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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/1

Moving into some serious plot for a little bit here.

I really had to wonder why nobody else seemed all that worried. Maybe it was something to do with the adventurer life, but everyone just took the ambush in stride and continued on. I was still on tenterhooks until they set up camp for the night, and even then I wasn’t particularly comfortable. Unlikely as it was, I was half expecting more of those creepy white bugs to ambush them while they slept. Sure they kept a watch, but still.

At least the combat had yielded some concrete gains. When Shayma came back, not only would she be getting another level but a new Skill: [Dungeon Weaponry]. Even without any description of what it did I was kind of excited, both to see what she could do with it and what I’d get when I transcribed it. Perhaps it’d automatically solve some of my issues.

Even though I didn’t want to spread myself too thin, I split my attention, keeping an eye out through Shayma while I attended to some of my own projects in order to stay occupied. Most of the work was already done and I’d already figured out the list of things I wanted to do, so the fact that I got a little dumber while I was splitting my focus like that didn’t matter too much. If only having two cores meant I had two minds, but it didn’t seem to work that way. Maybe I needed to specialize one first.

I still hadn’t decided on that, and considering that the available specializations seemed related to things I was doing, I wanted to continue on the path of pseudo-magitech for a while and see if I could get that kind of specialization. Mana-fueled or not I had a better handle on computers and coilguns than swords and sorcery.

To that end I’d finally accrued the stuff I needed to build the [Mana Diamond Anvil]. It was by far the largest single-unit thing I could build, needing something around thirty meters of vertical height and a ten meter diameter floor space to fit. I ended up putting it under the volcano sphere, partly because I needed a new chamber for it anyway and partly because if I needed to hook into a mana dynamo I wanted to use a different one than my crafting experiments. That one seemed more or less tapped out with all the stuff I had attached to it.

It took the form of two massive cones, one on top of the other and each some fifteen meters tall, the points facing each other. They weren’t solid, but rather a latticework of Light and Kinetic Affinity sources, supported by stonesteel frames. A storage crystal in the shape of a large disc provided a base for each cone, filigreed in gold where the Affinity materials joined it. The Affinity lattices traced their way down, tapering along with the cone until they met the actual anvil, the points of the cones composed of alchemical diamond sheathed in Adamant Stone.

The whole apparatus had a golden cast, from the colors of the Sources as well as the actual gold that seemed to cover the junctions, all except for the very center which was blue-white from the stone and diamond. It looked damned impressive to me, glowing and gleaming, and I hadn’t even put any mana into it. Surprisingly, when I charged it up, it only took a thousand mana, which compared to the amounts I was used to working in barely even registered. On the other hand, it also only generated one one-thousandth of a unit of material, so on a per-unit basis...well. It’d take a while to get anywhere. A million mana a unit was steep no matter how it was phrased.

Still, I was curious what exactly I could get from the thing. Even a tiny amount of resources could be useful in something like, oh, a ring. Considering I wouldn’t be making any weapons out of it, I decided I’d toss in something other than the usual steel. I was going to use gold, in fact, because it seemed to be important to mana somehow. My mana crystals and more advanced devices all used it, so it would probably get a heck of a boost from whatever the mana diamond anvil did, exactly.

Charged, the thing actually shone. Glimmering light dripped from the frame, falling downward or upward toward the anvil point, following the mana density. I could see my Affinityless mana filling the device, twined along the paths of the crystal and Source, a weight dragging at the world as it pressed in toward a single point. A miniscule drop of gold floated in a diamond prison at the very point the two halves touched, ready for whatever the contraption was going to do. I triggered the anvil.

A vast bell tolled.

It wasn’t exactly a sound, but a wave rippled through all my mana, expanding outward from the tiny drop of gold and tugging at every single thread in every dynamo and plant and construct I had. I could see it wash through the mana of the few people left in Refuge, making them twitch and stare about, even the lowest-level ones. Far below, the wave passed through Ansae’s incredibly dense mana with a small ripple, barely visible to me, but she leapt up as if stung.

