“Hey Taelah, I have some people for you here.” Blue’s voice came through the wind outside, prompting Taelah to pause in her reading. Mostly she was catching up with her Skill growth, because while [Phantasmal Gardener] was an excellent Skill it always helped to have background from others. Her personal library had grown of late, mostly thanks to Annit. She was such a dear, getting herbalism manuals from Wildwood for Taelah.
“Who are they?” She asked, standing up and throwing her shawl over her shoulders. Even if Blue hadn’t let the bite of winter really set into the Caldera, it was still cooler outside than was quite comfortable. Besides, if he hadn’t already teleported them into the Caldera they were somewhere in Tarnil and that would be quite cold indeed.
“A bunch of teenagers, looks like? Eight boys and two girls, plus a pair of Elders. From Kinul.”
“Oh! I didn’t think they’d be arriving this late. Or early? I would have expected well after Midwinter, since they didn’t come earlier.” Ten people was quite a few, too. There were plenty of jobs for the youngsters out in the Caldera, since Blue didn’t coddle the people of the Village. There was always digging, tilling, repair, and construction, plus simple hauling, all of which needed strong backs. “Where are they now?”
“They just came out of the pass from Nivir. I don’t think they were expecting snow.” Blue’s tone made her laugh. “I just heard them talking about you.”
“I suppose I’ll go meet them and bring them back,” Taelah said, deciding that for as brief as it would be, the shawl would be enough. She headed out to the teleport point near her cottage, finding instead Blue had opened a portal for her.
She stepped through into a small area cleared of snow, and in fact fairly warm compared to the snow-draped surroundings. The teens were a small caravan, with a trio of Kinul’s pack-beasts looking very displeased by their cold surroundings. The moss-colored lizards lumbered forward toward the cleared space around Taelah against the protestations of their riders and despite the fact that the lizards were already well draped in blankets.
The two in front bore people with the insignia of Kinul elders, though she didn’t recognize them. They weren’t the ones she’d met at the summit. As she stepped forward to greet them she noticed the bubble of warmth moved with her, and she smiled to herself at Blue’s showmanship. She probably could have done a similar thing, between her own Skills and [Vow], but it hadn’t occurred to her. As it was, it seemed that she carried spring with her. Even the winter-browned grass on either side of the road grew greener in her presence.
“Greetings,” she said. “I am Elder Taelah of Blue’s Village. Welcome, Elder Hirus and Elder Marin,” she added, as Blue whispered their names in her ear. “I see you have brought some of your kin along.” Taelah eyed the gaggle of teenagers, whose expressions were of suppressed awe. Or not so suppressed, in some cases.
“Elder Taelah.” Hirus recovered his aplomb, sliding off his lizard and bowing to her. “Yes, we have brought some of our youth who might benefit from a change in perspective. I was told we would be provided transport to the Village itself, but I wasn’t expecting…” He trailed off, looking at the portal behind her. Elder Marin, on the other hand, was sneaking looks at the ring of melted snow, sharp eyebrows nearly invisible under her hairline.
“Blue is a Power, Elder Hirus,” Taelah said, almost chiding. Though to be fair, she hadn’t really understood what that meant until well after she had been involved with him. “Though you will not have to deal with him, only with me and the other Elders of the Village. We’re somewhat less fearsome,” she added with a smile. Marin laughed, a surprisingly high-pitched titter from the statuesque woman.
“If this is less fearsome, I’m happy to avoid any attention,” she said. Taelah didn’t mention that Blue already knew, since that would only disconcert them. Blue’s soft chuckle from the falling snow only drove that home.
“Come on, I’ll show you around the Village,” Taelah said, walking back through the arch of stone Blue had put over the road. It seemed to have actually grown while she was talking with them, and it had definitely changed locations, from her cottage to the center of the Village green. As she beckoned them through she kept an eye on them and, sure enough, every single one of them twisted around to look at the Tree of Eschaton the moment they stepped through the portal.
So far nothing in particular had come of it, and she wasn’t going to stop anyone if they felt like doing more than staring. The Tree could take care of itself, she was sure of that. Still, it was amusing to see the reaction happen every time someone first came to the Village.
“This is the Village center,” Taelah said, drawing their attention away from the Tree. “For the moment, you’ll be staying in the guest house there, though some of you already have sponsors. They will pick you up later today. Over there is the Maril butchery; they also have a ranch for those of you interested in animal handling. Speaking of which, what do your mounts need? The Village can provide any sort of fodder.” If the Village couldn’t, Blue could.
Some of the awed reverence faded back to normal respect as she took them around the Village, dropping their possessions at the guest house and handing the lizard-mounts over to one of the younger Maril boys for care and feeding. By the time she introduced them to Miss Burnhade, who somehow was prescient enough to have a small fruit tart for each of them, fresh out of the oven, they had unbent enough to start asking questions.
It was obvious that they didn’t really believe, or at least understand, that the Caldera walls were populated by Chiuxatli. They’d never heard of such an exotic race in Kinul. Similarly, the warning about the dragons sort of passed them by, getting nods without any signs of real comprehension. She couldn’t blame them overmuch, since before meeting Blue she’d never seen a dragon either. There was supposed to be one somewhere on the border between Nivir and Haerlish, on a stormy peak where nobody much ventured, but that was just some vague tale.
