Weirdly, the dragon attack seemed to have made almost everyone happier. Kinul was happy because it was handled so easily and showed we were strong, Ir was happy because Garus got to wrestle dragons even if Keri did have to heal him, and Haerlish and Nivir were happy that it didn’t actually interrupt things. Even Ansae was happy, since she had people to yell at now. I had the feeling that while she didn’t mind being polite to me and mine, she was more comfortable lording it over others.
Orrelin seemed actually annoyed, though they’d been grumpy for a while, enough that I wondered if they’d known the dragons were coming. I hadn’t taken note of their point of origin but the last two had flown south before they landed long enough for me to snatch them, which was more or less in Orrelin’s direction. That might have been a little too paranoid, but I mentioned it to Iniri just in case Cheya thought it was worthwhile.
Wright was somewhat less happy when he had to deal with the spies – or maybe they were saboteurs – that Cheya and I had uncovered. Between her spy network, however it worked, and my [Panopticon] Field, we’d not only corralled several people from Ir but a few from Anell and a couple that fled as soon as their stealth popped. If I’d noticed them at the time, I might have been able to grab them, but I only found out later. Ansae’s point about my not having the time to make sure the Caldera didn’t catch on fire literally or metaphysically was a really good one.
Despite negotiations still shaking out, I was pretty sure that everyone would end up signing on but Orrelin. Of the countries attending only Ir and Haerlish really had to think about the impact of Anell’s embargo, and for both of them the stuff I could provide was of more value. I got a quick and dirty economics lesson listening in, finding out that the volume of trade Anell did was all high-value, artisan or at least highly fungible goods. Nobody was relying on them to import entire missing industries, thank goodness.
Given its isolationist nature Orrelin didn’t actually care about Anell’s embargo, but it was obvious that they’d mostly been sent to make sure Tarnil wasn’t going to do anything hostile to Orrelin, but it took until the fourth day of the summit to decide to leave. In hindsight I regretted giving them Primal Sources, but the worst they could do with it was improve themselves. Considering that they were all approximately sixty in both level and age, save for the inquisitor, they didn’t present very fearsome threats.
Everyone seemed happier once I teleported the Orrelin delegation and their luggage back to the base of the plateau by the southern end of Tarnil, where I’d picked them up. Well, Iniri and Shayma and Piping Hot Pies did anyway, which was what I cared about. That said, it still astounded me that it took four days to agree to things, even if those days were punctuated by meals and sleep and dragons and spies.
While people were still nattering away to try and pin down trade agreements, the two non-human-kin attendees to the summit came to swear their oaths to Iniri. It was a private ceremony, and while I was getting only one Chiuxatli I was getting the full village of Stoneborn. I did listen in long enough to find out that the Stoneborn were actually fundamentally magical – and sapient – geodes from the Underneath, and the swarm of stones that surrounded them was something akin to clothing. It made me wonder what else I was going to find in the Underneath.
Core Specialization: Habitation:
Stoneborn: All Stoneborn gain stonesense benefits as if they possessed earth Affinity. Those with earth Affinity gain additional fidelity to their stonesense. Earth mana grows geodes and crystals.
Chiuxatli: All Chixuatli gain flight benefits as if they possessed wind Affinity. Those with wind Affinity gain increased wing mana density. [Genius Loci] senses extend along wind and storm Affinity flows.
I found it interesting that the Stoneborn and Chiuxatli bonuses were so similar to the human-kin ones, but they also reminded me that just because they were living stone and birds that didn’t mean they automatically had earth or wind Affinity. Which, I had to admit, I had been doing. It was just too easy to assume that non-human types had a singular Affinity the way the Scalemind did. Maybe that was another difference between monsters and Classed types.
The dungeon gains were nothing to complain about. I already had some gemstones growing in the Caldera thanks to my Climates, but with the Stoneborn Habitation trait extra ones started growing everywhere. Mostly in the deep caves, but any place there was just basic stone and an earth mana flow seemed to be eligible. It wasn’t quick, not like when the Climates had drained my resources, but it seemed to be doing things the normal and natural way — at least, normal and natural when it came to mana.
Being able to see further was nice, too. I still couldn’t affect anything far away from my ground, unless I did something like the spatial field for the Caldera and had anchors, but I could at least see and hear up around the one to two kilometer mark above the surface, sometimes higher depending on how the mana flows went. Within the Caldera I had almost complete coverage, for whatever that was worth. It was essentially just empty air, minus whatever weather the Climates were generating, but perhaps I wouldn’t miss dragons flying around the next time it happened.
