A note from InadvisablyCompelled


I felt a bit sorry for Iniri, frazzled as she looked when I teleported her into my audience hall along with the cubes and a pair of guards, but she was the Queen. It wasn’t like anyone else was going to do her job. She gawked for a moment at the colorful architecture, which pleased me since hardly anyone had been around to see it so far. That’d change eventually, probably, but for now it was underappreciated.

“Just set it up out front,” I suggested. “I made a big flat area to try it in.” A full square kilometer, actually, though it was possible it’d need more area. I had a thought to try a spatial expansion without any borders other than the ground to really give the Fortress room, but without testing it first that wasn’t the best idea.

Overall a single square kilometer wasn’t much area, but considering the five cubes were fairly small I didn’t imagine that the fortress itself would be so immense that it’d crush the mountain and flatten the foothills. Besides, it was a mobile fortress so there had to be some attempt to conform to the local terrain. If worst came to worst, it wasn’t like there was anything too valuable in the way of any potential devastation. Everything expensive was below ground level or very far into the mountain.

Shayma guided Iniri out of the audience chamber, through the entrance hall to the grassy meadow beyond. Just under it I’d reproduced a mini-dynamo, which was about as much mana as I was prepared to feed the Fortress today. If nothing else I’d be able to get an idea of how much I’d need to keep the thing active during battle.

I was already hollowing out space below Meil to set up the dynamos. Since I knew that Iniri would take me up on my offer to move the city, I had also set up a spatially expanded chamber large enough to hold Meil; walls, buildings, and all. By my experiments with [Relocate] it’d take hours, even helping it along by burning mana, but that was impressive speed for something the size of a city. I thought so, at least.

I had them stop above the center of the dynamo, in the middle of the grass, and told Shayma that Iniri could kick it off anytime. She beckoned to her guards, who’d had the task of actually hauling around the Artifact pieces along with some metal stands, and they set them up on the grass. It didn’t seem that they needed any great precision, just a sort of close-enough plus-shaped structure with the outlying cubes half a meter from the central one.

Iniri waved everyone back as she stepped up to put her hand on the central cube, eyes half-closing as she concentrated. I focused on the mana as closely as I could; it was clear Iniri was invoking her mana, but she was stopping short of actually pushing it into full manifestation. What was fascinating to me was that it came, to some extent, pre-shaped. It was light Affinity, of Iniri’s particular flavor, but it wasn’t the smooth, almost liquid form mine took. There was some deep and subtle structure, which had to be the Skill. I only wished I had better resolution in my mana sense, because I was pretty sure I couldn’t see most of it. Not that I really understood what I did see.

The Artifact pulled the structured mana into itself, stirring suddenly as the brass-colored faces glowed. Thin beams of light shot out, connecting the central cube with the four others, and the brass faces began to disappear. They didn’t simply vanish, or slide out of the way, but rotated sideways in little tessellated pieces, each piece becoming two-dimensional before vanishing entirely. What it revealed was densely packed crystal and clockwork, slowly clicking gears and racked lenses and prisms that clearly went far deeper than the size of the cube could account for.

The Artifact started drawing in ambient mana, and I wasn’t much surprised when I saw that it preferred light Affinity. Not that it refused anything else, since it pulled heavily on every piece of the dynamo below it. After a second of warmup, brass rods slid out from the interior of the central cube, one in each direction and each capped with a white, multifaceted prism. With a flare, the prisms lit, one bright beam connecting to each of the other cubes and a [Shield of Tarnil] sweeping around to create a wireframe box defined by the five cubes.

Things happened quickly after that. Articulating arms with more prisms and lenses appeared from the depths of the cubes, central and peripheral alike, broadcasting additional wireframe lines and filling in the planes that existed, building a courtyard and walls out of [Shield of Tarnil]. The cubes themselves lofted into the air, not even bothering to stay on the same plane as the beams connecting them adjusted, brass arms and faceted crystals twisting and turning to maintain line of sight.

Without [Genius Loci] I wouldn’t have been able to tell what was going on after the first few seconds, as the cubes were shrouded by infinitely thin walls of [Shield of Tarnil]. With it, I could see how the brass armatures kept extending and adjusting, the optical components themselves shifting in ways that made me pretty sure they were actually four-dimensional objects. Ten seconds in and all five cubes were haloed in an intricate array as they built the Adamant Fortress.

