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The meeting between Hyacinth and Amaryllis took a lot of work, namely in the form of letters being sent back and forth. There wasn’t such a thing as neutral ground for the two of them, and the timescale we were requesting was incredibly compressed compared to what you’d want in order to have the logistics of the meeting worked out. Both of them needed a warder to make sure they were safe, and both needed security to come in and sweep the place for traps or surprises, as well as further defenses from all angles. Thankfully, our needs weren’t entirely uncommon within Anglecynn, and one of the rooms within Caledwich Castle met most of our requirements, though there were quite a few angles of approach, which made it a little worrisome from a defensive standpoint. That also ensured it would be hard to lay an ambush on the way in. Everything got squared away within twelve hours, which was insanely fast as these things went, at least by the impression that Amaryllis had given me.

“It will be just Grak and myself,” said Amaryllis. “That’s the easiest agreement, most in keeping with historical precedent. Hyacinth will have a warder of her own to make sure that we’re both defended. Juniper, you would ideally be with me, especially since you’re a secondary party to desertion, but that would require further deliberations, and we want to get this done quickly.”

“It’s fine,” I said. “If I’m part of the discussion at all, I trust you to represent my interests. I’m not too concerned about being a technical fugitive, in the scheme of things.”

We left the Hotel Delzora as a group, with a two mile hike back down the corridor, then a rather less arduous walk down to ground level once we’d confirmed with the tuung that there had been no one suspicious. We were a little bit on edge about police (sorry, guards) popping out from behind bushes and arresting us, which wouldn’t have been the worst thing, but definitely wasn’t a part of the plan. Once we were all on a tram together, I began to feel more secure, in the sense that I was watching out for an attack, but no longer expecting that it would happen.

Caledwich Castle had been Uther’s home for decades, though he was out and about, traveling and adventuring, for most of that time. It was the place his wife had spent almost all of her time, where his children had grown up, and where Pallida had briefly been a ward. I’d heard all sorts of things about it, and was kind of disappointed when it came into view, in part because I’d been so spoiled by how weird and magical Aerb normally was. Caledwich Castle was just a castle, one with perfectly normal castle features, a front gate and towers with arrow slits, machicolations and battlements, but nothing outsized or unique, nothing to mark it as a distinctly magical fantasy castle. You probably could have dropped it into medieval times and had no one bat an eye, save for what were probably a fair number of historical anachronisms. The castle had been added onto, both by Uther and his descendants, increasing its size considerably with new wings. A fair number of Penndraigs lived at the castle, which was one of the most secure places in Anglecynn, due to a number of magics that had been put in place by Uther, and it was something like holy ground for the Penndraigs, a place where everyone knew not to start shit. Uther’s wards still shielded the inner castle, and when we got off the tram and walked there, Amaryllis had to mark us all as guests.

Once we were inside, I was struck by how normal it all looked. Uther Penndraig had been through hundreds of adventures, across all of Aerb, but it seemed that he’d brought very little back with him. I had never been to a castle before, but I’d seen plenty of pictures, and the interior of Caledwich Castle wouldn’t have been out of place at all in an Earth history book. There were tapestries and heavy wooden tables, with the walls and floors made of thick off-white stone. There wasn’t a scrap of anything truly weird until we came across a pair of the Armateurs.

The Armateurs were entad-made, churned out by an entad that could make one every month or so. I had seen one back at Erstwhile Manor, but it was just one, and here there were lots of them. They were robots, or a magical equivalent to them, without all that much intelligence. In physical appearance, they were like suits of armor, but with limbs and torsos that were so slender they couldn’t possibly have held a person. Each had a long, thin sword that was part of their construction, which they would use when they were ordered to, or when something in their internal logic dictated they should. When Amaryllis began describing their rules, I immediately recognized them as Asimov’s Three Laws, though adapted so that ‘human’ was replaced with ‘Penndraig’ (not that ‘human’ would have been that much less problematic in a world like Aerb’s). They had been ‘programmed’ by Uther himself, with orders that could be worked within but not overridden, and more than once, the whole corps of them had sprung into action to defend Caledwich Castle. They were one of the reasons that the castle wasn’t a place to start shit.

