It was actually snowing. It was not entirely out of season, since it was well past Harvest and moving into winter, but snow was fairly rare in Tarnil. Or had been, anyway. With Blue’s towers providing the weather, it might be more frequent in the future. The snow and the frost wasn’t entirely welcome, but according to the reports she had been keeping studious track of, it wasn’t a disaster, either.
They had enough food built up to feed everyone over the winter, taking into account some of the higher level [Farmers] could still keep growing. Plus with the excess mana, winter crops were viable, as well as the huge amount of warmth stones Ir had sent up. The outlier villages had plenty of lumber, and the trees were growing faster anyway. Despite all the devastation and the almost complete breakdown of infrastructure, they didn’t have to worry about starving or freezing over the winter.
Naturally, the plants in the Palace stayed lush and green. The sheer amount of [Sunmetal] used in its construction meant that the chill didn’t reach inside, the snow melting where it landed on roofs or windows. Iniri wouldn’t call the Palace a singular magic item quite yet, but it was getting there, and constant, pleasant temperature was definitely a magical effect she appreciated.
She had hopes that some of the frantic scrambling she’d been doing to keep the tattered economy and infrastructure from collapsing completely would go away fairly soon. Some of that would be replaced by efforts to actually improve things, now that Blue was enhancing Tarnil’s mana and augmenting its citizenry. Most of the wealth and infrastructure of Old Tarnil had been destroyed when the Wasteland had been created, and the southern part of the country hadn’t had anywhere near the wealth or expertise to recreate it.
Now, they did. Even without directly getting money from Blue’s insane number of resources, the increased mana flow coupled with Blue’s Habitation bonuses meant that more Affinity materials were being created. Her connection to him meant that polities like Ir were suddenly interested in dealing with them, and fourth-tiers from other nations had reason to come by. It wasn’t just the Wildwood that Tarnil had to offer, anymore, and even the Wildwood was being slowly taken back under Crown control. With Grandmaster Monat’s blessing, even, because he was absolutely happy that Tarnil was coming back.
In a sense it was very strange to finally start looking toward the future, but it was also a relief. Admittedly, the future held some problems she didn’t quite know how to solve yet, and others that she was still working on. The most intractable of which was the heir problem.
Tarnil absolutely could not afford to remain as isolated as it had in the past. There had been no ties by blood to other kingdoms or empires for three generations, or maybe two, depending on how accurate the rumors about her great-great-grandmother were. The consequences of that had been abundantly clear in how nobody had come to their defense at all. Not only had Tarnil lacked defensive pacts or alliances, which was only to be expected under the circumstances, but it had lacked even distant family to speak on its behalf.
Yet at the same time there were no good prospects. Not zero prospects, as Andis was fairly obviously available, but someone like him was potentially more harmful than no outside marriage. Blood ties went both ways and while Tarnil wasn’t strong at the moment, it had a hundred years of Power-backed growth that she didn’t want dissipated by a bunch of useless hangers-on.
All of that contemplation had led a seed of an idea, planted by an offhand comment at the Summit, to germinate. There was, after all, a full hundred years of Power-backed growth, which meant that it was more the future investment that had value than the present state of Tarnil. In a sense, it wasn’t so much Iniri who would have an incredibly valuable and powerful kingdom, but her children.
Wright was too old for her and married besides, and his heirs were already tied up with the Empire, keeping the most important families bound to the Wright bloodline. His grandchildren, though, were still infants or as yet unborn. Joining the Wright and Tarnil families was absolutely possible, but not for her.
Iniri felt a little guilty about considering an arranged marriage so early on, especially since it meant that she wouldn’t have to sacrifice anything for that political consideration, but that was just part of being a monarch. In truth her parents should have been thinking about her betrothal long before they died, though they probably didn’t have good options either.
With some degree of hesitation she opened the paired notebook that Wright had given her. Specifically her; it wasn’t meant to be the official channel of communication, like the one her advisors had access to. It was a personal channel of communication between two monarchs, a rather politically daring gift, but one that seemed only appropriate for Wright. Or perhaps she should think of him as Adrian, considering their friendly relations.
