“So what do you think?” I asked Taelah.
“I think I can work with it,” Taelah said happily, running her fingers along the serrated purple leaves of the fern that Iniri had gotten by special courier, [Vow] keeping her safe as she examined it. The fern apparently had a minor mind-affecting component to it, as it lived partly on the blood of animals that cut themselves on the serrations, and the plant kept them from realizing it.
It seemed a rather weird way to go about things, since anesthetic compounds could do the same job, but magic made biology weird to begin with. I was hardly going to complain though, since Taelah finally had the ingredient she needed to make a new chrysthenium. Apparently she felt the weight of my regard because she laughed and picked up the fern.
“Alright, alright, I’ll go see what I can do with it. Thank you, Iniri!”
“Happy to help,” Iniri said with amusement. For all the times that Iniri had visited the Village, it was rare for Taelah to visit the Palace, and I could tell Iniri enjoyed the reactions of some people as Taelah and Iniri treated each other as perfect equals.
Taelah carried the plant off to her secret cottage, rather than the [Craft Hall]. Taelah’s skills regarding living plants were pretty much specific to her and [Vow], and she found it easier to deal with complicated botany experiments in the comfort of her own home.
The very first thing she did was plant it so I could get access to the fern. I generally didn’t think about how silly it was that I could essentially clone plants an unlimited amount of times from a single sample, but when it came to valuable ones it was incredibly useful. Especially since I apparently didn’t need access to the magic affinity it was associated with.
[Forgotten Fern] unlocked.
I duplicated a bunch more for her, though they’d need a little bit of time to grow. Between my Fields and Taelah’s Skills, it wasn’t difficult to make something mature rapidly, but according to Taelah there were drawbacks to forcing it too much. A tradeoff between quantity and quality; a mature plant still needed time to properly realize its potential.
Taelah started work and I hovered for a little bit, but soon enough I forced myself to go back to my chores in terms of slowly eating Orrelin and Chiuxatlan. Neither thing was particularly interesting, but both were necessary. For Chiuxatlan, every place I eradicated the blightbeasts I sowed some of the wind-storm-intent plants Taelah had made, hoping that plus the native mundane climate, what remained of it, would return things to the way they had been before.
With Orrelin, it was a little more complicated. I didn’t have to fix the native ecology, but I did have the walls to deal with. It was easy enough to just absorb them, but considering that the landscape, the mana, and the roads and streams all were oriented around the walls, just erasing them was weird. The people of Orrelin liked their walls, besides, so Iniri had suggested that we leave them for now.
The only major piece of attention I had to pay to Orrelin was when Iniri needed to deploy her forces somewhere. Obviously I could crush any resistance in any cell that I took over, but for civilians who were rioting it was better that I didn’t vaporize them. Instead I’d open a portal, Iniri would send in her military – or really, a sort of Classer paramilitary – things would get sorted, and then they’d come back.
That meant that it really wasn’t as bad as it might have seemed to keep peace over huge swaths of territory, even if we were working against generations of propaganda about how awful Tarnil was. One of the nice but unsettling things about a totalitarian state was that when the royal family issued a proclamation upending years of history, there weren’t nearly as many complaints as there might have been.
Normally the [Assimilation] process was merely boring, but now that Taelah actually had her sample it was grindingly slow. I kept glancing back to see what she was up to, but I’d never been able to make heads or tails of how her Skill worked to begin with so it just looked like she was sitting around with a bunch of different plants. What made it worse is that I knew it’d probably take several days for her to get anywhere, let alone finish up, so trying to peek in on her once every fifteen minutes was just an exercise in futility.
Eventually I got over my initial excitement to settle into a more reasonable waiting state of mind, especially since Taelah was hardly slaving away twelve hours a day to get it done. One thing I didn’t do was tell Ansae how close we were. Partly because I didn’t want to get her hopes up before we were absolutely, completely sure, and partly because I could only imagine how much pressure Ansae would put on Taelah if she knew. Probably she knew anyway, but so long as nobody brought it up, she could focus on other things.
So it was actually a surprise when I suddenly got a bunch of notifications crawling across the overlay, one after the other.