Other than that one concession to safety and security, it was all exactly how medieval castles were supposed to look, which meant that it had been kept as it was during the time of the First Empire, or restored to that state sometime later. It made me a little bit sad for some reason, maybe because of the thought that this place wasn’t actually used by anyone anymore. It was the same melancholy I’d felt when we’d cleared out my grandma’s house to put her in a nursing home, because so much of what she’d owned had to be thrown away.

“Check your passion,” said Grak, keeping his voice low. As soon as he said it, I realized that the air around me had taken on a chill. Spontaneous passion magic wasn’t terribly uncommon among trainees, but I was at level 20 and should have had it more under control. I stopped the effect quickly, but keeping it from happening wasn’t automatic.

“Thanks,” I replied.

“We’re playing dangerous games,” he said. “Stay on your toes.”

I nodded at that. It was a bad moment to let my mind drift, even if I was multithreading and keeping watch with the other part of my mind.

We were a fair way into the castle when an elderly man wearing a robe and holding a jeweled staff came rushing around the corner. He raised his eyebrows on seeing us, then headed straight for Amaryllis.

“Cousin Amaryllis,” he said. “You’re early. I would have met you at the gates if you had told me you were coming before you’d said.”

“Cousin Sorrel,” replied Amaryllis with a short nod. “You understand that our situation is a bit fraught right now.”

“I have always tried my best to keep the peace,” replied Sorrel. “Are the guards going to come here to arrest you, do you know?”

“I don’t know,” replied Amaryllis, thin-lipped. “I don’t imagine that they would want to risk the displeasure of the Armateurs, nor the breaking of a sacred peace, even if someone were to let them past the wards.”

“No, I doubt they would want that,” said Sorrel. “But the Armateurs are also not meant to be used by fugitives, nor is this castle a refuge from the law.”

“I understand that,” said Amaryllis. “But surely you understand that the law is what we make of it, and so long as Hyacinth wishes to meet with me, Araluen will make sure that the guards are quietly positioned elsewhere. I won’t be arrested until someone feels it’s prudent for me to be arrested, and until there’s someone actively looking to arrest me, I don’t think I can properly be called a fugitive. When that time comes, I will, at the least, vacate this place.”

Sorrel scowled. “Very well,” he replied. He turned away from us and began walking. “The Mirror Room has been prepared, though I imagine you’ll want your warder to look it over. If you’ll permit me, I’d be happy to serve as your intermediary in this affair.”

“That won’t be necessary,” replied Amaryllis as she followed. “The fewer people with their interests involved in this, the better. I do appreciate the offer though. You’ve always been a principled man.”

Sorrel nodded, not seeming as put out as I would have expected. This wasn’t ‘his’ castle, because the wards let any Penndraig through, but he was the administrator of the grand building, the manager of its caretakers and the man who kept everything running. Caledwich Castle wasn’t quite neutral ground, but it was as close as we were going to get.

“If you and your warder will be in the Mirror Room for the duration, where will the others be?” asked Sorrel.

“As close as possible,” replied Amaryllis. “They’re backup in case anything goes wrong.”

“The Armateurs —,” Sorrel began.

“— are fallible,” Amaryllis finished for him. “There are dozens of ways to get around them, and dozens more ways to overpower them. I’m taking as few chances as I can.”

“Well,” said Sorrel. “I had supposed that would be the answer.” He stopped and gestured toward a thick wooden door with a wrought iron handle. “This is where they’ll be then, the Prince’s Room, which should be suitable. The Mirror Room can be accessed through it, one short hallway past the rightmost door. Good luck, Amaryllis.”

“Thank you,” replied Amaryllis, giving him a much more pronounced bow than when we’d first come across him.

