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A note from InadvisablyCompelled

1/1

Iniri was glad that her kinetic Affinity made it easier to work with little sleep. If things weren’t stressful enough, being woken up in the middle of the night for yet another one of Blue’s surprises shaved precious hours out of her time. At least it was a good surprise, and not some terrible revelation like the mage-kings were just offshore.

She got the impression through [Queen’s Insight] that the [Contained Star] was something that he could use to defend against the mage-kings, and probably everyone else as well. She couldn’t see the mana, but she could feel it pushing against her like a current or a strong wind. Even without her Skill she probably could have sensed it trickling into Tarnil, merging into the natural flows and providing a unique flavor to the land.

She wasn’t sure if the impression she had of Blue through [Queen’s Insight] was getting clearer or she was just getting better at interpreting it, but it seemed to be getting easier to catch the subtleties of his attention. It wasn’t there all the time though, it seemed to only be there when he was focused on Tarnil. There certainly hadn’t been any warning of the [Contained Star] and he’d been working on that for quite a while.

Even in the early hours, Meil was busy with activity. Her silver lights kept the streets illuminated for the endless amount of cargo coming in from the brand-new canal. Crafters were still expanding the new blue-water port that was growing outward from Meil, with cargo ships starting to come in from surrounding countries. The immense channel where Eastrill had once cut through the city had become thick with piers and marinas, providing places for barges to tie up, and their matching companions sprouted here and there on the outer edges of the massive lake. There was a long way to go still, but Meil was starting to see real traffic, with giant pylons marking the compressed canal that made Meil’s new status as a seaport possible.

Haerlish, of note, had sent a significant amount of its sea harvest to sell, their ships laden with ocean-cultivated plants as well as fish. It hadn’t come with any particular message, and the food was for sale rather than gifted, but it was clearly a peace offering considering the prices. Aside from thanking her for handling things, Blue hadn’t made any mention of any of the deals or demands she was making with other countries. She was glad he wasn’t trying to jog her elbow when it came to diplomacy, since it was difficult enough when she had a free hand. Admittedly, it was easier to be confident in those negotiations knowing that Blue was on her side.

Prince Andis was one of those points of negotiation. They both knew that his interest in her was political rather than personal, though he had demonstrated he could be quite personable if he wanted. It would be incredibly valuable to get Ir on the side of Tarnil, especially since the empire was too far away to really think about annexing her country, but Andis had been fairly coy about committing to anything in particular. That was hardly surprising though; these sorts of negotiations could take months or even years.

Iniri looked out over Meil from her tower, staring through rain-streaked glass at the sodden city below. She wasn’t really seeing it, instead looking at the other cities through [Queen’s Insight]. They were cut off from Blue’s dungeon-food now, and while she didn’t know why Blue was convinced it was a bad idea to eat the stuff, she trusted there was a reason. She was still having to distribute rather than sell a lot of the food, as people were having a hard time getting out of the habits instilled by Tor Kot, but with the trade they were finally on their way to self-sufficiency.

From the perspective of her tower a blue-water ship sailing in from the canal caught her eye, given its unusual dusky-orange color scheme and lack of sails. In the dim light of the rainy pre-dawn she couldn’t tell what magic it did use, but Tarnil’s own vessels were wind-powered so it was from some foreign concern. For good and ill both, foreign ships outnumbered Tarnil’s own in Meil’s new port, but she had high hopes for the future. Monat had already reported an increase in both quality and quantity of materials coming out of Wildwood, not to mention Classers from other countries coming in. It was nice to see some confidence in Tarnil, especially from people who took risks for a living.

She crossed to her desk, deciding that she might as well get some work done if she was up so early, and there was no such thing as being ahead on paperwork. A salvaged grandfather clock ticked away beside the door, the stacks of paper illuminated by her own magic. Amusingly, paper was one of the first things she’d purchased from Nivir, one of their fast-growing plants making them an exporter of the stuff. It was amazing how crippling a lack of records could be when trying to reconstruct a government.