It shaped a throne under the central cube, or Iniri did, with a central chamber extending out around Shayma and the guards. The floor firmed under their feet, the colors of [Shield of Tarnil] shifting to the same brass-bronze color as the cubes, and walls rose up to form an inner bailey, complete with a crenellated top. A motte spread out to the edges of the square-kilometer space, then outer walls rose, opaque to a height of twenty-meters before turning transparent, forming a full bubble over a hundred meters high at its peak. Paths, ramps, and stairs popped into existence, providing access to walls and tower.

Finally, an intense point of white light appeared a dozen meters above the tower, bright but not illuminating, looking more than a little ominous where it hovered. A mana Affinity I didn’t recognize curled up from the artifact into the point of light, but stopped after just a moment. Most everything else was light Affinity, with literally everything being constructed from intricately-shaped [Shield of Tarnil]. Even the doorways and windows, while transparent, were made from shaped mana, reminding me an awful lot of my own doors and the mana weave there. In all it took maybe fifteen seconds to spring into existence, and judging by the size and shape Iniri had complete control over its dimensions. At the one-kilometer-square size the cubes had ended up floating hundreds of meters apart, serving as cores for cardinal towers that anchored the curtain wall - though considering the actual protection covered more than just the visible wall, I wasn’t sure the towers were anything more than aesthetics.

The wall, at least, had a reason to exist - it was clearly designed for Classers to man the fortress, because while it was probably nigh-impregnable there didn’t seem to be any offenses built into the structure. Aside from that single point of light at least, which gave me a really bad feeling but didn’t seem to be actually doing anything. Then again, if it was a weapon I was glad Iniri wasn’t test-firing it into my mountain.

It wasn’t pulling all that much mana at the moment, relative to what the dynamo could provide. More than would be comfortable for a mage or for the normal ambient where I was, but the single square kilometer area was pretty damn small. If she made it as large as Meil I’d need something much more robust to keep it fed and happy. With my new [Climate] stuff that would be easy, and give me a reason to experiment with it further.

“Wow,” Shayma said, staring about at the newly-erected Fortress. She couldn’t see the whole thing as well as I could, but it was impressive enough from the inside of the bailey. There weren’t decorations, but the windows and doors were broad enough to show off the interior, and Iniri’s throne was definitely impressive. Not only was it oversized, but the active, central cube hung above it like some strange halo, brass-and-crystal arms splayed out in frozen splendor.

The two guards gaped, their professional meins cracking despite their forty-odd levels. To their credit, they didn’t stare for too long, though it wasn’t like there were any threats about for them to guard against. If anything, Iniri was now the most protected person in the world — so long as the mana lasted, anyway.

Her eyes were far away as she settled down on the throne, clearly paying more attention to the Artifact than to her surroundings, fingers splayed out on the armrests. I could see doors flickering back and forth between intangibility and full protection, the armatures twitching here and there, so I had some idea of what she was doing. Though I didn’t know whether she had some sort of overlay interface or was doing everything by feel, she clearly had complete control over the fortress, and was just going through all her options. Whatever bits of mana were used to control it were invisible under the sheer complexity of the light mana and the Artifact’s other workings, but it showed me that I had a long way to go if I wanted to be able to craft at a similar level.

Powerful as it was, [Promise] was a mere bauble by comparison.

“Well, it definitely works. The question is whether she can shut it down and remake it where Meil is. Will have been. Whatever. Also I’m curious about what this can do! Anything besides an insanely good defense?”

“Blue would like to know about the Fortress,” Shayma said, walking over to Iniri’s throne. “What it can do, and whether it can be moved.”

“It’s rather amazing,” Iniri said, eyes focusing on Shayma with some difficulty. “I can control its shape, the entryways…” For once, Iniri seemed nearly as bubbly as Shayma, eyes sparkling with uncharacteristic glee. It was the first time I’d seen her act her age. She came across as so mature it was easy to forget she was still in her mid twenties. “I can make it fly!” She waved a demonstrative hand and the whole damn square-kilometer of fortress lofted off the ground, light as a feather. Iniri didn’t take it very far, which was a good thing since it would run out of mana if she got away from my dynamo, but ten meters straight up was pretty impressive regardless. “It doesn’t have any weapons but one. [The Light Of Eschaton].”

