“Thanks to Taelah, I have a bunch of trait points available,” I said, and Taelah ducked her head slightly.
“I’m falling behind,” Iniri said. “I’m only, what, rank six?”
“Yes, but if rank is dedication to me, then I don’t think you should be rank ten. You can’t put me before Tarnil.”
“You are Tarnil,” she pointed out with some degree of amusement.
“Okay fair, but you know what I mean.” It was nice to be able to talk to all my Companions, and with enough fidelity that they more or less got me word for word. It wasn’t exactly perfectly for Taelah and Iniri, but it was so good I couldn’t complain. “You’ve been scrambling to get things stabilized and dealing with wars and things. There will always be something you need to do with Tarnil.”
“I’m glad I have such an understanding liege,” Iniri said with a smile. I was pretty sure that being able to hear my inarticulate self had helped her loosen up around me, which was nice.
“So, who has the first suggestions?”
“Actually,” Shayma said. “I looked over your Status and you have lots of free experience and you have a lot of categories that aren’t maxed out. In fact, hardly anything in your categories has been increased all the way.”
“Oh,” I said. “Right.” I had close to two hundred thousand free experience, which actually wouldn’t go as far as I would have liked considering how expensive some of the categories were. My breeding category was maxed out, which was unfortunate because I wasn’t entirely certain how I was going to get a station that was sized for Ansae’s full form. That would be something I had to experiment with.
The category that I should have been incrementing and maximizing was Climates. It was still at the initial 5 and, considering all the work I was doing with them, I probably should have pushed it to its limits far earlier. Previous category advancements demonstrated extra ranks weren’t likely to grant me additional Climates, those had to be earned by experimentation or other sideways advancement, but they would give me some sort of qualitative upgrade instead. Fortunately, it wasn’t as expensive a Category as some others so I could put just under one hundred thousand experience in it and cap it at ten.
Climates are more resistant to changes. Improved rate of resource generation within Climates.
As I had expected, nothing new. The resource generation would have been nice but not overwhelming when it was just chrysthenium and plants, but now that I had metals, gems, and Affinity pools, even a minor boost was actually quite nice. A bit of strain that I hadn’t even noticed from having such enormous Climates eased, but there were otherwise no obvious changes.
With my remaining experience, I could bump Fabrication by maybe two points, but that would only get it to eight, so it wasn’t really worthwhile. I had a number of Fields I could maximize though, and maybe get some combinations or new Fields to play with. I checked to make sure I’d gotten all the combinations I could out of the Fields I already had before spending experience on any of them.
It looked like one trick I’d missed was overloading [Murk], something I might not have been able to do at the time, but I definitely had enough mana now. I marked out a small area in the Caldera and filled it with [Murk], then plugged it into a dynamo. The darkness grew and deepened and changed, becoming something that disturbed me to look at.
[Hungering Dark]: Shadows eat away body and mind.
The name alone sounded intense, and this Field looked like it was all bad news all around. I had a lot of positive Field effects though, so it had probably only been a matter of time before I ran into one that was completely negative. I could see inside with [Genius Loci] and watching the darkness devour the foliage and start chewing on bare stone was freaky.
I banished the [Hungering Dark] Field and pumped [Murk], [Light], and [Regeneration] to 10. There were still a lot of Fields to max out, but most of the others were either extremely expensive, as in the case of Spatial fields, or combination fields like Purgatory. That more or less ate up the last of my experience, though I had a decent enough income now that both Shayma and Taelah were at rank 10. There weren’t any combinations, but I did get some evolutions, which felt kind of strange because I hadn’t seen any of those for a while.
[Field: Light] becomes [Field: Greater Light]: Floods area with light. May incorporate aspects of any available Affinity. Improved control over resistance to intruders.
[Field: Regeneration] becomes [Field: Greater Regeneration]: Improves Health and Stamina regeneration, and allows for replacement of lost limbs or organs.
[Field: Murk] becomes [Field: Deep Murk]: Floods area with darkness or mist. Amount of each is finely controllable. Improved control over resistance to intruders.
I wondered why [Growth] hadn’t evolved yet, since I had it at ten, so I poked at it and deployed a Growth field for the first time in what felt like ages – I was usually using [Abundance] instead – and that did it. Which meant the evolution conditions were probably my level ten advancement. So, all the things I’d been ignoring like Fluid Handling or Bait probably had a lot of stuff they could do, but I never used them, so they hadn’t been getting any updates.
