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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

2/2

I was absolutely staggered by what the Scaleminds had to say.

Actually, I wasn’t sure I even believed it. The revelation blew away all the other considerations I had, pushed them right out of my mind. The fox-kin had been monsters once? And dungeons regulated Status somehow? The latter seemed really absurd considering how terrible mine was, and the fact that I couldn’t change it. Besides, I wasn’t exactly a normal dungeon so coming to me about it was probably not the best decision.

On the other hand, fox-kin having once been monsters was a little more believable. Something I did know from firsthand experience was that dungeons did all sorts of weird magic genetics, meaning pseudo-human races made a lot more sense. It also shortcut all sorts of issues like minimum viable populations and inbreeding, assuming those were issues in a mana-saturated world. Who even knew what magic genetics could do. Plus it was a claim I might be able to verify.

“Ansae? I have a serious question for you.”

“Hmm?” She looked up from the slab of metal she was perusing, some sort of magical book by the way the words shifted and changed where they were inscribed on the surface. I could have read over her shoulder, but that felt like an abuse of my all-pervasive perception. Besides, the glimpse I had taken showed me it was some dense magical theory that I couldn’t make heads or tails of.

“The Scalemind claim that Shayma’s race started out as dungeon monsters, and that dungeons are responsible for giving people access to Classes and Skills. Do you know anything about that?” Ansae blinked slowly, which I took for surprise.

“The first one is absolutely true. I’ve seen it happen once myself, but I doubt it has happened in a very long time.” I was flabbergasted. That seemed like something Ansae ought to have mentioned earlier. Then again, it wasn’t like the topic had been raised and she may have assumed I knew it already. After all, I was a dungeon. “As to the second, I have my doubts. It’s true that the Class system is what separates the more civilized races from monsters, but they also live outside Dungeons so I suspect they’re reversing cause and effect. That said…”

“That said?” I prompted, as the pause stretched on.

“There’s definitely something odd going on with dungeons and Status. I never noticed before because, well, I never really dealt with Dungeons as closely before. I’m still trying to figure it out, but it may be more related to why your Status is so bad.”

“Oh? Any way to fix it?” I would be ecstatic if I could make my Status somewhat less grotesque. Or even better, figured out a way to customize my overlay.

“I’m afraid not. It seems more like you’re not part of the normal akasha that records and refines Status, though to what extent I haven’t determined. Clearly you’re not wholly separate, else you’d have no Status yourself. I haven’t gotten far enough to even have any good speculation.”

“That is really weird, but okay.” Dungeons were Artifacts, and if they were supposed to be god-created Artifacts, I could see why maybe they were left out of the loop. Hard to hide secrets or brain-twisting knowledge if it was part of the same system everyone used. Ansae calling it an akasha caught my interest, because it very readily explained where the descriptions came from in the first place and why [Promise] kept updating its own. Not that I was more than vaguely familiar with the metaphysical theory of the akasha but considering that magic seemed to work off intent it fit. It wasn’t very scientific, but since it was magic that seemed appropriate. “Any idea how they’d get to normal Status though?”

“Not a one. I wasn’t interested enough to research it when I was younger, and now there’s nobody to ask.” She sighed, then smiled. “I suppose we’ll have to figure it out ourselves.”

Easy enough to say, but I certainly had no thoughts, and neither did Ansae for the moment. It did seem like something people would make Bargains for, but I wasn’t sure monsters could make Bargains, not to mention having no idea how to fulfill my end of it. Making a Bargain I couldn’t fulfill seemed a really bad idea.

Until I figured that out, I couldn’t address their major request one way or the other but I could at least figure out something for room and board. I was sure there was something I could get out of monstrous telepaths with memories from thousands of years ago to make it worthwhile. If I couldn’t, they probably deserved the housing just for stumping me that way.

“It thought I was cute,” Shayma muttered.

“Hate to break it to you, but you are cute.”

“It wanted to pet me!”

“I’m still not seeing where I should disagree.” Shayma snorted and rolled her eyes in my general direction. Which was any direction, really.

“Mind magic is very weird. There’s a little bit that’s like Illusion, but most of it…” She shook her head. “Anyway. I don’t think it’s coincidence the Blight is due east.”

