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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

6/6

I felt pretty bad about ruining their stealth.  I didn’t know when that...whatever it was hit the ground that it’d slide through about six inches of topsoil and hit my tunnel.  And then...sort of explode somehow. Watching the mana flows just shatter against mine was fascinating, but made me think I was probably going to make it awful difficult for the spellcasters they had with them.

But hopefully the other spellcasters too?  I could sense...something, as Shayma argued with the rest of her party about whether to go inside.  They really ought to, considering how much I spent on the damn thing.

All of my remaining experience had been dumped into Compression, turning it and Expansion into Spatial Control, and as a result the forty-something kilometer long hallway was just a touch over four, on the inside.  A feat that had drained my mana, to the point that I was actually in the single digits before it set.

Fortunately, Iniri finally ordered everyone inside, where they formed up and marched along the admittedly plain, if well-lit, hallway.  The overlay spat out a string of notifications; everyone but Shayma was over level twenty. Iniri, her two mages, a paladin, and sword saint (whatever that was) were over fifty.  Heavy hitters, then. Her elite. Thirty-two people in all, hurrying down a stone corridor.

Two or three minutes later, the pursuing party appeared. As in, out of thin air. Sure, I’d closed the entrance but it didn’t take much for a set of eight extraordinarily mean-looking individuals to find it.  Two were Flame Knights, to judge by the red, and a third was a more ordinary mage with the ordinary mage trappings, save for what looked like scale gauntlets. One woman with a massive ball of metal hanging over her head, a guy with an enormous shield and spear, one faceless shadow, someone with giant claws, and a token floating child.  Now this group looked like they belonged to fantasy.  

I did have a moment of glee when my Stonesteel door resisted a Flame Knight lance, but the next moment the woman dropped her metal ball straight through without much of any resistance and that all went away.  I hastily started throwing up extra doors between them and Shayma’s party, since a straight hallway didn’t do much to hide them. Maybe I should have curved it some.

“What’s another mage-king doing here?” Gauntlet-Mage wondered aloud before sauntering casually down the steps and letting the overlay inform me he was actually a Mage of the Hand, along with a name that I immediately ignored.  Honestly I didn’t want to consider them people, if I was going to have to stop them.

“Boss is going to be...irritated,” the floating child said as the rest of the party followed.  He rolled the word in a way that suggested tremendous violence. And apparently he wasn’t a child, but an Avatar of Vok.  Sphere-woman was a Bound of Iron, and moving on we had a Paladin of Vok, a Shadow, which was so unimaginative I had to look twice, and a Claw of Frenzy.  At some point I’d have to look up what those classes actually were, but for the moment I could guess.

“They’ve got intel on us,” Shadow pointed out in a watery voice.  “Must have. This lighting shuts down my movement options, the doors are fire-resistant, they could intercept that Depletion anomaly...”

“Couldn’t stop me, though,” the Bound of Iron said.

“Yet,” the shadow burbled, gesturing to the door barring their way.  “Be my guest.”

She sneered and strolled up to it, the rest of the group following behind, and pointed at the door to send her orb smashing through it.  Which it did, and lava fountained out as the metal splashed into it.  The Bound of Iron screamed as the liquid rock smoked against her skin, but the Avatar of Vok snapped his fingers and she was whole again.

I’d put four or five of these pockets of lava between them and their targets, along with some empty areas, because I couldn’t see how any of my ‘normal’ traps would do anything to them.  Even the lava trap would have been ineffective if she hadn’t been so close. The Mage of the Hand chuckled and gestured, the lava collecting into a giant fist to smash through the next door.

The feeling of having so many doors broken in such a short time was profoundly nauseating, lack of stomach aside.  Unfortunately I only had one more trap idea I could set up in the time available, especially without mana. In one of the free pockets, I opened a number of small holes in the floor and sealed them off with appropriately-sized small doors, so that it looked like nothing special was there.

Then I began piping in lava and water.

Meanwhile the intruders were moving somewhat more carefully, letting the paladin take front in case there were any more lava traps.  Which there were, but forewarned, said traps only slowed them down. Which was actually good, because that meant the refugees were getting further ahead.  And the pursuers were grouped up, using hand-signals to communicate so as not to give anything away.

So as soon as they were in position I opened all the tiny doors and introduced them to the wonders of superheated steam.

I didn’t know how hot the lava was, but if it was hot enough to burn people instantly, it was hot enough for my purposes.  I’d purposely fed more and more lava into the chamber below, both to keep the steam hot and to increase the pressure, so there was a spectacular hiss as it jetted from the ground, almost invisible.  There were...noises.

But apparently the Shadow guy and the Avatar of Vok were unaffected.  Or at least, not affected enough to show. That said, the other six had taken the brunt of it, and apparently the Avatar’s healing or whatever wasn’t enough to keep up.  In about half a second, the Shadow guy produced what looked like a paper scroll from somewhere and snapped it in half. A swirl of magic rotated around the party, cutting off the Avatar’s bellowing mid-word as they vanished.  “Mage-King Vok Nal will -”

The overlay informed me I’d actually killed both of the Flame Knights and the Mage of the Hand, but I didn’t get experience for them.  Which was probably due to the restrictions from [Purifier], but that was fine. It meant that there was no temptation to kill people, and given that doing so didn’t bother me aside from intellectually, I preferred it that way.

But anyway, they were gone, and the refugees would be exiting the tunnel soon.  And after that they still had quite a ways to walk. I was getting big.

I looked forward to their reactions, though.  Not that I was going to send them past Ansae’s room, but I could still show off the farms I had between here and there.  Though come to think of it, having only three kinds - ice, lava, stone - was a bit boring. I’d have to figure out a way to diversify.