[Field Growth] becomes [Field: Greater Growth]: Significant growth improvement of flora. Mature plants may become exemplar specimens. Reduced [Fertilizer] use.
It wasn’t a big difference from the original Growth, but the exemplar thing was neat. I’d have to see what that was like, especially since I had a trait that would make my Companions exemplars. That said, I wasn’t sure how much use I’d get out of some of those, since if I actually wanted to stop intruders I’d throw [Hungering Dark] or something at them rather than the far less scary [Greater Light] and [Deep Murk] Fields.
“Okay, that was a good call, though I don’t think it opened up any new traits.” Nothing on the trait list looked new, anyway. “So, do I get anything now or do I bank them?” Shayma pulled up the trait list, the full one this time.
- Burrowing: Upgrades [Boring Tendril] into [Burrower]. (1)
- Core Specialization: Ecology:
- Companion Bounty: Creates Companion-attuned food Climates. (1)
- Affinity Ecology: Add additional plants influenced by governed Affinities to Climates (1)
- Stellar Transformation: Create a new stellar Affinity version of a selected magical plant. (2)
- Stellar Region: Infuse a selected area with stellar Affinity mana. (3)
- Ecological Directives: Allows Companions to designate areas where Climates will be created. (3)
- Climate Flourishing: Populate a targeted Climate instance with adapted animal life. (5)
- Inhabitant Climates: Adapt Climates to suit Dungeon inhabitants. (8)
- Core Specialization: Habitation:
- Inhabitant Adaptation: Adapt inhabitants to Dungeon Climates they reside in. (10)
- Affinity Attunement: Dungeon inhabitants gain governed Affinity Classes and Skills with less effort. (10)
- Core Specialization: Companion:
- Empower: Immensely amplify Companion abilities for a short time, for a great cost. (1)
- Companion Adaptation: Companions are immune to negative effects of dungeon Climates. (4)
- Companion Directives: Grants Companions limited access to dungeon senses and build options. Companions may designate goals. (5 points).
- Pinnacle: Companions of Dungeon Inhabitant species are made an exemplar of that species. (8)
- Class Management: Companions may adjust Class and Skill details. (10)
- Climate Empowering: Allows a Companion to be empowered by the nature of a linked Climate. (10)
- Inspiration: Companions of Dungeon Inhabitant species gain natural leadership insight toward that species. (15)
- Affinity Infusion: Companions may infuse their Classes or Skills with any governed Affinity. (20)
- Core Specialization: Stellar
- Field: Depths of Space: Reduced gravity and atmosphere. (2)
- Field: Corona: Lashing tendrils of intense heat, light, and stellar Affinity mana. (2)
- Core Specialization: Defense: Increases experience generated by defensive structures. Unlocks additional defensive materials. (4)
- Core Specialization: Dungeon Combat: Increases potency of combat versions of Skills and structures. Unlocks additional combat Skills. (4)
- Spawn Core: Allows the Dungeon to generate additional Cores. (20)
- Manifest: Allows the Dungeon to condense its mana into physical form. (30)
- Antithesis: Your existence becomes inimical to your ANATHEMA. Contact results in annihilation. (35)
“I think that Affinity Ecology is a worthwhile purchase,” Taelah suggested. “Especially if you want to show off things that are unique to you.”
“Especially if that would increase the mana capacity of your stellar core,” Ansae added. I wasn’t sure it would; I hadn’t noticed a jump when I’d made a new [Contained Star] and if an Origin Relic blazing with Stellar Mana didn’t count, nothing environmental would. What I needed was more people like Suna, though I’d need a lot of them and with much higher levels. That wasn’t going to happen anytime soon though, so I still needed to figure out more and better mana storage from other avenues.
“You’ll want to get Burrowing before you start digging downward,” Iniri noted, “but it’s not critical right now. I’d say bank the rest, start saving for something more expensive.”
“So no [Climate Flourishing]?”
“You’ve been doing just fine without animal life so far,” Shayma shrugged.
