“The sooner you tell us what you know, the sooner we can be done.”
Cerasul was being kept in a warded, light-filled cell to keep him from using any of his Skills to teleport away. He was also manacled and chained, though that didn’t necessarily mean that he couldn’t use his Skills. There didn’t seem to be anything like blanket Skill suppression, unless one counted Ansae’s Presence. Or for that matter, mine.
Shayma could have used it, since she was sitting in on the interrogation, but we were both more than happy to leave the interrogation to Nivir’s own personnel. Neither of us were really experts, and I didn’t even know what I’d ask if Cerasul was willing to answer.
Nivir’s people had it well in hand, in the person of Heron Rin, a kindly-looking older man with a Skill that blurred the line between mind and water Affinity. It literally eroded the subject’s resistance over time, and frankly creeped me out. Still, it was effective, especially when paired with Heron’s technique of simply looking kind and patient and asking the same questions without any hint of accusation.
“What is your name?” Heron paused for a reply, and not getting one, continued on. “What were you doing in Nivir?” Another pause. “Who gives you orders?” We already knew the answers to those questions, amusingly enough, but interrogation was a process. For that matter, Shayma had already plucked a good deal of information from Cerasul’s mind by mind magic, but Nivir wanted an informant, not information.
Virn had been nice enough to let Cheya see the intelligence haul, and Shayma had opened a portal that let Iniri, Virn, Cheya, and Cheya’s opposite number, Tekal, discuss the capture. In many ways it was a coup, since Anell agents were generally untouchable and the void sorts were just too dangerous to actually capture. It was generally easier to kill a Classer than hold them.
“I don’t think they need you,” I told Shayma, as Heron moved onto yet another repetition of the questions. “Not anymore, anyhow.”
“I suppose not.” Shayma shook her head and turned away from the stone-faced Cerasul. “He’s creepy, anyway. I’m more interested in that codebook of his.” Shayma followed her assigned page through the palace back to where Cheya and Tekal were discussing the two slim volumes she’d taken off the agent. The only reason Shayma was late to helping the guards take down Girul was because she wanted to make sure Cerasul didn’t get away either.
By the time she entered the study the two spymasters had copied out entire stacks of paper and were in the middle of an argument over cipher patterns. Neither of them looked Shayma’s way, though I was sure they had both noticed her well before she’d crossed the threshold. From the look of things Cheya was winning, though maybe I was biased in favor of my people.
“Did you find anything good?” Shayma crossed over to peer down at the pages, which had names and dates and places as well as less obvious notes.
“Names of six other agents on Orn, as well as the cities they’re in.” Cheya said with grim satisfaction. “Enough proof to hang a dozen people here in Nivir, and locations of safehouses that King Virn can raid for an enormous amount of wealth at Anell’s expense. He can probably dismantle Anell’s entire organization here in Nivir, which was a lot larger than I thought it’d be for a small and landlocked country. No offense,” she added, looking to Tekal.
“None taken,” he said, frowning but not at her. “I didn’t realize how many warehouses they owned either. Especially with the embargo.”
“Wait, so does that mean we can follow up with the other agents and get more Anell stuff? I’m liking the sound of that.”
“Are the other names you mentioned likely to have these sorts of records, too?” Shayma asked. “It would be amazing to be able to take all of Anell’s stuff.”
“Yes, and we’ll have to move quickly for some of it. Once it becomes obvious that Cerasul and Girul didn’t get away, let alone accomplish their task, I expect to see other agents moving.”
“Even Anell can’t have too many divination anchors around, so I suspect only a few people would require true haste.” I thought Tekal might be underestimating the Anells, actually. They were insanely rich and I doubted they’d have balked at the cost of enough communication. What was bothering me was how they managed to stay out of sight of Tekal’s intelligence operatives. Surely everyone knew that Anell had void assassins on their payroll.
“I can’t gather intelligence on something that’s never discussed,” Tekal explained with a sigh after Shayma asked my question for me. “They’re just one of a large number of Anell staff on one of several Anell properties. At least, until they get orders to move though some heavily warded magical item. Expelling House Anell entirely has not been an option. Until now, of course.”
“Now, we’ve got good reason to kick them off Orn entirely,” Cheya said with a small, satisfied smile. “Especially since we can make our own agreements with Leviathans and replace that carrying capacity ourselves.”
