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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/1

Next week will be the last chapter in Book One.  There will be a one week break, which I will fill with some art posting and a character AMA.  I will post the AMA format itself after this chapter.

The moment it started, everyone snapped their attention to the light, even though neither Shayma nor the intruders could actually see it directly. There was, if anything, the faintest of reflections along my audience hall, but that didn’t seem to make a difference. Even the people within Meil and Anton’s village had stopped, all looking to where [The Light of Eschaton] shone.

For the first time Tor Kot looked, not annoyed or amused or curious or stern, but actually frightened, the knuckles of his hand going white where he gripped his cane. Most strangely, the two bodyguard monsters actually cowered behind him instead of trying to shield him as they did with other dangers. Not that I blamed them, there was something deeply and fundamentally overwhelming about the weapon.

“Fate Mana!” He said, almost as if it were a curse. “Where did you get your hands on...no. No! That’s what it is!” Tor Kot whipped around to stare at Shayma. “No wonder I couldn’t figure out your primary Affinity. This is too much. Entirely too much. Come on girls, let’s get out of here before something even worse comes along.”

The words were nonchalant, but Tor Kot was thoroughly spooked, and he sketched a sort of a bow in Shayma’s direction before moving. Quickly. Though he hadn’t really demonstrated the insane abilities of a mage-king in my presence before, it was obvious it wasn’t because he couldn’t, because he blurred into motion and exited the audience chamber in a dash that left green trails behind him for a moment.

His monsters followed, leaving the shattered remnants of their weapons behind and moving nearly as fast, claws scrabbling on the stone. They rejoined him outside, spreading their wings and buzzing into the air on either side of Tor Kot. It wasn’t clear exactly what Skill he was using to fly, but he didn’t change posture or position at all as he rose into the air, leaning on his cane. The three of them shot forward, headed south but skirting well around the all-consuming light.

They were clearly gone because my overlay told me.

[Merciful] awards 678,000 experience for repelling ANATHEMA CONTROLLER Tor Kot, Level 84 [Pale Mantis Reeve], Level 78 [Pale Mantis Voigt].

Shayma Ell has gained [Trickster] experience.

Shayma Ell has gained combat experience.

Advancement to level 32 available.

175,338 experience granted via companion Shayma Ell.

As soon as they were out of my area of influence, all the dungeon instincts that were forcing me to pay attention to the invaders vanished and instead I was captured by the light. It wasn’t just fascination with the beauty of the scene, though that played into it. There was some sort of compulsion, not by the light itself but by something deep in the back of my mind that appreciated the deadly finality of it all.

It was Shayma that finally pulled me away from the light. She was flopped on the ground in my audience chamber, looking exhausted and calling my name. It took me more time than I would like to admit to realize Shayma wanted my attention, but there was just something about the false dawn that scattered my focus.

“Blue! Blue! I know you’re there, answer me!”

“Sorry, sorry, I’m back now. I was just...wait, where’s Tor Kot?” I was still coming back to myself, and it took me a moment to realize I actually did remember what happened with him. Having such a clear memory be so sluggish to respond was itself a bizarre experience and a sign that I’d been really affected by the light. The stuff was potent.

“Okay, nevermind that question. They’re completely gone, hang on.” Since I’d just come from having ANATHEMA issues and was still having trouble focusing due to the light outside, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t doing anything inappropriate since I had a ton of people inside me. Last time lights went out and things started to melt, and while this wasn’t nearly as bad I took the time to scan my remaining body and check I wasn’t accidentally killing people.

While nothing seemed particularly out of place for me specifically, Iniri’s weapon was something everyone could clearly feel, even if they were behind a hundred meters of rock. I wasn’t sure exactly what it was like for them, but everyone had dark and somber expressions. Some people, though not many, were even crying. Though I wasn’t feeling what they were, I had some idea of what it might be when I stretched my senses out to the edge of my territory.

