Spoiler: Chapter 85: Trials - Aoi "You are now level 1." I wake up and cry. I don't know why I'm sad, but I just feel like crying. I walk out of the water and flop down onto the sandy shore. "Wolfy…?" I ask in my soul space, but he doesn't answer. "Alissa? Hana? Ciel? Lina? Yunia?" Confusion mixes in with my sadness, then comes panic, followed by anger, and it ends with pure exhaustion. As the waves of emotions fade, only sadness remains. It crushes my heart and paralyzes my body. I don't understand what's happening to me, I only know that it hurts. It just hurts too much. I cry until I fall asleep, then I wake up and continue crying until my tears dry up, then I fall asleep again. I dream of the void, of floating in the empty darkness. I don't move, I don't feel, and I don't live. This dream is the only way to make the pain in my heart stop, so I sleep as much as I can. My mouth gets too dry, and then my head starts to hurt, so I drink some water from the river and go back to sleep. My stomach growls, and my body begs for food, so I pull out a magic tool and conjure a bland meal. The pain in my heart only increases, and my mind demands something that I simply don't have, so I decide to end it all. I pull out a dagger from my [Item Box], then I awkwardly try to stab my heart with it. The blade slides away and escapes my claws, then it falls onto the green sand. It didn't even scratch my scales. I stare down at the dagger until my muscles give out, then I flop back down on the sand and go to sleep. I dream of the void again. There's only me, and nothing else. There's only peace, and a short break from the pain. Suddenly, like rainy clouds parting to let the sun peek through, the eye of something appears in the void. Its presence is overwhelming, humbling, and it makes feel like a hatchling again. Its gaze blasts everything with its blinding radiance and scorching heat, then it looks at me. My sadness, anger, confusion, and panic are all reduced to ash, then they're blasted again, now vanishing entirely. For a moment, I feel like I'm back to when Wolfy first used [Bind] on me. I feel happy, energetic, hopeful, and even more ferocious than I am… or was. The eye closes, and the presence is gone, along with all the good feelings it gave me. I'm left alone in the void again, but instead of peace, now I only feel shame. I wake up and stare at the glowing path in the green sand. Guilt fills my mind, and for the first time in a long while, I feel like moving. I try to get up, but my legs tremble and fail. Frustration reignites the fire in my heart, and stubbornness fills my limbs with energy again. I fall, but I get up again and continue pushing onward. Little by little, I make my way forward, slowly regaining control over both my body and my emotions. Shame and frustration make way for bitterness, and my jaw trembles as a flicker of draconic rage shows itself again. I've failed as a dragon by letting my body get into this state. I've failed as a monster by letting my sadness paralyze me. I've failed as a humanoid by letting the pain make me wish for death. I leave the dagger and my armor behind because I just can't carry them with my body in this state. I must leave this place before the void tries to steal me away again. The glowing path leads me to a green corridor, and it makes me happy to finally get away from the sand. As I move along, I realize how itchy I am because of the sand that got under my scales and now rubs against my skin. I hate sand. I conjure a ball of water and rub it all over my body to wash away the sand. Using my magic like this exercises my mana organ, which feels similar to stretching. I play around with my ball of water and snort at my actions. For such a simple and silly thing to make me happy, what's happened to me? Where did my dignity go? I cast [Spirit Light] and enter the corridor. My draconic anger stirs again as I begin to realize just how pathetic I was, and it gives me the drive to face the next obstacle: stairs. For as far as my [Spirit Light] can reach, I see nothing but steps leading me upwards. My weakened body has some trouble going up, but I don't give up, continuing to climb them until my muscles give out. I sleep right there on the steps, then I wake up and continue climbing. My muscles slowly return to their previous strength, then I spread my wings and relearn how to fly. Eventually, the stairs lead into another corridor, then I see a light far ahead and decide to land. I look for my halberd in my [Item Box] and discover that I don't have it anymore. Where did it go…? I don't have any weapons besides my claws, so I cautiously make my way forward. The corridor comes to an end, and I exit into a grassland. The blue sky, the warm, but fake, sun, the gentle breeze, the green grass under my feet. Experiencing these small pleasures makes me cry again, and not because of sadness, but because of happiness. My heart still feels like it's been ripped out of my chest, but at least something else seems to be growing in there. I spread my wings wide and fly upwards, enjoying the freedom it gives me. I fly up and up and up, then I notice something near the horizon. It looks like a small forest, but it's too far away for me to know for sure. I continue flying upwards, then a lightning bolt strikes me. Not just a mere [Lightning Bolt] spell, but something a lot more powerful, strong enough to make me growl in pain. My wings lock up, and I lose my control over the wind. I start