“Oh, damn.” No wonder that white point of light gave me such bad vibes.

[Tempered Wisdom advances to 8]

“You know what that is?” Shayma asked, startled.

“No but I can guess by the name. It’s not even active and it’s creeping me out, not to mention I can’t actually identify the mana Affinity being used. I’d appreciate it if Iniri didn’t try test-firing it anywhere near me.”

“I can tell,” Iniri said with a nod at the request. “It just feels dangerous. It feels like a last resort.”

“Doomsday devices tend to be, yes.” If I had to guess, that was the weapon that had made the Wasteland, though I didn’t actually know what the Wasteland was like. A vast desert? Rough scrub? An out-of-place tundra? Or maybe it was some stretch of apocalyptic hellhole, complete with ruined cities and radiation. Considering the weird sense of foreboding I got from the tiny point of light hovering above the bailey, I didn’t think any of those were adequate. [Tempered Wisdom] was warning me about it something fierce, to the point where it was almost as strong as dungeon instinct, so I was going to take that warning to heart.

“Anyway, I’d call that a successful test. As soon as they’ve got everyone inside the walls I’ll start moving Meil.”

Iniri nodded and, with some reluctance, started disassembling the Fortress. It looked essentially like the construction played in reverse, the [Shield of Tarnil] walls and ceilings turning transparent and vanishing as crystal and brass retreated back inside of the cubes. There was an amusing moment, to me anyway, when the floor vanished and everyone realized Iniri hadn’t put the Fortress back down, leaving a ten-meter drop. Not that it was any problem, everyone there was a Classer, but it definitely surprised people.

The cubes dropped haphazardly onto the flattened grass, showing that either Iniri didn’t quite have the control she wanted or the creator hadn’t exactly figured out the best way to handle turning off the Artifact. Either way, the guards went around and collected them while Iniri breathed and flexed her fingers.

“That was quite the experience,” Iniri said at length. “I find it hard to believe that the Fortress ever faded into legend. From what I could tell I could practically build a city with it!”

“Yeah, but the mana drain is pretty significant.” Unlike classical energy, mana could be destroyed, and the Fortress was definitely consuming a significant chunk of it to keep itself operating. I couldn’t tell whether it was more or less efficient than Iniri using the [Skill] herself, but at the sheer scale of the thing it didn’t much matter. It was more than an individual or even most chunks of land could sustain.

Good thing they had me.

“Anyway, now that we know we can actually use the Fortress, I’d like to see what happens with the Skill Transcription.” So far I hadn’t had the chance to try it on anyone but Shayma, and that was primarily under the auspices of a Bargain, so I didn’t know what to expect. Hopefully it wasn’t too underwhelming.

“Fine, fine.” Iniri said, in good humor. “I’m curious how this works anyway.” The four of them trekked back into the audience chamber, and Iniri bade her guards stay. I’d noticed none of them were particularly happy when she went off by herself, but when it came to dealing with me they were stuck.

I transported Shayma and Iniri to the core room, and Shayma led Iniri into the lake cottage. I still had both cores stashed there, but that was mostly because I didn’t have the resources quite yet to build a second core defense and put the second one somewhere else. I was pretty damn sure my next iteration would include some of those supermaterials I was making anyway.

Iniri stared at the core crystals, eyes wide.

“I’ve never actually seen his core before,” she said, which I hadn’t realized. She’d been in the core room, but not inside the cottage. “It’s so strange. Even here I can’t see his mana.” She turned to Shayma. “Also, aren’t these larger than the red core?”

“Yes,” Shayma giggled. “He’s a big one.” Iniri rolled her eyes, but smiled.

“So what do I do?”

“Just put your hands on the core,” Shayma said, demonstrating by leaning against a crystal facet. “That’s what I do, anyway.”

Iniri followed the directions, laying her palms flat on the crystal, and I triggered the transcription.

Skill and Ability Transcription beginning.

Transcribing Companion abilities:

Transcribing [Lineage: Shield of Tarnil]...Lineage Seed: [Shield of Tarnil] obtained.

Lineage Seed: [Shield of Tarnil]: Allows the dungeon to grant the seed of [Shield of Tarnil].

