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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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Iniri was marveling at the miniature volcano and all the exotic life flourishing within it when Shayma returned. More than returned; she raced past Iniri at a speed that even her warriors would find impressive, sprinting along the winding path. It forced her to pull on [Body Fortification] quite heavily in order to keep up, though with the new wellspring of power being fed into her core that was no problem. She could invest her whole mana pool into the Skill and top herself off a moment later, which was the most freeing thing she’d ever felt. It gave her some idea of how fourth-tiers must feel, all the time.

She was a little disappointed she hadn’t gotten any serious kinetic Skills, though it was amusing that the one she did get which was very clearly kinetic was a crafting skill, something she’d never had any real interest in. Really she shouldn’t complain about that, though. It was absurd she should feel anything but absolute glee at the sheer amount of power she’d gained. No, the truth was she had purchased it. Maybe she shouldn’t feel so happy, since the price had yet to fully reveal itself. In the distant future, when everything came due, she might not be so sanguine. For now she had the benefit of a second Affinity, which was most apparent in how much extra energy she had. Not many people used more than one Affinity, and for those that did the second one usually just provided unusual and powerful variations on their primary Skills.

As she pushed herself to keep up with her friend she could actually feel her Skill expanding from the strain, incrementally stretching and shifting, refining itself as she found its limits and then demanded more. It was a feeling that she hadn’t had for ages, not since she finished her breakthrough to the third tier and ascended to the throne. There hadn’t been time or opportunity, prior to or since the invasion. She hadn’t realized how much she missed it.

Shayma slowed enough for her to catch up just as they crossed into another passageway, winding somewhere in the mountain. It was hard to keep track of exactly where she was with Blue’s Spatial fields and portals. Something she could tell was that Shayma wasn’t very happy about whatever it was that Blue wanted to talk to her about, which was probably why she was running full-out, but there wasn’t anything Iniri could do about that. Blue’s business was the very definition of things she shouldn’t be involving herself in.

Annoyed as Shayma was though, they both slowed as they emerged from the passage into the new chamber where, according to Shayma, Meil was to be housed. She’d seen the immense areas he could make before of course, with Refuge and the farms, but this was on another level entirely. Acres and acres of grassland rippled under an enormous dome, the wind coming from nowhere in particular but pushing clouds even as she watched — real clouds, not false ones projected on the ceiling. There was even a river, taking the same course as the Eastrill where it cut through Meil.

Big as it was, it still seemed too small for city, but that was probably simply because it was open. Blue likely had been able to measure the distances with unequaled precision and Meil would fit into the chamber without an inch to spare. The entire concept of moving cities whole cloth was still a little difficult for her to get her head around, though the energy coursing through her veins helped. No wonder her kinetic Classers always seemed to be morning people.

“Wow,” she said.

“Mm.” Shayma agreed.

Iniri shot her a sympathetic look. She clearly wasn’t in the mood, but of course Shayma was also used to sights like this one. Iniri herself had cut her teeth in Ir’s Great Dungeon, and between that and various Mana Springs she’d seen all sorts of fantastic sights. Of course, those were things built up over time rather than something wrought in a day. Still, it was merely very large, as opposed to something like the audience chamber which was actively amazing.

She was thinking it was about time to get back to work herself. She wasn’t tired anymore, despite the lack of any real sleep, and the itch of the oncoming army crawling across her beloved Tarnil was there in the back of her mind. She could tell there were still people in the path of the horde, ones that she hadn’t been able to find with divinations for one reason or another. Whatever protections they were under didn’t matter to [Queen’s Insight].

“I think I’m going to head back to Meil, if Blue would be so kind?”

“Of course,” Shayma said. “He says he’ll put you back with your guards and give you a portal home.”

“That would be wonderful, thank you.” Impulsively, she pulled Shayma into a hug. Shayma stiffened a moment in surprise, then hugged her back. “Thank Blue for me, too.”

“I will,” Shayma told her, and Iniri stepped back so Blue could work his magic. The vast open grassland vanished to be replaced by the audience chamber, where an archway of stone already showed a view into the morning-dark manor. Her guards were, for once, far more weary than she was but came to attention nonetheless.

“Let’s go home,” she told them, and let them escort her through before dismissing them to their normal posts.