I have been considering the heir topic you raised at the Summit. She wrote. After fully reviewing my options I think there is a lot of merit in setting up a betrothal between one of my children and one of your grandchildren. Which ones was a little tricky, since Tarnil was rather too far from Ir to be properly incorporated and Iniri didn’t have any intention of ceding sovereignty, anyway. On Ir’s end, the candidates would have to be one of Gavin Wright’s children, since he had the metal Affinity that meant he’d inherit the throne. But whomever was selected couldn’t be in line to inherit, which was a delicate issue.
There was no immediate reply, but Iniri didn’t expect one. If he was as busy as she was, he might check the book once a day, if that. He might put it somewhere where he could see if she’d replied at a glance, but obviously that wouldn’t be out in public. Either way, even if it was a direct line it wasn’t quite a face-to-face conversation, so she’d have to be patient.
In the meantime, she had plenty to do, both with Tarnil and for Blue. The [Torc of the Stars] around her neck, shedding a little bit of its own warmth, was a reminder of just what level could be reached when they worked together. Not just Blue doing his own absurd thing, which he absolutely still did, but cooperating with him and his other Companions.
It was oddly reassuring that he needed their help to create more complex items. To some extent what Blue could and could not do seemed very arbitrary, but there was definitely a hard limit on shaping mana and infusing it with intent. He could make incredibly powerful effects with either no direction or a very generic one. It had taken people who could actually properly touch magic to harmonize the stars that had defended Tarnil with a magic artifact and to get what seemed to be the protection of fate itself.
There was no telling what the effect might be, but the fact that the Torc’s protection extended to her entire kingdom made it worthy of Artifact status, indeed. In the far future, even after their Bargain with Blue was complete, the Torc by itself might be enough to prevent another invasion like the one the mage-kings had fielded. She reached up to touch it, feeling the immense power humming beneath her fingertips, and shook her head. It might well be more powerful than the Adamant Fortress, even if it was far simpler.
The thought made her shuffle through her paperwork, looking for some of the reports related to Blue’s Fortress. He had some ideas for it but didn’t have any knowledge of how to implement most of them, and while her runework Skill was fairly good, she knew there were specialized techniques in all kinds of magics that would help. Unfortunately, most of the records had been lost in the invasion and her inquiries had shown that they’d stayed lost.
In a way it was churlish to worry about the loss of material and money when the real cost had been paid in lives, but the fact was that an enormous amount of the royal treasury and library was simply gone. Giorn and Sienne had been highly effective in what they had recovered, but there was sadly a lot that had vanished into private hands. Or had been flat-out destroyed, burned or melted in the fighting, or even taken by the mage-kings at some point. It was the sort of damage that was incredibly difficult to recover from.
“I think we’ll want to get in some experts from Ir for your Fortress, Blue,” Iniri said aloud, and felt his attention fix on her.
“Yeah? For which bits?”
“All sorts of things. Complicated wards, dynamic illusion generators…” She shrugged. The list was endless. “There just aren’t many people left in Tarnil with the expertise in advanced magical artifice that you need.” Even in the Wildwood, most experts were focused on equipping adventurers, not fortresses.
“I don’t know…” Blue sounded uncertain. “I’m not sure how much I like the idea of other people working on things. Even if Wright was pretty friendly.”
“I’m sure the Great Lady would deal very severely with anyone who tried to raise subverted wards around her home,” Iniri pointed out. “Not to mention, it’s not like your Fortress is secret.”
“I guess it is kind of hard to miss.”
“If we’re lucky, some of the specialists we invite in will stay, too. Tarnil desperately needs high level artisans to provide guidance to the next generation.”
“Oh! Yeah, definitely. I’m a little surprised they haven’t come already, but I suppose it wasn’t until the summit that anyone had any idea I was willing to trade stuff. Or that I really existed.”
“The Anell embargo is going to prevent people from further continents from getting here easily. Most everyone goes through Einteril to get to Orn, though occasionally someone will come from Hoarast, to the south.” Most things from Hoarast didn’t venture far outside the icy continent, finding even the mild temperatures of Orn or Einteril distasteful. Though if she had to guess, that was where the glacial dragon Tekeenu and Wright’s ice-oriented fourth-tier originally hailed from.
“Ugh. Yeah, we need to deal with the Anells as soon as I get my fortress up and running. See how much they like me blockading them instead.” Iniri laughed at the mental image. She’d not seen Port Anell itself, but she could imagine Blue’s giant black fortress hovering out in the bay would cause a lot of consternation.
“I look forward to that, I really do. Though you’re going to be making a lot of enemies going after them. They do business on five continents.”