Amusingly, they didn’t have to use their imaginations for long. The big shadowy form of Syrinu dropped out of the sky, drawing a few shrieks from her guests. She even had to stop the two girls from running away with an impromptu hedge. She still didn’t like maturing real gardens or fields with her [Instant Growth], finding that the abrupt infusion of mana left the plants lacking in the vitality and intrinsic mana natural growth gave them, but that and [Plant Control] gave her some rather useful abilities.
“There’s no need to panic,” Taelah said calmly as Syrinu landed, folding her wings against her back. “Syrinu is one of the resident dragons. Don’t be rude to her. She’s not going to attack you on sight but she’s going be to rather annoyed if all you do is point and scream.” Syrinu had clearly heard everything and gave the Kinul contingent a toothy smile that made them flinch before focusing on Taelah. Taelah was pretty sure all dragons were at least a little bit mischievous.
“Akanen intercepted and turned back a group of Chiuxatli who were flying down this way,” Syrinu told her, not mischievous at all. “He didn’t hurt any of them, but I thought you should know, just in case.”
“I hadn’t even noticed,” Blue sighed. “I’ll have to see if Ansae is adding an inner portion to the wards…”
“Blue is now informed,” Taelah said with a nod. “We will make sure it’s taken care of. Thank your mate for me, Syrinu. They’re probably harmless, but they’re still not supposed to be down here.”
“Of course, Elder Taelah.” The horn enamel that Taelah had helped create still glowed on her horns, intricate designs in white light Affinity that apparently meant something to Akanen and Syrinu even if Taelah couldn’t decipher it. Regardless, Syrinu had been delighted and, dragon or not, Taelah was pretty sure she’d gotten a friend for life. “I see you have some new faces with you.”
“Yes, we’ve gotten some visitors from Kinul,” Taelah said, ignoring the expressions of said visitors. The Village had managed to adapt fairly quickly, so anyone who wanted to stay needed to be able to do that too. Besides, they hadn’t even met the monsters yet. “I believe we have some with rot Affinity so the Village will be able to start making good cheese again.”
“I don’t know how the Great Lady eats that stuff,” Syrinu said quietly, as if she were afraid Ansae would hear her. “But if you like it, I suppose it is a good thing.” She gave a toss of her head, a distinctly inhuman gesture. “Enjoy your... cheese,” she said, as if uncertain of the last word, before spreading her wings and taking off once again. Taelah held back a laugh, though since dragons ate mana, rot Affinity might be somewhat of an acquired taste.
“Speaking of rot Affinity, Elder Taelah,” one of the kids piped up, breaking the silence from the presence of the dragon. “Is there a place where you have some? Some of the plants and tools we brought need it.”
“There is every Affinity in the Caldera,” Taelah said, ignoring that there actually wasn’t, though the outliers were rare enough that nobody would really be seeking them out. “If he feels like it, Blue might even alter some place nearby to hold some. For the moment, the nearest confluence of rot Affinty is several hours’ journey away.” There was a marsh where the nearby river emptied out into the great central sea of the Caldera, which she had gone to in order to retrieve sweetroot for sugar, but otherwise left alone.
“Will we have the opportunity to obtain rot Affinity materials?” Elder Marin asked, almost hesitantly.
“Certainly. Blue gives nothing for free, but opportunities he provides in full.” Taelah told her. Though, in truth, they were still working on the actual logistics of mining and transport. Blue had given her the locations of a number of veins, now that the Caldera was starting to grow its own metals, but the sheer size of the Caldera made it difficult to transport the ore and metal back to the Village.
Still, it wasn’t an immediate concern, so she simply continued showing them around before letting them take their rest in the guesthouse. It wasn’t too difficult to find a few of the young children who often ran about the village center, helping their parents to one extent or another, to take messages to outlying farms about the guests. Some people just needed more hands, others wanted potential marriage prospects close at hand for a youth of the proper age.
A thought was nagging at the back of her mind, though, as she made her way back to her own cottage. At three months pregnant she was starting to show and her sensitivity to certain things had been heightened. Their guests from Kinul had raised the topic of rot Affinity and she found she didn’t want to be anywhere near it, though there was no actual danger. Similarly, as Blue’s Climates became more robust, the mana got thicker and the intent grew more potent, enough that she felt it might be too much for the youngest ones.
“Blue?” She said, settling down in her chair. “I’m wondering — can you actually reduce the mana here in the Village a bit? Around the central areas, and where the mundane crops are.”
“Probably?” Blue replied, sounding a bit uncertain. “What’s the problem?”
“I’m worried about the mana being too intense for our children,” Taelah said bluntly. “It may be getting there for the other youths as well, especially those without a Class.”
“Oh! Yes, absolutely, that makes sense. I’ll see what I can do, but you might want to also ask the dragons, too. They’ll be able to fine-tune the Climate more than I can.” It was odd to think that Blue couldn’t perfectly control his own mana, but at the same time, she knew his ways of interacting with it were limited. Even his best mana control was a very broad brush compared to what even she could do.
“Thank you, husband,” she said, and was rewarded with a flare of warmth from the fire in her hearth. It was effectively a hug, and she leaned back in her chair, content.