“I think that some of my people will want to stay. Not many, but some.” Tlulipechua’s magically-created voice was pensive, his feathers rippling in colortongue that was the same as his speech. Even if Taelah could understand it thanks to the Bargain and Blue’s [Crafting Hall], it was hard for her to actually read it with just two eyes. [The Heart of the Matter] helped, but she was glad he was willing to speak aloud and save her the struggle.
“That doesn’t surprise me. The Caldera is a very nice place,” she replied. “But if they do stay, they won’t be your people anymore. Once you’ve moved back to Chiuxatlan and the Bargain is over, whomever we let stay here will be Blue’s.” That wasn’t exactly true, since the dragons were more Ansae’s, the Leviathan’s abechrai was sort of independent even if they obeyed her directions. The Chiuxatli who stayed definitely wouldn’t be in Tlulipechua’s flock, though. There were too many conflicting loyalties.
“Yes, and I suspect some malcontents may try to use it as an excuse to get away from my authority. I wouldn’t wish them on you.”
“Oh, I have ways of separating the wheat from the chaff,” Taelah reassured him. “We are amenable to a community of Chiuxatli, but only the size of a village. At most two hundred or so, and I very much doubt that you’ll want us to poach your best. Perhaps one small flock of ranchers or farmers, much like our village was before we moved to Blue.”
“Yes, I can see how that would be for the best.” He rustled his wings uncomfortably, considering. “It does seem a shame for all that lovely cliffside to go unused, though.”
“Most of the Caldera is wilderness, and that is by design,” Taelah told him. “In the end, Blue doesn’t need to be a country. He just needs himself and a few people he can trust. The Hedron is where a real Chiuxatli city can live.” That had already started, though she was sure Tlulipechua would be taking the hatchlings home with him when they returned to Chiuxatlan. There was just no substitute for a real homeland.
“Yes, I do wish to maintain our presence in the Hedron,” Tlulipechua said.
“Then you’ll only ever be a portal away,” Taelah told him.
“A state of affairs I have yet to get used to,” he said. “But I can hardly object to closer relations with our neighbors to the west.”
“I’ve been rather pleased myself,” Taelah admitted. “With so many of you I thought there’d be more problems, but I don’t really have any complaints.”
“When the most problematic individuals get eaten by dragons, it significantly cuts down on any subsequent trouble,” Tlulipechua said dryly.
“It is quite nice to have such protectors,” Taelah said modestly.
“I have much work to do,” Tlulipechua decided, rising to his feet. “Thank you for your consideration, Matriarch Taelah.”
“Anytime, Flight-Alpha,” Taelah returned in kind.
“Be well, young masters Grant and Eva,” he added, addressing her children, who were mostly entranced by the flashing feathers. They were too young to really understand him, of course, but Taelah appreciated that he treated them seriously nonetheless.
“Come on, you two, let’s see him off.” Taelah picked up the pair, glad that her third-tier physique made it easy for her to juggle them both. They followed Tlulipechua outside, watching the Chiuxatli vanish through the archway that led between the Village and the Flight-Alpha’s personal compound. Soon enough that would have to be removed, as the population prepared to move back to Chiuxatlan.
Seeing that the lamp near the ferry was lit, Taelah made her way over in that direction, not worrying about the stroller. It was useful in many ways and there were already more being produced, but when the twins were awake and active it was more trouble than it was worth. She set them down in the soft grass by the riverbank and rang the bell to let Uilei-nktik know that she was available.
A smooth ripple swept upstream from wherever the Leviathan had been lurking and broke the water’s surface by the ferry. The sight of what was clearly far too much beast to fit into a fairly shallow river poking out to loom over the jetty always amused her. Two of his eyes fixed on Eva and Grant, who had recently decided that the only real way to get anywhere was some amalgamation of full-tilt running, emphasis on the tilt, and energetic crawling when they inevitably toppled. A third one blinked at her, as he lifted a dripping tentacle from the water in greeting.
“Matriarch Taelah,” Uilei-nktik greeted her. “How are you this day?”
“Quite well, Wayfarer Uilei-nktik,” Taelah said. It had taken her a long time to get the clicks right. “What brings you by?”
“We’re aware that the Chiuxatli are leaving now that the threat of depletion is dealt with, and the land has been revitalized. The abechrai is curious as to whether they are expected to leave as well if the waters are no longer tainted.”
“Certainly not,” Taelah assured him. “The Chiuxatli are leaving because they want to, not because they are forced to. Besides which, the area around the Great Dungeon is still unstable.” She hadn’t seen it herself, but according to Blue the immense stellar Field the dungeon had used to purge itself had caused some ongoing turmoil in the ocean. “Blue doesn’t have any intention of forcing out the abechrai.”
