Fabrication: Mana Diamond Anvil discovered. Creates small amounts of exotic resources. 20 light Affinity Source, 20 kinetic Affinity Source, 16 Alchemical Diamond, 50 Stone, 20 Stonesteel, 4 Adamant Stone, 20 Gold.
I knew having lasers would be useful for something aside from weaponry, and a little bit of effort had yielded something pretty neat. Making a diamond anvil wasn’t actually that hard with my resources and with [Customization], though I had to shrink my laser aperture further, but generally they were meant more for experimentation than fabrication. To make the newly-created stuff stable I had used [Mana Logic] to link in a couple of mana crystals and ended up creating a brand new dungeon station. An expensive one, too.
Clearly I needed to build more dynamos. I couldn’t even afford the [Mana Diamond Anvil] and I needed a ton of mana just for the resources, not to mention all the Sources I’d need to harvest, so I put that aside to focus on another relatively new acquisition.
So far I hadn’t much messed with the dungeon climate categories. Putting them into an experiment room didn’t do much because, according to [Tempered Wisdom] and my own inspection of the magic structure of the Fields, woven like threads but maybe also a bit like logic gates, it required a lot of room to do anything. I hadn’t wanted to risk compromising a perfectly functional system and I’d needed mana and resources I could count on, but now if I was building something from scratch maybe it would save me some effort. I cleared out an area higher up in the mountain, above Ansae’s lair and my core room, and Expanded a five-hundred-meter sphere.
That was a hell of an empty space, so I reinforced the exterior with stonesteel, trusting that the spatial shenanigans would keep the interior from collapsing, as usual. At some point I’d find out if they also helped mitigate the sheer weight of what went into those spaces, though I was pretty sure the answer was yes.
I could have probably put a full dynamo in there but I was looking to do something a bit more grand. The mountain itself was close to twelve kilometers high and probably six or ten times that wide, and though I’d only suborned a three-by-three-by-three kilometer chunk or so, eventually I’d have the whole thing to myself. I should have had plenty of room for, at some point, every aspect of the Ecology, so for the first one I tapped into the Dungeon Climate room and blanketed the whole sphere with Volcano.
The results were pretty spectacular. Black, fissured rock rose from the bowl of the floor, oozing lava as it built into a vented, scorched cone. Molten stone traced lazy, glowing lines down from the peak into a churning moat at its base, where it was sucked back under. Once the volcano reached half the height of the sphere I’d given it, it stopped growing, but the fissures traced their way up the walls, spitting ash and soot into the air. The heat caught the flakes and particles, sending them swirling and dancing as plants began to grow and bloom over the slopes and along the walls. There were the usual chrysthenium flowers, of course, but types I’d never seen before appeared as well.
Volcanic Chrysthenium discovered.
Cinder Tree unlocked.
Soot Root unlocked.
Magma vine unlocked.
I wouldn’t exactly call the volcano lush, but plant life in all colors of black and grey and orange and red dotted the lava-traced slopes or hung from a pumice-covered ceiling. The mana flows were already in place, though the actual throughput was sluggish without the extra, competing Affinities my dynamos tended to link together. As a bonus, all the extra flora that had just appeared as part of the climate seemed to be Affinity stuff, so I could use it to make things for my Companions. Admittedly, neither Shayma nor Iniri used fire or earth Affinity, but still.
Using the Climate did drain my mana something fierce, but not nearly as much as if I had done each element individually. A check over my resources showed that it had eaten stone and biomass too, so it wasn’t like all that stuff was free, but I was happy with the result. Once the volcano climate was established, the mana and resource drain diminished to negligible levels and everything seemed self-sustaining. Frankly it was better than I could do by myself, where I had to manually place trees and grass and flowers.
Since the volcano had turned out so well, I made a duplicate chamber next to it that I overlaid with the glacier climate. This time it was ice that rose out of the bowl, mounding higher and higher while icicles as thick as trees descended from the ceiling. Meltwater cut tunnels that meandered through the growing glacier, the ice’s color shading from white to blue as it rose. Snow sparkled in the air, silently accumulating under the frozen, looming shapes of icy pillars descending from the ceiling.
