[Purified] Protector Queen (Level 53)
Race: Kirin-kin demihuman
[Lineage: Shield of Tarnil] 9: (9 ranks reclaimed): Inherited from the great hero Teash Arn, founder of Tarnil, this magic shield provides unequalled defense.
[Lesser Divination] 5 (1 rank reclaimed): You see all. With this spell school you can sense and communicate vast distances, as well as locate things far away.
[Royal’s Mana] 4 (1 rank reclaimed): You’ve kept your mana under an iron control, as is the natural course for Royalty. With Royal’s Mana you can further exert your will on your own mana, twisting it into different Affinities, allowing you to dabble in magics you are otherwise unsuited for.
[Protector’s Light] 2: Your light shines as a beacon for your people. You receive great improvement to light constructs meant to protect and preserve, making them cheaper and more expansive than normal.
[Ritual Leadership] 5: Casting is better with others, but a group will always need a leader. You can link your mana workings with those of other mages, allowing you to create things no individual mage could manage alone.
[Inspiring Speech] 4: The authority of the ruling class. You can infuse your words with mana to benefit your followers for a time.
[Body Fortification] 3: Mana is energy. Energy is life. You have the ability to fortify yourself with your mana, improving health and stamina regeneration as well as physical robustness.
[Intermediate Rune Carving] 4: Magic has a shape. Your efforts in understanding and transcribing that shape have borne fruit. You can now etch runes with greater finesse and effect.
[Ruler’s Sagacity] 3: You have become wise in the ways of the world. You have unlocked spellcasting, and this skill provides an intuitive grasp of known spellcasting skills. Improving rank improves mana pool and learning speed in spellcasting skills.
[Mana Sight]: You can see the veins of the world. Allows you to perceive mana directly.
[Mana Resourcefulness] 4 (1 rank reclaimed): Less is more. You are practiced well beyond the average practitioner. You use even less mana for mana Skills.
[Core Touched]: You are a dungeon’s eyes and ears.
[Purified]: Everything you’ve lost to Depletion has been restored. You are immune to Depletion.
Shayma had never seen Iniri’s Status before. Apparently the Depletion had mostly focused on eating Shield of Tarnil, but it was back now, as well as a good chunk of stats and other Skills and Abilities. Along with the Depletion immunity that Purified brought.
She’d never seen Iniri this happy before either, and it was pretty obvious it wasn’t just because she had her Skill ranks back. In fact she’d already told Blue she wanted the same treatment since she was going to be training with Ansae and that promised to be stressful.
“I wish [Core Touched] and [Purified] weren’t visible like that,” Cheya said, contemplating Iniri’s Status. The sigil they were using was, of course, the one they’d given to Blue, and he was perfectly happy to lend it out because he still hadn’t managed to reproduce its effect.
“I think Cheya needs a vacation.” Blue said, only half-teasing. “Maybe I ought to make a hot springs thing up here somewhere, and a nice swimming pool too.”
Her lips quirked, but she didn’t reply to him yet. Not while they were in the middle of a meeting. But the truth was Cheya was happy too, though it was more difficult to tell with her.
“There’s no point in hiding our connection to Blue,” Iniri replied, idly tapping her fingers on the table. “In fact I’d like to emphasize it, if he’s amenable to it. No matter how well things turn out with the mage-kings, he’ll be a huge and unknown and frankly terrifying force sitting on our northwestern border. Unless he’s already known to be well-disposed toward us.”
“I don’t mind. Besides, if I do really awesome things like burning an army or kicking a mage-king out of a city I want it known. It’s either hide or flaunt, and I don’t really want to hide. Too late for that anyhow.”
She rendered that somewhat more diplomatically, then almost choked as Blue muttered in an undertone. “That said, it’s probably not a good idea to tell her subjects that I fucked their queen.”
“Behave!” She muttered back, making Blue laugh in her ear.
“Speaking of kicking Vok Nal out,” Iniri said, clearly doing her best to ignore the faces Shayma was making. “When will Blue’s tunnel be done?”
