A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/2 - I separated the explicit bits more this time, they're next.

Despite Ansae’s eagerness, she was still trying to wake up properly and was willing to give me a few hours, or so she claimed — I wasn’t really certain how to read her at the moment.  So instead I decided to get my traits.  I ran the selections past Taelah before I actually bought them, but she didn’t have any objections.  In fact, she was looking forward to Climate Caretaker and Climate Biodiversity, to see what else it gave me and her.

I decided to start with the one-point traits, since I figured they’d have the least effect and I could just move on.  The bigger ones might throw me for a loop for an hour or two, so I’d do those last.  Climate Caretaker was first and gave me similar feedback to [Dungeon-Companion Linking].  That was easy enough, so I connected Taelah with the Grasslands and Forest Climates near her.  Obviously, I wasn’t sure exactly what it would do, thanks to the vague description, but I was confident Taelah could figure it out.

“Ooh, that is interesting,” Taelah said, standing still in her garden and stretching out her hands in the predawn light.  “It’s like [One With Nature] got a huge boost.  I can feel out everything here without having to actually see it.  I bet that…”  She trailed off, brow furrowing as she concentrated.  “Yes, I can use my Skills directly on plants without being there.”

“Oh, wow.  That’s one heck of an expansion.”  It also meant that I could link her to Climates that weren’t particularly friendly, like the Swamp one, and she could examine things from a safe distance.  Companion Adaptation would have been better for that, but I wasn’t sure if a horrific smell was actually included in the negative effects of a Climate.

Climate Biodiversity was next, and while I wasn’t expecting much from a one-point skill I still felt a bit underwhelmed.  Here and there mushrooms popped up, moss grew on trees, and generally things I’d consider weeds or decoration appeared.  It had said simple plant life, and that seemed to mean both mundane and small.  Though maybe if I got in actual animals at some point it would help there; real ecosystems needed an entire spectrum of life, not just grass and herbs and trees.

I told Taelah about it but even she didn’t appear too excited as she felt things out with the Climate link.  The best thing was, apparently, a type of clover that the scalehoofs liked.  It stood to reason, though, that most of the important stuff would be either magical or cultivated already.  No farmer worth the name would leave a useful plant wild if they could bring it home and tame it.

With that disappointment I wasn’t really expecting much from Efficiency, either.  After all, it was a one-point trait and I already had mana to spare and all the mana flow anyone could ever want.  Even if it was made better, it was hardly a surplus I could use.  Though maybe Tarnil would benefit, and that was reason enough to select it.

When I purchased the trait, I could tell an immediate difference as inefficiencies I hadn’t noticed at all tidied themselves up, every little aspect of my mana workings becoming just a little bit tidier.  That was what I had expected, more or less.  What I hadn’t expected was for the shifts that occurred in my overlay.  Specifically, it became suddenly much cheaper to make advanced materials.

Not the supermaterials, with the mana-anvils, but the ones I created by converting directly from raw stone or iron or the like.  All the ratios improved — not the mana, which was never a problem, but the actual raw material costs.  Instead of each Adamant Stone taking one thousand ordinary stone, it took more like one hundred.  Mana Iron was closer to twenty iron instead of fifty.

In a way it made sense.  The advanced materials weren’t hundreds of times as dense as their progenitors, they were just more magical.  Some of that magicalness came from just adding raw mana, but some seemed to come from converting the extra material into intent or something like that.  The properties of stone and metal honed and exaggerated.  There wasn’t any real reason I could think of that the ratio couldn’t be one-to-one, like it was for the Mana Diamond Anvils, but ultimately I didn’t know much about magic so there was probably an explanation to be had somewhere.

The actual degree to which the material conversions improved varied pretty widely, but it seemed that those which took the most material improved the most, like it was approaching some kind of asymptotic limit.  Not one-to-one, not unless I was really inefficient to begin with, but better than the thousands-to-one I had before.

“Now, that I could feel,” Ansae said from where she was still relaxing in the chair I’d given her, slowly working her way through another spice muffin.  “Not quite mana density but something close to it.”

“Yeah I think my mana just got more effective at doing mana things.  What are the aspects of mana besides amount and density anyway?”

“Strength of intent,” Ansae replied promptly.  “Though that doesn’t really apply in your case.  Precision of application and clarity of direction might, though.  You can throw mana at something and it will work, eventually, but the more you know about where you’re coming from and where you’re going, the more you can do with less.”

Considering the dungeon system did most of the work, that sort of made sense.  It was clear that the dungeon stuff drew from my intent to make the infrastructure but, once it was made, I didn’t have the ability to alter it.  It was pretty clearly a tool designed to keep the controller separate from the mana they controlled, and was probably why I couldn’t communicate, but that did make it fairly annoying to get some stuff done.