Her maids came to dress her shortly after dawn, getting her ready for the day. Her mind was already ahead to the petitions she’d received, the matters of diplomacy and economy she needed to resolve, and the personal meetings she needed to have with her various nobles still straggling in to reaffirm their loyalty. She gave them her start time to pass to the seneschal, so he’d announce her before she arrived.

At the appointed time she transferred herself into the throne room with [Swiftray], starting the morning session. She thought that by now the initial press of petitioners needing to address the throne would have waned, but there always seemed to be someone. It was a better problem than the ones she had been dealing with, so she had no complaints save that a great number of people either were idiots or thought she was.

Lunch was a buffet-style working break with some of her candidates for more permanent posts in her government. As much as she owed many of the people who had stuck with her through the whole ordeal, they didn’t necessarily have the experience to manage an entire country’s diplomatic or economic or industrial policy. Those that did, though, were definitely getting posts as barons or maybe even earls, and those without it were going to be given titles that came with somewhat less responsibility. Even her lowliest servants that had stood by her would no longer want for anything.

The sun peeked through the clouds around noon, as Blue’s weather-pillars let the rain fade to mere streaks of white in the sky. Unfortunately it was quite chill out, with fall threatening to arrive at any time, so she couldn’t take the opportunity to move the work to any of the outdoor gardens of her palace. She just shook her head at the thought; she was still getting used to the fact that she had a palace at all. It was silly to mourn the fact that she’d have to wait months to use parts of it.

As it wore on toward the afternoon session [Queen’s Insight] started to tug at the back of her mind. There was a rising swell of discord from her other cities, and all of them at once. Even if she didn’t know what it was, she knew it was some final gift from Tor Kot, something so slow and subtle even Blue hadn’t noticed it. Iniri dismissed the meeting she was in and then pulled up her divination runes to see what was happening.

Her first impression was confusion. There were people sitting crying in corners, others running around and yelling at anyone they could see. She quickly cycled through the different cities, finding similar scenes in each one. Here and there she saw her Classers stopping people from burning some buildings to the ground, to varying degrees of success. It was a strange sort of riot, especially since nearly the whole population was affected and only a relative few were trying to be violent.

She took one of her rune-marked, lightshaped birds and dropped it into Duenn, where the Ells had corralled the most vociferous of the rioters in a cul-de-sac by the simple expedient of Giorn enlarging his weapon to the point of completely blocking the street. It flitted down to where Giorn and Sienne were standing, yelling over the Artifact at the trapped rioters, her words sounding from the bird as it drew within range of the two.

“What happened? All the cities are like this.”

Sienne left the yelling to her husband for a moment, turning to locate the bird. To her credit she didn’t seem even slightly surprised by its presence.

“It’s the food, Your Majesty,” Sienne reported. “It has to be. Some of the more lucid people said they just suddenly realized what’s been going on the past few years. It started creeping in sometime after lunch. The food’s the only thing we’ve changed.”

“Oh, hornrot,” Iniri cursed. Blue hadn’t been – couldn’t be – more specific about why he didn’t want to feed people dungeon food, only that it wasn’t a good idea. Now she knew why his instincts had been so inistent. Whether it was mind magic or something more insidious was impossible to tell, but the effects were clear and profound.

It also didn’t take too long to wear off, but considering they’d changed to Blue’s food a while back the overall effect may have been weakened. Or maybe it did stop that fast; the cities had been subject to fairly strict traffic restrictions for a while, and few people had been given the opportunity to spend a full day off the food Tor Kot provided. Ultimately the reason didn’t matter so much as the result, which was that she had tens of thousands of people all in a simultaneous panic.

“I need to go there,” she decided aloud, standing up and beckoning to her nearest Queensguard. “Get a group for a crowd and meet me at the base of my tower.” Blue’s decision to add teleport capability to her tower, and his ability and willingness to let her control it, was something she absolutely appreciated. She just wished it wasn’t necessary to use that ability to put out fires, metaphorical or otherwise.

When she teleported into Duenn, her Queensguard spread out around her, though the streets were empty. At least the streets nearby; the Ells and other Classers had corralled the most violent elsewhere, and through [Queen’s Insight] she could feel most hiding away in their homes, in various degrees of distress. It wasn’t something that would be easy to correct, but she at least had a tool to start.