“Four days, at this rate. I could slow it down I guess but I’d rather not. I’m no strategist but I’m guessing the sooner we hit him the less prepared he’s going to be, especially if you guys pop up in the middle of the city.”
“Absolutely. Do you three have any objections to that timetable?”
“None here,” Yamal said, lounging in his chair.
“I suppose I can be ready by then,” Liril muttered, not so much relaxing as hunkering down into his.
“Ehh, why not?” The Hurricane was, as usual, perched on the back of her chair, balancing it on one leg as she only half paid attention to what was going on. Or at least, that’s what it seemed. Shayma was pretty sure nobody who made it to fourth tier did so by being as careless as The Hurricane seemed to be.
“You two are not my subjects, so I know your help doesn't come free. Keeping in mind that my resources are limited now and not likely to be that much better in the immediate future, what sort of boons did you wish for helping me?”
Liril grunted. “If you’re reconstructing the Adamant Fortress, I want to study it. I still think it’s...never mind, you don’t care about my theories.” He shrugged. “Just having access for however long you can keep it up would be fine.”
“I know what I want!” The Hurricane exclaimed, eyes gleaming. She pointed at Shayma. “I demand kinky dungeon sex!”
“No. Absolutely not.”
Liril groaned. Yamal just buried his face in his hands. “Look, H, you can’t just -”
“Oh come on, everyone can see what Ini’s like this morning! I want some of that! Get me some Depletion immunity into the bargain, too.”
“Among other things,” Iniri said disapprovingly. “That is not my boon to give.”
“Fine, be that way. How about it, Shay-Shay? Going to hook me up?”
“...um, Blue says no.”
“What, is it just because I’m small?” Shayma wasn’t sure how much The Hurricane was joking and how much she was being genuinely indignant. “Don’t let my size fool you, I can - hey!” The Hurricane sputtered as icy water drenched her, pouring down from the ceiling.
“It’s because she’s crazy! Everyone knows that you don’t stick your...anyway, she’s been kinda weirding me out ever since she got here. Serious face time I think Shayma. I am not going to entertain her demands, and I don’t want her annoying you or pestering me. She has her Primal Source gem and - no, you know what? I don’t need to explain myself. Just, no demands, no annoying me or you.”
That was easy for him to say. He wasn’t the one facing a wet and grumpy fourth-tier. But she was his voice, and that wasn’t always fun and games. It took her a moment to school her expression into something appropriately solemn and she turned to face The Hurricane squarely. “That was a warning. Blue has no interest in your demands and you are not to pester him or myself about it.”
“Better listen,” Yamal warned. “You’re lucky Blue’s giving you that much leeway. As warnings go some cold water is pretty harmless.”
“I’ll show you harmless!” The Hurricane turned on Yamal, but apparently didn’t mean it because all she did was use a gust of wind to spray him with some of the water still dripping from her.
“Stop this foolishness and let us stick to the point,” Liril said, glowering at the tiny storm mage. “We must prepare to take on Vok Nal directly in no more than four days. Queen Iniri has generously offered to reward us for something we volunteered for at The Grandmaster’s behest. Anything aside from those two topics is a mere triviality.”
“Fine.” The Hurricane went back to pouting after drying herself with a quick air burst and Iniri seized control of the conversation again.
“What sort of support is Blue going to give us? We all saw what he did to that army but I don’t think Vok Nal is going to be vulnerable to that kind of thing.”
“Don’t forget that there’s already a dungeon at Meil, which maybe I can push against directly. Though I don’t know how that will affect my ability to burrow in. At the very least I can provide logistical support. Teleportation there and back, and I can have Shayma with you to coordinate. I assume Iniri is going, now that she has her awesome Skill back?”
“Yes. [Shield of Tarnil] will hold against even a mage-king for some time, and I understand Vok Nal is considerably weaker than Tor Kot. Now that I’m immune to their Depletion they can’t sap my strength with that magic, either.”