Something indefinable was missing from everything that wasn’t me. If it weren’t for what Tor Kot had said I wouldn’t have realized what it was, but I could put two and two together. Fate Affinity mana, something so thin and subtle as to be invisible, had been stripped out of the land. Even now I wasn’t really able to see it, or its lack, not really. It was more that the overall tint of mana had changed the slightest amount. At least it hadn’t affected me, though I wasn’t sure exactly what the repercussions were of being drained of fate Affinity. Nothing good, I imagined.

I tried checking up on Iniri through the link, since the closest I could get was somewhat north of where I’d been severed from where Meil used to be, and even that only gave me a field of pure white. It wasn’t until I was well away from the fortress that it resolved into an enormous sphere, not exactly solid but completely erasing anything inside. I was expecting the link to be the same way, but instead it felt strange and stretched and stuttery, all at the same time. I didn’t know what to make of it, other than the fact that Iniri was alive somewhere in the middle of the thing.

“Right, okay, so you were awesome,” I told Shayma, before anything else. Aside from it being true, I couldn’t imagine how much courage it took for her to so gracefully handle three incredibly powerful enemies and not make a single mistake. Especially since in hindsight I could have done more, like flooded the room with water or lava or the like. It wouldn’t have hurt them but it’d certainly have annoyed them. “You were like some untouchable force of nature, it was so great.”

“Thank you,” Shayma said, groaning as she stretched. “But that was terrifying. I think I need you to boost my Skills as much as you can, instead of waiting for me to get used to them. It’s not like I’ll reach my next tier anytime soon anyway, and I’m going to need everything I can get if we ever do something like that again.”

“Yeah, I’ve got a ton of experience I can use for that, for sure,” I told her. I was willing to dump the whole pot from the last encounter with Tor Kot into Shayma’s Skills, but it probably wasn’t the best idea to do right now. So far I hadn’t tried the leveling thing yet and I didn’t know how long it would take. If it knocked Shayma out for a couple hours, then now wasn’t the best time. A quick glance at her Status showed that the fight had increased a number of her Skills, some of them pretty significantly.

“Ought to wait until later though. Iniri used [The Light of Eschaton] and it’s still going somehow. I’m thinking I’ll want to send you out there once it’s all over. They cut me off from the Meil area so I can’t teleport there anymore.”

“Is she okay?” Shayma asked worriedly, sitting up. “And my parents? How about Annit and Keri? I could feel something, but I think you shielded me. I didn’t realize it was that.”

“I think so. She’s alive, at least, so I imagine the Fortress and everyone inside it is okay but the weapon is interfering somehow. Apparently it’s fate mana and really potent, so I can’t get more than a vague idea from my Companion link with her. That said, I’m pretty sure the army is all gone. And the landscape. And…” I wouldn’t brag about my ability to add two and two, but a hint from my Sagacity made the conclusion pretty clear. “Maybe the future of Tarnil, too.”

“That sounds ominous.” Shayma rose to her feet, smoothing down the fur of her tail. “You don’t mean that all of Tarnil got erased, do you?”

“No, just the area around the Fortress. But it feels like all the potential for a future is just missing. At least that’s what it seems like around here. I think we’d know more if we had records on the Great Northern Waste.” I was actually more than a little worried. Aside from the fact that I didn’t really want to see Tarnil collapse as a general rule, I would have to deal with the resulting chaos. Not to mention places like Haerlish, who were already looking to exploit me.

“I don’t say this often, but I hope you’re wrong.” Shayma said.

“Yeah I’m with you there. I do wonder how long this is going to last though. At least it seems everyone I’m hosting is okay-ish. Upset though. I think they got the full brunt of it.”

“While we’re waiting I suppose I should go fill them in so Meil doesn’t riot.” She frowned, clearly not eager to be the bearer of the tidings. “At least I can tell them the army is gone.”

“Yeah, it’s not all bad news. Tor Kot is gone, completely scared off, and his army is toast. I think he’s going to stay well away from us for a while, so if we can rally…” Shayma nodded, clearly thinking the same direction I was. We might actually have breathing room for once, and a chance to make real gains.

“Hopefully you can take the next core without burning up my arms,” she said with a smile. “Not to mention without losing your mind for a whole day.”

