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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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For the first time in a long time, I felt whole again. The whole past year had been veiled behind a haze of depression and grief and guilt, and now that I was thinking clearly once more I began to suspect there was something more. Shayma was in some ways a part of me, so I might have been genuinely crippled or brain-damaged without her.

Not that it mattered, since I wasn’t going to lose her again. She needed the absolute best protection I could make, a real effort and not just the whimsical tinkering I’d done before. I’d spent time musing, uselessly at the time, over what would work for Shayma. Before, she hadn’t really needed any magical items and other things had taken precedence, but now I turned all my resource production to making something for her. In truth, I already had much of what I needed, but I still fired up all my spare [Mana Diamond Anvils] and got to making new material.

Mercury ⁠– or quicksilver, as it was known – turned into [Chimaeric Silver] in the Anvil, and I was making that the primary basis of Shayma’s item. The stuff rippled and shimmered, cycling through colors and moving of its own accord with whatever bit of mana flowed through it. The end product of the transmutation was nothing like a toxic metal, but more like something almost alive, and I was going to need an awful lot of it. I already had a stockpile from some desultory experimentation over the past year and I wasn’t making anything else with the Anvils, so it wouldn’t take overly long.

I didn’t have much spare time while that was cooking, since I spent most of it loading and unloading the Anvils, even tied together as they were. I had enough that I could spend all my time doing nothing but managing them if I really needed to grind through supermaterials, and I did. With Shayma asleep, though I wasn’t sure she really needed sleep if her physical form was optional, I didn’t feel bad about immersing myself in the crafting for a bit.

The second step I had in mind was the really iffy one. There were other options if it didn’t work, but I thought it would, provided I took the proper precautions. Precautions like wrapping an [Infusion Crystal] in layers of gold and [Firmament]. The [Infusion Crystal] wasn’t something I’d used too much, but in this case it was the perfect tool, because I was going to infuse the [Contained Star] I had used to destroy Port Anell into the [Chimaeric Silver].

It wasn’t as insane as it seemed. I’d seen with Iniri’s torc that the history of the materials used had an impact, and that particular star had a lot of history. It had its own intent, as it were, that made it perfect for a weapon and protection for Shayma. The neutron versions still produced a lot of stellar mana, but less than the blue star types, and I’d already seen that mana could be corralled if it became too overwhelming. Considering the enormous amounts Shayma could draw on and her unique condition, neither I nor [Blue’s Sagacity] had any worries.

Mostly, though, mana-active neutronium would be better for my purposes than [Firmament]. Indestructability didn’t mean that it blocked mana attacks nor did it mean a weapon created by it was any more effective than normal steel. But something with the sheer mana output of an [Origin Relic] would laugh off direct mana attacks, and nothing beat the raw impact strength of a neutronium weapon. Plus, the stuff was practically liquid to begin with, so that much meshed with [Chimaeric Silver].

Even if my past year had been a hazy waste of time, I hadn’t been entirely idle. Aside from setting things up at Iniri’s and Taelah’s requests, I’d talked with Ansae some and gotten a touch more handle on how magic worked. It wasn’t that much progress, and I’d never really be able to operate in the same way that Ansae did. I had too much grounding in nonmagical knowledge for that. But what I had learned was enough to know that being conceptually or even descriptively similar was more important for magic than being physically similar.

While that was cooking, I put together a [Soul Prosthesis] for Shayma. Not that she needed the protection it granted, but I wanted the item I was making to be bound more to her soul structure than her body. Considering that she could go around without any physical form whatsoever, what I was making would need to work even when she was in spirit form. It sucked up a goodly amount of my Aurum and Argentum, but I’d had a year to stockpile the stuff so it wasn’t too awful.

Once I had a solid amount of [Chimaeric Silver] I poured it into the [Infusion Crystal], then used [Structural Mana Reinforcement] to its maximum capacity. There wasn’t any visible change but I could see the magic taking hold, and I waited until it was fully settled in before taking the next step. I pulled the [Contained Star] from where I’d put it, deep inside the mountain, and shoved it into the [Infusion Crystal].