She opened the gates to [Phantasmal Beacon], and let its magic flow through her. The light bounced through windows and open doors, capturing the attention of people as she walked along. The inevitable pull of the Skill brought people out, sweeping them into her wake as she moved through the streets to where she’d seen Giorn and Sienne. It wasn’t the entire population of Duenn, but it might be enough. Once she reached the rioters, trapped by Giorn’s weapon and the surrounding walls, she conjured a platform to lift her up above the crowd.

“My people,” she said, pulling on [Inspired Speech] to add to [Phantasmal Beacon], looking about at all the faces peering up at her. Even the angry yells quieted as the light of the Beacon touched them. “I know you’ve just woken from a long nightmare. One we have all been struggling through and are trying to put behind us. Some of us have done terrible things, willingly or not, and these are things that must be addressed. There will be resolution, restitution, and absolution, but first we must have peace. Justice will be administered by the Crown, not by a mob. Go home. Pick up your lives as best you can.”

It was a harsher speech than she’d intended, but these weren’t people who would have their problems assuaged by simple platitudes. Oh, some might, but not the ones with the strongest emotions, the deepest scars. They needed to know a judgement would come, so they would stop judging themselves. Of course, there were just those who wanted trouble for the sake of it, but there were always those kinds. The combination of the two Skills was enough to send most of the crowd back home, yells and shouts dying down to a quiet murmur. After a few minutes Giorn shrunk his weapon back down to a reasonable size and let everyone disperse, and she gave him a thankful nod. Now she just had to repeat the performance at the other trouble spots in Duenn, then move on to the other cities.

Iniri was just glad it didn’t take anything more than a Power-given Skill to quell a crowd.

She sent a bird-messenger back to the palace, to let them know that the afternoon sessions and meetings were canceled. The teleports meant that she could simply return to the palace to trade off shifts for the Queensguard and get dinner, though that was a long way off. Iniri only hoped the rest of the afternoon went so smoothly.

It didn’t, of course. The Skill combination worked small miracles, and Blue’s mana link meant she could actually hold [Phantasmal Beacon] for longer than a minute or so at a time, but not everyone was amenable to her words. The Queensguard had to fend off some people who were genuinely disturbed, and in some places her Classers had to actively use Skills against an enraged populace to keep from being overwhelmed.

It was a nasty mess, and she’d been waiting for the other shoe to drop for a while, but this one at least she could handle. She could feel Blue following up behind her, doing something to the cities that seemed to help cement the results of her speech and [Phantasmal Beacon]. Shayma didn’t show up, though, so presumably there was nothing extra Blue needed her to do to coordinate with his own efforts.

By the time she was done and she was satisfied her cities weren’t about to collapse in fire, it was nearly night and she was exhausted from both the stress of dealing with so many angry people and the strain of pulling on her Skills so much. Kinetic Affinity and infinite mana went only so far. Not to mention levels. Before she’d met Blue the idea of continuous channeling of a demanding and high-mana skill for hours on end would have been something left to fourth-tiers, but now she was doing such things with disturbing regularity.

At least when she finally slid into her bed Tarnil was fairly quiet. There was still some level of unrest, something slightly queasy in the back of her head, but she’d gotten accustomed to that level of trouble. Someday, she hoped, it’d be quiet enough that she could get some completely guilt-free sleep. Someday, but not today.

When she woke the unrest was not any better, but neither was it any worse, making her confident enough to schedule the morning’s court session. Her Classers would have to do the heavy lifting of interviewing people, recording statements, and hopefully she’d be able to find some people who were trained enough to be judges. As much as she’d like to grant a general amnesty, that would be an excellent way to cause more riots. That said, she certainly wasn’t planning to prosecute most people to what the law would normally require. Most of her attention would be reserved for the real collaborators and enforcers, those who wanted to cooperate with Tor Kot.

Sorting through the day’s schedule made her scowl. If there weren’t enough issues, she was going to have to address the problem of foreign interests trying to buy up huge chunks of Tarnil’s industry under the guise of “investment” or “recovery.” Under other circumstances that would have been welcome, but now, if she wasn’t careful, other countries would own most of Tarnil’s companies and that would become its own problem.

