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Much of the rank and file of the army look down on us enchanters as cowards, unwilling to fight and risk our lives on the front lines. They are idiots. Lets see them try to fight with non magical equipment of steel and iron. Their opponents would rip them to shreds. Even the lowest grunt of the army is able to wander around with full durability and sharpness enhanced equipment thanks to us, and their superiors know it. Ignore those idiots, or if their behaviour gets too bad, report them. I assure you that the higher ups will side with you. You are far more valuable to them than the average lump of cannon fodder at the front.

- A communication from a senior enchanter to his junior

20 bound souls freed. Awarding 20 dungeon points.

Another hex bomb remanent dealt with successfully. Over the past few years Erryn had grown to cover a large chunk of the western part of the continent. Villages, towns and cities alike consumed for their meagre resources. To the south-west Erryn had even crossed the border of Jetosu into some minor vassal kingdom. Despite all this Erryn had yet to find anything fundamentally new. Sure there had been a few new varieties of potion, new examples of tools, weapons and armour, some of them even enchanted. But nothing had kicked the system into granting Erryn new skills or materials, nor had Erryn found anything that it had been able to make use of outside of the constraints of the system.

Academies and other large collections of knowledge were gone, apparently considered high value targets by whoever chose where the hex bombs should be fired. Erryn had hoped to find educational materials on magic, dungeons, the System. About the way the world worked in general. There had been an occasional basic textbook still in readable condition in various residences, from which it learnt some basics but not enough to put to practical use.

Not that Erryn hadn't tried; if it wasn't for its ability to absorb or reclaim waste, there would be floors full of failed enchanting attempts. There was a fundamental ability with mana that Erryn was lacking, a way to grant it a permanent structure and embed that structure into a construct. Erryn could replicate runes easily enough but they simply had no effect. Erryn's conclusion, after months of meticulous observation, was that the runes themselves were utterly useless and served no practical purpose in enchanting whatsoever. There was a Skill, or series of skills, that enabled rune-crafting but the runes themselves were a mere facade and the actual functional part of the Skill did something else entirely. This fit into Erryn's theory that the System existed to restrict progress: Anyone studying runes would be unable to successfully enchant an object without picking up the requisite Skill, no matter how perfectly they replicated them.

After reaching this conclusion, Erryn had re-examined its stash of enchanted items and found an additional layer of structured mana threaded through the materials, somehow bound in place. The runes actually obfuscated these mana structures, and Erryn would never have spotted them had it not been deliberately looking. Erryn had been able to replicate the structures, but its attempts were transient, flowing away as soon as it relaxed its grip on the mana. It had made attempts at tracing the required patterns in mythril or orichalcum, for their ability to store mana, but its materials manipulation was not fine enough.

This problem had been fresh in Erryn's mind as it had approached this latest bomb site, and it had occurred to Erryn that the way the bound souls were anchored to the ground bore some similarities with how the mana structures were anchored into enchanted materials. Erryn scrutinized the mana flows as it unravelled the anchors, trying to learn how they were fixed in place. It saw the hooks in the structure of the mana and how they were present on both sides. It wasn't just anchoring a magical construct into a material, the material needed to be changed itself to accept the construct.

Erryn already had experience of spinning materials out of mana without the aid of the system, so it created an ingot of steel, tweaking the mana as the material spun into existence to place the hooks that it had seen. With hook in place the structured mana of an enchantment slotted in easily, but calling it an 'enchantment' was a bit of a stretch. The construct warped as it anchored itself into the material. Obviously the placement of the hooks within the material structure needed to be aligned with the specific enchantment being applied.

New skill unlocked: [Rune Carving]. Runes may now be carved into items to provide basic enchantments.

That caught Erryn by surprise. It had succeeded at rune carving ages ago, without a skill unlock. It had certainly not succeeded at actual enchantment, even now. It had simply found the right track and direction. Yet the system had granted it a skill? Why? In the hopes that it would now rely on the skill and stop experimenting with actual enchanting? If the System really wanted to prevent this sort of experimentation, a stick would be better than a carrot. Even the errant designation, the closest the system had gotten to imposing an actual punishment, had been of no consequence at the time. And although it was irritating now that Erryn had an actual supply of dungeon points, switching to good behaviour wouldn't get rid of it; Erryn needed a hundred floors to resolve the orichalcum conflict, and there was no way to do that within the System.

If the System was supposed to restrict progress, then it was Erryn's opinion that it didn't go far enough. It was something all-pervasive throughout the whole world, and Erryn had already seen what a little mind control could do, given the still resolutely Erryn free patch of mountain in the north. Could the System not have easily manipulated Erryn such that all of its experiments failed? Prevented it from considering even trying the experiments in the first place? For that matter, the northern void was too soft too. Erryn had put considerable effort into breaching it and although it had successfully prevented any intrusion, surely it would have been more effective to get Erryn to stop trying? Erryn had seen how it could alter perception, so why not just hide itself from Erryn's perception completely? Not let Erryn notice that there was a patch of surface that it couldn't enter. Perhaps the two were related? That was an interesting thought; that the System had a home somewhere.

