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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

Hello everybody and thanks for reading!

Today I'd like to shoutout a story that a good friend of mine, MelasD, is releasing: Trace: A LitRPG Apocalypse. It's a gun-based litRPG apocalypse: I once shouted out 'Killshot Apocalypse'—and this is a re-release. 

Alright and speaking of big guns, it's Baelin time. 


“I suppose it was left somewhat vague as to how we came upon such a sample,” Baelin said. “Letters being letters, and our communication before now being so…impersonal.”

He watched the king, and the elderly advisors carefully; his senses took in the guards around him, making note of every move and every twitch. It was a skill he’d learned long before he’d come to even the crudest of his magic.

The skill of a hunter tracking prey through a snow-encrusted forest with nothing but a stone spear in hand: having to learn to quickly sense what around him might be food, resource, or foe.

King Athelstan’s lip twitched ever so slightly, and Baelin made note to watch that part of the man’s face to see if future questions caused the same reaction. It might reveal a tell.

The chancellor put down his fork and knife and spread his hands before him.

“Some months ago, an interested party came to the university with the sample, wishing to have it examined using our renowned techniques and analytical apparatuses,” he said. His words were a form of cultivated truth: adding specificity beyond the letter, without revealing enough to give a clue as to where the sample had truly come from. But, there was no lie in his words: a masked truth—if discovered—would be expected in these sorts of negotiations, at least if one was trained in the art of diplomacy.

An outright lie, though—if discovered—would be as poisonous as a rotting corpse in a well. Best avoided, unless absolutely necessary.

“We performed research upon the sample, and then used it for certain applications. The results…interested us, and so things went from there,” he said.

He spoke of the value of the dungeon cores, but did not sing their praises: to do so could have made him look desperate for them. At the same time, he hinted at a useful application. That would arouse curiosity, and curiosity was a valuable tool when getting another party to stay interested at the negotiation table.

“Indeed, and who is this interested party?” Athelstan asked.

“Ah, I fear that they wish to remain anonymous,” the chancellor said. “But suffice it to say, if you fear a threat or further leak of your information or resources: you have my word that the sample that was obtained was the only sample available. Hence, of course, why we are here.”

“And I fear, chancellor, that we must know their identity,” the high-priest spoke up, looking at Baelin with his tiny pupils. “The Ravener is our ancient enemy, and if there is information or resources leaking from the realm, then we must know where this sample has come from. Your source will not be harmed, but we must know how such a thing left our shores.”

“I understand your concern. But—just as the king shows good faith in those caring for his queen—I ask that you show good faith in me. I gave my word that this is the only sample available to us. I ask that you trust this word.”

A block.

If they pushed any further, they would be questioning his word and thus, his honour or competence. A grave insult. Now, that was something they might try anyway for different reasons.

Two were worth the most consideration: first, if they thought they could bully or force the information out of him without having to worry about the consequences of that insult.

But, the chancellor of the greatest university of wizardry in the world was not one to be bullied, and they would most likely know this.

So, that left another possibility to consider.

That they were prepared to quickly end the negotiations, or were not interested in what Generasi had to offer. Baelin’s sharp eyes took in the room. Noting the displays of wealth, security, and power in spite of the signs of turmoil in the capital.

One would not bother with so much effort to display strength to a negotiating party one had no interest in.

Which meant…

“Fine then, I shall trust your word, chancellor Baelin,” the king said.

Again, that twitch of the lip.

Baelin added another data point to his mental calculations.

“I thank you for your good faith, your majesty,” he said. “It is my hope that by the end of our discussion we will begin a fine relationship between sages and realms that will have us all laughing merrily as we feast beneath the moon and sun.”

“And on that note,” Kartika smoothly picked up from where he left off. “Here is what we offer.” She waved a hand to one of her attendants, who brought her a large sheath of papers. “The University of Generasi will purchase a plot of land to the south of your kingdom, near the coast, and away from much of the fighting. We ask that you consider the land property of the Realm of Generasi, and that—within these lands–all within are subject to both the laws of Generasi and University regulations.”

“I see.” The king nodded. “Much like a foreign embassy. Continue.”

