Day 185 – Blue
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Things seemed to be going fairly well, but so far only Kinul had actually officially signed a piece of paper acknowledging me as a sovereign entity and exempt from the Common Hunting Treaty. I was aware that such things generally had a nice little ceremony at the end of a summit, but I would really have preferred a more serious commitment from the other nations. Though to judge by their attitude after I ejected the inquisitor – and just the term really threw up alarm bells, not to mention his conduct – Orrelin was not planning on conceding anything.

I was relying on Iniri to handle most of the discussions, but I was damn impressed with how Taelah had charmed Kinul and I told her so. Watching her blush was a fun little diversion, especially since most of the summit was relatively boring discussions and negotiations over this or that trade good. Ir wanted to hog almost all the Sources, but Iniri stomped on that. On the other hand, nobody else much cared about Celestial Metal, and when I told Iniri I could supply it by the liter – well, gallon, for them – she only drove a harder bargain.

For whatever reason, and I trusted her instincts, Iniri asked for me to show off a star ignition before the start of the morning’s discussions. I thought about putting them on top of my floating fortress, but that would be windy and uncomfortable and still would be below the line of sight, since I didn’t have the capability to move the fortress yet. Instead, I just cleared out a space on a neighboring mountain peak, which was as close as I was comfortable putting anyone to what seemed to be a near-megaton fusion reaction no matter how contained it was.

I whipped up a little viewing area, enclosed, marble, with slightly smoked glass because the detonation was bright. That was probably offset by Skills and Classes and other benefits of high-level and high-tier people, but I didn’t want to burn out anyone’s eyeballs. Though thinking about it I went and asked Shayma to see if she could get Keri to be on hand just in case. Uilei-nktik got his own pool at one end of the viewing area, which made it not-so-little in hindsight, given that his size meant he needed more area than the rest of the delegation combined.

“Okay, Iniri, all set whenever you’re ready. I’ll pop a portal at your say-so.”

“Thank you, Blue,” Iniri said quietly, and turned to give some instructions to her seneschal. He went about the job of rounding everyone up and ushering them back to the platform before they could get started on their individual discussions and haggling, which took a while with all the necessary diplomatic rigamarole. Eventually though, they’d all gotten herded over to the main platform next to the water.

“Before we start today, Blue has given me leave to show you a certain magic of his, which he will be performing within the hour. I don’t wish to spoil the surprise but I, for one, feel that I am privileged to have the chance to see it.” The words came with a little bit of a blaze from Iniri’s Skill, making sure that they all knew she was being absolutely truthful. It occurred to me that Iniri hadn’t seen the ignition process close up either. Really, nobody had, save maybe for Ansae and even then she wasn’t directly overseeing it.

“Hey, Taelah, Ansae, I’m going to ignite another [Contained Star] for the summit here, if either of you want to come see.” With Iniri and Shayma already there I didn’t want to leave anyone out.

“Oh, yes, please,” Taelah said, and then paused. “Can Suna and Tessa come along?”

“Certainly, though you’ll have to warn them it’s going to be very bright even with the shaded glass. Ansae? I can give you a platform closer than the one I made for squishy mortals if you think that’s safe.”

“Squishy mortals.” Ansae snorted, amused. “Yes, I would like to see it more closely.”

“Rightyo, one close-up viewing platform coming up.” I wasn’t going to put Ansae inside the starforge area itself, but the circumference of scorched stone gave me a pretty good idea of the actual danger area and where Ansae’s perch should be. Since she didn’t need the smoked glass or anything, I just made her a nice circular marble platform with a rail. For both Ansae and the summit groups I opened portals, putting them inside arches even though by this point I didn’t really need to.

Ansae stepped through and looked down at the starforge, then up, tapping a claw on the railing but staying there rather than jumping down to see things more closely. I wasn’t sure exactly what she was seeing, but the area was saturated with stellar Affinity mana. Even if it wasn’t actively generating more like a [Contained Star], it had changed the character of the area. From that mountaintop, the stars were out even in daytime.

