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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Setting up in the fortress permanently without Shayma being permanently stuck to the new core required using the Dungeon Seed. It made sense, of course, since cores didn’t seem to have wireless. Without her connection, there was no link between myself and the new core, let alone the island. Shayma had everyone clear the area out before she took out the dungeon seed. I didn’t think it’d be a problem, but I had no idea what might happen since I’d never used it before.

She put the seed on the ground next to the core, and it activated with the smallest of thoughts. I would have preferred something in my overlay, but I didn’t get one, the blue marble simply drove filaments into the stone beneath it and linked up with my dungeon biology. It gave me a sense of locus similar to a core, but obviously not the same, and the connection meant that Shayma could unstick herself and I could transfer the old core to elsewhere. Given the importance of the Dungeon Seed, I promptly buried it under stone so nothing could damage it by accident.

My takeover of the island broke most of the mage-king’s magic, the wardings and the defenses and other constructs woven into stone and metal. My mana shattered and melted the mage-king’s spellcraft, leaving just the native magic and the discrete magical items behind. Fortunately, the force that kept the island in the air was in the former category, since the bulk of the island was made out of [Floatstone] — air-infused stone that gave it buoyancy.

I probably could make [Floatstone] with Affinity crystals connected to storage crystals, but the islands had billions of tons of the stuff, so it was definitely being made in a different way. My production method was slow and specialized and while it produced really good stuff, it didn’t produce it in the bulk necessary to make something like a floating island. The [Floatstone] had to be natural or, more likely, it was the result of a Dungeon with an Affinity selection.

In addition to the [Floatstone] there were conduits of [Aercryst], which seemed to just be air-affinity quartz, traced through the rock, which seemed to be the medium that was being using to transmit and hold mana. I couldn’t tell whether the mage-kings had been using their own reserves or had hooked up the dungeon core and were using their mana for fueling things. My takeover had burned out enough magic that it wasn’t obvious, at least to me, though it looked more like Iniri’s work than anything I’d done. It was mostly wrought out of [Aercryst], which was probably inferior to Iniri’s metal but was present in quantities that challenged even her bulk conjuring.

The [Aercryst] ran out from the center tower to the thaumoprojecters emplaced on the battlements, and down to the other magical items of note: twelve giant air-affinity engines anchored at spots throughout the island. The overlay literally called them [Thaumic Air Engines] and they looked like rune-scribed balls of metal mounted on concentric tracks with a big crystal in the middle, like some three-dimensional orrery. It looked like they moved more on magic than on clockwork, and I guessed the spheres had something to do with the direction and amplitude of thrust by the relative positions they were at. The island had been stationary, and eight of the engines had their rune-balls in an identical spiral configuration, while four had had most of the rune carriers aligned in a straight line pointing down. My guess was that the configuration as a whole was extra lift, no thrust, but obviously that was just a guess.

I was going to need to have Iniri and her Classers look at that, because if I was going to steer the island I needed some way to affect those engines, and my prior experiences with magic items had not been promising. It would probably take weeks to go over the island properly, though at least now that I had taken it over there weren’t any traps or worries about Depletion. Beyond the central tower it was mostly just empty living space for flame elementals, whose remains I was still sweeping up and putting into my treasury.

The central tower did hold a bunch of magical items, but nothing I or my overlay immediately identified as the corekiller weaponry. I really wanted to get ahold of that because I was really hoping to engineer a defense against it. I was pretty sure it was some kind of [Dungeonbane] weaponry and it freaked me the hell out. Gave me a whole new respect for Ansae just brushing off [Dragonbane] weaponry. So there was plenty of stuff I was happy to let Iniri and her people take care of, while I worked through stuff on my end. For example, the Stellar Core, which had given me a brand-new section on my overlay.

It wasn’t completely separate like the Power portion was, but it wasn’t part of the normal dungeon interface tabs either. Considering my Status was a complete and utter mess I didn’t want to read too deep into how it was presented, but it was just a section that said Stellar Affinity at the top and then it had Iniri listed, along with her Class and Skills. Not all her Skills, though, because it omitted ones such as [Phantasmal Authority] and [Advanced Rune Carving] that had no stellar flavor. It didn’t seem like I could do anything with this listing, it was informative only, but it was brand new. If it was for “managing” an Affinity, then I might get more ability to do things as time went on and stellar Affinity spread throughout the world.

Since it was apparently part of the dungeon interface, if not part of the main dungeon interface, I guessed that other dungeons might have something like it. Maybe they had multiple cores or maybe they didn’t, but somewhere in the world there was a list of every person with every Skill they had for every Affinity. I kind of knew that already, given the way the Akasha worked, but it was still a strange thing to consider.