She caught Cheya on her way out of her bedroom, possibly the first time she’d seen the [Spymistress] muzzy and bed-haired. Shadow Affinity didn’t actually make her a night person or obviate her need for sleep, but Cheya was always awake when Iniri was. It took Cheya a blink to realize who Iniri was before she dropped into a deep curtsey in spite of her bedclothes.

“My Queen,” she said, eyes sharpening as she took in Iniri’s demeanor. “Good news?”

“Amazing news,” she said. “I got some new Skills from Blue.” She almost asked Blue for the Status sigil, then decided maybe it wasn’t necessary. After seeing the way that Shayma had wrought runes in the air she was more than a little envious, but there was no reason she couldn’t do the same. While she needed something solid for runework she suddenly had that now, and the runes for viewing Status were well enough known that she could draw them from memory.

She manifested them in front of her; specialized to her and not quite as useful as a Status sigil, but still good enough to display her new Skills. Cheya stared, blinked, and stared some more, for once caught entirely off-guard. Iniri smiled.

“That is…” Cheya began then cleared her throat. “Your Majesty, that is amazing but I think I should get dressed and showered before I can give you an analysis.”

“Oh.” Iniri said, realizing how en déshabillé Cheya was. “Of course.”

When she joined Iniri in the office, she was far more alert and back to her quiet, dark self, but clearly excited about Iniri’s new additions.

“The Abilities alone are vastly powerful, far above normal third-tier sets. Among other things having a second Lineage entirely offsets any other marriageability issues.” Cheya looked at Iniri sympathetically. “I wish I hadn’t had to advocate for dealing with Blue, I know how much it impacted your future prospects, but now I think you’ve gained that back. Provided any other deals with Blue don’t prevent you from following through.”

“Not so far,” Iniri said, trying not to think too hard about it. She was still a little bit sore in certain places which made any logical consideration of future marriage rather difficult. “That’s not an immediate concern anyway.”

“True,” Cheya allowed. “But it is a relief to know. Some of these other Skills, though.” She pursed her lips. “Starting with these solid constructs—”

Iniri flipped her hand, conjuring a glowing messenger bird. It launched itself into the air, flapping around Cheya’s head before returning to perch on Iniri’s finger. She couldn’t exactly control it once she’d launched it off, not the same way she could while she was still touching the construct, but it followed her intentions. As her own mana ought to.

“That…” Cheya’s eyes narrowed at the bird, picking up on what Iniri was thinking. “I know it said that it took a large amount of mana, but how many of those can you make?”

Iniri just grinned.

Two hours later she had an even score of glowing silver messenger birds, each one of them imprinted with the heraldry of Tarnil and patterned with runes. She’d loaded each bird with a warning from her own lips, about the army and about how long they had to get to Meil or out of the way. They didn’t have long, mere days at best, but for those closest to the oncoming army the birds would make all the difference.

[Queen’s Insight] let her drop them near where those concentrations of people were, darting out into the dawn on inexhaustible wings. Once people got the message, they’d find others nearby, until the word had been spread everywhere she could reach. With that done, she began conjuring tiny motes of light, spreading them throughout Meil itself. [Verdant Light] was a powerful effect and would provide a badly needed morale boost. Even she could feel the subtle effects from the light shed by the constructs, despite the buzzing from her new kinetic Affinity.

Governance was more than the keeping of order. While corruption and graft were chronic diseases that any nation needed to keep under control, fear and apathy were the real killers. The victory against Vok Nal had done a lot to keep those things at bay, but there was still the knowledge of how much more they had to do. Not to mention the lingering scars of Vok Nal’s occupation. That was a miasma that kept anyone from being entirely happy, entirely relaxed.

She wasn’t sure which direction the announcement about the oncoming army and Meil’s movement would push the populace. They were still uncertain of how to think about Blue. He wasn’t really a personal presence like he was with her, but they were still aware of how important he had been in taking Meil, so it wasn’t like they’d be horrified. That didn’t mean they’d be pleased. Fortunately Shayma put a pretty and cheerful face on what was otherwise a horrifying amount of power.

With her newfound energy she actually found herself catching up on what she needed to get done instead of drowning in it. That gave her a little extra time for working on a speech to tell the populace what was going on, as well as some less critical things. Less critical but still important, like following up on the Ells. She still wanted to try and get them on board at least as Crown agents. She barely needed Cheya’s nod to shortlist them.

