The next four months for Neleh were mostly spent with reforming the duchy and its policies. There wasn’t much in the way of great change visible yet, but the seeds had been planted and the duchy would see enormous economic growth for the next decade. Many of the plans and reforms would only bear fruit when they got out of the growth phase they were currently in. For example, the changes to almost all of the production and crafting jobs would only show their final result once the craftsmen finished their training under her father and started producing goods for sale to other provinces. Currently all their efforts and most of the products from mines, leatherworkers and tailors were going towards equipping the Order.
As they had suspected, the Order had gained a lot of new recruits after the attack on Jao’e’Tinukai. What was surprising was the number of recruits coming in from other provinces. They screened everyone with the truth spell, to avoid spies and saboteurs, and even ended up catching a few of them. The duchy in general was getting a surprisingly large influx of people immigrating. Part of it was because of the reputations of both Neleh and Estelar. Estelar had also made efforts to raise the fame of the duchy during his time as Neleh’s representative. Part of it was also their handling of the aftermath of the attack.
They repelled a major attack by a large army of bandits and dishonored nobles, and the people of the duchy had not really suffered in a major way. True they had lost their homes, but Neleh had helped them in making new and improved homes without cost, and was even loaning money to help them start businesses in the duchy. What other duchies didn’t realize was that the duchy would make their money back easily as the people started successful businesses, and would be able to pay back, but also because of an increase in tax revenue from the booming economy. The duchy also owned parts of the businesses and merchant houses, not to control them but to get a small slice of their profits as they succeeded in their business. Most of the people thought this a fair trade for the generous loans they received without any collateral.
The most visible change in the duchy was of course the new capital city Nan Yanoi. On the orders of Elune herself, the city became a site for the second Grand Temple, which was built almost entirely by Neleh herself according to the goddess’ specifications. Elune had taken great pleasure in having the central statue be sculpted to look like her real form, which was eerily similar to Neleh’s own appearance, except more mature. Just to avoid anyone thinking this was her own grandstanding, Elune made sure that Neleh had nothing to do with the statue, and Neleh nearly had an apoplexy when she finally saw the statue. The goddess hadn’t told her what it would look like, and Neleh would have ordered the statue removed if Elune hadn’t used her own power to protect it.
The temple complex was very extensive, located in the heart of the city, and had one oddity: it held places of worship for the other gods as well, even if Elune’s temple was by far the largest. The other temples were more for the members of other races to use for their rituals, if they chose to live in the city either permanently, or short term for business. Neleh sent out a word for the other races of the temples, and allowed each race to send a priest to serve in them, should they so choose. So far the naga had already sent a priest. The city also saw a fair bit of naga activity in general. The river served as a great way for the naga to get both people and goods in and out of the city. The news of the alliance had not spread too widely yet, but the heads of other races knew about it.
The city was still only half built, since Neleh had initially made it with future expansion in mind, and even the recent influx of immigrants wasn’t enough to fill it even close. She even had plans to potentially double the size in the future by expanding to the other side of the river and lake, connecting the two sides with great bridges high enough to allow for river traffic. This would form a sort of ‘twin cities’ with the Order headquarters situated in the middle, on the island. The foundations for the headquarters were already laid, but there was no need to rush the construction. The other half of the city on the other bank was far into the future though.
The central white tower of the city served a dual purpose. It served to attract more mages to the duchy by visibly displaying the might of the newly formed mages guild in the duchy. The tower was a gathering place for any work the mages might do, being filled with workshops and ritual rooms. It had some living space, but most mages elected to get a house in the city in case they might form families, and also for privacy. Since many of the projects from Neleh required magical support, ranging from construction and magic directed towards improving agriculture, to magic used for enchantments and magical items, the duchy did its best to entice magicians to move in. Neleh especially used her fame and position in the academy to lure young magician students that were more amenable to the change of ways Neleh represented. Many of the students also had more personal contact with Neleh, or had at least seen her in person several times.
The tower was also a major feature in defending the city. A dome shaped magical shield projected out from the tall tower at the center of the city. Neleh herself had designed the protective shield, and had called in her favor with Zamekh and gotten some of the dragons to help in constructing the shield. The shield made it impossible for hostile armies to approach the city in addition to protecting the city from magical attacks and harsh weather and natural phenomenon such as earthquakes. The shield drew power from the nearby ley-lines, and could be strengthened when necessary by getting additional mana fed into it. In fact it would become a standard practice for any members of the mages guild to put in some of their excess mana if they were having a light day. The drain on their mana also served as a method of training their mana pool. In a few years the shield would become strong enough to withstand the attacks of the dragons that lived in the duchy.
