Iniri seemed a lot more relaxed, and so did Cheya, though they weren’t making any general announcements just yet. It required some official paperwork to be exchanged between Iniri and Wright and the parents of the granddaughter in question. Of course, Shayma and Taelah knew about it as well, and were already conspiring for some sort of gift-giving.
There was also a conspiracy against me that they sprung partway through the morning. Obviously I missed most of it because they were using [Companion Concord], but mostly I had to chalk it up to just having too much going on to pay attention to everything. People inside Tarnil talked about me all the time and I was used to ignoring it, so I’d somehow ignored an actual song about me.
“…and Blue held up the sky!” Taelah, Shayma, and some of the village kids sang. The kids didn’t really know the words, but they tried anyway. The song wasn’t actually that bad, a recap of how I saved Tarnil, but I felt a little weird being the subject of several stanzas describing my heroics.
“Oh lord. Where did you even find that?” I asked when they were done, since I wasn’t going to be so crass as to actually interrupt them, even if it was kind of embarrassing. My favorite fox-girl and prankster even got experience from springing it on me.
“Remember Glaci Naran? One of the dungeon-wives I had Dreams-Ahead help? She has a [Bard] Class,” Shayma said. “She composed it and sent it on to Iniri, who gave it to me. And you didn’t notice any of it!” She added gleefully. “I figured you’d be too distracted with other things and I was right.”
“It’s good to have something that can hold the young ones, too,” Taelah added. “The invasion of Tarnil is already almost a myth to them, and it is good for them to know where they came from.” Her eyes glinted. “Maybe we can get this bard to come up with some more songs just for the Village. We’ll need some extra stanzas to explain the dragons, or the Chiuxatli.”
“That’s going to be even weirder.” I didn’t really want to complain, but at the same time, bard songs about me were so unexpected I didn’t even know what to think. “Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate it, but it’s just surreal to hear!”
“Just you wait, Iniri is going to make sure it gets spread all over Tarnil,” Shayma grinned. “Maybe even further. It helps your image, you know.”
“I guess I asked for that.” Shayma nodded agreement and Taelah smiled, dismissing the kids who went racing off to do the things children did. I mostly didn’t pay attention to the gossip I got through my special abilities, only the things that involved important people, so I really had no idea what the rest of the world thought of me. Or, well, the rest of Orn. Most of the rest of the world still didn’t really know I existed, though I was sure the Leviathans were carrying the news. There were some glimpses here and there of far and foreign shores.
“You realize that one of you is going to have to translate it into colortongue,” I pointed out, and Taelah waved her hand at Shayma.
“Only one of us can turn into a Chiuxatli,” she said. “Besides, I have enough to do.”
“So do I!” Shayma protested. “The Ell rehabilitation is taking a lot of time even with Mom and Dad doing most of the work. There’s talking with the Chiuxatli and the Scalemind…” Shayma sighed. “I haven’t even had time to go out adventuring lately. Which isn’t fair to Annit and Keri, they really need more experience. I actually get most of mine from non-combat, which is fair considering how powerful I am by myself.”
“Speaking of powerful, Taelah stopped a fifth-tier attack all by herself. It was great!”
“Oh, really? How come you didn’t tell me that?” Shayma turned to Taelah, who merely smiled mysteriously.
“Oh, it was just a minor incident. One-Eye-Green spooked Tlulipechua, the poor thing.”
“One-Eye-Green or Tlulipechua?”
“Yes,” Taelah said, and Shayma snorted.
“I haven’t done anything to deserve your Elder face. Just tell me what happened!”
While Taelah filled Shayma in, I checked in the Chiuxatli. Tlulipechua had a bunch of his mages and other specialists in a room, colortongue flashing this way and that way in a conversation that was really difficult to follow. Despite knowing the language, I didn’t have the faculties to understand it in the same way they used it, as a sort of multi-topic simultaneous chatter. That more than anything else drove home how decidedly non-human-kin they were, since even high tiers didn’t seem to be able to follow multiple simultaneous and concurrent discussions.