“No. I guess it would have been too much to ask that whatever is rotten over by the mage-kings would be restricted to the surface.”

“I wonder if they know.”

“I really don’t care. So far as I’m concerned, they’re all pretty evil and I doubt they’d change behavior if they did know.” They’d clearly been at it for years and years. If something was happening underground it wasn’t likely to impact the way a bunch of power-mad – or just plain mad – people ran their civilization. “Makes me worry that we’ll see more refugees or whatever coming this way though.”

“They won’t all go to Tarnil even if so,” Shayma pointed out. “The Scaleminds probably wouldn’t have come if the shadow guy hadn’t sent them.”

“True. Not to mention the underground types will want to stay underground. I don’t go all that deep.”

“That wasn’t true last night.” Shayma smirked. I had to laugh.

“Score one for you.” She grinned in response and waved it all aside.

“Are you ready to finish dad’s weapon? We keep getting sidetracked and I want to give it to him when he comes back tonight.”

One of the advantages of having portals to all the various cities was that Iniri’s peacekeeping teams and whatever else they were – political arm, troubleshooters, all around observers – could come and go from Meil as they pleased. I hadn’t yet moved Meil back, mostly because I hadn’t fixed the crater and wasn’t sure I wanted to. It was going to be a nice lake very soon and I was having some ideas. Before that, though, Shayma had a point. Even though most of the delay was getting enough Argentum produced.

“Yes, just need you to grab Taelah for the finishing touches.” I’d linked her cottage at The Village with the secret garden I’d made for her, but she actually hadn’t had much time to go back and practice her new Skills. She’d mostly been closeted with the other Elders, figuring out what they wanted the new Village to look like once the caldera was ready.

Shayma popped over, following my directions to the appropriate house. I would swear that Taelah could pick up on my thoughts even if she couldn’t hear me, because she was the one who went to answer the door and didn’t seem surprised at all to find Shayma there. In fact, she gave my fox-girl a brilliant smile.

“I was just wrapping up here,” she said, which I was fairly certain wasn’t accurate. But from what I’d overheard before Shayma arrived it was just the two oldest wrangling over the relative positions of two established families, so it was nothing that Taelah had any stake in. “What does Blue need?”

“He was hoping you’d have time to finish constructing my dad’s new weapon. Everything’s ready for us to complete it.”

“I always have time for Blue,” Taelah said with a smile, then turned back to the other Elders. “My husband needs me,” she told them. “I trust you don’t, for the rest of this?” Glenn shot a look at where Elder James was still arguing with his companions and waved her off. Taelah nodded back and stepped outside, closing the door behind her. “I get along with them most of the time but when James and Cerese get into it nobody can get anything done.”

“I know the sort,” Shayma said sympathetically. “How’s it going otherwise?”

“Some people are looking forward to moving, some aren’t. The usual. But everyone wants to be out under a real sky again.”

“I don’t blame them. I love my cottage but if I couldn’t go outside once in a while I’d go crazy,” Shayma confessed, the two women strolling toward the teleport point. I could admit the farming chamber didn’t look very lifelike anymore, with the flat blue ceiling and sourceless light, but it was never meant to be permanent. Though Shayma’s comment made me think I really needed to spruce up the interior of the core chamber. Something to add to my list.

Shayma activated the teleporter into the [Companion Alchemistry], which had the new [Alchemy Station] as well as a bunch of Taelah’s original equipment linked into the room. I’d gone ahead and put it in her secret garden, a separate building over a hill from her own cottage. It had nice wooden paneling, and Adamant Stone floors and counters just in case of spills. The [Alchemy Station] itself looked much more impressive than the [Mixing Bath] did, with the arbitrarily-large tank of the Bath a mere attachment onto an array of much smaller tanks and vials that could be connected or pumped from one partition to another. Not to mention each of them having a connection Taelah could use to pump or siphon materials into or out of the containers.

The alchemized tree trunk was floating in the largest chamber, awaiting the final binding of the Argentum. The two women got to preparing it, Shayma’s own Alchemy skill meaning she could assist Taelah with the work. I didn’t fully understand it, but apparently the Alchemy skill itself was required to actually meld the disparate properties and magics within the ingredients, so any non-Alchemist wouldn’t get the same result even if they followed the same steps. At higher levels, all crafters, and not just alchemists, imbued magic into their craft, meaning that no two people turned out exactly the same set of products. Which was why Shayma was merely assisting, and not performing any of the major work herself.