falling because I can't even glide like this, and it takes me a few seconds to regain control. I look up, but I don't see anything that could've been the source of the lightning. There's only white clouds, blue sky, and the fake sun. It could've been the "sun" that attacked me, but I don't really believe that. I don't feel any sort of leftover mana from the attack. I try to rise up again, this time watching for anything hostile, but I'm suddenly struck by lightning again, and I couldn't see where it came from. Stubbornness fills my mind, and I repeat it a few times, trying whatever I can think of to better understand what's going on, but my lizard brain doesn't help me even slightly. The lightning strikes me in random spots every time, but I can't predict where it'll come from next to be able to spot its source. The Dungeon Master is just playing with me. My body starts to fail me again, so I give up on going higher and just glide towards the small forest. I see an odd mix of trees and a variety of underbrush, but I know very little about plants, so I can't even identify them. I explore the forest a bit and discover a lake, then I notice a few fish swimming in it, so I immediately dive for a meal. Meat isn't as good raw as when it's cooked, but it's still delicious, and I eat all the fish I can until my stomach is nearly bloated. The lake is both pretty wide and fairly deep, but it only has fish in it, so I get out to explore the forest some more. I find a huge rock with red spots all over it. Something from Wolfy's knowledge tickles my mind about it, but I ignore it for now. Near the rock, I notice a circular gray platform made of smooth stone. I touch it and prod it, but nothing happens. There's something weird about this forest. I don't know what it is, but something is starting to "itch" inside me as I look around at all the different plants. I lay down in a clearing and soak up the sunlight while I take a nap. Some rain wakes me up, so I try to build a shelter using what I know about [Earth Magic], but I can only use this magic destructively, so I give up on that. I walk under a tree, and the itching becomes more intense. It makes me feel restless, and I get a growing desire to do something, so I start ripping branches off the other nearby trees and forcefully stab them into mine, creating a proper shelter from the rain for myself. I use my fire to dry the area under the shelter, then I go to sleep. After a short sleep, I wake up feeling restless again, so I decide to fly some more, but this time, I barely get above the trees before I'm struck back down by lightning again. I crash onto the grass and glare up at the sun. What's the meaning of this…? Why aren't I allowed to fly? I look for the exit of the corridor that I came from, but it's not there anymore. I'm stuck here now. I return to my dry shelter and grumble to myself. What is the purpose of this place? I mutter all the swear words that I've ever heard Hana say and curse the Dungeon Master as I try to figure out what's going on. My eyes are drawn to the reddish rock, and I stare at it in curiosity. There's just something that's drawing my attention both towards it and towards all the different plants here. I start tapping the ground anxiously, and my claws quickly ruin the grass, revealing the dirt underneath it. My limbs complain a bit due to the lack of soft bedding, so I make a bed of leaves for myself. I remove the grass and carefully dry everything with my fire breath so that it won't rot because of moisture. The wind is still humid and cold, so I rip out even more branches from the other trees and use them to create a wall around my nest. As I collect the branches, I realize that one of the tree types is very fragile, so I cut that kind down and rest some of them against the tree trunk beside my nest, creating a small lean-to. There are some long, fibrous plants near the lake, so I cut them down, dry them out, then I use them to secure all of the thin white logs that make up my hut. It turns out that I was just in time, since the strong wind then starts to blow away the leaves I spread around, leaving me with just the logs. I get hungry again, so I use my water ball to capture a few fishies. Just when I'm about to go back to cook them, I recognize a plant, so I uproot it, revealing a bulb of Cilrag. Nice. I also realize that I don't have any salt, so I release my water ball and form a new one with the lake's water, then I blow my fire into it, boiling it off until I'm left with a small amount of salt. Hehehehehehe. I giggle at my own ingenuity. I get back to my nest and frown. I don't have a cutting board or any proper clean surface to prepare my meal on, so I make another bed of leaves and [Clean] them. I also don't have a bowl to make soup in, so it'll just be roasted fish today. I gut them and scrape off their scales, then I season them as well as I can. I build a campfire, then I manage to skewer them with a few sticks and arrange them over the flames. The rain returns, and it nearly puts out my fire, forcing me to keep blowing my own fire into it. I need more room and an actual roof over my head. I succeed in cooking the fish thoroughly, and I even singe the pointy bits, just like the Hana does. I happily eat my meal, then I lay down in my nest and relax. Today was a nice day, but my "itch" hasn't been scratched yet. I need to work more. I wake up to a clear sunny sky and get to work. I immediately notice that all of the thin