A note from InadvisablyCompelled


In the interests of transparency: there have been some edits to earlier chapters to remove erroneous direct references to Blue calling himself human.

Harus had many worries. Too many, for someone whose kingdom was at peace and without any internal threats worth mentioning. That wasn’t to say there were no troubles, because there always were. Trade partners were threatening tariffs, Nivir was being unruly again, Tarnil’s near-anarchy was threatening to destabilize some of his waterborne trade routes, and Milly was off playing The Hurricane again. What really was nagging at his mind, though, was his children.

They hadn’t come to all-out conflict yet, but the issue of the succession was becoming fairly heated. They both had water Affinity, of course, and were reaching toward their third tier. But only reaching, and neither one of them had broken through, so neither one of them had manifested the [Rising Tide] Lineage Skill. The lack of good, reliable water-Affinity mana springs or Great Dungeons was not helping, and the last expedition he’d sent them on had just resulted in bickering. Despite the best efforts of their minders half the supplies had been destroyed by local sea life and they’d had to come back early. That had made nobody happy, and the mood in the palace was somewhat strained still.

That was one of the main reasons he’d finally signed off on Milly’s idea, even if it was more aggressive than he would prefer. Not that she was completely wrong about the legality of it; war conditions or not Tarnil was supposed to share its dungeons and mana springs with the other countries of the northern lobe. It’d even been her great-to-the-whatever grandfather who’d shoved that condition through, back when everyone else was small and Tarnil was huge. But this was perhaps not the best time to push things, not to mention the danger of treading where the mage-kings had decided to establish a foothold.

Yet, they really did need what those Primal Sources promised. His sons were squabbling, but so far it hadn’t turned into a serious, deadly rivalry. But if it went on with no clear successor, nobody with the Lineage Skill and nobody who could take the pilgrimage to get a blessing from the deep, his sons and their supporters might turn to other, less traditional ways of settling the succession dispute. Like warfare. Or, gods forbid, assassination. At least a civil war was honest.

So far he’d had no luck in convincing The Eternal Republic of Rinsala, which was where he’d earned his third tier when he was younger, to accept both Hamish and Alex coming to their Great Dungeon. Imperator Lins insisted that he could only send one over, knowing that Harus couldn’t accept that condition. That would be favoritism, and while he did have his preferences, the traditions of Haerlish required it be a fair competition for investiture.

He wasn’t going to stop trying, however, so he worked away on yet another letter saturated with flattery and riddled with hints of gifts and trades while technically promising nothing. Not exactly his best work, even if he’d been in the diplomacy game for a long time at this point. If it weren’t for Milly evolving into storm Affinity and locking herself out of the Lineage skill, he never would have been king and would have happily been an advisor or Duke somewhere. It still irked him some days, but it wasn’t likely he would have met or married his Dineah or had three lovely children if she hadn’t, so he wouldn’t unwish the past.

Something in the air changed.

Harus paused in his writing, lifting his head as he focused his senses, and his eyes went wide as Taminy popped out of stealth in the corner of the room. The [Spymaster] usually stayed at his own desk, completely invisible and unnoticeable to anyone despite the fact that he was actively reading and writing his own reports. Considering how Milly tended to drop in unannounced and lacked any sense of decorum, her visits were equally frustrating for them both.

“What— ” Harus started, seeing Taminy’s own look of befuddlement, before the sky outside the window changed. Or rather, vanished, replaced by nothing but a featureless void of no particular color. He was on his feet in an instant, lunging for the window to stare out at the lack of surroundings. As far as he could see, the entire palace, all the way up to the outer walls, was hanging in the middle of nowhere. Even the air didn’t have any particular scent, which made it smell wrong and flat when he was used to the salt of the sea. He banged through the outer door of his study, startling the page there who was simply kicking his heels against five-hundred-year-old furniture.

“Fetch Larram,” he ordered, and the boy darted like a frightened deer, off to find Harus’ court mage. Not that Harus had great faith that Larram would be able to shed much light on what exactly had happened, because anything that could simply pluck his family’s ancestral palace from its place and sequester it away in some between-space reality was beyond mortal magics. Of course it could all be some grand illusion, too. The wards were supposed to prevent that, but no defense was impenetrable.