“Yeeeahhh definitely that last one. Though I think from now on we go straight for the dungeon core rather than trying to fight a mage-king directly. Tor Kot has more than just the one Vok Nal had so it probably won’t kill him when we steal one, but it might knock him out or cripple him for a while.”

“I wonder if I could just use [Phantasmal Path] to jump straight into the core rooms,” Shayma mused. “I couldn’t with [Ghost Step], but the Phantasmal stuff is entirely different.”

“That would be so amazing. Why bother dealing with powerful monsters and mage-kings when you can capture their base out from under them?”

“Before we get too involved in planning victory, I’m going to stop by Meil and fill them in. Tell me as soon as it’s safe to go to the Fortress.”

“Will do, if I can see through Iniri I’ll tell you about your parents too.”

“Thank you, Blue!” Shayma said fervently. The teleport chain to Meil was actually somewhat indirect; from the audience chamber, to my core room, then to Refuge, then over to Meil itself. Now that Shayma had control over the teleports she could do it herself, which was still a little odd to feel.

Thanks to [The Light of Eschaton], everyone was awake despite the lateness of the hour. Admittedly, I doubted all that many people were sleeping, even though I had the skylights turned off, simply because of the stress and strangeness of it all. At least Iniri’s lights were scattered about, providing a sort of respite, which I was pretty sure meant she was still alive. Permanent or not, they were hers. There were no riots, and despite the general unease and some muttering, it showed no signs of cascading into something worse. The various non-combat Classers who had stayed behind to serve as the authorities in Meil took Shayma’s explanation with fair grace, while I had a word with Ansae.

“So at least we drove off Tor Kot.”

“I must admit I’m impressed, and I don’t say that lightly.” Ansae replied. “Impressed with Shayma, specifically. You, on the other claw, need better defenses of your own, but watching her take down something as powerful as that insect was a delight.

“Okay, you absolutely have to tell Shayma that when she drops by next time,” I told her. “But you’re at least half-right. Even if my Companions are my primary way to exert power I ought to do more with my territory than I am. Anyway, what about [The Light of Eschaton]? Is it as ruinous as I think it is?”

“I have no idea,” she said frankly. “Fate mana is something even I deal with very little outside of Bargains. It is incredibly powerful, but it’s subtle and tricky and it’s hard to gather enough to do anything. While it may do things normally thought impossible, usually it’s easier to just make a larger fireball to take care of your problems.”

“That’s fair enough. It’s weirding me out though. At least it doesn’t seem to be affecting me directly.” That wasn’t entirely true. It’d definitely erased several kilometers of tunnel, but I hadn’t been subject to the way it ripped fate mana out of the landscape, and my tunnel was definitely the only structure standing other than the fortress, even if most of it was gone.

“You do have an immense amount of mana, and dense mana at that,” Ansae pointed out. “Add to that being a dungeon and a Power, and it doesn’t surprise me that you’re immune.”

“Probably also because I’m not part of Tarnil.” It was an artifact of Tarnil, needed the Tarnil legacy to operate, and I’d already seen that Skills could target Tarnil specifically. There had to be some issue of authority in play, like the sort I was going to exercise over Anton’s Village.

On the topic of Anton’s village, while Meil had a bunch of Iniri’s lights, the Village did not and they were starting to freak out. Taelah was closeted with the other Elders and in fact had just invoked my name.

“Blue, could you send Shayma to tell us what’s going on, please?” It was polite, but there was a definite tone of urgency, and really they deserved the explanation too. Especially since they wanted to stay, it’d be pretty churlish of me to keep them in the literal and metaphorical dark.

 

“Hey Shayma, could you go update Taelah when you’re done there?” I passed the request on to my fox-girl, who was explaining things to maybe the third person in Meil, and I hurriedly turned the lights on in the village area to make things easier for them.

“Oh, I should have thought of that first. You should have thought of that first.” Shayma shook a finger in the air, sending chastisement in my general direction. “Taelah’s one of us, or will be soon.”

“I know, I know, I feel bad too. You can tell her I apologize for not sending you sooner.” This time instead of winding back for another series of teleports, she just stepped sideways with [Phantasmal Path], passing into the world of brilliant mana. I had trouble figuring out the navigation through her eyes, but she didn’t seem to share my issues since it took her less than a minute to drop into the middle of Anton’s Village. I directed her to the proper building and shortly she was knocking on the door.