When it rolled across my cores I didn’t feel anything myself, but it rippled out to Shayma through the Companion bond and pulled her out of sleep. “Whuzza?” She asked, muzzily.

“Nothing, don’t worry about it. You can go back to sleep.”

“Mmph.” She rolled over and snuggled in under her blanket, safe within the bounds of their campsite somewhere outside Duenn.

The wave rippled through Iniri’s bond too, though it was far weaker. Even so she jolted nearly as hard as Ansae, sitting bolt upright in her bed and gasping, holding her hand to her chest. I couldn’t really soothe her the same way that I could Shayma, but hopefully she would just think she had a bad dream. I’d have Shayma fill her in on things later, or maybe I’d move the [Mana Diamond Anvil] further away from my core. I’d have to eat more of the mountain first, but that was on the agenda anyway. First, though, Ansae was less than happy.

“What was that, Blue? That hurt!” She sounded aggrieved, and the fact that she said that it hurt meant it must have been pretty serious. It didn’t strike me that she’d consider anything short of nigh-disabling pain more than an annoyance. I felt a little bad for that, since it was something worse than disturbed sleep.

I didn’t want to show her the [Mana Diamond Anvil] though. Among other things, I was pretty sure that landed in the realm of things I shouldn’t tell anyone about that she’d warned me not to tell even her. Instead I showed her the output of the thing, the one-thousandth unit of gold that had become something else.

First I lifted a pedestal in front of her, to get her attention, then a tiny one atop that, and then an even smaller one atop that, the last one made of glass with a setting for the transformed material. A tiny drop of [Hyperthaumic Phase-Condensed Aurum].

I really wished I had a better description of the material because it sounded exotic as hell, reminding me of superconductors and condensed matter physics, though the terms used to describe the former gold were so much gibberish to me. Maybe Ansae would have some idea.

The dragon blinked at it, blinked again, then reached up to rub her paw along her muzzle in a clearly exasperated mannerism. “You made something that is better than perfect at conducting mana out of a mana insulator. Of course you did. That would explain…” She trailed off, thinking, and I took the opportunity to add something to it by way of apology.

I really hadn’t intended to hurt her, and frankly I’d probably need more gold from her anyway so this would act as a bit of a payment for it. The Glacial and Volcanic Sources had fruited, from my new Climate areas, and I put one of each on a separate pedestal in front of the one with my exotic Aurum.

“Oh my,” Ansae said, eyes glittering with undisguised greed. “I didn’t realize you’d made new ones. High quality Affinities, too. I suppose that means that Aurum isn’t for me,” she added with an insincere sigh. “Which is too bad. I’d love to have something like that in my hoard. You do realize that this is the sort of thing people kill kingdoms for, yes?”

Well, oops. I’d have to make sure nobody knew about them without putting them into Artifacts or something. Once I figured out how to suppress the mana forge I wouldn’t mind trading her some, so long as she was satisfied with one drop. A full bar would be a bit much..

“I’m sure you’re wondering what use this Aurum has,” Ansae said, as if she were reading my mind. She reached out to pick up the Sources, the Volcanic Affinity a grey shot through with flickering orange and the glacial Affinity white with blue marbling. Both of them simply melted into her scales, her horns taking on a subtly deeper sheen a moment later. “Mostly, it looks like it can massively amplify Skills, but it’s very strange, because it’s still a bit of an insulator from what I can see.”

Oh right, she did mention that gold was a mana insulator. That maybe explained why it was in my high-end stuff all the time. It was needed to keep the mana contained, though it seemed to me mana acted more like a fluid than electricity. A very well behaved fluid, since it didn’t seem to want to escape from the virtual channels it made through my bulk, but maybe I just didn’t know what to look for. It sounded like it had turned into some sort of mana semiconductor, or semi-superconductor, which probably meant it was capable of really weird stuff.

