If there was any surprise about other dragons arriving, it was that they had taken so long. She had certain advantages in appreciating the sheer abundance Blue provided, like vastly superior senses and several months of familiarity with his particular brand of mana, but any dragon’s nose for magic would find Blue an appealing prospect. His Habitation changes made it even more ridiculous, though nobody would know of those if they didn’t consult Blue or his Companions.
Five dragon couples together implied some territorial issues on one of the other continents, probably one of the closer ones. She used some of her tools to look up their lineages while they flew on toward Meil, but she had to go back quite a few generations to find any names she remembered. The composition of the group became clear once she placed their ancestry, or at least the ancestry of a few of them. The shadow and volcanic dragons all came from the same place, the Lokhar Range, a massive swath of powerful volcanoes that kept their surroundings dark under a blanket of ash.
The sole light-Affinity dragon had to come all the way from the Summerlands, unless a new concentration of light mana had appeared in the past seven or eight hundred years or so, which meant the group had collaborated over two different continents. Considering their levels and apparent ages, Ansae doubted they’d done the organization themselves, but rather some extended families had coordinated the trip. Even for something so powerful as the [Contained Star], a dragon with a mana-rich territory, established lair, and their own family, wouldn’t go haring off into the unknown.
That many dragons would be an issue for most kingdoms, despite Ansae’s low opinion of young dragons. She very much doubted it would be for Blue, though it was an open question how well he could fight nonlethally. Bringing overwhelming force was, frankly, quite easy, but wasn’t actually the answer to every problem. Just an awful lot of them.
In anticipation of the fight, she’d stretched out a little bit of magic to teleport some of the sweeter morsels from the summit’s side table. A few pastries and a platter of slow-roasted meat would be perfect for watching the show, but by concentrating on that she nearly missed the whole thing. While she’d been expecting little trouble on Blue’s part, she hadn’t expected it to be over quite so quickly. She judged most of that was due to the dragons getting the bulk of their levels from mana uptake and evolution rather than proper fighting, so they didn’t coordinate as well as they should nor did they really know how to use their Skills properly.
It would have been far more of a mess if Blue wasn’t flagrantly cheating in all the best ways. She actually laughed out loud as he stole dragons off the battlefield one after another, turning what might have been a slog of a fight into a complete farce. Really, he barely needed the help of the mortals to get it done.
“Enjoying yourself?” Blue asked, voice buzzing through the core piece hanging around her neck.
“Immensely,” she assured him. “My favorite part was that nature shifter grabbing two of them at once.”
“Yes, well, he’s clawed up pretty thoroughly so maybe that wasn’t the smartest thing to do. Anyway, what do we do with them now? There’s two that don’t want to fight, and I’ll grab the escapees when they land, but I can’t keep them in dragon jail forever.” She snorted at the phrase, which was classic Blue silliness but did seem appropriate.
“I’ll take them,” she told him, spreading her wings and stepping off the top level of her tower, gliding down toward the audience chamber. She would have preferred to have more in her stat pools than she did, but dealing with low-level types like her guests wouldn’t be too difficult. Her Presence alone would probably be enough to cow them, not to mention her reputation. Though obviously they didn’t think The Silver Woe was around if they hadn’t gone looking for her immediately. “Send the two who don’t want to fight first.”
“On it.” His attention went elsewhere, and she strode into her part of the audience chamber, where she could look down on her petitioners. That wasn’t too unusual a circumstance, but Blue’s [Purgatory] Field made it far more dramatic than any of her prior setups. Most higher-level types would be able to block out the mental component in short order, and maybe even pierce the Field’s effect entirely, but doing so while under the pressure she wielded would be difficult.
Less than a minute passed before the first pair popped in just outside her audience chamber. They glanced about at the Caldera but weren’t so foolish as to try escaping, and stepped forward into the petitioner’s hall. They flinched quite amusingly from the effect of the [Purgatory] Field but kept walking forward, which was to their credit. Considering they hadn’t attacked, that was further evidence that they weren’t complete idiots like the rest of their flight.
They were Akanen and Syrinu Mache, light and shadow Affinities respectively, which made them a bit of an odd pairing. The two Affinities didn’t usually occur near each other and neither of them were particularly complex, so they were considered rather less prestigious than something like Storm or Volcanic or Glacial. Even something like Earth was often considered more practical, both for how pervasive it was and how easily it could be used to form useful lairs. Almost any dragon clan wanted a few earth-Affinity types around, but Light or Shadow types were exactly the sort they’d push to find their own accommodations.
