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A note from MDW
The Exalt [Western Cultivation Fantasy]

The Exalt [Western Cultivation Fantasy]

 

A young farmer's son, Oscar, is content with living a peaceful life, but by fate's whim, he is found to have the potential to become something greater, an Exalt. A special class of humans who perform miraculous feats and lord over others. Despite his shortcoming and slow progress compared to the geniuses around him, Oscar holds determination as his shield and persistence as his blade. 

Who says that a person needs to be a genius?

Who says that a person has to be a prodigy?

With each heavy step, Oscar walks the path of an Exalt.

 

"Stay in Speranza only until you reach level seventy. After that, neither the Infernali nor the animals in the hunting grounds will give you crap Exp. And worse, if you increase your level above that, you might become food for that Dungeon."

 

That's what the anonymous message posted on the online forum for the Defenders said. Somehow, someone managed to use the computer of one of the deserters to post this message and destroyed the machine before I took notice of it. The pieces were fed in several recycling pits and Dungeon Automation didn't recognize these as what they were.

Before we could delete the message, it had already spread its roots among the Defenders. People started to wonder if there was a world tree planted in the middle of the park. After all, even twenty months after it was "planted" the seed hadn't sprouted. Some conspiracy theorists stated that it was indeed a ploy to create high-level people and then murder them for Exp. Others pointed out that they would all be dead because of Jabberwock anyway, and they had received the yearly level basically for free.

But the majority felt entitled. A vocal few started to voice their dissent and some even said they should have a say on how the city was managed. Against my best judgment, I posted a message to the bulletin board.

"Seventy? Please. I have no intention of killing any humans. I don't even earn Exp from any kill below level 100, more or less."

It was like I had tried to put out a fire by throwing gasoline at it. The Defenders complained more, demanded better conditions, and demanded ranged weapons. Marshall sent me a private text telling me to stay mum. He would handle the situation.

I gave up and ignored the shitstorm, dedicating myself to studying the spells I bought. Despite all my bonuses, I had never studied magic and needed a crash course to grasp the basics of magic design. Learning the sixteen spells would take a long time. And I had a deadline to deliver the scrolls. Our future cooperation depended on that.

The next week, A group of two hundred Defenders, most of them above level sixty, turned in their notices. They wouldn't desert but also weren't interested in a job that paid "only one level per year". As if all the benefits and luxuries they had available weren't part of the deal. As the holder of their contract, I decided unilaterally to release them of their notice period. I agreed with their wishes and terminated our System-enforced contract right then and there. I bet they were expecting to wait out the remaining four months to complete the second year and earn the free level. Their reaction was eye candy.

"You cannot do that!" Their leader protested. "The contract specifies a four-month notice period!"

"Did the system punish me?" I asked with my synthetic robot voice. "No. You are free to go. In fact, the two hundred of you are banished from Speranza and from my Dungeon. If you don't leave in two hours, the defenses will consider you intruders."

"I challenge you to a duel!" The leader boasted. "Mano a mano, hand-to-hand, without weapons or fancy robots."

The others cheered. I bet this asshole had spent months thinking of how to get the best out of me. I studied his aura and formed a plan. "Fine. But I don't have hands."

We sealed our duel agreement with a quick contract by the System. The terms included that this agreement was void if its fulfillment couldn't give me at least one full level. To my surprise, it did. The fight would take place in a few minutes at the duel arena.

 

*


*

 

Marshall and the second-in-command of the mutiny group officiated the duel as our seconds. The man and I stood face-to-core. Blackjack Six was nowhere in sight and I was floating in front of the man crystal-naked.

"The fight is to the death," Marshall said. "There's no surrender. No ring-out. No quarters and no respite. Whoever flees from combat will lose half of their levels to the other party.

"Begin," my opponent's second shouted.

"Mighty Stone Fists!" The dissident shouted. Rocks flew out of the ground, covered the man's fists and arms, and that told everyone it was clobbering time. Though they weren't orange.