“I couldn’t do much with this little amount, but you might be able to. The mana density is so high it wouldn’t have any problem imprinting from a Class or Skill, but what that would result in I couldn’t say. Crafting isn’t actually my specialty.” She waved a claw, settling back as I pulled the Aurum back into my inventory and removed the display pedestals. “Appraising, now...I can tell you that I’ve never seen the stuff you just showed me, so I bet it’s never existed before.”

That was a little bit impressive. Now, I had assumed that the [Mana Diamond Anvil] itself was unique, but I also figured that there were ways to do the same thing with existing knowledge. If Ansae hadn’t run into it, I doubted it was anything commonly known, or even rarely known. I had to wonder if the anvil was itself on the order of an Artifact, because now that I was looking for it I was pretty sure that none of that mana went to waste.

When I used mana to condense stone or metal to the next tier, a lot of that mana was ‘spent’ in the process of the phase change, with very little to none of it remaining in the material. The aurum, on the other hand, was chock full of mana. It didn’t look exactly like the mana that flowed through my dynamos, the process of being bonded with the Aurum having made it almost static. Almost. I wished I had a finer mana-sight, because I was pretty sure I could learn a lot from the details in those subtle movements.

I’d probably have to transcribe someone’s superior mana-sight. Mine had gotten eaten by [Genius Loci] and that didn’t seem to have any way to level itself. Or maybe the improvements were invisible. Someday I’d get my Status to behave.

I mulled over these things as I started putting a golden mesh around the inside of the [Mana Diamond Forge] room. I figured that mimicking electromagnetic shielding would be a good place to start with mana shielding, and then upon further consideration I put [Warding] over the whole room, dialed up as high as it would go.

Only then did I put in a piece of Cultivated Steel into the anvil. Like the gold it was basically a tiny speck, but it was fractionally larger, reflecting how the ‘units’ my interface used definitely weren’t standardized on volume. If I had to guess, considering what I knew now, it was based on how mana-rich it was or some similar metric. I could see how materials that reacted more with mana would take up more space in a mana-based system, just for the purposes of keeping them contained.

The bell tolled again, but this time the golden mesh broke it up, reducing the mana surge to a bare ripple that faded to nearly nothing by the time it reached my core and Ansae’s lair. Neither Shayma nor Iniri stirred, but Ansae cocked her head, listening.

“Yes, I can still feel it. Far away though, so whatever you did worked.”

That was all I needed to hear. With my mana regeneration I could keep the [Mana Diamond Anvil] going more or less constantly, and tried a bunch of different materials. What’s more, Ansae was interested enough to give me her impressions of them, which was invaluable in planning what to do with them.

Steel gave me [Firmament], which Ansae said was actually indestructible. I could manipulate it, because it was my mana, but nobody else would be able to. That seemed completely ridiculous, but considering how little I was able to actually make, I couldn’t build everything important out of it.

Silver and copper were similar to gold, but Silver seemed to be more attuned for my dungeon Fields and copper actively drew in mana. Again, the tiny amounts meant that I couldn’t abuse it too heavily, but I could already imagine the benefits of, say, [Shield of Tarnil] being able to absorb mana from what it blocked.

Stone and glass were really exciting, because they had, to me at least, mythical properties. The tiny bit of [Reified Manastone] I made was not only incredibly tough but utterly immoveable, immune to any force once I placed it, including gravity. I could have stared at the tiny sphere of floating stone all day, but I still had to be physically connected to anything I wanted to control, so I couldn’t have any useful floating islands yet. The [Incipex Thaumaglass] was invisible and frictionless, if incredibly fragile — I accidentally broke my first bead trying to adjust its shape, the mana hissing out and joining back to join the flow of my dynamo as it turned to dust. Still, I could think of uses for a frictionless substance if I could get the hang of it.