“So who else has Anell agents, and are there any Ells with them?”
“Ir has several agents, obviously.” Cheya told Shayma, who was just as interested in the information as I was, if not more. “Haerlish doesn’t seem to have any for some reason, but Orrelin has one somehow. There’s two in the southern clans, but the only place we know there’s another void agent is Invernir.”
“I don’t mind going back there,” Shayma said cheerfully. “It was a nice place from what I saw, and Wright was pretty friendly.” Tekal gave Shayma a startled look but Cheya wasn’t put out by Shayma’s casual relationship with the Emperor of Ir.
“I would ask you at least let us finish our translation and analysis so we can provide a report for Emperor Wright before you go,” Cheya said. “Missing some of the Anell network might end up being worse than not moving against it in the first place.”
“Very well,” Shayma said, though she was clearly eager to follow up on her prior victory. “I should go see how Girul is getting along.”
“We’ll be here,” Cheya said with a nod. I recalled Shayma back to my core and she teleported over to Girul. Considering who and what he was, I didn’t want to deal with him causing any trouble so I’d decided to leave him on an island in the middle of my lake, a hundred kilometers from any shore. Not on bare rock, of course, I had made a little one-room cabin, where Keri and Annit and One-Eye-Green were tending to him.
One-Eye-Green had the job of ensuring he stayed asleep. Keri was there for physical healing, Annit for Keri’s moral support and just in case Girul somehow woke up regardless. It wasn’t so much that anyone distrusted One-Eye-Green, but that nobody knew whether void Skills would end up interfering.
“How is he?” Shayma asked as she walked into the cabin.
“I didn’t even know high level Classers could get so addicted,” Keri replied with a frown. “I’m having to purge his entire body of the stuff. It’s going to take more than one session.”
“His mind is icky and twisted,” One-Eye-Green added bluntly. “It needs to be fixed.” Shayma grimaced and shifted to Scalemind shape herself to check, then back to normal form to sigh.
“Thank you all,” she said. “I knew he was in bad shape, but not that bad. When I touched his mind it seemed that he didn’t care about anything except the drugs.”
“Yeah, though it sounds like this will be kind of common for the Ells you break away from Anell.” I wasn’t trying to discourage Shayma, but these were people that would need a lot of rehabilitation and support. Some of them might not even be capable of anything other than killing for the Anells.
“I know,” Shayma sighed. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy when I decided on it, though. We need to start somewhere, and that’s going to be the agents they feel they can send out to Orn.” She frowned at the sleeping form of Girul Ell. “I think I’ll have to ask the other Scalemind for help. Until we get his mind off of drugs we can’t even start. Though we’ll need something to replace it.”
“Exercise?” I suggested. “Parkour or rock-climbing? I know void types need something to obsess on so maybe something relatively harmless. It is possible to get addicted to that kind of thing.”
“Maybe,” Shayma said thoughtfully. “I’ll ask mom, too. Though I don’t know if she tried to fill her craving with something before she met dad. It wasn’t too long after she got her Class.”
“You’ll have a second Ell to deal with soon enough, too. Maybe that will make it easier. They can discuss things or keep each other company or whatever.” I’d have to make the cabin larger, or more likely, add extra, but it wasn’t like I was doing anything else with that particular island.
“Or they might think they can gang up on me.” Shayma frowned. “I hate to speak ill of my distant cousin or uncle or whatever, but Girul didn’t seem incredibly bright. Hopefully the next one is a bit smarter.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if the smartest Ells were kept closest to home, or killed off entirely.”
“That’s true,” Shayma sighed. “We’ll just have to take it as it comes. For now, I think I’ll get Dreams-Ahead to untwist Girul’s mind. Maybe I’ll have time to talk to him before I head down to Ir.”
“At the very least we’ll want to know whether I need to upgrade the security there. Though I’m pretty sure he can’t swim anywhere important. At the very least we’re going to need to figure out something for him to do, so yeah, I guess talk to your mom while Dreams-Ahead is working. I also want to get everyone together about what I got from finishing Annit’s soul-prosthesis.”