“I still want some of that,” The Hurricane grumbled, but not loudly.
The rest of the meeting wasn’t really illuminating for either her or Blue, since neither of them had any insight on what tactics anyone involved could or would use. She hadn’t been adventuring long enough and Blue wasn’t sure how close he could get, or even if anything he did would be effective against Vok Nal. He didn’t yet have, in Blue’s own words, heavy artillery.
“Ugh, meetings. You’d think that as a dungeon I wouldn’t have to endure them, but nooo. Anyway, better get going so you aren’t late. Ansae’s waiting for you.”
“I’m still not completely sure about this!” She told Blue as she headed back for the teleporters. Ansae was more than a little scary, even when she wasn’t trying to be. Not that she imagined Ansae would hurt her, no more than the normal cuts and bruises from any real sparring, and with [Regeneration] those wouldn’t last long anyway. But the dragon was intense in a way that was difficult to describe, making it hard to breathe when her attention focused.
“It’ll be fine. I mean, you don’t have to do this if you really don’t want to but I don’t know anyone else who can teach you about shapeshifting.”
“Oh, I’ll do it. I just wanted to complain while I was out of earshot.”
Blue laughed. “If it makes you feel better I’m pretty sure she actually likes you.”
“I’m not sure that does make me feel better. How is she going to act if she doesn’t like Iniri or someone?”
“Politely, I hope. That said, if she ever does decide to head up to you guys I’ll have you make sure everyone gets warned about her. I’m not going to hold it against her if she pulps someone’s head for trying to attack her, but I do expect her to act like a reasonable guest otherwise.”
“I’m not sure anyone is dumb enough to try and assault someone who looks like she does. In either form.”
“Oh believe me. There’s always someone.” There was a pause. “I bet The Hurricane would.”
She snorted and stepped through the Link gate. Ansae didn’t have her own dedicated teleport yet, and when she did it’d go to the petitioner’s chamber rather than the lair proper. For now the Link brought her to Ansae’s cottage, though the dragon didn’t much use it herself. Instead, Blue directed her down into the valley where he’d put the dragon-sized furniture. With how enormous he’d made Ansae’s lair, she had to use [Ghost Step] to get anywhere in a reasonable time.
Ansae was stretched out on the grass in front of her bed, with dozens of pieces of artwork and statuary in stone nooks and gazebos. Not to mention the flash of things wrought from gold or silver or gemstones. But she wasn’t paying much attention to any of that, instead focused on a dragon-sized book that seemed to be forged rather than bound, the pages thin strips of metal.
“No pie this time?” Ansae rumbled, setting the book aside and swinging her massive head around to look at Shayma.
“I couldn’t find any big enough.” She almost stopped herself from joking, but didn’t catch it in time. Fortunately, Ansae didn’t seem to mind.
“That’s half the reason I came up with a more demihuman form. Even the most devoted of admirers have a difficult time delivering well-prepared food in dragon-sized quantities.” The dragon peered down at her. “Speaking of shapeshifting.”
“Yes! I don’t even know where to start. I’ve made my claws longer and little things like that, but beyond that I’m lost.”
“That’s just as well. I know you only have [Limited Shapeshifting] but the Skill requires a bit more knowledge to use properly than others. You know how to invoke it, but what do you change, and why? That is what’s difficult.”
“Yes, I have [Combat Shapeshifting] too, but I haven’t been able to raise it a single level.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to. That’s a terribly strange skill.” Ansae seemed to enjoy the lecturing, oddly enough. She waved a claw and Shayma’s Status appeared, without the aid of a sigil. Other than the level increase, the additional stats from said level increase, and the addition of [Stealth] as a Skill, it was much the same as before. “New Skills appear all the time, but that one? No. Part of your Bargain?”
“Pretty much everything other than [Seeker] and [Luck] is,” Shayma acknowledged.