I wasn’t a big fan of how little anyone knew about dungeons and about how what we were finding out was putting them more and more in the operational hardware of the world. If dungeons were entrusted with making sure things like Affinities worked right, it made a lot of sense as to why they were hobbled with weird instincts. I was sure they had more than one purpose, too, since apparently the civilized races came out of the monsters they created. At least I’d opted out of creating monsters so I wouldn’t have to worry about sudden blocks or instincts related to those, but I’d opted into governing an Affinity so I had a new set of issues to worry about. Not to mention that the mage-kings had a bunch of dungeon cores and god knew what havoc that was wreaking. Or rather, we did know what havoc that was wreaking, and it was bad news.

I was doing my worrying while selecting villages and houses and manor estates to [Relocate] from the Caldera to mainland Tarnil. It was proving less easy than it should have since the devastation had destroyed a bunch of my markers. I’d put [Conservatory] up too late for some of them and the voluntary shift of shoreline to Volcano Climate hadn’t helped. Some people were grumbling but considering that I’d prevented any deaths from the cataclysm that had wracked most of Tarnil I wasn’t very sympathetic. At least the actual cities were easy enough to deal with, though none of them were actually back yet due to the size of the [Relocate] necessary.

For everything else, especially the villages I’d relocated after the mage-kings got past the coast, I was relying on memory. An imperfect memory with accompanying uncertainty and guessing as I tried to put things back. So I was practically looking to be distracted from the work when I noticed a visitor coming in from the coast.

“Just a heads up, but The Hurricane is on her way,” I told Iniri, interrupting her breakfast.

“What?” Iniri was getting pretty close to being able to completely understand me. She said it still wasn’t precisely words, more knowledge that was in her head when she felt me talking at her. At least with [Companion Concord] Shayma could clear things up without needing to be dragged away from her own efforts.

“She finally decided there weren’t going to be any more [Starlances] incoming and is on her way.” I actually wasn’t sure if that was going to be Iniri’s problem or not. I was Tarnil and The Hurricane had come to Tarnil’s defense, so she’d come to my defense, but it was something that could be treated with either a personal or a political gratitude.

Not that I had any doubt what she’d want, and I wasn’t going to give it to her. The one session with her in the breeding station was more than enough. No, Iniri or I would have to come up with something else because she had been helpful, and it wouldn’t be good to brush it off. Maybe she hadn’t been critical, but without her hurricane perhaps the mage-kings would have been able to do some sort of harm I couldn’t fix, yet wasn’t terrible enough to use the [Contained Stars]. Regardless, she’d come to our defense and that was the kind of thing I wanted to reward.

“I suppose it was inevitable,” Iniri sighed. “At least I have a proper place to receive her now.” She signaled a page and told him, between bites, to tell her when The Hurricane showed up. Apparently Iniri was intending to receive The Hurricane privately, which seemed like a good idea to me. I could well imagine the kind of fit she’d throw when I turned her down. Or Iniri turned her down for me.

I should have tried to keep up with the transfers, but I was too distracted and instead I watched The Hurricane fly in toward Meil, following the canal until she spotted the Palace. She said something that I didn’t catch – she wasn’t loud enough and was a bit too high for [Genius Loci] to reach – and altered course. It made me wonder if there was something like restricted airspace. Normally pre-industrial civilizations didn’t have any air power to speak of but people like The Hurricane meant any serious defenses needed to keep their eyes on the sky.

She dropped down in the middle of the courtyard and one of the guards hurried over to accost her. I had to give the guy full marks because he was level forty-two and she was over twice that at level eighty-six. Of course, he was in full livery, so even though she could basically ignore him it’d not go well politically, and I didn’t think she wanted to be responsible for Harus getting his palace stolen again.

“I want to speak to Blue,” she told him, which was definitely beyond the poor guy’s pay grade.

“Queen Iniri has left orders that you be escorted to her first,” the guard said, which proved that Iniri’s pages were pretty efficient with spreading things around. Of course, Iniri probably saw The Hurricane flying in for a landing, so it wasn’t too difficult to send someone directly.

Fiiine,” The Hurricane grumbled. “Let’s go.”

Iniri had arranged for them to meet in what was becoming her favorite office, the one that looked out over the courtyard and Meil itself. Of course, The Hurricane refused to actually walk there, instead lounging on her storm-staff and floating along in the guard’s wake. Though she looked bored, she was definitely taking in the details of the Palace on the way, eyes flicking here and there and, I was sure, reaching out with other senses to see what was what. Not that there was anything to hide in the Palace.