He punched my Core. I plummeted to the ground but took no damage. My armor rating wasn't a joke. The man knelt and started to pummel me into the ground like I was going to be the real-world tree and not the ash seed. When he saw his attacks weren't doing jack shit, he grabbed me with both hands and stood up.

"Die, piece of rotten fruit!"

Hey, that was too much. He squeezed with both stone hands and several thousand points of Strength. If I had to guess, he dumped all his points in Strength. But one shouldn't touch a Dungeon Core carelessly. I equipped the third-ever Perk I earned.

 

Sturdy Domain: When resisting interference in your domain, increase your Willpower score for this contest only by 3*(Intelligence- [Distance in feet]).

 

That Perk catapulted my effective Willpower to almost twenty-four thousand points. Now, what could classify as interference in my Domain? That black bubble spell from the mage in the landfill. And people's auras. Think about that. Germs are living things but I had no problem absorbing germs. The animals I spawned were living things but I had no trouble absorbing them. Did the spawned animals die when I absorbed them? Were they even living? Yes to both questions. To be a Dungeon is to be a Murderer. You had the discretionary power to choose what to murder. But I digress.

These living creatures were absorbed because they offered no interference to my Domain. Or no significant interference. Natural-born creatures, either from other natural-born creatures or with spawned parents were also resistant to my Domain powers.

But my twenty-three thousand and eight hundred points of effective Willpower against this pea-brained Augmenter? At point-blank range? Pfft.

I absorbed his Stone Fists spell and his forearms up to the elbows, then his arms up to his shoulders and his pectoral muscles. I intentionally stopped before his ribcage, taking the muscles but leaving the bones intact and exposed.

The man screamed. I floated, seemingly indifferent. Blood started to well up from his exposed chest, and from the shoulder stumps. He fell on his knees. I could end this. I could touch his head and remove his head from existence. A quick death. But I chose to be cruel. Let his suffering reverberate in the arena and sink into the hearts and minds of the dissenters.

The silence was broken only by my enemy's screams as he bled out and some hushed conversations in the grandstands. The man's second pulled a potion and tried to help but found Marshall's rapier inches away from his throat.

"No interference," the Lord said with steel in his voice.

I let him scream until he fainted. Then I grew a tree over him and used Tree Explosion. A shower of splinters later and he was a smear on the arena dirt.

 

> For killing level 74 Warrior, you gained no Experience points. You gained 25 Dungeon Mana.

> You gained 14,000 Experience points.

> You gained a level! +13 Intelligence (In), +13 Wisdom (Ws), +14 Willpower (Wp), +13 Clarity (Cl), and +13 Hardness (Hd). You have 10 Attribute Points.

 

Free points should now all go to Willpower. No use investing in other Attributes. The natural growth was more than enough. But this guy had the lowest amount of Mana per level I've ever seen. I thought the stone hands were from a spell but I must be mistaken.

Wait, was this the level I gained a Perk? Apparently, not. After level 160, I only gained a Perk every ten levels on the main class only. Sub-Classes could only improve in Skill.

I could see fear in the eyes of the dissenters. They thought I was just an ordinary crystal, that I had to hide in a man of metal to protect my Core. It was true to a point. Now? With more than 80 points of armor? Being more than sixty times as tough as an ordinary zero-level Dungeon Crystal?

Not so much.

Blackjack Six stood and walked toward me. I opened a port at the back of its neck and dove in. No need to reveal where exactly I resided inside the humanoid Mecha.

The LED eyes shone like searchlights. I scanned over the crowd of dissenters and checked my internal clock display. "You have twenty-five minutes to vacate Speranza's walls. We won't open the gates for you. If any of you deserters is found within our walls by that time, the automated weapons will fire on you. That is all. I suggest you run." Blackjack Six's cold, mechanical, robotic voice said, the synthesizer set to "menacing".