Considering the urgency of the errand, there hadn’t been enough time to discuss what I’d gotten from completing it. I had honestly been hoping for something more advanced than just a prosthesis, but I really couldn’t complain about it. Souls were the most complex thing I’d seen so far, discounting some of Ansae’s spellcasting, and getting anywhere on dealing with them was a bonus.
[Soul Sight] advances to 10. Evolves to [Soul Proficiency]: Helps with understanding soul structures for recording or manipulation. Allows for detailed inspection of souls.
[Soul Proficiency] rank set to 5.
[Soul Manipulator] title gained for [Soul Prosthesis: Annit]. Unique Core Specialization: Soul is available.
[Bind Soul Model]: Allows binding of valid soul model to valid target to create a [Soul Prosthesis].
[Model Soul]: Creates a model of targeted soul. Variable cost.
I had a clear path to being able to deal more directly with souls, and with less rigamarole at that. I could create a prosthesis from the models, and the soul core would probably let me do advanced stuff. Considering the stellar core let me directly grant stellar classes, I was sure a soul core would mean I had direct access to souls. In some manner, at least.
It was also the first time in quite a while I’d gotten a title outside of my level-up bonuses. My first thought was that it was just because souls were so profound, but then Ansae twitched and scowled as she conjured up a crystal from her hoard. She had stared at it, then looked around with a resigned expression.
“Blue, why is this telling me that you’ve gotten the [Soul Manipulator] title?” The question showed me that [Soul Manipulator] was probably like [Artificer] and one of the things anyone could get.
“Because I did! I got it for making a [Soul Prosthesis] for Annit that shields her from Depletion.” Her eyes flickered, and I knew what she was thinking. “Sure, give me a second and I’ll see what it needs for you.” Considering how much I’d spent on Annit’s model, even if the Skill was more efficient I was expecting it to be expensive. I just wasn’t prepared for how expensive.
Requires 1626 [Hyperthaumic Phase-Condensed Argentum], 728 [Hyperthaumic Phase-Condensed Aurum], 220 [Core Lattice Crystal], 1 Primal Source.
“Uhh. Well. It’s going to take a while for you, to the point where I’ll probably get enough mana to Purify you first. I need two thousand units of supermaterials to build your soul model.”
“That’s…” Ansae sighed. “That’s disappointing. But I suppose I should have expected it. Anything that reflects my amount of experience and skill would have to be impossibly complex.” She tapped her claw against the ground. “Normally [Soul Manipulator] leads to the kind of Class I arrange to have killed, but I suppose it’s not the same for you. You won’t create abominations, will you?”
“No, I can only make a [Soul Prothesis] at the moment. I actually need a new core to do anything anyway, so I’ll have time to study souls more before I start doing anything complex.”
“What exactly is a [Soul Prosthesis]?” It actually threw me for a moment that Ansae didn’t know what was talking about, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have her own projects, like helping her proteges pick out lairs. I took a moment to catch her up with how I’d made a model for Annit, and what I’d made it out of, along with what it took to get it to actually synchronize with her.
“Something I don’t like is the implication that there is some dungeon core somewhere handling my soul,” Ansae mused. “If nothing else, it’s not doing a good job. It should be repairing depletion.”
“Yeah, it’s a little weird, but depletion is strange in general. It’s not really an Affinity, and aside from the rift it’s not clear exactly where it comes from. I’m guessing that other dungeons don’t have the [Purifier] title and maybe they can’t get it.”
“Nor can mortals get it, considering how badly soul manipulation goes for anyone with intent in their mana.” Ansae growled softly, making the floor vibrate. “I suppose I have lost nothing, but it still feels like I am being teased.”
“Yeah, well, I’m kind of fumbling my way through this whole dungeon thing myself. I’m pretty sure if I knew what I was doing I’d already have everything solved. Look how much I can do already.”
“That very ignorance may be why you have accomplished some of what you have,” Ansae disagreed. “You have an entirely different perspective, and I know how valuable that can be. Besides, now that you have those skills you can use it for other people who are not Companions.”
“Oh, yeah. Yeah! I can think of a lot of people it’d be great to do that with. Ensure they’re protected. They’re not cheap, but at least I can make them, given time.” I already knew I wanted to make one for Keri and Cheya. I couldn’t make them for everyone, but now that there was an alternative to the breeding station, I could definitely protect more people.