Elevating some Classers to now-empty baronies or viscount seats would help with that, assuming she found enough of them willing to take a break from their life of adventuring. Not to mention Classers with Skills that would help them administer their lands, such as crafting or discovery. Most wouldn’t have the Skills an actual noble Class did, the ones that helped them administer the land or lead the people, but noble lines had to start somewhere.

There was just no end to the number of problems, but Iniri reminded herself that was a good thing. The alternative to having no problems was having no kingdom, and already she was seeing how the new Tarnil would be stronger and better than the old one. Blue’s gifts would only grow in value, and he was still coming up with new and incredible things, such as that [Contained Star]. There was no telling what he’d have to share over the next five or ten years, let alone the next century that the Bargain provided for.

As usual her personal maids came to dress her, ensuring her regalia was proper before she appeared in the throne room. She had to admit being able to flash in through [Swiftray] was a treat, appearing directly rather than having to sweep in through some convoluted side path. So long as she coordinated with her Queensguard it was also far more secure, since it wasn’t like anyone could intercept her going directly from her quarters to the throne.

There was even more of a crowd than usual, and quite a number of them were from outside Tarnil. She spotted various kinds of human-kin, and a tiny delegation of some non-human races who had to be far from home, indeed. She hadn’t seen any of the non-human races since Ir’s Great Dungeon, and had to wonder why they’d come by. Unless word of Blue’s Primal Sources had gotten out, there wasn’t anything interesting enough to draw people from the other side of the world. They hadn’t added themselves to the agenda yet, else someone would have briefed her, so they were probably watching to see how Tarnil’s ruler handled herself.

Prince Andis was among the attendees, as he had been quite often of late. Whatever his ultimate intentions, he was at least serious about them. She gave him a brief nod as her steward began the day’s affairs, and settled into her throne. Even if it wasn’t an Artifact, it was definitely a magical item and she could feel its power as soon as she sat upon it.

Oddly, Andis seemed to be distracted, since he kept glancing out at the throne room, away from the petitioners and from Iniri. Maybe there was someone he knew; it wouldn’t be too unreasonable for some foreign diplomat that Andis had encountered before, and might not be on good terms with, to show up in Iniri’s court. She couldn’t pay him too much attention though, she had to focus on her actual petitioners.

The half an eye she kept on Andis was what saved her.

He twitched ever so slightly, and she followed the direction of his gaze to a fox-kin in dark clothing. A spark of absolute blackness appeared just in front of the fox-kin, and she reflexively threw up [Shield of Tarnil]. The lance of void smashed into it and pierced right through, taking only a moment to cut apart the weave of the Skill, but the delay was just enough for old adventuring instincts to throw her to the side.

The void user seemed to cut the air as he stepped forward, moving impossibly fast by erasing the space between, and Iniri rolled to her feet as she summoned another instance of [Shield of Tarnil]. She was dimly aware of the commotion as the audience in the throne room surged into motion, defensive Skills being activated while her Queensguard moved forward. Andis leaped forward as well, light burning forth as he conjured an illuminated blade.

“I’ll—” He only got the one word out before a casual backhand from the Void user sent him reeling backward without a nose, blood gushing from his face. Filaments of absolute black waved from the fox-kin’s fingers, snapping and dissipating at the edges as whatever he was using to hold his void Skill was continually eaten away.

The assassin’s eyes were cold and blank, the gaze of someone who killed people rather than monsters. This wasn’t someone like Keel, an agent who took an opportunity, but a dedicated murderer. A void Affinity user too, making him even more terrifying, and meaning that when Tulk rushed forward with his mace, her Queensguard was quite literally disarmed, limb and weapon clattering to the ground. Tulk didn’t even slow the void user down, another pointed lance of darkness driving at Iniri while all this was happening. But she had just enough time to get her brain going again, and this time she used [Swiftray] to not only dodge but teleport to the other side of the throne.