The guests filed into the portal I’d put up, stepping through the archway to the viewing room and congregating up against the glass. Shayma appeared with Keri and Annit, ushering them forward, and Taelah’s group went last, with Tessa holding tight to Suna’s hand. Looking at Suna’s low level and tiny soul structure I had a flash of worry so I laced some gold in front of where she decided to stand, to block or mitigate both normal radiation – which I didn’t think there was, but couldn’t be too careful – and the magical equivalent.

Uilei-nktik got his own portal. He probably knew what was going to happen, considering his reluctance to go through, but he went anyway. Hopefully it wouldn’t be as bad for him when he was braced for the ignition.

“Why is the glass so dark?” One of Wright’s guards asked.

“For your protection,” Iniri replied, but I wasn’t really listening too closely as I set up the ignition. Three datapoints wasn’t a lot, true, but I hadn’t come up with a better way of setting up the [Contained Stars]. The dungeon system had refused to give me an official starforge as well, though considering the forces and amounts of mana involved I could understand that.

“The Abyss is that?” Asked Keri’s dad, pointing at the big black dodecahedron floating off in the distance. Even though it was sixty or eighty kilometers off, the sheer size of my future fortress made it more than visible and of course I had designed it to stand out.

“Just one of Blue’s projects,” Shayma said dismissively, which I thought was a neat trick. Brushing away the obvious and impressive thing only made the anticipation for what I actually was going to show them that much greater. Which may have been an issue if a star ignition wasn’t more impressive, but I was pretty sure I would wow them.

“Right, that far peak is the star forge.” Iniri probably already knew that thanks to [Queen’s Insight] but I wanted to make sure that everyone was watching the right place.

“Is that The Silver Woe?” Wright said abruptly, squinting at the star forge peak. “I can feel it from here.”

“I have mentioned that The Silver Woe is lairing in Blue’s territory,” Iniri said, somehow managing to convey impatience without sounding impatient. “This magic is unusual enough that even she is interested in it.” That got a few looks, though I didn’t know whether it was about Iniri calling The Silver Woe she or just the idea that such a being would be interested in what I was doing.

Okay, going to go ahead and count down. Ten, nine, eight…”

Iniri’s sharp warning meant that everyone was looking in the right direction when my lasers flashed and ignited the interior of the nascent [Contained Star]. As with every time, despite the firmament and the adamant stone surrounding it, there was the bright flash and crack of contained fusion with the burst of stellar mana lashing out and scouring the scorched stone.

Ansae merely slitted her eyes, apparently not even noticing the shockwave as she watched the new sun stabilize. Kilometers away, on the mountain peak, people actually staggered from the impact of the mana wave while the flash lit up the inside of the room like a bolt of lightning, despite the darkened glass. I was glad to see my gold shielding worked and Suna didn’t seem to have any issues at all, though I saw that she jumped to level three instantly. I supposed that watching a star being made technically counted as skywatching, in a way.

“Gods and little fishes,” King Harus of Haerlish swore. There were other curses, some more and some less intelligible. Uilei-nktik flinched but otherwise conducted himself with more aplomb than the first time he’d seen it. Keri looked around but it seemed that I’d put them at sufficient distance that it was merely bright and shocking rather than actively damaging to anyone.

“That,” Iniri told them, “is the origin of the new Affinity you have all noticed. It is called stellar Affinity, and, roughly, covers the sun and the stars. So far, very few people have it, so information is limited, but we do have scholars looking into it.” That was news to me, actually, but it made sense that people would start studying a new Affinity. Where Iniri found the scholars I couldn’t say, but thinking about it I could see Tor Kot as the kind who’d preserve knowledge, so they probably were from one of the cities he’d taken.

“Is this meant to be a threat?” The question, predictably enough, came from the Orrelin delegation. Fortunately, my fox-girl was ready with an answer.

“That was an act of creation,” Shayma told him, voice just this side of scornful. “Something Blue prefers to destruction. That is the point of his participation in this summit. If you want threats, they can be supplied, but I advise against it.”

That shut him up. I was a little irritated with Orrelin. They’d been standoffish from the beginning, before they even stepped through the portal I made to the palace, and the incident with the inquisitor had only made things worse. From what I understood they were generally prickly to outsiders and didn’t much do diplomacy, so it was only to be expected, but I didn’t like them being rude to my people. Yet, they hadn’t really done anything bad enough for me to eject the rest of them, so I had to leave it to Shayma and Iniri.

