A note from InadvisablyCompelled


This was really annoying. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get any of my mana to change using Ansae’s method. And it turned out I was actually kinda sorta illiterate?

Second things first, when asked about the sign I wondered why I’d never thought of that, and a half second later found it was really hard to think about it. I waited until Keri and Annit were settled in, but I still wanted to ask about it.

“Shayma? Why didn’t you ever ask if I could write something on a wall for someone, or the like?”

“I did, but you sort of avoided it.”

Wait, what?

“Wait, what?”

“Well you did!”

That was...horrifying, because I couldn’t remember any such question. I’d noticed the general Dungeon biology influencing my mental state before, but not to that extent. Of course, if it was able to get me to ignore things how would I know? Why was I able to parse it now if I couldn’t before? Then again, I was technically only a few months old, so maybe there was a maturation process at play. Still, there could be dozens of things I’d forgotten or was forbidden from thinking of and therefore wouldn’t even know I couldn’t address. “Is there anything else I’ve avoided that way?”

“Not that I can think of…”

“Well, tell me if I do. I’m having a tough time remembering or even thinking about that bit and I don’t like it.”

I was pretty sure this was a Dungeon thing, given that I could usually think clearly, but I had to test it. It didn’t take long to find that I was entirely incapable of making any written words. Reading, yes. Writing, no. It wasn’t a matter of finesse, because I could make random patterns just fine, but when it came to making a squiggle into anything with meaning my mind ran off into a weird sort of void and I had trouble even remembering what I was doing. Which was really frustrating because I could have used writing to communicate with people who weren’t Shayma, as apparently had occurred to everyone but me.

Since I couldn’t do writing, I tried other method of simple communication. Even something like red light, green light was verboten. I tried playing twenty questions with Shayma and found myself stumbling over how to connect the lights to the answers, something that made no sense whatsoever. I could indicate intentions a little, like the light trails and such, but anything complex or prolonged sent me skittering off into that mental void, which was a profoundly unpleasant experience. The best results were instinctual, coarse grained things like opening a door to let someone through, which was a message of a sort but would require a hell of a lot of work to make useful. That was assuming I could keep track of it, and it didn’t just end up in the void.

At least I could still talk to Shayma, which was something that also made no sense considering the former. In fact, just my own thoughts even existing didn’t seem to make sense if I couldn’t communicate. The only thing I could guess was I was running into some hard biological restriction. I’d heard of brain damage that did similar things, so maybe dungeon cores just didn’t have the whatever-it-was.

Then there was my issue with Affinities, which seemed the same sort of problem. I watched Shayma cast as well as spying on people from rank one to four, and of course paid attention to Ansae’s casting since her old lair was within [Genius Loci]. So far as I could tell I was doing everything right but nothing happened. There was nothing there, like I was calling into that same void. It made me wonder when else I’d run into something dungeons simply couldn’t do.

At least I’d found some extra things that I could do. When making Annit’s blowgun I’d managed to unlock [Casting Sphere] under [Fabrication] pretty easily. With [Customization] making a mold from a block of Stonesteel was the work of a moment, and I already had the ability to pipe in molten metal from one of my Alloy Crystals. The only annoyance, to me, was that I had to remake the mold every time, since the [Casting Sphere] consumed it when the object was ready. Not only that, I had to remake them manually. The [Casting Sphere] didn’t have any sort of save function, though maybe I was just too seduced by the digital appearance of the overlay, expecting anything useful like that.

Even [Mana Logic] only let me make, with great difficulty, switches. I knew that electronic computers were built out of such things, but I wasn’t up to even attempting to reproduce binary circuitry with the tools I had. I was pretty sure I was underusing the ability, but at the same time couldn’t think of anything else to use it for. At least with [Fabrication] I had plenty of ideas and projects.

Especially since the [Assembler] turned out to be hilariously potent. The only thing I could do with it was orient objects and place them against each other, no fastening or gluing allowed. But who needed that, when it used the weird pseudo-spatial inventory system so I could fit things together in ways that would be impossible without bending or welding.

