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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/1

Our first non-consecutive day in a while.

50,000 experience gained for Purifying Taelah Marn.

Companion Taelah Marn advances to Rank 7.

280,000 experience gained for advancing a Companion from Rank 1 to Rank 7.

I had to say I wasn’t expecting Taelah to immediately jump to rank seven, when even Shayma had only reached five with her Bargain, but it did confirm the idea that the rank was about how dedicated they were to the role. Maybe that wasn’t exactly it, but the truth was somewhere in that area. I also wasn’t expecting it to take so long to get to that point, but poor Taelah just wasn’t cut out for marathon sessions. Fortunately, the alternative we worked out was just as fun and worked after a fashion, though I held off on any additional permanent breeding options until I had the chance to talk to her through Shayma.

Though, she reacted a lot more to my thoughts than anyone else aside from Shayma, even if she couldn’t hear me directly. I wasn’t sure if it was part of the Bargain with The Village, the better link through the breeding station, or just Taelah’s natural inclination. Or maybe my attempts at trying to direct my presence the way Shayma could were bearing fruit.

While I certainly enjoyed entertaining Taelah through the honeymoon, that wasn’t all I had been doing. Iniri spent a good deal of time discussing things with Tekaomi, to the point where the fourth-tier healer stayed several extra days. Mostly I didn’t get involved with that, since it was all queenly political stuff that I didn’t much care about aside from making sure Nivir didn’t continue to bother us, but sometimes Iniri needed my opinion on things. Mostly, if Tarnil was exercising my will, did I want to be aggressive or defensive and so on.

Mostly I didn’t want to generate trouble. I wasn’t much worried about Nivir’s army, not after I had dealt with it before, but it could get irritating to deal with if it kept happening and I had no idea what other people might think if I stirred up the hornet’s nest too much. Everyone seemed scared spitless of Ir and I had no doubt there were other forces that might take an interest and would be more difficult to address. So my policy with Nivir had to be a balancing act. I wanted Nivir to be too wary to try again, but I couldn’t demand or threaten so much that they’d panic and go crying to some ally or another for help. Plus, now that Nivir knew that Tarnil was operating in my name, I was sure I’d get a lot more insight into what they were saying about me.

Iniri demanded one specific thing on my behalf, which was nice because I hadn’t even considered it. That Nivir recognize me as a sovereign entity and acknowledge I was an exception to the agreement about Dungeons and Mana Springs. I was sure that even with that recognition there’d still be idiots who had the same idea as The Hurricane, but making it actually illegal under their own laws to provoke me gave me far more options. Plus, hopefully, there’d be fewer people who had such ideas once their own king told them not to.

Tekaomi wasn’t the only one Iniri was talking to. Some official from Haerlish showed up, and there was even someone from Ir that stopped by. She gave them all the same line, though in Haerlish’s case he already had some documents. I left all those details to her. That’s absolutely what I wanted her to do anyway, so I wasn’t worried about the specifics. If there was something really important she’d just ask me.

Her other main concern was getting the cities weaned off of dungeon-created food and drink, which meant that Iniri was spending a lot of time getting in contact with isolated farming villages. Her bird-light constructs were incredibly useful, flitting over the length and breadth of Tarnil, and farmers went to stake out fields for me to put [Verdant Light] and [Abundance] on. With all the [Grassland] climate I had now, plus running the output of several cities into Composting Chambers, providing the Fertilizer for that was no problem and I didn’t have to micromanage things. The farmers themselves probably weren’t sleeping too well with giant swaths of lit cropland growing at a visible rate, but there were already some harvests happening. It was just too bad I couldn’t accelerate food animals the way I could plants.

Even though it hadn’t suffered the depredations of the rest of Tarnil, Wildwood’s resources were surprisingly scarce. They were basically an economy unto themselves, geared to put out smaller amounts of highly enchanted equipment and consumables. Even if they wanted to export, for example, the meat from some of the truly titanic beasts that lurked in the Wood itself, it was so mana-dense that it was actually inedible to anyone in the first or second tier, or even higher if they had the wrong Affinities. At least that explained why there weren’t huge swaths of crops in high-mana areas. Unfortunately, it did mean that the one properly functioning area of Tarnil wasn’t capable of much helping the rest of it.

Through it all, The Hurricane was zipping here and there and getting increasingly annoyed as her storms didn’t do what she wanted them to. I was perfectly content because she actually was making progress, and if it made her so mad she had to vent her spleen at innocent clouds, that was just a bonus. A little hardship would be good for her soul.

