83.33% The Concubine's Tomb: A Dungeon Core Novel / Chapter 5: Chapter Five

Chapter 5: Chapter Five

Anomus marshalled all his intellect to solve the problem of storing the mana that he had access to during the night.

If it were water that he wished to capture and store, he would build cisterns and then direct the flow of water toward them, the details of his solution depending on if the flow were from a river or rain, or some other source. Here in the Tomb, the night energy cascaded in from the opening in the Well's ironglass lid, circulated throughout the Tomb, and then seeped out through a myriad of cracks and gaps. He doubted he could dam up the flow to contain it, as he might a physical liquid. He would try it if no other, better option presented itself, but it was not a solution he would pursue unless he could think of nothing else.

He had one other example of a means to collect power – the first he had experienced in his new existence, the ability of the Old God's chamber to transmute the lifeblood of the slain workers into raw power. The use of it had been instinctual for him. In fact, he had been able to draw from that power even when he was not conscious. But he realized that, while he knew what to do with the blood power without thinking, he had not examined the how of it.

He turned his attention back to his birth chamber with renewed interest, and many questions.

The stairs leading down to the chamber were just worn, incredibly ancient stone, with nothing to differentiate them from the natural stone around them other then their worn nature, attributable to unknown ages of worshippers descending to make offerings, and then ascending once more. But the chamber's floor was another matter, as he quickly discovered when he inspected it closely with his new senses.

Unnoticed in his initial awakening, the floor was laced through with a vast network of what resembled nothing so much as roots – or veins and capillaries. They were not material in nature, and would be completely invisible and untouchable to the mortal eye or hand. But to Anomus's new means of perception, they were there for the noticing.

At first it was difficult to perceive any rational system to the network. Like a long-established potted plant, these root-like structures had crossed and crisscrossed one another in a bewildering profusion. But by following the thicker of the roots, or veins, he discovered that they ultimately had their origin – or termination – in the black stone that his crystal rested upon.

It was more than a pedestal. It was a reservoir for power. It remained to be seen if the reservoir would hold power other than blood. Or if he could find a way to transfer the mana of the upper chambers into it. He had none to experiment with. Mana flowed down into the undertomb and the sanctuary, now that the emperor's barrier had been demolished, but it was the bright mana of the day, and he could no more grasp it than he could grasp air.

Anomus resigned himself to having to wait until night came once more. It irritated him. He was aware that his every thought and action carried with it a certain measure of urgency, one that could almost be said to verge on panic. He had so much to learn, so much to figure out and less than three months to do it. The prospect of having that time halved by enforced idleness during daylight hours was intolerable.

With very little strength left to him, Anomus waited out the day, gnashing metaphorical teeth.

~ ~ ~

Night did eventually return, and with it the mana that he could access. H had discovered that, while he could not sleep as a mortal man did, he was able to subside into a less sharply conscious state. In fact, 'able' was not quite the correct word. It was a sort of drowsiness that stole over him of its own accord, one that he could deny, but only through conscious will. In it, he was dimly aware of everything that happened in the portions of the Tomb that he had claimed.

For a few hours he had become a sort of waking dream, composed of the motions of flies and the tiny, involuntary movements of thousands of decomposing corpses. It was not a pleasant dream, in any sense, but it did not hold the same terror for him that it certainly would have were he still alive. This, too, he ascribed to the Faceless One's influence in remaking him, though he had no proof, only conjecture.

As the sun set above and night began to assert its dominance on sky and sand, the mana flow began its transformation from bright, tantalizing and unattainable to shadowed and soothing, deep and quiet, and invigorating. For a little time Anomus simply let it wash over his being as a mortal man might stand in a gentle spring rain after the long winter drought. But soon enough he roused himself, cleared his thoughts of flies and corpses, and set to work trying to capture the mana.