“I’d be worried about possibly dangerous animals ending up near The Village,” Taelah said. “I know you could wall them out or the like, but I don’t think we’re quite established enough.” That was something I hadn’t much considered. It’d be really irritating to have to get people in to exterminate critters I bought with my own traits if they turned out to be pests. Considering some of the hostile environments the Climates sometimes made, I could well believe there’d be some downright nasty specimens if I just got a bunch of random critters spawning in.
Speaking of which, I was curious to see how that worked. So far as I’d seen I couldn’t generate creatures out of nothing. Or even plants, actually, because I could see that any new plants that grew were germinated out of, effectively, my dungeon flesh. They cost biomass, though my biomass generation due to Climates was so tremendous it didn’t really matter.
That said, I did have that sort-of-nest that my basically useless boring beetles had spawned from and mostly just hibernated in of late. Maybe it would make a bunch of those and the dungeon biology would just synthesize critters from genetic code taken from the Akasha. Or whatever the dungeon-flesh-mana equivalent was, because I was pretty sure things like dragons were impossible from a strictly genetic point of view.
“Okay, buying it,” I said, and purchased the one-point trait. There was an immediate ripple as new flowers and saplings poked out of the ground and vines wrapped around jungle trees. When I checked the actual plants, I found that what I’d gotten was mostly stellar-flavored variants of already existing stuff, rather than anything genuinely new.
[Comet Creeper Vines] snaked through the ice of the northern Caldera, wrapping around the roots of bone-white shrubs, and [Aurora Cacti] glowed in the desert biome. [Solarflame Apples] were spotted here and there among other wild apple trees, and in the deep jungle [Starlight Blossoms] winked on and off, mimicking atmospheric scattering. Those weren’t the only things, of course, but at this point the area of the Caldera and my dynamos combined with the sheer size of the list of flora I had available made locating everything that had just appeared fairly tedious. It made me glad I knew what my chrystheniums felt like, as it were. I could locate them directly through a sort of proprioception type sense, rather than having to scan with [Genius Loci].
“I’ll have to send you around to get things for the Village and the summit,” I told Taelah. “No problems though.”
“Excellent.” Iniri said. “I agree with banking the rest.” She looked around the table and everyone nodded, except for Ansae who just waved a claw dismissively. Iniri seemed to be a little nervous around Ansae, obviously because of her identity of The Silver Woe, which amused the dragon to no end. But fresh off her third [Revitalize] session, she was mellow enough not to make trouble.
“Our guests should start arriving today,” Iniri continued. “So, while we’re here, I might as well check that we’re all ready. Taelah, Shayma?”
“What about me?” Ansae said, and I revised my opinion about her making trouble.
“I didn’t imagine you’d care,” I told her. “I mean, they’re going to talk about you I guess but it doesn’t really involve you. I think if you showed up yourself it’d kind of crash the party.”
“I do enjoy it when someone argues with me,” Ansae said with a lazy smile. “That said, if all these people are going to be here it seems a good time to set out my policy for seeing petitioners. Namely, that they have to be on good enough terms with Blue that he’s willing to show them to the Caldera. If they can find my tower, I might see them, but they’d better be sure it’s worth my time.”
It was a bit high-handed – or high-pawed? – but it was also tacitly allying with me by giving me carte blanche to deny or admit people access to Ansae. Sure, it was an obligation and it meant I had to actually listen to idiots who wanted to talk to her, but I’d agreed to that anyway and the extra protection it gave me couldn’t hurt.
I was pretty sure Iniri got it quicker than I did, because she had a satisfied look on her face. Heck, I wouldn’t have been surprised if all of them figured it out faster than me, because Shayma had been studying under Iniri and Taelah was an Elder so they all had more political experience and interest than I did. None of them looked offended on my behalf, anyway.
“I will pass that along, Lady Silver Woe,” Iniri said, and Ansae grinned even more widely.
“That is such a mouthful. Though I guess most people don’t have the standing to just call you Ansae.”
“Most people don’t even know my name,” Ansae said. “If it weren’t for Blue’s dungeon scrying you still wouldn’t.” She rolled her eyes but didn’t appear that upset by it. “Usually I just go by The Silver Woe or Great Lady, and that’s what you will use to refer to me when talking with outsiders.” She leaned back in her seat and waved a negligent claw at them. “But in this council, you may use Ansae.”
“Great Lady?” Shayma asked. “Really?”