From what I could see the wind and storm mana kept shifting and the patterns of weather probably weren’t going to be the same as before either, but I’d hardly expect that. Especially from such a brute-force method as The Hurricane was applying. Watching the halting and uncertain movements of the mana flowing through the atmosphere, I had to wonder if anything approaching normal weather patterns actually applied in the first place. A mountain-girdled coast like this one ought to be either desert or rainforest, but Tarnil seemed temperate and maybe only moderately dry. Judging by the new patterns it was going to be pretty damn wet for a while though.

From north to south clouds were gathering. The Hurricane, for all her flaws, had an enormous amount of power, and she really was whipping together a country-sized weather system. Violently. There were already places where it was pouring down rain, and here and there gusts lashed at trees where the mana tangled into a knot and birthed a sudden squall. All along the mountain range, fronts hit stone and howled into narrow slot passes, and lightning playing along the gravel and rock picked up by the intense wind. Mana had a tendency to meld together rather than cancel out, void mana aside, so it didn’t really surprise me to find there were places along the mountains that were far more extreme and wind-blasted than they had any right to be.

I did have the chance to grab some of the wind mana as The Hurricane pushed it down, tying it into the kites of wind-affinity chrystheniums so my mana would start to filter in. I still didn’t have a good handle on the storm Affinity, aside from some flowers I’d rooted in those aforesaid canyons, but it was better than nothing. Still, unlike with the way I’d restarted everything else, Tarnil’s wind and storm would probably take weeks to fully recover. Good thing I had a fourth-tier to deal with it.

The major development was that the monsters that the Shadow guy had been talking to, and that Iniri sensed, finally arrived. I found it a little odd that I sensed them after Iniri, but apparently her [Queen’s Intuition] extended out further in space or time than what I’d taken over. The [Scalemind Abominations] came into the edge of my perceptions from where I’d spread downward into the tunnels below the mountain, and I finally saw what was taking them so long. For one, there were an awful lot of them, and it definitely wasn’t an army.

Some of them had weapons, but they were all knapped flint rather than anything metal. Poorly knapped too, which offended my sensibilities. I’d learned to knap damn well, and you needed a good point to penetrate something like mammoth hide, though I’d always found it easier to run the things off a cliff. Most of them though, were unarmed which made sense because a good chunk of them didn’t have any hands.

While every single individual was a [Scalemind Abomination], and there were probably nigh-on a thousand of them, they didn’t look like a single species. Rather there seemed like three, though there was plenty of variation between even those three types. Some of them had massive scythes for arms, serpentine bodies, and numerous boney, spike-tipped legs. Some were quadrupedal, or rather, hexapedal, lumbering along with packs and supplies. Others still were covered in spikes and quills, jutting out between their scales. Only a few of them had what I’d consider a normal form, looking rather like miniature versions of Ansae. Not as striking, but scaled and roughly humanoid, though clearly not even marginally human - digitigrade, scaled muzzles, cruciform pupils.

“Hey, Ansae? I’ve got several hundred Scalemind Abominations coming up from the tunnels below and uh, they look like refugees.” They had that tattered and forlorn air about them, along with what I presumed were children protected in the middle of the group, with the scythe types at the outer edges. Some of whom were sporting fresh-looking wounds. Apparently the lowroads weren’t all that safe. “Anything you can tell me?”

“Oh, that’s quite odd.” Ansae looked up from her Slate. “They’ve yet to manage an actual civilization, but they’re tough enough that they’ve fairly well established themselves in the Beneath. There’s not many things that would drive them out without killing them.”

“I should add that I caught one of the mage-king’s monsters talking to them. They were going to try and pitch something to Tor Kot but the monster sent them to me instead, so they definitely want something from me in particular. They seemed to pay him back by severing his connection to the dungeon.”

“Well. Now you have my attention.” Ansae’s eyes sparkled. “I admit I’m not current with the situation in the Beneath either, but that sort of collaboration is not usual. This must be connected with the invasion in some way, else how would the mage-king’s monster know about them?”

“I mean, I guess it is a little too coincidental but they’re pretty obviously not with the mage-kings. Does that mean there’s something funky going on over there?” It was obvious that there was, but I’d had the impression that it was centuries old.

“Certainly something to ask them.” Ansae’s smile grew. “Though that might be an issue for you, given your unique communication problems. They all have an extremely strong mind magic Affinity, and use [Telepathy] almost exclusively. They may not have anyone who can speak aloud. You, of course, don’t seem to have a mind by anything magic can register.”

