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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Tarnil was still far from healthy. The cities were in dire shape, the economy was in shambles, and most of the treasures and money the crown had accrued were simply gone. Yet there was no longer the feel of slow death and hopelessness now that Blue was taking care of Tarnil, and [Queen’s Insight] was a lot easier to live with. Trade was starting to flow, farms were growing, the cities were no longer black and white prisons. While the country was still ailing, it was definitely on the mend.

The odd thing was that she could swear that at times she wasn’t just feeling the country through her Ability. Most of the time it was just trouble spots flaring up, or the various types of slow malaise, but now and again it seemed like she could sense something more like thought or intent moving behind the changes. Like with the enormous pillars Blue had raised, not only had she felt them rising out of the land, but she’d also caught some of the intent behind them. Nothing complex or revelatory, but simply the impression that they were part of fixing things.

So far Iniri had nothing to complain about, considering the miracles Blue had already worked, which was why she was not comfortable with asking him for more. She knew that he wouldn’t mind, and that she actually had to do it, considering they were jointly involved in the well-being of Tarnil, but going hat in hand to Blue yet again grated. It wasn’t like she was a complete freeloader, though. Shayma had passed along Blue’s thanks for handling the political side of things, though she wasn’t entirely clear if that thanks was vague or about something specific.

One thing he had made clear was that he was entirely happy to leave the disposition of Duke Sarthi up to her, and unfortunately there was only one punishment for treason. The man had gone completely over the edge with the death of his son, and though he had been a staunch supporter of the crown before, he had been actively undermining her now. Most of it was subtle and might even have been forgivable, but he’d convinced one of his men to try and sabotage the defense. Apparently he’d somehow persuaded the Classer that it was Blue who was the real threat to Tarnil, which was a mental stretch that she found hard to understand.

“Blue,” she said to the air, trusting that would hear her. “Could you send Shayma by? I think we need to get Meil put back and…” she sighed. “I need a new palace. Proper rulership requires the trappings of rule, and with my last palace gone I need a replacement. One that represents you too, even if you’re not going to be having Shayma sit in court with me, so I think we need to have a sit-down about it.”

There was an odd sort of twist to [Queen’s Insight] that made her think that she’d been heard and acknowledged, but nothing she could articulate. It clearly wasn’t Guidance, either, since that came in a quite different form and sensation, one she didn’t much appreciate. She was glad Blue didn’t use it on her, even if it was part of what she’d agreed on when she became a Companion. Considering everything she’d gotten out of the deal, it was unbecoming to object to anything that came along with it. Fortunately, Blue didn’t much like it either, so her objections were effectively moot.

Less than twenty minutes passed before she felt that Shayma had arrived and her guards let the fox-girl into her chambers. She wasn’t sure if it was the benefit of sensitivity from additional Skills and Abilities, or some connection through being a Companion, but she could tell instantly that Shayma was nearby. At some point she’d have to ask if Shayma could sense the same thing.

“So I hear we get to design a palace,” Shayma said with a grin, breezing into the room. At this point she’d entirely lost any respect for status, but it was just as well. Considering that Shayma was almost a co-ruler in many respects it was better that they have an informal relationship. Besides, there weren’t many people with whom she could simply be friends.

“That’s one way to put it,” Iniri admitted. “I’m still trying to reconstruct my government – not just the pieces, but the legitimacy of it – and I need somewhere to rule from.”

“Oh, it makes perfect sense,” Shayma agreed cheerfully. “Actually, Blue wanted me to bring up something about Meil while we were at it. Since there’s a giant crater lake where it used to be.” Iniri grimaced. That was her fault, but certainly not something beyond Blue’s ability to fix, so she was a little curious as to what Blue had in mind.

“Yes? I do want to get Meil back aboveground as soon as is reasonable. Considering the state of the other cities, I think I may have to officially move the capital here. It’s closer to Blue anyway.” Then she made a face. Blue was Tarnil, so that didn’t make any sense. “You know what I mean.”

