Sama has completed her clearing of the Charlands, with some enthusiastic support from many a Powered hungry for access to a Node, and many Primos hungry for Karma and the right to use those Nodes, too. Following her ambitions, she hies off to visit a certain Monarch to inquire about taking his non-magical people off his hands...
"I have to admit, you're incredibly intimidating, and that's for someone with a Pact that makes me immune to fear."
She rolled her eyes over at me lazily. The sharp bones of her face were like axes, her nose was almost non-existent, and nobody would ever call her lovely. But those eyes were damn impressive, so blue you could lose yourself in them, and despite everything else, they gave her an air of ferocious sensuality and animal vigor that couldn't be stopped.
That utterly gorgeous ass-length blonde hair, nearly as vibrant as gold, and moving sinuously with a life of its own, didn't hurt.
Sama Rantha was a Personality of the Power of Ten. Everyone knew her. She was the Tip of the Spear, the Ship to Coralost, and the utterly toughest Null swordswoman in the whole game. Her game record was 0 resurrections. That was unreal for a Primos of any kind.
She was also a part of the Sustained Club, and had deduced that I was when it kicked in for her. So, we had passing history in macroing advice, if nothing else, although I literally could not remember a damn detail about her real life person. She was probably the same with me.
"I can cut off your Pact if you really want to test it out," she replied calmly, making me lift an eyebrow. She was pretty confident in her Null.
"I'm betting my Concentration check beats your Intimidation check. Natural Talent," I told her blithely, sidestepping that claim. Sun Saves worked off Concentration, so she would have to beat my check with hers. That wasn’t going to happen.
"Oh? The Sage of Focus?" She didn't appear impressed in the least, and I could see why. Sama Rantha had pretty much never been impressed by anything. "That must represent a major personality shift from who you used to be."
"Combined with a Heavenbound Pact, yes," I agreed with her. "So, what brings you to my door, Sama? Argos mentioned you might be stopping in. He said you might want to start up a Primos Allegiance. Are you looking at coming in underneath me?"
"Eh." Clearly, she wasn't sold on the idea. Being a Null at her level, she couldn't swear a normal Oath to me, anyways. "I have to admit, I didn't expect the Ringlord to have such a leadership position. You even roped in Argos. That's why we're talking."
She had a casual way of stretching and moving that started the blood boiling, like a cat, panther, tiger… no, a dragon, lazy and imperious and powerful all at once, and this with having no chest at all. I was definitely going to be in a mood for Di tonight...
"What are you looking for? This really isn't a time to be a lone wolf. We've got too much to do. There's no infrastructure to support a loner; we don't even really have widespread currency yet, although the Council is working on it."
"Looking for. Interesting question. Argos said you are pretty smart. What are you at?" she asked directly, fixing me with that dangerous stare. I was suddenly under the impression that this woman was probably not any weaker mentally then I was. It was a new feeling for me.
"I'm sitting at an unbuffed 34 currently." Unbuffed, because mental Stat raising spells tended to warp the brain.
"Excellent. You're a Brainiac-4." I got the reference and smiled despite myself. "Wrap your mind around this: I can carve onto the soul of Primos, Forsaken, Vajra, and Diamond Vajra individuals the Blessings of a Lilitu; one, three, six, and all nine, respectively."
I blinked. My mind began to race down several roads at the same time as I stared at her. I considered the implications and a whole bunch of scenarios for a full minute, dropping my eyes for a bit before lifting them back up.
"Um, wow?" I had to say. Because those were some serious implications!
Her smile was magnificently feral, especially with those double canines so prominent. "Ah, much smarter than Argos." Her hair seemed to be caressing itself behind her. "Yes, indeed. Wow."
"And you can't do this for Powered." Whine...
"You have liquiform souls, and I'm not a non-finite power. Nothing less than a Pact would be strong enough to do what I do to the likes of a Powered. Succubi, of course, just Cast and make it stick on anything. I'm not a Caster. I'm building a Resonance effect off a Master Mark."
"Full telepathic linkage?" I had to ask, going over the stats for Succubi Blessings.
"The dogs and cats I tried it out on say yes."
I blinked. "You can do it on non-sapients?" I had to ask.
"They weren't non-sapient after +4 bonuses to their Int."
I had to purse my lips. "Umwow. That's… not as good as Awaken, but still…"
"I'm pretty sure it would stack with it, too." My cheek twitched. Sapient animal help. It was already a great thing for people who had Familiars and Druidic Animal Companions. Awakening animals was a time-intensive process, the default V spell literally took an entire day, if you didn’t have the Rapid Spell to shorten it down.
An entire day was a lot to give up in this day and age, especially when ideally you'd be doing it every day. The Nine+ Druids we had were just unwilling to churn out Awakened animals like that, and it was no surprise. They had to attend to the Land, and it was perhaps not remarkable that in a post-tech era, pre-undead cataclysm, the Land was rather demanding a lot of attention.