She sent a more prosaic messenger to them, tempted as she was to use her new Skills, and set up a meeting after the announcement. Though it would still be another couple days before it would be time to move Meil, she wanted to start the preparations and have people ready for it as soon as possible.

There were already criers out on the streets, sending people to the central square. Cheya had some of her Classers securing the area, though Iniri doubted there was anyone left who was even a marginal danger. Between Cheya and Blue she couldn’t imagine any traitor or agent of the mage-kings was left.

By the time she arrived, properly attired and escorted, there were over a thousand people in the square itself and more spilling into the streets. It was a heartening sight compared to the last time there was an army marching on them, and there were only a few hundred people at best hiding out in Blue’s small town. This time her Classers would be protected by the Fortress, and all the noncombatants would be far away.

She conjured her own stage, using a temporary construct to raise herself up, leaving her on a shining silver platform above the crowd. There were shouts and cheers as she showed herself, then as she raised a hand people quieted.

“People of Tarnil,” she began, mana flowing into [Inspiring Speech]. “People of Meil, my friends and my beloved subjects. Be heartened. For so long the mage-kings have been indifferent. Contemptuous of our existence. But now, they fear us.” That got a rise out of people, and she let them shout for a minute before continuing, feeling their cheers resonate with [Inspiring Speech].

“With Vok Nal dead, now Tor Kot sends an army against us. We remember what happened last time a mage-king tried that, don’t we?” She flashed a fanged grin, hearing raucous laughter in response. “We will meet this army, and this time even less of it will be left. It is marching upon Meil, but there is no need for even the smallest child to be worried. By the time they arrive, Meil will no longer be here. Our ally, the Power known as Blue and whom you all know through his representative, Shayma, will be moving the entire city before the army arrives, so all they will find is fortress walls and death.” She held up a finger, holding off the gasps and murmurs that announcement created.

“Of course, when we are done he will move it back again. For us it will not even be an inconvenience, but for Tor Kot it will be utter defeat. But all this can only happen if we are ready. If you are not a Classer, I only ask that you help stockpile any food and supplies that may be outside of Meil’s walls and prepare for the arrival of your neighbors and fellow countrymen. All Classers, I ask that you report to any of the Crown guard, because when the army arrives you will be killing a lot of monsters.” That got a deep rumble from the smaller contingent of adventurers scattered throughout the square.

“Once we crush this army, we will destroy Tor Kot just like we did Vok Nal.” She felt [Phantasmal Beacon] stirring and she let the Skill activate, silver and blue light pouring forth over the crowd. Backs straightened, shoulders were thrown back, eyes were cleared of lingering doubt. “We will purge the cities of the mage kings, we will scour the countryside of the monsters, and we will make them pay.”

Iniri raised a fist as the square roared with one voice, and at the prodding of [Phantasmal Beacon] she called on [Blue’s Armament of Light]. She hadn’t used the Skill yet, so she wasn’t sure how it would manifest. She felt it appear above her, framed by her antlers, a silver-starred field of dark Tarnil blue, haloing her in her house colors.

By the time she dissolved the stage, the crowd she’d left behind was in higher spirits and better cheer than she’d seen in years. A little bit longer and she was back into manor, where she took a moment just in case Blue had somehow missed what was going on. He seemed to be distracted enough at times that she couldn’t be sure he’d caught the meeting with the Ells, and Shayma would probably want to know about it. So far he’d been pretty responsive when she addressed him directly, so she invoked his name and invited Shayma to join the discussion.

Shayma popped into existence a few minutes later, just outside the door of Iniri’s office. The guards didn’t even twitch, which was probably a bad habit to get in to. Admittedly, proper palaces were warded against teleportation, but that just meant that anyone who could bypass it was a real threat.

“I missed a speech?” Shayma asked, waving as she came in the door but still not looking quite as cheerful as usual. “Blue says it really stirred everyone up. Also you want to talk to my parents?”

“Yes, to both.” Iniri replied. “The speech was mostly to tell people about the army and about moving the city. The reason I want to talk to your folks is I need trusted agents and I think they fit. But I don’t want to do that behind your back, especially since you’re effectively royalty.”