“What was Blue making?” Wright asked, and he seemed curious more as a craftsman than as a politician. This was one of the things I wasn’t sure about. If we weren’t advertising supermaterials, I didn’t see why we should advertise the [Contained Stars]. But [Contained Stars] were explicitly not for sale or trade, they weren’t materials, and I had no good argument to the fact that I’d already made a couple openly and there was no hiding the amount of mana involved. I still was a little leery, but ultimately I just trusted Iniri knew what she was doing.

Trust or not, I wasn’t going to be stupid about it. If I just showed off a [Contained Star] in the open someone was going to try and grab it. Maybe not to take it for themselves, but just to hold the shiny, shiny thing for the sake of it. With that in mind I raised a big pedestal in the back of the viewing room and wrapped the thing with glass strengthened by a few tens of thousands of mana of [Structural Mana Reinforcement]. Only then did I transport the [Contained Star] from the forge to the display. Since I was actually paying attention to my reserves, I saw that moving the [Contained Star] around was hellishly expensive relative to its size, but that didn’t really surprise me when I thought about it.

A few seconds after I moved the [Contained Star] over so everyone could see it, Suna had her face plastered against the reinforced glass, which made me glad that I had added it. Nobody else moved quite as fast, but I was rather satisfied by the stunned looks on the various faces. Especially on Uilei-nktik’s face, because a big face meant a big stunned look. I did feel a bit bad about the Elders from Kinul, because they looked actually terrified and I wasn’t intending to scare them.

“That might be a bit much,” Taelah murmured in Tessa’s ear. “It’s a lot of mana for someone so young.”

“Yes, of course,” Tessa said, tugging on Suna’s hand, though the exposure clearly hadn’t been all bad since her level had ticked up again, to four. “Come on, sweetie, we can look at it later, but we don’t want to make you sick.”

“Aww.” Suna said, but she didn’t resist when Taelah and Tessa escorted her back through the portal and took the teleport to the Village. Nobody else really noticed the byplay, since the various groups were muttering among themselves. Ansae, meanwhile, padded back through the portal herself, a thoughtful look on her face.

“That was absolutely fascinating to watch,” she told me. “I’m an expert in fire but that was more than fire. It’s one thing to hear about the fusion explosion, but it’s another thing altogether to see it, especially with the way the [Star Heart] converted from unaffiliated mana to stellar mana. That conversion almost has to be due to direct authority over the mana.”

“It’s weird. I don’t have the ability to add intent, but I can administrate it and I guess perform million-mana conversions. That makes sense I suppose, but it still feels strange.”

“I’m even more impressed with the craftsmanship than I was before,” Ansae said, tapping her claw against the chunk of core she wore around her neck. “There are levels and levels to dungeon mana control I never suspected. Even seeing that ignition happen I’m not quite sure where to look for how it happened. I’ll have to watch another one, the next time you make one.”

“Sure, I’ll let you know.” I actually had about enough to make a second one right away, but I figured it’d be better to wait until the summit was done. “Oh, now that I’m thinking about it, I was thinking about putting one of the spent, neutron [Contained Stars] in Iniri’s defensive Artifact to power it. I’m assuming it’ll be an Artifact anyway. Do you think you can start looking at how to do that? I’m assuming that’s a rune thing.”

“Certainly, I can take a look at it. Considering it’s a new Affinity, I’ll need to invent some of the runes for it. I haven’t needed to do that in centuries.” The prospect seemed to cheer Ansae, and I teleported over the pair of neutron stars for her to poke at. I was about ready to pull my new star away from where it was being displayed and put it somewhere safe, but people were still looking at it.

“I really don’t even know what I’m looking at,” Harus said frankly, though he was talking to one of his sons in an undertone and it wasn’t really meant for me. Keri’s dad rubbed his temples, though I didn’t know if it was the mana saturation or a clash with water Affinity or just the idea of my being able to make such a thing that bothered him. The Ir contingent looked like they understood the most, with Wright being nakedly greedy and even the short earth Affinity guy looking interested. That look made me decide to pull the star out before anyone got too worked up over it.