I was trying to follow the threads without getting lost when my burrowing tendrils literally bounced off something, giving me some nasty feedback that wasn’t exactly pain but was damn close. I pulled the tendrils away while I looked at the area and I realized I’d run into something I’d been trying to avoid. Since I’d hit an underground ocean, I had to move pretty far away from both the southern tip of Tarnil and the ocean itself, and I’d ended up nearer to the mountains. Apparently, near enough that I’d run into Nivir’s Great Dungeon.
The section I revealed through my digging was slate-gray rock that was harder than Adamant Stone, so probably another level up at least. That or it had something like [Mana Structural Reinforcement] going on, which it might very well because there was a lot of mana tied up in the stuff. It didn’t look exactly like my Skill did, but presumably the Great Dungeons had a few thousand years head start on me and probably a completely different branch of advancement.
Fortunately the Great Dungeon did not trigger ANATHEMA, nor did it trigger dungeon combat. Which was a damn good thing because even as much mana as I had, the sheer scale of what I was sensing was staggering. I only had access to a small section of irregular wall, but I had an impression of the scale of the thing anyway. Perhaps it had something like my Presence, or it was something from [Blue’s Sagacity], or maybe just some subtle dungeon-to-dungeon communication.
Nivir’s Great Dungeon was thousands of kilometers in every dimension. The little bit that peeked above the ground in Nivir was a tiny corner of a massive edifice that extended down and sideways and probably took up more volume than the continent itself. It cut through a huge chunk of the Underneath and probably extended into the planet’s mantle. Combined with the whiffs of Spatial fields that I got from it, the sheer size made the Caldera look like a parlor trick.
If it came to dungeon combat I’d be in a bad way, so I was actually glad that I had simply run into a literal wall. That said, I didn’t get any sense of awareness from the Great Dungeon, nothing to indicate there was a mind or even a controller over there. It might just not be something I could perceive, since Ansae said she couldn’t get any read on where my mind was either, but I had doubts. Something that big and old could probably detonate the planet if it decided to experiment with its mana the way I did with mine. Or superheat the ocean or induce volcanic winter or some other unfortunate side effect of incredibly potent forces.
“Shayma, your mom and dad are familiar with Nivir’s Great Dungeon, right? I sort of ran into it by accident, and I’m wondering if it ever showed any signs of intelligence. Or if there’re any monsters inside I need to worry about coming out.” I’d already pulled back a little bit, both to avoid any potential waking of a sleeping giant, and because I could feel the wisps of void mana flying around among the rest of it.
Her parents were off wrangling the other two Ells, up on top of my big glacial mountain. It would have been easier if I could have given her control of doors and teleports and the like, but a mountain complex where she could kick Girul out into the snow on occasion seemed to be working. Both of the captured Ells had been subdued and confused when the Scalemind finally woke them up, which made sense considering there’d been a bunch of mind surgery on them. There were probably ethical issues with being so invasive in an attempt to undo the damage of years of drug use, but it wasn’t my call.
Neither she nor Giorn seemed to worried by the threat the void users could pose, though to be fair both men had nothing resembling weapons on them. Sienne had no issues leaving supervision to Giorn, who was watching them trying to freeclimb a cliff behind the compound. Shayma relayed my questions, vague as they were, and Sienne frowned thoughtfully, tapping her chin with a forefinger.
“Nivir’s Great Dungeon seemed more or less the same as others, a big vast area under the ground, if maybe more desolate than usual. There are plants and animals there, just not many, and they don’t have much mana until you go deeper than normal. Then you have to cope with stronger void mana. The only monsters we’ve run into are the Seracley — big cat-lizard things that have a little void mana in their claws. Nothing Blue can’t handle. They’re not very smart.”
“Fair enough. I’m going to be leaving well enough alone for now. The thing is huge. And there’s how many of these?”
“Twelve, I think?” Shayma said, looking at Sienne as she relayed the question for her mother’s benefit.
“There are legends of others, but right now I only know of twelve,” Sienne agreed.
“I think that means they take up like ten percent of the planet by volume. Goodness. There’s probably more room inside the dungeons than outside them.” It made me wonder why there even was a planet, considering the dungeons were artificial, but maybe I was reading too much into it. Lots of interior space didn’t mean it was all livable, or that there wasn’t something special about a comparatively normal planet. It also made me wonder if I’d get that large someday. I didn’t really want to, and since my leveling was uncoupled from size I didn’t need to, but there might still be reasons in the future.
