Meil was in sight.
It was the first time I had seen the city with my own eyes, or, whatever it was that [Genius Loci] used. The last time had been through Shayma’s eyes, and it hadn’t improved since then. It hadn’t gotten much worse, either, at least from this distance. I was pretty sure that the dungeon there had eaten more of the wall, but the entire city hadn’t been converted.
The major difference I could see was that figures circled the air around the tower at the center of Meil. They clearly weren’t birds, and they lacked the telltale orange glow of the Flame Knight’s flight ability, but at this distance I couldn’t tell what sort of monster they might be. Probably something boring, considering the lack of imagination Vok Nal had shown so far. If I had some sort of binoculars - or monoculars - I might be able to figure it out.
Wait, I had glass now. In theory I should be able to make a lens or two, and a hollow tube wasn’t much trouble. I wasn’t sure how well [Genius Loci] would act with it, but since I could focus where I was seeing it’d probably work.
Embarrassingly, I ended up with an image that was upside down or small or completely out of focus quite a few times before I got it. Knowing the principles of optics and actually constructing something useful were not the same thing, it appeared. I embedded the thing in one of the standing stones I was leaving along the river, at intervals of kind-of-sort-of a kilometer, of the same style I’d used to demarcate the boundaries of my [Warding].
The pillars didn’t look like anything specific or bear any kind of indicia, since it turned out I couldn’t make that. At least not by myself. But I did color them granite-blue with [Customization], creating a record of my advance toward Meil. One of them had a spyglass in it, and after a little thought I added a little pedestal for people to stand on if they wanted to use it in the future. Not that it looked anywhere but the Meil tower.
Once I got the lenses working right, I could see that Vok Nal was, indeed, unimaginative. The figures were winged goblins. Maybe I could call them imps? Either way they didn’t seem to be all that dangerous, aside from being able to spot things from the air. Which was an advantage normally, but I wasn’t approaching from the air.
The sight made me realize how close I was to some point of no return, or at least a major confrontation where I should probably have as many ducks in a row as I could manage.
So far as I knew the only people heading over to confront Vok Nal himself were the fourth tiers, Iniri, Shayma, and Iniri’s mages Joce and Keel. The third-tiers and second-tiers would attack the Dungeon itself, provided I didn’t get to it first. I wasn’t sure if I could suborn or destroy the opposing Dungeon with any efficacy, but with [Bane] and all my mana I could certainly try.
I’d already given the fourth-tiers Primal Sources, and with some reluctance I parted with a few more for Iniri, Joce, and Keel. Iniri wanted light Affinity, of course, while Joce and Keel took fire. Then, after a bit more thought, I had Shayma deliver a set of Primals to Piping Hot Pies. I had affinities for three of them, but I had to give the guy with spatial a kinetic Source as a consolation prize.
I probably could have produced another Artifact, but Ansae’s remark about them coming back to bite me on the metaphorical rear end kept me from doing so. I wasn’t sure that it’d make a big difference anyway. Sure, [Promise] was powerful but it didn’t really make Shayma that much more deadly. Even though Annit seemed impressed by it.
There were still some experiments I hadn’t gotten back to though. All the crops I’d acquired and plugged into my mana dynamo could have made for some interesting consumables, maybe even buffs, but they were disappointingly mundane. Maybe it took multiple generations, which would require someone actually processing the various vegetables. I did have a number of farmers I could pay to do that, with some of Ansae’s gold, but that could be put off until later because that’d take weeks or longer to show results.
A scan through my overlay showed me that I had two Fields I’d basically never done anything with. I’d been getting a steady trickle of experience from reinforcing my core room with steel, and both Darkness and Mist were rudimentary enough that they didn’t take much for me to boost to ten each, just in case there was something interesting once they were maxed and hopefully evolved.
Skill merge; [Darkness] 10, [Mist] 10. New skill: [Murk]. Rank set to 5.
[Murk]: Combines [Darkness] and [Mist]. Creates tangibly obscured area.
Then I cursed myself for forgetting my new trick. I hadn’t plugged either of those Fields into my mana dynamo to see if they gave me a new one, like [Regeneration] had given me [Rejuvenation]. Unfortunately both of the original fields were gone, giving me one field that I could vary more finely but didn’t provide nearly as much fodder for new things.
I’d fix that right now.
Since I was now using [Murk] in my Core protection I used that for the experiment, and while it didn’t unlock anything, the dark, swirling, well, murk seemed to solidify. Good enough, though I was hoping for something more profound. On to other Fields.
[Abundance] learned. Rank set to 5.
[Abundance]: Significantly increases flora growth and yield.
Boosting Growth ate through my [Fertilizer] stocks fast enough that I cut the connection as soon as I’d gotten the new Field. That left only the Spatial Fields, which made me realize I really needed to figure out how to get new Fields that were unrelated to my current ones. They were powerful, and the closest I had to spellcasting, but there weren’t many options. Something like [Field Customization] would be perfect, although there wouldn’t be much difference between that and spells, maybe. In the meantime, I set up some tests with the remaining Fields.
