"Oh, oh, that's intriguing!" Queen Thecla says, delighted. "You would claim to be my equal? That takes some nerve." (Increased Thecla Relationship.)
You didn't quite expect Queen Thecla to react with such enthusiasm, but you smile in what you hope is a charming manner.
"Totally unabashed." Queen Thecla taps her cheek. "Still, I don't think I really want you saying such things in public. That won't do at all."
Queen Thecla concludes your meeting by saying, "Well, I'm satisfied—to an extent. You can be my wizard, but I think I want to keep you out of the public's eye. I may be impressed with your brazenness, but I worry about my image if you were to speak so forwardly at court."
The same liveried servant who escorted you before is waiting at the door.
"Servant Pons can show you to your new quarters and provide you with your first payment," Queen Thecla says. (Gained 300 Gold.) "Welcome to the palace, Saint Zig."
You're somewhat surprised to hear even the queen use your title of saint, which the Church does not officially recognize. Perhaps she said it to emphasize the meaninglessness of official titles, or perhaps she has a plan to subtly undermine the authority of the Church. With the queen's backing, you suspect the title will stick regardless of what the Church wants.
You take this to mean that Queen Thecla will not officially grant you a new title. That's fine; you're more interested in the power of your unofficial office.
Your new room at the palace is what you think is a cleared-out torture chamber, underground and near the queen's dungeon. You can tell some heavy equipment has been dragged along the stone floors, and there are still little metal nubs in the wall where you assume manacles used to be. Still, it is spacious for all that, and private as well—the queen must have assumed from your conversation that your magical experiments needed to be far away from prying eyes. At the same time, it's slightly embarrassing, and you will gain practice slipping down here when nobody is looking. (Gained Subtlety.)
Your practice of taking the palace tunnels everywhere also acquaints you with some of its lesser-used old rooms containing antiques, curios, and caches of old books. (Gained Ancient History.)
Your things arrive from Akriton in a week. Your furniture and possessions remain roughly the same even if your locale has changed, and you decorate your new room with the sentimental curios that once adorned your old basement room.
Your secret room beneath the palace admits more freedom than you would have had in the public eye, and you're able to sneak your golem Maximus Nought into the room.
"Don't wander out of here without my permission," you tell your golem. "The servants might worry they're being replaced. And the last thing I need is to have the servants allied against me."
"Ola kala, dominex," the golem affirms.
"You know the drill—keep my things safe, and help me with magical experiments as before."
"Ola kala, dominex."
When you are nearly done moving in to the palace, you find a note at the bottom of the wagon bed. Your mother's neat calligraphy is unmistakable.
She must have slipped it under a box while she and your father were helping you move.
We will always be proud of you no matter what you do. But remember what Grandma always said: that the greatest magics in the world are love and hope. (And a good joke, your father wants me to add. I suppose she did say that once.) You are dear to us, magical no matter what you do. Try to do good. Eat healthy.
Love and hope!
Tal never even bothered to say goodbye to you. You suppose that's unsurprising, given how badly you've gotten along lately.
Seer Marie stays in Akriton, as you thought she might. It's too bad—you were growing rather fond of her through your lessons.
You learn from palace gossip that Blessed Sam has been promoted from being an inquisitor and Blessed Jacob's partner to being the queen's own blessed advisor, replacing Blessed Advisor Armand. Apparently, the hierophant believes that your position as the queen's magical advisor would be best counterbalanced by someone from the Church who is familiar with your "case."
You expect to disagree with him—cordially—about a number of things.
Shortly after you move in to the palace, the queen calls you to her chamber once again. The queen this time wears a shimmering blue dress with black lace, as formal as the last dress you saw her in.
A solemn man in a gray tunic and black cape is bent over to whisper in her ear. He reflexively straightens as you enter.
"I believe it's time to let you know why I contacted you," the queen says. "This is Spymaster Dol." She nods to the man in gray and black.
"We received some reports of unusual flying objects near the Negative Sea," Spymaster Dol says. "Our spies have now confirmed that small metal vessels have flown out of the Negative Sea, their hulls apparently impervious to the corrosion of that black cloud. They have flown over several towns near the Negative Sea now. We believe they are scouts."
"We haven't had an invasion in over two hundred years," Queen Thecla tells you. "With the mountains to the north and south, and the Negative Sea to the east, our army has only had to deal with the Domitians and their ships from the west. And the occasional insurrection, of course. But we're basically out of practice at warfare, while the Magisterian Empire…they probably never gave up either magic or war, and have been practicing since the Negative Sea separated us."
"Let's not be hasty," the spymaster says with a raised hand. "We don't know that they desire war at all. These vessels were magical, certainly, but they were not visibly armed."
"But they have the technology of the ancients, and we do not. And they can readily see that." Queen Thecla turns to you. "And that is where you come in. You must advise us on how to best catch up to the Magisterians. Tell us which magics we need to convince them we aren't backward."
You blink at the sudden responsibility. "You're asking me to shape society itself."
"Oh, you don't get free rein like that," the queen says. "I am bound to listen to the Church as well, and they will like none of this. If the people turn against me as a witch, then the kingdom will surely burn. So we must move subtly but swiftly, so that the Church cannot turn back the clock."
The queen concludes the meeting, asking you to think about what she has said and to prepare for debates on the subject with her blessed advisor, who shall act as the voice of the Church and tradition.
Your mind reels as you make your way back to your room. What magics should the kingdom revive, and which should stay buried? It is a big responsibility. But if the Magisterians have only sent scouts so far, you may have a little time yet.
The very same evening, you find that a letter has been slipped under your door.
You have proven to be a wily snake indeed, slithering up to sit at the queen's side. You'll be pleased to know that my interest in you personally has dropped dramatically since we last crossed paths. I thought you were…something else.