Glenn answered, saw who it was, and grunted. He let Shayma in, waving her toward the gathering in the middle of the room in a strange mirror of the very first time that Shayma had encountered Anton’s Village. The climate was far different this time though, since they knew who Shayma was and who she represented, the elders eager to hear her news.

“The army is dead and Tor Kot has fled the field,” Shayma told them, somewhat glossing over the fact that those two things were not as close in space as the wording might imply. “However, Iniri had to use [The Light of Eschaton], which is what you feel. It’s still ongoing, over at the Fortress, so while we think everyone there is safe we won’t be able to make sure of it until the weapon’s effects fade.” She leaned over to Taelah, lowering her voice. “Also, Blue apologizes for not having me come by earlier to see you.”

Taelah blinked, then colored ever so slightly and inclined her head.

“If we can feel it all the way over here it’s some real scary stuff,” said James, the ancient [Soldier], oblivious to the byplay. “Are we going to be safe?”

“Yeah, I think that at this point it’s not going to do any more damage. Plus if they’re going to be coming under my authority they won’t have to worry about the damage to Tarnil proper buuuut maybe don’t put it to them that way.”

“The danger has passed,” Shayma assured them. “There may be issues in the future, as you say it’s real scary stuff, but nothing that will affect you. For example, most of the landscape where Meil used to be has been destroyed.” Jonas, one of the [Farmer] elders, whistled.

“Yee-up, that’s some scary stuff,” he drawled. “Glad we’re down here where it’s safe.”

“Well, Blue is thinking about moving you outside once you all make the Bargain with him, but he wants to prepare a good place for you first. Obviously, not near the battlefield.”

“Gotta say, what we got now is pretty good,” Jonas remarked.

“Oh believe me, I have better and more interesting things to make farmland now.” The Conservatory Climate specifically. Not to mention the other Climates, which were definitely meant to support the more exotic flora and maybe even fauna. That was a consideration for a later time, however, since we had to get past the current crisis before I could get to building new stuff. Shayma retreated to the cottage after a few more words with the Elders, who themselves went out to reassure the rest of Anton’s Village.

The crisis didn’t really show much sign of abating though. The night, or rather, early morning slipped slowly past and the glow wasn’t fading at all. The overly-long false dawn gave way to real dawn and the only sign that the power of the weapon was weakening was that I was getting more from Iniri’s link, tiny flashes of impression. Mostly the impression of overwhelming light, but it was better than nothing.

I was hoping I could see through her eyes and get a headcount of Classers, just to make sure we hadn’t lost anyone. Or, anyone else. I hadn’t kept a close eye on the people the traitor or the incursion had managed to injure, and even with Keri’s help I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them hadn’t made it.

Ultimately it was well past dawn, with Shayma taking a break to simply lie down for a while, when the overwhelming light faded with no fanfare whatsoever. The Fortress was still there, but it was already falling apart, walls and ceilings vanishing as the projectors tucked themselves back into cubes. Some of the components were clearly damaged, too, with half-melted crystals and cracked bronze covered in a deep patina. I hoped the thing could repair itself or the next time we needed it we’d be out of luck.

“Okay Shayma, they’re out,” I told her, using my connection with Iniri to look about. Everyone seemed half dazed at best, completely out of it at worst, with blank eyes and slack faces. At least everyone was there, crowded into the same room as Iniri. I couldn’t see the whole fortress like I could before, since I could only see through Iniri, but from what I could tell the central room was all that was left. “Looks like everyone’s okay but they’ll probably need your help.”

“On my way!” Shayma said, hopping up and vanishing into [Phantasmal Path]. The Fortress dropped toward the ground, not quite in a free fall but moving quickly. I couldn’t tell if it was under Iniri’s control but I doubted it, not with the way she looked. It wasn’t clear to me that the Fortress would reach the bottom of the crater before it vanished entirely, and even if they were Classers it couldn’t be healthy to be dropped from fifty meters up.