This time it was far less of an improvised thing to add the prepared [Hyperthaumic Phase-Condensed Argentum] and then the [Buffered Tesseracted Catalyst] to bind it. The flash was just as bright, though. Taelah didn’t quite gain a level from it, but I was sure it was close. I could definitely see the Argentum distributed throughout the wood, which was perfect and what I had been expecting to happen, but it wasn’t done yet.

Shayma was in charge of the next step, as I pulled the trunk out of the tank and pushed it over to Shayma’s Smithery, which was nowhere near the secret garden but with portals and teleports that hardly mattered. For this part Taelah sat well back from the heat of the forge as Shayma tightened bands at intervals down the trunk of the tree, seven of them all told, then fastened caps in place. The caps and bands were made from [Steelwoven Momentum] and had been beaten into their initial shape, turning a lustrous honey-golden color with geometric patterning inside it. It seemed almost translucent, giving it a sense of depth where the light glinted off it. I could have put them together with the assembler but that would have missed out on the forging benefits that Shayma’s skill could provide.

It looked good already, but it wasn’t anywhere near done. First, I did have something to do with the Assembler, and that was to provide the weapon’s heart. If the imbued tayantan wood wasn’t enough strength, I had a core of cultivated steel that went inside it, stretching the entire length of the trunk and matching the cavity precisely. I wasn’t completely certain how tough it was, but I doubted anyone lower than third-tier could put a scratch on it.

Inside the steel core there was a thin void that I filled with [Core Lattice Anecrux], which ought to give the weapon a pretty massive reservoir of mana. Specifically, my mana, and given that everything else was made out of my materials I was pretty sure it’d be able to convert ambient mana for that reservoir when it got low. If not, it’d be unfortunate, but I had a good enough feeling through [Blue’s Sagacity] that I wasn’t worried about trying to finesse it any further.

Then came the detailing. I’d decided on a fractal pattern for the inlay, which was composed of two gemstones: Linked Core Lattice gems, for my signature blue, and kinetic Primal Source gems, because of course it needed those. Instead of putting them on the caps, which would have to deal with impacts and might end up with something broken, they went around each of the bands. The blue and yellow swirled and interlocked in organic self-similarity, the gems perfectly matched to each other to provide a detailed pattern spreading a short distance through the wood on each side of the golden bands.

It came out of the Assembler quite pretty, in my opinion, and both Shayma and Taelah looked at it appreciatively.

“Why, Blue, I didn’t know you had such a flair,” Shayma said, reaching out toward the gem inlays but stopping short of touching them.

“I don’t, I’m just reusing the one neat visual thing I know how to do.”

“What is this? It reminds me of leaves and ferns.”

“It should! It’s called a fractal, and it uses certain principles that apply to things like leaves and ferns and the like. I don’t remember everything about how they work but I know what they look like. Anyway, I’ve got one more thing to do to finish this.”

“Where did you even see something like that before?” Taelah asked, almost before Shayma had finished relaying my reply. “It seems almost otherworldly.”

“Yeah, it’s Power stuff.” That seemed the best way to gloss over the surprisingly accurate characterization of otherworldliness. At some point I’d have to figure out a way to couch and explain everything, but since it didn’t really matter I was willing to put that off. For the moment, “Power stuff” sufficed as an explanation.

The one more thing was the entire reason I’d had Taelah add the Argentum. I wanted this huge tree trunk to be a little bit easier to tote around than Giorn’s usual improvised weapon. To that end, I was going to try and use the supermaterial’s special property for the first time and imprint a Spatial field onto it. This was absolutely something I needed [Mana Geometry] for; [Mana Logic] didn’t cut it even slightly. Especially since I didn’t want to expand the physical structure of the weapon and tear it apart, rather, I wanted to expand the infinitesimal layer of space on the skin of the trunk, and change how it appeared to the world without changing the physical structure.

