The Village was fantastic. Calloway decided that when it was time to retire, he’d retire there, monsters or no monsters. There was so much food, so many different types of ingredients, and a bunch of people who did not care how much higher level he was and would still whack his hand with a wooden spoon for trying to sneak cookies.
To some degree it was strange to be doing domestic things. Making pastries, picking ingredients, spicing sausage, and then playing servant to deliver all that to the summit. But downtime was just as important as combat, and it wasn’t like they weren’t getting practice in. They all used their Skills to help make pastries, and with everything Blue had lying around they all had something to help with insight on their Affinities. Even Terrance, who always had trouble finding anything about spatial Affinity. He and Tissaria had been sticking close to Taelah for the maximum number of teleports and exotic plants. It was unfortunate that there didn’t seem to be any animals, but access to actual Affinity Pools made up for it.
He was saving the Affinity essence he had gotten for Breakthrough Muffins, that was for sure.
Tissaria was just as happy as Calloway, partly for the same reasons but partly because Terrance was so ecstatic over being able to see portals and teleports close up, even if he couldn’t directly see the mana involved. The worry that Terrance wouldn’t be able to keep up was something that they all had, because spatial was just so rare. Terrance was a right terror with it, but he also didn’t have anywhere near the availability of the Affinity that everyone else did. Even Blue didn’t have a spatial Source for him, but apparently just walking through the massively spatially expanded Caldera was a help.
The only dent in that happiness was, working in the open as they were, the constant sight of the one plant in the Caldera that had remained intractable. The strange tree by the village center absolutely refused to have anything to do with any of her Skills, which was something that had never happened before. It only made her more curious, but Taelah told her to leave it alone and she wasn’t about to annoy their hosts. Besides, the tree gave her a gut feeling that she shouldn’t mess with it too much, and at her levels she’d learned to trust those gut feelings, even when they weren’t Skill feedback.
She finished seasoning a savory meat filling with pyregano and left it to simmer while she went to help everyone move lunch over to the summit site. Tissaria wasn’t too enamored of making all this food for people who probably wouldn’t appreciate it, but it wasn’t like the Village wasn’t getting any of it. The amount going to the summit was somewhere around half of what was being created, with the other half being set out for everyone as part of an early harvest feast.
Some of the platters were overly large, and after a quick glance around she grew some blades of grass extra-long and braided them into living rope. Several of the villagers didn’t have the strength or at least the leverage to easily carry certain of the dishes. She sent her rope to help them, and got a nod or two of thanks as they shifted over to the stone circle where Taelah waited to teleport them.
The surroundings shifted as Taelah brought them to the summit site, which was frankly ridiculous, but since all they had to do was carry and arrange the food Tissaria didn’t worry too much about it. The guests were all royals or high-tiers, and Ir’s delegation was both, with Emperor Wright himself casually sauntering about as if he owned the place. She gave him a sideways glance but just focused on setting out platters and stabilizing a kid with a glass bowl of drink far too large for him.
“Traitor!” The word, hissed out in Orrelin brogue, made her stiffen and turn around. Tissaria had known that there was a delegation from Orrelin around, but she hadn’t really thought that they’d notice her or even be around when she was helping out. Yet two of them had come up close without her noticing and were staring at her.
“I don’t answer to you,” she told them stiffly. She would have preferred to not answer them at all, but she didn’t feel comfortable turning her back on them. Neither of them looked familiar, but if they were sent out to diplomatic functions, they probably knew about all the exiles who wound up in Tarnil’s territory.
“Everyone of Orrelin answers to me,” the man growled, lifting a medallion from under his tunic. Her heart lurched at the sight of an inquisitor’s medallion, but she simply lifted her chin. They weren’t in Orrelin and despite what he said, she wasn’t any more under his authority than she was under Wright’s.
“I’m not of Orrelin anymore.” She felt Terrance and Calloway and Maiyim fall in behind her, anticipating a fight. Maybe. It would be the height of folly to start something where they were, but the agents of the Tetrarchy were selected more for their loyalty than their intelligence.