That meant I could embed the probably-fragile Source gem I’d made Annit’s blowgun from in a shell of steel, interlocking them by virtue of a perfect fit between the inner and outer portions. Actually I’d put a few holes in the Source portion and filled in the space with steel on the shell, just to keep it from rotating or anything, but it was still a single piece. Since I had access to Annit’s Status, I could see that it needed some Source gem exposed for [Wind Blades] and [Gust Front], but for the future I’d probably want to consult anyone I was going to make a weapon for.

Actually, I should probably keep that in mind for everyone. I could have asked Ansae about what she wanted in her lair, but I just didn’t think of it. She probably should have said something herself, but maybe she was just fine with a larger version of what I made for her before. Compared to her little cave, it was a major improvement. This one was even better.

I’d overhauled my experimental section to build it, placing it deeper in the mountain, and Expanded a dome some half a kilometer in each dimension. It was more vertical than I wanted since I wasn’t sure how pillar supports would work with the magic, and though an enormous central pillar might look awesome I was afraid I’d collapse or something halfway through the Expansion process.

The result was well worth it, a truly massive open area with plenty of room to populate with flora, sculpt in interesting water flow, and otherwise decorate with bits and pieces for Ansae to look at. She’d even have room to fly a bit!

Though it was five kilometers high only in the middle of the dome, that still gave me enough room to raise a few reasonably sized mountains, and for the heck of it plant ice and magma flowers on them to give her snowcaps and a volcano. Plus, I had plenty of green space to populate it with all the mundane plants I’d acquired. None of them had shown any interesting mutations or anything from being plugged into the mana dynamo, but at the very least it gave the landscape more variety than just grass.

I put a dragon-size bed like the last one in the middle of the lair, surrounding it with display pedestals and the like, though on consideration I added glass covers for the displays and routed the streams away from the bed itself. I’d seen paintings among her belongings and those wouldn’t do well in a humid atmosphere, no matter the lack of weather. Dynamic weather, anyway, since storm crystheniums made a few pockets of drizzle here and there about the lair.

And finally, a humanoid-Ansae sized house, made for three meter tall amazons. At first I started making it stately and out of white stone, but then I considered how she slept and ditched the whole thing, going for homey and comfortable well-lit wood with plenty of glass. A triple-width bed, given how she liked to sprawl, and a rocking chair on the porch as well as a conventional sitting room. Then, upon consideration, a kitchen furnished with cast steel items. She didn’t seem to need to eat, but it seemed rude to deny she might want to. Or maybe actually have guests over, or maybe I just wanted an excuse to show off my new metalworking.

Size requirements for level increase met.

Dungeon Level increases by 1.

Trait points increase by 1.

Wait. Trait point? Not a base skill level-up? I flipped through the overlay and found a brand new section. Were the past five levels...the tutorial? I didn’t know if that was encouraging or depressing.

Casting that thought aside, I perused the trait selection. One entire tab was locked out for me, the one labeled ‘Monsters.’ Well, that was only to be expected, and I didn’t much care about it anyway. The only other tab was ‘Core,’ and it had a number of things in it.

Mana Efficiency: Improves flow of mana within the Dungeon. Higher flow provides larger benefits. (1)

Burrowing: Upgrades [Boring Tendril] into [Burrower]. (1)

Material Precision: Reduces size of minimum material increment. (1)

Field Potency: Increases the maximum effect of Fields. (1)

Abstract Ecology: Unlocks the ability to generate abstract Affinities with Dungeon Ecology. (2)

Dungeon Dwellers: Improves the species traits of inhabitants of the Dungeon. (3)

Spawn Core: Allows the Dungeon to generate additional Cores. (20)

Manifest: Allows the Dungeon to condense its mana into physical form. (30)

Oh my. First of all, the question of where new dungeon cores came from was kind of answered, but I couldn’t imagine how long it would take for a normal dungeon to get to level twenty-five and have the points for Spawn Core. I wasn’t interested in it myself, though. I wasn’t interested in Manifest either, which was ridiculously expensive and didn’t sound very useful. But those low point Traits all were very enticing, and I could use all of them!

