Ciel goes to meet the Head Priestess of Escanso once again. She takes a more tough-looking scribe with her this time because the last one had been sweating cold during the whole talk, which couldn't have been healthy for the poor old elf's heart.
She encounters Oritiki along the way, and the two women smile wryly at each other. It seems that Hihiriwa isn't coming today, citing some vague "indisposition."
"[Ready for another round]?" Oritiki questions bemusedly in Reo, her long cow snout warped in a smirk.
Ciel sighs and gingerly massages one of her temples, forecasting a headache from the rain of complaints that will soon shower down upon her. "[No, but it wouldn't change anything if I were]."
They both snort and continue on, then they meet with the Chimeric translator waiting outside the dining hall, who's clearly too scared to go in alone. The nobleman immediately stands up straight and recomposes himself when he notices them, then gives them a stiff greeting, which they politely return.
Ciel and Oritiki look at each other, then they both breathe in to gather their courage and open the double doors to the dining hall.
Inside, they see a wide and tall elven room that's completely bare, except for a long table positioned near the glass wall that faces out onto the back garden of the mansion.
A witc-… delightful old woman is seated at the end of the table. Her gray and silvery hair tied into a tight bun; her back perfectly straight; her chest so still that it's almost as if she isn't breathing, and Ciel even wanted that to be so for a split second; her mean glare set upon the back garden, the poor plants struggling to survive under the pressure pouring from her; and her hands gently laid upon her lap but never too far from the sword at her waist.
The ex-Punisher is a very kind and gentle woman that deserves the nickname of "Nai," which means "mother" in ancient Ingua. That is, until she finds some HERESY, then she dons the black Templar garb again and starts purging.
Thankfully, she isn't wearing her Templar armor, showing restraint that's seldom seen in the Punishers. She also doesn't personally need the armor because she can always call upon the Punishers at any moment. She's wearing only a simple black priest robe with a white stripe on the shoulders and the sides of her skirt, signifying her rank, and a yellow embroidery of the dawn, a holy symbol for the temple. Though it's simple, many priests would complain that she isn't wearing her uniform.
She turns her wrinkled face to meet the pair, and they give her strained smiles in return.
"Good morning, 'Nai' Teresina," Ciel greets her politely, and Oritiki repeats the greeting, though with a heavy accent.
"Good morning. You're late," Teresina's stern and hoarse voice greets back coldly.
With a stiff smile, they sit at each side of Teresina, and the scribe sits beside Ciel, glad that he isn't too close to the… mean old lady. The seat at the end of the table should've been Ciel's, but since she's "late," the old ha-… strict Head Priestess stol-… for some reason, decided to take it for herself.
Teresina pushes some scrolls forward, all written with art-gallery worthy calligraphy. "The calculations have been completed. The predicted cost of living for the average Chimera is higher than what the lowest class can afford," she states and waits for the translator to do his job. "This situation is not acceptable."
The Tribunal is slow to act, but the temple complements them in this aspect by having strong and decisive leadership, exemplified by Teresina.
Oritiki takes a cursory look through the calculations and hums in agreement. "[In Rangatuhinga, we had staple crops that we focused our research on to increase their yield. This gave the poor a chance to live well, which resulted in increased production of goods and a higher return on the investment through taxes]," she advises, then both her and Teresina's gazes fall upon Ciel.
The chocolate angel smiles kindly, barely affected by their combined pressure, and calmly states, "We'll instruct the Spirit mages to research a cheaper [Materialize] as fast as possible. We have Arreira's notes on the spell, but he was focused on a faithful recreation of the body while being aided by Preservation Beds and dungeon infrastructure, so the Lordship can't help directly with this situation.
"Since the mana of the court and hired mages is insufficient, we'll have to institute a rationing of [Materialization] until we have enough."
Teresina's thin lips curl upwards so subtly that only Alissa manages to notice it through Holly's eyes. "The temple can teleport in Spirit mages to assist immediately, but we're currently constrained by the limit on combat-trained personnel that has been imposed upon us," Teresina not-so-subtly reveals her agenda.
"Consider that limit lifted…" Ciel immediately announces, then makes a brief dramatic pause, "on all of the Western High Forest."
This will make some of the Lords angry, but it's all according to keikaku.
Teresina leans back in her chair ever so slightly, appeased by Ciel's words, and even the scribe hesitates for a second in writing that down. Oritiki has no idea of the implications, so she just remains neutral.
"We won't pay for the Spirit priests, though," Ciel adds with a cheeky smile, and Teresina's arm muscles flex in annoyance for a moment.