Druids were much less popular than Clerics because taking care of the Land could be much less socially acceptable than being a Priest. Burning down someone’s barn because they were feeding the urine from their cattle pen into the stream was considered pretty mild from the viewpoint of the Land, and stringing up mass polluters straight up perfectly acceptable.
Ergo, people were often a bit leery of Druids.
Now, the Rangers and Paladins, that was different. Diana Awakened a new Horse every day, something she considered part of her responsibilities as a Horselord. Rascar, as a Houndlord, was doing the same thing for Dogs for the Hyn. I'd heard that Justin Songblade was also doing it for Horses, building up the power of his Knights of Thunder, and Sir Exalt had followed suit. Sir White was doing something with Raptors, I'd been told: Making Thunderbirds, he'd called it.
"The ability to offer basically a massive permanent ability score buff to Primos and Forsaken for a minor time investment is already impressive. That it extends to animals is even more awesome. And you've obviously got telepathic contact, or this wouldn't be so impressive…"
"It's full bore psi and spirit linkage, stronger than a Sending spell, if it matches the original. It should maintain real time contact across dimensional lines."
"But not temporal…" I tapped my finger on the table between us. "You're a Warlord?" She nodded slowly. "And a Minstrel. This would allow you to display Aural benefits through a telepathic linkage, in effect sidestepping the limitations on Primos, and potentially range restrictions on them." Damn. "It would be limited to your Marked, but, wow. Always having Warlord bonuses, and being able to evoke Minstrel bonuses on demand? From a world away?" I didn't know any Warlord who could do anything remotely approaching the same.
"It's also possible that the Mark could be Artificed into a form usable by a Powered, and Invested or Infused as a normal item to the proper level to sustain its form. I haven't had time to test it out, however,” she grinned.
Well, duh. She wasn’t Powered, how would she know? Mmm, throwing the Powered hoping for a free Stat buff some hope...
I considered all that, going over the implications again. "It would probably have to be Bloodbound to the person, at the least… but yes, still possible,” I agreed, chewing through the Spellcraft.
She nodded at me. "So, you're calculating the implications. Well, here's my point. This is obviously a major benefit if dispersed to a lot of people. However, it has no clear benefits for me. I'm sure Argos has informed you of all the new mines in the Yellowstone Charlands that the Helm is excavating. Those are mine by Claim. My tax on them assures me of more then a goldweight in income per day.
"I have my Forge. I have my Tools. I have my raw materials.
"I'm currently in lack of nothing but specialized Gear and easy access to Karma. There's Dead Marches around just begging me to walk through them and butcher them." Okay, that might be a little arrogant, but I could tell from her expression that that was exactly what she thought of them. Given the stories I'd been hearing of how she'd torn through the Charlands, I wasn't going to be the one to say she wasn't qualified to say such things.
"So… you'd like to bargain with me for a Ring." Understandable. I was the only one who could make such a thing.
She held up two fingers. "Two of them," she corrected me.
I made a face. "There's a problem, before you even get started. My Artificing time is spent on 1) Pyramids, setting them up to protect the entire human race, and 2) making Sustaining Rings every day for my Allegiance. Period. It's all the Artificing I do."
She stared at me, plainly thinking through what that meant. I was Heavenbound, and I wasn't going to lie to her. My Artificing served a massively greater purpose than me, and had incredible ripple effects.
"That is both extraordinarily generous of you, and yet as mighty a grab for power as I can imagine." My smile was a little forced at that cool observation. Sure, it was true enough from an outsider’s point of view. Titles came with some weight behind him, did she think hers weren’t a power grab? "The Lord of Pyramids naturally controls the Pyramids. I assume that in addition to blanketing Wards over a vast area, there's a carrot that comes with the Pyramids you are making?"
"Ah. Yes. You can make a divine offering at the altar atop each one, and broadcast a single beneficial spell throughout the entire Pyramid Power Field. Resist Disease to combat the necro-plagues is very popular right now."
"And every day you give someone else more time a day, and the energy to use it."
"Nine people." She arched an eyebrow as I flowered my hands. "I do a Ritual Empowerment with eight Vassals who can maintain the Focus. Anyone who wants a Ring has to serve in the Ritual to get them, or to get one for a Vassal. In addition, Warlocks who participate in pumping mana for the Ritual get one, the one I make personally goes to a Primos or Forsaken who naturally cannot make one for themselves."
Her fingers steepled, running numbers. "That is a metric fuckload of Sustaining Rings, Ringlord," she calculated neutrally.
I smiled wolfishly. "Yes, yes, it is. And in terms of Levels gained and ability to earn Karma, or just plain work their ass off, the Steel dominates every other Allegiance in existence. And they know it."
"So, you have considered how abusable my Marks are among your Primos population." Just a bit of a smug cackle to that.
I sat back, now firmly in business mode. "+4 Intelligence. You can instantly give anyone two skill points per Level. Is there a limitation on those skills?"
"I must know the skill." She shrugged. "It might not surprise you that I have a… considerable number of skill points in mundane skills."