I had hoped that I’d get the Skill itself, but I hadn’t really expected to. Given my ban on casting actual spells, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t get to wield the Shield itself, but the lineage seed itself was a new thing. It had its own entry under Abilities, and I could tell that I could push it at Shayma, but since the wording didn’t specify Companions, I wondered if I could hand it off to other people too.

Transcribing [Lesser Divination]...knowledge benefits upgraded. Knowledge of name invocation has expanded sphere of perception and includes knowledge of location.

That was a pretty nice benefit, and I was wondering about how or when I would be able to improve my semi-mystical ability. It still didn’t have an actual entry in my Status anywhere, but at least it existed in some way that Skills could interact with.

Transcribing [Royal’s Mana Control]...skill merge with [Mana Manipulation]. Upgrades to [Mana Finesse], rank set to 6.

[Mana Finesse]: Dungeon has improved control over its ability to manipulate mana structures. Dungeon has improved mana perception.

I could tell the difference immediately. Not that I’d felt myopic before, but the moment the Skill upgraded all the various mana flows became crisper, more detailed, and somehow even brighter. The most dramatic difference was with Ansae, who already shone like a beacon under my magic perception. Now she looked like an illuminated ocean, with depths and depths. Calling her mana dense didn’t even begin to cover it.

I’d have to take a closer gander at my super-materials too, and the process being used to make them. With this improved mana-sight I might actually get an insight on more details than what Ansae had told me, since she had admitted she wasn’t a crafter. I was, if all my material creation and assembly options were anything to judge by.

Transcribing [Protector’s Light]...skill becomes Field:[Light]. Rank set to 5.

[Light]: Create a field of tangible light.

It had been a while since I’d gotten a new Field, and I was actually kind of excited. With all my tricks regarding Fields I could probably get a bunch out of this one, though I wasn’t sure what use it had in and of itself. I’d have to play around with it to see what it could really do.

Transcribing [Ritual Leadership]...skill becomes [Dungeon-Companion Linking]. Rank set to 5.

[Dungeon-Companion Linking]: Allows the Dungeon to temporarily link its mana pool with a Companion’s mana pool.

Now this was a Skill. Considering how immense my mana pool was by Classer standards, even if there was some loss this meant Shayma, or Iniri for that matter, could pack one hell of a punch. Using my mana reserves, they could probably way overstretch their normal Skill limits, which ought to be great for leveling up.

Transcribing [Inspiring Speech]...skill becomes [Guidance Amplifier]. Rank set to 5.

[Guidance Amplifier]: Companion Guidance moderately augments Companion physical and magical ability.

Even though Guidance itself was a bit of a bust from my point of view, the Amplifier made it a lot more interesting. I was sure this would drain mana, but a general buff was nothing to sneeze at. The only question was whether it’d stack up to their Skills and levels, or if it was something only a low-level Companion would notice.

Transcribing [Body Fortification]...skill becomes [Structural Mana Reinforcement]. Rank set to 5.

[Structural Mana Reinforcement]: Dungeon can reinforce structures and features with mana, reducing damage and improving resistance to spell and Skill effects.

I wasn’t sure how this was different from some of the reinforced materials I’d been making, but any chance to shore up my defenses was something I’d take. If nothing else, it’d give me something to do with my excess mana, when I had any. Most of it these days was going to stocking up on my more advanced resources.

Transcribing [Intermediate Rune Carving]...skill becomes [Mana Geometry]. Rank set to 5.

[Mana Geometry]: Allows for complex structures using [Mana Logic].

I still wasn’t completely sure what I was doing with [Mana Logic], but considering this new Skill it might just be because [Mana Logic] wasn’t meant to operate on its own. I wouldn’t consider myself has having a skilled understanding of mana but I had seen enough people working enough Skills to understand that Ansae’s explanation was – while perhaps good enough for her – not complete, and it really needed structure to it. If I could make those structures I might actually be able to do some automation.

Transcribing [Ruler’s Sagacity]...skill merge with [Tempered Wisdom]. [Tempered Wisdom] evolves to [Blue’s Sagacity]. Rank set to 5.

[Blue’s Sagacity]: Powers know more than mortals. Powers see more than mortals. Powers are more than mortals.