Anomus had previously discovered the ability to reshape a small portion of the stone wall of the undertomb. Now he experimented with the black stone that was his resting place and, it seemed, his means of storing power. As with any project he had undertaken while living, he sought to understand the nature of the materials he had to work with, so that he could best put them to use. He studied the black stone, and discovered that stone was only a portion of what it was comprised of. Infused throughout the squared-off pedestal was what he could only call magic. More, he could not say. The secrets of the fly's biology, with patience and attention, had yielded themselves up to him without struggle, but whatever made this stone different defied his understanding. After a time, he came to the conclusion that whatever the stone had been fused with was put there by the Faceless One, and being the working of a god, it defied his understanding.

It disappointed him, but did not discourage him. He had not known how each muscle and sinew had interacted in his own body while he lived, and yet he had still managed to move. But if he could at some point in the future tease out the black stone's secrets, then perhaps – just perhaps – he might find some way to reproduce it. And if he could do that….

If he could do that, then the whole world opened itself up to him, potentially. Power was a lever; none knew it better than he. With enough power, he might lever even the greatest weight. Anomus shivered, metaphorically, at the thought. But such dreams did not advance his current cause.

He turned his thoughts back to the matter at hand. He had a means of storing energy, but it was only storing the energy generated by blood, of which there was no more. The mana, the life energy of the night was something he could use directly, but not store.

The stone was a mystery, a locked box that lacked a key. So Anomus turned his attention to the ghostly filaments that received the blood and transported its energy to the stone. He studied them more carefully than he had when he had discovered them. They were not material things. Just what they were made of, he did not have the words to describe. But he sensed in them something similar to himself, in some small degree. They were made up of, for lack of a better word, spirit. Anomus himself was essentially a spirit trapped in crystal.

He tried at first to simply force the mana into a randomly chosen filament, but the mana simply flowed through, rather than into it. The failure made him realize that he needed to change either the nature of the mana, or the filaments.

Altering the filaments seemed the more likely course. If they could 'recognize' blood, then it was at least theoretically possible to change them to recognize mana. Anomus focused all his intellect on the ephemeral things, diving down into them as he had plumbed the depths of the fly.

The filaments of spirit were both much simpler and infinitely more complex than an insect's body. There was no separation of functions, as in a living body. He was no longer dealing with the physical, however complex. He was trying to fathom a metaphysical thing, and all the experiences of his lifetime had not prepared him to do so.

He attempted to force his will upon the spirit-things in order to claim them as he had physical spaces and the flies. While he sensed them reacting to his attempt, he was also met with a passive resistance to his effort. The more he pushed, the greater the resistance became. His frustration grew along with it.

Finally, he withdrew to reconsider. The roots, or veins, could not be forced to change their nature by his will alone. They were something different from stone or insect, and operated under a different paradigm. He would have to change his thinking to accommodate that paradigm, if he wished to succeed. It was no simple task.

Every physical space and thing he had claimed was now an extension of him, of his awareness and will. Like parts of a body, they were both of him, and yet separate from him, his intellect and his soul.

These filaments of spirit, sensitive to energy, connected to the black stone of the Faceless One and made to transport energy to it, had to be approached in a different fashion. Rather than claiming them, perhaps he had to… merge with them. Accept them as part of himself, rather than enforce his will upon them. Somehow.

He turned his attention once more to the filaments, only this time, instead of coldly analyzing them or trying to command them, he simply let his consciousness sink into the vast, complicated network, holding his intellect, his very self, open and accepting, passively experiencing, commanding nothing.

Slowly, root by root, branching by branching, capillary by capillary, Anomus merged with the system. Over the course of hours, he and the filaments attuned themselves to each other. And when it was complete, he no longer coldly saw and understood the Old God's chamber, he intuited it in a way that he could not exactly describe to himself. It was as if some never before suspected sense had been granted to him, beyond sight or hearing, or any of the mundane senses.

And now, instinctively, he reached for the mana that flowed down to the chamber - and the filaments drank it in and passed it, slowly but unceasingly, to the black stone for safekeeping.