After a few false starts I wrapped a Spatial field around the weapon and then link by link, strand by strand, bound it into the Argentum that had suffused the wood. I wasn’t using the Spatial Field to shrink or expand any part of it, all that was simply waiting in potential from the initial state of the Field. It took a lot longer than I’d thought initially, over an hour, which was long enough that Shayma and Taelah went off to get drinks and then came back, talking and occasionally glancing at where the trunk stood upright in the floor.

Finally, the last piece clicked in and the weapon was done.

Companion Shayma Ell has assisted in creating an Artifact.

Companion Taelah Marn, has assisted in creating an Artifact.

Companion Extraordinary Feats have slightly reduced size requirements to level.

[You have created an Artifact!]

[Acts as a Primal Source for Kinetic Affinity]

[Vastly increases reservoir size for kinetic Skills]

[Artifact toughness significantly improved]

[Grants Skill: Momentum Shift: Instantaneously change direction of motion while retaining the speed of that motion]

[Artifact size may be adjusted at will up to a factor of one hundred in any aspect. Mass will only marginally change]

[When planted in the earth, Artifact will repair itself]

[Cannot be lost or stolen]

[Bearer cannot be disarmed]

[This Artifact grows with Bearer and Authority]

[<Trait attuned to Bearer>]

[<Trait attuned to Bearer>]

[<Trait attuned to Bearer>]

[Please name your Artifact.]

[…]

[You have obtained The Ell Family Tree!]

If it weren’t meant for Giorn, I probably would have thought of some other name, but considering his sense of humor it seemed entirely appropriate. Maybe I should have asked him directly, but I didn’t actually know whether or not it was going to be an Artifact when it was created. I was hoping for it, with all that work and the layering of materials and methods, but since I wasn’t in control of whether something was an Artifact or not I couldn’t guarantee it.

Taelah made a sort of a strangled noise and swayed, Shayma moving to catch her. I started to ask what was wrong, but I figured it out pretty quickly by her Status.

Taelah Marn

Level 27 [Phantasmal Druid]

Completing the artifact had given her a major boost, and let her [Dungeon Alchemy] evolve to [Journeyman Dungeon Alchemy]. It had also given her a Title, which was the first time I’d seen one on anyone other than myself.

Artificer: You’ve created an Artifact. Ordinary crafting is easier for you, and in the right circumstances you are more capable of reaching beyond the pinnacle of your skill.

When I checked, Shayma had the title too, which meant it was at least equal opportunity, but it made me wonder why Iniri hadn’t gotten any title for her defense with the Fortress. It was pretty epic, in my opinion. More epic than any effort I’d put into [The Ell Family Tree]. But I guess it wasn’t enough.

“Taelah’s catching up to you, she just hit level twenty-seven and second tier,” I informed Shayma, who smiled broadly.

“Congratulations,” she said to a still-dazed Taelah. “You’re officially a Classer!”

“That’s quite a rush,” Taelah remarked, blinking. “I feel…” She paused, then smiled. “I feel really good, actually.”

Plus you both got Artificer titles, since it did turn out to be an Artifact.”

“Hah! I knew it would!” Shayma grinned. Taelah looked a little daunted for a few seconds, before she regained her composure and turned to look at the staff, still stuck in the stone.

“So it’s an – wait, why did it turn black?” Taelah asked, which I hadn’t even noticed, being too preoccupied with the overlay scroll I was getting. I supposed it happened when the artifact completed, but the wood had gone from the light, metallic grey of imbued tayantan to an untextured, matte black. The gold-ish metal and the yellow-and-blue inlays stood out even more, and I actually liked the new look better, but it was kind of odd.

“I guess it’s because it’s my Artifact. Blue and black are my signature colors so it looks like I’ve got something of a theme here.”

“It’s still odd to see,” Shayma said, after relaying my answer to Taelah. “It’s not like you can’t make other colors.”

“Yeah, and maybe if I’d purposely made it a specific color it wouldn’t have happened, but who knows? Artifacts work in mysterious ways.”

“It does look nice though,” Taelah opined. “One of the few things I’ve worked on that isn’t a tincture or a potion or an ointment.”

“Basically my first real smithing project,” Shayma agreed. “And it’s amazing.”