Well, that wasn’t true. There were some places under the Palace that were meant to be secret, but I didn’t think a storm-Affinity person would be able to tell. I assumed the runes and enchantments that Cheya was having people put into the walls of those area would hide them from earth-mages and the like as well.

“Hurricane,” Iniri greeted her as she floated into the office.

“The Hurricane,” she insisted. Iniri clearly wanted to roll her eyes, but she managed to refrain somehow.

The Hurricane, before you say anything you should know that Blue is not going to have sex with you.” Which I hadn’t explicitly said to Iniri, but she’d probably caught my thoughts on the subject when I was focused on her. The guard who had escorted The Hurricane there quickly closed the door, clearly not wanting to eavesdrop on that particular conversation.

“Whaaat? Not even after I rode to his rescue like a hero?” The Hurricane pouted at Iniri, which didn’t budge Iniri’s expression one bit. “C’mooon, I deserve it!” She insisted.

“No,” Iniri said flatly. “He is, however, grateful enough that he will take care of your brother’s problem. Blue will provide you with a pair of water Sources for him.”

“Plus I’ll gift The Hurricane another primal Storm source and some of my storm metal, personally. I’m also willing to trade some of that [Abyssal Water], but I don’t have any on hand really. Need to make it.”

“As well as some Storm materials of your own,” she added smoothly, and I dumped the stuff out from inventory, making it appear on the side table. I’d even packed the [Steelwoven Squall] into a storage crystal, which was considerably smaller and lighter than ingots. Iniri didn’t twitch, but The Hurricane glanced that way and made grabby hands. Then she restrained herself.

“Oh, come on, I brought in a huge storm and I don’t even get a thank-you kiss? What about from Shayma? She’s a fox, haha!” The Hurricane laughed at her own awful joke and I left the bargaining to Iniri. I was pretty sure that ultimately The Hurricane would accept what I’d offered. Especially because it was actually a hell of a lot, even if it wasn’t much in terms of my total stock. Even if Iniri felt like offering The Hurricane more just to get her to shut up, which I wouldn’t blame her for, it’d be fine.

Iniri seemed to have that under control and I really needed to finish my work, so I went back to trying to replace the evacuated population. At some point they’d just have to deal with it, since I knew I’d end up with a dozen or so left and all my markers taken care of. It’d probably be best to get with Iniri and figure out where they ought to be at that point, since [Queen’s Insight] probably gave her better feedback than my own [Genius Loci] when it came to that sort of thing. I hadn’t gotten far when my special monitoring ability triggered, and it was from a source I was very interested in.

“So, Blue killed them all.” Tor Kot said, facing his supporters. Yit Nev, Arn Tur, and Yun Sli joined him in a rooftop building, the open windows showing a slope of green down to an ocean. In the sky a floating island loomed, not a fortress but one covered in greenery, with a small waterfall falling off one side and blowing into mist from the wind.

“Was that the beam of light from last night?” Arn Tur asked.

“Obviously,” Yit Nev muttered. “Didn’t you feel the mana pulse?”

“That was Blue’s weapon?” Yun Sli said in disbelief. “I thought it had to be The Silver Woe’s.”

“It happened first,” Tor Kot said. “The mana involved was not of any known Affinity, which seems entirely like Blue’s work. Remember, this is the same entity that created [Firmament] and Depletion resistance and even has fate Affinity available to them. Now, The Silver Woe may actually be Blue, though I don’t see any reason it’d pretend to be someone else.”

“It’s been completely gone for how many centuries now?” Yit Nev said rhetorically. “We could have stumbled into some long-term operation out in Tarnil. We know she was here before she went into hiding — the Depletion immunity could be her project.”

“That’s possible,” Tor Kot agreed. “Even more of a reason not to get any further involved. She surely isn’t hiding anymore. Between that beam and her moon, the whole world knows something went on there.”

“It doesn’t really matter what the relationship is between Blue and The Silver Woe, because there is no way we’re sending anyone back there now.” Arn Tur said. “The Council has to fill the holes Bel Aci and Vok Lim left in their ranks and even then, they wouldn’t be so stupid as to throw away more cores. They don’t even have enough war cores left right now, do they?”

“Not without us, and I don’t think we’re that dumb,” Yit Nev said dryly. “But you’re right, we need to figure out how we’re going to get our people in their seats.”

