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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Taelah, whispered the wind, and she looked up from the argument that she was supposedly mediating. The feud between Matron Maril and Matron Tunnah over their gardens was practically a tradition, something emphasized by the fact that the families had set up side-by-side in the new Village despite the fact that they could have claimed a plot anywhere. One of the younger Marils had gotten Taelah to try and settle the dispute, but neither of the elderly women had so much as glanced in her direction while they squabbled.

“I think it’ll be fine,” she assured the kid. “Blue’s calling, so I have to go for now. But feel free to find me or another Elder if they start drawing blood.”

“Yes’m,” he said, then winced as Matron Tunnah’s voice hit a particularly ear-grating pitch. She gave him another smile and then turned away, walking out and away from the family compounds.

“What is it, Blue?” She could have asked Shayma to translate, via Companion Concord, and for that matter he could have sent a message through Shayma if it was something that needed to be perfectly clear. But they wouldn’t ever improve their communication without practice, and she was starting to get a better handle on the way he talked to her through the sounds of the land.

There is a tree, the grass rustled at her. A very important tree.

“Oh, you just want me for my green thumb, I see,” she teased him. The boughs of the nearest tree laughed with her.

It may take the rest of your life to care for it. The wind warned.

“I’m with you for the rest of my life anyway,” Taelah smiled. “I’m going to be taking care of you and everyone else anyway, won’t I?” She reflexively put a hand over her stomach, even if nothing was showing yet. The flowers along the walk nodded agreement.

“So, what makes this one special?”

「It’s called the Tree of Eschaton,」 Shayma said through the Companion link, which made Taelah frown. Maybe Blue had tried to tell her the name and it hadn’t quite translated, but she preferred that her communications with Blue remained theirs. Still, it wasn’t Shayma’s fault and it was far better than not being able to talk to him at all, so she took a breath and listened to what Shayma had to say. 「It only has the description of ‘it is the fate of heroes to seek it out.’ Combined with the name we’re pretty sure it’s a fate Affinity tree, but that’s about all we know. 」

Taelah whistled softly and her fingers flexed in anticipation of getting even a glimpse of such a thing. She was already happy with the sheer amount of supply she had, both in terms of alchemy and in terms of plant life, but a fate tree was in another league altogether. Not that long ago she would have actually wanted to avoid something so profound, but her husband seemed to have a certain effect on those near him.

「Also, thanks for the healing tinctures,」 Shayma added. 「I know my mom said it before, but it really helped. Normally it takes a lot longer for her to regenerate from using her void Skills.」

「Oh, you’re quite welcome!」 It was always nice to be appreciated, and really it was one of the few opportunities she’d had to really stretch her alchemical repertoire.

Where should it go? The fences asked as they creaked. Taelah pursed her lips in thought, though there was really only one choice. It had to be in the Village. They weren’t intending to completely separate themselves from the world, anyway, so people turning up to find the tree for whatever reason wouldn’t be a problem.

Plus, Taelah knew that whatever benefits the tree brought, the Village could use. She was Blue’s wife first and foremost, but she was still part of the Village and had no compunctions about doing what was best for them, too. The Village was sworn to Blue’s service anyway, so having it in the Village itself wouldn’t tempt anyone beyond the bounds of prudence.

If someone was so tempted, she’d smack them one.

“I think I know a spot, but let me look around for a bit,” she told Blue. Taelah took a left along the path, heading in toward the village center. Most of the families had elected to build new and large compounds out near their claimed acreage of field and forest, but the heart of the village had been reorganized around a broad and open square. The market, Pierre’s carving shop, Tessa’s weaving and embroidery, all the little family businesses. Even if they’d only just recently broken into the second tier, thanks to Blue’s environment and resources, she’d feel confident matching the quality of their Skills against any of the Classers in Wildwood.

They’d even erected a little council house, rather than take over someone’s home whenever the Elders needed to gather, which sat at the far end of the center square. It was pretty much the only thing there, aside from some temporary stockpiles, and she nodded as she considered it. They’d built it, but she knew Blue could move it, especially since he was asking her where he should put the tree.

“Just relocate the council house over there, at the end of a path,” she said, gesturing off toward the southern part of the square where there was still free space along one of the cardinal roads. “We’ll put the tree at the empty end. If it’s as important as it sounds, we’ll want to give it space, but not put it out in the middle of nowhere.

The grass under her feet rustled agreement and the council house was surrounded by a black bubble, and a few seconds later appeared at the new spot. A stone path snaked its way up to the front door, settling in as Blue casually landscaped the ground. He’d let them blaze their own roads, but had sneakily paved them once they’d started wearing ruts in the dirt, something nobody actually objected to. Especially since Blue’s paving wasn’t with cobble but smooth stone, clean and polished.

