TDL BK I, CH 13: Necessary Steps

Chapter Thirteen: Necessary Steps

Dunstan watched as the second block of stone was lowered onto the prepared platform with utmost care. The elder levitating it was sweating nervously. She honestly believed this was essential for the establishment of the portal. He wished he could tell the woman that she could relax but he couldn’t. She was not the only one. The other elders watched just as nervously from the sidelines. The 2.34 metre-tall block of sky stone was worth at least 21 million gold. The one next to it was worth even more. 

Originally part of a set of five given by the Stone Scourge Sect as dowry for the hand of his great-great aunt, the sky stone blocks were unpolished pillars with a near-uniform thickness of around 32 to 40 centimetres. Each block was at least 80 per cent pure and as a result looked like gigantic columns of pale azurite with veins of brown rock running on and through them. They were intended to be used to refine magical artefacts or cut into gemstones and two of them had. These last remaining rocks were a tangible portion of the sect’s history and remaining wealth. Why oh why did he allow the Sixth Preceptor to convince him to do this?

Skystone was a precious, world essence-imbued stone that possessed mystical properties. It greatly enhanced the power of magical spells and equipment. It was also in great demand as an anchor for magical spells or protections and in some rare uses, it was used to supplement spatial stones in the operation of teleportation stations and extra-dimensional spaces. For this reason, the Sixth Preceptor believed they would be instrumental in reinforcing their lie. Dunstan had argued that the blocks remain in the vault, they were far too precious to be used in a ruse. However, the Sixth Preceptor countermanded him. Now was not the time to be miserly, the man told him. They had constructed a story which although plausible was filled with holes. They had to sell it and sell it hard. The elders of their sect might be willing to overlook irregularities but the people coming would not.

That left Dunstan standing in the prepared ritual circle. Everyone cleared the way, giving him more space than he needed. From the corners of his eyes, he could see all the surrounding disciples pause their work to watch. Knowing he was under the microscope, Dunstan prepared to give the performance of his life. Wordlessly, he pulled a silver blade from his side and slit his wrists. Ignoring the shocked gasps around him, he put his mind on the warm blood gushing from his wrists. With a concentrated force of will, he kept the blood afloat and began his chant. “To be or not to be…”

To the onlookers, his recital of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy in Elizabethan English must have been indecipherable gibberish. That was the point, to leave nothing for them to question. Doing his best to lend the necessary gravitas to his actions, Dunstan slowly by surely painted a symbol over the ritual circle with copious amounts of his own blood. He started with a small but perfect circle around his feet. Stepping out of it, he placed a simple dot in the circle, the alchemical symbol for origin. The surrounding world essence shifted perceptibly such that all the sensitive cultivators in the venue gave a start.  

From there, he drew four lines branching out like a compass. Still reciting hamlet, he drew a symbol for summer at the north of his new compass. Again, the surrounding essence rumbled. Everyone was watching keenly now. Dunstan wondered what they would do if they found out that all the commotion was caused by him pausing and unpausing the loading screen in his interface. Dunstan continued his made-up ritual with the rest of the seasonal symbols. Each time, he would unpause just as he started drawing before pausing again when he was finished and had to move to the next spot. 

[Establishing physical portal …31%]

Soon, he had painted the last seasonal symbol, spring. Walking back to the centre, he drew four more lines turning his four-point compass into an eight-point one. This time, he drew the runes symbolising the four classical elements. 

[Establishing physical portal … 74%]

By this point, the ritual had reached a crescendo. The world essence in the area was rioting, reacting to the incomplete portal. Even Dunstan’s voice, initially low and quiet, now resounded through the entire field as he belted out Shakespeare at the top of his lungs. His eyes bulged in astonishment when he realised that marble-sized motes of pure essence were beginning to coalesce around him. Rather than stop, he sped up. Returning to the centre, he rushed to finish the ritual before things got more out of control, not forgetting to add a personal but appropriate spin on the time-honoured piece.










With a final cry of “RISE!” Dunstan thrust his hands into the air. For a couple of tense heartbeats, nothing happened but that was because Dunstan had misjudged and finished before the progress bar which still read.

[Establishing physical portal … 99%]

He cursed mentally, ‘Why do downloads always…’

Dunstan was cut off by a roar so fierce and loud, he was not only left momentarily deaf but also forced to squint past the rushing wind and essence to see what was happening. Swirling clouds of royal purple and ash grey burst to life in the centre of the ritual circle before expanding into a glowing portal that looked like a patch of the night sky. The image was static though the still swirling nimbus around the edge of the portal gave a slight impression it was spinning. It was beautiful.