Since the mana the [Contained Stars] generated wasn’t totally harmless the way mine was, I needed a good place to put them. I had the one down in my mountain, and I could probably put the second one there too, but I needed to get some idea of how they interacted with the rest of the world as opposed to solid rock. With that in mind I lifted a spire up from one of the plateaus on the Caldera desert and stuck the [Contained Star] on top of it inside of a bracket of Adamant Stone. It made me realize that with all the mana they were pouring out I actually couldn’t make an arbitrary number of them without risking some sort of dangerous oversaturation. At the very least I’d need to build containment out of gold and maybe some kinds of supermaterials.

With the show done and over with, Iniri had everyone head back through the portal to resume the various discussions. It amazed me that they had enough to discuss that it filled more than a few hours, but since it wasn’t just Iniri dictating terms to them there was a lot of back-and-forth. Besides, everyone was taking the opportunity to try and strike side-deals or revise existing deals among themselves, not just with Tarnil. Some people even tried to talk to Uilei-nktik, though from what I could tell he wasn’t too interested. I wasn’t even sure why he stayed, except maybe out of politeness to me or Ansae.

That was when the dragons arrived.

I had been focused on the summit, enough that I completely missed them and I really shouldn’t have. One of the downsides of being spread out as large as a country – well, half a continent, including the Caldera – without the processing power to match was that I didn’t much pay attention to things unless they were very dramatic. Winged shapes in the sky weren’t dramatic, so I hadn’t noticed. A whole flight of dragons circling around the star forge was dramatic, and I did notice. Two in particular seemed to be in the lead and judging by their names they were a couple.

Telmarch Ayn

Level 62 [Pyroclastic Linnorm]

Titles: Terror of the Sulchar, Son of Falling Ash

Health: 7,820/7,820

Stamina: 10,025/12,120

Mana: 6872/6872

Depletion: 56/248

Kesteni Ayn

Level 78 [Wyrm of the Lightless Chasm]

Titles: Lurker in the Dark, Maw of Shadow, Umbral Devourer

Health: 8,220/8,220

Stamina: 9,272/12,780

Mana: 18,080/18,080

Depletion: 63/312

There were eight others besides, with levels all between sixty and eighty, and weirdly they were all paired up, which had to mean something, but I didn’t know what. It was the first time that I’d gotten to see a dragon other than Ansae, and for whatever reason it surprised me that they were almost the same size as her. For some reason I expected her dragon form to be relatively immense, just like her amazon form and her sea serpent form, but apparently not.

Instead, the dragons seemed far more affected by their magic than Ansae was. She had silver scales, but seemed otherwise normal flesh and blood, which I realized now was incredibly deceiving. The volcanic dragons were all red and black and radiated heat, the shadow dragons were pitch black with glowing golden eyes and had vague outlines, the storm dragons had little flecks of lightning crackling around their wings, and so on. They didn’t appear to be composed entirely of their chosen Affinity, but there was clear evidence of what they embodied, enough that it would be impossible to mistake them for something else.

The fact that the titles popped up on their Status was odd, too. None of the human-kin had them, and what was weirder, if they were a dragon thing, was that Ansae didn’t have any. Though, I still couldn’t actually read her level, or anything else about her Status, but I could glance over the dragons and tell they had Skills and Abilities like [Pyroclastic Dive] and [One With Shadow]. It was probably mostly due to her sheer power I couldn’t see anything but the most basic statistics, plus a healthy dose of obscuring magic. I couldn’t see her allowing other people to scry her Status.

“Uh, Ansae?” I said, while still keeping an eye on my visitors. They seemed unhappy with the empty star forge peak and shot off toward Meil. It seemed that the Caldera didn’t register nearly as strongly as the surroundings, since both the mage-kings and the dragons hadn’t even noticed it, and I wasn’t sure why. The only thing I could guess was that the spatial expansion didn’t mean the whole Caldera seemed, to outside senses, to be packed into a tiny space. The distance was preserved. “Ten dragons just flew by the starforge.”

“I see them.” Ansae said, her muzzle crinkling in a brief scowl. “Nobody I know. I expect they’ll make a nuisance of themselves, but try not to kill them. A good thrashing might be enough for them to recognize their place in the world, and then I’ll want to talk to them.”

“You don’t seem very complimentary to your fellow dragons.”