That was one hell of a description, especially since I was somewhat doubtful I actually did have much in the way of sagacity. I wasn’t about to complain though, since each point in the Skill gave me a whopping twenty five thousand mana, slightly more than all the ranks of [Tempered Wisdom] combined. In an instant I’d tripled my mana reserves and I could feel the difference. It was an almost dizzying expansion of self, even if I couldn’t quite figure out what had improved other than the numbers.

Transcribing [Mana Sight]...skill merge with [Mana Finesse]. Mana perception very slightly improved.

Transcribing [Mana Resourcefulness]...skill merge with [Efficiency]. Skill evolves to [Amplified Presence].

[Amplified Presence]: Improves efficiency of mana and material use. Ambient mana slowly infuses dungeon materials over time.

Of course not every Skill could be so impressive. Those two didn’t bring any particularly noticeable changes, though with [Amplified Presence] I could tell my dynamos were running more smoothly. Mana was pouring into my now vastly expanded pool, my mana generation was whirring along, and I felt generally better. It wasn’t a huge change, but it was an improvement in every single aspect.

While I was at it, I triggered a Transcription on Shayma, too. I hadn’t done it for a while, mostly because she hadn’t changed Skills in a while, but considering that she’d had her Class advancement just a few days ago maybe some of those evolutions could help me.

Skill and Ability Transcription beginning.

Transcribing Companion abilities:

Transcribing [Dungeon Weaponry]...skill merge with [Defender’s Superiority]. Experience awards slightly increased.

Transcribing [Eidolon Body]...dungeon constitution upgraded.

It didn’t surprise me that both those Skills were underwhelming. Considering that [Dungeon Weaponry] was based on her using my own creations, it absolutely would have been strange if it had given me something unusual. So far as [Eidolon Body] went, my body was stone and steel already so there wasn’t much that could be done with it. On the other hand, a quick check of it revealed that it had doubled my hit points.

Transcribing [Phantasmal Path]...skill becomes Field: [Phantasmal Realm]. Rank set to 5.

[Phantasmal Realm]: Manifests an area of the Phantasmal Realm.

Wait. What?

“Oh, my.” Ansae rumbled while I was gawking at the notifications, perking up as she took a deep, deep breath. “That is delightful.” Her head swiveled as she turned to look up through the stone to the core room. “It feels like you just got a Class evolution? No, I forget how immense your systems are, you must be evolving Skills. Fascinating.

That comment was enough to distract me for a moment. My Skill evolutions looked like most people’s Class evolutions? Then again, [Blue’s Sagacity] was utterly ridiculous, though it seemed to be my first blatantly Power level Skill. That fairly well laid to rest any lingering doubts I had about actually being one, as well as giving me a gauge for what future Power Skills might look like. It also explained Ansae’s frankly insane power level and ability. She probably had all her Skills at that sort of absurd level.

“Okay, I got a lot of neat stuff from that. Going to transcribe it back to you,” I told Shayma, though the reverse-transcription process was quite a bit more miss than hit. As I’d seen the first time, without something like a Bargain overriding things most Skills just didn’t have anything to hook onto.

Transcribing Dungeon Skills and Abilities:

Transcribing [Mana Finesse]...skill merge with [Mana Control]. Rank set to 9.

Transcribing [Structural Mana Reinforcement]...Skill becomes [Body Reinforcement]. Rank set to 1.

That made me laugh. The Skill had more or less been transcribed straight across, which I hadn’t much expected, but it did make sense. The Skill itself was straightforward, just a way to let mages keep up with the enormous physical demands of higher Tiers, so of course Shayma got it unaltered. That said, combined with [Dungeon-Companion Linking] she could probably punch way above her weight class. Figuratively and literally.

Transcribing [Mana Geometry]...skill becomes [Abstract Mana Shaping]. Rank set to 1.

[Abstract Mana Shaping]: Magic has a shape, and you need not anchor those shapes in matter.

“Wait, does that mean you can just conjure up runes now? Sorry, you got two skills and one is the same as Iniri’s but the other one seems to be wayyyy better.”

Shayma produced the Status Sigil from her [Phantom Pocket], pulling it up to check out her largesse.

“Oh, huh. Iniri, have you seen this Skill before?” Shayma said. Iniri took her hands off the core crystal, reading it and slowly shaking her head.

