It was done. It wasn’t really finished, but the Fortress could move and I could turn on the defenses to target anything that tried to attack it. That was close enough to done for me.
I had Shayma ensconced in what would eventually be the control room, with my Companion Core there so she could share my perspective of the outside. It had started out ten meters on each side, but fully expanded it was large enough for a bridge, luxurious housing for each of my Companions, should they ever wish to travel on board, and enough leftover room for a big garden with a [Stellar Chrysthenium] sky. The sheer power of Spatial fields was just astounding.
My adjustments weren’t as fine as I would really like, but I had six axis control, including some roll, pitch, and yaw. The Fortress still used buoyant stone to keep itself aloft, so I adjusted the mass distribution so it would right itself if it got a bit tilted. The Chiuxatli assured me that my axis controls wouldn’t do that, though I imagined things would have to be rebalanced once I started adding entire cities. Then again, I knew that anything inside an Expanded space was somehow buffered, else the Caldera would have collapsed long ago.
“Here we go,” I said, and lifted the Fortress up. Despite massing billions of tons of rock, the acceleration was quite smooth, and we cleared the height of the mountains with no fuss at all.
“This is great!” Shayma grinned, leaning back against the core, her eyes unfocused as she tapped into my [Genius Loci] to see the peaks of the mountain range sliding below us.
“I hope Nivir and Kinul are ready for a show.” They’d been warned I was coming, or well, that the Fortress was, but I was pretty sure they weren’t ready for the reality. The wards baffled the surface enough that it didn’t make the noise a twenty-five-square kilometer hunk of rock displacing air should, but it still had a presence. The pressure wave could be felt all around whenever it moved, not so much a wind as just the sheer force being transmitted across the distance.
I could see it punching into the mist and fog that was present throughout Nivir, a visible wake as I sent the Fortress west. The roiling vapor occasionally parted to reveal a clearing or a town, and with it people staring up at the sight of a massive black dodecahedron flying high in the sky. We weren’t going far enough north to cruise over the palace, unfortunately, but the southern part of Nivir got a good show. At the speed I was going it took over an hour to cross the little bit of Nivir in my path, which was picturesque but rather monotonous since I could see little more of the landscape below than the occasional wooded hill.
For the first time I saw the far mountain range that defined Nivir’s bowl, looking very much like the more familiar peaks in Tarnil, all craggy and grey-blue. So far as I could see the area wasn’t volcanic, though the Underneath and magic in general made that appraisal suspect, so I was quite curious as to what exactly had caused what looked like a giant crater in the middle of Orn’s northeast lobe. Perhaps some ancient cataclysm.
“I really don’t know,” Shayma said after I shared my idle pondering. “The history I know goes back to the founding of Tarnil, but that’s less than a thousand years ago. I mean, that’s a really long time but I doubt Orn was just completely uninhabited before then. Though the stories say that the northern lobe was just wilderness when Teash Arn founded Tarnil.”
“Huh.” The mountains didn’t give any answers, passing by below as we crossed into Kinul. The rivers cascading down from the mountain peaks immediately turned into broad, sluggish bogs that looked unpleasant even from my elevation. The whole land was muddy green, often with more emphasis on muddy than on green. I saw even fewer signs of civilization than I had in Nivir, which was impressive since Nivir had the mist cover to obscure things, and Kinul did not.
I could see why Kinul was so sparsely populated, but still independent. Every single inch of it was soggy and muddy and I could see the rot Affinity mixed in with the normal nature Affinity of living plants. It’d be miserable to be down there, and I only hoped that the actual towns in Kinul were built in dry patches with less rot, or at least some sort of fresh breeze. Even if I couldn’t smell it, I could well imagine how badly that much swamp stunk.
“You know, it was obvious in hindsight but I hadn’t considered that this is going to be many hours of flight. There’s no need for you to stay on board if you don’t want to; I can just let you know and have you teleport back when we finish crossing the ocean.” It was neat watching the landscape pass by, but that was all that was happening and I didn’t want to keep Shayma if she had other things to do.