“I was that age too, once,” she said in reply. “Old enough to have gotten some real power but young enough to think that power alone is sufficient to deal with the world. If they were here to pay their respects they’d be looking for me, not heading off to the capital.”

“So, um, why are they here? Something about the summit?”

“I imagine almost every dragon in the world noticed when you made that first star. Every time you’ve made another one, they were probably following it.” She waved a claw. “So this morning they were close enough to find the source. I didn’t mention it because I didn’t think anyone would be so foolish as to come this way without seeking me out first.”

“I’m not sure if they know where you are.”

“I was standing on top of your mountain and blanketing it with my Presence. If they missed that they’re blind and stupid.”

I wasn’t fully convinced, but it wasn’t like I knew dragons. If they were at least marginally polite when they got where they were going, I could just redirect them to Ansae and let her take care of them. Even if they wanted to be diplomatic, they were multi-ton flying apex predators with ridiculous stat totals and crazy magic so I doubted Iniri would make much headway. Thinking about it that way, I could understand why Ansae thought they’d be fractious.

“Okay, well, I’ll give Iniri a heads-up.” I wasn’t sure how much Iniri had caught of that, so I focused on her and Shayma and filled them in about our unexpected visitors.

“Gods damn it all,” Iniri swore, and Shayma shook her head.

“Things were going so well, too,” my fox girl said, more amused than upset. “I’ll head back to Meil.”

“Is there an issue?” Wright butted in, somehow having skated across several dozen meters without disturbing anyone between him and Iniri. She looked at him, considering, then nodded.

“Blue has informed me we have ten dragons descending on my capital city, apparently drawn by the sheer magic Blue has. They probably aren’t a real threat, but they have rather inconvenient timing.”

She was probably correct that they weren’t really a threat. Between them, Iniri and Shayma likely had enough punch to kill the dragons despite the massive stat totals the dragons sported, especially when the mana link came into play. But Ansae wanted us to not kill them, which was a little bit more difficult. I started working on some containment chambers just in case, because if I got the chance I could always force teleport them into dragon jail.

“That is inconvenient.” Wright swiveled his head toward one of his fourth tiers. “Garus!” The named fourth-tier trotted over, looking inquisitive. “Queen Iniri has a dragon problem,” he told Garus, and an expression of childlike glee flickered over the guard’s face.

“If you would find it expedient, I would be willing to lend you the services of my guard,” Wright told Iniri. “He is particularly well suited to dealing with large creatures such as dragons.”

“Blue has asked us to refrain from killing them, if they give us the option,” Iniri warned.

“I can do that,” Garus said. “I am at your service, your Highness.”

Iniri crooked her finger at her own guards and headed back to Meil with Garus in tow, arriving just after Shayma. That put them a few minutes ahead of the dragons, who were flying pretty quickly, more equivalent to a powered atmo-craft than a bird or a glider.

“I’m going to get my dad,” Shayma said after a moment, considering. “The Tree is probably a great way to fend them off without, say, slicing them in two like my mom would.”

“That makes sense,” I agreed, though I was a bit uncertain about that. There was a heck of a power differential between Giorn and even the lowest-leveled of the dragons, but on the other hand he was quite skilled and had an Artifact weapon. I’d be interested to see if the Tree actually did make up for what Giorn lacked in levels, though I was also going to keep my teleports ready in case he somehow got into trouble. Considering who he was fighting beside, and how I’d seen veteran adventurers fall into perfect harmony without any real discussion in prior fights, I wasn’t much worried.

Of course, there were more dragons than defenders. It was a good thing I was on their side, since the equivalent of a quartet of fourth-tier dragons and six high third-tier dragons was not something to be laughed at.

“If you can force any of them to land, I can take care of them,” I told Iniri and Shayma. The best case scenario was that they’d all land so I could grab them up with juiced-up teleports. I’d made big holding chambers under my mountain for them, since that was the best way to put them out of action. Nothing fancy there, just enormous amounts of rock, and Light fields for the shadow-Affinity dragons since they had Skills that sounded like some kind of darkness-based teleportation ability.

Of course, this was all assuming they were rude. The actual best case scenario was that they weren’t, and some idle chatter would direct them to Ansae and that would be that. Given that they were sniffing around after my [Contained Star] I had some doubts they’d be happy to find out that they weren’t going to get one.