“I do.” Shayma grinned. “For what it’s worth, Blue still thinks of himself as mostly located here, too. Anyway, Blue was wondering what you thought of putting Meil on an island in the lake? He was thinking, widen and deepen Eastrill, and maybe run a canal right to the sea.” She paused a moment, ear’s flicking. “He could compress the distance for the canal, too. So instead of being eighty miles inland it’d be…” Shayma frowned. “Less than a mile? That can’t be right.” Another pause, then she shrugged. “No, he says it’s right, but it’d just be along the canal.”

“That would be…” She considered it. Meil would effectively be seaside, even if was still landlocked. The island idea would clearly give it plenty of room for boat traffic, at the expense of having little room to grow. Though with Blue that would hardly be a problem. He could simply widen everything, shift it about, or use his Spatial Fields on the city itself if it became an issue. The idea of the last one boggled the mind, if he could expand Meil to be vastly larger than it was. How would it even be possible to feed everyone? “That would be astounding. It’s going to take a while until I can trust any of our other cities, and even when I do, having a sea lane for Meil would be incredible. I like it.”

“Great!” Shayma beamed. “Now, what did you have in mind for the palace? Blue never saw the old one.”

“Considering that Tarnil’s gone through a rebirth of sorts, I don’t think it should look like the old one anyway.” Iniri sighed. Though she knew what she said was true, she would rather miss the bright, airy seaside palace she’d once had. True, it wasn’t made of Leviathan-sourced corals like Haerlish’s was, but at least it was less gloomy than the looming stone fortress of Nivir. “The new one should have plenty of black and blue, of course, though probably kept to accents. An all-black palace would look like a mausoleum.”

“Oh, Blue understands that quite well,” Shayma reassured her. “I was thinking, considering Blue’s tendency toward flowers and such, that it should have a lot of greenery too. Some of Blue’s special stuff.”

Iniri was glad that she’d cleared out a good amount of time for this discussion, though she had expected to spend more on the why of it rather than the how. It had come as a surprise that Blue had agreed so readily, after she’d spent a bit of thought on how to convince him it was necessary. Now free of any constraints like budget or time or material, it was remarkably easy to make more and more whimsical suggestions, especially once Shayma conjured a model of what they were talking about.

It was Blue who suggested building major parts of it out of glass, which in any other circumstance would be a horrendous expense even with dedicated magical equipment, and things just went from there. The end result was an immense, airy building, four stories high with gardens and fountains spilling out through giant swaths of glass. It was composed of a circle around a huge courtyard filled with trees, anchored by a ballroom cutting out a portion on one side and the throne room on the other. If those were the front and back, the sides were marked by two residence towers, one of silver and blue for Iniri and the other with black and blue accents for Shayma. Not that Shayma was likely to use hers, but the symbology was important.

There’d be smitheries, alchemistries to pair with the gardens, rune and enchanting areas, stables, and considering the lake, a private marina. Of course, every single one of these things came with an attendant need for living areas, transport, storage, plumbing, and all the other minutiae that were required to support people. Blue could put a large chunk of the necessary support staff underground and shrink the footprint and number of outbuildings a little bit, but it was still an immense endeavor. If it were anyone but Blue putting it together, it’d be years in the building.

The throne room itself took a lot of attention. Blue wasn’t going to have any say or even interest in the day-to-day affairs of Tarnil, but he still had to be represented in some way. To an extent it was actually a blessing that all of the decorations and trappings of her old throne room had vanished, even if Giorn and Sienne had been turning up some of the smaller bits and pieces as they worked their way through Invin. It was an excuse to start from scratch and tailor it to her tastes, which would run to the more austere than the opulence the old one had acquired over the years.

She decided on massive glass columns that would be filled with greenery and flowers and trickling streams, rising up to connect with a private garden above which would look out over the courtyard. The floor would be off-white marble, as would the non-glass portions of the walls, with the Tarnil crest inlaid behind the throne. To show Blue’s influence, the odd, near-organic designs he favored were picked out in a silver tracery, radiating out from the throne, and Shayma would have a small balcony off to one side in case she ever wanted to attend. It would signify that she was there, and had power, but was not part of the official proceedings.