The Fortress drifted lower and lower until it finally popped about ten meters above the bottom of the crater, where all my mana dynamo stuff used to be. The spatial workings had been destroyed too, so it wasn’t actually too deep overall, to their fortune. People landed more or less uninjured, though some of the lower level Classers took what looked like a nasty tumble, which left a gaggle of people sprawled at the bottom of the vast pit. Already the river was spilling down into the crater in a deluge, though given the distance it’d be some time before the flood reached them.

There were stirrings here and there, mostly from the high-level Classers, as people started to recover from their exposure to [The Light of Eschaton]. Iniri, notably, just seemed to be staring off into space while Cheya heaved herself to her feet. Still, considering there were absolutely no monsters around, or heck, anything around, I wasn’t that worried about their hangovers.

At least, until Keel started casting.

I figured he was doing something useful at first, at least until he manifested fire, which wasn’t at all relevant now that the threats were gone. I was so shocked that I didn’t even think to do anything when he flung the ball of fire at Iniri’s head. Fortunately that [Sword Saint] of Iniri’s was paying attention as well, because even though he wasn’t physically close to her he managed to deflect it.

“What the hell?” I sputtered at Shayma. “Keel is trying to kill Iniri!”

“What!?” Shayma’s voice sounded strange in the sideways space of the Phantasmal Realm, resonant and hollow all at the same time. “Why!?”

I don’t know! And everyone is all zonked from the Fortress so basically it’s just this Harold guy defending her!” Fortunately that didn’t stay true for long, as Cheya tried to help, but she wasn’t much use either. I felt fairly helpless, since I no longer had that area under my control, and could only watch as Keel summoned more sparks. Mentally I urged Iniri to pull on my mana and put up her [Shield of Tarnil], even going so far as to shove [Guidance] at her, but to no avail. She was just too out of it. Then I realized I actually did have something I could do, and since I’d had hours to regenerate my Mana it was easy enough. I’d only ever used the Companion recall on Shayma before, but it worked just the same for Iniri.

She popped into existence in the core room a few fractions before something bad might have happened, which meant she was safe, but I had no idea what was going on at the crater. Or at least, that was true for a few seconds.

“Where did she go?” Joce demanded, standing over two corpses. One was Harold’s, his chest punched full of holes. The other was Keel's, who was burned almost beyond recognition. There were a number of higher-level Classers on their feet, ringing the two, as well as Cheya and Joce, who were both looking down at the dead bodies.

“I expect Blue took her,” Cheya said bitterly. “Wouldn’t you, considering that we not only failed to protect her, but somehow missed Keel had another master?” She took a long look around, for once showing her age. “We’ve won at least, but what a disaster. If Liril actually comes looking for the Fortress he’s going to be sorely disappointed.” She stooped and picked up the primary cube, which had landed nearby. “Let’s collect these before anyone else comes around and decides to take one for a souvenir.”

“Okay, I got Iniri,” I told Shayma. “She’s safe, so probably continue on to the crater where Meil used to be just to update people. Cheya’s kind of got them in hand but I don’t want anyone freaking out about it.”

“I’ll be there soon,” Shayma replied, with a worried cant to her ears. “What happened with Keel?”

“I’m afraid he’s dead. Harold too. Like I said; Cheya’s taken charge, but that’s all I know since I’m not there anymore.”

“What? Oh right.” It took her a blink to catch up with my tortured linguistics. “That’s horrible! I don’t…” She trailed off, groping for thought or at least for words. “Why would he do that?”

“Well, maybe he was taken over? I know there was mind magic going on earlier. Or maybe he was a deep agent.” Clearly not for the mage-kings, not with that timing, but deep agents could sometimes lie low for years. Or forever, never having been needed.

“If even Cheya didn’t know…” She left the rest unsaid. I actually wasn’t clear how Cheya operated, even though she’d been living inside my influence for quite a while. Not that I put much effort into it, but she seemed to get most of her information from thin air rather than informants. Still, she’d kept Iniri alive thus far, so she had to be competent.

