Morrelia blinks a few times.
[You can't seriously expect me to accept that].
This is one stubborn person.
[We've already established that you won't accept anything I say].
Her eyes narrow.
[Then would you answer a few questions?]
It's amazing how patient everyone is being watching this. I have a crowd of people standing about watching a woman stare at a monster with absolutely nothing happening on the outside. For some reason they all seem riveted, watching me, then watching Morrelia, as if an invisible game of tennis were going on and they had to imagine the movement of the ball.
[Yes I can answer some questions, but can we make it quick? I have stuff to do]
I can see her mouth tighten a little at that but I'm only telling the truth. This conversation taking place at all is a favour to her, I'm not getting anything out of it.
Maybe I'm just trying to work on my diplomacy. Nearly getting my entire commercial district bitten off was enough to remind me of the old days when I hung about on the ceiling and did my best to never be found.
The change to walking straight up into my enemies faces happened a little too quick. The caution from those early days kept me alive! Information first! Swaggering up to giant monsters and attacking them head on is not supposed to be my style!
Stay low! Information is king!
This lack of care and attention, this was the work of Dark Anthony. Damn ego beast! Be gone from my sight!
Remember humility! Remember stealth! Remember not getting half of your ass bitten off!
With renewed motivation I decide to listen to what Morrelia has to say. Not making enemies I don't have to is wise policy. Let's keep it pleasant.
[Have you ever killed any humans?]
Her eyes flash dangerously at my immediate reply and I hasten to explain myself.
[In defence! My colony was attacked by humans and I defended my family! I surely can't be blamed for that! I also killed a few during the rebellion in Liria but I was assisting your Queen retake her throne, you would have done the same had you been around, surely].
Morrelia listens to my defence and is forced to nod reluctantly.
[I have heard from Enid and others about what happened during the rebellion in my homeland. I had not heard of your colony being attacked].
I shrug my antennae.
[It was just bad luck really. The Queen and her guards ran straight into the anthill whilst fleeing the city. They attacked and we killed them in retaliation. Many of my siblings died in that battle, I honestly wish it had never happened].
The humans who had killed my kind had been dealt with. Then I took appropriate measures against the Queen to protect myself against her betrayal.
[I don't exactly trust humans, there have been plenty trying to kill me above ground, and the black soldiers have done the same down below. But these villagers have done nothing wrong to me or my colony, so I tolerate them].
That should communicate my position.
Instead of being relieved, Morrelia is staring at me with even more intensity than before.
[Soldiers dressed in black? You've met the Legion?]
So those soldiers are from the Legion that she keeps going on about? I remember when they forced me out of my first nesting place, systematically killing every monster they found and burning out the tunnels. I was terrified of them at the time. To be honest, I still feel afraid of them.
[I wouldn't say I've met them. I've seen them. They moved into the Dungeon and started killing everything not long after I was born. I fled from them and wound up finding my colony in the forest expanse].
[So you've not fought them then?]
Her thoughts are vibrating with intensity as she asks that question.
[Hell no] I reply, [strictly running from them. I'm not that stupid].
Morrelia visibly relaxes.
[That is wise of you. They are strong].
Just you wait, lady. Pretty soon the most powerful and awesome ant colony in the history of any world is going to born.
[I don't trust you, monster. But I'm willing to let you live. Perhaps after a period of observation I'll be able to determine your true colours. I will stay here with my allies and assist the refugees for now. They are what is left of my homeland after all].
She can't but sound depressed as she utters that final sentence. It's true, her home is gone, destroyed by monsters from the Dungeon such as myself. I can't help but feel a slight twinge of guilt. I didn't have to dig quite so many tunnels underneath the castle. I can't help but feel I played a small part in the destruction of the city and the loss of so many lives.
The innocent lives anyway. The human Queen got what she deserved.
[Stick around, feel free. As long as you don't kill any of my siblings or mess with the colony, I have no beef with you].
Morrelia nods and breaks off the mind bridge, turning to her companions as they lean forward to hear the results of the conversation.
No longer forced to be diplomatic I can now turn to the task at hand. Extracting information from this priest.
I turn towards him, only to find he is still on his knees, giving praise and extolling whatever virtues have taken him at this moment in a sonorous voice.
Reluctantly, I get to work forming the mind bridge and before long I reach out and complete the connection.
[OH GREAT ONE IT IS BEYOND JOY TO FINALLY RECEIVE YOUR HALLOWED WORDS. LET ME SAY THAT ..]
[Loud! Too damn loud!]
The priests' face, which had been rapturous as the link was established, is instantly chastened. He tries again.
[It is a blessing to finally be able to bask in your wisdom. I am honored …]
[Too soft! Just speak normally man!]
Now the priest is looking properly distressed. Being told off twice by his religious idol has demoralized him so visibly that the people around him reach out with their hands and place them on his person to give comfort to the poor guy.
I try to settle him down.
[Just relax. I have a few questions that you can help me with. Please don't shout at me, it hurts my head].
The priest takes a few deep breaths. With his one shaking hand he reaches up to touch the hands placed upon him, as if to draw strength from them.
Then he faces me calmly.
[I am ready].
[Right, so I had a few questions about the system, I hear you're pretty knowledgeable about that?]
[THANK YOU FOR YOUR PRAISE, GREAT ONE! I AM HUMBLED …]
It takes a while for me to get him settled but eventually we reach a point where he is able to converse somewhat normally. By the time we get there I'm mentally exhausted.
[So you want to learn about skills? Particularly magic skills?]
[That's right. I need some advice about how to proceed getting stronger].
[Very well, o Great One. I would be delighted to help you to the extent of my knowledge].
[First off, talk to me about magic affinities. How important are they? How do they progress?]
A frown creases the priests youthful brow as he ponders.
[Let me assume that your skills have progressed to the point where you are able to manipulate and shape internal mana in order to cast spells. When learning the basic skills of Mana Manipulation and Mana Shaping, you'll gain knowledge of the basic spell forms, such as barrier magic, simple bolt spells and so on. You've learned these?]
[Yes. So you're suggesting that there are other spells to work with?]
[Correct, Great One, how infinite your wisdom. Once you have reached the level of Mana Transformation you will learn how to transform mana into various attributes. Once you have succeeded at transforming your mana into any other kind you will unlock the rudimentary affinities. These are the elements, Earth, Fire, Water, Wind].
[Yes, I've gotten that far].
[Then you have taken the first steps on your path to being a mage! Possibly the first monster of your strata in history to have ever done so!]
[Settle down buddy] I warn him as the look in his eye becomes increasingly wild.
He bows to me slightly.
[I am in control of myself, Great One].
[Good. So I've learned Water Mana Affinity and levelled it to Advanced Water Mana affinity, which gave access to ice magic. What's next to make myself stronger? My magic doesn't feel powerful enough for me. Should I focus on boosting my stats? Do I need to level my skills?]
[Ah yes. The first teaching of the Path is on this matter. It is known as 'the first question', the very first thing that the civilised races of the surface sought to answer after the System revealed itself to us].
[So what's the answer?]
[As the saying goes, knowledge is power and Skills are knowledge. Having great physical strength, or mental prowess, is next to worthless if you can't apply it appropriately].
I was worried about that.
[So what do I need to learn?]