She pulled on her mana, [Body Reinforcement] sharpening her reflexes and her mind as she exercised more Skills. [Protector’s Light] capped the blood-spurting stump of Tulk’s arm and fastened over Andis’ face, bare flickers of thought as she focused on the assassin. His filaments of void were already curving back around, seeking her out as she flung [Shield of Tarnil] around them, not so much to protect herself as to protect everyone else. It wasn’t like [Blue’s Armament of Light] would stop nicely if she missed.

That was the only concession she made before she attacked herself. She was damned if she was going to let someone get away with trying to kill her, no matter what Affinity they were. The silver stars of Blue’s Skill opened up behind her and drove lances of light out to meet the void. Where the two touched, they vanished in soundless annihilation, but where they scored on the assassin they cut right through as if he had no defenses at all.

He cut space again, trying to close the distance between them, and [Swiftray] carried her away. The void filaments cut at her spells, trying to reach for her as he followed her teleports in a high-speed dance, always moving through less space than he should have to and ignoring the bleeding holes in his body. The rays from [Blue’s Armament of Light] bounced off her [Shield of Tarnil], caging the area but where they might have hit her, they bent around her instead, keeping her safe from her own deadly Skill.

Every time a piece of void flashed out, it destroyed a piece of her magic, but she had Blue on her side and mana to burn. She didn’t care about being careful now, she just wanted him dead. Stray rays from the Armament gouged pieces out of the floor, melted holes in glass, and closed inexorably in on the assassin. He channeled more void to keep it away, but his ability to wield the Affinity was fraying as the void destroyed his tools and his very flesh. Even though he pushed right past [Shield of Tarnil], she danced around the enclosed area with [Swiftray], constantly on the move, never letting him touch her.

Suddenly all his magic failed at once, and a dozen rays or more punched into him before she could suppress the Skill. The end result was rather gruesome, even for Classers, the fox-kin in a number of bloody and seared pieces, lying on the stone next to her throne. The entire fight had taken maybe ten seconds, not even long enough for her to start panicking or think of doing anything but throw Skills at him. The sounds of the room filtered back to her as she dropped [Shield of Tarnil], shouts and screams but remarkably little panic overall, despite three bodies on the floor and one of them clearly a corpse.

“The crown will take a short recess,” she said after a moment.

To his credit, her steward only needed a few seconds of staring before he bestirred himself to repeat it, though she was sure most of them had heard her the first time. The rest of her Queensguard piled in, screening her from the crowd now that they weren’t blocked by [Shield of Tarnil]. Before she could really wonder where Blue was, Shayma popped into existence not far away, looking far more upset than Iniri felt.

“Iniri, what—” She began, but Iniri held up a hand to forestall her questions.

“Get your healer friend, Keri,” she ordered, not particularly caring about relative rank and propriety. “Find Sienne too.” It couldn’t be coincidence that another void-using fox-kin had come around, though why this one had wanted to kill her was a mystery. Shayma glanced around, nodded, and vanished again. At the same time, all the damage that had been done to the throne area simply vanished, wiped away by Blue like it had never been. For all those watching from a distance, that was a strong enough message that even the most politically deaf could understand it.

A few words had both Andis and Tulk carried away to another room, though Andis wasn’t actually that badly hurt. He was lucky the void Skill hadn’t cut a few inches deeper, or else he’d be missing a lot more than a nose and some layers of skin. Tulk was pale and shocked, as well he might be after seeing his own arm lying on the floor. Void Affinity was nasty stuff, and if she had to guess the assassin was well into the third tier.

She was feeling somewhat buzzed herself still, fingers tingling as her mind caught up to what had just happened. Not just that someone had tried to kill her, but that she’d absolutely destroyed a third-tier void user who had come out of nowhere. Destroyed him, and protected everyone in the audience hall from someone who could have wreaked unimaginable harm while not taking a single injury herself. It was amazing, but Iniri was actually glad Cheya wasn’t around at the moment. She was off at Wildwood and could return at a moment’s notice, but if she were at the Palace she’d blame herself even though it wasn’t like her guards could take away people’s Skills. Nor were assassinations that common, despite her own experiences. Cheya would be upset no matter what, but she hoped that a little bit of distance would help.