“I just had a thought,” I told Shayma, as my contemplations swerved down another path. “You’re kind-of sort-of a dungeon monster now, so you probably can’t, or at least shouldn’t, go into Great Dungeons.” Shayma winced.
“You’re probably right,” she conceded. “I’ll have to stick to mana springs. Even if I get more Trickster experience doing other things, I do need to learn how to fight with my Skills.”
“Honestly, I think you’re doing fine. You can take out dragons, for goodness sakes.”
“Well, young dragons, and at least upset them, but it’s true. Still, you never know what we’ll run into.”
I was a lot more worried about soft threats than hard ones. I was lucky that I’d caught the bit about Nivir, because while I certainly didn’t have anything to fear from Anell agents, my neighbors were not so lucky. Throwing the continent into chaos with strategic assassinations and disruptions would certainly annoy me, and might well fully occupy my time depending on what happened.
There was no guarantee they’d talk about me in such a way that I could spot the next disruption, and while my special ability seemed to be able to pierce any protections, I had no idea what anti-divination procedures might exist. For all I knew, they might be expecting surveillance, and take precautions like speaking in code or only exchanging encrypted messages. I already knew that if I didn’t actually understand what was being said I wouldn’t get any visions of it, like with the Scalemind or the Leviathans. Or even the Chiuxatli, before I learned colortongue.
If things went badly enough, I might have to launch the Fortress before the Chiuxatli finished designing the interior. Though to be fair, even if the Anells were to launch some major offensive it’d probably take weeks or months to arrive. Shayma’s capture of that one agent had pretty effectively broken Anell’s direct power in Orn, and while it was irritating that we’d clearly missed some agents, having so few left meant they couldn’t annoy us too much.
If I was going to get the Fortress ready I still needed to put weaponry on it. The Chiuxatli had a grand vision for the interior, which was great, and warding, which was amazing, but I also needed it to be able to project force, not just loom menacingly. I could just use it to crash into things, probably, but what I really wanted was a built-in [Starlance]. Preferably both my own apocalyptic one, and Iniri’s more reasonable one. The problem was that I couldn’t use magical tools or items. Not really. I had to do it all with my own stuff.
My own [Starlance] was easy, but I really wanted an option other than burning up a star and laying waste to a few thousand square kilometers of real estate. It would be nice if I could use just a tiny fraction of that, especially if I could focus it into more than a massive nuclear blast. It would take testing, because while I read the [Starlance] and subsequent neutron star remnant as a very tiny supernova, I didn’t know if the magic would. Extra containment might mean it only went a little bit nova, or it might not do anything.
“Hey, Ansae?” She was clearly working on the ward scheme I had asked for, sitting at the top of her tower surrounded by magically infused spheres. Complex mana structures hung in the air, visible mostly through mana-sight but some of them were visible normally, interacting in ways I didn’t understand in the slightest. It was a three-dimensional dynamic network at the very least, with tiny tethers of mana leading to Ansae as she studied it.
“Yes, Blue?” Her eyes flicked, tiny pulses of mana cycling through the threads she was using to control the ward schema. While it was obvious that she was powerful, watching her deal with such complicated mana showed why she was powerful. The complexity and finesse on display was absolutely that of a grandmaster or above, and that was assuming I actually saw everything she was manipulating. For all I knew there was some kind of magic programming inside the mana constructs that was only visible to people connected to it. Rather like my Climate interface, if it could be called such.
“I’m thinking about weapons for my Fortress, and obviously I want a [Starlance]. The problem is, I don’t know if I can actually dial it down any — if I could have like a tenth or a hundredth of a full blast and maybe avoid collapsing the star when I do it. If I’m willing to invest the [Firmament] I could contain the physical explosion, but is it really a physical explosion? Is there some sort of magical containment I need? I assume you saw the [Starlance] when I used it.”
