Although it wasn’t surprising, it was a little depressing how many changes I ended up having to make to the farming areas. Nothing particularly major, nothing that necessitated structural changes, but it was the little mistakes that really annoyed me the most. Inefficient paths, too-small or too-large field areas, and poorly-designed barns or storage. It was actually embarrassing. [Tempered Wisdom], unfortunately, didn’t seem to extend to agriculture.
The livestock was interesting though. They were clearly based on mundane species, but something along the way had been altered. There were things that had once been oxen, but they had pangolin-type plates over their backs. The chickens were still chickens, but they had an extra set of wings and extra-fluffy feathers, making them nearly spherical balls with beaks and legs. Horses, for whatever reason, were entirely unaltered.
Since, according to Shayma, mana tended to mutate or evolve things, these creatures were probably the result of ages of animal husbandry plus mana exposure. Now that they were sitting inside a dungeon, there might be other effects. Admittedly, my mana seemed invisible to everyone but Ansae, like it was slightly out of phase or sideways to the usual reality. Nothing outside showed any signs of strangeness despite me being around for three months and having a mana dynamo set up, so I wasn’t too worried about side effects.
But then, maybe it would be different if I actually ran my mana flow through something. As much as I wanted to hook in all the crops to make extra mana for myself, and maybe even resources, I’d have to leave most of it untouched. It wouldn’t do to accidentally destroy all their crops by trying to either help or take more advantage than I really needed to.
But most wasn’t the same as all.
[Anos Rice] discovered.
[Guran Melon] discovered.
[Kon Root] discovered.
[Tamac Leaf] discovered.
Interestingly, I didn’t actually get access to any of the crops until I linked them in, even after they were planted. Apparently that mana circulation made them “mine,” and only then would the overlay deign to give me access to them. Which made me wonder what would happen if I could do that with people or animals. Would they instantly become monsters? Or was it just nonsensical to consider that? After all, at this point I was locked out from breeding monsters, no loss there, so maybe I couldn’t acquire them either. Or maybe flora and fauna worked differently and I couldn’t acquire animals for the same reason people didn’t photosynthesize.
Once I had the crops, I made some extras in a series of little test chambers, overhauled from the old and stupid box-farms I’d made. They were improved even from that method by using Expansion to make a large room and subdividing it, still using magma and ice to create mana flow. Following proper scientific method, I had a set of control crops, then ones with tayantan and chrystheniums mixed in. Since they could mutate, maybe there’d be some influence. Not that such a thing made any biological sense, but [Dungeon Ecology] seemed pretty sneeringly distant from actual biology.
I also built several more [Composting Chamber]s, putting raw Biomass into them to turn into [Fertilizer]. Between the farms and the test chambers, I was burning through my stocks pretty quickly with the [Growth] field. It was actually getting to the point where I was feeling the lack of any ability to script or automate things pretty keenly. Not that I couldn’t do it manually, it was just a chore.
During all this, Shayma continued south and east. Rain came in, turning [Ghost Step]’s fog into a featureless haze, prompting her to drop out of the Skill and fish a hooded cloak from my inventory. The sound of rain pattering on cloth through Shayma’s ears was intense. I wasn’t sure if it was the fox ears or the enhanced senses, but the fine, driving rain sounded like a deluge.
“Honestly, this is nice,” I confessed to Shayma. “I like rain, but I haven’t seen a drop of it where I live. I could listen to it all day.”
“But you’re not the one who has to deal with wet fur.” She retorted, not that her fur was getting wet under the cloak. “Actually, what does getting wet even mean for you? You’ve got waterfalls and stuff inside you. Couldn’t you even make your own rain system?”
“I probably could and should! But it’s just not the same.”
“Fine, fine. We’ll listen to the rain.” She chuckled and ducked her head under a low-hanging branch, following a game trail through the wood. The terrain had gotten rougher and wilder once the mountain range turned west and she’d left it behind, mana densities slowly rising. Now, there were flowers that glowed at night and birds with wings made of flowing water flitting among the trees. Though it was still nearly a hundred miles away, the presence of Wildwood Retreat’s mana font was palpable. Or perhaps the font was just the recipient of hundreds or thousands of square miles of mana pouring into a single point.