Blue’s attention was on her now, palpable through [Queen’s Insight] and maybe without it. Concern, anger, and pride were all identifiable, but there were more complex notes that she couldn’t sort out. She’d need a more direct connection for that, and it certainly wasn’t the time to be thinking in that direction. Instead she simply took comfort that he cared, the presence helping stabilize her thinking.

“My Queen,” Tulk started, but Iniri held up her hand.

“You did just fine,” she told him. “Few people can deal with a void user, and you slowed him down enough for me to take care of him.”

He nodded convulsively, and she turned her regard to Andis, who was gingerly feeling the solidified-light bandage wrapped over his face. Despite the fact that he’d leapt to her defense too, she held him in rather less regard. His earlier behavior gave her the suspicion he knew something about the assassin, though it seemed unlikely either he or Ir was behind the attempt.

“I have a healer coming,” she told the prince. “It will take a bit of time, but she has regrown limbs before. A nose shouldn’t be too much of an issue.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Andis said. “Can you send someone to inform my companions of my condition?”

She nodded at Joce, who went to find a page. Shayma popped in with Keri and Annit a few moments later. Without a word from Iniri, Keri immediately went to the two men, the healing magic potent enough for Iniri to feel at range. Iniri stepped away, beckoning to Shayma.

“I need to ask Andis a few questions,” Iniri said, lowering her voice, “and I’ll get Cheya if I need to, but do you or Blue have any way of making sure he tells me the truth?” Shayma’s ears flicked at the question and she smiled.

“Taelah has exactly a Skill for that,” she said. “I think it’d amuse her to sit in when you’re questioning a prince. I’ll ask before I go get mom.”

It wasn’t long before Taelah appeared, popping into existence with Blue’s teleports. Iniri wasn’t as familiar with her as she was with Shayma, having mostly met her only in passing. She gave Iniri a brief curtsey, not as much as a commoner might give a queen but considering that she was one of Blue’s Companions, Iniri was not at all put out by that.

“Shayma said you need me to use my mom-senses on someone?” She asked with a smile, and Iniri barked a laugh.

“Yes, once Keri finishes with him.” Not that Keri could regrow the nose immediately, but she could at least stop the bleeding and start the process. They had Tulk’s arm if Keri could put it back, but Iniri didn’t know how that would work with void mana. Healing was not her specialty, so she left it all to Keri.

Annit spoke with Tulk while Keri took a break from his arm to patch over Andis’ nose, and Iniri released the solid light bandage. The [Charming Prince] looked a little less charming like that, but he was bearing up well enough and Iniri waved him over. After leaving the throne room, they’d all ended up in one of the closest meeting rooms, and it was voluminous enough that they had some semblance of privacy, give or take her other Queensguard.

“I can’t believe someone would try to kill you, Queen Iniri,” Andis said immediately. “I only wish I could have been able to do more!”

“I’m sure,” Iniri said politely, considering how to approach the topic. She cared little for diplomatic niceties just then, but there was no need to invite trouble by accusing him directly. “I noticed you were very quick to leap to my defense.”

“Of course! It would be rather ungallant to leave the lady I’m courting to fend for herself.” The words might have rung more true if Iniri hadn’t noticed his distraction before the assassin struck. As it was, she glanced at Taelah, who made an equivocal gesture with one hand.

“Yes, but I noticed you were on alert earlier than that. Did you know the assassin?”

“Of course not!” Andis said immediately, looking insulted. Again the equivocal hand motion. He wasn’t lying, but not being completely truthful either.

“But you have some idea of who he is,” she guessed. “You recognized him in the crowd.”

“I just saw someone acting strangely,” Andis said, but Taelah shook her head.

“When did you know?” Iniri pressed on, and Andis frowned, glancing at Taelah himself.

“Who is this woman?” He asked, tone pointed.

“I’m Blue’s wife,” Taelah said blandly, earning a startled stare from Andis. She smiled at him and Iniri had to suppress a smile of her own.

“To be clear, I don’t believe you were involved in this assassination. But you did see it coming, didn’t you?”