For the throne itself, Blue suggested using some of his Core Lattice crystals to decorate the top, and inlay it with light-Affinity Source gems. She was going to construct it herself out of her permanent light, which, when combined with the Source gems, would actually make it a fairly magical object in and of itself. Blue amplified that idea by suggesting making most of the bones of the palace out of her permanent light. Not walls, but beams and the outlines for glass and windows, threaded through the whole palace. It was more than a little daunting.

“That sounds like it’d take ages,” Iniri objected. “Even with the Skills you gave me, that sounds like a Fourth or Fifth tier undertaking.” Shayma’s ears flicked, and her eyes widened.

“Have you checked your level lately? Blue says you’re level seventy – almost fourth tier! I bet you could break through if you tried!”

“What?” Iniri stared at her, then summoned a divination rune with her light magic and checked her status for herself. Not only was her level fifteen above where she’d been before, a good chunk of her Skills had advanced leaps and bounds. [Shield of Tarnil] was still at nine, but others that had been below five were pushing seven or eight. Shayma was right, she had suddenly gotten within striking distance of the fourth tier.

“Blue says his mana regeneration is even better now, so you should have plenty of mana to draw on to make the light constructs.”

“That’s true…” Iniri said, considering. It was one thing to know intellectually that she had something approaching infinite mana, and it was another thing entirely to try and make use of mana like that. Certainly, she pulled on Blue quite often whenever she did make a permanent construct, but that was infrequent and as needed. Her gut still thought of it as something like a potion or an emergency Skill, to be used sparingly. “I suppose it’s quite possible.”

The more she thought about it, the more she liked the idea. Not only did it give her palace a more mysterious air, but if she connected all the light constructs she could use [Swiftray] and teleport freely throughout her palace. It may not be something she needed to do, but just having the option available would be a fantastic benefit.

“I’ll do it,” she decided, and that was that. Considering how much Blue and Shayma enjoyed the discussion and the design process, Iniri felt far less worried about asking that favor. With the prior conversation in mind, she pulled on Blue’s mana to make a permanent light-construct model of the palace, both for future reference and to keep track of what she was responsible for. It was an enormous edifice and, even knowing how Blue was, she wasn’t ready for the reply she got once she broached the subject of time.

“Blue says that it should be usable by tomorrow. He’ll move Meil today and start on the palace,” she explained, ears flicking. “The throne room is easy enough, but getting it all furnished and plumbed and so on will take a while.”

“Well, thank him for me,” she said, slightly dazed. She’d been expecting something like a few weeks, even knowing how fast Blue could work. The next day was a little faster than she’d expected. Maybe even too fast, considering all the logistics that were necessary to move operations somewhere else. But her staff would appreciate having more room and Cheya would like somewhere more defensible and secure.

“Blue will be moving Meil back out soon if you want to make an announcement,” Shayma offered. “The girls and I were planning to head out to Wildwood, but I’ll be available to figure out any details. Blue can just pop me back and forth and I won’t mind.”

“People are going to be very happy to get back out into the sun. Such as it is.” She’d seen for herself the near-permanent rainstorm that Blue had requested from The Hurricane, so it wasn’t like the skies above Tarnil were clear and blue, but it was still better than the cavern Meil was in. Especially if she had any foreign diplomats to receive.

The news about Blue’s backing of Tarnil and the expulsion of the mage-kings was still percolating though the continent, but soon enough there’d be ambassadors and other types lining up to find out more and take advantage however they could. Tekaomi had said that she’d have Nivir send an actual diplomatic envoy soon enough, and once Haerlish put out the fires from having the entire palace vanish for half a day they would be too. So far she hadn’t heard anything from Orrelin or, for that matter, Ir, let alone any of the smaller kingdoms who may not have even considered Tarnil’s plight their business.