We had pampered these warriors too much. They grew soft. Fat. They became superstars. They grew bored of killing level fifty-something Spinehouds, level forty-something Newton's Third Hog. Among other Infernali that was pounding at my walls this very moment. They forgot they were in for the long run, to save this world.

From the arena to the outer walls, we had about eight miles of distance as the crow flies. The dumb dissenters descended into a panic as their leader and spokesperson died. Some ran away, some gave up and crouched, others tried to settle some disgruntlement and attacked the other warriors, and some went to the civilian sections in a mad attempt to cause as much damage and grief before their lives ended.

The ones who attacked got a Gauss rifle shell to the head. The ones who ran to attack civilian facilities and people were also shot on the run. The ones running for the wall were left to their own luck. If they crossed the wall in time, all they needed to do was to get across the ocean of Infernali. And the ones that panicked and froze, well, they could suddenly get up and teleport, for all I cared.

 

[...] 127 kill notifications were suppressed. You earned no Experience points.

 

Such was the woe of high-level people. The small fry wasn't worth it anymore. That's why you see the powerful become apathetic. The passion to level up was no longer the same, the risks were too big, or they didn't have any decent source of Exp.

I could spend more than a hundred thousand points of DM, create a new copy of Ranger Ork, and earn 230 Exp for doing that. With 61 giant robots, which I couldn't just absorb or recreate or the new one didn't count, I could gain one level. For something close to one million DM. And the next level would cost even more.

Despite my large income of DM, I didn't have that kind of wealth lying around. I had to use it to keep this city alive. I mean, convert Jabberwock's magic stone, my trophy, into a single level?

Nah. I'd rather sit on my butt and wait for the next year, when Santa would bring me five levels.

 

*


*

 

The brunt of the crisis was averted. About 30 of the deserters got on hang gliders and flew away, using scrolls of the wind spell. I confiscated a copy from one of the hundred-plus dead bodies and set it aside so I could learn the spell.

Marshall spent a lot of time doing damage control, and we interviewed each of the remaining 764 Guardians. We explained what happened, and my Video Editors and Digital Influencers (that's new Classes my personal followers had) put up an online campaign explaining what happened to the people, showing lots of footage from the conversations.

We found another hundred and something that expressed the desire to leave on good terms four months after the turn of the second year. They asked for a vehicle to get out of there and I promised them some armored electrical APC with bicycle chargers and a gun turret. Most Guardians wished to have access to the new guns and we sold them, slightly above cost, these weapons as well as charge them the credits for the mandatory safety and handling training course.

But come next April, we would have only 640 Guardians left. Almost half only.

Months passed. The situation didn't change except the turns defending the wall became tighter. We tried to recruit more warriors to the Guardians but our population didn't want to. We didn't enforce it. Going out there to fight waves of Infernali, even with support from my weapons, wasn't for the faint of heart. And the civilians already helped a lot by contributing with 4 DM each day.

The calendar year changed. Year 3 of the age of the World Tree started. We received our just rewards.

I earned a new Perk. I mean, I gained a Trait in place of a Perk. It was a freaking wall of text. What is this? Server Cluster? Extra Dungeon Automation rules? Okay. A bit pricey, and the upkeep, while cheap, could mount up. But each server cluster could keep my Domain running for... almost a year? Does that mean I can leave the Domain and not have it collapse? That allowed me an unimaginable degree of freedom. Okay, each of these Server Clusters could also work as a lossless DM battery for a rainy day. I was beginning to like it a lot.

But wait. What is this about sections of the domain collapsing or splitting? The Server Cluster would keep the split pieces of the Domain running so long it had DM stored to pay the upkeep? Yes, it says right there, non-contiguous. The distance, at my current Status, was... 35 miles. Oh. I could have a Domain here and another 35 miles away, so long each had a Server Cluster running the show and I could go back and forth to front-load the DM for upkeep. I had to stay in the same section of a Domain with a Cluster to receive the DM generated, though.