Forgetful Chrysthenium discovered.
Companion Taelah Marn is ready for advancement to third tier. 3 trait points earned.
Dungeon has reached level 15! Second growth marker achieved. 2 trait points earned.
For creating an Artifact for each Companion, [Companion Artifact] ability learned. May link existing Artifacts to Dungeon and Companion.
For gaining a wide number of inhabitant types, all inhabitants gain [Polyspecies Learning], improving learning other species language and culture.
For gaining more than five cores, [Intercore Linking] available. An unspecialized core may be used to temporarily join two cores to increase their effects on each other.
For extremely high mana generation, [Mana Radiator Crystal] unlocked. Preferentially radiates mana of a specific Affinity into surroundings from dungeon mana flows.
For having a Companion reach tier 4, Dungeon advancement from Companion advancement enhanced.
For having a Hero Companion, [Dungeon Hero] title awarded. [Blue’s Sagacity] may draw upon the wisdom of heroes.
I just kind of stared at the overlay for a bit, because there was a little bit too much there to process, then I focused down on Taelah. She had just planted a purple flower that looked like a half-shut eye in her garden, which was obviously the [Forgetful Chrysthenium]. A quick look at her Status showed that she hadn’t upgraded to the third tier just yet, but it was my understanding that it happening all at once like it did with Sienne or Shayma was actually fairly rare.
“You did it!” I cheered. “I got a level, you got a tier, all kinds of things!”
“Yes!” Taelah beamed. “I think I’ll need a good night’s sleep to really have it sink in, but I can feel it. Plus, we have this new chrysthenium.”
“Yeah! When you’re finished up there I think we gotta have a council meeting. There’s a lot to go over.”
“Just give me another five or ten minutes,” Taelah said.
“Oh, it probably won’t be for a while. It’ll probably take a bit for Iniri anyway.” I flipped my attention to Shayma. “Hey guess what? Taelah finished the chrysthenium and I hit level fifteen! Council as soon as everyone can make it.”
“Ooh? Does that mean you have enough mana now?”
“I’m almost completely sure, yes, but let me go check first.” The genuine cap on my mana was a little messy since so many of my crystals were in use for one thing or another and not just pure mana storage, but after poking around I came up with a final total of just about 620,000 mana. Slightly under, actually, which meant I had been very close to not even needing the final level up and just the stellar core alone might have put me over. But either way, I surely had enough now.
In order to actually get that cap I’d have to break some of the enchantments we’d put up temporarily, but that was fine. That could all be fixed, and a purified Ansae on our side would mean we could finally go after the rift. If I was judging things correctly, the mage-kings would be barely noticeable.
“Yeah so I do, and now that I think about it I don’t think Ansae’s going to wait for a meeting. She’s been waiting long enough; I suspect she’d get actually violent if I didn’t Purify her right away.”
“Well, what are you keeping her waiting for?” Shayma laughed. “Go tell her!”
“Hang on, I’m still purging and converting storage crystals.” Since a full one hundred fifty thousand of my mana cap was due to storage crystals, I wasn’t anywhere near the needed amount without them, and it took a bit to change them over. I really, really didn’t want to fall short when I actually said something.
Considering where the Fortress was, and the fact that there was nothing around but blightbeasts, which couldn’t really do anything to me anyway, there wasn’t much danger in breaking those wards. Unfortunately I couldn’t stop there, since I wanted to have as much of a buffer as possible. I had to break the Caldera wards too, pulling away the specialized mana crystals the structures drew on and letting the active connections peter out. In the end I converted all of my storage crystals to mana just because the minimum number I wanted was so close to everything I had. The few crystals I could potentially spare weren’t worth the risk that I had done some math wrong somewhere, and it wouldn’t be hard to re-power the wards when I replaced the crystals later, but meanwhile everything was offline.
“Alright Ansae,” I said, after taking a moment to gather my nerve. “I just broke the mana cap. I can Purify you now.” Ansae’s head shot up, and the magical schema she was working on vanished into her runic hoard with a wave of her claw.”
“What are we waiting for?” She grinned widely and toothily.