Dungeon Engineer



Chapter 15: Operation “Capture the Cavern”


I read the book titled “Hilda Davy’s Mana Flowstence,” which served as a guide for aspiring mages who were learning how to sense and control mana. Unhelpfully, much of the book was dedicated to establishing breathing patterns, and, interestingly, finding a particular muscle and exercising it. Apparently, there was a specialized muscle in a human’s abdomen which served no other purpose other than to assist in mana control, that’s certainly new to me… While most of the book’s content didn’t translate to dungeon cores, for obvious reasons, I still managed to accomplish my goal.

It’s hard to briefly state how I managed to exert control over mana, which is, after all, why it took an entire book to explain it, but I can say that without guidance it would have taken me ages to discover how to move mana on my own. Boldly assuming I could have ever independently figured it out at all.

Sorry to leave you without a detailed explanation, I know how much you love those.

According to Hilda, what I’d achieved was “incredible.” Comparatively speaking, I’d managed to learn how to control mana “impossibly” fast. But it’s only reasonable that an entity whose existence is based upon mana would in fact be quite good at mana manipulation. Indeed, learning how to control mana has given me a minor insight into the nature of dungeon cores. I can now feel the mana moving through my gem in constantly changing patterns which are dependent on what I’m doing at the time of observation. Cutting through stone? There’s a discernable pattern. Telekinetically flinging a twig? Discernable pattern there too. You get the idea.

As “incredible” as my rate of advancement has been, I’m still a novice. It could be months or years before I fully master mana manipulation, and that’s assuming the ability caps at a human’s level.

It’s still taken some time to make it this far.

You see, I’ve been practicing nonstop for… five weeks…

I’d fallen into a sort of “magic obsession.” I was so focused on my goal of learning to manipulate mana that I’d lost all track of time. In fact, I’m quite shaken about how I’d lost myself so easily to the task.

A lot has happened in my 5 weeks of obsession, many of the structures in Sevit were completed and 7 more supply caravans and immigrant waves had arrived. At the previous rate, I would have expected 2 caravans, but it appears that “the powers that be” decided to ramp up their efforts. And I don’t blame them, my research has only reaffirmed to me just how significant mana wells are. Case in point; comparing what I’d learned to my observations, it was clear that the crops were growing nearly twice as fast as normal, though the farmers still have nothing on my dungeon’s growth rate, hehe.

The town’s population is fast approaching 1,000 people. And it probably won’t be long before they start clearing an official dirt road and importing administrators and possibly soldiers.

Secluding myself for 5 weeks is the sort of thing that could get me killed. For example, the miners, who at this point had received more of their workforce, (Nearly 150 individuals!) had already begun to execute their operation in full. A ways away outside of town, and nearly a kilometer away from the river was a two-story wooden building situated next to a wide downwards sloping shaft.

I couldn’t blame them for building away from the river, water is one of a miner’s oldest foes. I know from experience this area doesn’t have a water table near the surface, so their fears were probably unnecessary. Actually, isn’t it curious that there’s even a surface river in the first place considering the numerous caverns in the area?

Extending a thin thread of my domain all the way over to the miner’s headquarters was actually somewhat taxing, but I manage it in the end. I won’t doubt for a moment that there’s a cap on my maximum domain size, I just haven’t met it yet.

Plunging into the shaft, I take a look around. The shaft is framed with timber braces along the walls, ceiling, and floor spaced at 0.75 m intervals. The braces running across the ground are obscured by a plank floor which allows rolling objects to move unhindered. I can see the occasional miner carting a stone-laden wheelbarrow up or down the sloped entrance. Rather than using the oil lamps I’d seen with the original group of miners; these men were carrying candles for illumination. Once the depth exceeded 5 m beneath the surface, I start to notice horizontal tunnels branching out from main shaft in what was obviously an exploratory pattern. In the side-tunnels the bracing interval increases from 0.75 m to 1.5 m, I’m sure OSHA would not approve… I check each branch and continue downwards.

So far, the maximum depth is 11 m, which, if I’m being honest, is insanely impressive for a 6-week-old mining operation relying solely on middle ages mining technology. Each side-tunnel has a miner at the end pounding on the leading boundary with a pickaxe. As far as I can tell, they haven’t encountered any ore bodies. Separate men collect the rubble and still more haul it away in their wheelbarrows. A good portion of the workforce is busy fabricating the timber braces on the surface. In addition to the cross braces, I can tell they’re working on a ladder system which I can only imagine will be installed in a future ventilation shaft.