“And ridiculous.” Taelah shared a smile with Shayma. “So, basically Blue.”

I let my girls go back to what they were doing since Giorn wasn’t going to be coming by until later, and turned my attention to The Hurricane. Despite her best efforts, and I really did think she was putting effort into it, the storm and wind mana that mediated Tarnil’s weather continued to decay. The first day or so of work had given her a massive, several-hundred-mile-long storm front darkening Tarnil’s skies and soaking everything. That was shrinking, and now it was more of a gentle rain than a proper storm. Not to mention that The Hurricane had run down her initial reserves of mana and had to keep to a more sustainable pace.

It meant I had to rethink that part of the project. I had hoped that the atmosphere would sort of replenish of its own accord once I had The Hurricane stir things up, the actual substance the storm and wind and water Affinities represented being more fluid and replaceable. That didn’t seem to be the case. It wasn’t just the actual mana itself as stuff that was the problem, it was the underlying hooks, whatever made it belong to the land. That implied that fate mana was special in that it was actually responsible for binding every other sort of mana into the world. Or maybe it actively erased that binding. I wasn’t about to try and experiment to find out.

I felt that there had to be some graceful, clever solution staring me in the face, but nothing came to mind. Since I couldn’t sit and think forever, I had to go with a less graceful and clever solution by putting up thousand-meter-high pylons all over Tarnil. They looked pretty damn ominous, and sucked up a lot of stone when I was already using as much as I could generate, but they were necessary.

At the top of each of the pylons I put a small garden of wind and storm chrystheniums, stringing mana from one to another and using them as anchor points to shove mana into the atmosphere. I didn’t need to sprinkle them everywhere like I had with the initial fix to Tarnil’s mana, since the Hurricane’s efforts meant that there was plenty of motion to stretch out each anchor, but ultimately I needed more than one hundred of the things. They were scattered over the whole country but a lot of them went near the coast, to balance the access I got from the mountains. Some of them even went offshore, where the sea winds swept in and some mystical transference happened that turned ocean weather into Tarnil weather. I could see the incoming fronts simply start to die there, stalling out and losing energy.

The giant stone pillars would be an eyesore if I just left them as unadorned towers of rock, so I wanted to do something useful with them. To start, I put Iniri’s crest on them, facing north and south, and since the pillars were a hundred meters across, putting it a hundred meters up made it quite visible. Since they were highly visible landmarks, I figured I might as well make them useful by making each of them unique. I didn’t want them to be garishly colored – bright pastels for a city’s buildings was one thing, but light green on a huge tower like that would be absolutely dreadful – so color-coding wasn’t an option.

Since writing was out, thanks to my communication issues, I compromised by giving each of them a unique, abstract glyph, far smaller than the crest and repeated around the base of each pillar. Then, to mark these as very much my work and nobody else’s, I patterned the top hundred meters or so with fractal whorls in black. The rest was simple blue-gray, which meant it shouldn’t loom too badly over the local landscape, blending into the colors of the sky somewhat.

I didn’t want to just make them giant hunks of stone, so I put a spiral staircase in the interior. Now, a thousand meters up would be a heck of a climb, especially with a winding spiral staircase, so I used a Compression Field to change it into a moderate climb to a roomy chamber just below the garden level. Given the altitude, I didn’t want to have any open windows so I faced everything off with big panes of reinforced glass, turning it into a pretty amazing vantage.

Of course, it was impossible that all this work went unnoticed.

“Blue, could you have Shayma drop by to tell me what the giant towers are? I can tell they’re a good thing, but some people are getting a bit alarmed.” That was a reasonable enough request, and I wanted to tell her anyway. Besides, Shayma had to drop by Meil to get Giorn and Sienne when they returned, so it was effectively on the way.

“Hey Shayma, since The Hurricane wasn’t completely able to do what I wanted I had to take some pretty drastic steps to fix Tarnil’s weather. There’s a bunch of mile-high pillars scattered around the country now and Iniri wants to know what’s up.”

She was hanging out with Keri and Annit, since Taelah wanted to head back to her secret garden and do some experimentation. Though she’d taken to [Dungeon Alchemist] right away, [Phantasmal Gardener] was still taking some practice. Apparently the [Plant Identification] ability had been upgraded enough that it was almost overwhelming to deal with, though considering the phantasmal Skill sounded like freehand magical genetic splicing I wasn’t surprised.