Taelah finished crossing the square and paced out the empty area where the tree would go. Without seeing it personally she didn’t know exactly what it would need, but she still wanted to get an idea of the ground. Without a good foundation it would just be wild flailing to have Blue change anything yet, and besides, she was already framing ways to integrate such a special tree into the village center. She paced out twenty yards, looking around, then shook her head. Considering how Blue’s stuff tended to go, she added another thirty yards onto the original twenty and stopped in the middle of the grass, tapping her foot on the ground.

“Put a small rise here, maybe ten feet high?” She said, and the ground underneath her shifted, rising up into a hill with a gradual slope. She looked around, with the village on one side and a large clearing on the other, and nodded in satisfaction. “Great, just put it on top here.”

She stepped back a few feet to wait, and after a moment a sapling shot forth from the ground, its bark rugged and coarse and folded like ancient oak, but with a lustrous dark gray coloring. Thin veins of silver and copper appeared here and there in folds of the bark, glittering metallic strands that set off the darkness of the trunk. Even though it was only a few feet high, still clearly a very small tree, a breathtaking canopy spread out from it, branches stretching outward and splitting, then splitting again to form a broad dome of interlaced limbs.

She could see the earth move as roots burrowed through the earth underneath the canopy, breaking through here and there in a sort of mirror to the tangled branches above, and leaves began to burst into growth. They were a deep, verdant green, but with a slight tracery of gold on the underside, barely visible except when the wind stirred them. It was, in all, a gorgeous tree that seemed to have the same solidity as century-old titans of the forest, despite being only a few minutes old.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty one,” she told it, stepping forward and crouching down. She had to kneel to get under the canopy and touch the actual bark, but that was why her dresses were made of something tough and stain resistant. The growth had slowed from the initial burst, but there was still the faint sense of motion, and it almost seemed to thrum under her fingertips. The bark itself was rippled and corrugated but the surface felt smooth, almost polished, and even before she invoked [Phantasmal Gardener] she could feel the power within it.

She sunk her consciousness down into the tree, looking not only for its magic but for the basic necessities — what kind of soil it liked, how much water it needed, whether it would be better off with more plants around it or as a lone tree. Some of that started to filter back, like how thirsty it was, but before she could get more than the basics, the magic of the tree stirred.

Taelah had never encountered fate magic before. She’d heard about The Light of Eschaton from Shayma, and she knew it existed in a distant, abstract sense, but it wasn’t something anyone came across in the world by chance. So, when the Affinity within the tree rose up, she wasn’t prepared for it to turn and look at her. She yelped and fell backward, staring at the trunk of the tree.

What’s wrong? The breeze murmured, concerned.

“That…I…” Taelah spluttered. “The tree’s magic is aware! That’s what it seemed like anyway. I wasn’t expecting it.” Blue didn’t reply, but a few moment later, Shayma popped into existence beside the tree. She squatted down, peering under the canopy at Taelah.

“This thing is intelligent?” Shayma asked incredulously. “Blue says he’s having to make three dedicated dynamos just to feed it, by the way. It’s actually consuming an enormous amount of mana.”

“I’m not sure it’s intelligent. I’m not sure it was the tree I sensed, so much as the mana inside it. Which is fate mana, I think?” Taelah was still a little shaken by what she’d sensed, not that it was at all hostile. It was just so strange – nothing like any magic she’d felt before at all.

“Probably. I guess we were expecting something but not that you’d have that reaction to it.” Shayma told her thoughtfully.

There is some, the grass rustled.

“Blue says he can see a little bit of fate mana,” Shayma reported unnecessarily. “But only a very tiny bit. The barest hint.”

“If that’s the barest hint…” Taelah shook her head. “It’s not just mana it needs a lot of. It’s going to need a dedicated spring or something like that, Blue. This is a really thirsty tree.”

The wind laughed and the ground shivered again as he did some landscaping. Taelah crawled out from underneath the canopy, brushing off the front of her dress as a brook burst forth from between the tree’s roots, winding down away from the village toward the treeline. She could swear the tree instantly perked up, leaves glimmering and branches lifting.

“That’s better,” she said. “I’d actually advise against trying to accelerate its growth too much. If it needs that much mana and water, it might cripple itself trying to grow faster than it can absorb.”

Not a problem, the rustling grass informed her. Then a gust of wind tickled her ear, but she didn’t recognize what Blue was trying to ask, so she looked at Shayma curiously.

