As light slowly began to fill the dungeon, Lily became increasingly aware of a slight, soft warmth beneath her head. Reluctant to open her eyes, she wondered at what it could be. The floor of the dungeon certainly did not feel like this. As she slowly rose out of her slumber, increasing in wakefulness, she blinked open her lids, seeing Hina’s face looking back down at her, long black hair tickling away at her cheeks.
With a yawn, Lily brought herself to a seating position. Looking around, the other members of <<Battleforged>> had all already awoken and were sitting around, eating a dinner from the rations they had brought along.
As she stretched, Hina took a stick of jerky from the rations and presented it to Lily. Without a word, Lily leaned over her head and took a bite, nibbling along its length until finally licking Hina’s fingers, which caused the other girl to blush. Hina swiftly placed her slender fingers against Lily’s cheek, gazing into her eyes.
The strange atmosphere surrounding the pair of the girls was broken as Gorin cleared his throat. Next to him, Enya was blushing and had her hands clasped together, her eyes sparkling. In contrast, Anya was simply standing and staring, face expressionless. Behind them, Christopher was drumming his fingers on his quiver, tail waving around casually, mouth turned upwards in a small smile.
“As much as I find this entire atmosphere very sweet and not entirely unwelcome, I’d rather we observe it after we complete our goal and reach safety, hmm?”
Lily blushed and bowed in apology.
“Of course, I’m sorry.”
Lily and Hina both got up and brushed the dirt off their clothes.
“So, Lily, you got a plan for finding new minerals? Or are we just going to keep walking until we find sparkly rocks in the wall?”
Christopher asked about their course of action while leaning against the wall of the dungeon, with his arms crossed. On the surface, his words seemed sarcastic and confrontational, but Lily was aware of his intentions to break the atmosphere and get the group back on track.
“Well, I do have a plan, but… it might take a while, and it will leave me vulnerable, so I’m going to need you to protect me while I search.”
“Well, that’s fine by me, but… curiosity compels me to ask how you intend to search.”
“Ah, well, that…”
Lily took in a deep breath. Her intended method was something completely new and untested. It should work in theory, but it also seemed a rather ridiculous plan. There was no way to check for other similar methods’ percentages of success because there were no records of similar methods; this method was something which would be undoubtedly impossible for anybody other than Lily.
“I’m going to use <<Extension>> to spread my awareness throughout the walls of the dungeon, creating a secondary nervous system within its structure. This should allow me to search and analyse the material composition of the dungeon walls quickly and easily. With that, I should be able to identify and locate any unknown components within the walls. After the network is set up, if there are any potential discoveries of mining veins within this floor, I’ll definitely know.”
Her proposal was met with a number of understandable agape mouths and raised eyebrows. This was a feat which defied common sense. It was generally impossible for anyone to reach beyond a range of ten meters using <<Extension>>, even if they had an affinity for the magic. However, Lily was a <<Paragon>>. The extent of her ability with <<Extension>> was not bound by common sense. She may be a <<Paragon>> for a useless type of magic, but she was a <<Paragon>> nonetheless. She had tested; the maximum range of her <<Extension>> was, to her knowledge, unlimited. Her ability to manipulate Extended objects dropped exponentially after about thirty meters, but the sensory potential of her Extended nervous system remained constant, at least up to two kilometres. Beyond that, she could feel the presence of her extensions, but could not recieve sensory data from them.
It was an unorthodox application of the magic classified as “useless”, an idea born of the countless afternoons Lily had spent pondering how she could best put her “useless” talent to use. She had tested it within the confines of her home with some success: she had been able to identify the material composition of her walls and furniture, as well as identify – to her dismay – that there were exactly 874 ants living within their home, in various nooks and crannies. Over time, she was able to increase her feedback speed, as well as block out specific distractions such as organic creatures. However, she had yet to test this ability in an area of this scale, and thus there was no guarantee it would work.
Gorin finally collected himself and spoke up.
“That’s… quite the bold proposal. I suppose we shouldn’t expect any less from a <<Paragon>>. That said… how would this plan leave you vulnerable?”
“Ah, well, since this area is new, unmapped and unfamiliar, it would take me some time to Extend and create a network, and I have to maintain contact with the wall at all times to sustain the network; if I break contact, I would have to start from scratch. Thus, I’m largely immobilised while searching, and will be vulnerable to any form of attack.”
Lily scratched her head as she outlined the weakness of her method. She did feel slightly bad for imposing the task of protecting her on this group of people, but she was, after all, paying them to do it – and no small sum of money, at that.
“Well, that’s a pretty huge drawback. But if your idea works as you say, it’s easily worth the effort. If possible, while you do your searching, could you also draw a map of the dungeon or something? We could sell it for more cash in the town. Of course, we’ll split the profits.”
Information is power, and in a place like the dungeon, where ignorance claimed lives often, information was particularly sought-after. Maps of dungeon floors fetched a high price, partly due to the danger involved in mapping out the dungeon, and partly due to the incessant demand. Lily’s method, in addition to her intended purpose of searching for mineral deposits, was perfectly positioned for mapping out a dungeon with minimal risk and effort, a fact which <<Battleforged>> had evidently picked up on.
“Certainly. I was intending to do it, anyway, for easier navigation to the minerals.”
