Everything was different when she woke. Not only did she feel crisper, sharper, and more powerful, but there was something in the very air she breathed that seemed new and refreshed. She stretched her senses, listening to the whispering of the wind, hearing it clearer than she ever had.
Annit had heard many things on the wind over the years, some of them secrets that she was never meant to know, others merely mundane happenings from places nearby. Never before had she heard the wind whispering about itself, let alone with a sense of breathless excitement. Even if the wind didn’t have a voice that spoke words, it was still clear that it spoke of some tremendous renewal.
“What is it, Annie?” Keri said, sitting up next to her and blinking sleepily in the light coming through the window.
“I think they did it,” Annit told her. “I’ve never sensed anything like this before.”
“I think you did it too,” Keri said, focusing on her. “You feel different. I think you tiered up.”
“I did?” Annit considered herself. She’d been so distracted by the clamoring of the wind that she hadn’t really paid attention to the feeling of her own Skills. Her hand slipped down to grasp the amulet that held her [Soul Prosthesis], and she pulled it out from under the sheets to look at.
The shape of the silver and gold inside the lump of blue was a little bit different. Not much, but she was intimately familiar with every curve and line, and she knew that it had changed. The singing tension inside it was gone, resolved, replaced with something else, a something that felt different from wind alone.
“Huh!” She slipped out of bed, ignoring Keri’s whistle at the sight of her still in her smallclothes. Shayma had given them a status sigil of their very own, which was one of those ridiculous extravagances that she found hard to credit sometimes, and she’d put it in an alcove of their house. Keri’s bare feet pattered after her, and the two of them looked at the words the sigil etched in the air when Annit put her hand atop it.
Level 50 [Hailstorm Bodyguard]
[Hailstorm Bowgunner] 1: You attack with shards of ice, launched with the fury of the winter wind. You may conjure icy bolts for your weapon, and guide them after they are launched with a frigid gale.
[Wind Oracle] 1: You can hear the secrets on the wind. Provides detailed information about the surroundings. The longer you listen, the more you know.
[Gusting Dash] 1: Move with the grace of air. Quickly propel yourself from one place to another with gusts of air.
[Ice Bayonet] 1: Your cold cuts like a knife. Extend a blade made of ice from any ranged weapon, and use it with brutal skill.
[Guardian]: You have an innate sense of where the person you’re guarding is at all times.
[Storm’s Celerity]: The power of wind and storm accelerates your movement. Your speed and dexterity are improved.
“See? Third tier!” Keri beamed. Annit nodded, but her attention was more fixed on the depletion number than the new Skills and Abilities. While it hadn’t gone away entirely, it had somehow been reduced, which was not something she had heard of. Blue could clear it completely, through processes she didn’t really care to dwell on, and he could give people who were completely depleted another chance, but a partial cure had not been part of his repertoire.
“Also, bodyguard? That seems quite a shift from hunter.” Keri poked her in the side and Annit squirmed, grabbing Keri’s fingers before she actually start tickling.
“You are stuck with me,” Annit said, letting the status sigil fade as she pulled Keri in close. “It wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t want it. Anyway, I did get a shift into storm Affinity!” It wasn’t often that Annit felt a sense of accomplishment, but if anything would do it, that would. Though she wasn’t sure she actually needed to, considering what she was sensing through [Wind Oracle].
“We’ve gotta go into the Village and celebrate,” Keri said, snuggling in close to look up at her. “Maybe we should wait until Shayma can join the Tier Party, though? You said you think they did something?”
“The wind is happy,” Annit replied, even though she wasn’t sure such a simple emotion really conveyed what she had heard. “It’s different, too. Something about air Affinity itself has changed, I think.”
“And Shayma thought that depletion had something to do with wind mana in the first place,” Keri agreed. “Well, if they’ve done something amazing, we can delay our celebration a bit. Nobody has a Tier Party the day of anyway, and it wouldn’t be the same if everyone couldn’t be there.”
Annit laughed and squeezed Keri, then guided them back to the bedroom to get dressed. She wasn’t sure if Shayma was back yet, but Taelah would know. Or could at least ask Blue. She was oddly fine with having her own small achievement overshadowed by Shayma and Blue upending the world. Annit never wanted to be caught up in great and grand things, she only ever wanted to stay with Keri and be free.
It had been trying, being caught up with a Power. With two Powers, one of them being The Silver Woe, the most terrible and feared being on the surface of the planet, despite the fact that they never meant her any harm. It wasn’t just the danger, though there was more than she would have taken on for herself. It wasn’t even the terrible weight of depletion, which had crushed her for so long. It was the repeated shocks of having to relearn what was true about the world whenever Blue did something that should have been impossible.
Shayma enjoyed it, The Silver Woe enjoyed it, even Keri enjoyed it, but at times Annit felt frayed by the experience. She didn’t begrudge anything Blue did as such, she just wished that she didn’t have to be there when he did it. It was true that in the end both she and Keri had ended up fabulously wealthy with connections that would otherwise be the stuff of distant dreams, but Annit had never been worried about wealth or status.
She hoped now that Blue was, at least for a time, finished with his business. Destroying the source of depletion and rejuvenating the air Affinity itself was certainly a cap on the matters that had started two years ago, when she had first met Shayma. With both herself and Keri in the third tier, and no more great surprises coming, they could finally go out on their own. There would probably always be excuses to stick around Shayma and Blue, not least of which was the house they’d established in the Village, but now they also had the reason and ability to voyage outward.