"We'll just consider it training for their future. The Chimera spirits won't be the only ones that want to be land-bound after death," she gives in without arguing.
"[The Chimera need their senses more than strength or physical stability. Their lives will be miserable otherwise]," Oritiki changes the topic, and Teresina nods once solemnly.
"Of course. If they're to act as subjects, then they must live like subjects," she concurs completely.
They start discussing the details of the Chimeric lifestyle and their needs, brainstorming about the shortcomings and differences between that and the spirit lifestyle that they'll have to adapt to.
Once they start talking about the individual interviews the priests had with the Chimeras, Teresina turns her eyes to Ciel and gives her a suspicious look. "I heard something about 'Arreira's royal legacy.' Do you mind explaining what that's about?" Teresina questions Ciel with a tone that leaves no room for escape.
Ciel doesn't need our assistance in this matter, for she had a lot of experience with it back in Rabanara. "This is a matter of political maneuvering between Lords and the Council," she composedly answers, then uses Yunia's knowledge of [Acting] to make her face appear emotionless. "Don't overstep," she cautions Teresina with a flat tone.
The two of them glare at each other for a long moment, then the hag-… Godsdamnit Ciel, I'm allowed to swear inside my own head… Then the incredibly arrogant old woman gives the most imperceptible of nods.
Ciel whispers something to the scribe, then he pulls out a pair of delicate elven scissors that he uses to cut the scroll to excise the part where they started talking about the legacy.
Ciel receives the offending section of the scroll and incinerates it to nothing with [Fireball].
"I'd like to meet Lord Ryder. I understand his 'condition,' but his 'Piety' needs to be ascertained," Teresina requests with an unusual degree of politeness.
"We're preparing to deal with unruly Lords during the ceremony, so as long as it's brief then that should be fine," Ciel responds, returning the kindness.
"I just want to ask a few questions to understand his personality."
"That's perfectly acceptable."
Then they both nod at each other, but Teresina isn't done just yet.
"I've also heard rumors about a gigantic cloud coming out of the forest and flying away towards the sky. This supposedly happened sometime before your ships were first seen," she states accusingly, without any of her previous politeness.
Ciel's smile gets contaminated by Roxanne's smugness, which subtly angers Teresina before Ciel can slap the naughty succubus away. "So have we, Head Priestess," Ciel comments noncommittally and leaves it at that.
Teresina's mask breaks, and she sighs as she shakes her head tiredly, then motions for the scribe to continue his job.
"She's as attractive as Shala, so maybe you should try to seduce her to soften her up," Alissa suggests through [Bind].
"It's been my experience that people get cranky when they aren't pounded regularly," Hana adds, and I feel her smirk inside my head.
"Her face is beautiful, but her personality is ugly," I annoyedly respond, but then my draconic side starts to fantasize about dominating an ex-Punisher, quickly warming me up to the idea. "Fucking hell…" I get surprised at my own degeneracy.
Ciel's conversation continues, but they aren't talking about anything deadly serious anymore, so I just tune it out.
Meanwhile, Yunia meets up with the regent mayor. They need to talk about building the air dock so that our ships can get proper maintenance since they don't have anywhere safe to land in the whole High Forest.
We also have to build one for our personal ship, so it'd be a good idea to listen in, but I also have to continue my training, so I ignore them after I stop Yunia from letting the mayor kiss her feet. He's a filthy simp for Yunia, and only I am allowed to savor her delicious toes, so at most, he's allowed to kiss the dirt she stepped on.
Now that I've started thinking about that, Lina's cute little feet happily dangling from her chair catch my attention, making me salivate. She's so focused on her enchanting that she doesn't even notice my feelings.
As a small dragon, I walk under her table and lie in wait until she stops swinging them, then I lick their soles with my long, slick, draconic tongue.
"HII~!" She squeaks adorably in surprise and jumps up onto her chair.
She looks down under the table and frowns at my toothy grin, then lowers herself back into her seat and offers her feet to me.
"Don't scare me like that…" She pleads with a pouty tone, then resumes her work.
I lick her feet to my heart's content, and I create a sucker on my spiky dragon dick to please me until I'm satisfied. It's difficult to use [Soul Manipulation] while in my dragon form, so this is training! Really! It's still training even if I'm deriving some amount of pleasure from it!
Aoi shrinks down to her small size then gives me a "hand," or, in her case, a long, slick tongue, but that defeats the purpose of the training, so it's only for a short time.