The problem was he didn’t know of any enemies that would bother with this sort of thing. Knowing who was attacking was at least as important as knowing how, and this formless space fit exactly no polity he knew of. The mage-kings would be satisfied with Tarnil for years yet, and if they came it would be in war. Ir had the potency for such a trick, but they wouldn’t bother with trickery and Emperor Wright didn’t start things without some sort of diplomacy first. He marched back into his office and lifted his eyebrows at Taminy.

“Well?” He demanded, and the [Spymaster] shook his head.

“I have no idea,” Taminy admitted, which Harus had expected but still didn’t want to hear. “I can’t tell what’s beyond the palace with any of my Skills. I put [Hidden Perspective] on a pen and tossed it over the wall and it just stopped seeing anything. I wouldn’t advise sending anyone out there without hefty protections.”

“I really wasn’t planning on it.” The colorless nothing was just disturbing. Staring at it too much gave him the feeling of having an incipient headache, despite all his levels and Abilities that ought to erase such mundane things. Larram arrived with great huffing and puffing soon after, either forgetting to pump mana into his physical frame or being out of mana to begin with, the elderly [Runemage of Flowing Waters] thumping his staff against the expensive carpets.

“Did you know,” he said accusingly, before Harus could even ask a question, and then had to pause for breath. “Did you know that all my divinations simply fail? Your Majesty. I have no idea where we are!” He seemed almost proud of the fact, though his face scrunched up into a truly breathtaking network of wrinkles when he looked out the window.

“We have two choices,” Harus said aloud. “We can raise all our defenses, and hide in our protections, or go out and challenge whoever has done this to us. By preference both. Our families and maids and servants have been taken as well?” He made it into a question, and Taminy nodded. “Send them into the inner keep and raise the wards. Send for Hamish and Alexander and have them meet me in the courtyard with our guards. We shall open the gates and see what dares walk inside.”

His orders went outward in a rippling flurry of activity, and he had enough time to exchange a hug and a kiss with Dineah before joining his sons and the Kingsguard in the courtyard. The deep pool there was shallower than it should have been, showing that the building had been sundered somewhere above its deepest roots, but it was enough to respond to [Rising Tide], the water lifting up into a column of spray. It loomed behind them, and anyone who thought a simple spray of water was not a threat had never been forced to confront the power of the tide.

Two of the Guard flung open the enormous gate, opening the courtyard out onto nothingness. Harus stepped forward to stand at the aperture, flanked by his two sons who were, blessedly, entirely serious and showed no hint of acrimony. Together they presented a united front to whomever had stolen them away. It was possible that they’d been dumped there to rot, but he rather thought not. Nobody expended that much power without paying close attention to their prisoners.

Sure enough, only seconds after they’d taken their places, footsteps started to sound from the outside. They were loud and echoing, the sound of boots on stone, without any apparent source, unhurried and slow and more than a little ominous. The footsteps grew louder, closer, concentrated themselves as their source emerged. From nothing, walking on nothing, a young fox-kin woman stepped forth, clad in plain black with blue trimming and with a bearing that said she was absolutely in charge.

As she drew closer, a blue ring on her left hand flashed and an immense weight slammed down on him. Harus gritted his teeth as he tried to bear up under the strain, but the sheer presence of the woman shredded his Skills and bore down on his body with merciless force. Alex and Hamish dropped to their knees at almost the same instant, followed by their Guard. His Guard didn’t last much longer and he was glad he’d left Larram back in the castle, since he didn’t know if the elderly man could have withstood the pressure.

Harus was the last one standing but not by much, forced to one knee a few seconds after Taminy and a few seconds before the fox-woman crossed the threshold into the palace. From the corner of his eye he saw Alexander struggling fruitlessly and hoped they’d survive to take this lesson in humility to heart. Head bowed, he studied the boots and leggings and tail he could see from his vantage, wondering who their captor might be. Some shapechanged dragon or greater elemental spirit were the only things he could think of, and he wracked his brain to think of any way he could possibly have given offense to one or the other. But then, there was something distinctly dungeon-like to the mana the woman was wielding, which made him think of the mage-kings. Though he didn’t think they had the ability simply steal away his palace.