Erryn returned to its enchanting experiments. The new skill allowed it to create enchantments of preservation, heat, cold, sharpness, durability and more. Nothing spectacular or earth shaking, but still an interesting and wide range of effects. Erryn used it and watched how the constructions of mana linked themselves into the material, and how the material was altered to accept them. And how the runes formed over the top, disguising the whole process. Erryn learnt how to replicate the process of adding hooks into an existing item using relocation to convert the item to mana and back, and before long could reproduce all of the basic enchantments provided by the skill.

The hot and cold enchantments proved immediately interesting despite their simplicity. They took in raw mana and spun it into fire and ice affinities, pumping it out without any sort of structure. They simply generated heat, or removed it. Such mana constructs would give Erryn access to more affinities than the light that it could access via its class, but Erryn could see far greater potential than that. If the enchantment could be altered to output mana in a denser form, with or without any affinity, then Erryn would no longer be dependant on monsters. Such a thing could permit Erryn to grow to potentially limitless depths.

Sharpness and durability utilised lightning and water respectively, but with more finesse. Sharpness projected a field of transiency around the enchanted object, making anything coming into contact with it more malleable and open to change. For example, being cut. Or bashed. Despite the name, this enchantment would work equally well on a blunt weapon. Or a smiths hammer, or a vegetable peeler. Pretty much any tool existed to enact change, and Erryn could see far more uses for such an enchantment than weaponry. Durability was the opposite; it projected a field of permanency inward, making the enchanted item more resistant to change. A weapon would be harder to bend out of shape, armour harder to pierce. Combining both would amplify the effect impressively, but that was something [Rune Carving] did not permit. Erryn didn't see any reason in principle why both effects couldn't be added to one item, but a brief spot of experimentation failed to achieve it. It would be something to practise later; if a higher tier Skill would permit multiple enchantments per item, then it may be a way to convince that skill to unlock.

Erryn quickly realised why it had found so few enchanted items. It wasn't that they had all been requisitioned for the war effort, but because they leaked. Mana leached out of the constructs into the anchored material. The enchantments remained stable, but weakened over time and over a period of years would wane away to nothing. Only mythril and orichalcum out of Erryn's materials prevented this leakage, explaining why the enchanted items Erryn had found were all mythril. Except for items enchanted with preservation, which was a special case; it also preserved the container into which the enchantment was inscribed, so the enchantment ended up protecting itself. Preservation was actually the most impressive of any of the basic options, using time affinity to stop time inside a container. It needed a completely enclosed space, so the enchantment ceased while a container was opened, but that was hardly a downside; sticking a hand into a time stopped space to try and pull something out sounded like a recipe for pain.

It also meant that... yes indeed, looking back at that library in Berju, the preservation enchantment had gone from every bookshelf. Erryn had shattered the doors to access the books. Oops. Thankfully it had moved all of the books to its inventory.

Erryn decided that the most important thing it had to work on was a mana concentrating enchantment. If it could reach a hundred floors without using monsters, it might be able to get rid of the errant tag. The heating and cooling enchantments were by far the least complex of the basic options, and Erryn was able to understand how the structure worked. Erryn first modified it into water and lightning mana forms, using the sharpness and durability enchantments as inspiration. It proved surprisingly easy, producing one lump of metal that dripped constantly, and another that sparked. Next was a light affinity version; Erryn was already familiar with light affinity mana. Even without an existing enchantment to reverse engineer this task was equally successful, producing a glowing lump of steel. Erryn considered a time affinity version, but was uncertain what the implications of releasing unstructured time affinity would be. That would be an experiment to conduct at a safe distance from the dungeon, if at all.

With the experience from producing these modified designs, Erryn set to work on a mana concentrator. Editing out the section of the structure that produced affinity mana, adding in the section from the durability enchantment that focused mana inwards, chaining it to the original section that released mana. Editing the width of paths to manipulate mana density. It took time and experimentation, but eventually Erryn made a design that concentrated mana. Even better was that the effect was independent of the concentration of input mana. Unlike monsters, which needed to get progressively stronger, the same design here would work on floor one as on floor one hundred.

Erryn put the design into production immediately, building mythril plates under the floors of its rooms on floor nineteen, patterned with the concentration enchantment. Three to a room turned out to be the sweet spot that gave the same effect as a floor of monsters. With the floor full Erryn dug out floor twenty, and without hesitation triggered the system's attention. "System, how many floors do I have?"

Error: Floors exist that are unregistered. Registering 1 additional floor.
Error: Floors exist below core level. Core must be placed on the lowest floor. Relocating core.
Floors: 20 (effective floor increased by 5 due to excess external ambient mana)

Success!

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A note from cathfach

Extra bonus chapter to bring progress here more in to line with scribblehub. Next chapter on the 25th. As ever, thanks for reading. :)


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About the author

cathfach

Bio: Just a random person who took up writing as an indoor hobby during covid, and somehow forgot to stop once it was over. I take commitments seriously; I promise to always finishing every story I start writing, and to stick to any advertised schedules.

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