“The Church of the Silver Temple calls me The Great Goddess of Wrath and Wave,” Ansae said. “Aside from the fact that I’m not a god, imagine someone using that mouthful every time they want to address you.”
“I haven’t heard of the Church of the Silver Temple,” Taelah said curiously.
“Leviathans.” Ansae said by way of explanation. “It’s even more convoluted in seaspeak. All those rumbles.”
Taelah looked thoughtful, but eventually just nodded. Shayma looked sympathetic, but Iniri certainly did not. She might have been comfortable with me, but she wasn’t quite so relaxed when it came to Ansae. That was probably fair, too, since while both Shayma and Taelah were effectively representing me, Iniri had to be aware of The Silver Woe as a political entity, rather than just the Ansae I knew.
“Well if you’re not coming that means I don’t have to change the meeting rooms I put together. I didn’t make them with dragons in mind.”
“Oh, they’re ready? I’d like to see them ahead of time if possible,” Iniri told me.
“To make sure I didn’t forget anything? Good call.”
“Oh, I’d like to bring Cheya along for her insight as well. I’m assuming you’ll make portals for the guests?”
“Yeah, I figure if I just portal them in on demand it’ll keep any potential issues to a minimum.” I was going to set up teleports so Taelah could drop off food when it was necessary, but Iniri was going to be providing the actual servants. Partly because nobody in the Village knew how to do the serving thing correctly, and partly because I didn’t want them to have to deal with it. A bunch of high tier royals would probably be irritating for the villagers. I actually felt a little bad Shayma had to.
Iniri teleported herself back to the Palace while I opened a portal for Taelah and Shayma. And Ansae, since apparently she was curious enough to come along, though I was pretty sure she’d noticed me making it. Though perhaps not, considering that I was making changes all over the Caldera all the time and she probably didn’t care to track every single thing I did.
I’d put the meeting place twenty kilometers up the western Caldera wall, though honestly even that was high enough that it was difficult to make out any real features on the ground. Even Ansae’s tower was a mere speck a thousand kilometers off, though I wouldn’t make any bets that fourth- and fifth-tier senses would miss it. The only obvious features otherwise were the northern mountains, the southern volcanoes, and the eastern desert. The Village was almost entirely hidden in the forest and grasslands below, though I imagined that the fate tree would stand out like a beacon if it wanted to.
Considering the view, I’d gone with a very open complex. It was built on top of one of the sky-lakes, and partly suspended over the edge on arches and pylons. That was mostly so Ulei-nktik could attend, and I landscaped the lake interior to reflect Leviathan preferences. It would probably still be awkward with him poking out of the lake while everyone else was grouped around a table or something, but there was only so much I could do about that.
The centerpiece was a big marble platform, white with blue veins, that started in the middle of the lake and extended all the way to the edge, overseeing a waterfall plunging over the edge and cascading down the rock face before dropping into empty air. There were long, rambling walkways winding down the rock face, which bowed out slightly before becoming sheer, peppered with pavilions of various sizes. The main room was the size of one of Iniri’s ballrooms, while the smaller ones were more like her office. The only fully enclosed rooms were the bathrooms, the entrances to which were set discreetly into the rock below the main platform.
The furthest point from the lake was fully suspended over the twenty kilometer drop and had a glass bottom, if anyone wanted the full experience of the altitude. Everything else was ringed by balconies and guardrails, even and especially the walkways, to offset the sheer immensity of distance below. I wanted to show off, not make people fear for their lives.
Everything was furnished with tayantan wood chairs and tables and upholstered with what the Village had been sewing together. It was just white cloth but apparently the actual thread and stuffing was from some pretty rare and extremely comfortable plants pulled from the glacial areas. I could have leaned on Iniri to provide some of it, or just used the dungeon-provided version of furniture, but if the Village wanted to make stuff, I wasn’t about to turn it down. Besides, once the summit was done, they could use it for themselves.
I lined the perimeters of all the outside rooms with pedestals for my samples. I had thought about putting them all under glass, but decided that if anyone was so stupid as to try and just steal a display item I would want to know. Besides, some people might have Skills that needed them to touch an item to really get a handle on it, and I did want them to know what I could provide. I also decided I’d have to start trading out the Sources, now that I wasn’t so threatened by any given individual and the power boost from them wasn’t something that could really bite me. They’d make wonderful gifts to start the summit out, ones that couldn’t be resold.