“Harus Norp,” the woman said in the tones of one delivering a sentence. “You have been summoned here to account for your actions against the dungeon Power Blue, as well as the debts accrued by your sister, Mildred Norp, The Hurricane.”

He blinked in hazy disbelief, his mind choking on a completely improbable series of statements for a moment. The weight on his body and mind eased, point apparently made, and he lifted his head to look up at her but didn’t rise to his feet. Not yet. There was a flicker of motion as Hamish shifted himself, preparing to use a Skill maybe, but Taminy’s hand on his shoulder stopped that. Which was good, because Harus would have tackled his son himself before letting him try and attack the woman standing before them. Provided everything went well Hamish would get quite a tongue-lashing later. That attitude would not go down well with any of the Leviathans his family cared to get their blessings from.

It actually took a little bit of cursing Milly in the privacy of his own mind before he was able to respond. He recognized the name the woman invoked, of course, and he’d even been expecting some sort of trouble from it. Not this kind of trouble though, nor this quickly. If he was right, Milly hadn’t even made it to Tarnil yet, though she’d be driving her ship hard around the coast to get past the blight of the Great Northern Waste and land in Tarnil proper.

“My lady,” he said, picking his words with care. “I admit that I have moved against Blue, but not from any sort of malice, and not with the intent of any harm. I do not deny that The Hurricane is indeed my sister, but I cannot properly say any of her debts are mine. She is not solely my agent, after all. I would invite you to discuss the details in a more appropriate venue.” Harus had to admit kneeling chafed him. He was a king, not some lowly lord, and even if he was at an obvious disadvantage he would prefer to concede nothing.

“That is acceptable,” the fox-kin said, and bid them rise with a small motion of one hand. He didn’t think it quite came naturally to her, but it was effective nonetheless.

“You have the advantage of me,” he admitted, and she smiled brilliantly.

“I am Shayma Ell. I speak for Blue and bear his Authority.” A slight weight accompanied that last word, emphasizing exactly how literally it was meant.

“A pleasure,” he lied politely. “Hamish, Alex, why don’t you go with Taminy and tell your mother about our guest.”

Shayma’s lips quirked but she didn’t comment on him removing other people from the potential line of fire. He gestured to the inner portion of the palace, trusting that by the time they reached the interior his very best receiving room would be ready. Without the tremendous pressure the fox-woman didn’t feel particularly overbearing, but he knew that was just an illusion. She could make third-tiers kneel without even flexing a Skill.

She looked around with interest as his Guard escorted them ever-so-politely inside and up the grand flight of stairs, oddly impressed with the architecture for someone who was clearly unimpressed with his rank. Or the combat capabilities of a number of third-tiers, though considering she’d already dealt with Milly, maybe it took a fourth-tier to get Shayma’s interest.

“May I ask where we are?” He said, hoping to learn something before they got down to business.

“In Blue’s realm,” she replied, ears flicking this way and that as if she were listening to something he couldn’t hear. “He is willing to put everything back when our business is done.”

That wasn’t as good as a promise that they would be returned to Haerlish, but it was better than an absolute declaration that they wouldn’t. He’d take it, and wonder what everyone else thought when they saw the whole palace vanish into thin air.

His seneschal smoothly steered them to the Coral Room, a small and intimate setting carved from a single piece of its namesake, and not worked by human or demihuman hands. The Leviathans were amenable to trade, if properly approached, and their notions of scale worked to the advantage of smaller species at times. Shayma’s eyes sparkled with appreciation at the soothing blue-green walls with their exotic carvings, which made her at least a little less terrifying.

“May I offer some refreshment?” He played the gracious host, a servant pulling out a chair for her while another one wheeled in a small drinks cart. The wine cellar was probably still back in Haerlish, so he couldn’t break out any of the truly impressive vintages that he normally would for a visiting head of state. Which was the only way he could really read this.