There was no reason to give a speech this time, instead simply having the word passed out through criers to the populace of Meil. Though it really shouldn’t affect them too much – if anything, it’d be a welcome surprise, and let them get back to their usual business since they were no longer restricted to the city and the portals. Admittedly, being atop a lake would involve some adjustments, but she’d already sent out woodcrafter Classers overland to start making barges. With the mana density Blue provided, other options would be possible in the future too, since there would be plenty of mana to run more magically-intensive transports.

The indoor sky was blocked out by the black dome of Blue’s Relocate, and while she could feel the swirling currents of Blue’s mana, she was glad she couldn’t see it considering the sheer amount involved. It would blind her, even with all her levels.

The relocation didn’t stop any of the normal business that had to go on in order to keep Meil and Tarnil functioning. For the most part that business was conducted through messenger or divination, the castings using runes constructed from her permanent light. Combined with [Queen’s Insight], her divination Skill was a lot easier to handle than before and allowed her some extra flexibility in how she used it. For example, besides sending messages to her loyal Classers, she’d ended up spotting and stopping three different acts of banditry.

It might be a rather mundane thing for a ruler to take part in, but she was hardly about to let such depredations pass unanswered. It was astoundingly easy, too. [Queen’s Intuition] gave her the hunch something was about to happen, then she simply scryed out the area and dropped light constructs around the would-be bandits until one of her higher-level Classers could get to the area. The whole thing was absolutely ludicrous, since she was dealing with problems hundreds of miles away, but it was her duty and obligation to use the Skills Blue had given her. Plus, there was the look on the faces of the erstwhile lawbreakers.

Though she couldn’t be certain, it seemed like it took far less time for Blue to put Meil back than it had to move it in the first place, even accounting for raising an island in the crater, as it was around midday when the black dome vanished and rain began to patter on the window of the dining room. She exchanged glances with Cheya and then fairly rushed to the window to see what she could from the vantage point of the manor.

A vast swath of rippling water was visible beyond the bounds of the city, with the smudge of the far shore on the other side, the distance great enough that she suspected he’d widened the initial crater. There were some specks that resolved themselves into barges after an application of [Mana Reinforcement], and even in the narrow slice of waterfront she could see there were piers extending outward from the island Blue had made for Meil.

“Where is your palace going to be?” Cheya asked reasonably, and Iniri glanced around to get her bearings. Blue could fairly easily move buildings around within Meil, but after considering everything they’d settled on giving it a separate little island with a bridge, broad enough for traffic but still setting it apart. It was also far higher than Meil, whose walls only sat a few feet above the water. On the western side of Meil the foundation for the palace rose from the water, an island with thirty-foot sheer cliffs. She had to cross into the next room to see it, finding the beginnings of the palace were already starting to rise from the land.

“We don’t have anywhere near the staff to secure something that large anymore, Your Majesty,” Cheya sighed. “I suppose that’s a good problem to have, considering. I’ll have everything packed for transport over there in a few hours.”

“Thank you, Cheya,” Iniri told her, glad that she had Cheya to manage so many affairs, even if there was still a lingering awkwardness from the hole Keel had torn. But Cheya really needed more help. If nothing else, a proper First Councilor to take over domestic political affairs and let Cheya get back to her real job. “I swear, once this palace gets built and we get settled in, I will have you take a break.”

“Perhaps so, Your Majesty.” Cheya smiled wanly, and Iniri narrowed her eyes. Unlike her, Cheya did not have kinetic Affinity and for the first time in her life she actually outleveled Cheya, so if her [Spymistress] was trying to stay ahead of her as always, then she was going to run herself ragged.

“Am I going to have to make that an order?” She asked Cheya. “I’m level seventy and I’ve got a Power backing me.” She didn’t mention how much younger she was, too. “Don’t worry about trying to do everything anymore! We’re no longer in an immediate crisis, just a long and slow one.” Cheya gave her a long look, then ducked her head.