“Maybe when we get over the ocean, but I’m actually enjoying myself.” She looked relaxed, too, leaning back with her eyes closed and focusing on the dungeon sense link through my core. “It’s flying without having to spend my energy shifting and flapping around. Besides, I haven’t seen any of these places really. The Phantasmal Realm doesn’t let you appreciate the view like this.”
“True.” Though really, Kinul wasn’t much to look at. I had expected to head onward to the ocean, but either I’d misread the map or I had drifted further south than I’d anticipated, because soon enough I found the massive plateau of Orrelin looming ahead. The Fortress had enough altitude that I wasn’t worried about hitting anything, unless they built really tall in Orrelin, but I gave myself another few hundred meters anyway as I approached the border. “Huh.”
“Huh,” Shayma agreed. Despite the natural barrier of the plateau’s cliff, there were walls blocking off the entire perimeter of the country. More walls ran through the interior of the plateau, practically gridding it off. Each section had a river and a lake, tree-shaded roads, a town, and farms. It was truly bizarre seeing nearly identical landscape reproduced dozens or even hundreds of times, spreading out in all directions. There were obvious variations, like where some spears of rock jutted up from the plateau base and there were quarries and mines instead of farms, but it was all very much the same.
“I can’t imagine how much effort that represents.” I wasn’t even sure why they’d done it, either. All the walls were something like fifty meters high and ten meters thick, with openings only for roads and rivers. The mana had obviously been changed along with the land, earth and nature Affinities swirling and pooling in each of the walled-off sections.
“It’s actually kind of disturbing. No wonder Tissaria wanted to leave.”
“Yeah, I don’t imagine there’s too much freedom down there.” The Fortress attracted a lot of attention, people stopping what they were doing to point and stare, from farmers tilling crops to soldiers manning the walls. Nobody got the bright idea to try and attack it, but given how high up it was, I doubted that anyone but Orrelin’s top Classers could have even reached.
If it were any other country I might have felt bad about panicking so many people, but I didn’t much care for Orrelin. I didn’t even know if it was possible to get a message to them, considering their isolation. As it was, I just watched people run around and yell and took in the weirdness of the place. It was a good reminder that Tarnil was hardly the best metric to judge what the rest of the world was like.
The weird, pocketed land rolled onward as the Fortress went west, and perhaps an hour into the Orrelin crossing we finally acquired some official attention. A quartet of Classers came zooming along the wall network, using some sort of stone-based travel power that made them look like they were skating, and started pacing the Fortress from the ground. They didn’t even try to attack, though even if they had I wasn’t sure what they expected to do against something so large. Even if they could somehow bring the Fortress down it’d just create a terrible mess across all their nice neat walled-off sections.
I kept an eye on them while I traveled across a small snippet of Orrelin, but they never did anything, just talking among themselves in yells that didn’t quite reach me, until I reached the opposite shore of the lobe. They halted at the final wall, watching the Fortress sail off over the waves. From their perspective, the fact that the Fortress didn’t do anything at all was probably more ominous than anything that looked like aggression. People hated the unknown.
“Right, I think I’ll head back for a while,” Shayma said. By that point the sun was starting to set behind the curve of the horizon, but that was fine. I just had to keep from smashing into the water, and there was more than enough moonlight and starlight for that.
“Yeah, good call. I gotta keep an eye out here so I’m going to be a bit distracted, but just yell if you need anything.” It wasn’t like the Fortress took any particular effort from me to continue moving forward, but I wasn’t comfortable spreading my attention out too much.
“Oh, I will,” Shayma said, and pulled on the teleport to return to the Caldera. Despite the fact that it was magic, it still amazed me sometimes that my teleports and portals worked over such distances, even disconnected. Since I was one giant organism, it didn’t feel too absurd when it was point-to-point within my own body, but with the Fortress completely disconnected I didn’t have that excuse.
The ocean in front of the Fortress didn’t look particularly magical, aside from the occasional glimpse of bioluminescence or lurking shadows in the depths. I was pretty sure some of the Leviathans in the area had turned out to catch a glimpse of the Fortress as it passed by, but nothing emerged from the sea to make it a certainty.