The insight faded as their talk turned to internal matters, but what I heard made me pretty pleased. I’d nuked – literally – most of their war forces. That was nice to hear, though it wasn’t going to stop me from making more [Contained Stars]. With enough of those I could take apart any individual threat to myself or Tarnil. I bet even Ansae would have a hard time dealing with a [Starlance], not that I was going to use it on her.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the politics. I’d pass it on to Iniri and Cheya, but it was clear I’d blown up some of the actual governing body, and maybe even ones important enough to cause a political shift among the mage-kings themselves. Hopefully they’d fight among themselves rather than spreading out any more, because by the way the bird-people were talking the mage-kings weren’t eyeing just Orn’s lands.

The news that I was now exposed to the world didn’t really surprise me, because wow was [Starlance] dramatic. I wasn’t sure how high up the beam had gone but it might have reached all the way into space, and that was ignoring the magical shockwaves of setting off a [Contained Star]. I bet there was sensitive instrumentation in various spots across the world that’d gone absolutely nuts at dumping that much mana at once, and that was ignoring Ansae’s own contribution.

I was frankly still boggled that she could simply move a moon that way. Though considering its name, putting it that way was probably thinking about it wrong. It might well be as much part of Ansae as a limb and controlled that way — the eclipse it had made was certainly entirely purposeful. Obviously, there were layers and layers to magic that I’d completely missed.

Pondering over interesting things distracted me from trying to fit the last few village puzzle pieces into the landscape of Tarnil. Since I was almost done, with mostly cities waiting for their respective Relocates to complete, I took a bit of a break and instead turned my attention to some of the stuff I’d gotten over the past few days.

First, I finished seeding metallic chrystheniums with all the metals I had available – well, those I had more than five units worth, which was the minimum amount needed to get the flower to grow – including Cultivated Steel and the Steelwoven stuff. It’d be really nice if I could generate higher tier resources directly, though I could well imagine it’d take a lot of time to create it. At the very least the new flowers generated copper and iron quickly enough, which made me happy.

That led me onto the next new plant-thing I got, which didn’t seem to be part of my Ecology setup. Oh, it was clearly related, because otherwise I doubted it would be in the form of a tree, but my Tree of Eschaton wasn’t really available under any of my menus. Instead it sort of hovered in my conceptual space, wanting out without having the decency to give me a concrete means of doing so.

Taelah looked like she was getting fed up with the argument she was dealing with, so I asked her about the thing. I was a little leery about just planting it anywhere, even though I wanted it established, since it seemed like it was a pretty big deal. Between the name and the fact that it was apparently a unique thing – it was called the Tree of Eschaton, after all – I wasn’t sure how much control I’d have over it once I planted it. Fate-based stuff was something I was going to treat with respect.

I was actually a little surprised that she decided to put it right at the Village, but it kind of made sense. If I was going to have people seeking it out, better there than near Ansae, or near a core room. Maybe I could have put it out in the Caldera wilderness but that’d still end up with people trekking out there. It was only after I’d asked Taelah that I realized I could have put it by the Palace, but that didn’t feel right.

When I actually planted it though, bad things happened. The damn thing sucked in all the mana for the whole Caldera, to the point where even the Spatial Expansion, which was almost done, actually trembled. I flailed for a moment trying to wrest control of the mana flows back before coming to my senses and hastily setting up a couple of mana dynamos under the Village.

The damn thing grew its roots down in a matter of moments and wrapped them around the dynamo spheres. They didn’t cross the spatial boundary to grow inside the Climates themselves, but tangled the sets of spheres in too-long roots and stole all the mana they were giving off. It was a thirsty tree.

Taelah was her usual self, and I watched fondly as she cooed at the tree. I mean, it looked neat but apparently Taelah found it way more interesting than I did. Of course, she wasn’t wrestling with its mana appetites and trying to re-string all the mana streams all over the Caldera. But then she jerked back like the thing had bitten her.

That led to me calling Shayma out there because apparently fate mana was kind of alive. It actually made me reassess what Ansae had said about Bargains. She’d called them kind of alive, but maybe it was a basic feature of fate Affinity. I hadn’t really gotten that feeling from The Light of Eschaton but to be fair, I’d been pretty overwhelmed at the time and couldn’t have noticed any subtleties. I decided I’d bring it up with Ansae when she was awake again.

Which it was about time to do, actually. She was still snoozing and stretched out in her tower, dead to the world as she had been ever since she got back. I couldn’t imagine how awful it was to be perpetually low on stamina, like having some chronic disease. Actually, Depletion was a chronic disease, though for most people it wasn’t nearly as grievous as it was for Ansae. She’d be happy to know that I was over halfway toward the cap I needed to fix her, thanks to my new Stellar core.

“Ansae,” I said, but she didn’t stir. “Ansae! Wake up!” Given that she was using some sort of weird crystal phreaking to hear me, I wasn’t sure that shouting would do anything, but I tried anyway, to no avail. She was well and truly sacked out.