It didn’t want to go at first, giving me a nasty kind of buzzing ache as the only feedback, but I really didn’t care. Pain was entirely irrelevant since it wasn’t like breaking a crystal could really hurt me, even if it completely blew up in my face. I’d set off multiple supernovae already, so if one more happened it’d just ruin a section of mountain. It didn’t detonate, but it came damned close as I grappled with both the [Infusion Crystal] and my interface and forced two things together in a way that probably wasn’t intended.

I hadn’t messed with the dungeon system that badly in quite some time, but I had a lot more mana and a lot more power than I did before, so eventually I forced the [Contained Star] into the [Infusion Crystal] where I wanted it. Predictably, the whole thing wanted to explode. Mana billowed outward, ran into the gold plating that stopped it dead. The [Firmament] plating and [Structural Mana Reinforcement] kept the actual crystal from cracking, splitting, or rupturing physically. The stresses ate away at my mana reserves but, considering my regeneration, that wasn’t even slightly worrisome.

What was worrisome was how long it took to settle. The few times I’d used an [Infusion Crystal] before, the mixing was practically instantaneous. Obviously mixing an actual star with supermaterials was a few steps up, but it took hours of constant attention. I didn’t dare do much more than keep pressure on it with my own mana, letting it cook. Dawn was well started by the time it finally settled, the flaring, boiling mana cooling slowly until I could finally pull it out of the [Infusion Crystal].

[Reinforced Crystals] obtained. Crystals are more robust.

[Chimaeric Neutronium] glowed and shimmered in all colors of the rainbow, but was still perfectly reflective. The contradictory appearance really was perfectly indicative of the sheer amount of mana involved, though [Chimaeric Neutronium] didn’t put off nearly as much as a [Contained Star]. It also seemed to be incredibly heavy, straining the [Adamant Stone] bowl I’d put some of it in to look at, yet little drops drifted up from the surface, floating lazily as if almost buoyant before sinking back down.

“Taelah, dear?” She was already up, because of course she was with the twins to take care of. I was still uncertain how to feel about them, because while they were mine, they were also completely distant and detached from me. I was not and could not act as their father. Among other things, even if Taelah’s Lineage skill worked for them the same way it worked for her, they’d still need to grow up and level up to get that Lineage skill. So mostly I watched them from afar and talked to Taelah.

“Yes, husband?” Taelah didn’t stop changing Eva to reply, re-wrapping the indignant toddler and lifting her up to cradle the squirming bundle against herself.

“When you get a chance, I have some alchemy stuff. I’m making a new item for Shayma so I don’t have to worry about her getting killed again, and I’m going to need your help to bind it together.”

“Certainly, after I give these two their breakfast.”

“Yeah, I’m still working on things myself. Gotta get stuff together.” A lot of the stuff I was planning to put into Shayma’s item was stuff I had wanted anyway. Specifically, Aurum strands with useful Skills in them. Iniri’s [Guardian Constellation] and [Shield of Tarnil], Keri’s [Primal Healing] and [Healing Buffer], Giorn’s [Kinetic Sink] and [Kinetic Redirection], just as examples. There weren’t any void Skills, since those just destroyed the Aurum, but I had a small cache of the most useful ones.

I even had some Argentum, so I could put in [Customization] and [Mana Mechanisms]. It felt a little weird to be doing most of the construction myself, but there really wasn’t much for Iniri to do. The neutronium would be the main point of the item, and the Skills would be the extra bonus. Considering Shayma’s Domain, most of the things that I could think to put into it were redundant or just wouldn’t work with her normal Skills.

In my [Assembler] I wound the strands of Aurum and Argentum about the fragments of [Promise] then connecting the lot with [Firmament], binding them back together with wire kintsugi. I even added individual unattuned Aurum strands, in case Shayma found more or different Skills that would work for her, and a few Argentum ones if I picked up useful Skills of my own in the future.