Given how my own mana dynamo was set up, I would actually bet on the second one.
There were still farms and villages and towns here, thriving on the altered plants and wildlife, but the more dangerous beasts meant that lower-level Classers were more common as well. It seemed neither Vok Nal nor Tor Kot had felt the need to push their forces too far into the borderlands, content with the major cities and their surrounds.
To be fair, the people hadn’t tamed the borderlands either. There weren’t even roads as such, just cleared paths cut through trees and meadows. “Do these people even really consider themselves Iniri’s subjects? They don’t seem particularly connected to the rest of the kingdom.”
“Normally her Classers would come and go out here. Huron made a lot of trips out, I know. But there are a lot of adventurers from other places, too. Wildwood is basically open to anyone, so there are foreigners about.” Shayma’s ears swiveled under the cloak, listening to animal calls floating through the rain.
“Ah, fair enough.” I still wasn’t thinking properly about how this world worked. They didn’t need complete infrastructure where higher-level people were involved. Individuals could fly or teleport or turn into lightning or whatever, so why would they need roads? Heck, I hadn’t bothered with roads between the farms, going with teleportation pads instead despite, objectively, how utterly ridiculous that was.
Someday, I would learn.
The game path opened out onto a cleared field, the rain pattering down on the broad-spreading purple leaves of whatever crop was being grown there. The squat outlines of a few farm buildings loomed on the far side, obscured by the weather. “Finally! Some sort of civilization.”
“Hopefully it’s not just some private farm in the middle of nowhere.”
“Probably not?” She detoured around the crop plants to shelter under the roof of one of the outbuildings, pulling her map from the [Phantom Pocket]. She illuminated it with a conjured ball of light, studying the area around Wildwood Retreat. “Admittedly I might be off because of the rain, but we’re probably somewhere on the outskirts of Khiral Town.” Shayma tapped the map, her eyes lighting up. “That’s where my parents met, actually! Lots of Classers pass through there at low levels. Past Khiral it’s a little dangerous, but not too bad.”
“I guess it’s too late to ask, but are you going to have any issues getting to Wildwood? I mean, you’re level one and all…”
“I...might ask for an escort in Khiral,” Shayma admitted. “But given my Skills, if something does happen I can always evade and escape.”
“So we’re not going to be evacuating Khiral like we did Anton?” We’d come across a few other groups of refugees that we’d sent to Iniri, but no full villages. At least not on the track Shayma was taking.
“Not unless Queen Iniri ordered it directly...and she wouldn’t, because they wouldn’t want to, and it’s not like she has the people to enforce it right now. We’ll take anyone who wants to come, of course, but mostly we want craftsmen and farmers. Or any high level Classers who happen to be there.”
Right. It wasn’t exactly like Iniri was conscripting grunts and handing them a gun to head to the front lines. I didn’t know what the conversion was, and to be fair I hadn’t even seen a proper fight, but the level system completely changed the calculus of warfare. And the tactics. Who needed supply lines with teleportation? Mages were siege cannons, warriors were...well, tanks. I wasn’t even that familiar with how to carry out a campaign, so there were probably more profound differences I was missing.
Shayma stowed the map and circled the buildings, following the path there, where the grass was flattened and muddy in the rain. Ruts in the ground showed where carts had traveled, and ran eventually to a road of packed stone. There was nobody else on the road, whether due to the occupation or the weather, and her tail twitched underneath the cloak. “I think I’m being watched,” she muttered.
“I can’t sense anything, but I believe you. Maybe Khiral has sentries in case one of the mage-kings decides to send an army?”
“Maybe. This is a lot different than Anton.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine!”
Lights and tall stone walls appeared out of the rain as Khiral Town came into view.