Boy, oh, boy. Doesn't this give me several degrees of freedom?

 

> You gained 2 levels! +26 Intelligence (In), +26 Wisdom (Ws), +28 Willpower (Wp), +26 Clarity (Cl), and +26 Hardness (Hd). You have 20 Attribute Points.

 

You gained the Trait, Domain Cloud Server Clusters (DCSC):

  • You learned how to Replicate a Domain Cloud Server Cluster (DCSC).
  • Each DCSC costs 50,000 DM and 15,000 SP to create, takes up 20 sq.yd of volume, and weighs 5 tons. This cost cannot be reduced by any means.
  • DCSCs demand 5 DM per day as upkeep but only on one DCSC per Domain section. Upon touch, Each DCSC can be infused with up to 2000 DM points to pre-pay the upkeep.
  • While the upkeep is paid, you gain two free Dungeon Automation rules that are valid only for the contiguous domain section it is installed on.
  • Should sections of the Domain collapse or split, each server will maintain the connection between non-contiguous Domain sections remotely.
  • The maximum distance between one section and the closest one is sqrt(Intelligence)/2 miles in a straight line.
  • Large sources of interference between Domain fragments may disrupt this connection. The ground does not count as a source of interference.
  • Each non-contiguous section of the Domain with at least one functional DCSC counts as its own DAN.
  • You earn DM from all sections of your Domain if you and at last one connected DCSC are on the same DAN.

 

> You gained 3 levels! +39 Intelligence (In), +39 Wisdom (Ws), +42 Willpower (Wp), +39 Clarity (Cl), and +39 Hardness (Hd). You have 30 Attribute Points.

 


MDW: The updated Status Sheet is in the post-chapter notes.

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A note from MDW

See the full description of all Status items here: https://www.royalroad.com/fiction/chapter/1084203

 

Name: Skip May Neming Species: Dungeon Core / Plant (Apple)
Level:  173 Exp/ Level: 14,000
Main Class: Electronic Apple Orchard (L) Effective Level (temporary): ---
 
Sub-Classes: Architect of Destruction (V) Computer Engineer (E) Plains Master (V)
  Mecha Pilot (E) Wayfaring Dungeon (E) Dimensional Porter (V)
  Artillery General (E) Arcane Librarian (E)  
 
Attributes Base Score   Efficiency Modified Score
Intelligence (In) 2,451 200% 4,902
Wisdom (Ws) 2,459 200% 4,918
Willpower (Wp) 3,542 280% 9,917
Clarity (Cl) 2,579 220% 5,673
Hardness (Hd) 2,667 260% 6,934
 
Resources Base Modifiers Maximum
MP (Cl) - regen (Wp) 928 ---- 53573 ( 92957 / day)
DM (Cl) 2,003 735 137,392
SP (Wp) 2,003 ---- 200,640
Materialization (Ws) 875 ---- 43,907
Armor sqrt(Hd):  83 ---- ( 68 / 75% )
Control (Wp) 183 ---- 18,331
Personal Storage Volume: 571cu.ft Cost: 25MP/(day * cu.ft). Max: 14275MP Move: 25MP/cu.ft
Dungeon Domain: Personal: 0,94mi Beacon: 1,87mi Max Volume: 86,34cu.mi
Domain Cluster link Distance: 35 miles DM from unused MP (1/20): 4,647 DM/day

 


About the author

MDW

Bio: The author would like to reinforce for the umpteenth time that the characters' opinions are their own, may be intentionally wrong, do not reflect my (MDW's) personal viewpoints neither are included in this work to further any political agenda (I don't even live in the same hemisphere or country as you, whichever those are. I'm writing from the Earth-Sun L3 point for all I care). My works serve no purpose other than to tell stories with conflicting viewpoints. Use of the reader's critical sense is highly advised.

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