The [Soul Prosthesis] needed a little bit of finagling to fit in. It was far too large to fit into the setting I’d added to the reconstructed ring, but I already had the solution to that. Like with the [Ell Family Tree], I encased the sphere with a cage of Argentum and put in the compression spatial Field, applying mana and watching it shrink down to the size of a proper gemstone.

The new ring glinted in gold and silver and blue, with the [Soul Prosthesis] hinting at additional colors inside. Then I only needed to wait for Taelah, who was nursing the twins and talking quietly with Tessa Lin, Suna’s mother. Frankly it seemed the whole Village had semi-adopted Eva and Grant, and there were always people hanging around the little house she kept at the Village square. She had no shortage of babysitters, though she preferred not to pass them off unless she needed to do alchemical work.

I wasn’t impatient; it wasn’t like anything impended as such. I wanted to get Shayma this stuff right away, but I wasn’t so far gone as to be frantic about it. Besides, she was taking her time talking with Sienne and Giorn, with Keri and Annit, and with some of the rescued Ells. Barring some catastrophe she’d stay in the Caldera until I was ready.

It was actually over an hour later that Taelah walked into the [Craft Hall]. I wasn’t much surprised; babies took a lot of care, and Taelah wasn’t one to hand that care off to someone else. Nor would I want her to. She adjusted [Vow] and walked over to the alchemical section, tying back her hair.

“What are we working with?”

“Okay, this stuff is called [Chimaeric Neutronium], and I advise using [Vow] at maximum. You probably don’t want to touch this stuff until it’s been properly bound into an item.”

“Believe me, I’m familiar with that kind of thing,” she assured me. “What is— oh, wow!” She took a moment to marvel at the sight of [Chimaeric Neutronium] as it filled the big tank in the [Alchemy Station]. “You never cease to come up with new miracles.”

“I’m having to apply [Structural Mana Reinforcement] to the whole thing so it doesn’t collapse,” I admitted. “Do you think you can bind it down to this?” The ring I’d made appeared next to her with a pop of black, and she smiled when she saw what it was, though, shaking her head fondly.

“You’re so sentimental,” Taelah said. “It’s adorable, and I approve. Let’s see what we can do.” She put the ring to one side, pulling on [Vow] and extending her hands over the tank of neutronium to study it with her senses and Skills. Her brow wrinkled and she closed her eyes, concentrating without quite touching the slowly seething mass of rainbowed metal. “There is a lot of mana here. Could you ask the Great Lady if she would be willing to take a look? I’d be a lot more comfortable with an expert opinion.”

“Sure! Hey, Ansae?” The dragon in question had by now converted an entire floor of her tower into a magical lab for investigating stellar mana. The process hadn’t just been for fun, since instead of being two away from full depletion she was six. Somewhere along the line she’d gained a level from her investigations of stellar phenomena and from contemplations on physics in general.

“Yes, Blue?”

“If you have the time, Taelah could use your advice on something I cooked up. I think I might have added a bit too much mana to it for her tastes.”

“You always do,” Ansae said with a chuckled, and shifted down to her amazon form. “Something you cooked up, hmm? Sounds like it could be interesting. You haven’t done enough invention lately.”

“I know, I know. I’m feeling better, though. I’ll probably get back to it. But at some point I’m going to hit the limits of what I can figure out.”

“You’d be surprised. I’ve been around a very long time and I’m still learning new things.” Ansae walked through the portal I made, coming out in the [Craft Hall]. She strode over to where Taelah was communing with the [Chimaeric Neutronium] and looked down at the material herself. The sight of it made her curl her tail in surprise.

“Well, no wonder you asked for me,” she said to Taelah. “What exactly did you do here, Blue?”

“I alloyed a neutron star with the [Chimaeric Silver] supermaterial," I told them.