“Of course.” Because nothing was ever simple. “I guess it was about time the shoe was on the other foot. As it were.” Shayma would have to translate both ways.

“You’ll want to be careful,” Ansae warned. “I very much doubt Shayma has any real defenses against mind magic. She might inherit something from you but, if not, she’ll be quite vulnerable.”

“Oh. Um.” That would be a problem, especially since that was one of the Affinities I didn’t have. I wasn’t sure how to get it either, aside from the Core Specialization I couldn’t yet afford. “I don’t suppose you’ve got anything that would help with that?” Ansae’s eyes flickered, concentrating on something I couldn’t see. I assumed it was her own inventory system, because she clearly had one and it was probably better than mine.

“I do indeed. It’s not like this is a new problem,” Ansae said conversationally, accessing her hoard with the runes that, so far as I could see, were branded onto her claws. “Even I like to have extra insurance when dealing with telepaths. Here we go.” One of her runes flashed and deposited a thin, plain silver circlet on one of the workbenches she was using. It was human-sized, which made it incredibly tiny compared to her. “I think this one is, hmm, twelve hundred years old? Ought to protect her from anything invasive but still let her communicate.”

“Fantastic. I guess the question is, what is it going to cost me?”

“You know, we never did cover what I wanted for my audience hall…” She said that, but [Blue’s Sagacity] told me that wasn’t the whole story. I waited a moment for her to add something, but she left it hanging so I could only guess she was still chewing over what she actually wanted.

“Oh, about that actually. You may have noticed the caldera up top? I’m going to be turning that into a big private area. Really, really big. I figure I can make you your own mountain. Or whatever it is that you want.” Ansae tilted her head at that, the corners of her muzzle curling upward.

“My own mountain, is it? Exactly how big are you imagining?”

“Uh, well, about two thousand kilometers in diameter and a hundred kilometers high when it’s done.” Ansae just lifted her eyeridges at that, so I translated to the units they used instead. “A circle twelve hundred miles across with walls sixty miles high.” Ansae was silent for a moment, considering.

“Even by my standards that’s big.”

“I wanted to have plenty of room. I can’t exactly experiment with Tarnil, even if that is a huge chunk of land.”

“That is true enough.” I got the feeling Ansae wasn’t exactly a fan of my Bargain with Tarnil, but she’d at least not argued against it. Whether that was out of pragmatism or a belief I should make my own mistakes, I wasn’t certain. “I would enjoy having that much room,” she said, stretching her wings. “It’s easy enough to spend centuries when you’re mostly asleep but now that I’m awake I’m getting a little bored. And there’s nothing more dangerous than a bored dragon.”

“I can see how that might be the case.” Actually, it sounded like she was working herself up to asking me a favor. “I guess after all that time it’s a bit late to pick up any of your old projects.”

“Mmm. I’m sure there are several of those ‘projects’ still around, but I don’t think either of us are in the right state to deal with them. I’m not ready to reveal that I’m still alive, and you’re not powerful enough to contend with some of the things that would come to find me.”

“That sounds ominous. More powerful than the mage-kings?”

“Power has many dimensions. Even though Tor Kot clearly was not trying his utmost to destroy you, you are immune to his greatest weapon and threat.” That was true. Depletion didn’t mean anything to me, but still I’d mostly bluffed Tor Kot out. “There are more insidious, more profound, and more destructive things out there. Or more helpful; not everything is out to destroy you.” She waggled an equivocal paw. “But you’re already working on shoring up your weaknesses.”

“I’m trying, anyway.” Her comment suddenly reminded me of the hole I’d plugged up with gold, and a brief test showed it’d finally been plugged or neutralized or whatever to the extent that I could finally pull myself out of the area. Which I promptly did, because I didn’t want to deal with that nonsense anymore. The gold plug had transmuted into [Phantasmal Gold], which as far as I could tell was completely non-magical. Which was rather cool, but it wasn’t like it was immune to magic, since I could grab it just fine, but it didn’t hold any itself. I’d have to show it off to Ansae at some point.

So that was one weakness shored up, one that nobody actually knew about, and while it wasn’t gone a few tiny cracks were a lot different from a giant hole. For addressing the rest of my myriad weaknesses, my Bargain with Tarnil was a big step. Iniri was in the process of sending out messages and whatnot, but my becoming an explicitly political entity meant there’s be no more nonsense about simply being a dungeon. I was even working on an actual chunk of territory.

