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Almost immediately upon seeing Umbria DaMoura, a large number of physical and chemical changes took place in Linduin's body and brain. The first of these was a sweeping, tingling sensation up his spine, followed by a rush of blood to various parts of his anatomy; his cheeks were the most prominent of these, but by no means were they the only affected areas. His endocrine system, until recently mostly concerned with regulation and stability, kicked itself into overdrive and fired up some new and extremely disorienting capabilities. His jaw dropped open, his sweat glands tripled their already-impressive rate of production, and his eyes practically bugged out of his head. Cheis of Veraleigh, who was uncomfortably aware of every one of these events, sighed and recited a calming mantra to avoid killing everyone in the room.

"Cheis!" chirped Umbria, who was either oblivious to or choosing to ignore Linduin's existence entirely. "I'm so glad you decided to come." She leapt up from her chair and bowed deeply. "Thank you very much."

Cheis, who had had all sorts of scathing backhanded comments prepared, found herself abruptly outmaneuvered by the other woman's sincerity and respect. Stung by her own pride, she mumbled something unintelligible and looked away uncomfortably. Pellamin crossed the room and wrapped an arm possessively around Umbria's waist, cementing Linduin's burgeoning dislike for him into full-blown loathing. "I had no doubt, personally. But I'm sure Cheis and her... attendant... are fatigued from the journey -- I know I certainly am." He chuckled, somewhat uneasily.

Umbria's hands flew to her mouth. "Oh, of course! I'll arrange lodgings immediately, and send word to the executor that you've arrived. I expect they will wish a meeting first thing tomorrow." She disentangled herself from Pellamin and practically flew about the room, assembling documents and shuffling them into envelopes. "If you'll all excuse me, I'll get things started for you immediately." With a flip of her hair and a blown kiss to Pellamin, she departed almost before the others could process her words. Linduin, enveloped in a cloud of her perfume by the wind of her passing, sighed and stared after her wistfully, stopping only when Cheis kicked him in the shin.

"Ow! What was that for?" he shouted, hopping on one foot. Cheis ignored him.

"I'm going to take my attendant for a short walk," she grated at Pellamin. "We'll be back within the hour." Pellamin blinked, having obviously been expecting further discussion, but Cheis ignored him too. Bundling a hormonally-stricken Linduin out the door, she stopped herself at the last moment from slamming it behind her -- lettered glass, after all, was expensive to replace.

Alone in his office, Pellamin sank into his chair and sighed. The endeavour had gone better than he had expected, but now Cheis of Veraleigh was back in Ciel-Upon-The-Sea, undesirably entangled in his personal life, and obviously none too thrilled with Umbria's continued presence therein. He pondered his options, decided quite firmly that he had none whatsoever, and went back to reviewing his notes.

Outside, Cheis dragged Linduin back down the three flights of stairs they had just ascended, much to his annoyance. Linduin, who had had enough experience being Cheis's apprentice to know when to complain and when to shut up, did the latter. When they reached the street level, Cheis stomped off towards a restaurant she obviously knew well; Linduin, who had never so much as seen a restaurant before let alone eaten in one, did nothing to dissuade her. She gained entry with a glower, ordered a decadent appetizer and a beer, and plunked herself down in a chair with her head on her arms.

"That's a little out of character for you," said Linduin after a moment. He pulled out a chair and sat down across from her, fiddling with his collar. "Shouldn't you be stoically enduring whatever's annoying you or reducing it to atoms?"

Cheis groaned. "I don't know who taught you how to talk to people who are obviously in distress, but that is the exact opposite of helpful."

"Well, that would be you," Linduin pointed out. "Everything I learned about social graces either came from you, my dad who beat me up, or my boss who could order my execution if he wanted. So yeah, the only help I know how to give is what you taught me."

"Wow," said Cheis, "we're really fucked." At this point the food and drinks arrived, and she began to eat noisily and inelegantly, obviously not caring about anyone watching. Linduin, putting his newly-acquired skill at psychic discipline to use, managed to stay quiet for almost two minutes before losing the battle. "So... that Umbria lady. She seems really young for him."