“Because of course you did,” Ansae mused. “I daresay I never thought of using a star as an ingredient instead of an item.” She reached into the alchemy tank and captured a tiny drop of the neutronium, or tried to. The drop that she had in her paw didn’t want to move, and Ansae grunted as she applied actual muscle to move it. “This is interesting stuff,” she said, and with great effort lifted the drop to her muzzle for a closer look. “May I?”

“Uh, sure.” I had an idea of what she was going to do, and I had enough that one drop missing from the mass wouldn’t make much of a difference. Sure enough, she opened her muzzle, tilted back her head, and swallowed the drop. Even for Ansae that seemed a little ridiculous, but she knew her business better than I did. Besides, dragons were thaumivores and whatever digestive tract Ansae had was probably more of a magical disassembler than anything resembling biology.

“I do love the weird stuff you make,” Ansae said after a moment, licking her lips. “Yes, I can see why the usual approach to binding this wouldn’t work too well.” She turned to Taelah and the two of them indulged in an exchange of magical jargon, most of which still flew over my head. I understood maybe one concept in five instead of one in ten as before, but it still wasn’t completely comprehensible to me.

Ansae solved the issue by producing something from her own hoard. That wasn’t usual, but she had taken a drop of the neutronium so it was payment in kind. She handed the vial off to Taelah, who arranged it with a number of other materials from the shelves. I still found it a little odd that Ansae didn’t do much crafting herself, but she still watched with interest as Taelah mixed and stirred things using the other glassware of the Alchemy station, resulting in something that looked like liquid crystal.

Eventually she decanted the mixture into a small glass bowl and dropped the ring into it. The crystalline fluid seemed to be absorbed by the ring as if it were a sponge, though there was no noticeable change. That seemed to be all that was needed, though, since she transferred the ring to another container within the [Alchemy Station] and put her hands on the device to control it.

“I’m going to start binding in the [Chimaeric Neutronium],” she said. “Keep an eye on it, would you, Blue? It might get a bit lively when it’s moving around.”

“On it,” I said, pre-emptively adding more mana to the [Structural Mana Reinforcement]. The neutronium started to shift into the smaller chamber with the ring, whipping around like an accretion disk and spiraling in to smash into the ring’s surface. I winced, but that seemed to be intended, as the ring started to rise up from where it was resting in the box. It looked for all the world like it was at the center of some tremendous vortex, spinning and tumbling in midair as the shifting, rainbowed neutronium was drawn into it.

The entire [Alchemy Station] started shaking, and I had to grow some metal bracing to keep it still, adding more stone as extra mass when even the metal started to vibrate. Then golden lattice as mana waves started pulsing outward. Aside from making a new [Contained Star], it was the most dramatic magical process I’d seen yet. A good liter or more of [Chimaeric Neutronium] spiraled into Shayma’s new ring, the last drops vanishing before it dropped down flat and didn’t bounce. It didn’t blaze with mana like [Contained Stars] did, but rather looked more like Ansae, completely opaque to mana sight with hints of hidden depths.

[You have created an Artifact!]

I thought that would be the case after what I put into it, but there was no telling, in the end. Still, my best guess for one of the requirements for Artifact status was uniqueness, and I was completely certain nobody had stuffed neutronium into a ring before. Let alone the mana-active, supermaterial alloy stuff.

Bound to Shayma Ell. Ring cannot be lost, stolen, or destroyed.

Acts as a Primal Source for all Affinities produced by Authority.

Supplies Bearer with a large, constantly renewed reservoir of mana.

Bearer Represents Authority.

Grants Ability: [Starforged Shifting]: Bearer assumes control over stored [Chimaeric Neutronium]. The [Chimaeric Neutronium] will integrate with Bearer’s Skills and intent, and may freely change form, shape, mass, and density.

Missing or destroyed [Chimaeric Neutronium] will regenerate over time.

Grants Ability: [Skill Network]: Skills may be stored within the Artifact. Stored Skills may be used if Authority has access to the Skill’s Affinity.