I didn’t have an army though, and even with a political presence, at some point I’d need to resort to force. Shayma was amazing, but I knew I really needed some extra tricks. Which was why I was up to two [Mana Diamond Anvils] and I was producing supermaterials as fast as I could. Firmament was obviously the most useful for defense, but a Firmament wire was probably a pretty deadly weapon. I could only make the stuff so thin, maybe about half a millimeter, which was dangerous enough but made me wish I could take it further. If it was completely indestructible then I could make atomic monofilament out of the stuff.

Then there was the electricity and magnetism stuff, but that was slow going as I had to grope my way through how even the crudest bits worked. Turned out it was way too easy to melt copper wire, though at least I could safe my conduits by wrapping them in Adamant Stone. Though considering I had molten lava in various places, hot wire was hardly a safety issue and I could always keep it cold with [Temperature Finesse].

“With that sort of space, I could start erecting proper defenses,” she mused. “But it’d run my mana and stamina reserves down quite a lot. You wouldn’t have much control though, and they’d shine like a beacon to anyone looking. Not useful for your mountain, but one of my own?” She waved a claw around at her current lair. “And I do need to stay inside your mana authority. It’s the only stuff that I am absolutely certain is clean of Depletion.”

“It’s not going to be done right away but you’re absolutely welcome to set yourself up.” Actually, I was pretty curious as to what she classed as proper defenses. Having magework of her level available for me to study might well give me ideas for things I could do. Or it might just be incomprehensible. Jumping straight to whatever ridiculous level Ansae was might be a bit of an ask.

“Then go ahead and take it.” Ansae flicked a claw at the circlet. “We can settle accounts more closely when you’ve finished your project, since as useful as that is, I don’t need it and it’s not really worth an entire mountain.”

“Great!” I grabbed the circlet and stuck it in the treasury I’d finally remembered to make, underneath the cottage. It wasn’t necessary to hand it off to Shayma right away, since the Abominations seemed to be grouping up and settling in for the day, or night, or whatever. I wasn’t sure how cycles worked in the Beneath. Either way, they weren’t going to get close enough to the surface for me to worry about just yet. I wanted to watch them for a while anyway, since I couldn’t eavesdrop as usual, and it was a little harder for me to figure out who the leader was. Besides, Shayma had other things to work on. Specifically, working on the [Steelwoven Momentum] for her dad’s new weapon.

I’d had just enough experience to boost Shayma’s [Smithing] to ten, which had given her an unusual Skill evolution: [Dungeon Smithing]. The description read, uses dungeon stations to craft metal, and gave me a new option on my overlay once I Transcribed it. It was called a [Companion Smithery] and as I had figured by the name, there wasn’t any way for me to interact with it myself. I had to link it to Shayma so she could use it, just like how I gave her access to my LAE or teleports.

It wasn’t a buildable station, either, but rather a sort of room effect like a Field or a Climate. When I put it overtop an empty area, because I was curious if it’d grow the facilities like a Climate did, absolutely nothing happened. It wasn’t until I asked Shayma to take a look that we started to get anywhere.

“I need an anvil. And a forge,” she said frankly. “And a lot of other stuff as well. I can feel empty slots where stuff is supposed to be, but that’s it.”

I was glad Shayma had some idea of what went in a Smithery because aside from anvil and forge I didn’t. Heck, I hadn’t even noticed that real forges had different levels of heat, so we spent time filling up her Smithery with useful bits. I had to hook my mana flows into it, but that was fine. If I had excess of anything, it was mana. The anvil was composed of Adamant Stone, as were the forges, which heated up of their own accord. Didn’t need fuel with [Temperature Finesse], which hooked into her control once I’d set it up in the room. One barrel of water and another barrel with [Temperature Finesse] freezing temperatures, which I wasn’t sure would work but was worth a try.

I dropped in one each of my metalworking crystals, so she could melt, alloy, crystallize, and cast on her own. Not to mention overhauling my [Hydraulic Press] to make a drop hammer for her. I was sure there were things I was forgetting, but the nice part about it being a room effect was that I could add more things and she’d have access. I loaded up the shelves with ingots of all the specialty metals and a bunch of steel and Cultivated Steel, and let her have at it.

“Wait, what is this?” Shayma took the [Ingot of Promise] off the shelf with some effort, grunting as she hefted it. “Is this the stuff you made my ring from?”

“Oh, hey, yes. Kind of forgot about that.”

“It says it’s the crystallized blood of an ancient Power!”