trees that I cut down yesterday have completely regrown, so I cut down some trees again today. The fish have also been replenished, so at least I have a good source of meat. I start securing the thin white logs together with even more of that fibrous plant, but there are too many logs, and the ties start to break. I could just use more of it to make a strong rope, but I don't think that would be safe. I really don't want my roof to collapse on me while I'm asleep, so I start carving slots into the logs with my claws. They really aren't suited for this sort of thing, so I try out using my magic, but I also lack the necessary finesse with it to make precise cuts. My spells are all for combat or occasional comfort, not for crafting. I look at the reddish stone and get an idea. Doesn't metal come from rock? Can I make tools out of it? I really don't feel like trying that just yet, so I finish carving the slots and build a tall frame for my hut, then I layer my new roof with dried plants and leaves. Building the walls with thin logs seems like a bad idea. The wind here is strong and cold, so I need something solid, like… I search through my memories for what Wolfy liked to observe about buildings. I could try using bricks, but I don't know how to make them or how to secure them together. I could try using logs, but they're either too big or too small for this. I could try using cement, but I don't know how to mix that. I could try to grow a hollow tree, but I don't know that spell. I could try using planks, but they're just processed logs. I could try using rocks, but they're just raw bricks. I could try earth, but… I look towards the lake. Well, I can't grow earth, but I can certainly pack it and dry it out, like with ceramics. I go to the lake and pull up large chunks of mud with my ball of water, then I throw it to the area near my hut's frame. I pack it up with my claws to fill out the frame of my hut, then I pull the water out with magic and heat it with my fire. I spend all day doing this, and I manage to build a nice hut that's protected from both the wind and the rain. I try to quickly make a pot with the mud and my magic, but I fail miserably. It crumbles apart easily, and it's too hard to pull all the water out magically, so I'll have to use the campfire to dry it out. After that, I hunt some more fish and find some wild Tomafingers. I don't really like veggies, but there's nothing else to eat right now besides them or [Conjure Bland Meal], so I just shrug and try to make a simple salad. I don't have oil or any other interesting seasonings, but after a long day working in the mud, it still tastes amazing. I shape a few more pots and arrange them in the campfire, then I cover them with some logs to keep the fire going while I sleep. I wake up and eagerly check on my pots. Those that were properly buried under the logs have become much stronger and are actually usable while those that were at the edges are still a bit crumbly. With my new pots, I make Tomafinger soup for breakfast. I hum happily as I cook, finding an odd sort of pleasure in using my pots, not just something that was bought for me. My bed, my hut, my food, my pots, my seasonings, my meal. All created by my own claws. Claws… Humanoid fingers can't rip and tear like my claws, but a dragon's claws can't wield tools and build things like fingers can. I want hands. I go out and find an odd plant by the lake. It's a small and fluffy brown ball that reminds me of cotton. I suddenly get a great idea in my small lizard brain, then I collect these plants and bring them back to my nest. I dry them out just a little, then I dig a rectangular hole in the dirt just as wide as I am and stuff it with the brown fluff. After that, I just cover it with some leaves, and now my bed is much softer and more pleasant to sleep on. What would Wolfy say…? "Updrages"…? I shape a big pot, then I fire it and use it to decant and filter the mud to purify some clay so that I can make better quality pottery. I dig a hole in the ground and fill it with brown stuffing, then I put all of my new higher-quality pottery inside, cover it with logs, and fire them until they're done. Now I have actual plates to prepare and eat my meals on. I weave the fibrous plants into a blanket, and it actually warms me up a bit. I also make a few baskets to store my food and other things. I make a table and a chair with the thin logs, then I make another blanket to cover the table. I start searching for any plants that I might recognize, and I easily find a wide variety of veggies and seasonings to improve my meals. I find cane, so I compress it with rocks until a very sweet juice comes out that I then dry to get sugar. I find some berries that I put in a jug along with the sugar and some water, then I try to use [Grow] to ferment it. I partially succeed since I actually manage to make an alcoholic drink, but the taste is kinda bad and weird. I find lots of grain, and I start testing ways to dehusk it. I discover that drying and hammering them seems to do the job, so I make myself a mortar and pestle with some of the logs. The husks are so light that they get blown away by the wind, so I make a colander with the fibrous plants and start sieving the hammered tillers and stems. Tossing it up into the air and flapping my wings gently seems to be enough to blow the husks away while leaving most of the grain behind. Now I have some grain that I grind down into flour so that I can make some