“Sure!” She said, which was not at all the restrained reply he expected but nonetheless the servant poured her a glass of white. He watched her take a sip and clasped his hands together, marshalling his thoughts.

“I’m not certain what Blue expects of me,” he said at last. “I very much doubt The Hurricane has arrived yet, and even if she had I did instruct her to be at least moderately diplomatic. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say he has no basis for complaint, I don’t believe I have done anything to deserve this.” The last with a gesture around at the displaced palace.

“To be entirely frank, this is not just about you,” Shayma told her, her ears twitching as she regarded him. “This is mostly aimed at The Hurricane, though it’s not an inconsiderable point that this will proclaim Blue is not willing to suffer transgressions against him. Nor will he simply hold agents accountable and leave their masters alone.”

Harus tried to restrain a scowl but didn’t quite manage it. Not only had Milly managed to piss off this Blue, but he was being blamed for it. Not only was he being blamed for it, he was being made an example of to establish Blue’s reputation. It wasn’t like he could even protest properly, given the obvious gulf in power between them.

“You aren’t blameless,” Shayma said, somewhat more sharply as she caught his expression. “You did not investigate who or what Blue was, nor did you consider the consequences of invading Iniri’s place of shelter. You merely saw the value in letting The Hurricane have her head because you have a need to settle your succession dispute and so sent her off to do what she liked. The hand that wields the knife is more responsible than the knife itself.”

“You can’t possibly know—”

“Blue is a Power,” Shayma said flatly. “He knows many things. Like how you were mostly worried in getting what you needed before the mage-kings or Ir ‘flattened’ Tarnil.

“The sad thing is that if you had been rather more cautious about your approach to Blue, he might well have been willing to trade.” She upturned her hands and in one, a blue gem appeared, floating just above her fingertips, while a miniscule drop of water hung suspended in the air above the other. The one he recognized as a Source gem, probably the Primal Water type that The Hurricane had been after. But the water…

He reached out with his Skills and recoiled as he felt the immense and crushing power in that tiny fleck of water. Both things vanished as soon as he moved, but the impression left him reeling. The Source gem would be amazing, of course, though he had his own Source gem taken from the bottom of the sea. The water, though, even that tiny drop would be an incredible weapon for someone of his Skills, or those of his sons. Now there was no way to get ahold of them.

“It isn’t impossible that Blue would be willing to trade with you,” Shayma said, as if she could read his mind. “But you’ve earned yourself some rather stiff tariffs on already expensive goods. Before we get any of that, though, you need to address the issue of The Hurricane.”

“I’m not certain what you expect me to do,” he protested. “Surely if Blue can do this, he has enough power to deal with her himself.”

“Certainly, he could kill her for her temerity. But I expect you don’t want him to do that, and Blue can’t collect on any owed debts if she’s dead. He wants her to admit her error and fulfill her obligations, which requires a different sort of coercion.”

“She’s not going to take threats very well,” he pointed out.

“Then perhaps she should not have made an enemy of Blue.” Shayma’s eyes narrowed. “This can end very poorly for Haerlish in general and you two in particular, but it need not be so. The original debt that The Hurricane owes was a minor one, and even with the interest he intends to collect it will still be rather minor. But if you would rather shirk your responsibilities Blue is prepared to force the issue.” The entire palace trembled at the last line, and Harus gritted his teeth.

He had to admit there was at least a small carrot to go with the rather generous helping of stick being applied. Despite everything he wasn’t being completely denied the extraordinary things this Blue could supply. Admittedly, he’d have to pay through the nose for it rather than send out Crown adventurers, but that was better than being denied entirely. Or having to pay favors to other kingdoms to break that embargo and obtain things thirdhand, which was unlikely to go well for anyone, considering that Blue could apparently spy on even private conversations.

Plus, for all that she was his sister it would be kind of nice to see someone put Milly in her place.

“Very well,” he said at last, finally taking a sip of his own wine, even if he barely tasted it. “What does Blue wish me to do?”