“Royalty?” Shayma blinked.

“Your Class is Noble Trickster,” Iniri said dryly. “That’s not merely a label. Usually nobility classes are a specific rank, like mine, but since your position is unique I wouldn’t expect yours to develop the same way.”

“Oh.” Shayma looked taken aback, which amused Iniri since the fox-girl had been acting as if she had noble status for a while. She just hadn’t realized it.

“Anyway, I hope you don’t have any objection. Considering you’re their daughter, Blue might have first claim on offering them a job.”

“No, that would just be weird.” Shayma grimaced. “Blue thinks so too. Also that he doesn’t really have a way to communicate with them or even tasks they could do. Though he does want to make them some gear.” Her dour look flashed to a smile for a moment. “Aww, that’s sweet, Blue.”

Iniri suppressed a grimace. The only thing she’d seen Blue make aside from the Primal Sources was a gods-damned Artifact and she didn’t like the idea of him handing those out like candy. If he was going to, though, the Ells were probably reasonable enough recipients.

“They should be here soon,” Iniri said, waving at the doorway. “For what it’s worth, by the way, I don’t think you missed much with the speech. My Skills did a lot of the heavy lifting, and since one of them is a Blue-given Skill I don’t know that it would affect you.”

“I have noticed some things not entirely affecting me,” Shayma agreed, then stopped as Sienne and Giorn were passed through the door and went down on one knee.

“You may rise,” Iniri said, just in time for Shayma to hop out of her seat and pull first one, then the other into a hug. She felt a small pang as she watched, even though her own parents had died long ago. The Ells were truly lucky that their family had survived the invasion and aftermath intact.

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Sienne said after Shayma let her go. “What is it you need from us?”

“Actually, I thought I’d offer you something to make up for the fact that your daughter wound up bound to and pregnant by a Power.” The moment it slipped out she knew how gauche it was to say, but apparently she still had certain things at the back of her brain.

“Pregnant!?” Both Giorn and Sienne stared at Shayma.

“You didn’t tell them?” Iniri asked curiously.

“It’s not what you think!” Shayma held up her hands. “It’s not an actual baby, it’s a dungeon seed and will let Blue expand elsewhere.”

“My poor heart can’t take this.” Sienne muttered, then looked abashed “Sorry, Your Majesty.”

“No, no, I feel the same way when dealing with Blue and Shayma.” Iniri smiled. “Please, sit.” The three fox-kin all took chairs, though Giorn comically outsized his, and looked at her expectantly.

“Sienne and Giorn, as you can imagine I am lacking in higher-level Classers that I can trust. I’m sure most of the ones here are fine citizens, but that is not the same as empowering them to act in the Crown’s name.” The two fox-kin exchanged a glance.

“Are you suggesting some sort of title, Your Majesty?” Giorn asked.

“Crown Marshall.” Iniri didn’t try to lead into it. “We don’t exactly have your records here but I know Shayma personally, and Cheya has no qualms about your reliability.” The [Spymistress] was off on one of her errands, but they’d already discussed the Ells in depth. “The fact that you, in particular, didn’t come to my attention speaks well of you.” She nodded at Sienne. “Void users are terribly dangerous.”

“The Ell family inheritance helps us avoid the normal issues of void Affinity,” Sienne said. “But Crown Marshall? I’m not familiar…”

“Neither of us are from Tarnil originally,” Giorn added.

“It isn’t used often,” Iniri said. “Mostly in times of crisis like this when we don’t have a government to carry out the Crown’s will.”

“Wait, then how does Blue know what it is?” Shayma frowned, head cocked and ears twitching.

“How does Blue know anything?” Iniri favored Shayma with a wry grin. “At this point I’ve stopped being surprised by things like this.”

Shayma snorted, but the usual amusement wasn’t there. Whatever had bothered her earlier still was on her mind, which was fairly unusual in Iniri’s experience. Shayma tended to shrug things off, so this really had to be something. She’d left it alone before, but thinking about it more maybe it was her business. Not as a queen, but as a friend, something she’d almost forgotten ever since they’d taken shelter with Blue and events had proceeded apace. Shayma’s parents being there could be good or bad, depending on what the issue was. She’d just have to be careful not to push too hard.

