Thus far Taelah had been aware of the Chiuxatli in a mostly intellectual way. They were sort of visible on the walls of the Caldera, though only as vague spots of color and movement, but so far none of them had ventured down toward the Village. She knew it was only a matter of time until that happened, no matter that Blue had warned them against it, so it was better to meet Tlulipechua herself and set things out beforehand. She was glad that she didn’t have to speak for Blue all the time, but it was equally nice that he trusted her to do so when necessary.
“Excuse me,” she told Syrinu, standing up and tucking away the alchemy vials she’d been showing the dragon. Between Blue and Ansae, only a few of the dragons had dared come by the Village and those that had were exceedingly polite. Syrinu had come by to discuss lairing to the south of the Village where there were hills and deep woods, but the conversation had somehow turned to alchemy about halfway through. “I need to attend some business for Husband, but I’ll be back soon if you care to wait.”
“Certainly, Matriarch Taelah,” Syrinu said. The title always made Taelah smile and rest her hand on her belly. She wasn’t exactly a matriarch yet, but it was only a matter of time. She nodded to the darkness dragon and walked the short distance to the teleport point, pulling on it to send herself to the audience chamber.
Despite Shayma describing the Chiuxatli as colorful, and even her own strange half-remembered knowledge of colortongue from the [Crafting Hall], she wasn’t ready for the brilliant plumage that Tlulipechua had. His feathers were so bright they practically glowed, or maybe actually glowed, in vibrant reds and yellows edged in shimmers of blues and greens.
“Husband asked me to fill in while his Voice is away,” she said in response to the surprise she saw ripple across his feathers.
“You are married to Lord Blue?” Tlulipechua asked after a moment, disbelieving, his wings rustling softly as he shifted forward. He asked the same thing in colortongue, forgetting for a moment that he was trying to use magical sound speech.
“I am,” Taelah smiled at him, though she wasn’t sure how he saw it. The lack of eyes was rather disconcerting. “What is it that you need, Flight-Alpha Tlulipechua?”
“Our farmers and crafters are finding it difficult to adjust our crops to the soil and mana here,” Tlulipechua said after another brief hesitation. “They grow, but not properly. It has only been a few days, true, but we wish to solve the problem before any of our seed stock is lost.”
“Then I am absolutely the person to talk to,” Taelah said. She could probably adapt their crops directly, but propagating it across the entirety of the Caldera would take collaboration. “Why don’t you come with me to the Village? Blue, would you get some samples of the crops and put them by my garden?”
“Absolutely. I mean, I could just growth field them but I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t make them grow like the Chiuxatli want.”
“Yes, of course I will go with you. Lady Blue?” The tint of his feathers did a better job of conveying that he was asking about her title than the magic-created words.
“Just Taelah,” she assured him. “Elder Taelah, if you must. Just a moment and we’ll be there.” She reached out and pulled on the teleport points that Blue had set up, bringing herself and Tlulipechua to the Village green. The first thing he did was twist around to stare at the Tree, then immediately jerked back at the sight of the large darkness-Affinity dragon lounging on the grass in all her shadowy glory.
“That’s Syrinu,” Taelah told him, privately amused at the reaction. Sometimes she couldn’t believe her casual treatment of dragons herself. “I may ask her to join us, actually. Dragons are experts at altering mana and she may have insights I lack.” Dragon hearing being what it was, Syrinu stretched and got to her feet as Taelah spoke, ambling over and towering over them.
“You need my opinion on something, Matriarch Taelah?”
“If you would.” Taelah beckoned for them to follow her to her garden, at least the one she kept in the Village. The special one that Blue made her was a private affair. “While you’re here, Tlulipechua, I wanted to ask how your people are taking this relocation.”
“Better than I thought they would,” the Chiuxatli replied after a moment, which her Skill told her was almost a lie. “There are, of course, those who are unhappy with it, but there are others who appreciate everything that Blue has provided.”
“How long do you think it will be until someone comes to the Village to cause trouble?” She asked bluntly, getting a ripple of amusement from Tlulipechua.
“Perhaps a week, under normal circumstances. With dragons around, I think they will be more circumspect.” Both statements were true.
“If they do cause trouble, I cannot promise any mercy on Blue’s part,” she warned.
“Yeah, if they even try to bully someone in the village I’ll just squish ‘em.” Blue was actually serious, a rarity for him.
