A note from InadvisablyCompelled


Level 18 Core converted.

2 trait point awarded.

Dungeon gains additional Core.

Unique Core Specialization: Soul applied.

Unique Core Specialization: Soul: Allows creation of Lineage Skills, Inheritor Classes, and Inheritor Bloodline. Improves soul perception.

New traits available:

Inhabitants – Soul Protection: Inhabitants are resistant to soul-affecting processes. (5)

Companion – Soul Sensing: Companions may see souls through dungeon perception. (2)

New Skills:

[Create Lineage Skill]: Create Lineage Skill seed from selected Skill.

[Inheritor Class Seed]: Create Inheritor Class seed from selected Class.

[Inheritor Bloodline Seed]: Create Inheritor Bloodline seed from selected Bloodline.

I finally had another core, which was another step along the path toward having enough mana to Purify Ansae, but I had to admit I was a little bit let down by what the soul core actually got me. I was hoping for something really drastic, considering how shrouded in mystery souls were, but instead I got a sort of Class and Skill database.

In a way it made sense. Ad-hoc soul editing was probably never in the cards, considering that they weren’t some arbitrary toolset but a reflection of a person’s growth and character. The closest I’d come to arbitrary soul rewriting was the Bargain that had changed Shayma’s Class, and it was pretty clear that Trickster fit her quite well.

The boost in soul perception seemed to give me the ability to actually discern which bit of soul went to which Skill, and what was part of the overall Class framework, at least for relatively simple souls. Ansae’s massive soul was still bewildering to me, but I could take a look at Keri’s and Annit’s and get some understanding of their Skill growth. It turned out the physical structure was almost arbitrary; there were some similarities but everyone’s soul was idiosyncratic. Probably like a neural structure, and a good argument for not messing with it outside the bounds of the presumably far better equipped dungeon tools.

My extant Lineage seeds were transferred to the soul core, in a rare instance of my overlay actually updating itself in a coherent manner. The Skills themselves were also straightforward enough. I could target anyone whose soul I had access to, not just my Companions, and create Lineage seeds and Inheritor Classes.

It was actually kind of neat for the long term. It gave me the ability to, if nothing else, give people the chance to acquire certain Skills and Classes, though it did very little at the moment. Still, I liked the idea that I could in the future give people the option to be a [Trickster] like Shayma. Well, not like Shayma, because she was one of a kind, but a [Trickster] anyway.

The Bloodline Inheritor was fascinating because it was definitely not compatible with human-kin. Instead, it was the system that dragons and leviathans used, some sort of evolutionary path version of a Class. Once I figured that out I went back to look at the dragon and Leviathan souls I had access to and, yes, with my newly boosted soul sight I could see the way their soul structures recorded and interacted with their physical evolutions.

Ansae’s soul was, of course, still almost completely opaque, but what I could tell was that she hadn’t undergone a physical evolution for most of her growth. My guess was that once she became a primal dragon, that was it. Everything since then had been a slow refining rather than sudden shift. But she probably didn’t need more evolutions. Not when [Primal Dragon] seemed to have no upper limit.

With the extra core came another level-up as well. I’d been getting slow dribs and drabs of advancement from the blightbeasts, but it seemed that taking out a core was worth a lot more. A whole lot more. Though I didn’t actually know how close to a level I’d been, since it took Shayma or Taelah to actually check on that part of my Status.

Depletion sources removed. Requirements for level advancement reduced.

Dungeon has reached level 14!

One trait point awarded.

The level-up notification made me scramble to check my maximum mana and do some mental math to figure out where I was. The maximum displayed on the overlay had actually dropped over time as I’d allotted more and more storage crystals to things other than holding mana, but I could always un-allot them.

The figure I arrived at was 558,112 maximum mana. It was close, within striking distance even, but I wasn’t able to purify Ansae yet. By my calculations I needed just a little bit more than a single level or a single new core. Even getting the next rank in [Blue’s Sagacity] wouldn’t quite get me there, so it was a little early to be celebrating a victory.

Still, it wasn’t an insurmountable gap anymore. If there were other mage-kings as stupid or stubborn as Tek Lin, I might well get a number of extra cores and finally close the gap. It would be really nice if I could level up [Blue’s Sagacity], but I had the feeling Power-type Skills didn’t level all that much and the fact was that I hadn’t exactly been pushing any intellectual boundaries for a while.