Some things didn’t work in the forge at all. Wood, flower parts, and monster parts all turned to dust, and the mana seeped out of it so it wasn’t even interesting dust. Magicite exploded, a tiny little pop of a mana-flare that thankfully didn’t actually damage the forge, and calamite turned into some sort of vapor that I had issues corralling. Water was one of the weirdest transformations, appearing unchanged but possessing the crushing pressure of the abyssal depths of the ocean. Not that useful until I made more than a fraction of a drop.

Then there were Sources. Really, at the size the forge took it would be more accurate to call it Source dust, and it created a tiny, self-contained reservoir of ultradense mana. Of course, that mana had an Affinity and I couldn’t access it directly, so I couldn’t simply churn out a bunch and solve my mana storage issues. That would be too easy. No, these were meant for people who could actually cast mana properly, though maybe I could put them into some of my dynamos or something if I needed a buffer.

Even if it would take some time to make all these things useful, I felt good about it. Watching Shayma and the gang take care of the monsters made me realize that they weren’t nearly powerful enough. I needed to improve their ability to go up against higher levels and Tiers, and while the LAE and similar weapons were useful, they were essentially a distraction. The featured centerpiece of the Purifier path was the Companion, and given that I’d forsaken monsters entirely my Companions were supposed to pick up for that slack.

[Tempered Wisdom advances to 7]

If I could get some more advancements I could at least start cross-transcribing Shayma and Iniri, and if Shayma could use [Shield of Tarnil] that would be amazing. Not to mention whatever benefits might come from higher Companion levels. Even though I’d clearly not been using it very well, Skill transcription was kind of amazing and the higher level functions of the Companion path should be equally amazing. Judging by the odd-level pattern so far, I’d find out the next time Shayma advanced a Companion level.

Speaking of which, I was clearly doing something wrong there. I had the feeling that the Companion levels should be advancing far more quickly. Even if a couple of months was nothing in the lifetime of a dungeon, I had mage-kings and fourth-tier jerks to deal with so I couldn’t wait around for the advancements to happen. I had two options there, either bite the bullet and buy the companion specialization, or figure out what actually caused the advancements other than major events.

If I did purchase it, I’d rather wait until Shayma was back. No point in buying it and then sitting around waiting to see what it did, especially if it affected Iniri in some way and then I’d have an annoyed kirin that I couldn’t talk to. Plus there was no telling what might happen to Shayma, and I’d rather not have her discombobulated while on an important mission.

My experimentation carried me through the night and into the morning, when the group near Duenn was stirring. Since I was looking out for any possible attacks I was actually paying attention when Keri woke Shayma up just before her watch ended, as morning broke.

“Good morning, Shayma,” Keri said cheerfully, though quietly. “Do you and Blue have some time to answer some questions for me?”

“I sure do.”

“Of course, Keri!” Shayma waved for Keri to join her on one of the seats I’d provided from inventory.

“Actually it’s about Annie,” Keri said, settling down and clasping her hands together. “You’ve noticed that her Class and Affinity are not very powerful. We talked about it, and if it weren’t for Blue’s blowgun she wouldn’t have been able to put a dent in those monsters despite her level. She could barely protect me even with you and Cheya holding off most of the monsters and it’s really getting to her. Is there anything Blue can do to help her out?”

“Uh.” That was not what I expected at all. Generally I expected Annit to be the one to think about these things, but of course Keri wasn’t stupid and Annit wouldn’t come to me for a solution. She had trust issues and I didn’t really blame her.

“Actually yes. I can change or admix her Affinity, but that’s a breeding option so I don’t see her taking that. The same is true for the Companion option, which would make her more powerful once I can transcribe Skills to her. I am actually working on equipment upgrades for you all already, for what it’s worth.”

“Admix? I guess that means you can blend in new Affinities?” Shayma asked. Sometimes I forgot that even though Shayma was quite smart, she wasn’t a scholar and I still sometimes spat out unfamiliar words. The fact that she didn’t have any trouble just asking about them meant she was braver than me. Upon my confirmation, she repeated it to Keri, who nodded understanding.

