“Honestly, it isn’t your fault,” Blue said for the tenth time.
“I know,” she said, though she didn’t agree. If she’d been more considered in her response, she might not have scared Tor Kot off. Though it was difficult, especially since she was pretty certain Blue’s ANATHEMA was pushing at her too, a little. With Blue’s voice so full of loathing, well, he was hers and she was his and of course she was going to take his side.
Ultimately, it probably didn’t matter. Even if the negotiations had continued, House Anell had always been the next target and the mage-kings a distraction at best. No matter how things had played out, Blue would have decided to rush the Fortress next. But she still felt that she had fallen short, which was not something she liked at all.
“So relax!” Blue chided her. “You’re going to pound the mana out of that bracket.” Shayma snorted and looked down at the piece of [Steelwoven Skyron] she was working on. Blue’s point defense modules all needed her and Iniri to do some work, with the rest being handed off to Chiuxatli experts. Which meant she had to do hundreds of the things, even if they didn’t take very long.
Even the Sungun, as Blue was calling it, was on hold. He wouldn’t have the firmament ready, let alone the testing and development of the rest of it, by the time the gravity engines were finished. The sheer quantity of gravity metal was the only bottleneck. As soon as the Fortress could move, they were headed across the ocean to Port Anell.
“Did Uilei-nktik get back to you yet?” She asked the question while it was in her head, finishing the bracket and quenching it with [Temperature Finesse].
“Not yet. We probably don’t really need permission, and I won’t wait if we can’t get it, but the Leviathans have been extremely polite so far. I’m hopeful.” Shayma nodded and took the next chunk of metal out of the forge, bringing down her hammer to shape her intent into the backet. If nothing else the repetitive work was good for honing her technique and [Dungeon Crafting] Skill, though not actual experience. In a way she hardly needed that, since her leveling was really too fast. She was already just past level 68 and still figuring out basic ways to use her Domain.
That said, leveling up usually involved having a lot of fun. She hadn’t resorted to playing pranks on people just because, but misdirection and diversion had proved quite lucrative. The negotiation with Tor Kot, sustaining completely contradictory Skills the entire time, had been quite a boost by itself. She didn’t mind monster hunting, and still wanted to go back out with her group when she could, but she was glad she wasn’t dependent on it.
“How many more of these to go, anyway?” She quenched it and set it next to the others, rows and rows of them on the side of the [Craft Hall].
“Another few hundred.”
“Just a few hundred, hmm? We’ve made over a thousand already! That many of Iniri’s [Starlances] seems like it’d destroy anything nearby. It’s complete overkill.”
“Not if someone throws a mountain at me.” Shayma rolled her eyes, but had to admit that Blue had a point. Anything that was powerful enough to be a physical threat would be really powerful. “Besides, I have to cover the whole surface, so they aren’t all going to be hitting the same thing.”
“True.” She still doubted there’d be any call for that level of defense, but it was nice that the entire surface was protected. As powerful as she was, she was still just one person. Something like the blightbeast swarm would be difficult to deal with, if not impossible, if he had to rely on her alone.
She finished another bracket, rounding out the row, then moved to the wire die and began drawing out the Aurum. Each of the brackets needed a thin loop, then Blue would set the Stellar sources himself. Once Iniri had instilled [Starlance] in the Aurum, it would finally go to the Chiuxatli crafters.
After seeing just one of them in action, she was sure that even a void Ell would be hard pressed to get anywhere near the Fortress if Blue didn’t want to let them. Of course, first she had to finish. She took time out to down some water before returning to the forge.
It took another day for Uilei-nktik to reply to them, and Shayma found it a rather odd experience to speak through transmission device. She took it into Blue’s tower in the Palace, placing her hands on it and finding she had a narrow window through to the Leviathan settlement off the coast of Tarnil. Behind Uilei’s familiar form, other massive shapes swam through the dark waters, bioluminescence flickering as they went about their own mysterious business.
“I have informed the Levin and Ui-sel of the Fortress,” Uilei-nktik told her, the magically created voice backed by the basso rumbling of seaspeak. “Those are the only abechrai of note in the area unless you decide to go around the world the opposite way. I doubt they would or could do anything about it even if I hadn’t sent word, but I deeply appreciate the courtesy.”