I had a few trait points too, five in all, and I wasn’t completely sure where they’d all come from. Though I thought I could afford to save up for something more advanced, as I had everything I needed under the circumstances. The only thing that could really help me at the moment was time, but with the mage-kings moving again I didn’t think I’d have a few extra months to increase my reach. Or rather, if I did wait, by then the entire coast of Einteril would be ravaged.

Cleaning up Ainia had taken longer than I’d anticipated, but that was what happened with thousands of monsters roaming the streets. Calling in Iniri had been an inspired move, considering how many lives it saved, but I wasn’t sure I was entirely comfortable with it. They weren’t her cities or her people and even with [Torc of the Stars] it felt a little risky. Though maybe I was just being overprotective, under the circumstances.

Either way, the invasion was definitely in full swing. I highly doubted any of the cities had managed to hold off their respective mage-kings, not considering how tough they were and the sheer amount of troops they had at their disposal. So Shayma would be dealing with entrenched people and monsters that would turn into frenzied beasts the moment she destroyed the mage-king’s source of power.

“It’d be for the best if we could capture them,” Shayma said, approaching the next city on Cheya’s list. “That way we could just force them to make the monsters pull out.”

“Yeah, but I’m the only one who could restrain them and I don’t think I could manage it with ANATHEMA. I’d be willing to try, but, how could we capture them? They’re dangerous enough that even you can’t sandbag against them, and that’s not counting how they suddenly go squishy when their core runs out of mana.”

“True.” Shayma scowled. “Nonlethal Skills are very difficult. They’ve got way too much mana density for my Scalemind form to get anywhere.”

“That’s assuming that you could deal with their minds to begin with. They’re linked to their own cores, so trying to poke in their minds might end up bringing you in contact with a red core and that probably wouldn’t end well.”

“I doubt that any of their cores are like you. It’s probably more like a magical item rather than the link we share, but I guess you’re right. If we could figure out how to cut that dungeon connection without taking over a core or killing the mage-king, that would be the best way to do it.”

“Yeah. Though I doubt any of them would tell us how that worked. I remember Tor Kot said something about it, way back when he thought Iniri had taken over Vok Nal’s dungeon, but it was just in passing. And who knows what sort of limitations it has.”

“Well we need to figure out what we’re going to do before I get to Tianes. I don’t want another mess like Ainia.”

“Yeah.” I broadened the conversation to everyone, including my other Companions and Ansae. “Turns out if I assimilate a red core when that core’s monsters are still around, they go berserk. It’s not really possible to take the mage-kings alive, either. The question is how to approach it for the mage-kings who refuse to leave.”

“Do you have to assimilate the core, then? If the controller is dead, it wouldn’t be much of a threat would it?” Taelah asked, rocking Grant and Eva in their cradles. “At least for a while. I remember that they’re fairly slow.”

“Oh my god that’s so obvious. Why didn’t I think of it?” I actually knew why. I couldn’t touch another dungeon, or at least, red core dungeon, without engaging in an immediate life-or-death struggle. Shayma would have trouble, too, if she used her bare hands, but she could just put a box around it and carry it off.

“Sometimes you’re just too close to the problem to see the solution,” Taelah observed.

“What was the solution?” Ansae inquired, opening one eye. She was still in the Fortress, catnapping – or possibly dragonnapping – between lessons with the Nicehapoca dragons. I filled her in and she snorted. “Even I have a tendency to overcomplicate things sometimes. Yes, this might be one time when the best solution is not to take decisive action.”

“Oh, for⁠—” Shayma had gotten the response through [Companion Concord], because she laughed too. “How should I deal with the core then?”

“Probably just chop the bits its connected to with [Starlance] and shove it onto a sled or something with a pole. Or even just grab a fishing net and haul it off. I bet you can commandeer one of those flying boats and we can bring the cores you collect back to the Caldera for disposal at our leisure.”

“Works for me.” Shayma resumed her flight, moving far more quickly with a concrete objective. I almost hoped that the mage-king she found next would be just as obstinate, but there was no telling. We’d had one smart and one stupid mage-king so far, which wasn’t enough to extrapolate from. It was basically a coin flip.

Tianes was another middle-sized port city, possibly slightly larger than Ainia, and there was no fighting going on only because the mage-king there had already taken over the city. The harbor defenses had been crushed into rubble, but the rest of the city was more or less untouched. A quick job, all in all, but it was hard to appreciate it from my side. A competent enemy was the last thing anyone wanted.