“Now that we have some respite, Blue is thinking about making a magical item or an Artifact for you,” Shayma told her. “It’s not like you’re really going to need a weapon so he’s at a bit of a loss.”

“An Artifact for me?” Taelah blinked. “I already have the Alchemstry, and all of Blue’s Climates. I don’t really need an Artifact, too!” She considered it, drumming her fingers against her hip. “But if he wants to make me one, maybe a pair of gloves? I’m forever going through pairs of the things.” Shayma blinked at her, then laughed.

“Only you would want Artifact gloves,” she said with a smile. “It’s perfect.”

Yes, Blue agreed.

“Well I’m glad it was that easy,” Taelah said. “How is everything going in the outside world? All I know is that we won.”

“Oh, mostly Blue’s still putting the various cities and villages back in place.” The two of them started to stroll back toward the village center, leaving the fate tree to grow. “There’s some people complaining but that’s just because they didn’t see how bad things were before he fixed them up.”

“How bad was it?” Taelah asked curiously. She was glad that Anton’s Village hadn’t been involved at all. They were absolutely in a privileged position, insulated from the chaos of the outside world, but that only meant they could do their work uninterrupted.

“Without Blue, half of Tarnil would be burnt rock,” Shayma said bluntly. “I’m not overselling it at all. They had some extremely potent magic. They probably could have leveled mountains, if they weren’t mountains Blue was protecting.”

“I’d much rather be here,” Taelah told her. “I’m just not cut out for that sort of thing.” Even when she was coordinating in the pit Blue had made, she hadn’t bothered trying any attacks. Not that she was squeamish, it just was not what she was there for. Besides, with access to Blue’s materials and the Alchemistry, she was advancing just as quickly as any adventurer.

“I don’t know if anyone is,” Shayma admitted. “Adventuring is pretty fun, but wars are awful. I’m hoping now that all this is over, I can go back to doing some adventuring stuff. We haven’t even properly taken One-Eye-Green out for a trip!”

“The monster girl?” Taelah asked. She was vaguely aware of that whole development, but it hadn’t really registered with everything else going on. Blue just had too many things going to keep track of them all.

“Yeah, she’s a cute kid actually, for being so tall and scary,” Shayma chuckled. “I should bring her by. She has some other monsters she calls Big Brother and Big Sister but not a mother that I know of. Bring her over for some of those muffins.”

“Now, if we’re talking monsters, Miss Burnhade would get along just fine with One-Eye-Green,” Taelah confessed, though the image of a giant monster taking tea with the indomitable old widow did amuse her.

Good idea, Blue said, and Taelah lifted her brows.

“You really think so?”

“We were joking,” Shayma said thoughtfully. “But the Scalemind want to get their own Status instead of remaining monsters, and the best we can figure is to try and make them more like us. The Village might be good for that, assuming you all don’t mind One-Eye-Green coming around now and then.”

“Well, first, if Blue’s asking, that’s that,” Taelah pointed out. “I don’t think anyone here would object, though. They’d better not, anyway, since you’re a friend of the Village.”

“I’ll bring her by sometime, then. Annit and Keri, too. I don’t think they’ve really met you properly, and it’s looking like the Village is getting along pretty well. Do you have everything moved over?”

“We do.” Taelah nodded. “Most everything is built, aside from a few barns that we have planned.” She rolled her eyes. “Not that the Marils had a barn before, but now that they have a place for it, they’re pretty stubborn about putting one up.”

“What about that adaptation Skill? How’s it working?”

“Well, we don’t have any exotic Climates nearby, so we aren’t going to have any herds of flaming scalehooves anytime soon, but I’ve almost finished adapting our herds to the nature mana here.” Taelah waved around at the surrounding trees. “We might ask about getting access to a Volcano or Glacier area for more exotic stuff once we’re really established, but for now I’m mostly going around picking interesting things.” Of which there were a lot. The Climates had definitively solved Blue’s monoculture problem, even if he didn’t have animals to go with the trees and flowers.

“Blue recently got some trait points, but that one trait that lets him populate Climates is really expensive, so he’ll probably still rely on you for adapting.”

“Oh, that’s not a problem,” Taelah chuckled. “Being an Elder doesn’t take up that much time, so long as you know how to escape from certain situations.”

“Elder Taelah!” As if summoned by the comment, Tessa Lin dashed out the door of her shop to flag Taelah down.

“Yes, Tessa?” She asked, ignoring Shayma’s big grin as the fox-kin stood to one side, hands clasped behind her back.

“Suna’s gone missing again! She didn’t even finish her chores!”