The added security was another point for drawing in people from other provinces, especially once they became aware of the other features of the shield. In addition to protecting the city from attacks, it was also used to monitor the city within the dome. The highest floor of the tower had a magical miniature hologram of the city, which tracked the movements of everyone in the city, as well as their use of magic. This could be used to find anyone entering the city without proper procedure; in fact such people were highlighted and hunted down. Any people that needed to be found could be found with the use of the map, and any people using certain magic would also be discovered immediately. The spells in question were a list of spells usually required to properly perform espionage in any form.
As a result, crime and spies had a really hard time operating within the city. Combine this with the lack of back alleys and well-lit streets, as well as a good amount of guards on patrol, and the city was as close to crime free as was possible. Another feature that drew people to the city. The Nexus also allowed for either quick evacuation or fast reinforcement of the other cities within the duchy in case of trouble. All this combined started to slowly build the duchy’s image as not only immigrant friendly and safe place to live, but as the months went by it also started to become obvious that the duchy would also serve as an economic powerhouse with a lot of opportunities.
One of the main driving points of the economy of the province would soon become obvious with the cooperation of the various guilds. In other areas of the empire, every craftsman worked for themselves, and the rarer the ability they possessed or the skill they had, the more exorbitant the price asked for performing their services. For example, enchanters might require huge prices to enchant a piece of gear originally made by a blacksmith for an order they received, thus driving the price up way beyond the costs incurred by the materials used.
In Jao’e’Tinukai, the guild had those with different skills working together to provide the best possible products for competitive prices, and then shared the profits among those that took part in the making of the product. This brought previously rare items available for a wider audience as the prices went down, thus vastly increasing demand. This also went a long away to eliminate the competition between different disciplines. No longer did the blacksmiths hate the enchanters for gouging them for every enchantment, and no longer did the enchanters despise the alchemists that eked out every coin for the materials vital for enchantments.
As Neleh herself put it in her speech to the craftsmen: “I don’t want any finished piece to be anything but the best quality. Every stitch, every piece of leather and metal that leaves this duchy should have enough magic and enchantments on them to make royalty to blush. The focus of this duchy will be on selling a large amount of high quality goods and materials. Let the other provinces deal in chaff. We want everyone in the world to know that if they want a quality product of any kind, the place to get it is this duchy!”
Another thing that would help the economy greatly was the host of new ideas and methods Neleh had shared. Most of the professions had received some new recipes and plans. The biggest beneficiaries were surprisingly tailors. They had received a whole host of new patterns and cuts, in addition to new ways to produce cloth in bulk. Especially her plans for underwear were a big hit, which would lead to a cornering of the market. Other beneficiaries were wide and varied. Blacksmiths mostly received improvements in smelting and metallurgy. Especially composite materials gained big improvements from her knowledge. She did give some hints towards more advanced armor and weapon designs, but those were more dependent on each other. More modern armor only made sense against more modern weapons. She did however make plans for standardizing many pieces of generally used equipment. This made them easier to replace, because they weren’t unique.
Farmers gained a lot of help with refined seed stock, helped both by selective cultivation and magical assistance. She also helped with fertilizers and encouraging mages to help with agriculture. She also introduced some more exotic species of plants that would be useful for alchemists and pharmacists. All of them were native to the planet, but not widely used before this. Enchanters gained most likely the least with new patterns being the main benefit. On the other hand, they gained access to the teachings of Elluin, so they also benefitted greatly. Of course everyone benefitted from the improved logistics, and the surge of new materials.
Neleh herself had finally managed to get permission by the Rhi’a’non academy to take several rank-up tests the next time they were held. It would be an embarrassment to the academy if she were to be anything less than a fifth circle mage after her performance in the tournament. That said, they did want Neleh to spend one full year as a fifth circle mage, because the academy had a lot more to teach to them than just spells and theory. The time as fifth circle mage was also for forming connections, gaining experience and widening one’s repertoire and skills. If the other lessons were mostly on magic theory, then the fifth circle mages mainly learned tradecraft and more intelligent use of their powers.