Since there wasn’t anything in progress to interrupt, Shayma took a more deliberate approach than the flaming-dragon-from-the-sky shock and awe that she’d been using before. She still projected my Presence like an aura as she approached from the south, rendering the monsters posted there practically insensate. Oddly enough, they were a repeat; once again the monsters were the animate stone statues, which made me wonder if there was some connection between the mage-king in charge of Tianes and Tik Fuy.

I am Shayma Ell, the Voice of Blue, and I will speak with your master,” Shayma boomed, loud enough that it was probably heard throughout the entire city, then withdrew my Presence enough to let the monsters there go report.

“How long should we give them?”

“Not that long. They know who I am, and if they’re not going to take me seriously I already know how things are going to go.”

“Good point.”

“Besides, I’m pretty sure that they can communicate with monsters at a distance. I’d be surprised if he hadn’t already figured out what I was doing here the moment I came up the road.”

“I don’t know, some of them have seemed pretty oblivious.” I didn’t push, though, waiting along with Shayma for the message to pass its way up the ladder. I counted out maybe five minutes before Shayma started tapping her foot impatiently, and then another two before Shayma got fed up and started walking forward into the city.

The statue-monsters were not so stupid as to try and impede her progress. In fact, they physically couldn’t, as they were low enough level that my Presence made it impossible for them to move. The streets were empty save for monsters patrolling or guarding entrances, the entire populace closed into their homes and businesses. It reminded me a bit of the bizarre way Tor Kot’s cities worked, oppressive but undeniably effective.

While Shayma could have changed to Chiuxatli or dragon form and flown over the city, she seemed to be making a statement by having my Presence and a [Panopticon] Field thrown wide, marching down the street toward the city center. Neither of us had any idea where the mage-king actually was, of course, but both Tor Kot and Vok Nal had gravitated toward a central location.

She’d made it all of three blocks before someone swooped down out of the sky toward her. Not directly toward her, and not quickly, which showed the mage-king had some intelligence. His flight, such as it was, made it look like he was standing on an invisible platform, hovering down to deposit him maybe a hundred meters from Shayma along the main thoroughfare.

The man had the most ridiculously long moustache and beard I’d seen, flowing down to his knees, and an equally glorious mane of hair, all of it honey-blond. He was far and away the most memorable mage-king I’d seen, even including Tor Kot, simply for the sheer amount of hair. Shayma was less impressed, marching toward where the guy had landed as if she were going to walk straight through him.

“His name is Tor Nem,” I told her when she got close enough for me to identify him from the overlay, which I supposed made the guy part of Tor Kot’s family. Or maybe just a distant relative. He sure didn’t have much physical resemblance.

“Tor Nem,” Shayma said coldly. “You have two choices. Pack up and leave, or be destroyed. Blue will not stand by and let the mage-kings ravage more land and more cities. One of your companions left. The other decided to fight, and couldn’t even lay a hand on me.”

The man in question lifted his hands, showing her his palms. Considering that he had to have enormous amounts of magic at his disposal, the gesture really didn’t mean much. People didn’t need weapons to be dangerous. But it was better than the idiot who tried to kill her with a force lance.

“I did get a communique from Tik Fuy,” Tor Nem said. “I take it the unfortunate that you’ve removed was Tek Lin?”

“Choose,” Shayma demanded, not bothering to answer his questions.

“Oh, we’ll be leaving,” Tor Nem said. “I can barely work my Skills in this…” He waved vaguely around at himself and Shayma. “Whatever this is. I’m certainly not combat focused like Tek Lin.” I wasn’t sure that was true. Maybe it was the ANATEHMA talking but I inherently distrusting anything out of the man’s mouth.

“Yet, you’re still standing here,” Shayma said, raising an eyebrow.

“It takes time to pack everything and everyone back up,” Tor Nem said defensively. “Harrying me won’t make it go any faster. But while you’re here might I trouble you to answer some questions?”

“Possibly,” Shayma said suspiciously.

“Hoo boy.”

“Nothing too personal, I assure you,” Tor Nem told her. “If you like we can retire to the Duke’s residence and you can watch me hand it back while we discuss things.”

“Well?” Shayma said, aside to me, screening it from Tor Nem.

“I mean, he does have a point that it’s going to take a while for an orderly withdrawal, but I don’t really trust his hospitality. But I mean, it’s either just stand around there or stand around in a fancy residence. Or maybe just pick a random restaurant or something?” It was always possible that Tor Nem had something prepared back at the residence that he thought could hurt Shayma, no matter how obliging he seemed.