While I was poking around looking at my new stuff, I almost missed the chat Shayma was having with Wright. Amusingly enough Wright had been more interested in Iniri’s [Sunmetal] than most of what I had, so Shayma hadn’t needed to answer many questions from him. If anything, Iniri was quietly annoyed by Wright’s intense interest in her summoned metal.
“—wish I’d brought Voigtsten,” Wright said. “He’d love these cliffs. Not to mention he’s never been this high up before.”
“We could go get him,” Shayma suggested impishly. “Invernir isn’t that far away. I could get you and a couple guards there in an hour at most.”
“You can cross half the continent in an hour?” Wright asked, one eyebrow raised.
“There are benefits to being so close to a Power,” Shayma said with a grin.
“Well, if it’s that easy…” Wright seemed entirely too willing to go along with Shayma’s suggestion, failing to finish his sentence before he bustled off to prepare. I’d already noticed he seemed, at least on occasion, more impulsive than I would have expected from a fifth-tier emperor, but he did make sure to inform all his people what he was doing. Maybe it wasn’t really a risk, though — he was fifth-tier, and it wasn’t like Shayma or I had shown them any ill intent.
“I hope you don’t cause a panic by randomly popping in, emperor in tow or not.” I told her.
“Oh, I know I can hit Invernir but I doubt I could drop into the palace or stables directly from deep in the Phantasmal Realm,” Shayma replied. “I bet the emperor showing up when he ought to be in Tarnil will be more of a surprise.”
“I mean, teleportation and stuff does exist. It can’t be that unreasonable.”
“Your constant use of teleportation is what’s actually unreasonable.” Shayma laughed. “Which is part of why I offered. Doing a personal favor for the emperor and showing off at the same time? I had to do it.”
“That does make sense,” I allowed. She wouldn’t even need to find Iniri and fill her in, because of [Companion Concord]. I had really gotten a sense for how amazing that Skill was over the summit, with how seamlessly Taelah and Iniri and Shayma worked together. Wright returned with Tendau and Capito in tow, and Shayma extended a hand.
“Grab on,” she said. “And keep up!” The four of them clasped arms in a way that was completely free of awkwardness. It took me a moment to realize that of course anyone at that level had dungeon-diving experience and there would be places where, even without magic, people would need to hang on to each other. I’d missed where Shayma might have learned it, but with adventurer parents maybe they’d taught her at a young age.
They vanished from the floor of the summit and Shayma hauled them deep into the Phantasmal Realm, the strange transparency and vibrancy of the place surrounding them. Wright gave it an interested look, Tendau stared about with unabashed fascination, and Capito simply looked grim. The last had seemed a sourpuss from the start, but he hadn’t started any fights or yelled at anybody, so I was willing to put it down to loyal protectiveness toward Wright.
The perspective of the world shifted oddly the deeper they went, landscape distorting and colors shifting, the hazy outlines of reality vanishing away. Despite the fact that the Phantasmal Realm was supposedly mine, I couldn’t personally discern what each of the landmarks that made up the Phantasmal Realm were beyond vague outlines. Shayma seemed to have no problem, though, running along on nothing in particular. Whatever the properties of the Phantasmal Realm, it seemed that it had good footing. None of them had issues keeping up, though Tendau was cheating since he was obviously floating instead of jogging.
“What is this?” Wright asked, trying to figure out what he was seeing.
“This is the Phantasmal Realm. It is uniquely Blue’s, and actually has quite a few interesting properties.” Shayma chuckled. “Including some that are useful for crafting, though of course you can’t find it outside of his realm.”
“Useful how?” Wright predictably latched onto the statement, and Shayma smiled mysteriously.
“I could show you, but I might ask you to make something while you’re at my forge in exchange.”
“Deal.” Wright said immediately.
Shayma Ell has gained [Noble Trickster] experience.
Dungeon gains 145,234 experience from Companion Shayma Ell.
Considering that Shayma’s [Smithery] would keep the knowledge that Wright put into whatever he made, and he was a fifth-tier smith, that was insanely valuable. No wonder she got so much experience from that; Shayma was really living up to her Class. In keeping with that, for the remainder of the trip she did no more than hint at things that she or I could do, refusing to answer the direct questions about how many Sources I could provide or how much affinity Pool liquid I had lying around.