The Prince’s Room had a bunch of furniture that was obviously expensive, the result of hundreds if not thousands of hours of skilled labor, evident in the elaborate embroidery and the gold plating that covered intricately carved wood. The walls were nearly covered in paintings, almost all of them young men, with the art styles varying considerably. Some of the older ones, with aged paint, were done in the exaggerated, almost caricature style that was popular in the First Empire, and I imagined that at least a few of the paintings of these presumed princes were of Uther’s two sons. There was a large window that pointed toward a courtyard, but little to see, and no other source of light. Three Armateurs stood in nooks along the wall.

“We’re close now,” said Amaryllis. “If this falls through, and does so in a way that’s not overtly aggressive, I suggest that we meet here and make a magical exit. Grak, are the wards permissive enough for that?”

“They are,” replied Grak, without elaboration.

“Good, then let’s get ready,” said Amaryllis, turning to Grak. “I want to make sure that we’re prepared.”

And with that, they left us alone to wait.

“Does this bring back memories for either of you?” I asked Raven and Pallida, wanting to get my mind off worrying about Amaryllis. Solace was with us too, but she had already withdrawn from the conversation, instead looking out the window with a blank expression on her face.

“The memories are vague,” said Pallida. “I was at Caledwich Castle for just a single lifetime, and not very much of one, from when I was younger. Normally I wouldn’t remember anything from when I was that age, given how old I am now, but I have memories of memories of memories. It was a more lively place back then, I can tell you that. Zona kept herself busy with an endless parade of courtiers.”

“Most business now is handled elsewhere,” I said with a nod. “Makes sense.”

“I have many memories,” said Raven. “Few of them were good, even before the good ones started to go sour.”

“Sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.”

“It’s fine,” replied Raven. Her cloak rippled for a moment in the windless room. “There are places that I would like to see, if we somehow get the chance: my room in the castle, the Square Table, and the castle library. All changed immensely, I’m sure. There have been a number of additions to the castle since I lived here.” She paused. “I was promised to always have a room ready and waiting for me at Caledwich Castle, but I don’t suppose that promise has survived a dozen generations or more.”

“I don’t really understand why the castle had to be so big,” I replied. “They have a different building for legislation and meetings, and different offices for government business. Why keep adding new wings?”

“They wouldn’t want to admit it, but a lot of the Penndraigs are on the dole,” said Pallida. “You get a family that big, and some of them are going to end up destitute, for one reason or another. This is the place where they’re kept. It wouldn’t be a good look to have them in tenement housing. The inner castle is kept sterile though.”

“It’s more complicated than that,” said Raven. “Anglecynn is run by the Lost King’s Court, and rule isn’t exclusively relegated to those members who have obscene wealth. The Court considers it in their best interests to keep voting members in comfortable circumstances so they aren’t able to be easily bribed or manipulated, and so that there’s some homogeneity of circumstances, which helps the Court from being divided.”

“Right, got it,” I replied. “It’s Universal Basic Income, minus the Universal aspect of it. Makes sense.”

“I imagine that it’s a contentious issue among the nobility, as it was a hundred years ago, the last time I visited,” said Raven. “In fact —”

But whatever she was going to say died on her lips as the door into the Prince’s Room opened up and two young nobles stepped inside.

“Oh, sorry,” said one of them, a young man, probably not too much older than I was. He had dark red hair and a slightly chubby face, with armor made of what looked like carbonized wood. I flashed on soul sight and saw that while he was tinted mint green, his armor had the hue of a different soul, which meant that someone had invested it to him. At his hip was an aura, shaped like a sword in its sheath, but invisible to my normal sight. “I didn’t know this room was occupied.” He gave us a wholly disingenuous smile and stepped in, with his companion following shortly after him. As the door closed behind them, I caught a glimpse at Sorrel, giving a disapproving frown but making no move to intervene.

“This isn’t a social,” said Raven.