Cheis took a large drink of her beer, belched loudly, and sighed. "Yes. She's also about ten years older than you, though, so you can forget the stupid ideas you obviously have of getting into her underpants." Linduin spluttered, but did not deny it. "Anyway, she was his student when he taught at a university here, then his secretary after she dropped out." Her tone made it very clear what she thought of the moral reprehensibility of it all.

Linduin shook his head. "I don't know what you saw in that guy."

This was, of course, the exact wrong thing to say to Cheis, who was not remotely over Pellamin and had not been dealing with that fact well over the past two weeks. She sobbed once before she got it under control, took another huge gulp of beer, and managed to choke back further tears by eating another appetizer. Linduin, deeply shocked, was rendered speechless for almost thirty seconds, which was enough time for Cheis to regain her composure. "He's really smart. He's a damn history professor, and not the boring kind where they just list genealogies but the exciting kind where they research what spells dead societies used to cast. He dresses great, has a great beard. And he's brave. He's..." she coughed, "...he's not afraid of me."

"Doesn't sound very smart if he's not afraid of you," Linduin mumbled sourly. Words of praise about his apparent rival in multiple contexts were not high on his list of what he wanted to hear.

Cheis sighed. "Kid, I know you're too green and dumb to understand any of this, but it's a pretty big strain on a relationship when one partner can turn the other one into ashes with an errant gesture. The fact that he stuck it out as long as he did was, quite frankly, incredible." She took another drink of her beer. "When he dumped me, a big part of me was relieved that it happened before I caused his death one way or another."

With an effort, she sat up straighter and looked at Linduin. "Now, pay attention, because this next part is relevant to you." She dipped a finger in her beer, grabbed a napkin, and blotted out three words, which she passed over to Linduin. "The first command there is a sleep spell -- it'll drop anybody you're pointing at when you cast it. That means you'll need both hands free to use it, though, so don't carry anything when you're somewhere dangerous."

Linduin, too overwhelmed by other recent events to appreciate finally being given the power to sorcerously smite anyone who opposed him, simply nodded. "What about the others?"

Cheis sighed. "One's a math function that'll let you check your calculations. Basic addition, subtraction, and multiplication -- don't try to divide anything or mess around with decimals in multiples of three, you're not informed enough to understand floating-point numbers yet. The other is a clock -- that'll tell you what time it is without needing to consult a sundial or day-candle, which is going to be important for tomorrow when we have to attend a meeting at a specific time. You can also use it to time things, set alarms, whatever." She belched again. "I figure you should keep yourselves busy enough playing with those that you won't fuck up whatever I'm doing too badly."

"Why?" asked Linduin distractedly, already experimenting with the calculator function of his collar and discovering to his confusion that 3 * 0.1 was somehow 0.30000000000000004. "What are you going to be doing?"

"I don't know," groaned Cheis, stuffing another appetizer into her mouth, "but I know you'll fuck it up if I let you."

Linduin, at this point barely paying attention, simply nodded in acknowledgement. Cheis laughed a little, with only a hint of another sob at the end, and signaled for a refill.

***

"My people," Princess Orána di Bizoura said, voice throbbing with emotion, "we have come to a crisis."

The crowd, nearly five hundred strong, muttered disconcertedly below her. This was a heck of a gamble, but there was nothing for it except to assay the attempt. She really hoped she wasn't about to incite a riot. Beside her and a pace behind, Galar Kayle murmured something noncommittal reassuringly.

"You may have heard rumors," she continued, "that a demonic army is abroad in Temurin. You have heard that war is being waged against our nation." She looked around, meeting various eyes in the crowd, before continuing. "Those rumors are true." The unhappy noises from the crowd increased. "You are all aware that my father is ill; that our nation is weary from skirmishes with Chivet and the Toralites; and that our brave soldiers are fewer in number than ever before." The crowd became even more restless, with a few shouting imprecations and some meaningful hefting of bags and walking sticks. Orána, who had already sweated through one layer of her dress and expected to go through another two, gulped and took a breath. "But when Temurin entered its hour of need, the gods were not indifferent to our pleas. They sent us," she continued slightly shakily, "hope. Some of you know him; some of you know of him. But all of you deserve to hear his words. People of Temurin, I give you... Galar Kayle."