Like the volcano, the whole ecology came into being, the normal white and silver and crystal flowers I was familiar with along with a host of tiny, deep-rooted plants and delicate, transparent ferns. Deep under the ice, in the lowermost pockets of the caves, bell-shaped petals dangled from the ceiling blooming in the diffuse light that the climate created from the walls, filtering through layers and layers of ice.
Glacial Chrysthenium discovered.
Silvervine creeper unlocked.
Chime fern unlocked.
Frozen triproot unlocked.
I really wasn’t sure how the precipitation stayed constant, or how the water was recycled, though like the volcano there were complex mana paths already in place. Unlike my prior efforts I couldn’t simply bring the mana streams from the volcano to the glacier; they were too tightly interlinked within the Climate. Fortunately, using [Mana Logic] did work, mana surging through the links I’d forged and driving each of the Climates into a greater flurry of action.
The volcano actually erupted now, on occasion, spewing chunks of flaming rock and drops of lava into the air, and the glacier, while it didn’t grow, groaned and creaked as greater pressure settled into it. I was impressed with the end result, which yielded both new resources and a mana generation superior to my old dynamos even without any intermediary Affinities. I still had a number of Climates to go, though I didn’t have room for each of them yet, but best of all it seemed like I could create or adapt Climates, given that one of them was “Conservatory,” in obvious reference to the farming areas I’d worked on for Iniri.
I was actually quite tempted to try out the Conservatory Climate on one of the farming plots I’d made, as the population was slowly dropping from people moving out to Meil, but the plants there were in mid-growth and if the Climate caused too much upheaval they’d lose everything. While the end result would no doubt be better, people would go hungry in the meantime. Similarly, I could drop the Temperate Forest Climate onto Refuge but that might result in the equivalent of an earthquake.
That said I felt it was a little bit of a shame to let the frankly fantastic-looking climates languish by their lonesome, so I punched a passageway between them and put a shielded path following the contours of each. Following my determination to actually have physical paths between things, aside from my core, I ran the pathway down to the audience chamber and then Compressed it to shorten the trek. If nothing else, I thought Shayma would like seeing it. She could actually wander off the path without worrying about the environment. It might even train her [Temperature Resistance] Ability!
Once everyone was moved out again – and amusingly I’d noticed some people were arguing with Iniri to stay without even asking me – I could reshape everything using the Climates. Actually I needed to give serious thought to having an above-ground or at least visible presence, since I wasn’t trying to hide any longer. If nothing else I could put a road between myself and Meil, since I wasn’t really planning on holding the city forever and once I gave it up the teleport would stop working.
I was chewing over the rest of my internals when something popped into my perception. The ability to notice people who were talking about me was something I was already mostly ignoring, since so far the vast majority of it was the people out on the fringes of Meil, who had nothing interesting to say. This person, though, I had a vested interest in and wasn’t anywhere near Meil.
The Hurricane lounged on a windowsill, unglamored and ashen-skinned, evening sky and a sheer drop visible beyond. The interior of the room was opulent, yet restrained, each item functional but artfully and lavishly crafted. Behind a heavy, intricately carved desk, a looming mountain of a man frowned at her, his own skin nearly as dark and the lichtenberg lines visible in purple along the back of his neck.
“Yes, I’m sure Wildwood was very nice but that’s not why you’re back early,” The man pointed out, [Genius Loci] naming him as Harus Norp, Level 57 [Lord of the Tides]. “So?”
“Iniri’s got a pet dungeon called Blue,” The Hurricane said, lazily twirling her staff with one hand. “And wow, do we ever need it.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to try and annex Tarnil while it’s under occupation by the mage-kings,” Harus said, though his tone was more resigned than doubtful.
“Nah, it’s fine.” The Hurricane waved it off. “Blue’s got some cheat something or other where he can steal the mage-king’s dungeon out from under them. They’ll be gone soon, and I bet everyone else will be all ‘wow that’s a lot of power’ but it’s not.”