“I did see it, but it was too intense even for me to examine casually,” Ansae admitted. “If you’re going to set off another one, I would welcome the chance to examine it more closely. You absolutely will need magical containment, though. [Firmament] may be indestructible, but everything around it is still going to be flooded with stellar mana. It would take a lot of power to keep that in.”
“Maybe something like the containment you put on the stars in Iniri’s Torc?” While I didn’t know mana, I had at least a general concept of energy, so I wasn’t a complete novice when discussing things with Ansae. Obviously I didn’t know any of the magical techniques, but the concepts of ablative shielding and sacrificial layers still translated.
It didn’t much surprise me that Ansae already knew the concepts, but it salved my ego a bit that I could suggest a few refinements. The mechanistic and physical view of the world I had really seemed to complement the way magic worked, because the more someone understood and knew was possible, the better they could articulate their intent. Not that Ansae really needed any help to become more powerful.
The conversation did result in her collapsing the warding schema she was working on and pulling up a different rune network, making notes on her magical system. After a few more minutes of working on it she closed it down as well, tapping her claw on the stone of the draconic desk she was using. For a moment she appeared lost in thought, then she grinned.
“I’m using up more magic than I’d like on your projects. Maybe it’s time for a refill?” She suggested, stowing away her work and shifting down to her amazon form. The last word came with a shake of her hips and I had to laugh.
“I’d never refuse such a suggestion,” I said.
As pleasant as the diversion was, it was also necessary. She really was spending mana faster than she could regenerate it, which was basically spending any mana at all, and while we both enjoyed the process I could feel that it galled her. By personality and by species, her vulnerability clearly rankled, as did her reliance on me to keep her from exhausting her resources.
At the same time, actually being able to do things cheered her immensely, which was why after some ablutions she went winging off to supervise her pupils in their Caldera survey for lairs. Part of me was surprised it was taking them so long, but the Caldera was immense and there was really no rush. Better to find the exact perfect confluence of geography and mana, or even ask me to adjust something that was nearly perfect, than accept something substandard.
Only Syrinu and Akanen had selected a place by the time I ground through another day’s worth of anvil-time, finishing the materials I needed for Keri’s soul prosthesis. It really took an astounding amount of time and mana to make them, even if it was physically less than a kilogram of metal. By my estimation it cost slightly more material to use the Skill than it did to do manually, but considering how much time I spent on the details the first time, I was willing to take that tradeoff.
I wasn’t going to give it to Keri for free. While I could technically afford to do so, it made me uncomfortable and even [The Ell Family Tree] and [The Imperishable Blade] had been created as payment for services rendered. Since I had very little I actually needed from her immediately, I was going to have to trade favors. I was already investing in her being useful in the future, so I might as well double down on it.
“Of course I would like to have depletion immunity,” Keri said. “But what kind of favor does Blue need from me?”
“I’m not sure yet. Something healing-related in the future, probably.” Shayma rephrased that for Keri, who nodded thoughtfully.
“I suppose it’s not any different from the way nobility trade favors, but owing a Power one is a little different.” Keri glanced over at Annit, who nodded ever so faintly. Given that Annit was specifically charged with making sure Keri was kept relatively unencumbered, I actually wouldn’t have been offended if she’d suggested Keri turn me down. “I’ll do it,” she decided.
[Model Soul] sucked up supermaterials and other ingredients from my inventory and took a big chunk out of my mana pool, though the latter refilled quickly enough. The Skill wasn’t instantaneous, which was kind of surprising, but took about twenty seconds to process and spit out a model for me. I handed that off to Shayma, who gave it to Keri.
“It’s gorgeous,” she said, running her finger over the crystalline surface. “Also, warm? It’s so strange!”
Like Annit’s model, it was a small, eye-twisting sculpture of supermaterial embedded inside a [Core Lattice] crystal, though hers had a healing Primal Source merged into the base instead of wind and storm. Keri took it with only a little bit of nervousness, and I triggered [Bind Model]. With [Soul Proficiency] I could more easily track the mirroring and connecting of the model with Keri’s actual soul structure.
There was definitely some flow of mana between the two, though it wasn’t as intense as the amount that Purification took, for example. Obviously the model was physically separated from where the soul actually resided within the body, but there was some resonance that made me think they were sort of treated identically for magical purposes. Though even that wasn’t accurate; there was some understanding of how it worked that was difficult to articulate. Probably because I still didn’t have the whole picture on how souls, dungeons, magic, the akasha, and Depletion all interacted.