Alissa talks with Shala to help organize the maids; Hana joins Sandoro and helps train the Lordsguard; Roxanne continues her [Alchemy] research, and though she has a whole lab available for her use, it doesn't have a blast-resistant and hermetically sealed workbench, so no upgrades there, unfortunately; Lina works on the enchanting lab, focusing on helping the Chimera now that our armor is fully enchanted; Aoi helps me and "helps me" with [Dragon Transformation] since she has more experience with this type of skill and Alissa because is busy; Gify takes residence in one of the gardens on the higher levels and starts redecorating it to her tastes; and the golems help Mimi with the paperwork, being great pen-pushers.
I want to find out what the golems learned from Arreira, read his notes on [Golemancy] and memories, and continue researching [Sense Soul] and [Redirect Mana], but there's so much work to be done that these things will have to wait for a long time…
My current training goal is to get comfortable with this form. Getting used to being quadrupedal and having wings isn't the same as using [Soul Manipulation], so I don't have a lot of transferable knowledge to use for this. Aoi's experience with using dragon wings to fly is very useful, though.
My biggest problem right now is controlling my urges. Dragons are very impulsive, so keeping myself from mounting small-Aoi is a training exercise by itself. She's really fucking sexy to dragon-me.
To avoid annoying Lina further, we leave the enchanting room and go to Gify's.
The little griffin is filtering the air for pollen and seeds to get the plants she wants to grow, then she'll activate the [Grow] enchantments to get them to bloom immediately. She's also partially covering the glass ceiling with vines, leaves, and roots, leaving half of the room in darkness, which creates the perfect environment for the luminescent plants that grow on the bark of the High Trees.
I play around with Aoi a bit, running around and trampling through the plants while we play tag, but Gify doesn't care. She'll even do it herself every once in a while because that's just how nature is.
I tire out quickly since I'm not used to this form yet, and Gify takes my place.
The cute little griffin and the beautiful miniature blue dragon play around, enjoying racing against each other as they lap through the room. Even Gify can get tired out from running, so unless she teleports, Aoi has a chance to win.
Then, right when they're about to cross the finish line, I hear the cute sound. *Pop*, *pop*. The cheeky bastard teleports and stands in front of Aoi with a smug, victorious look.
Aoi breathes in, and Gify *pop*s away just in time, then Aoi releases her fire breath and sets fire to a large patch of the room, right where Gify was a moment ago.
"Gihihihihih!" Gify's mischievous laugh resounds through the room, then she starts working away to extinguish Aoi's fire.
While they fool around, I start to focus on my wings. They're easy to control and flap, but to actually fly, I need to magically blow air into them since my body is way too heavy for flapping alone to generate enough lift.
Aoi achieves flight through a homebred mix of [Fly] with wind-bending, so I'll have to do something similar if I want to take advantage of these wings. They aren't as potent and as easy to use as Chimeric artificial wings, but they're quite powerful and can contribute a lot to flying.
Dragons fly in all kinds of ways, from purely physical like Dragolites; to anti-gravity spells; to magic bodies that make them far lighter than physically possible; to specific spells like [Fly] that allow them to fly; to a mix of two or more of them, like Aoi. The older a dragon is, the bigger they get, generally speaking, so they have a tendency to transition from physical bodies to magical ones, as if they'd learned [Mana Body]. This allows them to move around more easily without limiting physical constraints, such as ignoring the effects of the square-cube law.
Controlling the air around you while remaining still is harder than when you're moving, so I start running around the room to feel the air hitting my cute little wings.
It feels like I'm "injecting" my "Willpower" into my wings, giving me a measure of control over the wind that reminds me of lift and control surfaces from airplanes. It makes sense for it to be like that since dragons have to control their flight somehow.
It's easy enough for me to guess how my wings work, but it's hard to keep them under control or even understand what's actually happening. This is way more complex than just a flight stick and a throttle, and it's not just that, but I have to precisely control two wings that can work independently from each other.
Today is all about getting used to my dragon form, so I don't do any specific training and just spend all morning playing around with Aoi and Gify.
Osaria finishes her tax book collecting and meets up with Mimi, then they start working together.
I occasionally watch over Klein through her Holly and Shad. Anton is surprisingly shy when it comes to giving out orders, but he properly advises Klein, giving her the confidence needed to take charge of the exploration of the dungeon.
The twins spend their whole morning training with Living Armors and one of our veteran officers in one of the castle's training rooms. Yunia says that they want to be able to defeat Sandoro so that they can challenge me, but that's something that'll take them years to reach, at least.