The Efficiency purchase had another effect, which was to push the Caldera that final bit to completion.  My Spatial effects sort of lurched forward and settled in, finishing up the massive area at last.  It was still mostly bare, since the areas around Ansae’s tower and the Village were pretty much all that I’d landscaped.  Those were thousands of square kilometers apiece, but the Caldera was huge, and even combined they barely made a dent.

I didn’t get any special feedback from my overlay, no achievement or the like, but it did seem that those got awarded at level increments.  Not every time, of course, but often enough.  Or maybe since I’d gotten past the earliest levels it no longer awarded things ad-hoc.  Either way, the only reward for making it was having it, and I’d definitely start populating it with Climates of various sorts as soon as I got my traits out of the way.

I bought Designate ANATHEMA next, and of course nothing happened immediately.  It’d probably take Shayma doing something at a core to change it and she was still asleep after a late night.  I did wonder about was whether it would require a sample, or if Shayma could just point at a random something and have it work.  It would be interesting to see how specific it could be, whether she could point out a single person or a family or a country, or even a concept or something.  We’d have to be careful experimenting, but maybe just seeing what her interface was like would answer the questions.

The final purchase was the Habitation Specialization.  This one I was braced for because I was pretty certain that it’d end up with a bunch of notifications and maybe some undocumented changes.  As before, the change swept through my unspecialized core in a matter of moments, some sort of weird phase change that was just too fast and too complex for me to really understand.

Core Specialization: Habitation purchased.

Human-kin:  All human-kin receive benefit as though possessing kinetic Affinity.  Those already possessing such an Affinity benefit from an increase to mental reserves.  All regeneration fields gain additional Stamina cost reduction effects.

Scalemind: All Scalemind receive the benefit of significantly increased adroitness with mental Affinity magic.  Fields gain additional mental effects.

Dragon:  All Dragons receive the benefit of vastly increased Affinity uptake and conversion.  Climates now generate Affinity pools.

I was a little disappointed that all the different human-kin fell under the same umbrella, but I could hardly argue with the benefit they got.  I’d seen firsthand how much the addition of kinetic Affinity had increased Shayma’s and Iniri’s energy levels, and the concept of the entire country having no problem with working all day was just boggling.

When I had been moving people back and forth during the mage-king attack I had noticed a few non-human-kin races in little enclaves. Nothing as alien as the Chiuxatli, but there was a tiny settlement of [Stoneborn] people against the mountains near Wildwood and some dryad-looking [Barkwalkers] up near one of the peaks further north, by the Nivir crossing.  Apparently, they didn’t count as proper inhabitants, since they looked like refugees or exiles or squatters, rather than proper citizens.  I’d have to tell Iniri about them, and maybe get more benefits.

The Scalemind benefits were less obvious, but that was probably my fault.  I hadn’t had any in-depth conversations about what the mind magic was like, so I couldn’t tell how profound increased mental adroitness was.  That said, if it was of the same scale as the human benefit it was probably something they’d really appreciate.

Obviously the dragon benefits weren’t anything that Ansae would get anything from.  She already had her Affinity, and I couldn’t provide Primal Affinity myself.  That was uniquely hers.  I could absolutely see how useful the Habitation bonus would be for any new dragons that came around, though.  Both parts of it.

The dungeon benefits I got were pretty clearly synergistic with the inhabitant’s benefits.  Improved endurance with stamina reduction, mental adroitness amid more mental effects, and Affinity uptake coupled with pools of concentrated Affinity mana.  Ansae would benefit more from the stamina reduction than the regeneration itself, and adding mental effects to [Panopticon] and [Purgatory] would make them truly profound experiences.

I wasn’t really sure what to do with the Affinity pools, since I didn’t know much about them.  The most I knew was that Lockert had turned into a Wind Beast by jumping into one, which meant they were somewhat dangerous.  Dangerous, but if they were some kind of liquid Affinity mana, I could well imagine it was incredibly valuable for crafting.  Taelah and Shayma would love it.

Obviously, the purchase came with new trait options.  I hadn’t really discussed some of the new stellar traits with anyone yet, but I hadn’t been so impressed by them that I felt they were worth adding to the shortlist.