The most fraught part of writing this speech had been Galar's ironclad insistence that his title be omitted. "Your Highness, these people are used to obeying knights and nobles," he had repeated several times, "but they won't listen to anyone they consider not themselves. If you want this plan to work, you don't need their coin or their obedience; you need them to believe what we're saying to them." The Princess had struggled with the idea tremendously, but in the end she had acquiesced more out of desperation than actual confidence. With the army of the Black Oak growing by the hour, their options were so limited that they weren't even plural.

Galar bowed deeply to the Princess as she made way for him at the podium, then stepped up in her place. His silver spear had been polished and honed, but not decorated; he wore his customary white robe, which had been laundered rather meticulously, but no armor or cloak. His sole concession to his new station was a coat of arms emblazoned on his jerkin, and even that was a tastefully small addition underneath a much larger rendition of the royal seal. Apart from his holy medallion, he wore no jewelry or other accoutrements. However, other small and subtle touches had been made; his hair and beard were neatly washed and carefully trimmed, his spectacles had been cleaned and adjusted to fit him slightly better, and his teeth had been scrubbed and bleached very thoroughly. The subtle aura of white light surrounding him as he manifested his Gift didn't hurt, either.

"My brothers and sisters," he began, speaking calmly but solemnly, "I have no great speech to give you." This was a tremendous lie, very carefully used as a conversational gambit with a very specific purpose. "Like you all, I am a simple man who merely wishes to live in peace." This was also a very large lie; although Galar Kayle's life as a student, soldier, and government functionary had not exactly been the lap of luxury, it had certainly been kinder and gentler than the lives led by the vast majority of the people in the crowd, most of whom were farmers and other hard laborers. "But peace is not a gift the gods give; it is something we must earn. And many of our kingdom's brave soldiers, men and women I have had the great honor to serve alongside, have given their lives to protect that peace." This, unfortunately, was entirely true. "But their losses were not in vain. By the grace of the gods," -- this had been carefully chosen to be non-denominational -- "we have been given a Gift. I say we, because though this burden has been placed upon me, I bear it gladly in trust for all of you. And so when the generals and commanders of the army came to me," -- an event which had not remotely occurred -- "and asked how we could best use this new weapon against the demons, I told them one thing."

Galar looked out over the crowd. It was working, he could already tell; the angry murmurs had entirely subsided, the frowns and expressions of displeasure had been replaced by staring eyes and open mouths, and even passers-by who had not even been part of the crowd had stopped to stare. Now he just had to not fuck it up. "I told them," he continued, infusing a little more passion into his voice with skills he'd picked up during an undergraduate acting course, "that the true strength of our people is not our cavalry. It is not our our knights or our siege engines; it is not the sharpness of our swords or the pull of our bows." He placed a hand atop his own heart. "It is our courage. The courage that each of us carries in our hearts, to defend our country, our homes, and our loved ones. Your courage," he boomed, voice rising to a crescendo, "that gives us the strength to fight!" The crowd, now fully enraptured, let forth a huge cheer, and he had to wait for some time for it to die down before he could continue. "To face evil!" The crowd cheered louder. "And to be victorious!" The noise was deafening now, with the crowd having almost doubled in size already. "That is my message," he continued, "not a command or an edict, but a blessing. May the gods' blessings be upon you all, and may the gods be with us as I return to the battlefield." He bowed his head, and a wave of argent light shimmered out over the crowd, drawing gasps and further cheers. It was entirely functionless; a party trick Ivorious had recorded as one of his first discoveries. But Galar Kayle, who knew exactly what he was doing, was not remotely above cheap theatrics.

He hopped down from the podium and began to stroll through the crowd towards the rear of the square. Each person he passed, he acknowledged; some he merely held their gazes, some he nodded to, and some he touched, clapping their shoulders or shaking their hands. And with every interaction, the binding of the Molten Heart spread outwards, inflaming passion and patriotism, bravery and camaraderie, and loyalty to crown and country. When he strode heroically out of the square, more than half the crowd was following him; and when his path led ever-so-conveniently past a bank of waiting enlistment officers, the result was a thoroughly foregone conclusion.

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AMBLE

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