“I thought you were going to keep a closer eye on her,” Taelah said. Not that keeping track of an energetic six-year-old was easy for anyone, let alone someone who had to tend their own shop.

“I am! She’s just sneaky!”

“Don’t worry, I’ll find her,” Taelah said. She glanced aside to Shayma and lowered her voice. “Actually, I just ask Blue to find her,” she admitted. “Suna keeps wandering off to stargaze in the evenings, so I’ve gotten used to this.”

“It’s a bit early for that,” Shayma pointed out as Tessa hurried back toward her store. Of course, the moment that she’d come out to find Taelah, someone had wandered inside and was looking puzzled at Tessa’s absence.

“To be honest, she probably found a creek to play in,” Taelah said. “I’ve never met a child that wouldn’t make a beeline for the nearest body of water.” Shayma snorted.

“So where did she go this time, Blue?” Taelah appealed to the air. The response was a sort of tug, a feeling of a direction, so she turned and started walking while Shayma kept pace with her.

“How did you know that?” Shayma asked. “Blue was describing where she was, not how to get there.”

“I could just tell where he was looking,” Taelah said. “I’m using my [One With Nature] skill, so it’s not exactly like talking to him directly, the way you do.”

“It seems pretty effective!” Shayma told her cheerfully. “But I hope you do get to the point where you can hear him word for word. There’s nothing quite like hearing him ramble on about nothing in particular to really understand how silly he is.”

Unfair, Blue objected, and both women laughed.

“I think I get the idea as it is,” Taelah assured Shayma. For all that Blue was the size of a country and supposedly all-seeing and full of vast and ancient knowledge, he was amusingly easy to surprise. The two of them strolled outside of the village center and down a small slope toward a copse of trees. Taelah was pretty sure they were on the Corton’s land, but it was still pretty close to untouched wilderness. Outside of ploughed fields and house plots, most of the Caldera was like that.

Shayma heard the children first, yelling and shrieking, and while she looked alarmed Taelah shook her head. She knew the kids and the landscape well enough to know what was going on, and besides, if any of them were in trouble Blue would have said something. Children were simply loud.

The two of them ducked through the trees to find five of the younger children from the Village jumping in and out of a shallow, creek-fed pool. They were all of them wet, most of them muddy, and their clothes were grass-stained. Which was more or less what Taelah had been expecting, and it wasn’t like their clothing hadn’t already been grass-stained.

For a few moments the two adults went unnoticed, then little Harold noticed them and went silent, eyes flicking around as if he could go hide somewhere. One of the other kids also looked guilty, but the rest didn’t care at all, splashing around in the shallow water. Suna was one of those.

“Do your parents all know you’re here?” Taelah asked mildly. It really wasn’t her job to keep track of all the kids, or tattle on them when they snuck out to have fun. She mostly got affirmative noises, but Suna didn’t seem to hear. Which wasn’t to say she didn’t notice Taelah.

“Miss Elder Taelah!” Suna splashed out of the pool, ran over to a tree, picked something up, and ran over to Taelah and Shayma. “Look what I found!” She held up a hand-sized flower, a dark center surrounded by glowing petals.

“Is that a stellar chrysthenium?” Shayma said. “What are the odds of that?”

“Um, Blue?” Taelah asked. It was one thing to fell logs and pick berries, that was what the surrounding woods were meant for. The chrystheniums were another thing altogether, and while she knew there were some about, because there always were in Climates, she wasn’t sure if they were equally available.

It’s fine, Blue assured them. She did find it. Taelah relaxed, squatting down to look at Suna’s flower.

“It’s very pretty, sweetie. Did you know this is a magic flower?”

“Yes!” Suna said proudly, though Taelah was pretty sure she didn’t know it was magic at all. “It glows like the sun!”

“It sure does,” Taelah agreed, looking at Shayma. Shayma just smiled. “Husband says it’s alright that you have that one, but they’re important, so ask next time you find one like that.”

“Yes, Miss Elder Taelah,” Suna said, clutching her chrysthenium.

“Now, your mom told me you hadn’t finished your chores yet, and you ran off without telling her where you were going. I’ll walk you back, alright?”

“Yes, Miss Elder Taelah,” Suna repeated, then looked up at her. “Miss Elder Taelah, do you wrestle Blue at night like grown-ups do because Mister Glenn said your husband was the ground and it was weird.” Taelah stuttered to a stop as Suna blindsided her with the question, blinking down at the little girl while Shayma doubled over with laughter, cackling loud enough that all the other kids stared at her.

“Oh, dear,” Taelah sighed.

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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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