essence from water.” She explained almost condescendingly.
<I can do that? I’ve never pulled from water before.> I was inspecting the water for food, but only saw my light.
“. . .” She appeared to be trying to speak.
<What?> Was she in pain? Did I do something to her?
“Then where did you pull Essence from?” She was really demanding. Was this bond really worth this scrutiny?
<Everything I’ve been able to touch so far, except you, since you told me you weren’t tasty.> I reassured her. She seemed to be getting worked up.
“That shouldn’t be possible… At this level, you can only cultivate from the element you are attuned to. Show me?” She forced herself to ask politely.
This whole “protagonist gifted with better powers than everyone else through no doing of their own” is an incredibly consistent flaw of the whole genre. Now, Dungeon Heart in particular can still back out of it, because it’s not like this “draw essence from multiple sources” schtick has been the foundation of all of Cal’s success but I don’t have high hopes for that. Oh, also, there was a bit where Dani names the protagonist Cal that I skipped over because it didn’t fit the flow of the commentary.
Dani’s explaining how to dungeon to Cal, and mentions that he’ll be able to copy/paste anything that dies within his area of influence, which is a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why dungeons stock themselves with treasure to attract adventurers but also with deadly monsters to kill them.
“Even when people die, you can absorb them, make copies, and re-animate their bodies as zombies, like a Necromancer does!”
<What?!> My sudden shout nearly knocked her out of the air. <I. HATE. NECROMANCERS!!> I was furious that she would compare me to those animals. I trembled in rage, losing control of the Essence in me as I did so. The stalagmite received the brunt of this released Essence, growing sharp quartz spikes, which quivered in time with the fury ignited in my Core.
“Cal! Cal! It is ok! I’m sorry, I didn’t know!” Her voice calmed me down, the fear in her voice snapping me out of my fury in an indescribable manner. “How do you even know what a Necromancer is?”
I can’t find any way to picture this scene that doesn’t come across like a self-parody. The very thought of being compared to a necromancer instantly sends Cal into a rage, which causes him to scream his character traits into the world. It reminds me of the end of Whitest Kids U Know’s Little Hitler sketch, where Adolf Hitler is the golden-hearted protagonist of a 50s sitcom until he takes one puff of marijuana, at which point he immediately falls to darkness and shouts out “I HATE JEEEEEEWWWWWS!” Plus, Dani bounces back and forth between not using and then using contractions in a way that’s really distracting.
“That actually may be for the best, there is a church that is quite powerful right now that tries very hard to destroy dungeons that have undead or demonic creatures in them. I was just trying to give you a comprehensive idea of what you could do.”
<What? People try to kill dungeons? Are people going to try to kill me?> I was rather stuck on this point, it seemed somewhat important.
“Yes, but don’t worry too much, usually they prefer to have dungeons stay alive as they are very beneficial to the world.” She soothingly tried to appease me by telling stories of the world, “Flora and fauna alike prosper in areas with high Essence concentration. Plants can use it instead of good soil and sunlight, and animals become much stronger in the presence of Essence.”
Cal’s childishness is only getting more grating now that he’s got another character to talk to, one rapidly drafted into the role of being his mother. On the bright side, this is a not-completely-unreasonable explanation of why a dungeon would reasonably be beneficial to the nearby area, although it misses the much more obvious “because fortresses are helpful” explanation. Like, local governments could just make agreements with dungeons to use them as a well-defended seat of government, a vault, or a place to seek refuge in times of trouble, just like castles. This arcanobabble explanation works, too, but I kind of get the feeling that it’s mainly just there to make Cal the good guy and the specifics of its mechanics won’t ever be relevant again.
Maybe I’m wrong, though, and the series will at some point explore the implications of these beneficial effects to having a dungeon around, rather than just occasionally referencing them to remind the reader that Cal is the good guys.
“Magical beasts have Beast Cores similar to your gem that grow inside them from birth.
Funny, I thought earlier Kantor said Cal was a beast core? I assumed it was some kind of dungeon core sub-type. Maybe I misread the implications of that passage?
Dani launched into another lecture, “Well, we start with an upgrade! Here are a few basics first though. There are many different levels of Essence cultivation. Starting with the lowest, we have G, F, E, D, C, B, A, S, SS, SSS, Heavenly, and Godly. Each rank has ten levels within it, the lowest being zero and the highest at nine. When I got here, you were at G-zero, which is basic life with only the instinct to eat.” She chuckled at that, I had progressed far in intelligence since then. “After making the deal with me you moved to G-rank one, which opens the way for more complex actions and thought. You have enough power already to move to G-rank two, which lets you begin to grow your power and use your own influence intentionally.”
This info-dump is pretty artless, and beyond that, I can’t even see how it’s necessary to have a ranking system this granular. Is there any reason why dungeons of G-0 rank even need to exist, or why G-1 and G-2 need to be distinct from one another? I seriously doubt that there are actually 120 meaningfully distinct levels of capability planned out here, and instead we’re going to do the thing where the protagonist regularly leaps through a half-dozen levels at once.