Mana Efficiency was the least exciting of the bunch but given how much mana I had flowing around, it’d probably be amazing. Burrowing, well, I had a long way to go to Meil still so something like that would help. Material precision meant I could work with some of the stuff Ansae had supplied, where I only had miniscule amounts and I didn’t want to use it for anything large, and Field Potency, hoo boy. I really wanted my spatial fields to be better. The last two reasonable ones were interesting, implying I might be able to make stuff like divination Sources at some point as well as massively boosting any defenders, but I didn’t think they were a priority.

Since everything looked so good, I just went with the trait that I could use immediately. I had plans that Material Precision would make actually possible. I’d started this project for Shayma four or five times but kept running into the limitations of what I could do. With the new [Fabrication] stuff and this trait, I was pretty sure I could manage it now. Plus, if I was figuring this right, I could now work more intricately with the steel I was producing, little locks or just details that didn’t take a full unit of the metal.

Actually, it made [Customization] better and finer, overall, though once I purchased it I did have the annoyance of all my resource counts getting three decimals after them. The overlay was starting to feel a little over-cluttered, but I did have a lot of abilities and things, so it was probably inevitable.

Before I got too involved in fiddling with it, I had to pull Shayma away from running around with Keri and Annit. “Shayma, could you go tell Ansae that her new lair is ready? Oh, but get a fresh pie first!” By all accounts, they were delicious. I remembered that visitors ought to bring housewarming gifts, even if I wasn’t sure anyone here followed that custom.

Ansae had returned to the in-between meeting spot, and after a detour to Ansae’s cottage to put the pie on the dining room table, I teleported Shayma into the room. Ansae wasn’t surprised, of course, stretching unhurriedly and rising as Shayma gave her a nervous smile. “Blue says your new lair is ready, if you want to see it.”

“I do.”

“I’ll teleport you there.” I waited for Ansae to actually agree to this, because I was pretty sure she could just cut the teleport field if she wasn’t willing to go along with it.

The pair of them appeared in the front room of the house, and I killed the teleport. I actually had a Link set up for when Ansae wanted to go to the main chambers, because teleporters were two way and I couldn’t turn them off without dissipating the whole construct. I could make a new one for her every time, since the cost wasn’t too bad with my current mana income, but I didn’t think she’d appreciate having to ask.

I was pretty sure she’d watched me make the whole lair, but Ansae peered around the little cottage with interest as she stepped in, regarding the view out the massive windows and running her claws over polished wood. “Blue thought I’d like this? Interesting.”

“Oh. Well, if she doesn’t like it I can change it, it’s her lair after all.”

“No, no, it’s excellent. I just usually go for stone and the like. Once, I even took over a temple because the mana there had made all the marble golden-veined. I never would have thought to make something like this, but for my lesser form it’s...quite comfortable.”

“Good! Also, Blue has a pie for you. It’s made out of tayantan fruit, and he says it’s a housewarming gift.”

“I didn’t know dungeons could cook.” Ansae’s voice was rich with amusement, but she followed Shayma to the table and accepted a slice of pie on one of the plates I’d made for her.

“Well, he got it from Piping Hot Pies, in exchange for letting them have some extra fruits.”

“He needs to learn how to demand service from mortals,” she opined, and I couldn’t tell how much she was joking. But she took a bite of the pie, then, clearly enjoying it, took a second one. Shayma giggled.

Ansae gave her a sharp look and she shook her head. “It’s just...I realized I’m watching a dragon eat pie.” She started to say more, but then shrugged helplessly, letting the moment speak for itself.

The dragon in question started to glare, then snorted herself and took another bite. “Nothing wrong with pie. I haven’t had any sort of pastry for centuries.”

“What do dragons eat, anyway?” She asked curiously. I was kind of wondering that myself, to be honest.