“Nor would I counsel any,” Tlulipechua said grimly. “My command has been to stay to the air he has given us. Unfortunately, there will be those who see that only as a temptation. I completely revoke my protection over any who come here without your permission.” Once again, it rang completely true. First Wright, and now Tlulipechua seemed to have no penchant for lies. She wondered if it was something about being fifth-tier, or just about being that powerful.
“Then we are in agreement,” she said, nodding to the garden as they approached it. “Now let us see what can be done about your crops.” True to his word, Blue had set up several rows of unfamiliar plants outside the garden. There were several varieties of clinging vine, a floating spiked ball tethered to the ground by a long root, and even a few that actually grew in the dirt like normal vegetables. Finally, there were at least a half dozen trees, all of them hardy and short.
“Oh, I’ve seen this before.” Syrinu spoke up, and Taelah blinked. Even though she’d invited the dragon along specifically because of her mana experience, for some reason she hadn’t actually expected Syrinu to spot the problem. Obviously, she’d been working by herself too much.
“These are all adapted to specific storm and wind mana,” Syrinu continued. “Blue has plenty of raw mana but it’s almost completely lacking in intent. Without the intent of the place where they normally grow, they won’t be quite the same.”
“That is amazing.” She’d only started encountering properly mana-rich flora when she’d met Blue, and even the Caldera was only the tiniest slice of what was possible. In fact, it was highly atypical, considering his mana. “How do you normally address something like that?”
“Tune the local mana intent to match what you want,” Syrinu said promptly. “Considering the size of the Caldera, that would take a while.”
“Yes…” Taelah said slowly, tasting an idea. “I suppose we could try altering the crops so they worked with Blue’s mana instead, but then they wouldn’t work anywhere else.”
“We do intend to go back,” Tlulipechua said. “We would not wish to lose our traditional foods and meals, even for a few years.”
“I thought as much.” Taelah took a moment to consider the idea she had properly, drumming her fingers over her belly. “Perhaps we can simply go halfway. I will need help for the intent.” She stepped forward, pulling the mana conversion and generation aspects from one of Blue’s chrystheniums into [Vow]. From one of the Chiuxatli climbing vines she took the small pieces of hunger that were not satisfied by Blue’s mana.
Taelah picked up a potted flower, a simple one she kept because it was pretty, not because it had any particular alchemical use. A minute or two of concentration was all it took to mix the three aspects she’d taken together and then instill them into the flower, the petals changing color as it started changing Blue’s ambient mana into something more like storm and wind.
It wasn’t nearly good enough, and it would take a lot more work and help from someone with better mana sense to get just right. But it was a start. She handed it to Tlulipechua, who held it gingerly and sniffed at it. Shock rippled over his plumage.
“It smells like home!” He sniffed again. “It is not exact, but it is very close.”
“Keep that one,” she told him. She could make another one, the mixture still held in [Vow]. “With dragon help, I can make something that fits the original intent better, and Blue can simply plant it anywhere it needs to go.”
“That is brilliant, Taelah.” Blue told her. “Whatever gave you that idea?”
“It reminded me of how ruskfruit is just bland unless you grow it alongside roundbean,” she said modestly. “Plants rely on each other for all kinds of nutrients, why not mana? Since you can grow things easily enough, or get rid of them, it would be the easiest way to bridge the gap.”
“I thank you,” Tlulipechua said. “To find that there will be an immediate solution is quite gratifying. As to be expected from the wife of a great Power.” Her Skill told her there was only a little bit of a lie there, enough that the flattery was mostly genuine. The fact that he clutched the potted flower close warmed her heart a lot more than the words.
“Oh, please tell him that I’ll want to show him the stuff that needs doing in the next couple days. I don’t know his specialists so he can bring whomever, figure out how he wants to tackle it.”
“I find I rather enjoy solving problems like these,” she told him. “Blue still has his own problems, though, and he will be summoning you sometime in the next few days to acquaint you with them.”
“I have not forgotten our end of the Bargain,” Tlulipechua assured her. “I even believe that having concrete requests will reassure many of my people.”
“Excellent,” she said. While she didn’t mind standing in for Shayma, she got enough political wrangling dealing with the other elders and she was glad Tlulipechua didn’t need any special handling. Then again, it didn’t seem likely that even a fifth-tier ruler could be as ornery as old Miss Burnhade. “Blue’s Voice will tell you when it’s done, but I expect Blue will have it all planted less than an hour after I’m finished with it.”