Cheers from his audience quickly reminded Dunstan that there were other people around. More people were flooding in from other parts of the sect, drawn in by the noise. Elders rushed onto the dais, some to check the portal, others to congratulate him. Dunstan nodded politely and smiled, his eyes focused on the happy, hopeful faces around him even as Great Elder Dorn fussed over his hands. This was what he was doing this for. His eyes caught the gaze of the Sixth Preceptor and they exchanged a silent, meaningful look. 

Convincing the elder council had been the work of nearly three days of constant meetings. It still shocked Dunstan a little how gung-ho they were about the plan now that things were settled. Working together, they were able to modify the sect’s wards and restrictions as well as renovate this plaza and its surroundings. Others had come up with more ideas that Dunstan hadn’t even thought of like the restaurant and the viewing platforms, all in preparation for the visitors who would be coming. The whole thing was shaping up nicely. It was the liveliest the sect had been in quite some time. Everyone was busy with something and yet… 

There was still a lot of work to do.

With the help of his predecessor, Dunstan managed to get away citing a need to rest. If he hadn’t, he might still be there at the newly renamed Portal Plaza. Even in his lodgings, Dunstan could make out sounds of merriment. It had fast turned into a party. That brought joy to his heart. Their sect had few reasons to celebrate lately. He just hoped they did not overdo it. They only had four days before their guests started arriving. Probably less if taking into account early arrivals. There was a lot of work to do hence why he slipped away. The dungeon was not done. He still had some monster encounters and loot tables to fix.

Stepping into the dungeon space, Dunstan opened up the dungeon management tab. While the Dungeon Lord’s Manual had uploaded the basics into his brain, he was still learning the ins and outs of his new powers. For example, the dungeon template guaranteed him one free portal entrance which he had used. It meant he could open up more using AP though how he would swing that after today’s display would be problematic. However, it also had limits. 

It also restricted him to one free boss monster and one free elite monster per dungeon. He could buy more slots directly with AP. Suffice it to say, the price for that was outrageous. Bosses cost one hundred times their base tier price while elite monsters cost ten times as much. So a one-star boss cost 1000 points whereas an elite monster of the same tier cost 100 points. That immediately put them out of his price range. It was the same with rooms. The template came with three predesigned rooms he could modify to his heart’s content. However, each room could only reach a max size of 10 X 10 X 10 metres or 1000 cubic metres and every additional cubic metre cost 0.01 AP and every additional room cost a flat 10 AP if he didn’t want to manually construct it. While he could play with the room dimensions, without AP investment, 1000 cubic metres was pretty much a hard limit. 

As a result, Dunstan ended up creating only 10 rooms for his dungeon. It was woefully small but he wanted to conserve as much AP as possible. Already, he regretted spending 4 AP on a single apricot despite it being the best one he had ever eaten. In the end, Dustan spent close to 50 points on rooms and corridors. He could only imagine how much he would have had to spend on decorations and furniture if he wasn’t provided with some by the template.   

Of course, that made actually populating his dungeon incredibly difficult. Prices in the Dungeon Store were eye-gouging. Dunstan went back to the store to check and there was nothing priced below 1 AP. Worse, his prior purchases were not as good as he thought. It turned out that a template was just that, a template. It allowed him to print monsters but each monster still cost AP. In this case, it was the same price as the template. Essentially, he had only bought the blueprint. The materials to create that item with his home 3d printer, cost extra and came separately but hey, the printer came free! Admittedly, it was a reasonable set-up. However, it made him feel like an idiot for not noticing in the first place. 

Worse, his new skeletons came with nothing but rusted or broken weapons. They had a sinister cunning but they faired poorly in actual combat due to their fragile nature and slow reflexes. If he wanted to increase their combat effectiveness he would have to–gasp– buy some weapons or skills from the store. The store where even a mundane steel sword cost 1 AP. 

Dunstan’s reaction to that was simple. “No thanks, I’ll bring my own!” 

And he did. His family sect was filled with items and keepsakes they had accumulated over the millennia and if that failed. He was the Sect master, surely it wouldn’t be too difficult to requisition some stuff from the sect, though explaining why without giving himself away would probably be a pain.

Dunstan did, however, end up buying three more monster templates, wights, spectres and ghouls just to diversify the dungeon and beef up its challenge rating. 

The ghouls were bestial cannibals but they possessed a physique that was two to three times better than any mundane human. The wights, on the other hand, had intellect and skill that did not lose to any living human. Combined with an icy touch and the ability to drain vitality they were the dungeon’s biggest threat. The spectres were largely there to fill the dungeon’s magical slash sneaky mob slots. Plus, it would be weird to have a place filled with undead but no ghosts.

With it now costing him an average of 16 AP to create a monster, simply populating his dungeon threatened to bankrupt Dunstan. Five mobs per room would cost him an average of 640 points. The only reason he was now comfortable with the number was down to a certain discovery.

[The fame of your dungeon grows! +1 AP]

[Error! Dungeon incomplete!]

[Achievement invalid!]  

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