“Hey, Uilei’s been polite to us, figured I’d be polite back.” Shayma smiled at Blue’s flippant reply.
“It’s only right to return the courtesy you’ve shown us,” she told the Leviathan. “I hope our opposition to the Anells wasn’t an issue.”
“They’re the biggest source of Surfacer goods in the hemisphere — or were. What you’re providing ought to make up for any pinch they feel from whatever disruption you cause.” His blue-green bioluminescence flashed in a way that she felt she almost understood, now that she knew colortongue.
“Once I’m done with the Fortress—”
“Once Blue is finished with the Fortress he should have more leeway in the resources he can produce,” Shayma said, the ease of practice letting her translate his words almost in real time.
“Yes, the Fortress. I do hope to see it sometime, though I am not equipped for the skies. So, perhaps at a distance.”
Shayma laughed, though she was fairly certain he was being self-effacing for her benefit. Uilei-nktik was almost older than Tarnil itself, and had a level that she’d never seen surpassed, discounting Ansae. She had to admit that it worked, though, and sometimes made her forget that he was large enough to eat whole villages in a single bite.
“I mean, if he wants to get in on the design process, he can. I’m sure he knows better than the Chiuxatli.”
“I think the Chiuxatli are designing a Leviathan habitat for it, so you might get a closer look than you think,” she told him.
“I would be honored to see it,” Uilei-nktik replied.
“If you have some suggestions for what to do for the Leviathan section, or what not to do, I would appreciate your input,” she offered. Hopefully he’d be less skeptical if he had a hand – or tentacle, or whatever – involved in the design. “Though, now that I think of it, have you been informed about Blue’s habitation benefits for Leviathans?”
“I have not,” Uilei-nktik said cautiously. “I was not aware that Blue was seeking to entice Leviathans to dwell in his demesne.”
“I didn’t mean it that way, my apologies. Blue’s magic intrinsically provides unique benefits for each species that calls his demesne home. For Leviathans, it enhances adaptation to shallow waters, and for those already adapted it grants [Size Adaptation].” Uilei was silent for a moment, pondering that.
“That is very enticing, even if you didn’t intend it that way. Are these boons permanent?”
“I actually don’t know. They don’t stop when we leave his actual borders, but they might if a citizen decided to emigrate entirely.”
“I would ask that you do not broadcast this for the moment. I can only imagine how many Leviathan parents would want to change abechrai. For that matter, I don’t suppose you have one properly founded.”
“You know, I don’t think we’ve broadcast the habitation benefits in general,” Blue observed. “We told Iniri, and Ansae, but it’s not like we’ve issued a general press release about it. Anyway, I just checked with Ansae and her Acolytes don’t count as an abechrai. Whatever constitutes one of those.”
“We have some Acolytes of the Silver Temple, but not a true Leviathan community. I’m not even sure what makes for an abechrai.” She made the last more of a question than a statement.
“There are certain ceremonies, and you’d need an elder with certain corals. If you are amenable to Leviathans taking up residence – aside from the Acolytes, who have their own rules – it is a needful thing, regardless.”
"Oh, I’d be fine with more Leviathans, so long as I have some warning. I’d want to make a more appropriate place for them, and get more fish about. That kind of thing.”
“Blue wouldn’t mind, though he’ll need to know well in advance. It’s probably better to wait until after we’ve dealt with the Anells.”
“It would be months before it would happen, if not years. Done properly, at least.” The lights dotting his hide twinkled again. “It is my job to make sure these things are done properly. You would not thank me for ending up in a Leviathan civil war.”
“Yyyeeeah let’s avoid that.”
“We would not. Thank you for your help, Uilei-nktik.”
“Thank you, Voice Shayma and Blue.” The spellwork went flat and Shayma lifted her hands from the device.
“I’d be really interested in seeing the weird stuff that comes out of a real Leviathan community. None of the trade goods we’ve gotten from them are anything like what I see in Tarnil.”
“Yeah! They seem pretty nice, at least to judge by Uilei-nktik.” She was looking forward to trying out a Leviathan form sometime. After seeing Wright’s fourth-tier shifter and hearing about Ansae’s water form, she knew it was possible to take much larger forms, though she wasn’t there quite yet.