I really hope they find what they’re looking for.

Back to my dungeon, it’s time for a much-needed update. Without me around to continuously command the modified leafcutter queens to lay eggs, (Who’s default directive I’ve set to “don’t lay eggs unless told to.”) the number of dungeon helpers had stabilized at around 12,000. The goliath2 beetle population had hit its carrying capacity at about 1,300 individuals, and the modified archers at 900.

Even now, the number of swifts, digger squirrels, and yellow lizards was underwhelming. Sure, they’d been breeding unrealistically fast in my dungeon, but that still only amounted to 2 dozen lizards, 10 birds, and 7 squirrels… It’s a slow start, but once they’re established, things will pick up steam.

There’s not much to say about the archer pod room other then the fact that, unsurprisingly, there are more archer pods. The ember blossom room, however, has changed tremendously. The number of ember blossoms has risen to a neat 50 individual plants and my specialty glowing white mushroom trees were already standing 2 meters tall.

As much as I’d love to continue studying magic, I’ve learned that there really isn’t much I can do until my manipulation skills improve. I’ve put it off long enough, I’m finally ready to capture the lush cavern.

To prepare, I begin working on the tedious task of attaching un-luminous archer pods to the goliath2 beetle’s carapaces by wrapping the pod’s “roots” around the beetle. Luckily the bulbs secrete a potent adhesive which allows them to adhere to nearly any surface. I’m not worried about the beetles losing the ability to open up their elytra and fly simply because they rarely do so as is. Anyway, the pods won’t stay on the beetles forever because they’ll eventually molt.

Commanding the beetles to congregate and stand still while the archer pods anchor themselves makes the work go by much faster, allowing me to finish in just a couple hours. After that’s taken care of, I start to plan my approach.

Ever since the first incident, I have not seen any other obvious sapients in the cave, which is a good sign. At the very least, it’s not a frequently traveled area. One of my greatest worries is that some of the intelligent inhabitants of the caves will notice the disappearance of the open area after I seal off all the entrances.

It will surely take a while, perhaps even weeks, but I plan on “wrapping” the cavern in a network of narrow tunnels. Next, I will order my leafcutter ants to use the new network of tunnels to dispose of waste pebbles at the entrance to each tunnel, as opposed to on the surface like they usually would. I will then merge the piles of pebbles together to form solid walls barricading each entrance to the cavern. After that, I can bide my time and claim the cave for my domain at a leisurely pace.

The archer beetles (Which I figure is a better name than “goliath pods.”) will support the ants in their endeavor; protecting them from larger predators who might wander in while they’re working.

Of course, if I’m to seal up the tunnels, I’ll need plenty of stone to do it. While creating the logistic network will produce plenty of useful excess, it won’t be anywhere close to enough. Without hesitation, I decide to start on a new room.

Much like my disk room, I’m going for another general-purpose habitat. This time, however, I want to try something new, for the fun of it, really. The plan is to carve out numerous somewhat random 2-3 m wide tunnels in a designated section of my dungeon. If all goes well, the stone in the area will resemble a giant piece of swiss cheese with wildlife lining the tunnels.

Seeing no reason to wait any longer, I get to work on the tunnel network surrounding the cavern as well as the new “room,” if you could even classify it as such.

Operation “Capture the Cavern” has proven to be extremely annoying. While my ants are in relative safety while marching through the logistics tunnels, they have to expose themselves each time they exit to place a stone on an entrance-blocking pile.

Opportunists in the 1 m range such as giant rats, cave centipedes, vipers, etc. are constantly harassing my helpers. In total, there are 14 wide entrances to the cavern, after a day of work, I was almost finished with sealing up the first one. Though I’ve been diligently micromanaging the procedure, there have still been 150 casualties, 12 of which were archer beetles.

But it bears mentioning that number would’ve been much higher if I didn’t have my venomous vanguard.

There isn’t a whole lot I can do to deter the predators, and frankly, I’m just glad I haven’t attracted the attention of anything larger so far.

Did I just jinx myself? Most likely.