“What happened, Shayma?” She asked. “I know I called this meeting for you,” she nodded at Sienne and Giorn, “but Shayma has been grumpy since this morning.” The two older fox-kin turned to look at their daughter in perfect synchronization.

“It’s not anything dangerous or world-ending,” Shayma sighed. “I just…” Her tail lashed once, shoulders sagging and ears drooping. “Ansae’s been listening to Blue talk to me without telling us.”

“Ansae?” Sienne arched an inquisitive eyebrow

“Just an ancient dragon Power that hangs out with Blue,” Iniri said, enjoying the stares that got. She wasn’t entirely certain who Ansae was yet. Given how old she was, she could be any one of a dozen legendary dragons from the other continents who hadn’t been confirmed dead. None of them were Powers, last she’d heard, but that didn’t mean anything. History recorded at least three dragon Powers, starting with the Silver Woe, so it wasn’t too outlandish to think Ansae was one too. “So the problem is that she was spying on you two?”

“I thought we were friends,” Shayma sighed. “I don’t know why she’d do it, and I don’t know why Blue isn’t more upset.”

“I expect it’s because he and Ansae aren’t friends.” Iniri said, contemplating Shayma. She understood a little bit of why Shayma was so bothered. To her, a couple of weeks of spying on an ally was nothing. But spying on a friend? “Shayma, I suspect Blue isn’t that upset because he would have done the same thing. You realize when you first showed up, I had Cheya look into your background so I could be sure that you were safe to be around.” Shayma made a face.

“Really?” She asked, incredulous. Iniri nodded, and Sienne added her own thoughts to the conversation.

“Dear, people like dragons and Powers…” She looked over to Iniri for a moment, eyes hooded in thought. “They’re like rulers. Any sort of power, of any type, draws the unsavory sorts who want to use that power for their own purposes. From aristocrats to demigods. Those who wield that power have to temper any personal relation with caution. In a way, for them anyone they don’t know is like a wild beast. You may want to trust your horse, but you’re still going to keep an eye on her to see whether she’s sneaking out of her stall.”

“I’m a fox, not a horse,” Shayma muttered.

“The point is,” Giorn said. “When you’re dealing with such powerful people, you have to expect that sort of game. If you want to be friends like...like normal, I guess, you have to be completely on their side. Which I guess means Blue has to be completely on her side too.”

“Or she on his,” Iniri amended. “Which may be entirely possible, given that she’s lairing in Blue somewhere already.” Shayma scowled, but nodded reluctantly. Iniri didn’t think she’d really taken the argument to heart, not just yet, but it was a start. Besides, she did have business she wanted to get on with.

“Back to the discussion,” Iniri said. “A Crown Marshall is my personal agent. Messages that can’t be carried otherwise, or rendering aid that only a high-level Classer can. I’ll freely admit that one reason is because of Shayma. She represents Blue, and given how deeply my interests are entwined with his I’ll need someone to go with her on some occasions who can keep necessary secrets or bear necessary authority.” Not to mention that if Sienne and Giorn were representing her, Shayma might be slightly more mindful of Iniri’s prerogatives than she otherwise would.

The irony of the charge was not lost on her. She was immediately setting her parents in a position to keep an eye on Shayma with the sort of caution that had her friend so irritated. But there was nothing else for it.

“I’m not sure how I feel about getting a job through my daughter,” Sienne said dubiously.

“That’s just a bonus. Getting into the third tiers as a duo clearly demonstrates your competence, and your levels and Classes show you have more than enough individual power for the role. The only thing that might be in doubt is your loyalty, and after meeting Shayma I well enough believe you’ve put roots down here.”

“Well, I say we accept.” Giorn said. “I think we’re adventured out for now, with Shayma safe, and it’s not like any of the caravans are going to be coming back here anytime soon.”

“I saw Duenn,” Shayma added. “It was completely changed and I doubt Invin is any different. The shop is probably gone too.”

“I liked the shop,” Sienne sighed. “It had all my stuff.” She focused on Iniri. “The Ell family is not supposed to be here. Our relationship with our parent house of Anell is…” Her mouth twisted wryly. “Complicated, to say the least, but the house of Ell, with our [Void Rapier] heritage, rising to prominence here outside of their control could result in some deep unpleasantness from our homeland.”

