The world above the seafloor was always a strange one. Uilei-nktik was no stranger to the surface, not after centuries as a [Wayfarer], but every time he left the comforting pressure of the depths it seemed like there was some new insanity on the part of the Surfacers. Not to mention the sun was bright and the color strange compared to the cool blues and purples and violets preferred below.
Never before had someone brought the sun down to the ground, though. That vast flood of mana had been so antithetical to the cold, dark deep of his homeland that he’d suddenly had an inkling of what the thalassophobia of land-dwellers was like. It was a momentary glimpse of something vast and ineffable. Most of the time that was his role, and he did not appreciate the irony.
The only entity he had expected to humble him was The Silver Woe herself. Where she was involved, nobody wanted to give offense, least of all him. Yet Blue had done it offhandedly, and in exactly the right way to make his attitude clear. An apology and a restitution gift, followed by an ungentle reminder of his power, established both his good will and the fact that Uilei-nktik was relying entirely on that good will rather than Blue’s awe of him.
For the first few days he thought he’d have to return after only treating with Blue and Tarnil, which would have been disappointing, if understandable. Most of his time had been spent waiting in chambers prepared for him and exploring Tarnil with his senses, which had revealed a number of anomalies that provided corroboration for the claim that Blue was a dungeon. Which he didn’t exactly disbelieve, but not everything was honest about its true nature.
His discussions with Queen Iniri and Speaker Shayma had been interesting, and far less stressful than some of the talks he’d had with other rulers, both above and below the water. Tarnil did not have the wealth of most Surfacer nations that purchased passage across Leviathan waters by itself, but with Blue’s backing that was hardly a problem. Blue himself seemed to have little interest in politics, which Uilei-nktik quite understood, but at least he had empowered his women to negotiate on his behalf rather than pretending he could simply ignore the rest of the world. That was a mistake he’d seen more than once.
His diplomatic efforts weren’t in vain though as Shayma, after a couple days, finally came to tell him that The Silver Woe was willing to see him. That message was followed by Iniri inviting him to stay for a summit in a few days where Blue would be showing off what he could offer to the local kingdoms. That might be crimping some tentacles in the case of Haerlish and Ir, which had their own agreements and designated representatives, but the point of [Wayfarers] was to cross lines of authority when it was necessary.
It absolutely was here, especially if Blue could provide wind Affinity Sources with any degree of regularity, to say nothing of other surface-oriented Affinities. The Chiuxatli had stopped trading their Wind some time back, Tarnil’s Light sources were gone long before he’d become Wayfarer, and nobody nearby had any storm Sources. Then there was stellar Affinity, which he personally wanted nothing to do with, but he knew several younger, more cheerfully reckless Leviathans who would love to sink their teeth into the stuff.
He’d accepted, of course.
He sensed Shayma appearing in the moon pool chamber again, though the spatial magic itself once again escaped his senses. Blue’s mana seemed to be effectively invisible, even if he could feel the pressure and flow of it around him. They were subtle currents, but definitely there, and clearly spread over the entire country. Rising to the surface, he fixed his eyes on Shayma, slightly altering some of his senses to hear properly in the thin air.
“Blue will teleport you to Ansae’s audience chamber when you’re ready,” Shayma said, referring to The Silver Woe by name as if she were a personal acquaintance. Something he couldn’t actually rule out, though historically dragons didn’t get along too well with human-kin. Not to mention The Silver Woe was not exactly known for her enduring friendships with shorter-lived types.
“I am ready,” he told her, though he wasn’t really looking forward to it. Teleportation tended to interfere with his own spatial senses and Skills, but if Blue was acting as The Silver Woe’s doorman, he hardly had a choice. Yet when the teleport came, it was unreasonably smooth, the water around him changing without any distortion or smeared in-between time.
The first thing he noticed about Ansae’s audience chamber was that there was nothing to it. Literally nothing — there were no walls, no floor, nor ceiling. None of his senses found anything beyond the expanse of the water, which was a perfect sphere. That was more than a little worrying, but it wasn’t even the most disconcerting part. The nothingness came a strange introspective effect, as if all his faults were laid bare. It was a clear mental effect and one he blocked after he realized it, but it was still chilling.
“Wayfarer.” The Silver Woe’s voice came from everywhere at once, before she appeared herself, emerging from the nothingness in her own private bubble of controlled water. She was in her sea form rather than her sky form, an immense silver water serpent that could have eaten him in two bites, and pale violet bioluminescence flickered to tell him he had better be on his best behavior. As if he would do anything else. “What brings you to my waters?”
“Great Lady,” Uilei-nktik said, flashing blue-green submission. There were other, older forms of address, but since she’d addressed him as Wayfarer, she was recognizing him in his official capacity. “I come to pay my personal respects, as well as those of the Abyssal Temple.” The Silver Woe flashed acknowledgement, the unique pale violet sending shudders down his spine. “I also bring you word of business pending for the past five hundred years.”