As lunchtime nears, Aoi and I try to hide our guilt from being the only ones that are having fun instead of working, but it was a futile effort to begin with due to [Bind], so we quickly accept that we'll have to give special attention to the wives when this day is over.
Ciel invites Oritiki and her husbands for lunch. They're all naked, which is a treat for the eyes since we can see her massive black cow tits bouncing around, and they use their personal towels to sit on their chairs at the table.
I'm fairly sure that their presence is part of the reason why the twins aren't here with us right now.
Ciel's talks with the temple and the Chimeras have been completed. Our new subjects are safely set on the path of adaptation, the temple has been appeased of their doubts, and now we just have to wait for the reaction of the Tribunal to the legality of it all.
The temple and the Tribunal complement each other quite well since the temple is proactive, investigating anything that they find to be suspicious to prevent injustices, while the Tribunal is reactive, fixing up whatever is wrong in elven society and meting out justice whenever necessary.
We've had a good relationship with the Tribunal so far, so I'm pretty sure that they won't come down too heavily on us, at least in the beginning.
That'll have to wait until after the Lordship Ceremony, though.
The meat today is looking extra crispy. It's Kentu-… uh… just fried chicken. Spicy fried chicken. Krysta seemingly discovered not-Tabasco and already used it when preparing this meal.
I should give her my recipe for Buffalo baby harpy wings.
"Nohopu is anxious. He wants to go out and explore the skies for the Drifting Lands you mentioned," Oritiki comments with a wry smile as we eat.
"The temple should be sending their Spirit mages tomorrow, so we'll allow Nohopu to start work immediately once they're here," I casually respond.
"How long do you think it'd take to bring back an island?" Lina questions Oritiki with her serious mode activated, though it doesn't seem that different from her usual gloomy look.
Oritiki shrugs. "A minimum of two to three days if they find an island immediately."
Lina swings her legs about under the table, feeling slightly excited. "I can meet with the Chimeras tomorrow and discuss extraction and refinement, then secure a buyer for the crystals."
"Take Mimi with you, if she isn't too busy," Hana suggests offhandedly without her eyes leaving her plate. Her default response for anything involving money was always "listen to Mimi" during her caravanning days.
Mimi isn't here right now. She's currently having lunch with the twins, Krysta, and Sandoro since they wanted to give us some privacy.
Osaria gracefully raises her hand, so we wait until she's finished swallowing. "I can help with finding buyers for crystals, and I think Dame Enomosa could also help with that," she happily volunteers.
Oritiki grins, quite pleased with the timely progression of their business interests. "I'll talk to the Chimeras and ensure that they're ready for you," she adds with a nod.
After that, we change the topic to how the Chimeras are doing. They've all been housed at the mansions in the outer layer, so the commoners are quite happy, even though they can't have a solid body for all twenty-four hours of the day.
We'll gift a mansion to Oritiki and the other few Chimeric aristocrats that can fight, per imperial custom, so Korito, the not-Thor, has been quite excited. He and Rei, the warthog-headed husband, have not only the whole outer and inner layers to choose from, but also quite a few mansions in the Nobles' Quarters that the Lordship owns and reserves for guests.
"It's odd…" Korito tries to express something, but he stops for a moment, and the clear excitement from before partially fades away before he finally continues, "I was ready to leave for Paradise, but Oritiki convinced us to stay… and now I'm so happy that I did that I can't believe I wished for death-… well, 'the end.'"
"'A wound in the heart interferes with the decisions of the mind,'" Ciel quotes a godly teaching.
Rei exhales loudly in a snort and asks, "Oh? Is that one of your 'teachings'?"
Ciel nods gently, her angelic smile evoking therapeutic effects upon my heart. "It is. The God of War once said that."
"God of War…" Oritiki mumbles, sounding interested in the name, then Ciel immediately starts proselytizing to them.
After our meal, it's time for us to conduct the interviews for the High Officers.
Hall of Fame of Patrons
The patrons who support Rupegia shall have their names sung by the bards for they deserve the glory and honor. Their names are:
Prince Creamy Spinach.
Lord Andrew Meyers.
Lord Samuel Lim.
Lord Michale Erwin.
Lord Nathan Vanbrunt.
Lord Mattirro Draca.
Lord Joshua Tal.
Lord Joxsan Herrera.
Lord Sean Drake.
Lord Brody Haugan.
Lord Mike Bartter.
Lord Cardinal Steiner.
Lord Jorge Franco.
Noble Salty Panda.
Noble Mild Fracas.
Noble Shawn Plumley.
Noble War God.