“I wouldn’t dream of—” Tlulipechua stopped and turned abruptly looking back toward the Village. Only quick reaction on Taelah’s part stopped One-Eye-Green from coming to grief, as she reached out with her Skills and plants surged up to stop a frankly horrifying blade of wind from Tlulipechua’s wings, exploding apart in a burst of branches and leaves. A sudden shadow prison appeared around the Chiuxatli as Syrinu acted in turn, cutting him off from any further action.
“Oh, crap. I forgot people had a weird reaction to monsters. I’ve got One-Eye-Green for the moment. You can chew him out before I send her back.” Blue told her.
“Thank you,” she told Blue, then turned to Syrinu and nodded her head. “Thank you as well. You may release him now.” The dragon flicked a claw and the walls of shadow parted to reveal Tlulipechua, standing stock-still.
“Do not start any violence here,” she told Tlulipechua coldly. “Even the monsters here are under Blue’s protection. If you had killed that one your own life would have been forfeit.” That gave the Chiuxatli pause, and he turned and bowed to her.
“I apologize. I can only offer that my experiences with monsters before now have honed my instincts to strike first and decisively. You are correct that I should not have acted so; this is not my realm, but Blue’s.” There was enough truth in that statement that she finally nodded, returning the sudden growth of shrubs and grass to normal.
“Accepted, but you should also apologize to her.” Though Blue was often times absentminded or preoccupied, when he was paying attention he knew exactly how to respond to her. As soon as Taelah finished speaking, One-Eye-Green reappeared in front of them, radiating confusion.
“Miss Taelah?” She asked, looking from her to Syrinu to Tlulipechua. The Chiuxatli’s feathers rippled in astonishment at the sound of One-Eye-Green’s voice. “I was just bringing some flowers we fished up from the underground ocean…” She held up a small stone vase with some colorful fronds poking out of it.
“Thank you, sweetie,” Taelah said, stepping forward to take the vase from her. Despite looming over Taelah with claws and fangs, One-Eye-Green was really a good child. “Flight-Alpha Tlulipechua just thought you were a normal monster.”
“And I was wrong to do so,” Tlulipechua said. “You have my apologies for attacking you.”
“Oh,” One-Eye-Green said. “We’re working on becoming not-monsters with Mister Blue! If that helps?”
“A worthy goal,” Tlulipechua said, but it was clear he was uncomfortable with One-Eye-Green.
“I’ll be with you in a little bit, dear,” Taelah told her. “I just have to escort the Flight-Alpha back and finish my business with Syrinu.”
“Alright Miss Taelah!” One-Eye-Green cast another look at Tlulipechua and hied off toward the Village center again. She seemed somewhat unfazed about Tlulipechua nearly killing her, but it was possible she didn’t really see it, or maybe it was just that she was a monster still.
“That was a Scalemind,” Tlulipechua said after One-Eye-Green was out of earshot. “They are extremely dangerous.”
“You get used to it,” Syrinu snorted. “The Silver Woe herself lives in that far tower. We’re all dangerous here.”
“I do understand the gravity of my mistake,” Tlulipechua said. “I assure you it will not happen again.”
“Good,” said Taelah, feeling his sincerity, and moved on. There was no need for any further chastisement and it didn’t fit with what she really wanted to talk to him about. “Now, since we are neighbors, before you go, you’ll have to tell me what your family does for midwinter gifts.” Tlulipechua’s plumage turned slightly orange in amusement, his eyeless head bobbing once.
“Foodstuffs and cloth, primarily. It is not proper to offer heavier gifts that may weigh one down in at the midwinter festival.” Taelah nodded in satisfaction. The Village had both of those, especially absurdly luxurious cloth. A few bolts would be good.
“Very well, then. If there is nothing else, I will have Blue return you to your home.”
“I have nothing further. Thank you, Elder Taelah.” Tlulipechua managed a credible bow, still holding the potted flower, despite his decidedly nonhuman anatomy. Blue whisked him away a moment later, and Taelah shook her head, turning to Syrinu.
“I’m sorry for that interruption. I really am interested in trying to figure things out. Obviously I haven’t worked with dragon scales or claws before!”
“It is of no moment, Matriarch Taelah,” Syrinu said. “Perhaps I can assist you in solving the Flight-Alpha’s problem while you figure out how to color my scales. I want to surprise Akanen!”