“I understand,” Iniri told her firmly, and she did. Hearing that the Ells were related to Anell, and not too distantly, was a bit of a surprise. They were a massive and incredibly old dynasty from the continent of Einteril, but their reach didn’t extend out to Tarnil so the Ells were probably fairly safe. She didn’t know exactly what had passed between Sienne and the greater house of Ell and Anell, but she could guess. Intrigue was common where nobility and Classers touched. “The Crown will protect you, and I’m sure Blue will protect you. I’m not trying to bind you to me to have a void user on my side, I assure you. I didn’t know you even were one until recently.”

“Hmm.” Sienne chewed her lip.

“You always wanted to break away from your family,” Giorn reminded her. “Pretty sure getting official Crown protection is as good a break as we could ever manage.”

“That does have it’s attractions,” Sienne admitted.

“I think that’s a yes,” Giorn said with a laugh. “How do we sign up, Your Majesty?”

Iniri conjured two slices of silver, shield-shaped badges with two kirin rampant and Giorn and Sienne’s names, pulling on Blue’s immense reserves to make the creation permanent. It wasn’t exactly the standard method of conveying authority, but with her new Skills it was the perfect one. She handed them across the desk, to Giorn’s low whistle.

“Looks like light but I can feel some kinetic. Permanent conjurations?” Giorn’s bushy eyebrows rose as he looked at his in consternation.

“Yes, courtesy of Blue.” Iniri smiled. “It turns out dealing with a Power isn’t all bad.”

“Hmmm.” Sienne looked thoughtful and Shayma elbowed her.

“No, mom. That involves sex with my boyfriend or whatever you want to call him and just…” Shayma shook her head with finality. “Just, no.”

“Oh.”

“And you’re not helping, Blue!” Shayma added. Sienne looked uncomfortable for all of two seconds before looking at Iniri speculatively.

“...Your Majesty?” Iniri snorted in reply.

“Yes, but my relations are not under discussion here. Actually, I have something for you to do right away: ride herd on the lower-level classers pulling in our stockpiles. There have been some reports of sticky fingers and we can’t afford that once Blue pulls Meil away. We can’t afford that now. Feel free to knock any heads you need to.”

Giorn rumbled a deep laugh, rattling the table.

“My family’s done trade caravans for half of forever. I know exactly what you mean, and I can sniff out careless handling with the best of them.” The big man said. Iniri nodded to them, dismissing her new enforcers so they could get to work.

“Shayma, if you want to stay I still need to talk to Duke Sarthi about his…” She sighed. There wasn’t really any politic way to put it. “His issues with Blue. His son was one of the adventurers Blue killed.”

“Blue says he completely forgot about that.”

“He hasn’t forgotten about Blue,” Iniri said dryly. “According to Cheya he’s been agitating against Blue. Not to any great success, and I doubt that he cares, but I do. I can’t have nobility showing open hostility to our allies.” In private was another matter. She couldn’t do anything about Sarthi hating Blue, especially since he had good reason, but she could do something about him stirring something dangerously close to rebellion. She glanced to one of her guards.

“Inform Duke Sarthi that I will see him now.” She was at least half a day ahead of where she had expected to be, maybe even a full day, even with all the emergencies she had to take care of, so Sarthi wasn’t likely to be ready for the summons. Not that even he’d dare to make her wait.

“I’m not sure that there’s any way he can be reconciled with Blue, considering it was the son’s fault. ” She told Shayma while the message was passed. “His wife died in the invasion, so I do feel for him. But that doesn’t mean I can let this go.” Shayma nodded thoughtfully, her ears flicking this way and that as Blue made his own opinions known.

“Blue says it sounds very one-sided. It’s not like he’s holding the Duke responsible for anything.” Iniri grimaced.

“No, it’s mostly my problem, but I suggested he talk to Blue and so far he hasn’t. Maybe with you here it’ll force…” She thought it might well force Sarthi to bow down. Blue didn’t have much of a temper but he did have one hell of a presence when he wanted to. “…something.” She finished, in lieu of anything more suggestive, though she didn’t have much hope that something would be positive. As Blue pointed out, it was entirely one-sided. If a noble’s child had offended the ruler of some other country with attempted kidnapping or assassination or however it was best put, they’d be lucky to get off with their title intact. Sarthi was lucky Blue was so indifferent.