“That will relieve a number of minds,” Uilei-nktik remarked, watching as Eva did her best to headbutt Taelah, who instead scooped her up, making the girl laugh. “A year is hardly enough time for a Leviathan to get settled, but those who have moved here have a marked preference.”
“And we’re glad to have you,” Taelah said. “At least the one abechrai. I know that there will be room for another in the Hedron soon enough, but that will be different.”
“Yes, indeed. I will pass that on to the appropriate parties. Thank you for taking the time to address me.”
“That was the only question you had?” Taelah raised her eyebrows at him, absently wrestling Grant with one arm.
“It seemed rather exigent for a number of individuals,” Uilei-nktik admitted. “Forced relocation is somewhat of a sore point.”
“I can imagine,” Taelah said. “We all bear the scars of depletion, one way or another.”
“An interesting way to think of it,” Uilei-nktik mused. “I shall leave you to your day, then, Matriarch Taelah. Thank you.”
“That’s why I’m here,” she said, smiling as he sank back into the too-small river.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am that you can handle all of that,” Blue’s voice came.
“I have found I actually rather enjoy it,” she admitted, steering her twins away from the bank and noting that they’d somehow picked up rather more mud than she thought existed there, even though they’d never been out of her sight. “So long as things don’t get too large, of course.”
“I don’t really foresee any other fallout causing new refugees. We should have time for people to really settle in.”
“People will still want to move here,” she said, taking a moment to look around at the vastness of the Caldera, at the towering mountains to north and south and at the even larger mist-shrouded walls that defined the boundary of her home. “Not that I blame them. But I think I’ll be a little selfish and keep it for just the people who already live here.”
“Not selfish at all. Our kids are going to grow up here. It should be exactly like how you want it.”
“Exactly how I want it, hmm? So if I want a flat-topped boulder right over there…” She waved in the direction of the shade a nearby tree was casting, and on cue a rock popped through the ground. The twins burbled with glee and made for it with all due haste. Taelah followed rather more sedately, but also with laughter.
“If you indulge my every whim like that, you’re going to spoil me,” she warned him, sitting down in the shade.
“And why shouldn’t I spoil my wife?” Blue said, a little bit smug.
“That is not at all a fair argument,” she accused him.
“That’s the best kind of argument!”
“I’ll keep that in mind for the next time I want something,” she said, catching up Grant after a tumble and bouncing him on her knee until he forgot about the scrape on his arm. Something that didn’t take very long, and then he was wiggling to escape and go play some more.
“And what might you desire, my wife?” Blue asked with saccharine sweetness. “A new mountain? An afternoon rainstorm? A pile of gold and jewels?”
“That takes all the fun out of it,” she laughed. “Especially since you can do all those things.”
“It’s a little bit weird, but that makes it kind of fun. Besides, it makes it a challenge to try and surprise you. Like how about this?” There was a flash next to the rock and one of the [Nebula Foxes] she’d imported to the Caldera appeared, looking bewildered. It swiveled its head around and spotted Taelah, who beckoned, and it trotted over to give her an inquisitive yip.
“I do admit I wasn’t expecting that,” Taelah said, scratching the fox behind the ears. Naturally, Eva toddled over to feel its fur, and Taelah kept a close eye to make sure her daughter was being gentle. With Taelah’s Class, the Caldera’s animals — few of them as there were — more or less did what she wanted, so she had to be careful not to abuse that. Not that petting foxes was abuse.
“You know, since the Hedron will be free soon, it would be nice to get some more life for the Caldera,” Taelah remarked.
“Yeah, I think once I get the Chiuxatli situated back on their spires I’ll sent the Hedron out for a tour of the world. It’s a big one, and I haven’t actually seen much. I’ve barely even seen the countries on Orn!”
“I wouldn’t mind getting some samples from various places,” Taelah mused. “Travel without traveling, as it were.”
“I think it’ll be fun!”
“And it’ll be good for the kids.” She smiled fondly at Eva and Grant. The two were growing so fast. Taelah would have to think about having another set soon, before they got too far apart in age.
As if summoned by her thoughts, there was a blink nearby, and another fox appeared, only this time walking on two legs. Taelah instinctively glanced at her belly, but of course it was far too early for her to be showing. Shayma waved at Taelah and crouched down as Grant made a beeline for her, scooping him up and tickling him.
“Hey, Taelah. One-Eye-Green said that the Scalemind found a really neat cavern layer Blue hasn’t gotten to yet, and wanted to show me. Did you want to come along?”
“Hmm.” She looked down at Eva, and Shayma chuckled.
“We can bring the twins. She said it’s safe, just pretty.”
“Then I don’t see why not.” Taelah let the fox go and picked up a squirming Eva before she could chase after it. “I’m sure the Village can survive without me for five minutes.”
“Even if it can’t, I can always sound the alarm,” Blue added, amused.
“Great!” Shayma said, and opened up a portal. Taelah stepped through, looking forward to the surprises of the moment, and of the many days to come.