“Hmm, Shayma, can you go see if you can wake Ansae up?”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Shayma asked. She was still with Taelah, helping her herd some children back to the Village.

“She did ask me to. Though, uh, I guess be careful about it. When I woke her up last time she wasn’t particularly grumpy, but you never know.”

Shayma rolled her eyes and let me teleport her to where Ansae’s tower was. I hadn’t put in a permanent teleport area for it yet, since Ansae was still fiddling with the tower’s magics, so it was much easier to just make a new one on the top level. She was stretched out, catlike, side rising and falling in quiet rhythm. Though considering her size just a normal breath was pretty loud.

“Ansae?” Shayma called from a few meters away, hands cupped around her mouth. “Ansae! Ansae Ziir, The Silver Woe! Time to wake up!” Ansae didn’t even stir. Shayma set her jaw and marched forward, reaching out to tap the end of Ansae’s muzzle.

“C’mon, you asked us to wake you up and I’ve never seen you not know what’s going on, even asleep.” Shayma poked her harder and then squeaked as Ansae reached up and grabbed her. The dragon stretched out, catlike, and cuddled Shayma in like a teddy, all without getting anywhere close to waking up. I had to laugh.

“Oh, it’s funny to you but you’re not the one squished against a giant ancient dragon,” Shayma said, shoving at Ansae’s forelegs. Obviously, they didn’t budge.

“That’s why it’s funny!” Actually, Shayma was grinning, struck as much as I was by the sheer silliness of it all. “Well I guess she isn’t getting up yet.”

“Nope.” Shayma resorted to [Phantasmal Path] to get out, and still had to wriggle out of the ocean-depth immensity of Ansae’s mana there. “Poor thing must be exhausted after that show yesterday.”

“I’ll just dial up my regen fields to maximum and try again later. I can resort to being very very loud if it becomes an issue, but for now we can let her rest.” Considering that she’d been sleeping for hundreds of years before, I knew I couldn’t wait for her to wake up naturally. Especially since I wanted her input on what to do with thirteen trait points and a spare un-Specialized core.

I dropped my experience into [Restful Night] to maximize it and then set up a Field on top of Ansae. Since it was Ansae and I figured if anything was going to really help her it would need to be supercharged, I plugged it into the dynamo created by the Climates around Ansae’s lair with [Mana Geometries]. No matter how powerful it was, I knew it wouldn’t make a huge dent given Ansae’s regeneration issues, but it’d be better than nothing. At the very least, the Field was supposed to be soothing, so she’d appreciate it on that merit alone.

“I still need to go bring One-Eye-Green to get her clothes,” Shayma said. “Is there anything else I need to do before I go get everyone?”

“Not that I know of. Go have fun!” I felt a little bad that the Scalemind had been sidelined by the mage-king’s attack, but they hadn’t been worried about it. Not that they’d been exposed to it at all, deep down under my mountain as they were. They were aware, of course: Dreams-Ahead had plucked it out of the mind of one of the people he was treating, though it wasn’t like I was trying to keep it a secret from them. Considering the mage-kings had planned for them I wanted them well away from any actual fighting anyway.

Once the Caldera finished up, I was planning to start expanding out and down along the Lowways, and the Scalemind figured pretty prominently in those plans. Partly because, despite One-Eye-Green’s success, I knew better than to try and send a bunch of the scythe types out into Wildwood when there were a bunch of normal Classers around, and partly because with their mind magic they could actually communicate with any weird types I ran across. After seeing the Chiuxatli I realized I was far from equipped to deal with the variety of sapient life on the planet.

Expanding my territory didn’t contribute to leveling anymore, but I wasn’t just doing it for fun, either. I wanted to give myself the same defensive depth downward as I had on the surface, since I’d just had a great big demonstration on how damn useful it was to have that much area to play with. It’d be more like volume when it came to the Underneath but either way, the more warning and time I had the better. Even if I had [Starlance] now, the horror of corekiller weaponry remained so I wasn’t feeling anywhere near invulnerable.

The island might actually help in that regard. If I could figure out how to work the thing, I’d have something that nothing could approach without me spotting it, and I might be able to park it up so high nobody would notice it. Or put it in the middle of nowhere over an ocean, and make it hard to get to. If nothing else, having a redoubt that was physically distant from the rest of me was good insurance. In the meantime, I had gruntwork of my own making to do, so I grumbled to myself as I strained to remember where I should put this baron’s estate or that small village. Next time I would just move the entire country inside and be done with it.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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