Over the five or so millennia of Ansae’s life, people had tried to wake her up in various ways. It certainly wasn’t the first time someone had dumped thousands of gallons of ice-cold water on her, but nobody had dared for at least three thousand years. Of course, she hadn’t been so tired back then, so it had been a lot more amusing.
She growled and pried her eyelids open, snorting water from her nostrils as she glared at nothing in particular. It took her a moment to remember where she was and why she had been so deeply asleep that she was actually disoriented on waking, something that came back to her the moment she felt faint magical vibrations from the stone about her neck. She took a moment to reconstruct the chain of translation she’d created, something that fortunately only needed a realignment of internal energies, an expenditure of will rather than mana.
“Sorry about that, but you wouldn’t wake up! I know you said one day but it’s been a couple, since you wouldn’t respond to normal wake-up calls. Hang on a moment.”
The air around her perceptibly warmed as the water drained away, not that she was actually chilled. She was more or less immune to temperature, among many other things, but she could still feel it and appreciated the sentiment. What she appreciated more was the buzz of an intense regeneration field, little effect though it had on her depletion-crippled self.
“I’m not exactly at my most perky when I’m running on the dregs of my stamina and mana,” she said, lifting her head up and blinking. It really was exhausting, even though she was used to moving and casting using one or two points at a time. The absolute amount of energy she had was not insignificant, especially with mana filling into the [Crown of the Silver Woe], but compared to what she could have, she felt utterly drained.
“I imagine not,” Blue said, sounding sympathetic. “I’m glad you had enough left to do what you did, though. You kind of saved my life.”
“That was the intent.” She snorted. “I’ve always found destroying everything that could possibly be a threat to work quite well.”
“I’m not complaining! Though it did have a side effect. There’re people who want to see you. Well, a person but I’m sure there will be more soon.”
“Already?” She was surprised. Though it wasn’t likely that the world had forgotten The Silver Woe over the past four hundred years or so, she hadn’t been active near Tarnil’s continent for a very long time. Someone was moving very quickly, and she didn’t like it. Especially not since she’d been asleep.
“Don’t worry, I’m screening your visitors. I haven’t told anyone you’re even asleep, just that you’re in seclusion and don’t want to be disturbed.” She nodded thoughtfully, then winced. Ansae felt more muddled than she liked, though she wasn’t sure if Blue anticipating her needs helped that or only made it worse. “He’s a Leviathan, by the way. Uilei-nktik, Level 178 [Wayfarer of the Abyssal Temple], if that sounds at all familiar.”
“I’ve dealt with Wayfarers in the past, but not that one.” She stretched, gingerly, feeling the last drops of water evaporate from her scales. “I hope he was fairly polite to you.”
“Very polite, actually, even though I accidentally boiled a bunch of ocean and broke some windows or the equivalent.” Blue sounded contrite, and she snorted.
“If that’s all you did then they don’t have much to complain about. Even regular dragons throw more damaging tantrums, though I will admit rarely are they as spectacular.” The lance of mana and light that she’d seen before Blue had asked her help had made her drool. Even the Silver Woe didn’t have anything in her arsenal quite that dramatic. Yet. “If you’d actually managed to kill a Leviathan by accident I would have been impressed. So would they.”
“I don’t really want to kill people by accident. It’s not like it’s difficult to do on purpose.”
“True,” she said, completely in agreement with Blue there. Even the two mage-kings she had killed hadn’t been that tough, at least not once she no longer had to worry about their depletion weaponry. It was only her lack of regeneration that made the effort significant.
“Anyway, he seems to be a big fan of yours, so he’s probably harmless, but I didn’t promise him anything. Oh, hang on, Shayma’s on her way.”
Ansae snorted again. Blue was scattered at the best of times, but he seemed even more distracted than usual. Probably having to clean up after the battle, which was something she’d more or less always left to others. Destruction was more her style.
Shayma popped into existence on her level of the tower, giving her a cheerful wave as she walked across the white stone. The place was still fairly bare, since Ansae didn’t tend to worry about carting dragon-size furniture about in her hoard, but she had a few keepsakes from past deeds taking up room. The fox-girl approached Ansae but stopped a little short, eying her warily.
“You’re not going to try and make me a hug pillow again, are you?” Shayma asked. Ansae blinked at her.
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said, while Blue laughed in her ear.
“When I tried to wake you up the first time you grabbed me like a teddy,” Shayma explained, and Ansae grinned.