“Of course not, how could I?”

“Lie,” said Taelah. Andis glared at her.

“My forbearance has some limits,” Iniri said. “I suggest you begin telling the truth before I begin to think you were involved.” Andis scowled, but in the end it wasn’t like he had much of a choice.

“I suspected he was one of House Anell’s pets, and since you decided to make an Ell a Crown Marshall, and probably a noble soon enough, it was no great leap of logic to expect he was there to register their displeasure.”

Clearly Andis had a better idea of what to expect from House Anell than she did. Iniri knew it was a massive trading concern, but it wasn’t one that operated near Tarnil. In fact, it barely operated in Orn at all, though if anyone would have dealings it would be Ir. If she’d known Anell would be so upset, she might not have given Sienne the recognition — or maybe she would have. Tarnil shouldn’t bow to a foreign influence, especially one that wasn’t even a proper country. She kept her expression neutral, but it seemed that was still enough to prompt Andis to try and explain himself.

“They have total control over a viable set of void Classes.” Andis shrugged. “I guess they don’t want anyone slipping the leash.”

That still wasn’t quite enough for Iniri’s tastes, but Shayma appeared with Sienne and Giorn in tow, so Iniri was done with Andis. Entirely.

“I advise you to go back to Ir, Prince Andis. Leaping in to heroically save me is far less impressive than actually trying to help and giving me information that I need. I am in fact singularly unimpressed with your decision to risk my life, but I will credit it to overconfidence rather than ill intent. Once your healing is completed I hope to see you on a boat out of here.”

His face took on a rather pinched expression, which was made even more grotesque by the current lack of nose, but to his credit he simply gave her a vague nod and headed back to where Keri was fussing over Tulk. Taelah looked at Iniri sympathetically.

“You can do better than that, I’m sure,” Taelah told her.

“I hope so,” Iniri sighed, before the Ells came closer and Iniri waved them to sit in a few the chairs that littered the room.

“A void Affinity assassin?” Sienne asked, half-rhetorically. “I guess I’m surprised they didn’t come after me. Though it does make sense.”

“Why is that?” Iniri asked. Clearly she ought to have taken Sienne’s remarks about House Anell more seriously.

“They probably want me back.” She shrugged. “I don’t know if they just couldn’t find me before, or didn’t even know I still existed, but I’m certainly more visible than I was before. It’s been a long, long time but I don’t recall House Anell being the type who’d flinch from messing with a small, out-of-the-way kingdom just to drive home that they have reach and power.”

“Your Skills are impressive, but I don’t see why someone would go to that much trouble for them,” Iniri said doubtfully. “There’s a political angle I’m missing.”

“Anyone with void Affinity will have nearly insatiable hungers,” Sienne told her, with a glance at Giorn that made it clear what hers was. “House Anell controls the Ell family, and others, with those hungers and as a result they have a relatively large number of void Classers they can deploy to protect their shipping. Or take others. They wouldn’t want any of their incredibly dangerous agents getting the idea that they don’t need to work for Anell.”

“So, assassinating me was actually aimed at you?

“I’m sorry, Your Majesty,” Sienne sighed. “I thought maybe I’d get someone threatening me, but nothing like this.”

“I suppose we didn’t have enemies enough,” Iniri said, and gave the Ells a tight smile. “At any other time this might be difficult to deal with, but all our business interests are already dislocated. Banning House Anell from doing business here will hardly hurt us, and while they might not think much of me, I expect they’ll not like it when Blue registers his displeasure.”

“Which he will,” Shayma said. “Not right now, not with everything going on, but they’ll hear from him sooner or later.”

After a few more words, Iniri dismissed the Ells, letting Shayma talk to them in private and take them back to where they had been. Taelah looked like she was about to head off as well, but Iniri waved her over, out of personal curiosity and not for anything official.

“You mentioned mom-senses before,” Iniri said. “So, are you…?”

“Twins, just like Blue promised,” Taelah said, putting one hand over her belly.

“Congratulations,” Iniri told her, and tried to ignore the little spark of envy that wormed its way into her gut.

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InadvisablyCompelled

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