“Uh. That certainly explains a lot.” I’m not sure I would have actually made Shayma’s ring out of it if I knew that was the case, but it would be nice if my overlay gave me more information than the bare minimum. Though maybe I should have figured that Ansae had that kind of thing lying around. Shayma just shook her head and put it back on the shelf, browsing through the materials before starting to take stuff over to her forge.

She was happily making tools, and I was entertaining Taelah, and Iniri was doing complicated ruler stuff, so everything seemed to be going fairly well for the moment, except for the fact that there were things coming out of the depths where the Scalemind Abominations had made camp. I wasn’t sure if the lizard-people presaged some great exodus from down below or if their passage had drawn scavengers of some sort, but either way there were creepy crawlies coming from below.

I actually missed the first incursion because the Scalemind handled it completely silently, but I caught the second one. A few hexapedal things looking like iguanas made out of cracked lava appeared from one of the tunnels, all basalt and glowing red lines, drooling lava and baring obsidian teeth. Once they were near the encampment, they seemed to relax and the scythe types just let them pass. Mind Affinity magic, naturally.

What bothered me was I didn’t know why the monsters or magic beasts or whatever were attacking. Wild animals didn’t tend to assault encampments because it was just too much of a threat, too scary or whatever. It was basic evolution that predators picked off strays, because going after entire herds would get them dead. Unless they vastly out-massed their prey, anyhow. So I asked Shayma.

“Magic beasts start needing more and more mana as they age and get more powerful, so Classers start looking really, really tasty to them.” She shrugged, using one hammer to shape another, holding the red-glowing ingot with her bare hands. “On the other hand, that means that they usually don’t wander out into low-mana areas and attack people.”

That maybe kind of explained it, though I still wasn’t completely satisfied. Although considering that explanation, I’d start attracting beasts on my own, as my mana density increased over my whole territory. And whatever the full picture was it still meant that there were things popping up that needed killing. The [Flamescale Scramblers] the Scaleminds had hijacked were put out to fend off their brethren, which worked pretty well until some hulking [Crystaltip Scorpions] came out to munch on the carnage.

The Scaleminds hijacked them in turn, and I was starting to see why they didn’t really need better weaponry than stone, not when their magic was good enough to stop single creatures cold and subvert swarms. Of course, such magic couldn’t and didn’t come free, so they couldn’t keep it up forever, and by the time the fourth wave of critters came from the depths to munch on either the corpses of prior predators or the Scalemind themselves, the scythe types had to wade in themselves.

They were the highest leveled of the bunch, mostly upper thirties and lower forties, though one seemed to be around the third tier at level fifty-two, even if it didn’t look any different. They did pretty well with their scythes, though I wouldn’t consider them a match for Classers of the same level from a strictly melee standpoint. Still, as some larger stuff started to haul itself through the tunnels, actually widening them as some enormous earth-type monstrosities worked themselves up from wherever, I decided enough was enough.

First, it’d be churlish for me to just watch the Scalemind Abominations fight and die when they were inside my domain. Second, there were just too many things getting stirred up and I didn’t want to deal with some endless cycle of hyperviolence as things rose out of the deep below. Third, just on general principle I wanted to keep my main territory peaceful. I couldn’t do that for all of Tarnil, and it wasn’t like I was going to be enforcing the law or anything, but for my mountain I was in charge.

First I spun up the LAEs. The beams were now millimeter width, and I couldn’t turn it on full blast, but that was fine. They were still powerful enough to make explosive cuts through a bunch of earth-plant-things and big balls of rock with teeth, flash-vaporizing whatever passed for flesh. Though I made the lines of fire over the heads of the Scaleminds, they backed up quick once things started exploding from millimeter-thick invisible weapons. Once I cleared out the immediate problems, I flushed the tunnels with a lake’s worth of water and then froze it with [Temperature Finesse]. Unless something started burrowing through solid rock, I figured that ought to hold things. Which wasn’t impossible, but [Amplified Presence] was making it harder for things to just dig through my stone.

The Scaleminds all skittered well away from the giant plugs of supercold ice now blocking the tunnels branching out from the sole passage up, and I realized it probably looked to them like I’d cut off any escape routes. That was unfortunate, but under the circumstances I figured I had the right and responsibility. My territory, my rules. I hadn’t yet figured out how I wanted to contact them, since I didn’t like the idea of just dropping Shayma on them. They were a bunch of freaky weird silent monsters and they could keep anyway. I was busy with my honeymoon and didn’t want to be distracted from Taelah.