“On these lands,” Baelin jumped in, paying close attention to the two advisors. Kartika would need to win over the king, but he would need to win over the advisors. The less dissent, the easier this would be. “We will build a fortification and research camp in which we will study dungeon core samples gained both through lawful purchase from Thameish sources, as well as expeditions to different dungeons where we may harvest research material ourselves.”

He glanced at Tobias. “In this way, we will be pouring coin into Thameland’s coffers, while at the same time, destroying dungeon cores that are rampaging across your lands. This will aid your Heroes-”

“Our Heroes have triumphed time and time again against The Ravener,” Tobias said. “They are the light that shatters the dark, and they smite the wicked beasts that plague us.”

“Of course.” Baelin nodded, noting the pride that filled Tobias’ voice. For the high-priest, this was not merely a question of stopping The Ravener, but also one of faith and serving the divine. “In this, we will not be supplanting your Heroes, but providing them aid just as any good set of skirmishers or mercenaries would in aiding a grand army. Generasi will claim no credit for the ultimate victory over The Ravener. That hour shall belong to you, while your Heroes enjoy our support.”

“We will not supplant you deity’s glory,” Kartika added, placating Tobias’ faith. “I take it your presence at the table means that Uldar has given you no sign or indication that he would not want this?”

There was an instant—a fraction of a heartbeat—where the high priest stiffened. Something about that question had made him uncomfortable.

But what?

“It is true, Uldar has not spoken to myself, The Saint, or any other priest telling us that this would be against His will,” he said.

That momentary whatever it was…was gone as though it had never been. Baelin stored that knowledge away for further examination.

“Excellent,” Kartika said.

“But I cannot have brigands raiding my land for dungeon cores, or raiding houses and looting the homes of those who await victory,” the king said.

“We propose a licensing system,” Kartika quickly countered. “Generasi and its students will enjoy a group license, but any other parties that Generasi employs to obtain samples: whether they be mercenaries, the Delvers’ Guild or other independent parties, will have to be licensed by our staff members. Those licenses will then be approved by yourself.”

“And what of any discoveries that result?” Errol leaned forward. “They will be shared with our court wizards?”

Baelin clasped his hands. “Any discoveries that result will be fully studied and then published in academic papers in Generasi.”

“Why not before?”

Baelin raised an eyebrow. “That would be academic irresponsibility. Unless full studies are conducted on ‘discoveries’, with papers being submitted for peer-review and then published: any ‘discoveries’ would be nothing more than glorified hypotheses, not proper theories. However, I would see to it that you are not left out of the process. I would ensure that you, or any court-wizards you choose, are peer-reviewers for the pre-submitted versions of the papers: in that way, you can receive something of value, instead of just raw data that has not gone under rigorous research. Yet, you also shall receive the paper before it is made public.”

There. An offer of exclusivity while allowing Thameland’s authorities to see any information before it became public. Baelin watched Tobias carefully at this. There were strange inconsistencies when it came to Thameish lore, as Alex had reported.

…but so far, there seemed to be no topic that these folk before him shied away from. No secret they needed to protect. Baelin continued gathering information.

“Generasi city itself will also provide aid in the form of gold, food and supplies for your armies and your Heroes.” Kartika said, passing over her sheath of papers to the king. “I trust those sums would be acceptable.”

The king flipped open the first page on the sheath.

Another twitch.

Likely a tell, then.

He continued looking through the pages.

Any moment now he would hit…

He paused.

There it was.

“What’s this?” King Athelstan asked. His eyes left the page. Another twitch of his lip. “No priests shall approach within ten miles of the territory of the University of Generasi?”

Tobias glanced at the sheaf and then looked directly at Baelin and Kartika. “What is the meaning of this?”

“I am afraid it is one of the rules of the University,” Baelin said. He felt Kartika’s eyes flick to him for a brief instant. This had been something of a sticking point between them: she had wanted this detail to be something that could be negotiated out.

The chancellor, meanwhile, was insistent that it would remain.

He did not get on well with priests or deities. There had been innumerable instances of priesthoods and deities being obstacles to his plans and goals in the past. Beings that exalted themselves so high above all others tended to be prone to follies of far greater magnitude than those of mortals.

Their servants were little better: the work his university could do, did not need constant inspections, prayers, and objections being raised by fussy folk of faith. He anticipated that when their experiments advanced beyond simply using dungeon core remains for material and into the stage of actually manipulating the mana of living dungeon cores, that the priests would take issue.