“Well you do look soft and cuddly,” she said, and snickered as Shayma flushed in response. Blue laughed harder, and Shayma rolled her eyes.
“If you can restrain yourself, I brought snacks.” Shayma produced a basket from her pocket space, and even from twenty feet away Ansae could smell the pie and muffins and roasted meat. She wasn’t exactly hungry in the usual sense, thanks to the abundant ambient mana that Blue provided, but she had long developed a taste for more mundane food. Not to mention that Blue’s fruits were so pure of Affinity that they could slip a little bit of mana directly into her reserves.
“I could eat,” she allowed, and focused on shifting down to her lesser form. That was something that took almost no mana and hadn’t for over a thousand years, more an act of reshaping her own personal mana than expending any to change her flesh. Most dragons were as much mana as meat, but she’d passed that ratio long ago and ensured that her body bent to her will.
Blue provided table and chairs as Shayma stepped nearer, placing the basket down and taking out the tayantan pie and spice muffins and a pitcher of chilled juice. The meat was not particularly mana-rich, but what was there had clearly come from Blue originally, so it was sourced from that little community Blue had adopted.
Which was actually kind of cute. She’d tried that once, a long time ago, but hadn’t really had the taste for it. For Blue it made more sense, and given a few centuries could build into a very respectable power base. Especially since coming up with new and impossible materials and magical effects seemed to be his thing.
She stifled a groan as she sank down into the sinfully comfortable chair that Blue provided. Her reserves were so low that even walking around felt like an effort, and while normally she didn’t care whether she was lying on cotton or stone the softness really helped this time. It was annoying to be so beset by mortal woes, but she knew that would be the price when she helped Blue, so she had no regrets.
At least the food was tasty. It was actually, genuinely, some of the best she’d ever had of its type. People tended to serve the big scary dragon their fanciest possible dishes but there was a virtue in simplicity that she appreciated as she took a big bite out of freshly grilled scalehoof steak. A very big bite: Shayma had gotten a steak sized for her.
“So, what does our visitor want from me?” She asked Blue, nodding appreciatively as Shayma cut a slice of pie for her before serving herself.
“I don’t actually know. I think he just wanted to meet you and get your autograph or something. He did mention you were his inspiration.”
“I don’t imagine many people claim to be inspired by The Silver Woe,” she said with amusement. “Terrified by, maybe.”
“You know, I didn’t realize you were The Silver Woe before,” Shayma said. “I mean, you were only a little scary. Not ancient legend scary.”
“I was technically in hiding,” she said. “Though I am rather impressed that you’re here even with my identity revealed.”
“I think I’m blocking most of your presence for her,” Blue interjected. “I wouldn’t want to try and bring anyone else her level here unless you made an effort to restrain it.” Ansae nodded; at least it showed she hadn’t lost her touch. If she couldn’t even intimidate a second-tier mortal she would have been worse off than she thought.
“Besides, I got past the scary part without knowing you’re this enormously ancient legendary Power, so it probably doesn’t change things?” Shayma said it like a question, and Ansae chuckled.
“I did only allow you familiarity because of your relationship with Blue, at first,” Ansae admitted. “But it’s nice to have at least one person that doesn’t cower in fear at the sight of me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the cowering, but after a few centuries of enforced downtime it’s nice to have someone to talk to.” She washed down the steak with the cold juice and turned her attention to the pie.
“That’s good,” Shayma said, noticeably relaxing. “It would have been weird if I had to act differently all of a sudden.”
“I expect I’ll have plenty of people arriving to bow and scrape,” Ansae shrugged. “Like this Leviathan. Though I’m not sure if I’ll receive anyone yet. I’m not exactly in the mood to entertain strangers.”
“Yeah, and that’s fine, I can just say you’re busy or working on something important or just pass messages,” Blue offered. “I definitely owe you for taking care of the mage-kings. Are you up for answering some of my questions though? I’ve got my trait points that need spending and I want your input there, plus just your general experience with certain other topics.”
“I really don’t feel like thinking too hard at the moment,” Ansae said, taking another bite of pie. “What I really want to do is just go back to sleep, but that isn’t going to help. It took me over a hundred years to get a decent amount of stamina and mana the first time. Things seem to be moving on a much shorter timescale now.”
“Oh yeah! I’m up over four hundred thirty thousand mana now so I’m over halfway there! That’s actually one of the things I wanted to talk to you about.”