It was a rather laid back and pleasant few days, but eventually I had to get back to work. Taelah either had the same sensibilities or picked up on my attitude, because she suggested it herself before I could work up to sending Shayma to say something. Of course, I still had to interrupt Shayma to go meet her, because now that Taelah was a Companion it was time to see what Transcription yielded.

“Shayma, could you go meet Taelah in the core room? We need to do Transcription because she’s already rank seven! She started out that high, even. Plus, I have to ask her opinion on some options she’s got.”

“Of course,” Shayma said, breaking away from her breakfast with Keri and Annit. “I’ll see you two later!” Annit nodded and Keri waved, the two of them on a minor break as well, since they’d worked through all the wounded from the battle.

“Rank seven? I’m a little jealous, I only started at five!” Shayma confessed as she triggered the teleport down to the core room.

“Yeah, I think it’s probably because we just sort of felt our way toward what we are now. She started out as wife, which is a different foundation.”

“I guess that makes sense,” she agreed, crossing over the lake and heading inside her cottage. The portal to Taelah’s garden room was still there, though I’d have to move it elsewhere soon enough. Probably into Taelah’s house in The Village.

“Have a good time?” Shayma asked with a knowing smile, and Taelah blushed.

“I did,” she admitted.

“Blue actually has some things he wants to consult with you about,” Shayma said. “Plus, it’s time to get your Companion upgrades.” She shot Taelah a curious look. “Did you know your Companion rank is higher than Iniri’s, even though you just became one?”

“No…but I am his wife. It makes sense.” Shayma laughed at that, since we’d just been talking about it. “I suppose it does.” She said, and beckoned Taelah to follow her to my core crystal. I’d taken to just having my Companion-specialized one out while I left my other one hidden, since my Companions were drawn to that one anyway, and for all I knew it made things like Transcription and skill boosting easier. I didn’t see any difference on my end, but it couldn’t be easy to assimilate all the new stuff for them.

“All you need to do is put your hands on the core crystal,” Shayma told her. “But just to warn you it might be overwhelming. You’ll probably get a bunch of Skills at once and some of them might give you a lot of knowledge or something. I’ll be right here in case you need to lie down or something.”

“I’ll hope it’s not too bad,” Taelah said, looking maybe a touch nervous as she lifted her hands and pressed them against my crystal.

Skill and Ability Transcription beginning.

Transcribing Companion abilities:

Transcribing [Plant Identification]…skill merge with [Genius Loci]. Improves descriptions of Flora.

Transcribing [Herbal Medicine]…medicinal herbs unlocked.

Transcribing [Alchemical Insight]…skill merge with [Genius Loci]. Improves descriptions of alchemical ingredients.

Transcribing [Novice Alchemy]…upgrades [Mixing Bath] to [Alchemy Station]. [Companion Alchemistry] unlocked.

Transcribing [Green Touch]…growth and maturation rate of dungeon flora improved.

Transcribing [Deft Fingers]…skill merge with [Customization]. Improves fidelity of changes.

Transcribing [Strength of the Earth]…skill merge with [Amplified Presence]. Rate of reinforcement improved.

Really, most of her abilities weren’t that exciting, though I was looking forward to maybe having some non-terrible descriptions for things. Insight, Intuition, and Foresight didn’t transcribe from her Ability list, but considering I had [Blue’s Sagacity] they were probably just completely inferior to it and couldn’t contribute at all. The nicest thing was that it gave me a second room like the Smithery, which considering that both Shayma and Taelah had alchemy skills, would be really useful.

This time I could see more about how the transcription process worked as it settled into Taelah’s soul. I still didn’t really understand everything I was seeing, but I could see that the new additions were more like natural growth from the existing patterns, rather than new things dropped in whole cloth. That made sense; the Transcribed Skills weren’t identical to the dungeon ones, only related in effect. It was like building a protein chain, some complicated geometries that spiraled off in unpredictable but constrained directions.

[Soul Perception] advances to 10.

[Soul Perception] evolves into [Soul Sight]. Rank set to 5.

For a second I was worried I’d be hit by fugue again, suddenly being able to see everyone’s souls all at once, but that didn’t happen. Mostly because I couldn’t see everyone’s souls all at once. Just a few people’s. My Companions, of course, but also Keri and Annit, and the members of Piping Hot Pies. The ones who had a Primal Source.

That sort of made sense. The Sources were mine and probably linked them into my mana somehow. It gave me enough of a connection that I could see the soul frameworks without needing to interact with them. I could even see Ansae’s, though her soul structures were so absurdly complex it was like comparing the blueprint for a house to the blueprint for an arcology. I wasn’t completely certain yet what being able to study souls all the time would net me, but I was sure it’d be useful to figure out Depletion. For the moment, though, I had to look over Taelah’s new Skills.