“But of course.” The dragon sounded pleased. “You offered yourself for it, did you not? I suppose it makes sense that you would find your Skills so changed. A Skill such as that one may address some of the weaknesses in shapeshifting that make it unusable mid-combat. The time it takes, the vulnerability between forms, and the sheer amount of concentration needed.”
“That sounds like too many drawbacks to be useful.” Supposedly there weren’t any useless Skills, but that didn’t mean everyone could take full advantage of the Skills they did have.
“Only if you try to overstretch what you can do, and believe me, every shapeshifter does at first.”
“I haven’t,” she objected, wondering how many shapeshifters Ansae even knew.
“And you won’t, because you’re going to do what I tell you and thus not end up half-melted and out of resources to fix yourself.”
“Uhh, I didn’t know it was that dangerous.”
“Neither did I!”
“As a partial shifter you’re not likely to kill yourself, but it can be inconvenient.” Ansae blinked down at her, nictitating membranes sliding in sideways. “Especially if you’re doing it right. Considering your Class and Skills, trying to shapeshift your weaponry is acceptable but not always the best approach. Weapons exist for a reason, and unless you can mimic dragon claws they’re going to be tougher than anything your Skill will let you do.”
“Wait, can I though? I mean, you’re a dragon, if you could teach me…”
“I could, but you’d run yourself out of stamina and mana in a few seconds mimicking it.” Ansae told her, more gently than she expected. It was actually making her a little nervous. The version of Ansae that was all teeth at least matched her countenance. “The reason dragon claws and scales are so sharp and tough is all the mana that’s soaked into them, years and centuries and millennia of Affinity mana circulating through them.”
“Oh, well, it was a thought.” It also explained why she’d never actually heard any stories of shapeshifters just shifting into dragons and being as nigh-invulnerable as dragons were supposed to be. Most of the stories were either them pretending to be other people or, occasionally, things. She actually couldn’t remember any stories of any high-tier people with shapeshifting Skills.
“You may work up to it, in time. You’re the representative of a Power and I doubt Blue is frugal with his gifts. For now, though, we start with the basics.”
It turned out the reason that shapeshifting was complicated was because it wasn’t just one thing. If she wanted to turn her arm into a sword she had to understand the material, the shape, and how to change her entire musculature to make the newly-formed weapon actually useful.
“Oh, hey, I know materials and anatomy. Maybe I can help with this!”
“I’m well aware you’re familiar with my anatomy.”
“No, I mean, yes, but-” Shayma grinned as Blue spluttered. It wasn’t often she caught him off-balance like that. “What I mean is...oh heck, I guess you don’t know atomic theory and even if you did I don’t know how it’d interact with mana. Anatomy then! Do you know what all your muscles are and what they do and connect and such?”
“Somewhat,” Shayma admitted, wondering what kind of magic ‘atomic theory’ was if it didn’t involve mana.
“Well we can make that a full yes. Hang on.”
A wooden statue of Shayma sprouted out of the ground, but it wasn’t much flattering because it lacked skin. The only thing that made it not immediately horrific was that it was still wood, and not an actual flensed corpse.
“Oh, excellent.” Ansae said, poking the wood with one enormous claw. “That saves me having to spend mana on illusions.”
“You can see me like that too?” Shayma demanded. She didn’t even realize Blue could see things that way.
Ansae grinned, showing all her enormous teeth. “My dear, this close I can see your brain change as you think.”
“She’s got me beat there.”
“You know, I honestly figured you’d be cryptic at me and spar until I couldn’t move,” Shayma confessed. “I’m not sure why.”
Ansae snorted. “You can spar with your friends, but I can give you knowledge. That’s far more important.”
“For once it’s knowledge I can help with!” Blue seemed excessively pleased by that, though to be fair he hadn’t had much input on her training or combat other than some suggestions on how to use illusions.
A thought made her laugh out loud.
“What is it?”
“I just realized how ridiculous it is that I’m getting taught by two Powers.”
“And all you had to trade for it was your body and your soul,” Ansae pointed out.
“True…” Shayma considered, then smiled. “Worth it.”