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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Editing note: I've changed all instances of [Prestidigitation] into [Legerdemain] because that was a way better name for it and I'm embrassed my readers thought of it before me.

Art note: I've commissioned art for this but so far none of my artists have delivered, which is really irritating.  Most of the artists I'd like to get are full up on commissions, as well.  If you know a quality artist that would be willing to do character pin-ups, or are a quality artist that is looking for a commission to do Blue Core artwork, shoot me a PM or get on the Discord.

Ansae regarded the rock she’d scored her initials into with Blue’s technique, running her forked tongue over her teeth. It had taken no more than a point or two of mana, but a lot more concentration than she normally needed for her spells. While anyone who could wield light Affinity magic could, in theory, create it, her Primal Affinity was perfect for the sort of truths he’d revealed.

The aspects of light he’d told her about were completely sideways to the ones she normally invoked when dealing with magic. It was not the truth of the role of light, or the meaning of light, but of the physical nature of light, and just as profound as any other aspect. Oh, it was extremely limited in what it could do, no doubt, but those limitations were why she’d spread her own magic wide so every magic’s weakness could be covered by another’s strength. But these particular concepts, these specific explanations, were so exact to light’s nature that the mana was more than happy to shape it. No wonder even Blue couldn’t see the mana mixed into the beam; it didn’t need more than the tiniest imaginable fraction.

Shayma finished putting her own touches on a similar engraving, shaky and loopy as she signed her name in the blank stone slab Blue had obligingly provided. The fox-girl’s control wasn’t near her own, of course, but it was laudable that she was able to use a brand-new magical technique so quickly. Of course much of that was due to Blue’s ability to describe to them exactly how the light should work and why. Most Skills required a much broader understanding to function properly.

Ansae was cheating a little bit, of course. Not with the creation of the spell, but with Blue’s instructions. Because she was eavesdropping.

“...use a much lower power laser to spot where you’re aiming…afraid having a little glowing dot is going to remove any element of surprise.”

It faded in and out, with a sound like far-off rapids, but after studying Blue’s core, feeling it, tasting it, letting its mana mingle with her own, she was able to siphon from the messages he was sending Shayma. The messages were an odd thing, because they didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular, leaving the source and nature of Blue’s intellect a mystery. It might still be buried somewhere in the workings of the true core, but there should have been some hint of it in the splinter of life she held.

The fact that his messages came in the form of actual words was odd, as well. The things, and she did mean things, she’d run into that had gotten smart enough to communicate did so with emotions and images and sheer weight of will. Not only that, but the voice was definitely male, a sort of washed-out baritone behind the liquid hiss. If Blue preferred language, it only added weight to her theory that he’d put himself into a dungeon core on purpose, though how and why was still pure speculation. As was the source of his knowledge

Blue’s suggestion of a pointer was actually quite insightful, and she felt like a doddering old fool – or a naive young hatchling – for the first time in absolute ages. It was fantastic. It was also deeply, alarmingly suspicious. This was not the knowledge of a mage or even an artificer, this was knowledge from a perspective so far distant from her own it wasn’t even visible.

“Blue,” she said at last. “You can’t possibly have this knowledge.”

“...obviously do. Ask her what...?”

“Blue is curious to know what you mean by that,” Shayma rendered, diplomatically. Ansae was almost tempted to reply before Shayma translated, but she didn’t want to reveal her spying. Having a line into what Blue was actually saying was invaluable for judging his real nature and motivations, even if it was inconveniently inconsistent.

“I’ve been watching you. The way you go about doing almost everything is just a little bit off. Now I know why, now that you’ve explained what you know about light. The things you understand are knowledge that is not of this world. I won’t ask where you got this knowledge, every Power must have their secrets, but I will warn you that you should tell nobody any of it.”

“But what about -”

Ansae raised a claw, both to Blue’s reply she shouldn’t be able to hear and Shayma’s expression. “Not even me. Not unless you’re willing to take responsibility for what I, as my own Power, might do with it. I am certain you have far more dangerous truths than a little damaging light, and while you using them is one thing, letting others have them is another. I’ve spent far too much time stamping out pieces of knowledge too dangerous for any mortal to play with to let this by.”

“Oh. I guess...hmm, I bet you could do fusion with magic and...yes, that’d be bad. Well, message received, though I’ll probably teach my Companions some things. Assuming I come up with more useful applications.”

“Blue admits the point is well-made but he may still share the knowledge with his Companions. So, mostly me and maybe Iniri.”

Ansae had to give Shayma credit for her translation. Blue had a bad habit of rambling, though to be fair he could only talk to her so far as he knew. “Certainly. You’ve been careful enough with your Companions so far, which I do approve of. Grabbing power too quickly can only lead to ruin.”

“I appreciate the advice but you know I’m honestly a bit confused as to why she isn’t trying to pick my brain for everything I know. I expected I’d have to turn her down on other things after explaining lasers.”

She waited for Shayma to render the question, considering her response. “First, I wish you to survive to cure my Depletion. There are plenty who would drain you dry for knowing what you do. If that selfish motive weren’t enough, you and I are both immortal. In a hundred or a thousand years I would rather not be in an eternal feud with another power if I can possibly avoid it. Not to mention, this sort of knowledge is incredibly unbalanced. Even a tier one mage could pose a threat to a tier three Classer, from an incredible distance. This is something that needs more thought to introduce anywhere.

“The last...you are so new. None of my extant Bargains involve you, nor do any of yours involve me.” It was quite nice, in fact, to know there wasn’t any possibility of running up against any of the rules and binds she’d laid on herself for the power she wielded.