“Yes, yes,” said the (presumed) prince, “But the Prince’s Room is my favorite room, and I’m sure you don’t mind the company.”

“We do, actually,” said Pallida. Her eyes flickered to the Armateurs for just a moment, and her inky armor hugged her tighter, drawing up to her throat.

“All the same,” he replied. He took a seat on the fancy couch, next to Pallida, separated by the middle cushion.

“You’re Raven Masters,” said the princess. She wasn’t armored like he was, but with entads, that wasn’t saying all that much, since a frilly pink dress (which she was wearing) could easily have as much stopping power as fullplate. The entad was hers, but the handbag she wore must have been invested, and her high-heeled shoes were invested from a different source. Surprisingly, without soul sight on, it all matched, which was rare for someone with three or more entads.

“I am,” said Raven. “You should know that if you attempt any malfeasance, it’s going to end extremely poorly for you.”

“We weren’t even considering it,” said the prince. He placed his hand on his chest. “I’m Yarrow Penndraig, this is my sister, Zinnia.” I recognized the name Yarrow: he was one of Amaryllis’ ancestors, a distant one. Reusing names was pretty common among the Penndraigs, and it was probably just that, rather than immortality or time manipulation.

“Is there a reason you’re here?” asked Pallida.

“Just visiting,” replied Yarrow.

“Hyacinth sent us,” said Zinnia.

“Zin,” sighed Yarrow.

“They already know that,” replied Zinnia. “And this is Raven, she’s practically nobility herself. If the authority of the Court ultimately descends from Uther, then doesn’t that give her a place of prominence?”

“Not legally, no,” replied Raven. “Not that I would want it.”

“Why not?” asked Zinnia.

“Surely Hyacinth didn’t send you here to fawn over Raven?” asked Pallida. She gave Raven a slightly guilty look. “Not that she doesn’t deserve it.”

“Hyacinth just wanted someone to keep an eye on you, and we were willing and available,” replied Yarrow. He crossed his legs, which caused a horrible grating sound as charred wood rubbed against charred wood where his greaves touched each other.

“A fully armed and armored eye?” I asked, raising an eyebrow.

“You’re more armed than we are,” replied Yarrow. “And you have us outnumbered three to two.”

“Four to two,” replied Solace from the window without looking toward him.

“Crantek don’t normally have horns,” replied Yarrow, crinkling his nose at her. “Might I inquire?”

“They’re not horns, they’re antlers,” replied Solace.

“The difference being?” asked Yarrow.

“Antlers are bone, horns are keratin,” replied Solace. “There are other differences as well, but I’m not in the mood for a biology lesson.”

“I’m just curious how you came by them,” said Yarrow. “I recently finished up my five years at Speculation and Scrutiny, and I have an interest in obscure magic, if that’s what they are.”

Solace remained silent.

“Well,” said Pallida. “We can sit in stony silence for the next hour or two, or however long these negotiations take, or we can talk, but it should be clear to you that you’re not going to get anything from us.”

“Believe it or not, it’s honest curiosity,” replied Yarrow. “But if you don’t believe it, and you think that I have ulterior motives, then of course you can stay silent. There’s no reason to feel poorly about not answering an innocent question. And I really would hate to spend these hours in this company without actually talking, so long as we all have to be here.”

“We mean no offense,” said Zinnia. “And we’re hardly trained operatives.”

“What athenaeum did you attend?” I asked her, crossing my arms over my chest. “If you did.”

“Barriers,” replied Zinnia. “Yarrow and I both had a focus on entads, coming at it from different angles. My wand and monocle will stay in my pocket, for your peace of mind.”

“So if the four of you don’t want to talk about anything of consequence, then how about we play a game of dumbest entad?” asked Yarrow.

“I’ve never played,” I replied. I was paying attention to him with one thread and listening for Amaryllis using vibration magic with the other. The Mirror Room would be warded so that no one could listen in that way, but if there was some altercation, I was fairly certain that I would hear it as soon as Grak dropped the wards. I had heard Yarrow and Zinnia approaching, but whatever conversation they’d had with Sorrel, it had been too far and too muffled for me to hear. I wished I could have barricaded the door.