Shayma, Taelah, and Ansae stepped out into the middle of the main room, looking around at the architecture. Or really, the lack of architecture. Cheya and Iniri followed a few moments later, with Joce and another one of her Queensguard. My first thought was that she really didn’t need guards, but then I realized I was being stupid and obviously the Queensguard would be with her during the real summit and they’d need to know the layout of the place.
Cheya and the Queensguard eyed Ansae uncertainly, before a flicker of presence made them look away. Ansae hadn’t even bothered to look in their direction. Iniri had obviously warned them about her because they took the warning as given and kept close to Iniri, doing their best to pretend they weren’t near a massively powerful dragon.
“This is certainly secure,” Cheya said after a moment, stepping cautiously to the railing of the balcony at the edge of the main platform and looking down. Very, very far down.
“How high up is this?” Iniri asked, rather less affected by the altitude.
“Twenty kilometers. About twelve miles or so?” Iniri just shook her head in disbelief. I well understood that; under normal circumstances she wouldn’t be able to breathe at that altitude, let alone be completely comfortable, but magic made all kind of things possible.
“I like it,” Shayma said. “It’s very Blue.”
“I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t this.” Taelah was rather less sanguine about the edge, turning to look at the lake instead. “Which means I have to agree with Shayma. It’s very you to do something strange like this.”
“I would like to make a request of Blue,” Cheya said carefully, and that got my full attention. She basically never addressed me or named me, even when she was talking to Iniri. “I would request that he use his stealth-breaking Field to ensure there is nothing unexpected here, at the Palace, or near the guests as they travel.”
“Oh, sure, absolutely. That’s a great idea.” I went ahead and put down [Panopticon] around the Palace and the summit buildings, but as far as I could tell none of the actual invitees were within Tarnil’s borders just yet.
“You’re going to want more waterfalls so people can hold private conversations,” Ansae declared, prowling around and looking at the items on the pedestals. Again, I wasn’t sure if she was aware of all the stuff that I was making now that I had things going on all over the place. Plus, she was rather more distracted than she had been before.
“Also a very good point. But would that even matter to someone with fourth or fifth tier senses?” I started planning how to split the waterfalls despite my question, since I figured that Ansae knew what she was talking about.
“It’s more about the illusion of privacy,” she said absently, picking up the meteorite and giving it a lick. “None of them would talk about critical secrets here. Or in Tarnil at all, most likely.”
“I wish they would, actually,” Iniri said. “Between you and Cheya we could hear so much. But the Great Lady is right. With all the magic in the Palace they would have to assume we can divine them without any trouble at all.” She kept looking out from the balcony, gazing over the Caldera.
“I guess that makes sense. So aside from the waterfalls, how is everything?” I addressed the question to everyone, as they poked around the meeting site. Taelah kept away from the balconies, studying the lake and trying the chairs, but Shayma had no problem exploring the scattered platforms. Of course, Shayma could just blink back if she somehow fell so she had no reason to be cautious. If Taelah somehow toppled off the edge I’d have to flail around to find a solution, assuming I didn’t just ask Ansae to deal with it. Though at twenty kilometers up, I’d definitely have time.
“The walls are more than a little foreboding,” Iniri said after another moment or two. It took me a moment to realize she meant the Caldera walls, not the walls of the little pavilions. “They’re just so huge. It’s like seeing the edge of the world, especially since there’s no normal horizon here. Could you mask them with clouds or something?”
“I…hmm.” I couldn’t exactly control the weather, since most of it was generated by Climates and by a lot of wind and storm chrystheniums that grew along the Caldera walls, and twenty kilometers up was higher than the cloud cover anyway. That wasn’t exactly right since the Caldera had magic keeping it at a very standard pressure despite the height, but I’d already seen that so far the weather conformed to normal height limits when by rights the clouds should balloon up like a superjovian.
Though the Caldera had sucked up all my stone resources when I’d first sculpted it, I’d managed to build up a reserve since then. Instead of my frankly awkward sky-lake and waterfall setup, I could try sculpting the walls of the Caldera itself into something. I was still going to keep the suspended platforms and probably the sky-lake the pavilions were connected to, but the others could go.