She didn’t have to attend any lessons if she didn’t want to, but she was expected to take part in certain activities such as missions and recruiting events held by the various people who wanted to employ the services of the mages. They didn’t expect her to get hired by the army or anything, seeing as she herself was hiring as a duchess, but they wanted her to know all the options even so. There was also an issue with her age. Normally elves only started their training at the age of sixteen after their Awakening ceremony, and it would be somewhat bad to have her graduate at that age. Due to her seventeenth birthday falling inside the one year as fifth circle, the higher ups considered this the least bit of compromise they could deal with. It was also a fact that from their point of view Neleh lacked any significant experience as a mage.
Neleh also wanted some extra time to lure more of the various mage students to live and work in her duchy, so she didn’t really mind. Her work with the duchy kept her busy most of the time anyway, so it didn’t make a large difference if she was nominally enrolled or not. Although, as the immediate concerns for her time and focus started reducing as her ideas and reforms took hold and didn’t require her personal monitoring, she started training a core group of smart people to administer things in the duchy. Her plan was to have those people handle the management of the duchy, and she herself would only be needed if something major happened or she had some new plans to implement. So far that project was only starting. Estelar was good but only one man, and the other still required training and experience. And Neleh would not accept anything beyond excellent. If the management of the duchy didn’t work, then all else would go sideways as well.
She did formally assume the role of duchess, as she was already taking an active part in the management of the duchy. There was no longer any point in postponing it.
One of the more interesting things to happen, was for some of the familiar faces from the academy to express interest in taking residence in Jao’e’Tinukai. Lucian had finally decided to graduate, mostly due to heavy pressure from the faculty, and had taken refuge in Jao’e’Tinukai to avoid being sent back to the demon continent. He had other motives as well, but those he didn’t choose to share at this time. He was now living inside the white tower in Nan Yanoi.
Dalyor was one of the first to move to Jao’e’Tinukai as well. He’d had enough of training warriors in the academy, and wanted to become a trainer and a master within the Order. He sensed the possibilities, and wanted in as soon as possible. He was required to go through the training the same as everyone else, but his previous skill and knowledge allowed him to blaze through the training. For him it was more a refresher on how the Order conducted their training, and becoming an accepted brother of the Order. Interestingly he would find his calling within the secretive fifth Order, later on becoming its grandmaster. There would be another person leading the fifth Order with him, but that was even further in the future.
Both Delia and Aneirin expressed interest in moving into Nan Yanoi after Delia’s graduation. For Delia it was almost obvious to join her family in the duchy, and work to help her little sister, trying rather futilely to keep Neleh more grounded. Aneirin was less enthused, but decided to put her reservations on hold and follow her girlfriend. Due to some less than subtle pressure by Neleh, Selene was one of the priestesses assigned to the new temple in Nan Yanoi. She had finally finished her training and achieved the rank of a full priestess. Now the only member of their immediate family not living in Jao’e’Tinukai was Elsaria. Even if she was to move there after her training finished, her work as a hunter would take her outside of the duchy most of the time anyway. Interestingly, she too would find a future in the Order later on.
Neleh, Estelar, Asheara and Shiori had gathered within the Nexus to discuss the matter of the people behind the bandit attack. They had chosen a time when Azrael was engaged with her duties elsewhere, because the matter was a bit too sensitive to let any outsider know about it. Getting the information from their prisoners had been easy. What had taken this long was to confirm the information from other sources.
“So you have independent confirmation on all parties involved?” Neleh asked Estelar.
“Yes, all of the information is now confirmed separately by sources I trust. There were three main groups behind the bandit attack on Jao’e’Tinukai. The first one is the easiest to explain and most of them died among the ruins of the city, or in questioning. The rest you are planning on making an example of. They are either nobles who avoided capture during the purge of imperial nobility, or shamed members of their families that fled questioning by the Inquisition. Their motivations are pretty clear. They mostly sought revenge. They also had very little in the way of options after they fled. We could turn them over to the Inquisition as well?” Estelar shot a questioning glance towards Neleh, getting a shake of her head in reply.
“The second group is made of the provinces neighboring us. They wanted to take advantage of someone they viewed as a young and inexperienced ruler, to show your inability to work as a duchess. They would then try to absorb chunks of the duchy ‘for protection’. They are mostly motivated by greed, although they wouldn’t mind seeing an upstart like you humiliated. Interestingly we have no sign that our biggest competitor Halamshiral had anything to do with this. Either they took no part, or they were very good at hiding their tracks.