The man himself arrived not long after, the level forty-four [Deepforest Duke] still loose-jointed and lithe despite his age, but with the beginning of jowls around his cheeks. His eyes narrowed when he saw Shayma waiting in one of the chairs, but he didn’t balk or even say anything, merely going to one knee in Iniri’s presence.

“You may rise,” Iniri said, and waved him to take one of the other chairs. “Please, sit.”

“Your Majesty,” he replied. “To what do I owe the honor of this meeting?”

“You know very well, Lehrem,” Iniri sighed. “Even without Shayma here. Your crusade against Blue is both pointless and dangerous. I sympathize with your position, but it isn’t one I can share. Please, go home and mourn but stop this crusade.”

“It killed my son,” Sarthi said, face twisting with grief. “Torquill was all I had left! What am I supposed to do?”

Iniri took a deep breath. She was absolutely sympathetic; he wasn’t being malicious or self-aggrandizing. He was an upset father who wanted to deal with his son’s killer, but at the same time it was an absolutely hopeless proposition. Not only was it Torquill’s fault, and she did trust Blue about what the adventurers had been up to, but there was nothing that could be done to hold Blue accountable. The best she could do would be to persuade him to make peace, and that didn’t seem particularly likely.

“Go home,” she said gently. “Mourn. I don’t ask anything more of you and I won’t hold you responsible for anything else. Neither will Blue, I’m sure.” She glanced to Shayma, who nodded. The fox-girl looked rather upset.

“I’m sorry for your loss,” Shayma said, seemingly of her own accord. She was clearly speaking for herself, at any rate, rather than Blue.

“You’re the one who killed him!” Sarthi growled, rounding on Shayma. To her credit, she didn’t flinch.

“No. Blue did, and he did it because your son was threatening him. But I, personally, am sorry for his death.”

Sarthi stared at her for a moment, then his arm blurred. Inri’s hand flicked as she went to put up [Shield of Tarnil], but Shayma was faster. Her hand caught his wrist mid-slap, the skin shifted to steel, making a soft ringing noise. Iniri couldn’t be entirely certain Sarthi had used a Skill, but she was pretty sure he had and was all the more impressed that Shayma had stopped it dead.

There was a sudden feeling of pressure. It seemed to slide off Iniri, and Shayma didn’t show any discomfort, but Sarthi paled, seeming to struggle for breath. Shayma didn’t release his wrist, and her sympathetic look had vanished.

“While I am personally sorry, Blue does not have much patience for people who attack me,” she warned, voice chill and far more suited to representing a Power than her normal bubbly cheerfulness. “Do not attack me again.”

The pressure vanished and Shayma released his wrist, letting him breathe again as he slumped back in his chair, staring wide-eyed at Shayma. Iniri rubbed her temples, then waved off the guards who spilled in through the door a moment later, drawn by the unusual presence. This was not how she had wanted things to go. There was no way that Sarthi was going to let things lie now, but maybe being exposed to that sheer power would rein in his actions. As much as she’d prefer to have his active help, having him closeted in his manor was better than trying to undermine her.

“Lehrem,” she said, bringing his attention back to her. “Take all the time you need. Tarnil isn't going anywhere.”

“Your Majesty,” he managed to say, struggling back upright. Shaken as he was, he still managed to take the dismissal for what it was. “Thank you for your time.”

She nodded to him, and the guards let him back out. Iniri turned to frown at Shayma, only to find Shayma already frowning, and she cleared her expression. In truth she should be grateful that Shayma both intercepted Sarthi’s blow and preempted Blue from turning the man into ash. It wasn’t her fault, or even Blue’s, that Sarthi was rapidly turning from a major asset into a major annoyance.

“Thank you,” she told Shayma, earning a wide-eyed blink.

“I don’t think I did much,” she said doubtfully. “I don’t know that I could have done much.”

“It turned out better than it might have,” she assured Shayma. “Now, I don’t mean to chase you out, but unless you have a burning desire to help with paperwork…” She gave Shayma a hopeful look and the fox-girl laughed.

“I need to go visit Annit and Keri anyway,” she said. “They’ve been hiding away for the past couple days.”

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InadvisablyCompelled

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