“Then…” Harus drew out the word until The Hurricane looked at him. “Why do we need it?”
“Guess who’s got two thumbs and is immune to depletion?” She hooked said thumbs at herself. “Ta dah! Thanks to Blue. But mostly, check this out.” She hopped off the windowsill and floated over to where Harus was sitting, holding out the Primal storm Source that I’d given her. “Try and take this. Just try.”
The man’s hand snapped out, so incredibly quick it had to be a Skill, but his fingers passed right through the gem. Then he stared at it, eyes narrowed, and mana flowed as he used another Skill of some sort.
“Gods teeth,” he swore. “Where did you get something like that?”
“Yup, Blue makes ‘em. Make great gifts for the kids, don’t you think?”
“That’s not funny, Milly.”
“Not a joke, little bro. They make your Class better! With one of these you don’t have to worry about them missing the Lineage Skill, or going off to become storm Affinity.” She did a little twirl where she stood on the ornate desk. “Seriously though, it’s not like Blue is actually Iniri’s either. Some girl named Shayma seems to run the place or something. One of those fox-kin, and a redhead at that. Seems like your type maybe, eh? Eh?” She slapped him on the shoulder, rocking him back in his chair, but Harus just grunted. “I dunno how it works exactly but we don’t have to invade Tarnil or anything. Just take some third tiers and myself and we can just sit on the dungeon. It’s got fuck-all that’s effective against that power level.”
“You’re leaving something out.”
“Oh, you never ask about that sort of thing!” The Hurricane grinned and ran her hands down her hips suggestively. “I have my own reasons and they’re so goooood.”
“Gods, why did I even ask.” He buried his face in his hands. “Won’t whatsisface, Iniri’s fourth-tier have something to say about you traipsing around there?”
“Oh, he’s dead.”
“Yeah, he and grumpyface Liril and I all went and beat on a mage-king until he fell over and died. Yamal got dead, Liril got more grumpy and went to pout off wherever, and I got Depletion immunity and it was amazing. You wouldn’t believe—”
“Please, Milly. Just don’t.”
“—I actually almost died! It was so good that I’m totally ruined now…hey, wanna see?”
“Gods, Milly.” With his face buried in his hands, Harus couldn’t see The Hurricane’s wide and toothy grin.
Thankfully the perception cut off there, but...well. That was an unpleasant bit of surprise. Not only had The Hurricane skipped out, she was fomenting a takeover. Strangely, I wasn’t actually angry at that. Upset, yes, pride hurt, yes, but nothing like I ought to have been. Maybe without ANATHEMA boosting me I just couldn’t manage that level of emotion toward a remote threat, or maybe there was some anti-ANATHEMA mechanism that kept me from getting mad at Purified individuals.
Even without the emotion, logically I knew I needed to put even more effort into developing myself so I could deal with her. Better core defense, and something of the same potency as the LAE but a little less light oriented. Maybe projectiles, but I didn’t know how to get enough of a kinetic kick for that to be reasonable. I could use steam, but kinetic Affinity mana would be way better and more potent; portals were a possibility too, but containment would be nearly impossible. Aside from energy and projectile, the only things I could think of were pure spellcasting, which was completely locked out for me, and maybe some sort of particle beam? I didn’t know how the hell I’d do that with magic though.
Hopefully that could all wait until after we dealt with Tor Kot, because that timer was running. Already we were down a week of the supposed month and it’d take several more days before we would be ready to even start. Shayma’s [Seeker] indicated the last cube needed for the Adamant Fortress was still in Duenn and considering that it was one of Tor Kot’s larger cities, there was no way to take it by force. Fortunately, Shayma had one hell of an advantage in stealth, and Cheya had taken her in hand to get her ready.
Ultimately, the only one who could actually enter the city would be Shayma. With the way dungeons could track people, only [Illusionary Presence] would be able to let her move about unnoticed. Not to mention that anyone else would get massive, possibly lethal amounts of depletion just by traversing Red Core territory, and even if Shayma were to be caught I had enough mana to simply teleport her back instantly. I really liked having that emergency recall.