But here's a secret for you: I am not so bound to tradition as you might think. I'm told your magic is necessary to defending the kingdom from the Neighbors. So be it! I am more practical than you might realize. But the moment I believe you are a bigger threat than they, I will see you dead, magic or no.
Show some respect, and try not to overdo it. That's all I ask of you, wizard.
Blessed and Most Holy Hierophant Elizabeth
So it appears inquisitors won't be trying to abduct you in the night anymore—probably.
You heave a relieved sigh and crumple the letter.
The next day, you begin the task of deciding just how far the Kingdom of Eirinia should advance in magic in a short time.
You meet in a private chamber with no windows that you think was once used for intimate dining. There is a round table in the center with three ornate wooden chairs spaced an equal distance apart, though the largest and most ornate chair is surely for the queen. A crystal chandelier provides candlelight in the middle of the day.
The blessed advisor is already seated in his chair—and, just as you heard from the palace gossip, it's none other than the erstwhile Blessed Sam.
He gets up to greet you.
"I heard you were the new advisor," he says. "Congratulations. I'm sure we'll get along splendidly, even if we don't always agree."
Queen Thecla wears the most elaborate dress you have seen her wear yet, a floor-length deep-blue dress with puffy silhouette and black-lace embellishments, and a giant navy-blue collar accentuated with tiny sapphires. When she takes her own chair, the deliberations begin.
"As you both now know, we need to advance the kingdom in a hurry," Queen Thecla says. She gives Blessed Advisor Sam a steady look. "We can't be too attached to the past."
"But the Book of Abraxas is our compass," Sam objects. "Without it, we're just making up rules—"
"I have no patience for myths, nostalgia, or fantasy right now," the queen interrupts, earning a stung look from Sam. "The truth is, there never was a time the world was not changing out from under us. The world has always been in crisis. The old ways are always dying. The world is always being born anew."
"Let us start with the creation of…impressive ships." You can tell Queen Thecla intends to talk around the Magisterian Empire for as long as possible, just in case someone walks in on your conversation. "Saint Zig, how is it done?"
"Automation magic, Your Majesty," you say. "Not only to power the ships themselves but also to create magical factories that achieve a speed of production unmatched by human hands."
It suddenly dawns on you that even though conventional wisdom blames the ancients for the perpetual thunderheads above you, the Magisterians may have been using automation for two thousand years since then, making the storms worse. But if so, they have shown enough restraint to avoid bringing about the end of the world.
"Can we do the same?" the queen asks. "Use magical power instead of animals or human labor, to increase production?"
Blessed Advisor Sam looks as if he's going to be ill at this suggestion.
"It's dangerous, because the world is already on the brink of disaster with the storms wrought by automation magic," you say. "But certainly, automation is the most time-tested source of magical power."
"Well, do you have any other suggestions?" the queen asks.
"The Church's recommendation would be to encourage people to discover the power within themselves," Blessed Advisor Sam says with some agitation. "I know I'm new here, but—how can we just start using magic like this? This is crazy!"
"In a less metaphorical sense, negative energy could also be used as a source of power," you say. Ignoring the sense of general approbation in the room, you continue: "The dark sun is not inherently evil—its power is just most commonly turned into blasts using negation magic. But it doesn't have to be so uncontrolled. The negative energy beneath the surface of the earth could potentially provide a source of power that has none of the climate-altering drawbacks of automation. And our mastery over negation would also prove an advantage in the war." You know that general superstition about the dark sun is still rampant, so you decide to close on a brighter note: "Or, finally, we could engineer beasts to take the place of what the machines might have done. Dodecapedes. Dragons. Their food would be a very safe source of energy."
"And what is your recommendation?" the queen prompts.
1.Let's harness the power of storms, as the Neighbors do.
2.Let's harness the energy of the dark sun: greater power without damage to the skies.
3.Let's create beasts of labor that will gain their energy from enhanced foods.
4.We don't need a magical power source; it'll displace human labor and cause chaos.
Achievement Unlocked: Perfectly Safe: Harnessed the power of the dark sun. (5 points)You take a deep breath before delivering your unpopular verdict. "I think negative energy is the only way to catch up to the Neighbors without destroying the world."
"What? No!" Blessed Advisor Sam practically shouts. "Negation is a cursed magic. Have you forgotten that it created the Negative Sea and all the death clouds? The kingdom must not play with such vile forces."
"But is all that more lies and superstition?" Queen Thecla says.
Blessed Advisor Sam falls silent, stunned.
"Can you make it safe?" Queen Thecla asks you.
"Yes," you say, confident in your abilities in negation.
"Good enough for me," the queen says. "Engage in your magical research, and make it so."
You're actually glad that the queen decided to keep you out of sight. Acting in secret means that it's far less likely your plan to harness negation energy will be discovered prematurely. Once the people see what good it can do, you think the people will be far less repulsed by the forbidden magic.
"It will not be easy to convince the people that magic is suddenly acceptable," the queen says. "Perhaps some glamor magic is in order to ensure that the people are willing to follow where I lead."
"The Church would not approve of a secular ruler impersonating a saint with magic," Blessed Advisor Sam says. "Please, let the people be in awe of only the saints, so that they may hold goodness in the highest regard instead of power."
You weigh whether to warn the queen about the effects of rot, and decide she would find out soon enough anyway.
The queen blanches at your explanation of rot but murmurs, "I am prepared to do whatever it takes to lead the kingdom. But will it be worth it? What do you think?"
1.Suggest using a glamor, rot and Church be damned.
2.Suggest using divination to communicate with her subjects, building bonds of trust.
3.Tell the queen she needs no glamor; she's already most impressive.
4.The drawbacks of glamors aren't worth it—old-fashioned charisma must win over the people.