“Some entads are good, and some entads are bad,” explained Yarrow. “In the entad business, we call that i-factor, which is short for impact factor, a measure of how powerful that entad is when taking into account its abilities and restrictions. Here, obviously, I’m simplifying beyond belief a tool that’s itself designed for simplifying the wild and weird world of entads. But that’s just one axis that we can use, isn’t it? Another axis might be between whether entads are clever or dumb. The dumbest entad game is to think about the dumbest entads you know of, with the intent to narrowly one-up the other players.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Dumb in the sense of … poorly designed?”

“Not quite. You know Lisianthus,” said Zinnia. “I don’t mean to be rude, but we were given a short and, I’m sure, very incomplete briefing. She has an entad, a flute made of what looks to be bone. When you play the flute, it will make a pie, with the variety of pie depending on the tune played.”

I thought about that for a moment, then chuckled. “Ah, Pied Piper.”

“Beg pardon?” asked Yarrow.

“Pied Piper,” I replied. “It’s a story, or a fable, about a man who came to a town and lured the rats away with the songs on his pipe. When the town refused to pay his fees, he lured their children away. Of course ‘pied’ in the name just means ‘multicolored’, so here it’s used as a pun.”

Yarrow laughed, and it was the first time he’d seemed genuine. “Puns,” he replied. “Most of the entads I would call dumb are, in fact, puns of one kind or another. I hadn’t heard the story though. I’d thought it was just about making pies through music.”

“So in this game, does an entad created around a pun make it more or less ‘dumb’?” I asked.

“Definitely more dumb, I would think,” said Pallida.

“Agreed,” nodded Yarrow. “The more you scratch your head before getting it, or groan when you do get it, the dumber. If we had to define it, which we don’t, then maybe we would say that it was a mismatch of form and function, or perhaps a dollop of the absurd.”

“I suppose we could invent a new axis, confusing on one end and sensible on the other,” I replied.

“But then we’d be in three axes, and no one wants that,” said Yarrow with a smile. “At any rate, I’ve given my go, it’s your turn. Dumbest entad you know of?”

“Seems kind of unfair, given that you’re both entad specialists,” I replied. “But … alright, there’s that one that you pile books, letters, manuscripts, correspondence, and other written works around, and it brings forth its best extrapolation of the author, but instead of their usual form, it’s a giant aquatic dinosaur.”

“What’s a dinosaur?” asked Yarrow, narrowing his eyes.

“It’s Precursor Anglish,” replied Zinnia, frowning a bit. “It means terrible lizard. Quite archaic though.” I was hoping that eventually I would get a Language virtue that would let me stop the occasional missteps, but it wasn’t exactly a secret that I was dream-skewered. “Is that a pun of some kind?”

“The word dinosaur, or the entad?” I asked.

“The entad,” she replied.

“Not that I know of,” I replied. “Or if it is, I haven’t figured it out.”

“I’ll cede that it beats mine,” replied Yarrow with a nod. “But if you’re playing dumbest entad, you don’t start with your best. How about this one,” he cleared his throat with a theatricality that I found a little endearing, “The frog bow is a bow that shoots frogs. Any arrow you shoot with it will turn into a frog, going roughly the same speed as the arrow was, shortly after it leaves the bow.”

“Wow,” I said. “That’s bad and dumb. I assume arrows cost more than you’d make from selling frog meat and bones?”

“You would be correct,” said Yarrow with a nod. “But there were always ways around that. Historically, arrows were recovered after battles, and some fraction of them weren’t usable, which meant that they could be had for a fraction of the cost and fired from the frog bow. In the modern day, the same initially applied to factories, which created arrows in bulk, some of which weren’t high enough quality, and since the price of manufacture fell once you didn’t need a trained fletcher, eventually it became profitable for an arrow manufactory to make small batches of extremely low quality arrows, which could then be turned into frogs through an automated firing machine. It’s not as impressive as it sounds, because it’s just a bendable hook attached to a cam.”