“Let’s just sit down at that teahouse over there.” Shayma went with the last option I suggested, pointing at a fancy-looking café off to one side of the road. Tor Nem shrugged acquiescence and followed Shayma to the place in question. It wasn’t open, of course, though that wasn’t an issue for either Tor Nem or Shayma. She didn’t ask for the people in the upstairs living area to come down, either, simply taking a seat next to the front window and allowing Tor Nem to join her.

“What do you want to ask?” Shayma seemed to be focused on him, but I was pretty sure she was scanning the surroundings with her Domain. I was looking around as much as I could myself, just because I didn’t trust the guy to actually follow through on the evacuation. I could see monsters were moving, but it wasn’t exactly at a rushed pace.

“Well, first, I’m curious as to why you’re suddenly protecting Einteril. You seemed quite happy to wreak havoc here only a year ago, and now you’re behaving as if it was your territory.”

“It has little to do with Einteril, and everything to do with you. Blue will not sit by while you spread depletion. It is a foul blight upon the world and we will oppose it where we can. We can oppose it here and now, and so we are.” Once again, it was a better speech than I could have come up with, but that was why Shayma was my voice. Tor Nem took a moment to consider this, stroking his beard.

“You do know that we are doing it only in service of containment around the depletion rift itself?” Tor Nem asked. “Without our dungeons suppressing it, there’s no telling what hordes would overrun the world.”

“Oh yes, but Blue has a far better solution to that problem. He can actually counter depletion. Besides which, we are not at all impressed with the way you have conducted yourselves. If you were really so dedicated, we wouldn’t have had war cores sent out to deal with us.”

“We’re hardly a monolith,” Tor Nem protested. “You can’t hold me responsible for something another faction did.”

“We can, and I am. You can’t just sit there using the same tactics and enjoying the same benefits as the idiots who tried to kill me and claim you’re innocent.” The very thought made me even more enraged than usual. “If your countrymen had killed me you wouldn’t have thought twice about it. No, you don’t get to pretend you’re different or separate just because we have the upper hand.”

“Blue has no use for your excuses,” Shayma said, rendering my rant as the dismissal it was. Actually arguing with him would have only made me look weaker. “Any other questions?”

“It would be great to know how Blue can counter depletion,” Tor Nem said a little wistfully. A little part of me agreed that it would be good if the mage-kings removed depletion instead of creating more, but everyone agreed that we did not need to give them any information about dungeons they didn’t already have. Dungeons were far too powerful and integral to the entire framework of magic to give them even the slightest hint. Besides, there was no guarantee that they could manage the [Purifier] title anyway, considering their whole land was rotten with depletion.

“I’m sure it would be,” Shayma said neutrally. “But the secrets of a Power will remain just that. Secrets. Do you have anything relevant to say, or just complain about someone holding you to the consequences of your actions?”

“I’m not sure why you’re being so hostile,” Tor Nem said, losing some of his façade of a kindly old man. “I have been perfectly polite to you.”

“You have,” Shayma allowed. “Polite, but you seem to lack the understanding that Blue will not stand by and let you do as you have. Any protests you make are simply excuses for the horrors you’ve been inflicting on other people.”

“Not out of preference, I assure you.” Tor Nem frowned at her.

“You say that, and yet you’re the one in power, the one with the army at his beck and call.” Shayma shrugged. “Perhaps it was necessary. I’ve seen the damage blightbeasts can do, since you and yours released them in our direction. But if it was necessary, those days are ending. This is the beginning of that.”

“Man I’m glad I have you to do this speech stuff.” Admittedly, Shayma had the advantage of not having ANATHEMA prodding at the back of her mind, but I couldn’t have put things better if I tried.

“I suppose we do not have that much to discuss then,” Tor Nem conceded. “You do know that my fellows are going to be waiting for you, though? I had some idea you were coming, and by now they will all know you intend to throw them off Einteril.”

“Good. Then those who wish to leave, should leave of their own accord. I am going to be less merciful to those I find still here. You can tell them that, as well.”

“They will not thank me for that message,” Tor Nem said. Somehow, I didn’t feel sorry for him.

“The ones who survive might,” Shayma said bluntly. “Tor Nem, you have not much impressed me. Tor Kot at least had something to offer in exchange for the questions he wanted answered, but you have merely complained as if you have a right to be heard.” Tor Nem grimaced.

“My cousin is a somewhat divisive figure,” he said. “I doubt there are many who would wish to be compared to him.”