The third group is a little more complicated. They are made up of nobles working in the Sun Court and the imperial court. Both of them are worried about your rising popularity and authority. The previous Chosen didn’t take a very active role in the matters of the empire, while you on the other hand keep shaking things up. For some odd reason the people of the empire also love you, making you very popular. The nobles would very much like it if you took your cues from your predecessor and stayed away from politics in the future. After that their motives and purpose differ a bit. Those working in the Sun Court feel resentful that the Sun King was not elected as the emperor, and know that it was mostly your influence that made that happen. Their motivations are simpler and are mostly after your embarrassment and reduced authority.
Those working under Nimue have a bit more complex reasons. Their problem is that your prestige and popularity is quickly surpassing empress Nimue’s and they view that as a threat. They also estimate that you might have more authority in the future than Nimue, and they’re worried about that for varied reasons. For some, it’s a loss to their authority, so their motives are mostly selfish. For others their motives are more selfless. They’re worried about a polarized empire gathering around to peaks of authority, and a possible civil war that might follow if you end up at odds. Even if the two of you are friends, those working under you are not. They would end up competing, and that might cause real issues. They also fear that it diminishes the empire if someone else has authority comparable with the emperor. What happens in the future, if for example she wants to go to war with another race, and you say no?” Estelar finished his explanation.
“So basically all of them are either bitter or jealous?” Shiori asked.
“A fair if a bit simplistic summary.” Estelar replied with a smile.
“Well, the first group will face a public execution in a week. I will take care of it myself. A death caused by the Song of Khali should be a pretty decent deterrent, and a warning to other criminals in the future. The problem is the other two groups. We don’t have the manpower to get too militaristic with the other provinces until the Order starts to produce fully trained members. We just don’t have the required manpower yet. So let’s table those for now. In a few years we will be in position to take revenge economically, and if they give us any further trouble even militarily.” Neleh mused.
“Correct. The problem with the Order is that the training takes a long time. Even if the end result is great, that doesn’t help us right now. We have the guardsmen and mages to defend our province for now, especially with the shield in place over Nan Yanoi, but we don’t have any offensive power.” Estelar confirmed.
“The question is what to do with the third group. We can’t go after them openly, and I would like to avoid trouble with Nimue. We’ll leave those working in her court mostly alone for now. We can apply political pressure, as well as have some of them lose out of business ventures. It would be nice if we could ruin some of their other plans as revenge too, for example block some of their political marriages and sow some distrust. For the people of Sun Court I want to send a clear message.
Have some of the most skilled students of fifth Order gather. I have their first mission, and I want to impress its importance and go through details. We’ll have them all deliver a message to the Sun Elves. Have them leave a dagger and a message in the rooms of the nobles while they are asleep. They should be reminded that the imperial court isn’t the only court that can feel the touch of the Inquisitors. Yunalesca is a friend after all, so she wouldn’t mind helping us if she learns of them being behind bandit activity. The dagger is to remind them that I can reach them even without the Inquisition. I’d like to have them killed, but we don’t have the power to antagonize all of them yet.” Neleh gave her orders.
After a moment of thought, she continued. “Also send a strongly worded letter to king Aelrindel. We will not tolerate the interference of those in his court. Next time they try something, I will kill them personally, and he won’t be able to protect them.”
“On that note, I just heard that the dragons responsible for the attack on the Sun Palace have moved to the mountain. I’m guessing he won’t be too happy with the dragons that killed most of his family living in our duchy.” Asheara said. Strangely she had taken it on herself to monitor anything to do with the mountain of the dragons. The dragons didn’t actually mind, as they had a certain level of acceptance towards her because of her being Neleh’s mother. Someone who birthed a dragon was ok in their books. The dragons had also been almost gleeful at the idea of Neleh being a father to a new generation of Kirin, when she brought it up with Zamekh. They had actually missed their cousins a little, and had no ill will anymore.
Shiori just laughed in her best evil tone, while Estelar just grimaced. “That’ll go over great with the Sun Elves.” He said.
“At this point I really don’t care what they think. Once their nobility is conspiring against us, my good will runs out. Any Sun Elf is welcome to become a citizen of our realm, but that’s it.” Neleh said with some heat. She’d just about had enough of Aelrindel and the Sun Court.
“Oh right, isn’t the human spirit mage expert that you mentioned supposed to come tomorrow?” Shiori suddenly asked, her quick mind already jumping to next topic.
“That’s a segue and a half. Yes, he’s supposed to arrive tomorrow.” Neleh replied.
“Any idea who they are sending?” Shiori asked.
“None.” Neleh replied again. “Someone competent I hope.”