Iniri had stayed still through all this, staring blankly off into space. That could be good or bad. If the Fortress and [The Light of Eschaton] had fried her brain it’d be all kinds of bad, but more importantly I’d be pretty damned upset. I liked Iniri and I didn’t want some cut-rate Artifact screwing around with her. Though maybe it meant she’d missed the worst of Keel trying to kill her. She’d be upset when she found out, absolutely, but it wouldn’t be as personal as witnessing the betrayal firsthand.

That thought lasted another two minutes when, with Shayma most of the way to the crater, Iniri buried her face in her hands and started to sob. It wasn’t dainty, queenly weeping either, but full-bodied wails of pure anguish. Never had I missed my inability to offer actual comfort so much, and the only person who could take my place was almost to her destination. I still considered recalling Shayma anyway, but reluctantly decided that everyone really did need to know where Iniri was.

Shayma popped out of [Phantasmal Path] a hundred or so meters upslope, only to find that the whole group was on the move. Someone had noticed the incoming rush of mud and water as the Eastrill drained into the newly-made hole, and people were trekking up and away from the lowest point. Another few teleports brought her to the group proper, and she pushed her way forward to find her parents and friends.

“Mom! Dad! I’m so glad you’re all right!” Shayma said, pulling her still somewhat dazed parents into hugs, then went bouncing over to Annit and Keri to repeat the process. They were both still suffering from the aftereffects of the light, so I couldn’t tell if Annit was feeling better, but I could see through the overlay she had gained a few levels and thus raised her Depletion cap. Hopefully that would help.

Then it was time to take care of more somber things. Shayma approached Cheya, who was traveling with the injured and dead. So far as I could tell there were only two dead bodies, which were from after the battle. The rest of those being carried by their fellows were merely grievously injured, with Keri and some other healer types in attendance to keep them from getting worse. They’d all recover eventually, which was astounding for those who’d sustained major organ damage. Though Keri was the only one who’d gotten a [Healer] class, the others only had it as one of their Skills so they weren’t as comprehensive as Keri was. Fortunately enough of them were mixed in with the adventuring types that Keri would have some help this time around.

“So, what happened?” Shayma asked quietly. “Blue says Iniri’s safe for now, but that Keel attacked her.”

While Cheya filled her in, I took the opportunity to actually look at the damage, since both corpses were in my range around Shayma. Partly I was curious as to what were considered lethal wounds to such high level Classers, since other people seemed to have survived similar levels of trauma. But mostly I was wondering if Keel had been replaced at some point. It seemed really suspicious to me that he’d ended up burnt so badly, and probably by his own Skills, as if someone really didn’t want a close examination of the features.

One thing I rarely took advantage of was that [Genius Loci] technically let me see inside of things. Usually that didn’t much help, because solid things were solid and organic things were squishy and messy so it was far less useful than processed radar or ultrasound or whatever other modality someone would normally use to see inside things. This time though, I wanted to check just in case there was something particularly betraying. Like maybe he was a golem or something.

I’d like to give [Blue’s Sagacity] credit for where I started but it was probably just my thought that dental records were once used to identify otherwise unidentifiable corpses that made me peek at Keel’s teeth. Immediately I could spot that something was off, though I couldn’t tell what. A miniscule residue of mana and something about the way the enamel looked. So far I’d noticed that everyone had all of their teeth, and so far I hadn’t noticed anyone with minor colds or similar, which was probably one benefit of living in a system with hit points. With that in mind it seemed unlikely to me that someone would need all their teeth worked on.

“Hey, Shayma,” I said, breaking in to Cheya’s quiet speculation on his motives. “I hate to bring this up but there’s something really weird with Keel’s teeth, maybe Cheya knows what’s up with that?” The [Spymistress] might know already, but it was also possible that her Skills were aimed at other kinds of deception.

The moment she brought up the topic with Cheya, the older woman twitched and practically teleported over to the corpse, peering down at it. She muttered something to herself, so indistinct that even I didn’t catch it, and then turned to point at Keri.

“Keri Esox,” she said, and Keri jumped as if she’d been pinched.

“Y-yes ma’am?”

“Was this man Nivirese?” She moved her finger to point at the corpse.

