Though I would never have admitted at the time — indeed, I may have lacked the capacity to even realize it — that encounter shook me. I was not bothered by the death, of course, having become quite accustomed to the spectacle over the years. No, what shook me was the fact that I had finally lost.
For decades, and more, I slid across my territory, consuming whatever I wished with no chance that anything might threaten my existence or prevent me from achieving my goals. If I felt the desire to eat something, I ate it. If I desired to go somewhere, I went there. If I wanted to know something, well, Telan told me the answers to everything I asked of him.
It truly did not occur to me that a mere human might defy me, and prove successful in doing so. Humans defied me constantly when I tried to eat them. I had grown accustomed to that. Indeed, I felt a certain thrill when they put up a true challenge, one of my first real hints of emotion as I developed mental function closer to that of a naturally sapient being.
But their swords and their bows and their clubs and their axes, when turned on me, served as less than a minor inconvenience. Arrows did nothing at all. I expelled them from my body, unharmed. Clubs might displace a small portion of me, but I easily shifted it back. Even if a sword or axe managed to separate a portion of one of my reaching pseudopods, I simply reclaimed it.
(I must note that it was this line of pondering that led me to make a new discovery about myself — but I will come back to that shortly.)
Humans could not escape me, either, for as my intelligence grew, so too did my ability to flex and command my body, as well as the upper limits of the speed at which I could move. Even when I didn’t plan my attack out so that I could completely surround them, in short bursts I was able to catch even a swift human running at full speed.
This is all to say that the very thought that a mere human could somehow prevent me from obtaining something that I sought absolutely astounded me. The old woman had not only succeeded in doing so, she had accomplished it in such a manner as I could never have predicted. I realized, in the time I spent pondering my failure, that I would have to learn how to consider things from the perspectives of other beings, if I were to continue to succeed in my interactions with them.
Unfortunately, this meant I was stuck in a sort of loop of needs that required other needs to fulfill. I needed to better understand humans in order to learn more from the, but in order to better understand them, I had to be able to think like them and empathize with them first, so that I could more successfully manipulate them into teaching me.
During this time of reflection, I subconsciously drew my body closer together. I absorbed my simulacrum and sat, as a simple ooze, digesting the bodies of the group of humans I had failed to understand and taking into me that small bit of their mental function my quirk allowed me to absorb.
I can’t say for certain whether it was that last modicum of mental power squeezed from those humans, or whether my mind just happened to stumble along the right paths to discovery, but it was during that period that I made two of the major breakthroughs that would eventually help me incorporate myself into human society.
The first was relatively simple and mundane, a task which I began to ponder because of the criticisms the old woman had levelled at my appearance. Perhaps, in actuality, I am understating the difficulty, for it was only simple as compared to the second discovery I made in the time after my encounter. I began to experiment with how I might alter the color of my simulacrum’s flesh in order to more accurately represent that of real humans.
As a reference, I kept a long strip of the youngest woman’s flesh. It seemed like the most durable, the most likely to hold up over a potentially long period of observation. My first task was not to attempt to match the color and tone of the flesh exactly, but to merely figure out how to shift the colors of my body at all.
I had some clues about how to do this, because I knew that the way I changed the density and organization of my body to imitate the functionality of human muscles and the feel of human flesh changed the way that it looked. Namely, this changed the opacity. I realized, with experimentation and the use of the eyes that I kept from the deceased humans, that it was the way my body interaction with light that caused its colors and opacity to change.
Now, this might seem like an extremely basic realization, but keep in mind that the way that eyes worked and the mechanics behind what allowed me to see using them were largely unknown to me. The behavior of light and the way it refracts and reflects were not part of Telan’s teachings; in fact, I can’t speak to how much he might have known about those things himself.
Once I came upon this, I began attempting to shift my composition at a minute level in attempt to change the color and not just the opacity. At first I was able only to shift my coloration between light and dark variations, but, with a great deal of practice, I discovered how to change the hue as well. For a brief time I actually amused myself by sending parts of my body through a kaleidoscope of colors, and then by blending sheets of my body into my surroundings, camouflaging myself, if not flawlessly, with at least some aptitude.
This is also notable, not only as an important discovery, but as the first time I recall doing something purely for the sake of the amusement it brought me. I told myself I was practicing what would surely prove to be a useful talent, and I was, but one of my primary motivations was the sort of game I was playing with myself.
During this time, another problem hovered in the back of my mind, and I might never have found the solution if not for the lucky confluence of two other, unrelated subjects about which I found myself thinking at the same time: my impunity regarding mundane weaponry, and Telan’s memory crystals.
There are times in every being’s life where that being realizes that they have been doing something all along that they believe themselves incapable of doing; there are times when something a being has been thinking about idly for some time comes to the forefront as a sudden realization. This is what happened to me as I considered how I might be able to fully free my simulacrum from being physically bound to my main body, in order to allow it better autonomy and ease of interaction with real humans.
It was thinking about cutting weapons and how I behaved when my body was split by one that made me realize that the issue would not be as hard for me to surmount as I had once feared. In the past, when a portion of me had been hacked away, one of two things happened: I reabsorbed it fluidly using a tendril extended from my main body, or — and this is what’s most important — it found its way back to me, and fused with my main body on its own.
When I considered this, I realized that small parts of me had been behaving autonomously all along. I didn’t need to do a great deal of experimentation in order to realize how to separate my simulacrum without it collapsing into a thoughtless heap of sludge. I just had to find the conditions by which parts of me separated from the whole continued on with their own function.
I failed to do this over a long enough period of time that I turned my focus to something else. This turned out to be a fortuitous course of action, for the subject to which I turned my attentions was Telan’s memory crystal. I wished to explore the odd feeling that befell my consciousness, that strange pull that the crystals seemed to exert upon me when I tilted my thoughts the right way.
I was unable to figure out how to use the memory crystals, either to retrieve or to store information, but the practice turning my consciousness — those words do not quite fit what I was doing, but they are the most accurate description I can come up with — led me to something else. When I turned it the right way, it felt almost as though I might fall, mentally, into the crystal.
However, with all my attempts and practice involving the crystal, I wondered what might happen if I applied the same methods using my simulacrum in place of the crystal. I constructed my simulacrum, turned my consciousness as though reorienting my brain, and…
It worked. It worked, and, that first time, it worked a bit too well. I felt myself slipping and sliding, dizzy for the first time in my experience, as my mind drained out of my main body and fell purely into that limited, stiff little simulacrum. I felt constrained and uncomfortable, and, in short order, horrified.
All around me, the mass of my main body collapsed, suddenly devoid of the support lent to it unconsciously by the control imposed upon it by my mind. As quickly as I could, I thrust my simulacrum at my main body as it began to pour away like a great flood of viscous liquid. With great effort I forced my mind back into my true body, into my home.
In that moment, I felt I had almost lost myself. It was the first time I came close to facing anything like death, as the body whose mass I had spent centuries building up almost slipped away from me due to a careless, if important, experiment. Still, I resolved to continue experimenting, for I knew that this was an important step in my advancement and in the improvement of my self.