“That’s not really the point of the game,” said Zinnia, frowning.

“Appreciated all the same,” I replied. “And I would accept the frog bow as being very dumb. For my response, I present for your consideration, an armor made of maps, with folded paper for the protective elements. When a ranged projectile of some kind comes in, its course gets directed away from the armor.”

“Redirection?” asked Zinnia. “That’s common enough. The form factor of the armor is a bit unusual, and I suppose a bit useless depending on if it has the usual protections or not, whether it could get soggy …” She frowned. “I don’t see how it’s dumb, necessarily.”

“It’s plot armor!” I smiled.

“So … it’s a pun?” asked Yarrow.

“It’s … yeah,” I said. “You’ve never heard the expression ‘plot armor’?”

“Maybe,” said Yarrow. “Meaning, someone is protected because they’re a character in a story, and therefore nothing too bad can happen to them?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “You know, you really kill the joke when you explain it.”

“And you’d maintain that this ‘plot armor’ is dumber than the frog bow?” asked Yarrow.

I sighed. “Fine, do I just lose, or am I graciously allowed a do-over?”

“One do-over,” said Yarrow, holding up a finger.

“I have one,” said Raven. She’d been mostly silent through this exchange, which I respected, since it was ultimately pointless, and a distraction, save for the fact that I could focus on two things at once. “The decanter of endless tapioca. When you turned it upside down, tapioca would come sliding out, forever.”

“Wow,” I replied. “Useful though.”

“You think that beats the frog bow?” asked Yarrow, scratching his head for a moment.

“I vote it does, but this is my first game of dumb entads, and I have obvious bias,” I replied. We hadn’t formalized teams, but it seemed we’d settled on two against two. Pallida was watching, smiling slightly, and I was positive that after an extremely long life, she would eventually have something to beat us with.

“Very well,” said Yarrow. “Then I suppose I’ll have to dig deep.” He cleared his throat. “There is a wand which will create wands which create wands which create wands, and so forth.”

“Good for firewood, I guess,” I replied, then clamped down my second thought, which induced an electric current of fear that sent me jittering through space, what would happen if Bethel ate that. I cleared away the passion magic quickly, hoping that no one had noticed me drop a few frames.

“Finding uses isn’t part of the game,” said Zinnia.

“Alright,” I replied. “Then as a counterpoint, the ring of ant control.”

“Controlling ants doesn’t seem that dumb,” said Yarrow. His brow was furrowed as he tried to find the catch.

“Ah,” I replied. “But it doesn’t allow the controls of ants, it allows the control of ant, as in, a single normal ant.”

“That … is quite dumb,” said Yarrow. “Is it real? They have to be real items, not just the dumbest entads you can come up with.”

“On my honor,” I replied, though I had no idea if such a thing had ever existed on Aerb. The wand of wand creation apparently did though, and like the ring of ant control, it was a joke item that I’d used in an April Fool’s one-shot set in the Hall of Magical Rejects, with a half hundred dumb magic items that had mostly been sourced from message boards and discords. I was trying to remember as many as I could, then pare down the list to those that made sense without the context of D&D and Earth culture. If this was just a game of dumb entads, then I was going to make sure that I won.

“I’m not sure that we have these entads in the right order,” said Pallida. “In theory, they should be getting dumber, yes?”

“Yarrow always tries to frame it as a competition,” said Zinnia. “It doesn’t really work well that way. In theory, it’s about mutual appreciation of the sometimes absurd nature of entads.”

Yarrow shrugged. “How I always think of it is, if you went into a forge frenzy and came to on the other side, after days or weeks or months or years of work, with your personal life in shambles and likely some considerable debt, how gutted would you be to discover what the entad actually did?”