Core Specialization: Habitation

              Inhabitant Adaptation: Adapt inhabitants to Dungeon Climates they reside in.  (10)

              Affinity Attunement: Dungeon inhabitants gain governed Affinity Classes and Skills with less effort.  (10)

Core Specialization: Companion

Pinnacle: Companions of Dungeon Inhabitant species are made an exemplar of that species.  (8)

Inspiration: Companions of Dungeon Inhabitant species gain natural leadership toward that species. (15)

Affinity Infusion:  Companions may infuse their Classes or Skills with any governed Affinity. (20)

Core Specialization: Ecology

Affinity Ecology: Add additional plants influenced by governed Affinities to Climates (1)

Stellar Transformation: Create a new stellar Affinity version of a selected magical plant. (2)

Stellar Region: Infuse a selected area with stellar Affinity mana. (3, repeatable)

Inhabitant Climates:  Adapt Climates to suit Dungeon inhabitants. (8)

Core Specialization: Stellar

Field: Depths of Space: Reduced gravity and atmosphere. (2)

Field: Corona: Lashing tendrils of intense heat, light, and stellar Affinity mana. (2)

In hindsight I probably should have bought Habitation first, since it came with new traits, but there wasn’t anything in particular that I wanted and could afford.  Some of the options were interesting, like Pinnacle, but most of what Habitation unlocked was pretty underwhelming relative to what it actually had given me.

The Depths of Space Field was the weirdest of the bunch, since it was the first thing that would let me manipulate either gravity or atmosphere.  Not directly, of course, but even in pre-programmed Field form it would be cool.  With mana overcharge and my ability to manipulate it, I might even be able to make a vacuum, which did have its uses.  Corona, on the other hand, seemed redundant considering what else I could do.  Admittedly it sounded like an effective defense without much investment, but it wasn’t particularly high on my list of priorities.

Enough time went by while perusing my overlay that I started to see the effects of the new Core Specialization.  The additional kinetic boost was obvious by how many people were stirring out of bed and looking rested instead of sleepy, and all at the same time rather than staggered about depending on their Affinities and duties.  Iniri was one of them, but she already had kinetic, which had folded into stellar, so she’d been up early for days.

“So, just to tell you that I bought the Habitation specialization and now everyone in Tarnil has the benefits of kinetic Affinity.  Not the actual affinity itself, just the endurance boost.  You should have some bonuses as well, since you’ve already got that.”

“That is…”  Iniri was speechless for a moment, her eyes flickering as she considered it.  “I’m sure a lot of people would waste such a benefit, but that means that anyone can put in longer days and still feel rested.  You’ve just effectively doubled my labor force.”  She waved a hand dismissively as she continued.  “Oh, I expect in real terms it’s more like twenty percent or so, but that’s still amazing.  Not to mention the morale benefits from feeling energetic and fully rested all the time.”

“Yeah!  Though I bet parents aren’t going to thank me for making their kids even more rambunctious.” Iniri’s expression flickered for a moment, then she laughed out loud.

“Tell you what, I’ll take credit for the extra productivity and you can take credit for frustrated parents.”

“That doesn’t sound fair at all.”  Of course, I didn’t actually mind.  I was glad to hear Iniri actually joking with me for a change.  Generally she was more formal than I would have preferred, but then, she’d only just started being able to talk to me directly.

“You should have thought of that earlier,” Iniri said with a smile.  “Now it’s too late.”

“Darn it.”

I could see a stir among the Scalemind when I was talking with Iniri, but lacking Shayma and One-Eye-Green, I’d have to wait to ask how the habitation bonus affected them.  The affinity pools started to form too, as the mana flows throughout the Climates started to create little points of focus.  They weren’t visible without mana-sight, since they were fundamentally just mana, but they did have a physical effect on the environment.

The volcanic Affinity pool bubbled and spat like lava, scouring the bottom of the ash-covered depression it collected in without actually destroying any material.  Instead it just hardened the ash into a permanently swirling pattern as the pseudoliquid mana piled up.  The water Affinity collected like a brine pool under a deep lake, displacing the water above it, and the air Affinity acted like a thermocline, filling a small hollow with chill mana.  Storm Affinity was a stationary vortex, whirling up in the air, and earth was like a geode, swirling around in a stone hollow under the ground.

Once the initial pool had formed, they slowly densified until each was physically visible, a sort of hazy outline.  None of the pools were particularly large, maybe four or five liters at most, and didn’t seem to be getting any larger.  At least, not at a rate that was easily discernable.  From what I could see the larger climates generated larger Affinity pools, but not so much larger that I’d end up with lakes or oceans from the sizes I was planning for the Caldera.

From what Ansae had said about dragon biology, I could well imagine dragons would love those pools, and probably drink from them directly.  It was a bit of a partial step toward something like a [Contained Star], mana condensed and potent enough that it had its own physical presence, but not so much that it actually generated mana of its own.  A quick test showed me that it did count as a liquid so I could actually handle it myself, which would probably be all kinds of absurd in the future.

Speaking of Ansae, the mental component of my Fields became evident as she visibly perked up, her mental state being restored by the super-powered Rejuvenation Field I had going around her.  While it probably wasn’t the same as [Light of Hope], which already had a mental effect, it clearly did something similar.  The dragon stretched and suppressed a yawn, then grinned.

“I’m ready, Blue.  Let’s see what you can do.”

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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