“I was afraid of that.” Keri frowned, a different frown than Annit’s. “I don’t think she’d want to try that.”

“But you would?” Shayma teased with a smile. “Just a bit curious, then?”

“Shayma…” I groaned. She had too much fun flirting on my behalf. Keri looked away demurely for a moment.

“Well,” she said, lowering her voice, “a bit. Now that I know Blue isn’t some monstrous thing, at least. But I wouldn’t do anything to hurt Annie and if she doesn’t want to it won’t happen.”

“I didn’t even want to offer just because you’re a couple and it’d be pretty weird. I’m not really sure it’s a good idea even if Annit does want to jump up a power level, because there’s no going back.”

Shayma repeated that to Keri, then added a question of her own. “I can see why Annit is worried about how strong she is, but what about you? She really only needs to worry about protecting you if you’re going out adventuring, and you don’t need to. You didn’t when you were at Wildwood.”

“Cities aren’t where people need help,” Keri pointed out. “Okay, maybe they do but not the type of help I mean. When I was very little there was a mana-spring flare near where I lived, and Tekaomi was there keeping everyone alive.” Shayma nodded, though the name didn’t mean anything to me.

“That’s what I want to be,” Keri finished. “I go where there’s trouble and I fix things. But to do that, I need to be able to handle it and since Annie will always come with me, she does too.”

“You do know if you tie yourself to Blue more completely, you’re going to have less choice about where you go, right?”

Keri snorted.

“Blue’s already opposite the mage-kings and he’s a Power. I don’t think we’re going to stop fighting any time soon. There’s probably nowhere I could go that we would be more needed, at least for now.”

“Well that’s fun to think about. Thanks, Keri.” Shayma giggled, but I continued. “Anyway some of the stuff I’m working on is probably pretty potent, so she doesn’t have to worry about going to such extreme lengths, probably. Not that I find them unattractive or anything! I just actually like them and I don’t want to mess up their relationship.”

“I was beginning to worry about that!” Keri laughed. “Thought maybe Blue was trying to let us down easy.”

“If I had a breeding station built I’d probably be looking for excuses to get them into it, but you don’t have to tell her that.”

“No, that’s not something you have to worry about.” Shayma said with a giggle.

“So what is this Companion thing all about anyway? I know you’re one, but there’s something else going on?”

“Yes, I made a Bargain with Blue in his capacity as a Power.” Shayma nodded. “Companions…” Shayma paused to marshal her thoughts for a moment. “Blue gets a link to them, so he can see through their eyes, and then can use their skills to boost his, and his to boost theirs.”

“There’s more, keep in mind you’re only companion level six. There’s probably more stuff at seven, nine, and ten. Not to mention whatever things I just haven’t figured out.”

“The thing about him seeing through our eyes...Annie’s already uncomfortable with him able to…” Keri blushed, suddenly. “To spy on us all the time. She doesn’t feel like she has any privacy. Is there anything he can do about that?”

“I mean. Not while you’re living in my territory! Although now that you mention it, I ought to see if I can disable the sensory input from the companion bond. If I end up with a bunch of them in the future it’d be nice to at least drop it down low. You tell Keri I’ll see about what I can do to create a privacy bubble or something, but no guarantees while they’re staying with me.”

“I understand,” Keri said, once Shayma had made that more intelligible. “Thank you for the answers. I’ll see about discussing it with Annie at a better time.”

A few minutes later and the other two began stirring, the camp waking up as the light of pre-dawn washed across the sky. I watched them pack up and set out for the last bit of their trek to Duenn before I was distracted by something closer to home. While generally I ignored all the people going in and out of my territory these days, most of those people were near Meil, not near my mountain home. These two had arrived through the wilderness by the foothills, and their names would have gotten my attention anyway.

Sienne Ell

Level 49 [Void Duelist Inheritor]

Giorn Ell

Level 51 [Verun-Style Kinetic Champion]

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InadvisablyCompelled

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