Transcribing Dungeon abilities:

Transcribing [Assimilation]…skill becomes [Plant Control]: Trees bend to your whim. You may manipulate any plants you are in physical contact with. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Superior Purification Breeding Station]…skill becomes [Lineage: One with Nature]: Children are born [Purified]. Your strength grows as you nurture your land. The land becomes more bountiful the longer you care for it.

Transcribing [Dungeon Ecology]…skill becomes [Ecological Integration]. You are able to integrate plants and animals into dungeon environments. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Climates]…skill becomes [Plant Adaptation]. Desert or Tundra. Aids in altering plants to live in different environments. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Alchemist’s Station]…skill merge with [Novice Alchemy] and [Alchemical Insight]. Skill becomes [Dungeon Alchemy]. You are better able to use dungeon products and stations to perform alchemical work. Rank set to 8.

Transcribing [Field: Growth]…skill becomes [Instant Growth]. Years pass in a moment. Grow a plant into maturity extremely rapidly. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Field: Phantasmal Realm]…skill merge with [Plant Identification] and [Herbal Medicine]. Skill becomes [Phantasmal Gardener]. You are a conduit for the realm of the phantasmal. You know how to touch a plant in the phantasmal realm, allowing you to permanently extract and transfer its magical properties without affecting its physical ones. Rank set to 6.

Transcribing [Field: Panopticon]…skill becomes [Truthsense]. You always know a truth from a lie. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Customization]…skill becomes [Plant Customization]. You can change a plant’s physical form. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Mana Finesse]…skill becomes [Mana Manipulation]. What you can see, you can touch. Mana Manipulation allows for the basic handling of mana outside of specific Skills and improves facility with all mana-using Skills. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Blue’s Sagacity]…skill merge with [Insight], [Intuition], [Foresight]. Skill becomes [Nature’s Wisdom]. You have inherited the profound wisdom of the land. Unlocks spellcasting and provides an improvement to all mana-based skills, as well as providing a deeper understanding of the land you call home. Rank set to 3.

Transcribing [Mana Reinforcement]…skill becomes [Body Reinforcement]. Mana is energy. Energy is life. You have the ability to reinforce yourself with your mana, improving health and stamina regeneration as well as physical robustness. Rank set to 1.

Transcribing [Amplified Presence]…skill becomes [Alchemical Potency]. Your alchemical work takes less mana and uses fewer resources than normal. You may invest additional mana to improve the potency of an alchemical creation. Rank set to 1.

Lineage Seed: One With Nature obtained.

At first, I was a little disappointed by the results of the Transcription. Compared to some of the stuff Iniri and Shayma got, Taelah’s new Skills were rather underwhelming. But then I remembered she was a tier one and not a combat Class at all. Or even an adventuring Class. She was an Herbalist and a farmer, and she’d be thrilled by the new Skills. Especially if they carried on to new generations of plants. [Phantasmal Gardener] sounded utterly bonkers, actually, the more I thought about it. Better than being able to gene-splice barehanded. And who knew what these Skills would grow into as she leveled?

Not to mention, [Ecological Integration] implied that I might have fauna to go with my flora at some point, though I was pretty sure that it would be more farm animals than all the random bugs and vermin that formed the base of a food chain. Clearly they weren’t necessary, all my Climates functioned perfectly fine, but there were probably benefits. Maybe something to do with my mana.

“Oh my.” Taelah wobbled as she took her hands off the crystal, and Shayma steadied her.

“Nothing too overwhelming, I hope?” She asked, helping Taelah to a chair.

“I just feel…” Taelah shook her head. “I don’t really know how to put it. Like I’m more, now?”

“I imagine you are.” Shayma smiled. “Blue?”

“Yeah, her Skills are pretty interesting. I think she’ll like what she got.” Shayma had by now learned to manifest the runes to show off Status, and I let her deal with that while I linked Taelah into my mana pool. I was also going to have to make her an Alchemistry room pretty soon, though maybe that Alchemy Station would take care of most of it. That said, she already had her own tiny laboratory, so all that stuff ought to hook right in. Though I wasn’t certain what the benefits would be.

Taelah studied her new Skills with wide eyes, the runic lines rotating about her as she read things over several times. Several times her lips parted as if she was about to say something, but then they closed again. Finally, she looked over at Shayma, wide-eyed.

“I have a Lineage skill? I’m not royalty!”

