The guiding intelligence had really taken her experiment to heart.
Mana made mana, which was the only reason injudicious mages and profligate Powers (and, she might admit under pressure, careless dragons) hadn’t sucked the whole world dry of the stuff by now. But it wasn’t as simple as that, and actually creating a mana dynamo was tricky to impossible. In pragmatic terms, only natural processes cycled mana enough to produce excess, where it often gathered in points of stillness.
Like, say, under a mountain.
But the flowers seemed to generate enough of it that she thought it worthwhile to try. Her initial waving about was interesting, but then the mana had rearranged itself and snapped into place with breathtaking precision. And it provided just enough excess that she could absorb it without disrupting the cycle, which was better than slowly siphoning off elemental earth mana that trickled down toward its roots.
Then it had decided to do a larger one. She was fairly certain this was the work of some local spirit, rather than a mage, since it happened in real time, as if it were observing her. Or some intense, near-intelligent phenomenon, since the mana flow was immediately followed by more spatial workings, the power in them so damn pure it was almost invisible even to her.
That was enough to make her curious, so she rolled out of the ever-so-comfortable bed and shook herself, reverting to her lesser, more tunnel-friendly form. She had to see this for herself.
The doors were the same as before, but the tunnel outside had been worked more finely, the stone firmer underfoot. She hummed to herself, a tune twice a thousand years old, letting her claws trail the abstract patterns, wondering what long-dead or newly-born culture inspired them. Closeting yourself off for a century or so meant that you lost track of who was doing what outside.
Then she stopped as she spotted someone approaching with her more esoteric senses. It wasn’t quite a normal mortal - there was too much of the oddly crisp mana about it. But neither was it something pure spirit. She grinned wide and toothily. It was a mystery, and she loved mysteries.
She even got to watch as the corridor bulged outward, a small room appearing between them. By the time the door opened ahead of her, the room was furnished with a table, two chairs, and a bowl with a few odd blue fruits on it. Waiting for her was someone that looked like fox-kin, but wasn’t.
What she was, was nervous. “Welcome, Lady Ziir.”
That stopped her dead. Her given name was buried under three thousand years and an ocean, half the world away. There was no possible way this fox-kin could know it without an incredibly powerful divination, and she would have noticed that. Her grin widened. “I take it that this place is your work?” Her voice wanted to be hungry, so she let it.
“Umm no?” The fox-kin took a step back, and the larger, Ansae-sized chair slid out, as if offering her a seat. “Kind of the opposite?” Then she recomposed herself. “The dungeon thanks you for your gifts of knowledge and asks you to be seated.”
“The dungeon?” Ansae strode easily to the her-sized chair but didn’t sit yet, eyeing the skittish pseudo-spirit. “I have seen many, many dungeons. This is not one.”
“He says he’s pretty sure he is. His Status says he is.”
“Oh, really?” By now her grin showed all her teeth, so she took a seat and picked up one of the fruits, inspecting it. “This...dungeon of yours has a Status. And enough wit to argue? And, it seems, learn from watching me?”
“Blue says yes.” Her expression struggled, ears flicking as she clearly listened to something. But a discreet scan with an actual divination spell, rather than just her natural senses, still revealed nothing.
“Yes, he’s a Blue Core dungeon. Also he’s curious as to what you cast. He doesn’t want me hurt.”
“Oh, a little divination, nothing to worry yourself over.” Ansae leaned forward, studying the woman in front of her. She was nervous, creeping into terrified, but far from terrified enough to be someone who actually knew who Ansae Ziir was. Almost certainly a servant.
The question was, a servant of what?
“Tell me girl, what are you? You look fox-kin, but you surely are not.”
She blinked. “I’m a Blue Core Fox Spirit, but I was fox-kin, which is why I look like one.”
“...oh my. Do tell.” What was euphemistically referred to as necromancy did not touch the soul. It merely animated that which was once animate, reminding it, forcefully, of the past. So what this girl claimed was a very rare thing indeed, a transmigration of the soul that did not mangle it.
“Um. It was because of my Bargain with Blue.”
Instead of replying, Ansae picked up one of the fruits and bit into it. Subtly sweet and tangy, but most importantly, full of rejuvenating energy. Barely enough to touch her debt, but still refreshing. A Bargain that could touch soul and body enough to transform a species was that of a Power. Assuming this ‘Blue’ was not one of the ones she knew of, and part of the reason she’d come here was specifically to get away from them, a new Power had emerged. More than that, emerged almost on top of her.
“Lucky girl. I will speak with your master directly, then.” She schooled her voice into politeness. Mostly because she had just realized she’d accepted the hospitality of a Power, if one ever so much lesser than her, and there were some customs you didn’t break.
“...I’m the only one who can hear him,” she replied, a bit helplessly. Then her eyes widened, her ears flicking again. “Oh. I never introduced myself. My name is Shayma Ell.” She bowed, a curtsey being out of the question with the red leathers she wore.
“I see.” She was considering the claims more seriously now. If this Blue was a dungeon, and a Power...well, it’d be the first she’d heard of it, and she was going on five thousand years old. On the other claw, it neatly wrapped up all the mysteries into a single delightful package, as well as giving her something she’d never heard of. A Blue Core dungeon. “Let me see your Status, Shayma.”
“Ah…” Shayma’s ears flicked again, then she held out her hand. A moment later, a brief flicker of obsidian black appeared there, then vanished to reveal a rune-covered stone. Ansae squinted at it. The stuff was from one of the Great Dungeons, but the runes were of human or demi-human make. So it wasn’t conjured, which made the sudden appearance without any apparent spellcasting very interesting.
Then Shayma channeled mana into it, and words floated in the air between them. Ansae didn’t even make it past the first entry.
“Immune to Depletion? How?” She demanded, a little bit of a growl leaking into her voice. The walls shivered.
Shayma blanched, the words vanishing. “I don't know! He can fix depletion somehow!”
“Fix? Do not mock me, mortal!” She roared, pinning the girl against the opposite wall. Shayma gasped, then flickered and vanished from Ansae's grasp. Her head swiveled, tracking some sort of tangled spatial and illusion magic before it faded. Along with all the other mana flows. Some sort of high-powered warding, blanketing the area.
She stood and breathed, surveying the room. The table was powder, floating in the air. The chairs were shattered against the walls, which themselves had a web of cracks from the force of her anger. It was a disaster.
Not that she couldn't have broken the warding and tracked Shayma down, but she was too mad, and mostly at herself. She'd assaulted the only mortal conduit of a Power. A Power whose hospitality she'd accepted, however tacitly, which itself was the sort of insult she had killed for, in the past. A hospitality that she had no complaints about at all. If this Power really did have any ability to deal with depletion, she'd made any sort of accord that much harder.
If not impossible.
She growled again, stone dust drifting down from the ceiling, and stalked back to her lair. Not the one Blue had provided, but the original one hewn from the mountain. She had to think.