For a while there was just water, but in the moonlight a large swath of land revealed itself, far sooner than was reasonable for Port Anell. I checked the map again, and guessed that I was seeing the western lobe, if just the northern tip. It was apparently wilderness, so I wasn’t much worried. At least, I wasn’t worried until part of the landscape seemed to shift my way.
“Uhh…” I was used to thinking on immense scales. After all, I was the size of a dozen countries or so, and regularly worked with mana amounts several magnitudes over what anyone else did. It still turned out I was not ready for a snake with wings, with a body length and wingspan of something like eighty kilometers, to casually fly over to inspect the Fortress. It was big enough to actually eat the Fortress whole.
The Beast of Tarkelion
Level 115 Colossus Winged Serpent
“What is that!?” I woke both Shayma and Ansae, though I wasn’t sure what either of them were going to do. The information the overlay gave me was not exactly useful, and besides, I didn’t see how something that size could be merely level 115. I knew that levels had more to do with personal mana density than power as such, but still, there were limits.
“That is big,” Shayma said, resting her hand against my Ecology specialized core back in the Caldera so she could peer through my [Genius Loci]. “How do you even fight that thing?”
“What is it?” Ansae asked, since unlike Shayma, she couldn’t look through my eyes.
“A flying snake large enough to eat the Fortress. It’s called The Beast of Tarkelion. Is it another Power?”
“I am not certain,” Ansae admitted without hesitation. “It must have appeared during the time I was asleep.”
“Oh!” Shayma shook her head. “No, it’s not a Power. It’s just a very large beast. It took over the western lobe about a hundred years ago; that’s why it’s called the Wilderness of Tarkelion.”
“Large is an understatement. Why Tarkelion?”
“I think he was the first one to spot it?” Shayma shrugged.
“Well, regardless of what it is I think it’s going to try to eat the Fortress.” The Beast in question swam languidly over to the floating hunk of rock, moving far more quicky and smoothly than I could, enormous tongue flickering as it bumped its snout against one of the faces. In truth it was acting just like an ordinary, curious snake, despite the size difference and the wings.
“Hmm.” Ansae flicked her claws, and conjured up a scrying window. It wasn’t focused on the Fortress, but on the Beast itself, showing the snake from another angle. “I admit, that is quite large. But I don’t get the sense that it’s a Power.”
“So what, should I turn on my defenses here? I don’t want to make it mad but I don’t want it to try and eat the Fortress either.”
“I doubt those [Starlance] items can really hurt it,” Ansae observed. “The light might do more than the actual impact.”
“Maybe skirt around the land there,” Shayma suggested. “It supposedly doesn’t really go out of its lair much. Which is the whole lobe, but still.”
“Plan made.” I used [Mana Mechanisms] to link up my point defenses, and the entire Fortress lit up. I’d performed smaller scale tests, but that was the first time I had used them for real, and hundreds of streams of light smacked the serpent in the snout.
As Ansae had predicted, it flinched back from the light but didn’t seem to notice the actual beams that punched into its scales, at least at first. Then it flicked its tongue at the Fortress again and several of the [Starlance] beams vaporized flesh. It didn’t hiss or anything, but it clearly didn’t like that as it shied away from the brightly-lit fortress and headed back inland. It was quick, too, probably supersonic considering its size, though its enormous wings made only the faintest of sounds.
The [Starlance] beams ceased the moment it was out of range, and I hastily changed direction to skirt around the western lobe. If the Beast of Tarkelion had actually been particularly aggressive, the Fortress could have sustained a lot of damage, if not been swallowed whole. I didn’t want to take another chance on that, even if the encounter had been more or less harmless.
From there on out, it was flying by compass and by stars. It’d still be hours before I was near the coast of Einteril, and before I got near I’d get a better idea of my position by divination. Even if the Fortress itself was hard to find that way thanks to the normal Dungeon exclusions, Shayma could divine her own location and we’d work from there.
Soon we’d be in Port Anell.