“Oh?” Ansae leaned forward, a sharp thrill of excitement going through her. She had noticed a difference in Blue’s mana density, but it was hard to tell what could be attributed to a basic change in Blue’s abilities versus what was just some wrinkle that he’d put into the local environment. Like his [Contained Stars], for example.
“So, I got an even hundred thousand from a unique core specialization, for stellar Affinity. It says it helps me govern stellar Affinity, and that I’ll get more mana from it ‘depending on use’ of the Affinity. I guess that means if more people use stellar, I’ll get more out of it, but I was hoping this might spark some more insight from you. I mean, if I have such a core for my one and only governed Affinity, it makes sense that the other dungeons have something like it too, right?”
Ansae hummed thoughtfully. She had always wondered where mana came from, and not in the whimsical, philosophical way, either. Her Primal Affinity reached to the core of what mana was, and if she could pinpoint its fundamental origins, she might be able to refine it even further. With how much power she had already, she couldn’t advance by way of wanton slaughter like mortal adventurers. Even profound and judicious application of force to change the tides of the world only earned her a pittance of anything truly meaningful.
Though getting rid of her depletion was more important by far, Blue also offered tantalizing insights on the nature and origin of mana. Her investigations into mana springs and dungeons had yielded Origin Relics, but those were hardly an answer. They generated mana, true, but only as a consequence of crossing some threshold that brought them from mere concentrations of mana to an actual creator of it.
The classic answer of simply ascribing its creation to the gods wasn’t good enough for her. They were certainly involved, but she didn’t believe the mechanisms were arbitrary. Her own Primal Affinity showed that it wasn’t necessary to break mana into all the different Affinities, but they were discrete and had stayed so for as long as she’d been alive. Something was responsible for that, just as something was responsible for connecting the Akasha to the various Affinities. Or maybe that was the same thing. Her thoughts kept drifting, making it hard to focus as deeply as she would have liked.
“I’ll have to take some time to think that over,” she said at last, shaking her head and finishing her slice of pie. “I think it’s clear now that dungeons are at the heart of mana in this world, but what that means is more difficult to say. It’s not exactly easy to think with my stats this low.” She scowled and took a spice muffin. The muffins didn’t restore any stamina or mana, but they really did make her feel better.
“Oof, I can imagine. I can just leave you alone if —”
“No, I’m awake now, I might as well answer your questions,” she said. “It’ll keep me entertained at least. What traits were you thinking of?”
“Well, Shayma and I talked about them, so she has the list of ones I was thinking about buying.” So prompted, Shayma conjured an illusionary Status list of Blue’s traits.
Mana Efficiency: Improves flow of mana within the Dungeon. Higher flow provides larger benefits. (1)
Burrowing: Upgrades [Boring Tendril] into [Burrower]. (1)
Core Specialization: Ecology:
Climate Biodiversity: Expands simple plant life in Climates. (1)
Companion Bounty: Creates Companion-attuned food Climates. (1)
Climate Flourishing: Populate a targeted Climate instance with adapted animal life. (5)
Core Specialization: Companion:
Climate Caretaker: Allows linking of Companion to Climates. (1)
Companion Adaptation: Companions are immune to the negative effects of dungeon Climates. (4)
Climate Empowering: Allows a Companion to be empowered by the nature of a linked Climate. (10)
Core Specialization: Habitation: Grants Dungeon Skills based on species of Dungeon inhabitants. Improves the species traits of Dungeon inhabitants. (4)
Designate ANATHEMA: Companions may adjust the dungeon’s ANATHEMA target. (5 points)
Class Management: Companions may adjust Class and Skill details. (10 points)
“I have thirteen points, so I could buy something really expensive like Class Management. Though I honestly don’t see any problems with their classes as they are. Maybe it’s meant to be used with the option to swap primary Affinities…” Blue trailed off, his voice fading away as he considered, then came back stronger as he focused on the task at claw once again. “Since Shayma will earn points for me now they may not be as limited as before, so Climate Flourishing might be worthwhile once the Caldera is fully populated. I’d rather use something like that on a really big climate.”
“Climate empowering is more tempting than Class Management, actually,” Shayma said. “If we’re talking about expensive traits. Iniri and I think he should specialize his fourth core into Habitation, then buy some of the one-point traits like Efficiency and Burrowing. Climate Caretaker, for Taelah. Maybe Companion Adaptation, given how extreme his Climates can get.”
“It would be nice to adjust my ANATHEMA, so I didn’t have to worry about that particular issue, but considering that the mage-kings appear to be neutralized for the moment it’s probably not an immediate worry.”