The takeaway was that it was my dungeon authority and magic that protected the soul in question, and the prosthetic was the mechanism for doing so. It was a gentler and less complete version of purification, where I effectively transplanted my mana into a soul structure, but still good enough. With the supermaterials it allowed for growth as well, so they wouldn’t lose the protection as they leveled and tiered up. Such a prosthetic couldn’t actually restrain soul growth, and in a sense the connection was all one way.
That did make me worried about whether I could use it to help out Yamal. If his soul structure was collapsed, the prosthetic wasn’t going to exactly replace it. That said, I didn’t know the full extent of how the prosthetics worked and magic was far less mechanistic than physics. It was still worth a try, since it wasn’t like things could be worse for the [Depleted] fourth-tier.
“I want to try it, but I don’t know how to get him connected back to a Primal Source.” I brought in all three of my Companions on the problem, since I wasn’t sure where to start. For all I knew there was some simple and well known way to make an unconscious person use their Skills or something, so it was always better to appeal to the collective knowledge of some very smart people.
“I could ask Keri,” Shayma offered. “I’m sure she has some experience with it.”
“Absolutely,” Taelah agreed. “Though what about the Scalemind? Couldn’t one of them, or even you, use mind magic to make him link with a Source?”
“I would advise against a Scalemind,” Iniri said. “I’m sure his family would allow it if Blue or I asked directly, but Yamal was a fourth-tier. Even in the state he is, I suspect he’d react poorly to a monster’s magic.”
“Oof. Yeah, I honestly can’t tell what it is that makes people spot monsters right away but pretty much everyone over tier three seems to be able to do it.”
“Let me find Keri, one moment.” Shayma flickered over to the new cabin Annit and Keri were having built on the outskirts of the Village. The hospital I’d made had gone completely unused, as forward-thinking as it had been at the time, and the chamber they were housed in was a crude thing compared to the Climates of the Caldera.
Taelah and Iniri weren’t exactly kept waiting. They weren’t even all together, using [Companion Concord] to coordinate the discussion from their own places. It didn’t seem necessary to pull everyone together just for a single question.
“You should definitely have a healer there, if you’re going to try,” Keri said with a frown. “I don’t know anything about being completely depleted like that, nobody does, but someone should keep track of his physical state.”
“He’s got a dedicated healer coming by to keep his body from withering, but I can take you along if you like,” Shayma offered.
“No, thank you though.” Keri grimaced. “It would be incredibly rude to whoever has been taking care of him all this time. However, maybe you could take a note to whoever it is? I don’t have many people to discuss the healing arts with.”
“Of course,” Shayma agreed cheerfully.
“I’ll send a message to his estate,” Iniri said. I could tell she was trying not to get her hopes up, though even if I could pull him back from whatever coma he was in, the prosthetic wouldn’t fix the damage done.
It only took another day before Yamal’s family agreed to let Shayma and I try. Though I had the feeling that Iniri would have asked me to make the attempt anyway, if they’d been reticent. The actual estate was out in the country, and in fact one of the ones I’d dealt with before, when pulling settlements out of the path of the mage-king’s war cores. I’d taken it for a baronet’s dwelling, and for all I knew it might be. Fourth-tiers were practically nobility anyway.
I dropped Shayma off out front of the big estate, which actually came with its own small village around it, and she strode up to the front door. Before she could actually knock an elderly kirin-kin man in what looked like tweed opened it, bowing deeply. The overlay marked him as Hurin Entarl, a level 38 [Voyaging Chirurgeon]. It seemed a bit odd that the healer opened the door rather than one of the servants, but maybe they just felt Shayma was rather more high profile than any normal guest.
“Lady Voice,” he said, which seemed to be the title people had generally settled on for Shayma. “Welcome to the Gen estate.”
“Thank you, Hurin,” Shayma said, as I supplied his name so she could maintain her air of mystique.
“Please come in,” he said, holding the door for her personally as he ushered her inside. “I do hope you can do something for Master Gen,” Hurin said. “I’ve been his healer for years and this defies everything I can do.”