Forsaken gained skill points at least twice as fast as Powered did. It was a function of the fact that they couldn't learn magic or chi usage to take shortcuts, so less a bonus for them than a penalty to the Powered. Primos Train, Powered Level...
"And how long does it take you to scribe a Mark on someone?"
"If they are willing and I don't have to stop the bleeding afterwards? Two minutes per."
"Mimir in a bucket." She could teach an entire population of people medieval trade skills in no time at all. "You're like God, the professor!"
A corner of her mouth twerked up. "True. And I can talk to them, and I can facilitate them talking to one another. I kind of set up 'echo rooms' in the back of my head and they talk back and forth to one another while I ignore them."
I had to grin, despite myself. "No way. You're a living chat room?"
"And server admin. It's all at my pleasure. If I cut you off, tough nuts for you."
"You're going to have to clarify for me what a Vajra and Diamond Vajra are." This was totally new to me, she hadn’t mentioned it in-game, although it wasn’t hard to deduce it powered her being Sustained.
"Ah. A Vajra means you possess at least twenty points combined of Soul Essence and Ki, with at least ten of each. A Diamond Vajra is forty points combined, with at least twenty in each. Primos/Forsaken only, of course. You have to have a rigid soul."
I blinked. "Twenty ki?" That was… a lot of ki. Wisdom plus one-half Monk level. Buy ki-related Masteries, Feats... Still, twenty was a fairly big number for most people. About what a default Ironskull Ten Monk should have, including that Invested into stray Feats. I shouldn’t quite have that much by rote, but Arcane Fist monks had a natural edge when dovetailing with Wizards...
I considered her thoughtfully. She had Tats, I'd noted them, similar to what Sole had, but different style and make. I'd made Sole's Tats to synergize with his Pacts, as Soul Magic wasn't a primary focus for Sole, but he did use it. Because they were so interwoven with his Pacts, he'd kept them when he Empowered his Pacts, but he still had to Invest each and every Tat with Karma to get them active, a slow and laborious process that necessitated a whole lot of days spent killing things. He still wasn't fully Invested after five months. It was more likely going to take him over a year, maybe two.
She was a Forsaken with a Con focus. I whistled softly. "You have to be in your 70's combined at least, then. What does a Vajra allow you to do?"
"A Vajra allows your soul to manifest an inch outside your skin. A Diamond Vajra extends that to two inches. The primary ability is to allow you to freely interchange ki and Essence for purposes of Feats and innate powers. The second thing is using it for scaling energy resistance. It has some minor telekinetic effects which help from a tool aspect."
Her hair was still moving. "Like an automatic hairbrush?" I hazarded, letting her know obvious was obvious.
"And towel, carving knife, screwdriver, pliers, raincoat, flea killer, and windbreaker." She made a wrist flick of dismissal, and smiled to show she knew I knew her hair was flirting with my eyeballs. "Very convenient. The primary effect of gaining a Diamond Vajra is, of course, getting Sustained."
That was a tremendous amount of internal power that could never be expended, by the very nature of the Forsaken. Using the soul to power the body. Flawless logic. Powerful soul and body, make use of it!
"Sole and Seven Dragons don't have Vajras?" I noted and asked at the same time.
"Pactsworn are playing at being under-Casters. Dragonseekers are playing at being under-Chi-users. A Vajra has nothing to do with either one of them. Specifically, Dragonseekers don’t have rigid souls anymore, while Pactsworn basically have souls all ablaze with foreign energies and elements." She sounded pretty blasé about them.
I winced. "You don't seem too impressed by either of them."
She gave me a look that could have shriveled my manhood. "They are Primos playing at being Powered. Sure, Sole can have more Pacts then any Powered. Sure, Seven can actually master all Seven Dragons. I'm a Null. I don't give a fig about either set of abilities. If we fight, I will beat both of them up without too much problem. They are Powered-wannabes, and I'm a Null Forsaken."
I winced. Both Sole and Seven were incredibly dangerous in their own way. But she was right. Sole's Pacts and Seven's Chi were totally useless against a powerful enough Null. They'd have to fight her on her terms… and her terms were murderous. We hadn't called her The Tip of the Spear for nothing.
She was going to be a priceless addition to any Allegiance she joined. She was the toughest Null Forsaken anyone knew of. Her power to Warlord Primos was going to be unmatched by anyone, except maybe Briggs. Her ability to communicate with anyone and anything that got one of her Marks would mean she'd be in the middle of all the centers of power without even trying, because who was going to turn down a free +4 Stat bonus that stacked? She could teach anyone any two Skills she knew, basically instantly, priceless for adjusting modern folk to a different mode of living.
She could practically make an army overnight out of dogs, horses, and bulls.
All that, and she was absolutely lethal and next to unstoppable in a fight!
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- Auburn, Michigan
Bio: Editor of online webnovels, mostly at Webnovel and Wuxiaworld. Also edit Ebooks. Long time video gamer, former MMO player, lifelong [email protected] fan and RPG guy, fan of both science fiction and fantasy. Don't ask me to choose between Trek and Wars, I love all the Stars.