“True. But, since Uilei’s job is specifically to talk to different people, I imagine he’s more diplomatic than most. I mean, they live in the lightless depths of an ocean, I bet they get pretty weird. Just think about the fact that an abrechai needs ceremonies and the like to keep a civil war from happening.”
“Even on the surface I don’t think many nations would be happy about a new one popping up nearby,” Shayma pointed out. “But it’s true, I shouldn’t judge based on Uilei-nktik.”
“Anyway, glad we got clearance. Can’t wait to head over to Port Anell.” Shayma agreed with that much. Blue had told her that the Anells had gotten word of the falling-out somehow, and were satisfied with it despite the loss of an agent.
An agent that couldn’t tell them much. Dreams-Ahead verified that the Anells had some sort of mind Affinity expert on their side, and Ailon hadn’t even known he was an agent until just before the meeting. He didn’t even know who else was involved, though Wright’s agents were tracking down the manufacturers of the devices he’d planted. The adjustments to Ailon’s mind from being activated combined with the short timeline had resulted in the rather slipshod attempt to frame Tor Kot.
Of course, slipshod or not, it had still managed to derail the talks. Wright was publicly furious, and had only stopped short of declaring actual and immediate war on House Anell because Blue had first claim. Blue said that the Iniri’s messenger bird had made it to the intended destination, but that Tor Kot was not in great standing after being forced to retreat in panic. She still wasn’t sure exactly how Blue’s scrying ability worked, but it was great to have some insight on their opponents.
Unfortunately, beyond the three names of the top Anells, she didn’t have a good picture of what it was like at Port Anell. The plan of action would have to wait until they were there, but she was doubtful they’d bother with polite diplomacy. Putting a giant fortress over the place was not exactly a friendly gesture.
She finished the last bracket the evening of the next day, and took the opportunity to go see what the Chiuxatli were doing with the Fortress. Blue teleported her to the top of the Fortress, where dozens of the bird-people were flitting about. They weren’t installing the defense items; Blue could do that himself. Instead they were setting down the basic ward patterns that tied into the defense modules.
There was a lot of magic in the air, Chiuxatli drawing on wind Affinity and fixing it into the ward plates that covered the Fortress. Each plate was stationary, but they were in small pits that Blue was filling in as the wards were finished, so they’d ultimately be hidden behind the [Adamant Stone] armor. Every single one of those ward plates was connected to the heart of the Fortress with threads of stellar quartz, leading Blue to mumble about cabling. For the most part it was meant to either be on or off, to run without any person controlling it, but at some point she’d have the ability to control the whole thing. In theory.
She shifted into Chiuxatli form, taking a moment to acclimate to the strange change in senses. She couldn’t see as such, but was intensely aware of all the colors around her, including the colortongue chatter among the other Chiuxatli. The black of the Fortress underclaw was rather disturbing to those senses, but nothing she couldn’t handle. Spatial awareness was taken care of by some sort of wind sense, which meant she could sense further out and around corners, but it wasn’t as robust as sight. At least her Domain meant that she could have both.
Shayma spread her wings and flew out over the Fortress, crossing one of the edges and altering her trajectory to skim over one of the slopes. Blue’s gravity magic, either metals or just flowers somewhere beneath the surface, meant that there was no need for any acrobatics, even when it came to the bottom facet.
“So close!” Blue said, clearly pleased at the progress. “Honestly it’ll be nice to have something mobile. Er. I mean. Other than you. I didn’t mean—” She laughed in colortongue, her plumage rippling colors.
«I know what you mean,» she said. «This way you can go sightsee without feeling like you’re imposing.»
“Exactly!” Blue agreed, clearly relieved that she understood what he was getting at. “Not that I feel particularly trapped or anything; I’ve got more than enough space. It’s just that there are certain limitations that come with being a landscape.” Limitations that he’d more or less destroyed, often without much thinking about it. It only made sense, since that was one of the defining features of Powers.
She landed on the bottom facet of the Fortress and shifted back to her normal form, looking up at the Tarnil landscape below. It was a very strange sensation, though it wasn’t too far different from some parts of the Underneath, all told. The Chiuxatli were almost done with that particular facet, only one of the elder mages making a spiral to check on the connections. She could see it too, the complex webwork laced through and over the stone, insubstantial but still threatening somehow.
“I can’t wait to leave,” she said at last.
“Soon,” Blue said ominously.