“Yes, Your Majesty,” she said.

“Good!” She said. “I’m going to take some guards and head out to the palace site. I have to invest a good amount of my own magic into it, after all.” Cheya nodded and Iniri collected Joce and Tulk, the latter of whom she’d finally and officially raised into the Queensguard, to head over to the new island. Iniri didn’t say anything aloud, but she’d have to see about buying a shadow Primal Source from Blue for Cheya or even something more valuable and useful. At the very least the woman needed her own private estate, above and beyond the rooms she was getting at the palace.

There was already stone and glass towering above them at the end of the broad stone bridge, which was more than wide enough to accommodate three carriages abreast, and was starting to show the barest outline of what the palace would be. It was growing even as they watched, like some strange plant, and she could see the places where Blue had left gaps for her permanent light beams.

Mostly they’d frame arching glass panes, providing a soft silver glow day and night for the gardens and courtyards, but strips ran along the ceilings and framed intersections, providing a simple counterpoint to whatever flourishes Blue would provide. Eventually there’d be rugs and artwork as well, she didn’t want her palace to be completely bare, but for now at least they’d have to make do with inlay and colored stone.

It was a little odd for her to pull so heavily on both her [Protector’s Light] Skill and Blue’s mana pool for so long, but he really did seem to have an inexhaustible supply for her and over the next couple hours she poured tens of thousands of mana into hardened silver light. She could feel at least one of her Skills reach its cap, and with Shayma’s revelation still fresh in her mind, made a quick divination. [Protector’s Light] had reached 10, and she found that [Lumenshape] had not only capped out, it had evolved into [Lumensculpt]. It kept the finesse of [Lumenshape] while adding support for larger workings, which was useful for what she was already doing as well as being standard for that sort of Skill line. She had no objections.

She wound her way through the bones of the palace, conjuring enormous beams of silver light and setting them in place. Blue could manipulate them himself once they were placed into the stone and glass, so every place she left her creations started to sprout and twine into pillars and walls and spreading sheets of glass. Eventually she had to stop, not because she ran out of mana or was physically exhausted, but because she simply couldn’t concentrate anymore. Mental fatigue made her lean against one of the walls, ignoring the water running down the walls and pooling on the stone foundation.

By the time she returned to the carriage, the exterior of the palace was almost done, huge walls of solid glass and pillars of stone and silver rising above a manicured lawn. The sky hadn’t yet begun to darken but the glow of silver was already visible in the rain, limning the windows that would eventually hold gardens and greenery. Even without Shayma there she’d gotten the impression that the amount of solidified light was sufficient, just as she’d known more or less where to put her conjurings, through impressions from [Queen’s Insight]. It made her wonder how the skill would change as Blue truly settled into his role as the country of Tarnil. It was something to raise with Shayma if things changed any more.

When morning came, she went back out to the site of the palace with a number of other carriages and carts in tow, all of them tightly covered to protect them from the rain, and hauling her staff and records and furniture to the now-complete building. Oh, it wasn’t going to be furnished yet and half of the cargo was food to feed her staff, but it looked fantastic and the sheer amount of room was difficult to fathom. The courtyard was already full of growing things, including some of Blue’s special trees and flowers, though there were plenty of more well-known rarities in evidence, and a broad path ran straight through to the throne room.

The room itself was missing only the throne, the glass columns already glowing softly and filling the room with the quiet sound of flowing water. Her feet sounded against the stone as she crossed over the patterning around the dais, mounting the stairs to where the space for the throne was outlined. She pulled on Blue’s mana once again as she spun a high-backed throne out of silver light, connecting it to the silver light laid into the stone. A moment later, Blue’s gems appeared at the top, adding their glitter to the soft radiance and she brushed her fingers over them, the yellow of the Primals shifting to blue and silver as the throne was bound to her. Finally, some of the servants came forward with navy blue cushions for the seat, and she settled into her throne, looking out over the vast, high-ceilinged room.