The group walked forward, eliminating monsters along the path. Lily hoped to go deeper in before starting the probe; It would take less time to complete the network if she were in a more central position when initialising the network. Finally, after several hours, the party reached a large, circular stone room with two exits.
“This looks like a good place.”
Lily stepped up to the wall and placed her left hand on it, taking a deep breath.
“Well, I’ll be starting now, so I’m counting on you to protect me, okay?”
With a slight grin, Gorin took up position behind her, facing outwards. Anya, Enya and Chris likewise formed a circle around her. Hina stepped in the middle of the circle and faced outwards, senses on full alert.
Slightly reassured by the protective circle, Lily closed her eyes and concentrated, whispering silently to herself, activating the <<Skill>> she had created.
“With these vines of mine, spread throughout the land. See all, feel all, understand all. Remember all. Seek what I seek. Find what I wish. Let me see. Open my eyes. Teach me of the beauty of this world. <<Extension: Probe>>.”
Smoothly, naturally, power began to flow from Lily’s fingertips into the wall. Lily felt the edges of her consciousness expanding, reaching, growing, stretching. She felt the stone of the walls in her being. Slowly, spreading her web, Lily made more of the dungeon into a part of herself. She heard the sounds of monsters in the dungeon, she felt the wiggling of insects and other unidentified lifeforms in the crevices. She briefly noted the strange absence of any other adventurers. She kept stretching, stretching, until she could stretch no more, until she had reached the edges of the area. Engraving a map of the layout on her memory, she concentrated.
First the insects. Then the monsters. Then the sounds. She gradually shut out all other information other than what she was searching for. She progressively narrowed her scope, focusing on the walls themselves and their material composition.
Finally, she could see the entirety of the labyrinth’s floor layout as blocks of material compositions in her mind. Slowly, she began examining each block.
…98% stone, 2% common impurities. Worthless.
…63% stone, 17% common impurities, 20% <<Amplification Ore>>. Slightly less worthless.
…77% stone, 18% common impurities, 15% <<Resound Jewel>>. Well, this was unexpected. Still not what she was searching for, but this discovery would be worth a small fortune. She made a mental note and moved on.
Thusly she continued, examining every section of the wall, being hopeful, then disappointed every time. She was about halfway through the entire dungeon with nothing to show for her efforts, when…
…88% stone, 7% common impurities, 5% <<Unknown>>
Lily’s heart skipped a beat. <<Unknown>> meant it was a material that her <<self>> did not recognise – that is, she had never come into contact with it. As she made it a point to actively seek out and learn about all common materials – and, through her parents’ connections, most of the rarer materials – a material which had no recognisable attributes to her was either an undiscovered material, or an extremely rare one.
The pace of Lily’s breathing increased. If this section of wall had an <<Unknown>> material, the next one likely did as well. She moved on the next section, only to be greeted by a strange analysis.
…???, ???, ???, ??!?!?, !!!!!!!
A piercing headache assaulted her, almost causing her to break contact with the wall. This was new. Lily reasoned that, perhaps it was a corrupted linkage, and could be fixed by re-establishing the <<nerve>> in that section of the wall. Gritting her head through the pain of the migraine, Lily concentrated and sent her consciousness deeper into the strange section of wall.
The moment she reached past its surface, she heard a “click” sound in her mind. The next instant, a hot, searing sensation scorched through her, filling her mind with flames, with an unstoppable burning. She screamed and staggered back, breaking contact from the wall. At the second her fingers left the wall, the pain stopped abruptly, leaving her standing in the middle of the circle of confused adventurers, hands clutched tightly around her head. A small arm was placed around her shoulders, and Hina looked into the eyes of her shaken friend with concern.
Still trembling, Lily whispered quietly, whispering the overwhelming feeling she had felt when she started to burn.
“We have to go. Now.”
“…Huh? What do you mean? Was it a failure? Is something the matter? What hap-”
Hina’s string of questions was cut off by a loud rumbling that resounded throughout the dungeon, originating very close by.
The entire group turned to the wall where the rumbling seemed to come from. As they watched, cracks began to form in that section of wall. The cracks spread, and spread, increasing in size and number, until finally the wall crumbled, leaving a thick cloud of dust.
All the members of <<Battleforged>> tensed up, taking up a stance. And then.
A roar resounded throughout the dungeon. From within the smoke, the faint outlines of a pair of reptilian, green eyes could be seen.
Step by reverberating step, the creature stepped out of the smoke and towards the party. Eventually, the dust cloud cleared, revealing a large, white reptilian creature, advancing leisurely on all fours. It was covered in shining white scales, glinting in the strange magical light that illuminated the dungeon. Its lips parted as it snorted, revealing rows of sharp, serrated teeth that could cut through anything.
It towered above the party at five metres in height while on all fours, just slightly below the ceiling of the room in which they were gathered. On its head was a single, white horn that was every bit as sharp as its teeth. On its back were two large, white, membranous wings, spanning eight metres. The bones lining the wings were every bit as sharp on the outside as the teeth and horns, and getting hit with the wing frame would undoubtedly result in a fatal wound.
These distinctive features. Lily had read a lot of books, but anyone at all would be able to identify this legendary beast.
“…<<White Plated Dragon>>.”