“That does sound drastic.” Shayma said, holding up a hand to let the other two know I was talking to her. “Give me a minute to wrap up here and I’ll be on my way.”

“I think that the immediate issues here are settling out anyway, so you can tell Annit and Keri that I’ll open a portal to Wildwood so you all can actually go out and do some real leveling.” Annit was still fairly well crippled from Depletion, though considering I could actually see her soul structure I had begun playing around with ideas of how to address that. Nothing would happen soon, but my success with pushing Dungeon Fields into an Artifact gave me hope that I could export other things.

“It’ll be nice to actually go out somewhere again,” Annit admitted. “It’s nice here but I’m getting really tired of these stone walls.”

“Me too,” Keri said. “I guess it’s not too different from working in Wildwood, but I could always go look out over the woods and see everything that was out there.”

“Yeah, I’m working on alternatives, but I think everyone is getting fed up with being underground.” Except for the Scalemind, for whom it was entirely natural. Of course, I hadn’t actually seen what the Underneath entailed, since I was pretty sure it wasn’t all bare rock tunnels. There had to be a lot more down there in order to support the sheer number of creatures I’d ended up killing.

“I’ll be back later,” Shayma told them, and I had her swing by one of the towers before going to see Iniri. Iniri was busy in Meil, holding court and dealing with all the minutiae of getting a country back together. One of the major issues that was still pending was Duke Sarthi, who’d been rather unceremoniously locked into his manor. There weren’t any proper jails, though I could have made one, but she hadn’t asked and I was happy to leave everything to Iniri. How she handled it was going to set the tone and policy for the future, and while I didn’t much care if some people disliked me, any actual treason or insubordination was not going to be tolerated.

“Shayma,” she greeted my fox-kin. By now we’d settled on Shayma appearing just outside the door of a private setting or just inside the door of a public one, and either way getting escorted up immediately. Iniri gestured for her to take a place by the sort-of throne, a tall gilt-and-blue thing that had to have been turned up from storage somewhere. It might have been something salvaged from Invin, now that the former capital was accessible, or it could have been something made new just so Iniri would have some proper trappings. “I take it Blue sent you?”

“Yes, since he’s having to take rather more drastic measures to repair Tarnil’s weather,” Shayma said, conscious of their audience. Which, considering the relatively close confines of the manor house, was crowded fairly close. Classers, guild representatives, and nobles were all in attendance, hovering around Iniri as if they could get power from mere proximity. Which might not be totally untrue; the Ells had fairly catapulted themselves up the social ranking even if they weren’t trying. “Those large pillars are there to stabilize things,” she continued. “He’s aware that they could be eyesores, so he’s decorated them a bit, as well as added waystation areas inside them. There’s nothing to worry about, and they’re hardly going to topple onto anyone.”

“Quite reasonable,” Iniri said. “I think we can all appreciate having weather and new national landmarks. Thank Blue for us.” The formality felt a little strange, but it was all a play for people who were watching. Her eyes tracked to a [Merchant], who was impeccably dressed and fairly oozed wealth. “I trust this will put any potential worries about Blue’s intentions to rest. I’m certain there will be more changes in the future, but he has made a Bargain regarding Tarnil’s safety and its future. If there is any such massive shift in the future, simply wait. Either Blue will fix it, or he is the cause of it and using it to fix something else.” By her voice she was clearly irritated, and the merchant bowed but didn’t seem actually cowed. Still, he probably fairly well represented a number of ordinary people who had reasonable worries about things. Unless he decided to do more than complain I wasn’t going to worry about him.

Shayma left the audience chamber, such as it was when they were still using a manor instead of a palace, strolling around Meil until it was time for Sienne and Giorn to head back. Sure, they could have stayed in Invin, but considering their shop and home was completely gone it was a little depressing. Besides, they weren’t governing the cities. Iniri had found actual governors, somewhere. I really didn’t know where she was getting her people.