There was quite a bit of it, actually, held in trust by the Wayfarers. Leviathans were the only race long-lived enough to keep up with the comings and goings of a true immortal, for whom a few centuries were hardly worth noticing. Uilei-nktik himself had personally outlived several Surfacer kingdoms, some of which had simply been taken over by their neighbors, but a few of which had destroyed themselves or been destroyed by injudicious magic or natural disaster.
“Do tell,” she said, somewhat less overwhelming than before. He was grateful for that. Just her words had carried enough physical impact that he had to brace himself against them, and the color of her bioluminescence was so sharp it almost hurt.
“The last two Heirs of Solundon have been searching for you for almost two hundred years,” he told her, going through the list he’d memorized before he’d set out toward Tarnil. “I imagine now that you’ve revealed yourself, they will make their way here, but we can provide more direct transport if you so choose.”
“Yes, do so,” she said, almost absently. Which was a relief, since he was certain that those events were already in motion. Some of the younger types were overly ambitious and had started arranging for all kinds of things to be sent in Uilei-nktik’s wake, even though there were no guarantees he’d even find The Silver Woe, let alone that she would be staying in the area.
“There are half a dozen acolytes of the Silver Temple that are petitioning to enter your service,” he continued. Violet flashed in scorn, and he winced even though he wasn’t the object of her derision. The Silver Woe had never had a particularly warm relationship with her would-be worshippers.
“Leviathans are not dragons, and dragons are not leviathans.” She said, emphasizing the statement with a swish of her massive tail. “I am not going to encourage their idiocy. Though, perhaps they could still be useful here. Send one of the high priests first.”
“Yes, Great Lady.”
Those three words mostly encapsulated his responses as she considered how to dispose of the list of items he’d brought with him. Five hundred years was a long time even for Leviathans, and a great deal of property had been put into storage or sold off to others in the interim. The items that hadn’t been hers in the first place, just opportunistically placed in the places she frequented, she didn’t care about at all. Her personal items she surely did, and there were at least two individuals who would not be living much longer due to their mishandling of her property.
Again, he was glad that she wasn’t aiming that ire at him.
At least she wasn’t interested in relocating either of her personal dwellings. That would have been disruptive to say the least, and the Uphari territories were already disrupted enough with the families having to migrate away from the blighted areas around the mage-king’s archipelago. Which brought him to the most ticklish part of the conversation: telling her those personal residences were occupied.
“Great Lady, speaking of the Northern Spire and the Aencoral Dome — we needed space to house and feed refugees from the expanding Blight to the east. Of course, we can certainly vacate your houses immediately.”
“No, that seems an appropriate use for them.” She said, flashing violet approval. “The Blight represents a threat that I will deal with, in time. Tell the Abyssal Temple I gift the residences back to them. I will be staying in Blue’s Caldera for the foreseeable future and will not need any dwellings in the depths.” He signaled acknowledgement, but he knew there would be a number of leviathans who would not like that one bit. Even though anyone with the slightest interest in history knew that The Silver Woe was not, and never had been, a creature of the seas.
“The Abyssal Temple thanks you for your generosity, Great Lady,” he said, and The Silver Woe accepted his thanks with a brief flash of violet acknowledgement. He meant it, too. Both places were simultaneously works of art and enormous, sprawling citadels with excellent currents and temperatures for anyone who was fortunate enough to dwell there. They were treasures that the Temple would be glad to take. Personally, Uilei-nktik was glad that the gift came with the implicit command to keep using them for charitable works.
“I am certain you have noticed the mana flows here,” The Silver Woe said, and he blinked blue-green agreement. “They have many interesting properties, but the one that is most important is that they purge depletion from the environment. I would suggest moving your most susceptible members offshore of Tarnil.” That made him stare for a moment, processing the implications of a dungeon that purged depletion rather than threatening it, before he flashed his bioluminescence again, holding it longer to emphasize his understanding.
“I greatly appreciate the advice, Great Lady. I take it this knowledge should be kept obscured?”
“To some extent. The fact that Blue provides a safe harbor against depletion cannot be kept a secret for long, but actually dwelling within his aegis is something to be negotiated with him.”
“I understand,” he said. That was a warning that Blue was not her servant, not exactly. It would take some delicate inquiries to determine their exact relationship, but it was clear that Blue was not simply a subordinate. Some wouldn’t listen, of course, and simply assume The Silver Woe was controlling a dungeon, but after interacting with Shayma he was certain that was not the case. She considered for a moment longer, massive coils shifting and sliding in thought, then looked at him again.
“Understand, too, that whatever agreements Blue makes are backed by his authority, not mine. I am not the one who will take offense if someone behaves badly. But I would advise against testing Blue.”
“I will most definitely convey that to the Uphari,” he said fervently, the memory of Blue’s stellar Affinity demonstration seared into his mind.