[Spatial Overlay] learned. Rank set to 5.
[Spatial Overlay]: Overlaps two areas of space.
[Portal] learned. Rank set to 5.
[Portal]: Creates a constant connection between two openings.
[Portal] was simple enough, though it was a hefty drain on the dynamo. I could see how it was an improved [Link], though considering I already had [Teleportation] I didn’t know that it was really worth using other than for the nifty visual effect.
[Spatial Overlay], though, was really confusing. The amped-up [Teleportation] created a region that was in both places simultaneously, so when I put it on some foliage they kind of intersected and phased through each other. I assumed that someone who went into it could decide which version they went out or...something like that. I wasn’t willing to run experiments on anyone I knew. I could link it to more than one place at a time, so I could see a value in it as a nexus if it weren’t for the fact that it practically broke the dynamo with how much mana it used.
[Spatial Control] actually did, or would have if I had let it keep drawing. There was probably something there, but it’d take more power to create. I had a pretty enormous mana flow already, so I was hoping that it’d be amazing when I could do it. Though it was possible that as a Dungeon I was just hideously inefficient with my mana and normal spellcasters could do this stuff with a lot less effort.
That was all I could think of, which didn’t seem right. Surely I had more toys than this. Though to be fair, teleporting a bunch of high-powered Classers basically right into the city, or as close as I could get without actually hitting the other Dungeon, was a heck of a strategic benefit. As was the ability to retreat back to someone with an actual healing Class.
Considering the flying things though, I had steam power and I had metals, even if my steel reserves were practically zero. Couldn’t I make some sort of steam pressure cannon thing? Sure, it’d be hideously inaccurate and completely inferior to what the third- or fourth-tiers could do, but...actually that was a bad idea. There was probably a role for something like that, but not here. I’d have to practice with it anyway, and it actually didn’t seem likely I’d have enough ammunition or time to get good enough before the invasion. At least I could pass along what I saw to Iniri via Shayma and let them decide tactics.
Now that it was imminent, I was feeling a little bit jittery about this attack. I didn’t actually know what a mage-king could do, and while I was pretty confident about the monsters, if it had been as easy as just killing those then they wouldn’t have kicked Iniri out of all of her cities. Apparently that was mostly Tor Kot though, and we wouldn’t be dealing with him without the Adamant Fortress. Which I really hoped would be enough. It was pretty clear things would go badly if we didn’t kick the mage-kings out before they realized they weren’t dealing with another one of their kind.
It might go badly even then. Who knew how much power the mage-king Council wielded? Where even were they, other than over the ocean someplace? I didn’t have much choice though, since the best I could hope for was removing them and relying on Iniri’s kingdom and newly-Purified self to hold off any invasion.
Now that I was so close I was a bit more cautious about digging my way forward. Mostly, I couldn’t guarantee that I wouldn’t get hit by ANATHEMA if I touched the Meil dungeon and if that happened I’d be too damned mad to think. Or at least think well. At worst I might end up setting the staging point outside of Meil proper rather than right at the tower like I’d originally intended, but since Vok Nal probably didn’t have much of an army left that might not matter.
I was actually glad I wasn’t in charge of the battle plan. I had many talents but tactical genius was not one of them.
Since I had more attention on the digging I had less on everything else, but it seemed like I wasn’t the only one nervous about the next day or so. Iniri was spending a lot of time in the hot spring, Shayma chatted a lot with Annit and Keri rather than sparring. Here and there, precious reserves of alcohol were opened as people took the edge off with a round of drinks. There were some attempts at tayantan wine but none of it was ready yet. Assuming it would work in the first place.
A part of me was kind of jealous. I could use some liquid courage right about now, or at least some artificial relaxant. I didn’t have the anatomy to feel a proper stomach-churning unease but there was definitely something unpleasant there. “You know, I don’t feel ready for this,” I confessed to Shayma.
“You want to call it off?” She asked, and not idly.
“No, that’s not it. It’s just that the mage-kings are really scary. They’ve been talked up an awful lot.”
She snorted, lazing in her bed at the cottage. “You burned a whole army by yourself. His army. He’s only got Meil and the surrounds for resources, and you have a better idea than I do how much he spent on them.”
“I really don’t. I don’t do monsters at all. Well...I mean I can guess some of it, but how do you make monster levels? How do you use Depletion? How does Vok Nal get any of that power? I don’t know any of that.”
“Well, I bet he’s pretty vulnerable right now, and he won’t be expecting three fourth-tiers to hit him without any warning, or for Iniri to be able to use [Shield of Tarnil]. If we’re lucky we’ll just punch him right out of the sky.”
“What, you’re betting he’s going to fold like a chump?”