“When you put it like that, the game seems less fun,” I said.

“Well, before we finish, I have a final retort,” said Yarrow. “You see, I happen to be in possession of what I have officially deemed the Dumbest Entad in the World. It makes the game easy to win.” He turned to his sister. “Zin, my pipe, please.”

Zinnia rolled her eyes and reached into her magical handbag, rooting around for a moment, then pulling out a small, unassuming pipe, which my soul sight also marked as magical, with the same hue that came from Yarrow’s aura.

“No demonstrations,” I said.

Yarrow took the pipe with a grin, then paused for a moment and looked over to his sister. “Tobacco too? And my lighter?”

“I said no demonstrations,” I repeated.

Yarrow let out an exasperated sigh. “Look, I know very well that we’re on opposite sides of this thing, whatever it is, but there’s no rule that says we have to be so stern with each other. Besides, the joke’s less funny if I explain it, you said as much yourself.”

“I don’t want to be an asshole about it,” I replied. “But no demonstrations of any entads, dumb or otherwise.”

Yarrow frowned at me. “Or what?” he asked. “You’ll attack me and bring down the Armateurs on yourself, causing a diplomatic incident and committing assault, on top of the desertion you’re already guilty of?”

Zinnia quietly handed him the tobacco and lighter, looking distinctly uncomfortable. I noticed that her hand stayed in her bag, where she’d said her wand and monocle were, and I started using vibration magic to mimic warder’s sight, just to make sure she wasn’t surrepitously erecting wards. Doing that without actually moving your wand was, I was told, brutally difficult, but I wasn’t going to take chances. I saw nothing.

“Yes,” I replied. “I would do all that, because now that you’re warned, if you try it, I’ll know you’re doing it for a purpose, not for fun.”

“Hrm,” said Yarrow. He looked down for a moment and then began shoving tobacco into the pipe. I’d said no demonstrations, and I’d said that I would attack him, but I didn’t know where to draw the line. Surely I would at least have to stop him if he tried to light the pipe. He stopped when the tobacco was in the pipe, looking it over, and then looked up at me. “Have you thought that from my perspective, letting my decisions be dictated by someone who pretends not to have any particular limits on what grievious violence he would inflict means that I would end up ruled by threats, even when those threats would never actually be carried out? It would be terrible policy.”

I stood where I was and slowly drew my sword. I had other options, like trying to slice the entad from his hands, but he was right that this really wasn’t what I was here to do.

“Go ahead,” I said, with my sword drawn. I collapsed down the threads and focused on him with vibration magic, listening to the beat of his heart, which was going fast, betraying his cool demeanor. That didn’t mean that he was going to attack me with the pipe entad though, whatever it did. I was, after all, threatening to end his life.

Yarrow stared at me for a moment, then flipped the top of his lighter and put it to the end of the pipe. I wasn’t sure that I had ever seen someone light a pipe, but he was making a production of it, skimming the tobacco with the flame while puffing, then finally getting it to catch. He took a few puffs and let them out; I was using air magic to make sure that no particulates reached me.

I didn’t attack him. I couldn’t break the peace, not over this, it would be assault by anyone’s definition, and it would fuck things up for Amaryllis if I was wrong. I could leave, jump out the window or burst through the door, but I wasn’t just thinking about myself, I was thinking about everyone else, and about Amaryllis in the next room.

“Well, now I worry that I’ve built it up too much,” said Yarrow. “And you’ll say, ‘oh, well that’s dumb, certainly, but not worth all the drama’.” He let out a puff of smoke, aimed up at the ceiling. “Here,” he said, then took in an enormous breath and held it, holding a finger up, indicating for us to wait, as though we were going to do anything else.

When he finally let out the breath, it wasn’t smoke, but instead a wave of glowing grey magic, and even though I pushed as hard as I could with still magic to stop it in its tracks, it washed over me, putting me to sleep almost instantly.

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Alexander Wales

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