“I can’t think of anything wrong with your logic,” Ansae said, after considering the list for a moment. “Climate Empowering sounds like the most powerful thing for combat, considering the sheer scope of what Blue has available, but Blue’s new weapon means he certainly has no lack of destructive capacity. Unless he runs into that weapon the mage-kings had again. What was it, by the way?”
“Oh, it’s a Dungeonbane weapon. A lot of them, in fact. It’s weird, I can’t even see them directly. Is that a dungeon thing or a Bane thing or what?”
“Mmm, Banes are nasty that way. They aren’t exactly invisible, normally, but they’re hard to focus on, and easy to not even notice. Banes oppose everything about their target, and that includes their senses.” The stronger the senses, the worse it was, actually. Some dragons she’d known had thought cultivating esoteric means of perception meant they were invincible, and that was very definitely not the case. Dragonbane weapons were probably the most common of the Banes, and while they didn’t make the wielder any tougher against dragonfire, they were still very dangerous.
“That is incredibly nasty. Is that why they didn’t seem to notice I was eating up their depletion? It must be. Though I don’t think my Bane is as strong as that Dungeonbane thing, yikes. How’d they make so many of them anyway?”
“How many were there?” She asked curiously, since she hadn’t bothered with a deep scan of the fortresses. At least, not deep enough to find which part was the Dungeonbane.
“Like, forty or fifty per fortress. A lot!”
“Banes can only be made by someone with such hate and anger for a thing that they’ve directed their entire purpose toward destroying it,” Ansae said, considering. For obvious reasons, Bane weapons were something she was quite familiar with. “They’re not made for fighting. They’re made for killing, and there’s nothing that limits what is made into a Bane. I’m sure the mage-kings have no shortage of people who hate what the red cores have done to them, and a compelling need to be able to keep them under control, so I’m sure they’ve made an institution of creating Dungeonbane items.” She took a break from speaking to down another glass of juice all at once, finishing it with a jaw-cracking yawn before she shook her head and focused again on the topic at claw.
“Your Bane is probably linked to your ANATHEMA rage — that’s almost certainly what gives it power. Without that, the effects will be fairly weak but might be enough that they write off something they see as irrelevant.” She waved it away, unworried about whether Blue’s Bane applied or not when he could already detonate stars, then paused in thought.
“Actually, that’s a good argument for being able to assign your ANATHEMA. You could target your Bane how you wanted.”
“At the expense of getting stupid angry. I’m not sure it’s quite that valuable.”
“It seemed to have some effect even if you weren’t that angry this time,” Shayma said.
“You can afford that, the Habitation specialization, and some one-point buys,” Ansae pointed out. “I can’t think of any other trait with more long-term potential, both for creating offense and removing your greatest weakness than Designate ANATHEMA.”
“It’s hard to argue that. I’ll get it.”
Ansae nodded in satisfaction. More than a few people, Powers or otherwise, would have gone for something that gave them more raw force. There was nothing wrong with pure strength, but getting rid of weaknesses was at least as important and five times as difficult. With the flying island and Designate ANATHEMA, he could rid himself of two of his greatest weaknesses — his inability to move and the possibility that an enemy strolling into his territory could make him stupid.
So far as new Powers went, Blue was doing quite well. Of course, that was because he actually listened to her advice. Over the centuries she’d been asked for her input on an enormous number of things, and it was surprising how often people didn’t actually listen. Maybe she’d been a little bit shorter with them since she didn’t need much from them, but that couldn’t have made too much of a difference. Probably.
“Anything else? I’ll probably see that Leviathan in a few hours, when I’ve had time to work my way up to it.”
“There is one other thing. I wasn’t sure how to broach this since I didn’t want to come across as being coercive or anything, but here goes. I do have a breeding option that lets me restore stats. I’m not sure how much it will restore or how well it’ll work, but under the circumstances I had to bring it up.”
Ansae sat up straight. She had thought she’d need to continue the slow restoration through food and regeneration Fields, dragging on for months or years until Blue’s mana capacity finally tipped over what she needed. If he could restore her stats directly, with his immense mana pool, she might be back to full capacity in a much shorter time. Blue might be a bit shy, but she had no problem with sex.
“I haven’t been laid in centuries and I’ve seen what you can do. If there’s going to be any coercion here it’s going to be me extorting you to restore me as much and often as possible.” She grinned widely. “The Leviathan can wait.”