…and, there was also Alex to think of as well.

The young man would be a useful addition to the expedition: he knew his work, and he was native to Thameland. That Mark placed on him by Thameland’s Uldar, would allow him to quickly learn, and he was also the only one among them with any experience engaging with living dungeon cores.

Having a crowd of priests underfoot—ready to detect that mark on his shoulder—would certainly make his presence impossible. The solution for that could have been to merely have him engage in the research within Generasi itself, but his presence would be more useful here. And the less constraints they had to contend with, the better.

“In my experience, it is important that any research done by the University of Generasi, be separated from the interests of deities,” Baelin said.

Tobias’ frown deepened. “I beg your forgiveness for my tone, chancellor, but do not think of the clergy of Uldar as a gaggle of backwards idiots. We are folk of faith, but also of science. We see to the education of Uldar’s people both in His ways, and in the ways of history, mathematics and some natural philosophy. Thameland is a literate realm: even serfs are required to send their children to our church schools to learn their letters. We do not know your ways of research, but do not think that we shall wring our hands and get underfoot.”

“Indeed,” Baelin said evenly. “And this is an admirable quality, but it is the same as employing two professors in the same class who have very different ways of teaching: it will create conflict, and the work will suffer. Historically, Generasi was allowed to examine dungeon core remains without supervision. We ask for the same consideration now.”

“You ask that matters of state secrecy and faith proceed without supervision?” The high-priest rose slightly in his chair.

Baelin looked at him pointedly.

“We ask for autonomy. In the same way that we ask that no lords of your realm come to our territory and seek to exact taxes, tribute or demand. We work best in our systems. In our way.”

‘Without your powerful and unpredictable divine entity interfering upon a momentary whim like a child,’ he added mentally.

“In return for this consideration,” Kartika said. “You may look to page fourteen, section three: ‘Donations to Church of Uldar for their Continued Acts of Faith and Duty’.

The king looked down at the page. Again that lip twitch, he turned the page back to the high-priest. A slight pause of breath.

Good.

“We might discuss this in private,” King Athelstan said. “And this…exclusivity clause?”

“Thameland will ensure that Generasi has first rights to claim dungeon cores for research and development purposes,” Kartika said. “This is for the protection of both parties should other universities, institutions, or other powers arrive seeking to present you with competing offers. It would be simplest if the relationship between Thameland and Generasi is…exclusive in this matter.”

“Like a marriage,” Errol muttered.

“Not nearly so unreliable.” Kartika smiled.

“And what of this other clause?” the king frowned. “Access to dungeons for… ‘Art of the Wizard in Combat’?”

“My personal course,” Baelin said. “I teach students of wizardry the rigours of battle from a wizard-centric point of view to prepare them for what the path of magic holds. These dungeons would…provide a varied and target rich environment.”

Errol gasped. “You would pit students of magic against full-on dungeons?”

“Indeed.” Baelin smiled. “The learning shall be as rich as fresh honey.”

“That’s…” the court wizard paused.

“Mad?” the chancellor offered.

Errol looked up quickly, and it was clear this was exactly what the man had meant from the look on his face. “I would never imply such a thing!”

“Well, if you did. I would not mind,” Baelin said. “But the world is mad, my friend. Madder than anyone I have ever met, even a caged demon. Some have called me mad…but I have outlived them all. That tends to take the sting out of those words after a time.”


It took several more days of discussing, back and forth, and deliberation…an offer here, a counter offer there.

But at last, ink was drying on the agreement.

The priests would not be allowed within five miles of the purchased territory, but in return, Generasi could not claim any land that was occupied by any citizen of the realm of Thameland.

Prices for dungeon cores were negotiated.

The amount of aid increased.

By the end, though, the University owned over a thousand acres of land in the south of Thameland.

The expedition was officially on.

Baelin smiled to himself, thinking of the possibilities.

He couldn’t wait to tell his cabal at their next meeting.

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A note from UnstoppableJuggernaut

And so Tuesday we're back to Alex. Also, I am salty. Faraway Paladin's episode was a clip show this week. Blech.

Alrighty, I'll cya later!


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