“You’re one of Blue’s Companions,” Shayma grinned. “Close enough.”

“I’m not sure I’m ready for that sort of status.” Taelah said doubtfully.

“You don’t have to worry about that. Shayma is my voice to the outside world, you can just focus on what you want to do. Considering all the plant-based Skills you got, it looks like you’ve got a lot more options there.”

“I’ve never heard of most of these Skills.” Shayma added to my words, and Taelah nodded agreement.

“Especially [Phantasmal Gardener]. That seems like…” Taelah considered. “Third or maybe even fourth tier skill? It feels weird.”

“Phantasmal is something that’s special to Blue,” Shayma explained. “I have a Phantasmal Skill and so does Iniri.”

“Yeah I’m not surprised that one breaks the tier structure. Phantasmal stuff is Power stuff apparently.”

“It’s a Power type skill?” Taelah blinked at Shayma. “I suppose that makes sense. Is that why it feels like I have so much mana?”

“No, that’s one of Blue’s other gifts. You can draw on his mana pool now, if you ever get low on yours.”

“I also have the ability to set up an alchemy shop for her like your Smithery. Drawing on my mana and such. I don’t know how that’s going to work but it should be a vast improvement over the clumsiness with the mixing bath before.”

“Oh!” Taelah lit up when Shayma explained that, along with how her Smithery was set up. “This is amazing.” She laughed softly. “And strange! It doesn’t feel like I’ve worked for any of this.”

“They’re just tools to make your work more effective! Believe me, there’s going to be no shortage of things for you to do.” Including finishing off Giorn’s weapon. I’d had both forges working constantly to make Argentum, and I was just waiting for the last of the Source gems to make a third. If it weren’t for those I could build Anvils really fast, but the gems did take a day or two to fruit again once I’d harvested them. At least with the additional levels I had more potential gems at any one time.

None of the chrystheniums I’d planted outside of my high-powered dynamos seemed to have fruited, which made things easier. I knew that I’d lose track if I had to skim over thousands and thousands of the things scattered over thousands of square kilometers. Though it wasn’t like I didn’t have a huge area to cover with my dynamos. At least I had some sort of intuition where they were, rather than having to manually find them with [Genius Loci].

“Anyway, the questions. The first is, does Taelah want a second Affinity? And if so, which one? Also, [Genesis] lets me determine things about her kids, which clearly she should decide and not me.” Shayma explained that to Taelah, who looked a little uncomfortable.

“Things? What kind of things?”

“I’m not sure, I’ve never done this before. But probably stuff like boy or girl.”

“I know I want them to be healthy, and I’d never much thought about whether I wanted a son or a daughter first…” She nibbled her lower lip uncertainly. “Having the choice makes it different. Can I have both? Twins?”

“I think I can handle that.” It seemed a little adventurous to start with two, but I was pretty confident that sort of specification was within my abilities.

“Twins, then.” Taelah nodded firmly. “Aside from that, just make them as healthy as you can. I guess they’ll look like me?” She cast a questioning glance at my crystal.

“I’ve never done this before, but I assume so.”

“That will be fine, then.”

“So far as the extra Affinity goes, Iniri liked kinetic, because it gives you extra energy,” Shayma explained. “But since you’re nature, light or water or earth would probably all be useful.”

Taelah pursed her lips.

“I don’t even know what having a second Affinity means. New Skills?”

“Maybe.” Shayma made an equivocal waggle of her hand. “It’s more like an extra flavor that slowly filters into your Skills and Abilities. That’s what I’ve gotten from talking to third-tiers, anyway. Iniri didn’t get much of anything but she’s already third-tier. You still have several class evolutions to go through where it might have an effect.”

“Hmm…” Taelah considered it. “Can I have them all? If Blue can give them to me, I don’t see why I shouldn’t.” Shayma blinked.

“I don’t know. Blue?”

“I’m game for it if she is. It’s just that will have to be done before the kids.”

“He says yes, it just has to be done before children,” she reported. “He can’t alter anything while you’re pregnant.”

“That makes sense,” Taelah nodded. “He wouldn’t be dealing with just one person, then.”

“I swear Taelah takes my Skills more in stride than I do.” Shayma giggled, and waved away Taelah’s curious look.

“Blue’s just impressed at how well you’re taking things.”

“Well, I’m married to him, so I trust him.” Taelah was so matter-of-fact about it that I had no idea what to say.

“I think I understand why you started out at rank seven,” said Shayma. Taelah chuckled.

“I can’t hear him like you can,” she said. “But I think I understand him.”

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