To conquer, he mused, sometimes it is necessary to yield.

~ ~ ~

Anomus coaxed the filaments towards growth; he never again wanted to be cut off from his source of strength. If the Old God's chamber were somehow blocked from the mana flow once again, he would have only what the black stone contained. So he coaxed the mana-drinking roots to extend themselves upward, to extend themselves first into the undertomb, and then beyond. Progress was slow, creeping, but it at least it did not require his constant attention.

Once he had set that growth in motion, he turned his efforts toward penetrating and claiming the upper levels of the Tomb.

He realized during the process that this need, this desire to acquire more physical territory was practically instinctual. He was driven to do so, just as the beasts in the field were driven to eat, to mate. It was in his new nature to acquire more territory, just as a mortal man might make it his aim in life to gather more and more wealth beyond his basic needs.

Rationally, he saw no need to claim the upper levels of the Tomb. If he was able to affect his revenge on Irobus, it would likely be in the levels below. If Irobus lived long enough to pass away and take up his spiritual residence in the lover's palace that Anomus had designed for him, then Anomus would already have failed in his revenge. Oh, he supposed there was some possible scenario where Irobus, still living, could find himself in the bed chamber, the clockwork aviary, the funereal garden. But it was unlikely. No, Anomus claimed those portions of the Tomb because he wanted to, and because he had built them. They were the fruits of his mind, and the labor of the slaughtered. He claimed them because it was in his nature to do so, and because he would take from Irobus anything that lay in his power to do so.

But mostly he took the upper levels because instinct told him to do so.

He completed the annexation of the Tomb just before dawn. Every interior space was his; was him. It afforded him a sense of completeness – but not fulfilment.

He retreated from the dazzling day energy that began to enter the Tomb. It did him no harm, but he found it uncomfortable. He preferred the darkness of the Old God's chamber. The spirit filaments continued their slow, creeping growth undisturbed, drawing what little energy they required to do so from the mana-absorbing stone.

Again, he chafed at having to pause his activities, despite the critical advances he had now made. But recognizing such agonizing as pointless, Anomus forced himself to look forward, to plan.

Now that he had secured a steady if somewhat small source of energy, it was time to turn his attention to what he needed to accomplish before Irobus returned with his dead love.

Of course, he had no specifics regarding just what would be entailed in the concubine's interment, but Anomus felt that such details would likely be unimportant. Once the emperor set foot within the Tomb, Anomus could end him in a multitude of ways – falling stone or pit trap being two that immediately sprang to mind. He had barely experimented with altering his physical environs, but he felt confident that laying such traps, and then springing them on his hated enemy, would be child's play. But even as he had the thought, he cautioned himself against overconfidence. Who knew what safeguards the Emperor of Subori could avail himself of? He had his Eternal Guard, and the high priests of every Suboran god, and imperial sorcerers, dangerous and fey. There was no mortal man better protected from any conceivable threat than Irobus.

Anomus determined that his own greatest weapon was the element of surprise. Who would suspect that he had survived, in strange fashion, the emperor's betrayal? Who would think that the very Tomb that had been constructed to honor the emperor's love and loss thirsted for his death with every molecule of its being?

When the time came, whatever the Emperor's protections, Anomus would end him. Even if he had to bring the entire Tomb down upon him to do it.

Anomus decided that, when night once again brought him mana, that he would delve deeper into his ability to shape stone. He wanted to be able to set traps for the unsuspecting throughout the Tomb. He would leave nothing to chance.

Anomus also knew he had to decide what, if anything, to do with all of the corpses in the undertomb. The coldly rational part of him looked on them simply as a potential resource – but that aspect of himself was in conflict with the still-human portion of his personality, that could only look upon the slaughter above as evidence of a betrayal no different from his own. That portion of him wondered what to do to honor their loss.

Anomus did not reach any conclusions before he sank down into the day-inspired torpor, into his strange, half-dreaming state.

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