“I hope so too,” Shayma said. “My understanding is that this is an affliction of the soul, not of the body, so you shouldn’t feel bad for not making progress. I won’t be doing any soul magic myself,” she added. “But Blue might be able to put in new safeguards that would allow him to recover.”
“I will leave that to your expertise, Lady Voice,” Hurin said.
“I would also like to pass on a missive from Keri Esox,” Shayma said, pulling Keri’s letter out of thin air, or rather, her pocket space. “Simply to open a dialogue as a fellow healer.”
“I would be honored, Lady Voice.” Hurin bowed again and took the letter as he led Shayma to Yamal’s room. The man wasn’t looking great, but for a coma patient he didn’t seem too badly off. There was some muscle atrophy, and he seemed to have lost some weight, but he wasn’t dead which was pretty good under the circumstances.
Shayma moved to his side, taking out a kinetic Source and placing it under one of his hands. Then she used illusion to hide the fact that she’d shifted into a massive scythe-armed monster, the image of a fox-girl reaching out to put her hand on his shoulder while in truth she was using the native magic of her form to try and grapple with his mind. Assuming there was anything left of it.
I watched closely, trying to see if I’d get a flicker of his soul structure, such as it was. I knew it couldn’t be good, since his prior Source had crumbled, but I was hoping there’d be something. For a few minutes nothing happened, but Shayma didn’t say anything so I assumed she was still concentrating, trying to deal with the unconscious man’s mind and see if she could activate his Skills or his mana.
Suddenly I had a brief glimpse of a tangled, ruined pile in Yamal’s core, flickering for a moment before it vanished again and the kinetic Source collapsed into a pile of sand.
“You had it for an instant!” I told her. “Let me get you another Source and if you can do that again, maybe I can do things quickly.”
“This is very weird, but I can try. He has no Skills but I can sort of pull on stamina,” Shayma remarked with her illusion. “I think he’ll need some mind reconstruction too. The shock of losing all his Skills is a serious problem.”
“All those lessons from the Scalemind will come in handy, then.”
“Definitely,” Shayma agreed, turning to address Hurin, who had posted himself in the corner of the room.
“There may be something we can do, but it is unlikely to be an instantaneous fix.”
“Whatever you can do, Lady Voice,” Hurin said, clearly sweeping Yamal with his Skills. It probably wouldn’t help, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
I provided Shayma with another kinetic Source, and this time when the soul debris appeared I applied [Model Soul] instantly. Unlike with Keri’s, it took about a second to complete and I applied [Bind Model] before even studying it. When I did, I saw that the model was basically a single dot of Argentum, surrounded by a chunk of kinetic Source and then the blue of the [Core Lattice]. Apparently what it registered was that there was effectively nothing there.
When I displaced it over to Shayma, and she put it in his hands, I could see the remnant debris of his soul collapsing downward to a single point as he harmonized with the model. It didn’t vanish entirely, though the [DEPLETED] part of his Status did, but his Class was definitely gone. The overlay just showed his name. It was a little bit weird, but I figured that binding in the soul model must have triggered something. I certainly couldn’t reconstruct the Class, so maybe granting him immunity from Depletion let whatever normal soul processes that did exist deal with the catastrophic damage in some way.
[Soul Proficiency] advances to 6.
“That helped…” Shayma said, though not entirely certainly. “But I don’t think he’ll wake by himself. I’ll have to do some work.”
Hurin hovered anxiously while Shayma did whatever mind magic she needed to do. I had no idea what was going on, and as hours ticked by, I was starting to get a little worried. Shayma seemed unflustered, though, occasionally making a remark for my benefit or Hurin’s about her progress. It was getting on toward evening when his Status suddenly changed, registering a Class. Level 1 [Remnant of the Sovereign].
Yamal’s eyes opened.
He tried to croak something and Hurin leapt forward, helping the man sit up and take a drink. Yamal seemed a little confused, though I didn’t blame him, looking at Hurin and Shayma. Once he’d swallowed whatever was in the glass Hurin had provided, he tried again.
“Why did I get to select my Class again?”