“Mostly, simply convince The Hurricane to pay her debt. She may be your older sister but she is still your subject.” She looked less stern for a moment. “And I’m sure by now you’ve learned how to manipulate her well enough to keep her under some degree of control.”

“Easier said than done,” he replied dryly. “What exactly is the nature of the debt? She never mentioned anything about it.”

“That does not surprise me.” Shayma nodded. “In exchange for Blue removing her Depletion and Purifying her, she was to accompany me to Duenn in order to provide a distraction.”

“Didn’t she get that Depletion helping Blue, though?” Not all of it, of course. Everyone that went out adventuring ended up picking up some, and people who were constantly in high-mana areas picked up more. Even the crafters who stayed at home sometimes got a point or two when they drew particularly heavily on the local mana. Still, he’d gotten the impression Milly had picked up a significant amount fighting against Vok Nal.

“She was helping Iniri, as a favor to Monat.” Shayma corrected him. “If anything, Blue was a fellow ally, with no particular obligation toward her. He even gave her the Primal storm Source as a gift beforehand. The only reason he agreed to Purify her was because he felt it was unfortunate she’d suffered so much Depletion, but he certainly did not do so for free.”

“I thought Blue was part of Tarnil,” Harus said with a frown. He was having difficulty placing the exact political nature of Blue, or indeed whether Blue was a political creature at all. The northeast lobe of the continent was more or less stable, and he’d prefer not to have to deal with some major upset. Especially since if it got bad enough to annoy Ir they’d come in just to settle things down. Shayma laughed, a bright sound as she leaned back in her chair.

“It might be more accurate to say it’s the other way around. For now it might be best to consider Tarnil a protectorate of Blue’s.”

He blinked. That was not what he had expected to hear. In fact, it was a baffling inversion of what he knew. Tarnil had been in decline for some time, and with the mage-kings taking over he’d expected it to either collapse entirely or become a colony, and he hadn’t heard of Blue at all until Milly had returned. The fact that he’d managed to effectively conquer Tarnil in so short a time was more than a little terrifying.

“Is he planning to subjugate us next?” Harus demanded.

“Not at all,” she reassured him. “Iniri requested it. Blue doesn’t have any interest in taking over countries generally, but there were some special circumstances.” Harus didn’t miss that she failed to elaborate on what those special circumstances were. “All we want from you is a resolution of our issues with The Hurricane.”

“As if I have a choice.” He frowned at her.

“You do. Blue is not asking for very much, considering. Nothing unreasonable. But if you wish to defy a reasonable request from a Power, you are welcome to choose the consequences of that defiance.”

It was unmistakably a threat. But Harus was not so proud that he couldn’t admit it was reasonable. The manner of asking was not, but so far nobody had been hurt — aside from whatever panic was occurring in the capital. Which was not a small consideration, and the longer they were here the longer that panic would go on. But it wasn’t likely he’d have seen Shayma if she had appeared normally. As a show of force, summoning the whole palace to nowhere was an effective ploy.

“Very well, I’ll talk to her,” he sighed. “Can you put my palace back?” Shayma’s ears flicked as she regarded him.

“Let us take some steps to resolve this first,” she said calmly. “Surely you have methods to contact her even at a distance.”

“Yes…” he admitted reluctantly. “But my court mage doesn’t even know where we are. I don’t think we can get divinations through.”

“Then Blue will put you where you can contact her. Once that is accomplished, he will return the palace.” She paused for a moment, her head tilted, and the world seemed to blink briefly. The feel of dense mana flooded through the room, making him sit straighter in his chair. “There. You should be able to contact her now, and there should be enough mana to make it an easy process.”

“Excuse me a moment.” Harus couldn’t resist, marching out of the room to the closest window. The nothingness was gone, replaced by a broad grassland and distant forest, with mountains smudging the horizon in the purple of twilight. It still wasn’t Haerlish, but it was an improvement. He returned to the Coral Room, meeting Shayma’s raised eyebrow and amused face with a nod. “I’ll get my mages and contact her.”