Akanen and Syrinu walked forward, looking around, and when she judged they’d gotten far enough Ansae stepped forward, emerging onto her pedestal above them and directing her Presence toward them. It flattened them instantly, which salved some of her annoyance at having so little mana and stamina to work with, and she simply looked down on them imperiously while keeping them pinned to the floor. Akanen briefly tried to push against it but made no headway and tilted his head laboriously to look up at her.
“Mercy, Great Ancestor,” Akanen pleaded. A standard greeting for an elder dragon of a Flight but one that always rankled for her. The flare of irritation made Akanen’s head slam to the floor again before she pulled back her Presence to let them stand. It would not do to hurt them in a tantrum, though they clearly had no idea who she was if they addressed her that way.
“You are quite lucky that we are merciful,” she informed them. “You blundered into the affairs of two different Powers at once. Either Blue or I could have crushed you like insects, and would have been right to do so. What were you thinking, coming here to demand a Power-made Origin Relic for your very own?” Blue had already shown off the [Contained Star] so it was hardly something she needed to keep secret herself.
“With respect, Great—” Akanen swallowed the last word of the greeting, glancing over at Syrinu.
“Great Lady,” she prompted them, since they seemed hopelessly ignorant. “You do realize who I am now, do you not?”
“We didn’t know The Silver Woe was still alive,” Syrinu blurted. “We didn’t believe— I mean, we didn’t think—”
“Clearly not,” Ansae said dryly, then sighed. “It is sometimes a problem for immortals like myself,” she said, which was true enough but she was playing it up for her audience. It was far from the first time she had returned from a supposed death, though usually that was simply due to sequestering herself for normal reasons. This time it had been far too close to actual death for her liking.
“What would you have of us, Great Lady?” Akanen asked, clearly at a loss.
“Why did you come here? Spare me whatever official or practiced explanation was given to you or by you when you talked with your elders. Why did you come?”
Syrinu rustled her wings uncomfortably, tail swishing back and forth with nervous energy. When she didn’t reply immediately, Ansae let her Presence creep back, not enough to flatten them again but enough to let them know her patience was not infinite. Besides, the longer she let them think the less likely it was they’d tell the truth.
“There wasn’t a place for us back home,” Syrinu finally admitted. “Akanen has light Affinity and too many dragons had shadow Affinity and I didn’t want our children to be forced into Earth since the Elders felt we needed more of them but there just weren’t places with other types of mana,” she said, all in a rush. That any of the potential places for alternate Affinities were already claimed by someone who was too powerful to deal with was the unspoken addendum.
“That, I believe.” They weren’t exactly children, but neither were they anywhere near the potency of the dragons that would be ruling the choicest spots and best Affinities. “The mana sources here are not available to be claimed,” she told them bluntly. “And though you have not offended Blue as much as your compatriots, you have not done anything to endear yourself to either him or me.” She paused, not to be excessively cruel, for neither dragon had earned her ire, but to drive home the extent of their folly. By the way they wilted, she had succeeded.
“However, you are in my court now, in my petitioner’s hall,” she told them, tilting her head just so. Akanen showed he was at least moderately intelligent and immediately caught her meaning.
“We would like to petition for the Great Lady’s intercession,” he said promptly.
“And whatever help the Great Lady would be pleased to give,” Syrinu added, no lackwit herself.
“I will think upon your petition,” she told them, and crooked a claw. Linked runes flared, opening the dragon-sized door in the side of her audience hall that led to the guest rooms without any expenditure of mana on her part. “For now, you may rest and refresh yourself. As you will have noticed, the mana field here is particularly robust. I will see to your companions.”
“Are they…?” Syrinu dared to ask, only to trail off as Ansae lifted her head ever so slightly. Neither of the younger dragons were in a position to be overly familiar with her, especially not when discussing people who had erred so grievously. As casual as she was with Blue, other dragons required a firmer paw to keep them from getting ideas.
“Well, Blue?” She asked, once the two of them had left and the door was safely shut behind them.
