The Silver Woe was not actually concerned about what had killed a Great Dungeon. Whatever it was had existed even before her, yet she’d seen no evidence of anything so big and powerful aside from herself and the gods over the millennia. Besides, if a mere level one-forty or so human had managed to delve into a core room, it meant that it was hardly well defended.
Too, she’d seen that Blue’s actual cores were not very robust. Fragile, even, though it wasn’t too surprising given the complexity of the Artifacts in question. They could process nigh-infinite amounts of mana, but physically, a child with a hammer could do significant damage. In truth, Blue’s robustness now came from having dozens of cores, so even if someone could find and break one, it wouldn’t really matter.
Whether that would be the case for the Great Dungeon, though, remained to be seen. As deep as they were, they were almost physically clawing their way through the surrounding environment, as massive storms brewed up to meet them. They were no longer mere hurricanes and tornadoes, but something more profound and terrible.
Winds blew with the force of a falling planet, cold enough to freeze light midflight and send it plummeting down. Hailstones ranged from pea-sized to mountain-sized, eager to perforate, flatten, and sweep aside anything in their way. The lightning and thunder was intense enough to tear apart anything in its way, driving the already indominable winds into a shredding frenzy as shockwaves rippled this way and that.
It was far beyond the bounds of anything she’d ever seen on the planet, only matching the heart of her more intense spellwork or maybe even Blue’s [Starlance]. The upper parts of the Great Dungeons had never hinted at anything like the intensity she was seeing, which obviously couldn’t be sustained. Even as she watched the mana was tearing itself apart, spending itself uselessly and unsustainably. What they were seeing was obviously not permanent, but that didn’t make it any less intense.
She was getting to really stretch her spellcraft just to keep them alive. The defenses wrought into her very bones meant that Ansae could survive such extremes without issue, but even Shayma’s absurd armor would get abraded away with time. Blue’s seed-ship was, by contrast, an eggshell. Even if he plated it with [Firmament], that only meant the outside was indestructible. Between the temperatures and the shockwaves, the interior would be so much dust in short order.
Annoyingly, some of her favorite defensive options were restricted by the strain of the environment. Space was so stretched by the dungeon’s own expansion that using false dimensions to blunt the howling storm was exceedingly difficult, so she had layers upon layers of soft kinetic barriers. They stole energy from the incoming winds and fed it to the surrounding spellwork, turning the storm’s energy against itself. Hail was disassociated into hydrogen and oxygen, as she used Blue’s knowledge to magically turn ice into just more wind.
The lightning required a defter touch, stellar Affinity mana to create plasma conduits about them, touched with just enough storm Affinity to pull in the mana as well. The thunder still rattled them, but the lightning itself simply passed them by, spending itself in the far distance as it branched out and out. It would have still been possible without the information Blue had provided about the nature of things, but it would not have been so subtle and graceful.
Most people didn’t think of The Silver Woe as a subtle or graceful being, but that was by design.
The creatures were all equivalent to tier five or above, but in practical terms they were far less dangerous. Like lazy dragons, they were merely empowered by the environment rather than their own hard work. As a result they could do little more than direct wind and storm, which she already had handled, and rage impotently with mind.
The faint traces of mind Affinity were probably the most dangerous thing, coupled as they were to the rest of the raging torrent of mixed energies. Even she didn’t want to consider what it would be like if a hurricane or a hailstorm could touch her mind as well as her body. Her entire inner bulwark of threaded spells was designed to filter that out, snuff the mental component of mana entirely, with no flourishes whatsoever. For something like that, nullity was the best policy.
Small pulses of her twined metal and kinetic Affinity tore open anything that got too near, converting nearby mana into matter and detonating in sprays of steel flechettes. Normally conjuring matter was a terrible idea and a waste of mana, but with everything nearby so soaked in wind and storm, and solid ground so far away, it was actually the most efficient means to deal with them. Besides, she didn’t need much, so long as they had enough kinetic force to tear through flesh and crack bone.
With her magic behind them, they did. Motile plants and things insultingly close to draconic form died in silent sprays of shards as her spells sought them out, often able to spell their doom simply by shredding wings or fins or leaf-sails. Without the ability to merge with the raging weather, they were hurled away or smashed to pieces. Certainly they didn’t come close enough for either Shayma or Blue to see within the storm-tossed darkness around them.
She was tempted to ask Blue to [Starlance] the storm away, since that was easier than clearing it herself, even with her stellar-empowered [Crown of the Silver Woe], but that would just be temporary. Their presence alone generated some of the fury, their intent clashing with the native mana and provoking crystallizing waves of mindless reaction. So long as anything and anyone alien to the environment was moving through it, there would be resistance.
Blue’s mana helped to protect them, though, its very presence keeping the Great Dungeon’s pervasive, depletion-laden environment from crossing inside. Even though his projected Field was less intense than what was outside, it still seemed to trump the stifling nature of their surroundings. The difference was significant enough that Ansae kept her defenses layered just inside the boundary, saving her best for what was to come.
Ahead of them, many long miles away across the obscenely expanded space inside the Great Dungeon, there was a hard wall of matter and energy. Unlike the natural walls of the cavern, it was flat and smooth, radiating reinforcement that was above and beyond the enduring toughness of the [Obdurate Stone] that comprised the skeleton of the Great Dungeons. It was something else, and Ansae would bet her front claws that it was protecting the core.
It was, frankly, a terrible sort of defense against intelligent creatures. A simple wall could always be gotten through or around, subverted or toppled, no matter how tough it was. Some of Blue’s attempts at protecting his own cores had been far better, especially the ones that involved twisting dimensions around, using [Expansion] radially rather than simply outward. It was difficult to find something that could only be seen by spinning to the left five or six full revolutions.
Against rote beasts, it was probably enough. She didn’t think any of the near-intelligent types would have been able to get down this far on their own, not without being suborned by the environment. The absolutely massive flying pseudo-Leviathans had been the only evidence they’d seen of anything like the Scalemind, but they’d cut only a tiny, needle-wide path through the whole of the Great Dungeon. Of course, after thousands of years, there wouldn’t be any evidence left behind if some dungeon-born race did find the core room.
The howling storm stopped very abruptly a short distance from the wall, which swirled into visibility through the driving rain. It bluntly cut off the cavern they were in, extending the length and breadth of the open space. Now that she was right up against it, she could sense that it extended off in all directions, more an embedded sphere maybe fifty miles across than a proper flat wall. It didn’t have any openings that she could sense, either, but that didn’t mean anything.
“I suspect this is the core room,” she said, idly pulling up the divination for the material of the wall, since she didn’t recognize the odd, slick grey metallic stone. Nothing happened, of course, because the normal divination that consulted the Akasha found nothing when it came to the depletion source, just like with the blightbeasts. All she could tell was that it was tremendously durable, and seemed to get most of that from active mana support. Maybe something like what Blue’s [Structural Mana Reinforcement] and [Amplified Presence] would produce in hundreds of years.
“I suspect you’re right. Man this is weird. I’m getting all kind of instinct pings from this stuff, not exactly pleasant. Like looking at an exposed heart or something I guess.” Blue sounded a little rattled, but it was difficult to tell considering that his normal mode of speech was meandering at the best of times.
“It is the heart we’re looking for,” she agreed. “Let’s cut it open and see what’s inside.”