“Jeez, he really makes everything about himself, doesn’t he?” While Tor Nem was being at least vaguely polite, it was pretty clear to me that was only because we had him over a barrel. Shayma could wreck him, and he knew it, and that was why he was being accommodating. I bet that mage-kings weren’t used to taking guff any more than the next ruler, even if there wasn’t any supreme mage-king.

“Indeed, there doesn’t seem to be much value to this conversation,” Shayma said aloud, standing up. Tor Nem was on his feet too, so fast that I didn’t catch it. I was glad that Shayma had Skill-boosted speed because I certainly couldn’t keep track of people when high-level combat occurred. “Let us see how the evacuation is going.”

Apparently Shayma had some instinct about it, or maybe she just had better perception, because when she went outside and teleported herself onto the nearest rooftop, the various monster deployment hadn’t really gone anywhere. They were just vaguely milling about, clumping up at intersections and maybe drifting toward the harbor overall, but it was not exactly a proper retreat.

“Perhaps I have been too lenient,” Shayma said, amplifying her voice and turning to regard Tor Nem, who was hovering at roof-height. “You clearly have no intention of leaving.”

“Wait, wait! It takes time to remove a core from its installation!” Tor Nem held out his hands. “Once it’s back in its transport container⁠—”

“No, move your monsters now. Nobody in this city can threaten you aside from me, and you still have your elites. The only reason to leave them in the streets is to terrorize the inhabitants and I will not have that. Move. Them.”

Tor Nem bristled and for a moment I thought he was going to throw down with Shayma, but after a moment he turned and made some gestures at the fourth-tier golems nearby. I was pretty sure that was still show, since I’d seen far more coordination from other mage-kings, but they ran off and the monsters did start getting more organized.

“I think he’s still delaying. I don’t know why, but he’s definitely stretching this out.”

“Probably to see how far he can push us,” Shayma muttered back. “What’s the best way to deal with this? We don’t want to have a fight if we can avoid it.”

“Well, the way is don’t play the game. Threaten something he cares about. Maybe go find the core and take it away?”

“Oh, perfect.” Shayma shifted to dragon form and shot off toward the center of the city. Tor Nem accelerated after her, long hair whipping in the wind.

“What are you doing?” He shouted after her, but Shayma ignored him as she dived down toward the governor’s residence, sweeping it with her Domain to find where the core might be. It was just a guess, but it proved to be a good one, since she found the characteristic magical warding of a red core room somewhere underneath the residence.

“Stop!” Tor Nem shouted uselessly, now teleporting after her as she smashed through the wards. The core was attached to the bottom and top of the room with stone plinths, and for a moment I thought she was going to do exactly what I had suggested and cut it free, but with Tor Nem so close behind her, she had a different idea.

“Sungun,” she demanded, and I spent a chunk of mana on shoving it through to her. She lifted the thing to point at the core, letting the billowing stellar flood of mana fill the room, but didn’t pull the trigger yet. “I don’t know what it would be like for you, but I don’t imagine it would be very pleasant to have your core destroyed,” Shayma told him. “I’ve given you far more consideration than you deserve. Now, take this seriously, or we’ll find out what happens.”

“Very well.” Tor Nem had his lips compressed to a thin line, visibly paler than he had been before. “I shall redouble my efforts.”

“You do that,” Shayma said. “I’ll wait right here. If you’re not fast enough, I can always chop this out of the stone myself and bring it over to your ships.” Tor Nem merely snarled wordlessly and teleported back out to go deal with things. Hopefully this time he actually would.

“Effective threat,” I told her.

“He clearly needed the motivation,” Shayma said, resting the butt of the Sungun on the ground. The muzzle nearly brushed the ceiling. “Though I don’t think anyone would have liked the outcome if I’d actually fired it.”

“So long as he actually gets to work.”

“He’d better.”

A number of men gathered in an impressively opulent room, looking out over a bay in northern Einteril. Different monsters guarded the entrance to the room, marking it as a meeting of mage-kings. They were supposed to be invading different cities, but instead they had come together to one. At least, some of them had.

“Tor Nem confirms it. Blue’s Voice has demanded we leave Einteril.”

“What business is it of his? It’s a completely different continent!”

“Powers do as they do. You’ll notice that Yit Fel and Yit Uil already left.”

“Cowards. Perhaps one on one Blue’s Voice can deal with us, but there is a certain safety in numbers. It’s not like Blue has attacked the Archipelago.”

“We just need to make ourselves too tough to attack. Too expensive or too dangerous.”

“Agreed. We may not have war cores but we aren’t attacking into Blue’s territory. Between us, we should have enough armament to stand her off.”

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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