True to her word, it took just under an hour for Shayma to get them to Invernir, though when Shayma dropped them out of the Phantasmal Realm they ended up ten meters above some rooftops in what looked like a market district. All of them simply hopped down, and silence rippled outward as people saw their Emperor wandering around with a pair of guards.
“That is a fast travel Skill,” Wright said, and Tendau nodded agreement. “Right, we shouldn’t be gone from the summit for too long. This way, Miss Shayma, and I’ll show you to the stables.” I was expecting them to walk or something, but instead Wright turned off to the side and headed down an avenue toward something I recognized only after staring a while. It was a train stop. Kind of.
It wasn’t a double rail with engines pulling boxcars. It was more like an elevated monorail, but the rail part was three meters across and plated in something that looked like bronze. The cars, such as they were, seemed entirely self-propelled and floated above the track, almost all of them round discs of a similar bronze and moving way too quickly for what were open cars. But when I looked at it closer it was obvious there wasn’t a breeze ruffling people’s hair or baggage, nor was there a jerk when things started and stopped.
People cleared out for Wright without even looking, probably some lesser version of the Presence Ansae and I had, and he pressed his signet ring against a set of runes at the station where people waited. Despite my limited point of view, I could see platforms all along the way come to a halt and then move to float just off the edge of the track. What they were stopped for was obvious when a large, covered platform raced into view at ridiculous speeds and stopped almost instantly in front of them. It was the royal car, clearly, with the insignia and everything.
In truth I was more impressed by the magitek rail system, which had to eat up an enormous amount of mana and must have taken a huge amount of time to make. I wondered how the artificer had set up the logical processing, or if that was somehow abstracted away by magical stuff. At any rate, it made me wish there was more of that around Tarnil, though once Shayma actually boarded the rail and I had a better view out the window I saw there weren’t all that many of them to cover the city.
“Hey Shayma, could you ask Wright who made the rail system? Maybe putting one together for Tarnil could be a long term project.”
“Blue would like to know who created the transport system,” Shayma said, settling into the opulent cabin while the landscape rushed past outside. At the speed they were going it wasn’t going to take long to reach the palace.
“I made some of it,” Wright said, looking at Shayma with interest. “The original design was created by Haeran Sen — he designed it for Beacon and even had one built before the Northern Wastes were created.”
“Uhh, so it was invented in old Tarnil? That’s— no, actually that makes sense.” Skills and magic instead of technology meant that they wouldn’t have massive scales of standardized magitek, but the basic principles being known and reproduced was ordinary human behavior. I hadn’t seen anything like the magic train in Haerlish, but they were water based so maybe there were powered canals or something I hadn’t noticed. “I keep forgetting that the Tarnil I’m used to isn’t a good reference point for the rest of the world.”
Shayma nodded, but didn’t reply, since there really wasn’t anything to say to that. The train car or whatever it was called arrived at the palace after only a couple minutes, and Wright vaulted out, seeming more at ease inside the grounds where people simply stopped and saluted. He didn’t give Shayma the full tour, but he did point out the barracks and forges and meeting rooms and where smoke rose from massive furnaces smelting ore. Apparently Ir’s Great Dungeon had enough metal affinity that literal tons of the stuff was pulled out on a regular basis.
I had known in a vague, intellectual way that Wright’s mount had to be a flying one, but I hadn’t expected an oversized winged lion. An intelligent oversized winged lion, since when he saw Wright he sprang to his feet and chuffed at him, clearly confused. The lion’s place in the stables wasn’t furnished the way a fully sapient being’s might be, but it was upholstered and decorated beyond something expected for a mere beast of burden.
“I know I’m not supposed to be here, Voigtsten,” Wright said, breezing into the stall and scratching the lion under the chin. “But I had to come back and get you! There’s an amazing place for you to fly around in, you’ll love it.” He turned back to Shayma. “You can ride with me on the way back.”
“Oh, I’ll just teleport you back,” Shayma said, leaning against the wall of the stable. I took that for a cue and took over some of the building briefly so I could send all of them, including Voigtsten, back to the summit. The poor cat yowled but fortunately didn’t react any more strongly to the change of scenery, while I pulled back so I could core recall Shayma.
“Oh Shayma, before you go back to the summit, you’ll want to touch a core. I just got a nice notification for you.”
Shayma Ell has gained [Noble Trickster] experience.
Dungeon gains 12,591 experience from Companion Shayma Ell.
Advancement to level 50 available.
Advancement to third tier available.