“Of course,” she said graciously. “I’ll be around. Should you need me, simply say my name.” She vanished from the chair, and Harus blinked, wondering if she’d actually been there to begin with. Then he shook his head and called a page to go find Larram again. Taminy appeared of his own accord, frowning as he approached Harus.

“I tried to get a read on her Status, Your Majesty,” he reported in an odd tone of voice. “It just read, ‘Nice try, Taminy.’ That was it.”

Harus gawked. He didn’t even know that was possible.

“Exactly,” Taminy said grimly.

“Once this is all over, I’m going to give Milly an earful,” he growled. “Why would she brush off such a powerful being? Aside from just being herself.”

“I have very little information on Blue,” Taminy told him. “Which means he has either hidden himself very well for a very long time, or he is entirely new. Either way he is a complete unknown, and if Blue didn’t show this level of power, it’s no wonder she thought so little of him. In fact, I don’t believe she considered him an entity at all and thought Shayma simply controlled the dungeon.”

“She still might, but it’s hardly relevant, is it?” Harus grimaced. The capabilities that Shayma and Blue had demonstrated made the actual nature of their relationship immaterial. “She’d better behave now,” he continued. “The only thing that can mitigate the damage of this is that it was a Power that stole our palace. Or someone who claims to be one and has the ability to back it up.”

“I would believe it,” Taminy said frankly. “If there was anyone who could teleport entire buildings at whim on this continent, I should know about it.”

“What about off-continent? The mage-kings did invade Tarnil so it’s not impossible.”

“Hm.” Taminy paused for a moment, running through possibilities in his mind. “Grel Mithal is upper fourth tier spatial, I suppose he could do it, but why would he? Or the Archpriest? It’s not like they have any designs on our part of the world.”

Harus nodded. He didn’t think it was likely it was an off-continent Classer or set of Classers, not considering the items Shayma had shown off. He’d have to spend a lot of time considering how to approach an active Power in their part of the world, and how they could afford the Primal Sources that they desperately needed.

Larram appeared again, following the page and this time having actually remembered to exercise his [Mana Reinforcement] Skill so he wasn’t out of breath. He seemed to be in a rather good mood despite the circumstances, swinging his staff cheerfully with each step and nearly hitting the page, the walls, and the artwork on said walls as he went.

“The mana density here is amazing!” Larram enthused. “It’s like being in the middle of a mana spring!”

“Larram,” Harus said, holding up a hand to stop his headlong ramble. “I need you to set up a farcast to my sister.”

“Oh. I can do that!” Larram said cheerfully. “Scrying room it is!” He turned around and started to thump in the opposite direction. Harus rolled his eyes and fell in behind, Taminy and his Kingsguard joining him. The scrying room was only slightly deeper into the palace, a room of runes and a shallow pool of pure, clear water.

Harus shed his Guard at the door and crossed his arms as Larram bustled over to the pool, leaving Taminy to loom wherever he liked. For all of Larram’s eccentricity he was very good at what he did, and it took him only a few second to start the farcasting ritual. The pool at the center of the room glowed softly, swirling into concentric rings that held their form as Larram’s magic washed over them. After a moment, he nodded to Harus.

“Milly?” He spoke at the water pool, sure that his voice was being transmitted to the other end, but less sure that his sister actually had the medallion. Which was why by default Larram made the sending very loud. “We need to talk.” There was a thumping and a banging from the water pool, transmitting whatever the medallion was hearing, and Harus waited patiently to find out where Milly had left it this time.

“Huh?” A voice came from the other end, sounding vaguely familiar. Probably one of the third-tiers she’d taken with her. “What’s this?”

“This is King Harus of Haerlish,” he said coldly. “Take this medallion to The Hurricane.”

“Oh! Sorry, Your Majesty!” There was a thump as the person on the other end probably saluted then started shouting for someone to get The Hurricane down from the mast. His lips pressed into a tight line as he waited, tapping a foot against the coral floor before Milly’s voice finally came.

“What’cha want?”

“Blue moved the entire palace from Haerlish to somewhere in Tarnil in order to demonstrate exactly how cross he is with you. Since you’re beyond his reach at the moment, I suppose. This makes me rather cross in turn, since apparently you pissed off a Power and are at the moment planning an assault on him.”