“Er, I wasn’t paying attention,” he admitted, which made her snort. He technically could see and hear everything that happened within the Caldera, but of course that wasn’t the same as actually doing so, and he certainly had enough to monitor with the summit in full swing.
“Our young idiots have asked me to intercede on their behalf to stay your wrath,” she said, not bothering to keep the amusement out of her voice.
“But those two are the ones that I’m not actually mad at,” Blue objected.
“Yes, but it sets a good precedent, and implies I have some sway over you.”
“Well, you kind of do but— oh, I see. You want to keep all of them?” Blue asked, proving that he wasn’t a complete idiot either, despite acting that way sometimes.
“I’m of a mind to,” she admitted. “So long as they prove themselves to be worth it to both of us. I have an idea of how they could be of use around the Caldera.”
“Oho? Do tell. I mean, I’m assuming you’ll keep them under control.”
“Certainly.” She’d been thinking about the issue since she understood what Blue was, but it wasn’t until he’d made the Caldera that a solution had properly crystallized. It was always a good feeling to get just the right perspective to solve a problem. “You have all these Climates, and there’s an enormous amount of stuff in each of them. Even Taelah can’t catalogue everything and even if she could, she doesn’t have the instinct for mana manipulation dragons do. Not to speak ill of your wife, but we live off of mana.”
“So, what, you’re thinking field researchers?”
“More than that, though that is part of it. Things will change over time, especially with [Contained Stars] flooding the area with stellar mana. More importantly, a responsible dragon will tweak the mana flows in their territory over time, encouraging certain things and discouraging others. Some don’t, of course, but I’d make sure these ones do.”
“Right, that does sound interesting, but my Climates already manage the mana flows.”
“Not with any great degree of imagination,” she said bluntly. “They will need some practice in actually seeing yours, but letting them manage your various Climates could save you a lot of work. Especially since you don’t have, for example, a primarily light-Affinity based Climate and Akanen could help with that.”
“Hmm, that actually sounds like it could be really useful, but it’s not like they can report to me directly. You’re going to have to either play intermediary or get them to listen to Taelah and Shayma. Actually, you should do that anyway.”
“That is true,” Ansae nodded, appreciating his priorities. “I will absolutely ensure they know your people outrank them.”
“Great! Let’s see, we have two volcanics, three shadows, one light, one glacial, two storm, one earth. No metals or illusion types, sadly.”
“You won’t find any metal-Affinity or illusion-Affinity dragons,” Ansae informed him. “There just aren’t enough places rich in those Affinities to support dragon evolution. There might be for metals, but everyone wants those areas enough that there’s just no way to support a hatchling there.”
“Well, I could here.”
“Yes, you could. There will be dragons fighting to get in here, and not just for stellar Affinity.” Ansae frowned in the direction of what Blue called his dragon jail. “I expect they’re all here to raise families, and since they’ve been effectively kicked out of their clans that means you and I can claim all their loyalties.”
“That does sound pretty reasonable, if they listen. So long as they’re good candidates.”
“I know more about dragons than anyone. I’ll make them good candidates.” With the mana available and the benefits of Blue’s Habitation Core, there was no limitation on their mana uptake, so it all came down to training. Blue’s endeavors wouldn’t keep her occupied all the time, and with her tower’s protections complete she had time and certainly inclination for a project of her own.
“I can believe it, but I will want Shayma and Taelah and Iniri in to interview them before making any final decisions on whether they can stay.”
“Certainly,” Ansae replied. It might take a little bit of time to ensure they were marginally polite to Blue’s Companions, but then again, maybe not. Not after the defeat they’d been handed.
“Hmm, okay, we’ll try it. If they start making trouble there’s going to be consequences, though.”
“Yes, there will be,” Ansae said grimly. “I’ll put the fear of me into them before turning them loose, but I don’t think we’ll have any issues with those two, at least. The others might take some convincing. Could you teleport one of them into my audience chamber?”
“Sure, but good luck. They’re in a bad mood.”
“All the better.” Ansae smiled, showing teeth. “It’ll give me an excuse to show them exactly who they’re dealing with.”
“Ha! Right, incoming.” Blue told her, and dropped a furious Telmarch into her audience chamber. Her Presence pinned him against the floor, and when she spoke her tone was cold enough to send frost creeping along the floor toward him.
“Do you have any idea how much of a fool you’ve been, Telmarch Ayn?”