Stored Skills: 14/50

Grants Ability: [Contingency]: Skills stored in the Skill Network may be designated to be automatically triggered under certain conditions.

A vengeful star her arms and armor. May she never be lost again.

[Please name your Artifact.]

[…]

[You have obtained Unbreakable Promise!]

Companion Taelah Marn has assisted in creating an Artifact.

Companion Extraordinary Feats have slightly reduced requirements to level.

It was less textually impressive than, say, Iniri’s [Torc of the Stars], but the granted abilities were everything I could have hoped for. Protection, offense, and utility all in one. Just like with the Torc, this one had an extra line that wasn’t entirely clear in its effects, but had an incredible weight in my consciousness. I wasn’t sure if it was fate mana or just the evocative nature of the statement, but it spoke to me.

“This is amazing. Thank you, dear! Thank you, Ansae!”

“You’re welcome, husband.” Taelah said, a little drained from her own role in the alchemical infusion. “I even got a level from that! And I’m sure my Alchemy skill advanced, too.”

“Let me get you home,” I offered, and when Taelah nodded I teleported her directly back to her cottage. Tessa jumped as Taelah appeared, not quite as used to that kind of thing as Taelah was.

“It’s always interesting when you’re up to something new,” Ansae remarked, peering at the ring. “I think even I would have trouble picking that up. At the rate you’re going, you’ll be creating pure mana atoms by the end of the decade.”

“Heaven forfend. That sounds like it could end very badly.” Ansae just laughed.

“If you ever decide to make another batch of that, I’d be very interested,” she said. “It’s fascinating stuff.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t call neutronium stable or safe normally, but the magical version? I’m sure there’s a million potential uses.”

“Yes, I already have a few in mind.” Ansae looked pleased, and I had to wonder if she was thinking of making herself some [Chimaeric Neutronium] blood or something. I wouldn’t put it past her.

“Want a lift back home?” I offered.

“Yes, thank you. I have some investigation of my own to do now.” She seemed somewhat distracted, but dragons liked shiny things and the neutronium was very shiny. I opened a portal back to the tower and she headed back to do her own experiments while I turned my attention to Shayma. It was time to see what she thought.

“Hey Shayma, I have something for you.” My fox-girl paused her chat with Keri, flicking her ears.

“Did you finish up already?”

“You got me. I really wanted to get this thing done.” It was also seriously straining my ability to keep the [Alchemy Station] intact. “Hold out your hand.” Shayma smiled at the instruction and did so. Black flashed as I transported the ring into her grasp, which didn’t waver at all despite the weight of the thing. Even moving [Unbreakable Promise] around cost a staggering amount of mana, even more than transporting [Contained Stars], and wasn’t something that I could do casually.

“Is this…” Shayma blinked at it for a moment. “Did you make it from [Promise]?”

“I did! I wasn’t about to let it languish.”

“I’m glad.” She traced her fingers over it, then slid it onto her left ring finger with no apparent effort. A burst of rainbowed silver rippled out from it, rolling over Shayma from tip to tail, and then vanishing as her clothes rearranged themselves. Her eyebrows went up, and she stood up and spun around, arms out.

“This is…” She shook her head. “I don’t even know what to say. This is amazing, Blue.” I could see from the uniquely dense appearance of the Artifact in mana-sight that she’d replaced her pseudo-real illusory clothes with ones made of [Chimaeric Neutronium]. Despite being composed of the heaviest stuff on the planet, they acted just like light cotton. Even the signature mana density seemed to soften a little as Shayma’s Domain did its work.

“Like I said. Never again.”

“He spoils you,” Keri said with a giggle.

“Of course I do!”

“Of course he does!” Shayma said, laughing. “He’s a really soft touch once you know him.”

“Hey! Only for you! And Taelah. And Iniri. And probably Ansae. Okay I guess I kind of am.”