“Right, okay, I think I can do that.” I took a few minutes to ring the Caldera with a long series of shallow terraces, starting from the top and working my way down. I couldn’t make it anywhere near solid stone, even with my reserves, so I honeycombed the interior and used [Structural Mana Reinforcement] to make sure it would stay up. Part of me was a bit annoyed at having to use magic support, but that part of me was really silly considering I was landscaping a hundred-kilometer-high cliff.
The bottommost terrace was about a kilometer above the floor of the Caldera, because I wanted some sense of the limits to remain. The rest of it got a massive Rainforest Climate, but I tuned it instead to produce a cloud forest, fog billowing up from the remains of the sky lakes as broad-leafed plants climbed the rugged terraces. All that was more or less expected, but I hadn’t really taken into account the honeycombs when I was setting out the Climate. I should have, after what happened to the mountains, but I was so focused on the terraces it slipped my mind.
The lakes suddenly started pouring through passages and caves cut into the honeycomb supports, the waterfalls I’d made before drying up and being replaced by ones punched through the rock face below each terrace. I ended up with a massive, interconnected network of aboveground and underground water passages, waterfalls spraying mist, and sheer cliffs full of greenery. Even the subterranean waterways were thick with moss and vines and tree roots.
The end result was that the enormous walls of the Caldera were almost entirely cloaked in fog, save for brief flashes of green when the winds parted the clouds for a moment. I had to admit it did lighten up the feel of the land, softening the shadows cast by the immense walls. The cloud forest blended with the Climates below, so in the desert the water came out in an underground river that fed oases, while in northern mountains it turned into sheets of ice and a constant snowfall. With the jungles and forest it melded pretty smoothly, enough that I actually considered merging them entirely rather than leave a kilometer-high drop.
“I never get tired of seeing that,” Ansae commented, and I realized that everyone had been watching as I reshaped the Caldera walls. It had taken maybe half an hour overall, since the Climate did most of the heavy lifting, but that was fast enough that it would have been obviously visible from the platforms. I’d avoided putting a Climate directly on the summit area, so it wouldn’t be shrouded in clouds, but the terracing meant that it still had been pushed outward as I’d worked.
“Husband is awe-inspiring,” Taelah agreed. “It does look better that way, too.” Even though the summit site itself was clear of cloud and fog, the Caldera walls nearby were still shrouded, giving the place an air of seclusion rather than just being high up.
“Oh yeah. This is awesome. Good call, Iniri.”
“Just some greenery and I think it’ll be ready,” Shayma said, coming back from one of the pavilions. Since I supposed it was a little stark without any plant decorations at all, I ran a few strips of grass along the edges of the walkways and peppered flowers in-between. That took a few seconds, and Shayma nodded approval. “I can’t imagine trying to get something like this together in a week without Blue.”
“We could have used the Palace, though getting that put together would have had the same problem,” Iniri sounded amused.
“Yes, yes, I’m wonderful.” Shayma giggled, Iniri and Taelah smiled, and Ansae rolled her eyes. “So, everything here is done?”
“I think so,” Iniri said. “Have you spotted any of our guests yet?”
“Um.” I had to check, since I’d been preoccupied, and found that actually Wright had just come into view from the south, riding an absolutely enormous ship that looked like a catamaran or a pontoon boat. It didn’t have any sails, pretty obviously using magic to propel itself along by what seemed like runework jet engines in the submerged hull. It was all metal, of course, with a pointed prow and significant superstructure, enough to mount weapons and house a full support staff.
“There’s Ir,” I told them, and followed Cheya’s request by dropping a [Panopticon] Field in their area. It popped someone out of stealth inside the boat, but it was clearly one of Wright’s subjects rather than a spy someone had hidden away. Probably a good thing overall, since it let them know that they couldn’t send someone sneaking around and thusly wouldn’t try.
“Then I need to get back to the Palace so I can greet him,” Iniri said. It would still be hours yet before Wright arrived, but she had a lot still to do. I wasn’t sure exactly what, but I knew enough that even another month of preparation would still result in last-minute scurrying about.
“I’ll keep an eye out for the others and let you know,” I told Iniri, and she went back through the portal with her Queensguard. Shayma went with her, so she could represent me when Wright arrived. Taelah headed back to the Village by way of the teleportation I’d set up, but Ansae just vaulted over the balcony and transformed back into her dragon form, gliding down toward her tower.
It seemed all I needed to do was wait.