I kept Iniri apprised of the dragon’s progress while she got her crew out onto one of the roof gardens of the Palace and sent everyone else inside. The [Guardian Constellations] were still dispersed around the city and the Palace, so they were protected from wholesale destruction. Really, the dragons had no idea what they were getting into, but I didn’t want to underestimate them after seeing their stat totals.

The pyroclastic one, Telmarch, circled around the Palace and swooped down toward where Iniri and Shayma waited. Apparently she judged that he was being too aggressive, because he got his first surprise when he bounced off a [Shield of Tarnil]. He was startled enough to flip off of it, a feat of acrobatics entirely at odds with his overall size and bulk, and hung in the air in utter defiance of aerodynamics. I’d never seen Ansae do that; even when she hovered in the air, she used her wings properly. Telmarch just kept them spread and seemed nailed in place.

Kesteni and two more of their flight – Teekenu and Lorzent – came down to join him, while the others stayed up in the air, circling slowly. Iniri simply crossed her arms and looked up at them imperiously. Giorn leaned on the Ell Family Tree and Garus flexed his hands, while Shayma swished her tail slowly and eyed them. The silence went on long enough that it was getting genuinely awkward, with neither side wanting to be the first to make demands.

Iniri tapped her foot impatiently, and Shayma used her [Liminality] to amplify the sound upward. That appeared to annoy Telmarch enough that he roared back down at her – not words, just a noise – and Shayma used the same Skill to alter the noise into the sound of a tiny kitten meowing. Simple, but absolutely hilarious and genuinely took the wind out of their sails. Finally, Kesteni spoke.

“We demand the mana source!” It was obvious she was trying to bellow it, but Shayma pulled a similar trick and toned down the decibel level to something more reasonable.

“You are not in a position to make demands,” Iniri said, voice cold and unimpressed. Kesteni scoffed.

“You’re, what, a newly whelped fourth-tier? You can’t possibly know what to do with something that potent. Fifty dragons together wouldn’t!” She added, ignoring the fact that she’d only brought ten. In fact, I had to guess that she’d brought less. One pair of the four circling overhead were visibly wincing at Kesteni’s little monologue and exchanging glances. I’d give them the nicer cells.

“This is Blue’s territory, and that is his mana source,” Shayma said, mimicking Iniri’s tone. “He is not impressed with the disrespect you’ve shown both him and Queen Iniri. I advise you rectify your behavior lest you irritate a Power.” She followed her words with the weight of Presence, shoving the hovering dragons back a few meters and making Telmarch growl, eyes narrowed.

Kesteni stared down at Shayma and I saw a brief flash of runes over her scales, some of which I kind of recognized as Status runes. While Shayma could fake her Status I didn’t know if she was doing so at the moment, and besides nobody else on the rooftop could. Even if Shayma hadn’t hidden her Status, it was pretty deceptive relative to what she could actually do, so I didn’t think that’d help Kesteni too much.

“A bluff!” She snorted pitch-black smoke, with little flecks of ember gleaming inside. “She’s not even level fifty!” It was true, but Shayma had been closing the gap in leaps and bounds, especially since she could exercise a lot of control with her artificially maximized Skills. “Take this building apart, find that source!”

Giorn readied the Tree, Iniri flicked [Guardian Constellations] out to circle everyone, and I got to see why Garus’ Class was [Black Beast of Komasu]. A massive, black-furred form spilled out from where he stood, and kept spilling outward and upward, until after a few fractions of a second a hundred-meter wolflike form towered over the other three, his feet taking up most of the roof and squishing the plants. It took me a moment to accept it, but it turned out he was a were-kaiju. A werewolf kaiju.

Things happened quickly from there. The four dragons dived downward and the hulking form of Garus swatted Lorzent out of the air, smashing him down into the courtyard. I triggered a teleport before he could get up and popped him into one of my dragon jail cells, where despite the impact he was down only about three hundred health. Giorn extended the Tree out to be something like five hundred meters long and thirty meters wide and absolutely clobbered Kesteni, using the Skill on the staff to shift the rebound from the first hit into a second, subsequent hit almost instantly. The resultant impact sent her on a long arc out over the lake, but she recovered before she actually hit the surface, unfortunately.