bread. I build a small clay oven and bake the bread until it's perfectly golden. I don't have anything to make it rise, so it's only flatbread, but it's still quite good. I remember that yeast is some sort of fungus, so I decide to try to ferment some flour, and I get a few weird results. After some horribly bad tasting ones, I discover one that makes my bread rise. Now I have actual bread. I work all day every day to bring myself more comfort, and although the "itch" inside me only grows stronger the more I create, it also fills me with a sort of energy that's almost as strong as my draconic rage. I become so absorbed in crafting that I forget about everything else, and my only desire now is to continue crafting, to continue building, to continue using my hands… claws, to work. But I still lack the necessary tools to truly build something that will last. I look down at the rock, then I decide that it's time to take on this challenge. I blow it apart with a concentrated [Earth Bullet], then I pick up the pieces and shatter them too until I only have small rocks left. I dig a ground kiln and try to melt them down, but the level of heat produced by the wood fire simply isn't enough. I just get some weird half-molten chunks from this approach. I try to blow my own fire into the kiln, but I don't have enough mana to melt it all down, so I try to think of another way to do this. Wolfy's memories say that fire is fuel, oxygen, and heat. I can increase the heat with my fire, I can increase the oxygen with my wind, but how can I increase the fuel? I look down at the logs and focus on them. Water is bad. I need to dry them out and remove all the water I can. I remember that Wolfy likes to roast meat with charcoal, but what is charcoal? Then I remember that the logs that get buried in the fireplace can be burned twice. Wait, isn't that charcoal? The beginnings of an idea starts to form in my small lizard brain. I set lots of wood on fire in a pit, then cover it all with soil, and familiar black and burnt logs are left behind once that's done. I light one up and can clearly see that it burns at a much higher temperature than the usual logs. I've created charcoal. I make another attempt at melting the rock, using a kiln with a hole in the top to let the air flow through. After half a day of blowing fire into it with the charcoal, I'm left with a weird burnt ball of something. It's harder than the rocks, and it deforms when I shoot an [Earth Bullet] at it, so I'm certain that it's a chunk of impure metal. If only I knew [Manipulate Metal]. I heat it up again and try to rip it apart. It takes a full day of hitting, bending, and grunting, but I manage to rip off two small chunks with just my claws. Hehehehehe. Wolfy and Hana would be so proud, while Lina would be horrified. The first chunk is made into a hammer, and I blow so much fire onto the other one that it almost melts, then I use the hammer to shape it into an axe head while it's hot. After that, I cool it down, then I use a flat rock and some water to sharpen it. I carve a handle with a socket for it and manage to secure them together with the fibrous plant. I stand up on my hind legs and raise it high into the air. "HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! SEE, LINA?! I'VE DONE IT! I'VE FORGED SOMETHING!" I rush over to a thick tree, then I chop the axe into its trunk, making a clean and surprisingly deep cut. "YES, YES, YE-…" I chop into the trunk again, but the axe slips out of my hand due to my bad grip. The fire in my heart cools off a little as I start to realize something. Everything I've created so far was for a humanoid, not a dragon. The bed is rectangular, not circular; the blanket is small, and it's uncomfortable to curl up under it; the chairs are squared, and not the right shape for a quadruped; the table is too tall, forcing me to use the chair; the hut is like a humanoid's house, not a… "dragon's house." Do dragons even make houses? I'm a breeder-type, so I've always had the desire to live in a house among civilization, but… why haven't I tried to blow this tree away with my might? I could've doubled my size and used magic to cut it down if I needed to, so why the fuck did I make a metal axe? I look down at my rough "hand" and chipped claws. Out of all of my body parts, these are the only ones that I truly hate. I grab the axe again and chop. After a few hits, it slips from my grasp. I grab the axe again and chop. After a few hits, my claws dig into the wood, then it slips from my grasp. I grab the axe again and chop. After a few hits, the shaft breaks in two. I make a new handle and chop. I don't care what I am, I just want hands! I just want to create, to build, to craft! I just want to be a humanoid! I cover my body with my mana organ and force a transformation, then a horrible pain wracks my whole body, and I pass out. Hall of Fame of Patrons The patrons who support Rupegia shall have their names sung by the bards for they deserve the glory and honor. Their names are: Prince PreownedFIN. Lord Andrew Meyers. Lord Samuel Lim. Lord Bill. Lord Novgarod. Lord DJ. Lord Ashadun. Lord Michale Erwin. Lord Bakerdea. Lord D4rk Sheep. Lord Nathan Vanbrunt. Lord Maurice. Lord Krawn. Lord Empyrean. Lord Mattirro Draca. Lord Joshua Tal. Lord Colorblind. Lord RottenTangerine. Lord Cidant. Lord Fullmoon. Lord Joxsan Herrera. Lord The_Cultural_Weeb_Otaku. Lord Sean Drake. Noble Salty Panda. 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