“Time to get to work,” she said, once everything was in and settled and her servants and Classers had taken their positions. The guards started to let people in, the newcomers staring around at the décor. There were petitioners of all kinds, some of which had been waiting for some time, but there was one thing that needed attending before any others.

“Bring in Lehrem Sarthi.” Iniri wasn’t looking forward to this, but with the throne room complete she could at least perform the function of a ruler without seeming like some jumped-up warlord dispensing justice without legitimacy. It also meant she could finally see all her petitioners together, rather than strung out around the mansion and its surroundings, and there were more than she had anticipated.

She actually stared briefly as the Theurge of the Purifying Flames himself strolled through, and wondered why she hadn’t heard he had come by. He was here to collect on the deal, she imagined, which was fine because she rather doubted he’d get much from the Adamant Fortress. Not after dealing with it herself.

His presence, even as a fourth-tier, didn’t take precedence over the business of her own country. Besides, she’d been putting it off long enough. In deference to his former rank, Sarthi was not clapped in chains or clad in a prisoner’s rag, even if he was escorted by Slicer Joe and Maiyim of the Piping Hot Pies. Other than the Ells, that particular adventuring group had proven themselves the most competent and judicious of her Classers, and she wouldn’t be surprised if Joe broke through into fourth tier in the next year or so himself. Maybe earlier, with Blue’s dense mana now swirling through Tarnil.

Even though he hadn’t been mistreated, Sarthi looked worn and haggard. As well he might; there was only one punishment for treason and, whatever his reasons, that was what he had done. He hadn’t even had the decency to perform the act himself, instead simply filling one of his men’s head full of lies about Blue and his designs for Tarnil. Iniri didn’t know if Sarthi believed those lies himself and frankly she didn’t care. She’d given him one chance and he’d thrown that away.

The small procession stopped at the base of the dais her throne was raised upon, and there was a moment where it wasn’t clear whether Sarthi was going to kneel. He wasn’t given a choice as Slicer Joe put a meaty hand on his shoulder, pushing the smaller man down, but remained standing himself as the actual guard. Sarthi scowled, but held his head up defiantly, looking up at Iniri.

“Lehrem Sarthi,” she said, the lack of title announcing his status. “You are accused of treason against the throne of Tarnil. The evidence against you is incontrovertible. Do you have any reason for clemency?” It wasn’t just the testimony of the one man who had acted. There were dozens of his Classers who had reported the same exhortations when visited by a Crown representative. Mostly Cheya or the Ells. Of course, it wasn’t like Sarthi’s opinions were in any way secret.

“You’re the traitor!” he retorted. “Selling out Tarnil to that dungeon thing!” Iniri ignored the outburst. She wasn’t there to argue necessity and morality or even Blue’s ultimately good intentions with Sarthi. This was not even a trial, since that had been rather summarily dealt with some time ago.

“Hearing no pleas for clemency, you are judged guilty of treason. The sentence is death.” Sarthi finally blanched, perhaps still not believing at this late date that he’d be held accountable. “As you have no surviving heirs of your body, the Dukedom escheats to the Crown. I understand the highest level relative is a nephew, once removed, and I do intend to bestow it to him. Let us hope he demonstrates more wisdom than you have.”

“You can’t do this, Your Majesty!” Sarthi blurted out, struggling against Slicer Joe’s hand. “I’m not – you can’t…” Iniri had very little sympathy for him. Certainly the man had been staunchly in support of the Crown before, but he had become deranged after the death of his son.

“You have an hour to make your peace, after which the sentence will be carried out.”

Slicer Joe pulled Sarthi to his feet, spun the stunned man about, and marched him out of the throne room. Iniri didn’t actually know who would be carrying out the sentence, but she hoped it actually wasn’t one of her more trusted Classers. Even when it was necessary, it wasn’t good for anyone to get used to killing humans. Better it be someone who wasn’t going to be trusted with making important decisions for the Crown.