At the same time Shayma teleported upward, a rapid-fire stutter-step that landed her on Telmarch’s back. [Eidolon Body] let her shrug off the heat of the volcanic body as she drove hands, formed into picks, into the scales between his wings. That by itself did no more than anchor her, but she threw out a powerful [Hungering Dark] Field around herself that completely enveloped the Volcanic dragon. He screeched from somewhere inside it and the blob of darkness started shaking wildly before climbing almost straight up.

Four more dragons went down to meet him, leaving only the unhappy duo on overwatch, but before they could reach Telmarch he abruptly reversed direction and plummeted downward. Shayma seemed to have used an illusion to reverse what way he thought he was going. I was glad I had [Structural Magic Reinforcement] on the Palace because otherwise Telmarch would have smashed through the upper stories instead of into them. Between the [Hungering Dark] and the impact he was down nearly a thousand health, which was a lot, but it really emphasized how tough dragons were that they could take a full speed dive with no bracing and not be too badly off.

Telmarch was the next into dragon jail, Shayma jumping off just as I teleported him, which was a feat of coordination that made me wonder if she knew what I was doing without my saying anything. She started scanning the air for her next target while Iniri summoned [Shield of Tarnil] to break apart the incoming formation of four dragons. At the same time, she fired off her [Starlance] at Teekenu, which the glacial dragon ignored at first, then yelped and threw up an icy shield when it turned out Iniri’s Skill could actually hurt her.

Sadly, it seemed that Iniri could only handle one [Starlance] at a time, at least so far, but it was enough to keep Teekenu occupied and she had no trouble summoning up [Shield of Tarnil] at the same time. Honestly it was obvious she was sandbagging on the [Starlance] a bit, since she hadn’t pulled any mana from me yet. For the moment, at least, she was keeping things nonlethal.

“Want a lift?” Giorn asked the massive Garus. The kaiju-wolf blinked, then stepped onto the oversized Tree that Giorn had stretched out parallel to the roof and Giorn launched him upward with enough force that he probably used up all his stored kinetic energy. The diving dragons had no idea what to do with a hundred meters of werewolf, so it seemed like a good investment. Garus grabbed one with his arms and another with his legs, grappling them as he began the plummet back to earth.

Shayma passed him on her way up. She targeted a shadow Affinity dragon and instead of the [Hungering Dark] she blanketed him with a stellar-flavored [Greater Light] Field. It was extraordinarily effective, though since she pulled on my mana it was also extraordinarily expensive. She rode that dragon kicking and screaming down toward the ground while Giorn grew the Tree to its full kilometer extension and brought it down on Kesteni’s head, where she was flying in low above the water.

The shadow dragon did try to dodge, but he clipped her wing hard enough to send her into the water. I couldn’t form a teleportation field there nearly as quickly as solid land, but she was also not as quick to move so I managed to snag her before she got airborne again. That made three dragons in stone cells, and when Garus pile-drivered into the top of the Palace hard enough to shake the chandeliers despite [Structural Mana Reinforcement], I had five. Shayma’s capture then made six, in the space of maybe thirty seconds.

Given that none of this had inflicted more than a few hundred or at most a thousand damage on creatures with health an order of magnitude greater than that, I was glad we were just trying to capture them. Without my ability to yoink them off the battlefield it would be far more of a fight and far more dangerous. The last two attacking dragons veered off, climbing upward toward their companions. I was considering how to get them, or if I should bother, but the two remaining pairs started squabbling about something I couldn’t quite catch, since they were above my [Genius Loci] perspective. Then the attackers left, fleeing south. They probably didn’t realize if they landed anywhere nearby to take a breather, I’d get them.

“Let them go,” I told Iniri and Shayma. “I can teleport you to them if they start making trouble elsewhere.” Shayma relayed that to Giorn and the still-massive Garus, then looked at the last couple of dragons that hung in the sky. Surprisingly, they actually started to descend, but far more slowly, making it clear it wasn’t an attack run. While their companions snarled and scraped uselessly at the stone of their prisons, or just paced slowly, the two came to a halt in the air and one, Syrinu Mache, called down in a tentative tone.

“We’d like to talk.”