Keri didn’t look particularly happy about the question, but she scurried over under Annit’s watchful eye. I wasn’t sure exactly why Cheya asked Keri that question, other than the fact I’d picked up somewhere that the healer was also Nivirese, but apparently she could do something with her healing magic to check.

“Yes, he is,” she said at length.

“How did I miss this?” Cheya said to nobody in particular, grinding her teeth. “Not a hint, not a single hint in over twenty years. I never even thought to check his teeth.”

“There’s no active magic there,” Keri said, obviously trying to help. “You’d need something like [Healer’s Body-Sense] to notice the changes and even then you’d need to look for it specifically.” Cheya just growled wordlessly, and Annit put a hand on Keri’s arm, pulling her away.

“Um,” Keri said to Cheya, resisting Annit’s urging for a moment. “I’m not — I wouldn’t…”

“Oh, I’m not worried about your loyalty to Nivir,” Cheya said. Keri flinched, but nodded, which implied there was a lot going on with Keri’s past that I didn’t know about. Not that it was really my business.

“So what do we do now?” Joce asked.

“Well, for the moment if they head up to where the river is pouring into the crater I’ll make a portal to Meil for them.” Iniri wasn’t in any condition to give orders and I wanted to bring Shayma over to help her out, but I really couldn’t do that before at least providing some guidance. I could have had Shayma open a portal or set up a teleport but that’d stick her in place for a while and really it wasn’t that much of a walk.

“We’ll head that way, then,” Cheya decided, once Shayma relayed my offer, and altered course.

“Aaaand I’m going to recall you so you can give Iniri a hug,” I told Shayma, giving her a warning before I actually yanked her away. I could have been more polite about it but Iniri’s wails meant that she really needed someone at her side.

“I’m going to go see Iniri now,” Shayma said to the group at large, giving Annit and Keri another hug apiece. “I’ll see you back in Meil.” Given that signal, I spent more mana to pull Shayma back to land beside Iniri. The kirin-kin was incoherent and inconsolable, even when Shayma pulled her to her feet.

Someday I’d have more luxuries in the cottage than just water and beds and couches, but those would have to do for the moment. I really did try to listen to what Shayma was saying to Iniri, and what she was getting out of Iniri, but other things were going on. Nothing local, but still things I had to pay attention to.

In an opulent yet refined study, in a palace on the Haerlish coast, a very short aqua-haired woman lounged on a windowsill. Opposite her, at a finely engraved desk, was an enormous, heavy-set man with a deep frown etched on his face. In every way they were a study in contrast; she was cheerful while he was reserved, she was tiny while he was huge, she was assured while he was uncertain.

“Can’t you just use the door for once?” He sighed, reaching to one of the desk drawers for a bottle and a small tumbler, pouring himself a generous finger of some shimmering liquid.

“Nope!” The Hurricane said cheerfully, twirling her weapon. “I think it’s time to go camp on Blue for a while. According to the scryers there’s a giant hole where Meil used to be and there’s no monsters anywhere nearby, so I guess Iniri won. Isn’t that just perfect timing? While she’s busy driving home the victory, we zip in there and get what we need! Especially since the dungeon isn’t going to be much help, so Iniri won’t be paying attention to it anyway.”

“And if she objects?” Harus asked. “Mind you, you’re correct about what we need from it, but I’m not convinced that pushing this hard is the best approach.”

“She should have shared to start with.” The Hurricane shrugged. “She’s got no business denying anyone a reward they can rightfully win from a dungeon. Besides, I want to get at it before the mage-king response inevitably flattens Tarnil. Or before Ir comes in and flattens them both.”

“That is a worry,” Harus agreed. “Very well, I’ll give you authorization for your expedition. But only to a certain extent! Even if Iniri isn’t going to have the time or resources to deal with any excesses, our neighbors will be more than happy to make their displeasure known. You’re already wild enough to make them nervous.”

“They just don’t know what they’re missing.” She stuck out her tongue. “Great! I’ll get Samus and the gang and bring you back a whole chest of Sources.” The Hurricane gave a cheeky wave before rolling over and out the window, flying out of sight. The man sighed.

“I hope I’m not making a mistake,” he muttered.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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