“Hey, if they didn’t want me to bury them alive, they shouldn’t have attacked you.” The protectiveness behind the statement brought a touch of color to her cheeks. She wasn’t on nearly as familiar terms with Blue as his other Companions or even the Great Lady, so she didn’t really expect that kind of emotional consideration from him. It was nice to hear, though.
“Besides, from what I’ve heard from Sienne they’ve had it coming for a while,” Blue continued. “The entity that controls the flow of money always ends up corrupt and tyrannical and usually very bad things happen when it dies. Still better than letting it continue on.”
“True enough,” Iniri said, though part of her worried about Blue getting into the habit of toppling governments. Though, she was pretty sure the only reason he cared to begin with was because of her. Suddenly she understood Ansae a little bit better. It was pretty flattering to have someone crush a major political player for offending her.
“Oh, this doesn’t look good. Cheya’s on her way over,” Blue said suddenly. Iniri winced. She’d been hoping to have some time before the next disaster, but it seemed that was not to be. Cheya came through the office door a moment later, looking fractionally perturbed.
“The Chiuxatli want to see you,” she told Iniri. “A messenger flew in a few minutes ago and they’re in quite a state. I’m assuming this is connected with the issues they were having before, but I haven’t been able to translate their language yet.” Cheya frowned slightly. “I will have to learn it if they’re going to be staying here.”
“As will I,” Iniri agreed, actually looking forward to it a bit. The world was a big place, and she wasn’t going to have the opportunity to see much of it, but with Blue a lot of it would be coming to Tarnil. “I suppose I can see them now. In the White Room, I think, they seemed to like that one.” She called in a page, informed him, and had him repeat the instruction before he bowed and departed in haste.
“What’s your guess?” Iniri asked, checking over her desk and shielding it before rising. While it wasn’t strictly necessary within the Palace, she’d started to cultivate the habit of protecting her work by simply conjuring a shield of [Sunmetal] over it, like with her desk. Eventually, she wanted to make saferooms and vaults wholly enclosed in the material, because the Torc meant that a ruler of Tarnil could use [Customization] to simply open a door. If she wanted them to be really secure, though, she needed the exact same expertise that Blue was considering.
“My guess is someone overstepped their bounds and we have a lot of Chiuxatli coming. More than we agreed on. Though it may be to take our guests back; I suspect they’re more important than simple diplomats.” Cheya shrugged, but Iniri had guessed as much herself. While she didn’t know much about Chiuxatli politics or families, using the spare heir or a close cousin for delicate diplomatic work was fairly common.
“I gave them residence, not sanctuary.” Iniri’s lips thinned as she contemplated potential trouble. “We shall see. I won’t be bullied by the Chiuxatli but I’m not going to insist our guests stay, either.” She walked to the White Room, flanked by her Queensguard and trailed by Cheya, and entered through the royal door. Three Chixuatli and their interpreter bowed as she entered, and she seated herself before she bid them rise.
“I understand you may have some news from home,” she prompted, waiting to see what they’d say. Feathers flashed brilliantly and the interpreter bowed again before replying, a sign of nervousness.
“Yes, Queen Iniri,” he said. “Two weeks ago, a swarm of monsters came out of the Underneath below Chiuxatlan. They carried massive amounts of depletion that began to rapidly infect the nearby landscape.” Iniri raised her brows, thinking immediately of the Blightbeasts that Blue had destroyed. Saying that they’d come out somewhere under the Chiuxatli’s entire country was quite vague, but considering how many there might be, it could be they swarmed up through dozens or hundreds of passageways from the depths.
“Flight-Alpha Tlulipechua oversaw an evacuation of all the survivors and began a voyage here two days ago. Our paired link was destroyed during the initial attack and it was not until this forward scout reached us that we knew any of this.” The interpreter continued, and a chill went down Iniri’s spine, especially at the term survivors.
“How many Chiuxatli are coming?” She asked warily. The refugees turning into invaders was not really a worry, not with Blue involved, but Tarnil was not at all capable of absorbing many refugees.
“Somewhat over three million,” the interpreter told her. “Flight-Alpha Tlulipechua mustered most of the Great Host onto long-flight platforms in the first few days.” Iniri just stared, barely able to grasp the scale of it.
“That…” She stopped herself and asked the salient question. “When will they be here?”
“According to the scout, they should be visible in six hours.”