The only worry was that Tor Kot’s dungeon would be able to spot she was immune to Depletion despite [Illusionary Presence]. She hadn’t had the skill when Vok Nal had discovered her, but it wasn’t clear whether or not the dungeon had spotted the immunity in her Status or whether it had felt it through some other means. If she was still spotted, the backup plan was for Cheya to go in and get it while Shayma distracted Tor Kot’s forces, depletion be damned.
Oddly, she hadn’t brought up the subject of my Purifying her afterward.
While Iniri had mentioned my digging another tunnel to Duenn, I’d rejected it. Considering what happened last time, any dungeon-on-dungeon combat was as likely to kill me as not, even with two cores and combat upgrades, especially since Tor Kot was more competent than Vok Nal. That was according to Cheya, who had observed the movements of monsters and the takeover of the cities and found them to be organized and efficient. The fact that the Shadow monster hadn’t called Tor Kot an idiot was another good indication.
That said, even if he was competent it wasn’t likely he knew that some obscure and non-functional chunk of metal was vitally important, and it wasn’t likely to be especially protected, let alone bait for a trap. Even the flame knights hadn’t known why Shayma was looking for the cubes, which was probably why a single curious individual had gone rather than a whole company.
Honestly it wasn’t the most airtight of plans, but we were pretty limited in what we could do. Unless I wanted to do something like build an absolutely enormous version of the LAE and try to level the entire city, which I doubted would turn out well. I’d started stockpiling resources in anticipation of that eventuality, but there was still a long way to go. The way Shayma had described the tower in the center of Meil, even a high-powered laser wouldn’t do much more than make it warm anyway. Especially since my lasers were just light, and didn’t carry any of my mana with them to make use of the [Bane].
I was certain that if such a plan would work, Iniri would sign off on it even with the collateral damage. Everyone inside a mage-king territory was effectively walking dead, though according to Cheya they hadn’t yet had their populations depleted the way Meil had. Tor Kot was rather more careful about husbanding his resources — not to mention he hadn’t lost an entire army to me. At least it wasn’t likely that Tor Kot himself would be there. So far as Cheya could find out, he spent most of his time in Taere, the first city he’d taken. It was also Tarnil’s largest port city, and probably its largest city overall.
It was maybe a little weird calling something with a couple hundred thousand inhabitants a large city, but in low-magic areas there were only the multipliers of [Class] and [Skill] to augment muscle-powered technology. Still, that was a lot of people to leech from, not to mention that was a lot of people who were suffering under the mage-king’s rule.
Vok Nal had only had one city and one core. Tor Kot had many cities and none of us knew whether that meant there were a bunch of cores or one really big one, but my guess was one per city. Partly that was because, again according to Cheya, Tor Kot didn’t move around much, but mostly it was because my ability to cross a hundred-some kilometers to Meil was probably unique. If Vok Nal’s core hadn’t finished taking over Meil in the span of months, I doubted that Tor Kot could have managed the hundreds of kilometers between the cities in the few weeks it took him to capture them in the first place. Even in the years since then it was unlikely the dungeons had spread far, to judge by Meil.
The new equipment that I’d gotten for the gang was almost done, judging by what I could see of the work, and once it was finished they’d be heading off. I had put together a few more normal LAEs in preparation for that, because even if I couldn’t level the city, if Shayma ran into trouble I could at least do something. I wouldn’t even need to hijack any of the nearby landscape. That was my other way to be useful, but probably would be a bad idea since it’d immediately put me in contact with a Red Core and I’d wind up in the ANATHEMA rage again, only this time with Shayma stuck in place.
There was one thing I needed to take care of before Shayma left, though. After my failure to actually hold The Hurricane to account I needed to make sure nothing similar happened again. With Iniri pulling everyone out of my territory, I had to make sure I had a talk with a certain [Herbalist] about a flower before she vanished into the countryside.