Once they were clear of the escape tunnel I dispersed the compression magic and started the long process of removing it and replacing what I’d dug out.  Covering my tracks. Between that and the assumption that I was also a mage-king, I was hoping that I’d get some time before this Vok Nal guy went after me.

“...are you sure this is even a dungeon?”  I finally started paying attention to the conversations, now that the immediate threat was dealt with and the actual work I had to do was fairly boring.  The overlay told me the speaker was Harold, a level 63 Sword Saint and the second highest-leveled person I’d yet seen. Third, if I counted Ansae. The Avatar had been twelve levels higher.

I didn’t see a sword on him, although the rest of the refugees seemed similarly underequipped.  They had packs, and I assumed there were weapons there, but they just weren’t as...impressive as the attacking party.  And now that I was thinking about it, the overlay was curiously silent as to his talents. I already knew I didn’t magically know everything about everyone due to Ansae, but there was always the possibility that a primal dragon was an exception.  But no, I just wasn’t good enough to read off their skills.

“Yes, unless you think [Seeker] is wrong,” Shayma said, exasperated.  “But I never saw any of this the last time I was here. Just the lake and the cottage.”

“But why flowers?”  Iniri was more bemused than anything.  “Why lava flowers?”

“Maybe it likes flowers?”

“I swear, if it weren’t for curing your Depletion…”  I had missed exactly what had caused Iniri to agree to move, but I should have guessed it would be that.  In a world of magic, shelter in and of itself was probably easily available to high-level classes. I hadn’t paid much attention to the overnight tents they’d been using but they might have been instant-magic sort of items themselves.  But Iniri’s depletion was at 150/214, giving her roughly four points for each of her 54 levels, and while relatively it was less than Shayma’s had been, in absolute terms it was a lot more. So much more I was pretty far from doing anything about it, in fact.

“What I want to know is how it got so big,” said Keel, poking his head into a door to one of the ice rooms, breath pluming for a moment before he pulled back.  “Should have stripped the whole damn countryside to get this large. That or it’s a lot older than it ought to be.”

“Or someone’s been feeding it,” Iniri said grimly.

The entire discussion was a bit odd to me, since the whole point of the flowers and so on was so I could get resources without stripping the place bare, or eating people.  But maybe that was unusual, and maybe most dungeons didn’t bother with farming biomass and stone and iron.  Which actually made those foods the dungeon was making over in Meil rather...sinister.

I mean, sure, Biomass was Biomass, apparently, whether it was from grass or animals, but considering what I knew of the mage-kings’ dungeon cores, there were a few too many shades of soylent in what they provided.  Another point in my favor, though I didn’t have any actual food crops yet, which I would really prefer to magicking meats and vegetables out of nowhere. That couldn’t be healthy long term.

“Either way, if it’s this big, doesn’t that just mean it’ll make for a better defensive position?”  Shayma was still arguing for me, which was heartwarming. Especially since I couldn’t exactly do so myself.

“Maybe if there were defenses.  I’d expect to see something, even if they were turned off.”

I was tempted to open a trapdoor under Keel’s feet, just to show off, but resisted it.  As amusing as it might be, it wouldn’t be the best introduction and anyway, my best defenses weren’t exactly the default traps.

“You say that, but where’s our pursuit?”  Harold pointed out.

“...point.”  Keel waggled his fingers and, to my mana-sight, constructed some fabulously complicated pattern that burst and spread out to ripple along the inside of my walls.  It really didn’t make it that far before collapsing, but maybe that was only in relation to the sheer scope of my corridors. It didn’t help that passing through doors seemed to weaken it.  “Nobody here but us, it seems.”

Not entirely true, but I was sure they wouldn’t be reassured by Ansae’s presence and anyway, she was still asleep.  With her tongue hanging out, which was kind of adorable.  I guess dragons really could sleep for centuries? So long as they didn’t bother her, they were safe.

They were nearing the point where the surrounding farms gave way to the actual living area, and I was definitely hoping I’d get some reaction.  Unfortunately, I hadn’t thought to make this particular entrance a grand one, just a normal pair of doors, but they still stopped and gawked as the underground lake opened up in front of them.

The trees were blooming now, with blue-white petals, a dozen of them surrounding the lake.  Three streams of water fed the lake, and I had pumps cycling the water so it didn’t actually overflow, which made for a nice noise and gave the area a bit of life.  The faux sky was maybe a little bit disappointing, since it ended up only emphasizing the bowl-like layout, but it was better than nothing.

The walls were given over to the various buildings.  Given that Iniri was a queen I’d made hers extra fancy and in the middle, opposite where the corridor from the local outside was.  Bedrooms, bathrooms, and a bunch of empty rooms to do...whatever queens and their courts did. I wasn’t actually sure. Storage, both for the artifacts Shayma had delivered and whatever things she’d brought.  Then spreading out from that, additional apartments, stacked three high, standard studio style. Bathroom, kitchen, sink, all that, even if it was all stone. Hot and cold running water, all the things I could think of.  And then more empty rooms, because I had no idea what else they’d need.

“...I guess this means we’re welcome.”

“I guess so!” Shayma said cheerfully.  Then, more quietly. “There was only a cottage here last time…”  Of course, the cottage was completely gone, since otherwise it’d be at the center of a panopticon and not exactly comfortable to live in.  I’d probably rebuild it at some point, in some capacity, but Ansae and the rescue had distracted me from finessing the living arrangements.  Yes, they were fancy, but it was a fanciness of execution rather than conception.

For now, I’d just have to see how they settled in.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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