“No. It looks like a variation on rune-oriented Skills, but I’ve never seen that particular version before. Do you know any runes?”

Shayma shook her head, then paused and frowned. A moment later, a duplicate of the rune structure Iniri had scribed to help with her divination appeared in the air, Shayma’s mana twisting into tight conduits.

“Does this work?” Shayma asked. Iniri gestured towards it, mana of her own weaving out.

“Apparently so.” She stared at the floating rune, lips pursed. “This isn’t fair, you know,” Iniri said conversationally. “I spent hours in the evenings working on runes, down in Ir’s dungeon when I was working to get to third tier. I needed it, to make up for light Affinity’s lack of offensive power. But you just…” Iniri scowled, tail lashing in frustration as she threw her hands up. “You get it as a gift.” She shook her head. “No wonder people go to Powers.”

“It certainly is a nice benefit,” Shayma agreed. “Though it wasn’t why I made a Bargain with Blue to begin with, you know.” There was just a hint of sharpness to Shayma’s tone, which surprised me, but it wasn’t like I knew Iniri all that well. Maybe her comments had some subtext that only Shayma would understand.

“I know,” Iniri sighed. “Shayma, I have to be suspicious of Blue. He isn’t human or demihuman, he isn’t one of my subjects. He doesn’t have any loyalty to me, nor can I bribe, coerce, or even argue with him. It’s not so much for my sake, as for my country and the people who depend on me.

“That said…” She took a breath. “He’s never asked me for more than I could pay and provided as much as I could ever ask. He hasn’t even tried to bind me in with gifts or favors. Tell him thank you.”

“Um. Not that I’m objecting to her acknowledging how much help I’ve been, but I’m a little weirded out by this confession.” At this point I was used to some degree of standoffishness from Iniri because, well, Queen and all.

“You’re scaring Blue by being nice,” Shayma giggled. Iniri snorted.

“Look, Blue, Shayma, this is going to be a long campaign. Even if we manage to deal with this army, Tor Kot holds four major cities and there’s hundreds of miles to cover. I’m going to need your help every step of the way, and I want you to know while I trust you personally, as a Queen I’ll always need to keep some distance. I hope you can work with me on that.”

“Oh, sure. It’s always made sense to me but it’s nice to be appreciated!”

“I’m glad. There’s also the matter of being Blue’s Companion. You pointed out that I agreed to be a Companion but I’ve not really been fulfilling my part of that. I will actually commit myself to that going forward. So...” Iniri paused for a moment, as if gathering herself before continuing. “Is there a way for me to advance to the next tier and get that ability transcription, if Blue is willing to give it to me?”

“Blue’s new breeding station is supposed to enhance dungeon rapport,” Shayma said with a knowing smile. “You could go in for another massage.” Iniri flushed.

“I admit I haven’t been able to forget the last time,” she said quietly. “I wouldn’t mind it.”

That actually surprised me. I didn’t think I’d left that strong an impression on Iniri. Though from what she was saying, it might just be the accumulation of impressions up until now that really convinced her. The few times she’d come by to enjoy the hot spring thing I’d made she’d been considerably more casual, though to be fair she was always half talking to herself. It wasn’t like I could talk back to her without Shayma.

“Oh, well in that case, keep in mind I have extra things I can do now. I could give her an additional Affinity, for example. Most of the other options are healing and such, so that’s probably the only one she needs. She’ll want to decide on that before we get started.”

“He can…” Iniri stared at Shayma, wide-eyed. “And what will that cost?”

“I’m going to need someone to handle political stuff soon enough. I’d like you to train Shayma in actual statecraft.”

“In my copious free time, of course.” Iniri chuckled.

“Says you. He didn’t even ask me!” Shayma grinned.

“Oh, if you don’t want— ”

“It’s fine,” she reassured me. “It sounds pretty neat, actually.”

“You know,” Iniri said thoughtfully, “if you can give me kinetic Affinity, that would help a lot. People with that Affinity just seem to have more energy, and it’d shore up some of my weaknesses if I could get kinetic Skills.”

“Huh, that’s an interesting choice. But you know, seeing your dad wander around I can understand that. He’s got more energy than I do and I don’t even sleep!”

“Very well then, I accept.”

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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