“He what?” Milly’s voice turned sharp and dangerous. Harus glowered at the water even though Milly couldn’t see him and sharpened his own voice in reply.

“You heard me. All this over you running off after agreeing to do something and not doing so. He even said he was willing to trade us things like sources…or was, until I let you off your leash. So you can understand if I’m a little bit unhappy.” He took a breath, trying not to blame Milly too much. It was tempting, but it was not like she’d admit to much of anything. “Fortunately all he wants is for you to do him some minor task.”

“I’m off the coast of Tarnil now,” she said, voice still dark. “I can find you in a few minutes.”

“And what? Carry the palace back yourself?”

“…yes,” she sulked, and he could believe she’d very well try. But even she wasn’t that far gone, and she sighed. “I guess not. But are you really going to cave to him just like that?”

“Every minute we’re away from Ripane is another minute my capital gets to panic without a palace, he could shred our Skills without exerting any effort at all, and all he wants is you to do him a favor that it sounds like you actually owe. Considering that we’re talking about a Power we’re getting off very lightly.”

“Last time I was here I wasn’t impressed at all! Except by teleports and Sources.”

“Yeah, well, maybe he was going easy on you. Either way, I want you here, now, so I can get back to my kingdom and start figuring out what to ransom so we can buy some of what he’s offering.”

“Fiiiiine.” She sighed. “I’ll head over by myself and have the ship make port. And I had an entire strategy set up too!”

“Well, now your strategy is ‘do what Blue tells you so he doesn’t sink the entire kingdom.’” She made a rude noise in reply. “Hopefully Shayma can tell you where to go instead of having you scour the whole of Tarnil looking for us.” He had no sooner said that than Shayma herself appeared in the room, popping into existence across the pool. Taminy twitched, hands going to the string he kept tied around his wrists, but refrained from actually attacking. That wouldn’t end well for anyone.

“Blue sees her,” she said cheerfully. “If she’ll come down to ground level he’ll make a portal for her to just outside.”

“Hear that?” He asked, a bit bemused that Blue could just casually make spatial portals wherever he wanted.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be there in a bit.”

Larram released the spell and all of them trooped back down to the front courtyard. Sometimes Harus wondered how he could manage having such a big palace without having so many levels. Surely tier ones would be exhausted after having to take so many stairs. As promised, Milly was waiting in front of an arch of stone that showed an entirely different landscape for a moment before it sank down into the ground. In the darkening evening Milly’s annoyed, lightning-charged eyes glowed visibly as she scowled at him and, especially, Shayma.

“Well?” She demanded. Harus shrugged and looked at Shayma.

“Blue is not well pleased with you,” Shayma said coldly.

“I’m not pleased with him either,” Milly snapped, and might have gone on but for the fact that the weight of Blue’s presence came down on her like a hammer. He only felt the edges of it, but he still had to brace himself as Milly was knocked off her staff and fell to the ground.

“You’d do well to keep your mouth in check,” Shayma said. “Blue requires only two things of you now, but he can be convinced otherwise.” Milly glared at Shayma but, after glancing at Harus, did no more than that.

“What things?” She gritted out.

“A simple apology, and repayment of your debt.” Shayma’s lips quirked. “The apology need not be heartfelt, because Blue doubts that’s reasonable to ask, but we need one nonetheless.”

“Fine,” Milly growled. “I apologize. What do you need me to do?”

“Two things,” Shayma said, the pressure vanishing and letting Milly bounce back to her feet. “First, you may have noticed the weather here doesn’t feel right?”

“Yeah,” Milly grunted. “It’s all stale.”

“Blue wants you to fix it. Which, yes, means you can shove around as many storms as you want, it’s fine.” Milly noticeably lit up at that thought. “But first,” Shayma added, “Blue needs you to run lightning through some copper for a few minutes. We’ll get started when I get back from replacing the palace.” She vanished, and Milly looked at him.

“…but why?”

Harus shrugged. Blue was just beyond him.

A note from InadvisablyCompelled

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