“So what’s it do?” Annit asked, leaning over to look at [Unbreakable Promise]. It was quite striking. Gold and silver threaded with [Firmament] held together fragments of blue and black, with the jeweled setting glittering in a dozen muted colors. That didn’t even take into account the armor that was the main part of the Artifact. In response, Shayma traced out the runes for Status and displayed [Unbreakable Promise’s] description. Of course, hers had an actual description for the Artifact, not just its abilities.

[Unbreakable Promise]

Constructed for Shayma Ell from the fragments of her previous ring, [Promise], this artifact represents Blue’s renewed commitment to Shayma after her death and rebirth. Let it never happen again.

There was nothing about the description I could object to. To Shayma, it was an upgrade, but to me, it represented another chance. I’d been, previously, rather lackadaisical when it came to my actions, but that wasn’t acceptable anymore.

“That certainly seems impressive, but what is [Chimaeric Neutronium]?” Annit said the unfamiliar words with a certain amount of deliberation, as if tasting them. In answer, Shayma stretched out her hand and a glittering iridescent silver gauntlet formed on it. She flexed the hand and the gauntlet turned into a sword, then a spear, then a hammer.

“That is very handy,” Annit admitted. “Does it do ranged weaponry as well?”

“Hmm.” Shayma altered the shape to a bow, but hesitated at putting together an arrow. “I can, but I have the feeling an arrow made out of this would be terrifying. It would also take more of the [Chimaeric Neutronium] than I would like, even if it can regenerate.”

“Start with something small, first. Just some kind of tiny pellet thrower.” Shayma nodded at that while Annit pursed her lips at Shayma’s reply.

“You could try one, to test. I’m curious, now.”

“Maybe something small, like a sling bullet.” The weapon shifted once again, and Shayma started whirling the sling around.

“Wait—” Shayma released before I could suggest it was maybe a bad idea to even use a projectile that large, the pea-sized pebble smashing straight through the wall and making the whole mountain shudder as it crunched down through rock. Shayma fortunately had used an outer wall, else I would have had to teleport people out of the way to save them from being crushed as the thing carved a tunnel through the northern range, not slowing at all as it fell down through the rock and punching a hole straight through the Caldera floor. It was only falling with normal acceleration, which was fortunate because it just barely gave me time to set up a teleport in its path before it fell out of my influence entirely. Once again I had to spend an exorbitant amount of mana to teleport the little piece of [Chimaeric Neutronium], and when it popped into existence next to Shayma it simply floated back toward her.

“I knew it was heavy, but I wasn’t expecting that,” Shayma said, staring at the hole in the wall.

“Yeah, that little bullet was like chucking a mountain.”

“As if you weren’t terrifying before.” Annit said, voice a little faint. “I’m glad we’re on your side.”

“Well, now I know to be a little more careful when practicing with this.”

“I was going to warn you. I made [Chimaeric Neutronium] by merging a [Contained Star] with a shifting-oriented supermaterial. So it’s that potent.” Shayma whistled at that explanation.

“I’ll definitely take it seriously,” she said, a little chastened. “It’s supposed to work with my spirit form, too, which has been an issue with other items. Let’s see.” With that, Shayma simply vanished, except she didn’t. The change was odd from my end, since I could still see and hear through her senses, but in spirit form that meant her whole Domain.

Since her upgrade, the Domain had seemed more distinct from the surrounding mana as well, so I could still spot her even when she wasn’t in her normal foxgirl form. The Domain floated this way and that, nothing visible to mundane senses before Shayma re-manifested herself on the other side of the room. I was still unclear on the exact mechanism of shifting between corporeal and incorporeal, flesh and spirit, but the deep mysteries of magic would never be my thing.

“Well, that seems to work,” Shayma said with a brilliant smile. “The question is, what am I going to use it on?”

“Anything that gets in our way. Now that I have my Voice back, I have some things to say.”

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

Obviously it's not as heavy as mundane neutronium.  A liter of that stuff would have real mass probably exceeding the earth's moon.  It's got a lot of magical pseudomass though.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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