It was stretching on toward evening when the two fox-kin stepped through the portal and were surprised by Shayma’s hugs. Giorn laughed and swept her up in a big engulfing hug, while Sienne was slightly more demure but equally enthusiastic with her own embrace. Greetings exchanged, Sienne cast a curious eye over Shayma, canting her head and swishing her tail.

“I think you came here for more reason than just to say hi to your mom and dad. You look pretty excited to see us.”

“We finished dad’s new weapon!” Shayma grinned. “Yours is going to be a little harder mom, Void mana and all, but Blue and Taelah and I got dad’s done this morning.”

“Oh, I like the sound of that.” Giorn smiled broadly. “Though I hope it won’t offend him if I don’t tote it around everywhere, assuming it’s the size I tend to prefer.”

“Blue said that he figured out a way around that. I haven’t seen the Status of the thing myself, but I can make some guesses.” She shook her head. “But I won’t spoil it. Come on, I’ll take you there.”

Shayma’s ability to access most of the teleport points herself made things much easier. She pulled on the one set in the Meil city center and shifted the three of them to the forge area. Giorn and Sienne blinked around at the equipment, especially the crystalline dungeon stations, but most of their attention was reserved for the Artifact standing in the middle of the room. Giorn whistled, taking a couple steps toward it before stopping.

“Go ahead,” Shayma said. “It’s for you.” I wasn’t sure if this broke my policy on gifts, but considering this was for my Companion’s father, I was hoping there wouldn’t be any issues. Giorn took another few steps and reached out to lay hands on the weapon. Then he laughed, long and loud.

“[The Ell Family Tree]?” He grinned hugely. “That is the best Artifact name ever.”

“That’s an Artifact?” Sienne said, eyes wide.

“Yes! And it’s amazing. It says I can do…” He picked up the massive trunk and spun it lightly, then let it shrink down to the size of an ordinary staff. Then the size of a pencil, which he tried to pocket. He staggered, laughing, and caught it as it tore right through the cloth and fell. “No, too heavy to do that much.”

Now that Giorn had the weapon, I took another peek at it, to see what those three remaining traits were.

[Bearer can bestow a kinetic charge on an individual launched using the Artifact, which will empower one strike or absorb one impact.]

[Bestows insight from the life of Verun Kalebaugh upon the Bearer. Verun-inspired Skills are easier to advance]

[Acts as a divination rod when flung into the air]

Those were pretty unusual Traits, and were definitely Giorn specific. I wasn’t sure about the divination rod part, but that felt like it came from Shayma. Given that I’d seen Giorn launch Sienne with a tree trunk before, that part was hers, and of course Giorn had the Verun branch of Skills. I should have realized calling it The Ell Family Tree was more than just an amusing name. Names had power, and Artifacts had power, so of course the Artifact name determined the way the traits manifested. Not that I thought a different name would have ended up with a better set of traits – the Tree was amazing.

“This is amazing,” Giorn said, the Tree expanding back to staff size, though it was a Giorn-sized staff and still quite large, even if it wasn’t a full tree trunk. “You said you worked on it too?”

“Yes, Blue and Taelah and I all worked on it together. Oh, you haven’t met Taelah, but she’s an alchemist and Blue’s wife now, too.” Her voice trailed off on the last bit, realizing how it sounded.

“My daughter the homewrecker,” Sienne shook her head in mock disapproval. “Dallying around with a married man. Dungeon.”

“Oh, gods.” Shayma put her hand over her face. “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

“How come we haven’t met her yet? Wouldn’t she be our half-daughter-in-law? Or something?” She glanced at Giorn, who was still spinning the Tree this way and that. “How does that even work?”

“Daughter in law, once removed, if you’re going by Aschitani rules,” he said absently. “Which we wouldn’t anyway, because Blue doesn’t have Aschitan blood.” He thudded the staff down on the ground, hard enough to actually crack the Adamant Stone. It wasn’t a big crack, but being able to do it at all was impressive. “Teasing aside, this is just beyond fantastic. I never thought I’d touch an Artifact, let alone have one. Let alone have one made specifically for me. Tell Blue I’m in his debt.”

“Oof, that may have been the wrong thing to say to a Power. But mostly I want him doing what he’s doing. Keeping Tarnil together, however he can.”

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InadvisablyCompelled

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