“Mana for the most part. Which is why high-level Classers are so tasty.” Ansae flashed another tooth-filled grin, but Shayma was starting to get used to Ansae’s sense of humor. Even if I was pretty sure she was not entirely joking. “But that’s another reason to like this lair. So much mana.”

She finished off the slice and while she glanced at the remaining pie, she simply set the plate down. “I’m going to go look at the rest of it.”

Shayma trailed her to the front porch. She hadn’t seen the lair much either, and took a moment to appreciate the view with Ansae before the dragon simply stretched and returned to her native, enormous form.

“Gods above!” Shayma gasped, and Ansae twisted her long neck to give Shayma an appropriately massive grin before launching herself into the air, great wings spreading wide as she soared over the artificial valley.

“Oh, I forgot you hadn’t actually seen her in full dragon form.”

“No! I knew she was a dragon, you told me, but seeing her like that is…” Shayma shuddered, reaching down to smooth out the fur of her tail.

“Yeah it scared the Abyss out of me the first time I saw her.” Ansae circled near the top of the dome, apparently just enjoying the chance to stretch her wings, but I doubted she missed any of the details.

“Audience hall,” she rumbled, her normal voice probably loud enough for Shayma to hear. “You’ll need one too. You can’t just have people calling out to you at random, even if you can hear them. Supplicants are not equals.”

Well, that was fair enough. Principles of equality were all well and good but there was no way I was the same as a mortal. I had enormous resources, could create unique magical items, and fend off entire armies all on my own. Not to mention Bargains. If I were a king, I’d have a hall, so as a Power I should have something too.

Well, I’d start with Ansae’s, since I wasn’t sure about mine yet, but while I was working a familiar face came by the regrowing surface. The Shadow guy - well, monster, now that I knew better - appeared from the shade of a small sapling. Like an idiot I hadn’t refreshed all my steam-landmine-and-lava traps. Maybe that was to the best though, since he wasn’t there to make trouble.

“Since you’ve got such good control of this core, I assume you can hear me,” he said, the weird bubbling voice just like I remembered it. “If not, I imagine you’ll notice the missive I’m leaving. Vok Nal’s an idiot but his dad will wreck your place in the Council when he finds out who you are. Or Tor Kot does, for that matter. I advise you to answer before one of them gets permission to visit in person.” The monster planted an iron stake in the ground, which had a little mailbox sort of thing on top of it.

“That was hilarious, by the way,” he added. “Vok Nal was so mad. Never seen anyone burn an army like that. Honestly, Tor Kot won’t be mad that you stole his experiments if you tell him how you did that. Maybe even if you don’t, so long as you keep annoying Vok Nal.”

Wait, what? I’d thought he was Vok Nal’s creature, but apparently not. But if he wasn’t, whose was he? Did he represent the Council folk, or what? I was still goggling at him as he stepped back into the tree’s shadow and vanished. I didn’t much like that he could just appear here at whim, but at least the message meant they still thought I was a mage-king dungeon, and involved in mage-king politics.

With politics, that meant Iniri. Since I’d planted fifty-plus crystals and gotten my mana over twenty-two thousand, I had a message for Iniri anyway.

“Hey Shayma, I have something for Iniri to look at. And also...I can do her Purification now.” I was a little anxious about it, actually. Unlike with Shayma, it was pretty clear that any intimacy with Iniri was purely transactional. She’d made it clear she didn’t much trust me, and that was fair. But I still wanted her to enjoy it. Well, actually I kind of wanted to blow her mind, but that might be a bit too much for her.

“Oh, good! But, um, please be gentle with her.” Shayma said, lowering her voice as if someone might overhear. “I’m pretty sure she’s a virgin.”

Ah, right. Queen. Which actually made this a huge deal, since it hurt her future chances, or at least future value, in political marriages and other such dynastic considerations. Though considering she didn’t exactly have a kingdom right now, that might be less important than usual. “You know her better than I do. What do you think I should do?”

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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