Once business had started, it had to go on. She beckoned Liril forth, and was actually somewhat surprised that he made the proper obeisance. They hadn’t exactly parted on the best terms, the [Theurge of Purifying Flames] being justifiably unhappy about the fairly disastrous elimination of Vok Nal.

“Your Majesty,” Liril said, “I have come to inquire about the agreement we made regarding my assistance in retaking Meil.”

“Yes, I was actually expecting you earlier,” Iniri admitted. Then again, he probably had been around earlier, and was waiting for a good opportunity. It wasn’t like the Fortress was going anywhere. “Celana will escort you to where the Fortress Artifacts are being held.” She nodded to the Queensguard in question, one of the more recent appointees to that position, and had to refrain from adding that it was damaged and repairing itself. Not a thing to announce to the slowly swelling crowd of petitioners and nobles.

Liril simply nodded and strode off with Celana, the harmless fires at the base of his robes leaving a short trail behind him, and Iniri turned her attention to the next petitioner. She had a vague idea of who was supposed to show up, but she surely didn’t remember any representatives from Ir on the agenda. Two men in Ir’s livery were there, one of them wearing a bright gold and green tabard with Ir’s hammer and looking not at all impressed by the surroundings.

“The representative from Ir approaches the throne,” her steward said, and a pair of men came forward to offer a bow to Iniri.

“Ir once again sends its congratulations on your victory and its well-wishes for your rebuilding,” one said, which immediately set Iniri’s teeth on edge. She was half convinced the mage-kings had already made some sort of deal with Ir to ignore a potential foothold on their continent, and given the complete silence for the years of the occupation any sort of compliment was backhanded at best.

“We wish to re-open diplomatic and trade ties with the resurgent nation of Tarnil,” he said, which was exactly what the first representative had wanted. “In the interests of this, I bear a gift and message from Prince Andis in hopes it will persuade you to a favorable view.” The second man stepped forward and handed a box to the steward, who opened it and showed it to Iniri. She nearly laughed. It was a seizen flower, something normally rare and valuable for its mana density and healing capabilities, but compared to what Blue could produce it was absolutely nothing.

Then he started reciting a poem extolling the virtues of this Prince Andis, whom Iniri had never heard of. How handsome he was, how rich he was, how connected to Emperor Wright he was. It took her almost a full minute for her to wrap her head around what was going on. This random Ir noble was trying to court her. And bribe her to open relationships with Tarnil, without ceding the points about Blue. If Tarnil had been truly destitute, she might well have seized on the chance – Ir had a number of wealthy and well-connected royal families who weren’t part of the Imperial line – but now? Now it was actually insulting.

But even if she didn’t like Ir or its representative, there was no point and no purpose in rejecting as firmly as she would like. Not only did she need to represent Blue’s goals to Ir, she would need immense economic resources in the coming years, and Ir was a nation founded on and by craftsmen. She inclined her head and lifted one finger, letting him rise.

“Tarnil appreciates Ir’s compliments, as well as that of Prince Andis.” She left it there, not seeing any benefit to being firmer about her rejection of his attentions and not interested in acceptance. “We would certainly appreciate the renormalizing of relations, but as I told the prior messenger, that does come with certain caveats.” The representative’s smile became slightly strained at the last part. Sadly, she knew why he thought the gift and the overtures might make her willing to soften on concessions. It was the usual sort of dynastic wrangling that any unmarried ruler had to engage in, even her, but some things had to come first.

“It’s quite simple,” she told him. “Tarnil is under the protection of the Dungeon Power known as Blue, and it is only right and meet that we ask any nation that treats with us to recognize him. It should be no great thing to treat him as a sovereign entity and recognize he is exempt from the Common Hunting Treaty, and that’s the grounds upon which we will meet.”

“I of course do not have the authority to negotiate, Your Majesty, but I will relay your requests.”

“They are not requests. They are requirements.” The strained smile returned.

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Iniri suppressed a frown. Hopefully whoever Ir sent after this particular courtier reported in would be reasonable, but she wasn’t about to bet.

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