“Wait, she...Bargains? Hasn’t she been...centuries?”

Shayma looked surprised as well, and Ansae laughed. “I have plenty. Bargains to extinguish certain pests where I may find them, Bargains to help certain people under certain circumstances. A certain family traded ten generations of experience for their salvation, and there are still cursed scions compelled to wander the globe, unable to die until they find me to pass on their debt.”

“Wow.”

“Wow.” Shayma stared. Ansae had a feeling she was saying for herself, not for Blue.

“It’s amazing how careless you are with your future time when you plan to live forever,” Ansae said dryly. “I’ve learned better, for the most part.”

“Well, I’m very thankful for your help, and Blue is too,” Shayma said, without any cue from Blue. Ansae was glad to see that her initial appraisal of the girl was accurate, though she was still a little astounded by the degree of freedom Blue afforded her. Ansae had never had a servant she would have trusted to tender either her thanks or her condemnation. Admittedly she’d never made a Bargain quite like the one between Blue and Shayma.

“Oh speaking of help...ton of experience for making this...super helpful with traits, I mean actually, I was being dumb and didn’t consider just waiting...what to focus on, if I show her my Status.”

She didn’t bother to hide the grin that bared her teeth as Shayma translated. They’d broached the possibility of seeing his Status before but that hadn’t happened, not that she blamed Blue. The humans and their associated cousins found Status to be useful, but for someone like her or Blue it was information to be jealously guarded. “I would be honored to help,” she said, entirely seriously.

“He’s going to try something to make it easier to check his Status,” Shayma added, reminding Ansae that she couldn’t quite count on hearing Blue directly.

“By all means.”

Another piece of stone slid out of the grass behind their practice slabs, and with a flash of black the Status sigil Blue had before appeared on it. Mana flowed, far more than was reasonable as was usual for Blue’s operations, and the Sigil lit. It was so bright that for a moment Ansae thought it would overload and detonate, but then Blue did something that caused the mana to wobble all over the place and it stabilized. Somewhat.

Blue’s enormous Status blinked into view.

“Tell her to read quickly because I thought I could just Assimilate this but it apparently takes constant effort to keep it going!”

By the time Shayma had finished repeating his plea, Ansae had already memorized the Status. “I’ve got it, you can release the sigil.”

“Whew.” She could hear the sigh, which was a strange affectation for a being that didn’t breathe. Not that she blamed him, just watching the mana fluctuations was enough to make her anxious, and she hadn’t even been responsible for keeping them stable.

Ansae considered Blue’s frankly ridiculous list from memory. All of it was fascinating, but it was a complete mess and she felt a little sorry that he had to deal with it. “Before anything, [Mana Manipulation]. It’s the lowest tier of that Skill evolution path and believe me, you need all the help you can get with how terrible your control is.”

“Gee, thanks. Really know how to compliment a guy. It turns out...numbered things in the categories.”

“Blue can only spend experience on upgrading Categories and entries with ranks within the Categories.” Shayma explained.

“How irritating.” She hummed under her breath. “I would advise maximizing breeding and the breeding station — if you get something that improves your ability to Purify people, that’s a high priority. After that, I would say, maximize your earliest and cheapest skills. They’re likely due for an evolution or convergence or even divergence, even if you’re only level seven. I notice you have a lot of things at rank five, why is that?”

“Everything starts at rank five due to my dungeon level.”

“Well that’s handy. Though given how many things you have to deal with, it’s probably the only way you can make any headway on any of them.”

“Oh my god that is the most useless thing...not even anywhere near…”

Shayma burst out laughing, and Ansae waited patiently for her to translate the bit of Blue’s babble she’d heard. “Blue says...he put bait and breeding at rank ten and unlocked higher base mana regeneration. Which he doesn’t even notice anymore because of mana dynamos. It’s completely useless!”

Ansae snorted. “I daresay it’s a reward meant for a much younger, smaller, and more commonplace dungeon. What reward for maximizing the [Purifier’s Breeding Station]?”

“Merged my old stations...just says improves…”

“[Superior Purification Breeding Station],” Shayma reported. “Improves breeding options. Improves Purification effects. Enhances rapport with dungeon.”

Improves Purification effects?” Ansae was astounded that was actually possible. “Though I notice it doesn’t say what the improvements are. Nor does it mention any reduction in cost.”

“Welcome to the wonders of my overlay.”

“Yes, that is often how Blue’s Skills are rendered.”

“I wonder if other Powers with non-sentient origins have this problem,” Ansae mused. “I notice you didn’t have a Power block in your status either, although you clearly are one.”

“Wait I’m supposed to have something in my Status for that?”

Blue’s voice was clearer now, and Ansae was beginning to think the variability had to do with how much of his attention was on her and Shayma. The more distracted he was, the less she could hear. “To keep track of extant Bargains, things that have empowered you, things of that nature, yes.”

“Is it...I mean…”

“Blue wants to know if it’s possible he’s not a Power, since he doesn’t have that section.”

“Not a chance,” Ansae said firmly, though she did wonder why it didn’t show up. The only thing she could figure was that the rest of his Status was such a mess that it was hidden somewhere, or he simply hadn’t gotten enough levels to trigger it. She didn’t know what a reasonable level for a dungeon was but seven had to be fairly low. “You’re still young, in general and as a Power. It’s likely you simply haven’t matured enough for it to show yet.”

“He is a bit childish sometimes,” Shayma said with a grin.

“Oh, hush you.”

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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