“Ha! You may have denied the blood that flows in your veins, but it is still there!” The inquisitor started ranting along the usual lines of loyalty unto death and supremacy of the Orrelin bloodlines, but he didn’t make to draw weapons or use Skills, so she really didn’t care. She’d heard worse in the past so, when he just continued raving, she made a hand-sign to the others and turned to walk away. Mana surged and she spun around to throw up a bark shield, but a deep, deep voice interrupted the fight before it started.
“Is this any way for guests to act?” The Orrelinians and her group both froze as an enormous head with far too many eyes blinked at them from the water. In fact, almost everyone in the main pavilion was staring, though that may have started when the inquisitor started yelling at them, because it wasn’t every day that a Leviathan appeared in a lake hundreds of miles above the surface. Maiyim recovered first, prodding Tissaria’s shoulder.
“I apologize,” she said to the Leviathan, doing a fair job at keeping her voice under control, but it waved a whisker at her dismissively.
“Not you, little Leafcaller. I was merely thinking that even I would be hesitant to accost any of Blue’s servants in the heart of his own lands.” The rumble of the Leviathan’s voice vibrated the marble underfoot, and Tissaria had the satisfaction of seeing the horrified expressions of the two Orrelin representatives.
“Thank you, Uilei-nktik,” Shayma said, appearing from nowhere as she was wont to do. She offered the Leviathan a bow, then winked at Tissaria out of the corner of her eye before turning to the inquisitor.
“Well?” She asked.
“I am here by Tarnil’s invitation,” The inquisitor replied after a moment, drawing himself up. “Iniri should know better than to parade an exile in front of a true son of Orrelin.” Shayma tilted her head at him and then snorted.
“Perhaps you should say that to her,” Shayma said, as Queen Iniri swept in with a thunderous scowl.
“I am not impressed with your behavior tonight, mister Lacief,” she told him in a cold voice. Tissaria felt something inside her relax as the Queen defended her. She’d never really quite felt that she was one of Tarnil’s, but it was clear that the incarnation of Tarnil itself didn’t agree.
“I am not impressed that you have an exile of Orrelin serving at an important function!” Lacief sputtered.
“I see.” Iniri pressed her lips together, then shook her head. “Your invitation is revoked. If you would, Blue?” She added to the empty air, and Lacief vanished without a sound. Iniri regarded Lacief’s companion, who hadn’t said anything throughout the entire affair, and he ducked his head to her.
“My apologies for Inquisitor Lacief, Queen Iniri. I did not realize—” he choked off what he was about to say, his eyes flicking to Tissaria and then to the Leviathan. “—that he would be so intractable,” the man finished. Queen Iniri nodded and flicked her hand, and he scurried off. The Queen watched him go and then turned to the Leviathan.
“You have my thanks for preventing a very regrettable incident,” she told the immense creature. It bubbled at her in amusement and submerged again, and she turned to regard Tissaria.
“My Queen,” she said, kneeling, and the rest of her group followed suit behind her. She was vaguely aware that the rest of the villagers didn’t, and instead returned to setting up the lunch spread. “I hope I did not cause any trouble between Tarnil and Orrelin.”
“Certainly not,” Queen Iniri said, completely calm. “If anything, it was Orrelin that caused trouble.” Tissaria nodded, but didn’t mention that she was sure they’d cause more trouble. The Queen gave them another nod and turned to rejoin Emperor Wright. The Leviathan drifted that way too, and Tissaria got to her feet even if she was feeling a bit shaky.
“Are you alright?” Terrance asked, putting an arm around her.
“I’m fine,” she assured him, leaning into the embrace. “But I don’t know about coming back here. Even with Blue’s protection, and the Queen’s, Orrelin isn’t going to be happy I’m here.”
“Don’t worry about that,” Shayma said, making Tissaria jump. “Blue isn’t happy that he missed that guy yelling at you. He’ll be keeping an eye on you and Orrelin for now, just in case. If they give you any more trouble, he’ll teleport them all away. We aren’t going to yield anything, and you’re part of that. Blue’s people are Blue’s, and that’s the end of it.”
“I see,” Tissaria said, feeling somewhat more assured by Shayma’s statement, and glanced back at her group.
“We’ll stick around,” Calloway said. “I’d hate to miss something interesting happening.”