I managed to seal up 4 tunnels over the course of 2 days, however, I encountered a problem on the 5th passage. When I’d first breached the cavern so long ago, I observed a portion of the mushroom forest which was covered in webbing. The 5th tunnel was much closer to this area and as you can probably guess, it was inhabited by spiders. These pale-white eusocial spiders are relatively small, being only 20 cm long, or the same size as a goliath2 beetle. The problem lies in their social tendencies. Working together, they were continuously ambushing my minions. In fact, they were cutting through my population so quickly that I had to retract everyone.

If I kept feeding my helpers to the spiders one at a time, I wouldn’t make any progress.

To deal with the arachnid assault, I’m going to need to establish a more robust defensive perimeter. Up until now, I’ve only been fielding a small portion of my army at any given time, mostly to stay under the radar of the larger predators who I knew lurked in the shadows. Deciding that the time had come to commit, I station half of my forces at the tunnel entrance and resume working.

The spiders, clever as they are, stopped picking off my workers once I’d stepped up my defenses, but eventually my earlier fears were realized; the enemy of ants the world over leapt out of the darkness at the mouth of the tunnel.

An enormous toad has come! Its clammy grey skin is encrusted with warts and sores, and its glowing yellow eyes gaze dumbly at the assembled army with hunger. Beware its deadly tongue!

A note from Hoophy97

“Strike the earth!”

Page 4 of Popular this Week?!?!

Thank you for reading!

I’m active on Discord, if that interests you. There you can discuss the story, view and make suggestions, ask for spoilers, receive schedule updates, etc. Cheers!  https://discord.gg/SXrpkTN

Support "Dungeon Engineer"

About the author


  • Geostationary Orbit

Bio: Enjoyer of technical fiction!

Log in to comment
Log In

Hoophy97 ago

I feel so honored to be the first comment. All of my hard work and dedication has paid off. Getting the first comment has been a dream of mine for many years, and I would like to thank those who have helped me along the way.

    kjoatmon ago

    You know... he could offer to sell them gravel and paving stones. Immagine if he built up an account with his favorite merchant by selling him a few tons of stones, all nicely cut into the size of a paving brick. Since he went metric, say 10x20x6 cm for thin bricks and 15x30x10 cm for thick ones. useful for walls, pavers, steps, flooring, and so much more. All made of natural stone. have the merchant make a shed that he can filll from below and people will think they are being teleported in, if anyone questions it. They would probably be too busy building to really think about where the nice, smooth stone came from.

      Hoophy97 ago

      I really like this idea. There's a good chance I'll use it!

      kjoatmon ago

      Especially since what they mine might not be faced and would likely be of irregular sizes. Fine for say a low wall around a field, but that us about it. Oh, and those low walls of rocks... they grow naturally as the freeze/that brings up rocks inside the field and the farmer moves yet another stone to the edge of their property. But with a cart and planing, they might be using the present mine rocks to up the property line efforts more than anything else.

      Our good old dungeon, in contrast, makes perfectly symmetrical stones that could easily be used in just about any building project. A little limestone and they could get a basic cement going as quicklime or possibly a little better version. Seeing as how they have a ton of volcanic ash, doing this sort of mortar is probably something they may have in their plan. And if not, he might teach it to them.

      F.L. Riley ago

      Might want to farm mushrooms and sell that too. Food high in mana should sell for a bit.

      kjoatmon ago

      Well, at least he has the 100% perfect envornment for musroom farming. Though, it will make it more clear that he is in a cave or near one. The hard part will be testing them for poisons.

Layose ago

Ok maybe it's just me but I was expecting a little more info dump on the mana knowledge. He spent 5 weeks doing this and he learned how to move it. When he does things it makes patterns(runes?) When he uses it, but then he's like whelp I'm going to go over here now and play with my Beatles. Smh.

    Hezvolog ago

    Yeah, I was hoping to learn more about how magic worked too, but I guess the interesting part is mostly in the runes - which he still hasn't learned hardly at all...

boi the king ago

damn those filler!!!

I claimed myself 1st ...

Zethuron ago

Yep, dont ever jinx yourself!

kjoatmon ago

He needs that new foe as a helper. What budding business is without a toady or two to keep the boss feeling important?

Angela Campbell ago

well when he done mother Hening his creations they shall be important to the food chain

Demiurge ago

Thanks for the chapter ! Keep up the good work ! :)

Log in to comment
Log In