Regina found herself strangely pleased at being able to do her job again. At least, what she assumed was her original job, or would have been. She didn’t know if she’d been a doctor yet — she had the impression she’d been a young woman, and she might have just been a medical student. Either way, it was a bit different having patients who didn’t automatically trust her, weren’t connected to her via the psychic link, and whose anatomy and physiology actually matched exactly what she’d been taught.

Or should have matched it, anyway. To be fair, she was a bit disconcerted by what she’d found in June Lyns, or hadn’t found. She still wasn’t sure quite what to think. Was it simply a new disease that had evolved in the thousand years since her old memories, or was there a bit more to it? Regina was determined to find out. It was also possible she’d simply missed something. What she wouldn’t give for the chance to run a full blood count. But she might be able to run at least a cursory analysis on blood she drew from June, to make sure she didn’t show a severe lack of leukocytes or something like that. She’d need to experiment with ways to get a centrifuge and a method to paint cells in a sample working.

Compared to that, her short session with June’s mother went much faster. Lady Florance was relatively old for a pregnancy, especially by local standards, so regular check-ups made sense. Regina had also been aware that she’d apparently had more than one miscarriage before. Now, Florance had reluctantly answered her questions, and it turned out she had had three of those, as well as one baby who had died shortly after a difficult birth. Regina had shaken her head to herself and wondered how she could have possibly kept going after that. She suspected it was more the marquis’ fault than Florance’s. It’s a wonder Kiara is completely healthy, given the rest, Regina thought to herself. But at least I can’t detect any problems with this pregnancy, either.

Well, not any health issues, at least. It promised to be a headache in an entirely different way.

Regina might not have ultrasound, but magic was a decent alternative, and she’d found out something else. Lady Florance was indeed carrying a boy.

Regina wondered how Kiara would react. She hadn’t told her yet, or anyone else, not even Florance herself. She’d simply escorted the woman back to the others and stayed to chat for a few minutes before leaving, distracted by thinking about June’s illness and now this.

I’m not entirely sure, anyway, Regina told herself. I could still be wrong about the baby’s sex. And I can always pretend to find out later, when it’s grown bigger. She disliked the thought of getting involved in more Lyns family drama, but at this point, it was inevitable. Still, it might be better for all involved not to throw this particular log into the fire.

It was quite annoying, all things considered.

For now, Regina should probably focus on what she’d bought with these hostages. Which, at the moment, mostly meant more obligations. She was confident she could effectively help the marquis’ war without crippling her hive’s defenses - and she’d avoided any firm commitments in terms of numbers or anything, anyway. It was a risk, and an investment. The treaty they’d signed meant she should be able to count on Cernlia to fight against anyone who threatened her in the future, while she’d avoid getting dragged into pointless wars. It would also give her quite a bit of influence and allow her to spread her power more subtly into this and possibly neighboring human kingdoms. And, of course, increase her territory substantially.

But none of that would happen if the rebels lost the war, so Regina turned her thoughts to practical ways to ensure they wouldn’t. She’d need to have a few more meetings with certain drones, in person or over the psychic link.

Regina hadn’t left the baron’s mansion for long before Janis joined her. The two of them turned to head out of the village proper and towards the open area bordering the water wheel.

“What are your impressions?” Regina asked quietly.

“They’re basically what I expected,” Janis answered. “Florance is definitely more suspicious and afraid of us than June.” She hesitated for a moment. “I wouldn’t underestimate her, though. You should consider what kind of information you want to share or what would be possible for them to find out, my Queen.”

Regina nodded. “So, you don’t think I should invite them to our central hive base? It would be the most secure location.”

Janis frowned, and Regina could tell she was weighing the pros and cons. “It would, and it would make it easier to limit any ability for them to send word home independently,” she agreed. “It will also allow them a closer look into how we operate.” She shrugged. “They’re almost certainly going to find out about the psychic link, anyway, especially if we fight alongside Lyns’ forces. It’s your decision.”

Regina stayed quiet for a moment. “I didn’t get the impression that they had hostile intentions,” she finally said. She’d tried to pay a bit more attention to her psychic senses this time, although she probably needed a lot more practice with them. “I’ll just keep them here for today and tomorrow, talk to them again, and then decide,” she decided. “But I’m leaning towards taking them with us, limiting their movements and keeping them under watch. But we do want them to form positive impressions of us.”

Janis nodded. “Makes sense,” she said. “Now that they’ve met other people, can I head back to the mountains? It’s probably arrogant, but I’d feel better if I’m personally there to deal with the elementals.”

“Alright, that’s probably a good point,” Regina agreed. “Take Thor or whichever Mount you prefer, and don’t forget to check in with Tim.”

“Of course, Your Majesty.” Janis grinned and gave an elaborate, twirly bow, before she headed off.

Regina looked after her and frowned to herself. Maybe claiming that title had not been such a smart move.

Then she shook the thought off and headed back. She needed Neralt to fortify the nearby castle so that side was covered, then see what he could do about the edge of their territory facing Cernlia.

And there was still Earl Whitor. She hadn’t heard anything from him in a while, but it might be worth trying to see if they could come to some sort of agreement. She might have to kick the king’s soldiers out of his county for him; but that wouldn’t be a bad first goal for this ‘campaign’, anyway, since it would secure their northern flank.

Regina decided to give their new ‘guests’ some space and instead moved through the village, looking around. Once she emerged on the other side, she rose into the air and headed to the castle. Max was still keeping an eye on the humans, but she had quite a few Winged Drones circling above. Via also left to take to the air and catch up, something Regina didn’t tell her to do, but she didn’t stop her either.

Fort Forest’s Watch hadn’t changed much since she’d first seen it, although it had undergone some repairs. Now that she had confirmation the gnomes had artillery, not to mention flying combatants, she wasn’t sure how effective a defense it would really be. Regina made a mental note to talk to Tia about ways to deepen its fortifications. And maybe add some bunkers, or at least some overhead cover for the entire place.

Regina flew another circle over the castle before she landed on top of the wall, near the gate. The drones stationed there gave her a comfortable berth, but didn’t otherwise let her interrupt them. The humans, men-at-arms in Neralt’s employ, reacted more strongly, staring and whispering to each other. Regina gave them a smile and a gracious nod, but didn’t come to talk to any of them, and they seemed to get the message and didn’t approach her.

She started wandering around the battlements, examining the walls and the rest of the castle. It wasn’t really necessary to be here in person, but since she was in the area anyway, she didn’t see why she shouldn’t. At the same time, Regina kept half an ear mentally tuned in to the conversation happening in Neralt’s house through her drones. She didn’t learn anything really important, which could be because Florance and June knew people might be listening. Probably more likely they just didn’t have any big, important secrets to discuss, though.

Regina also checked in with Ray. He’d settled in pretty well as the hive’s semi-permanent ambassador to the elves, and he’d been invaluable in coordinating with them. Now he had the probably unenviable task of explaining Regina’s new agreement with Marquis Lyns and the rest of it to them. From what he’d told her before, and what she could sense from him now, the elves weren’t very happy about it. Which probably figures since they see the Cernlians as an enemy, and want us under their influence, Regina reflected. Well, tough luck.

She probably should make room in her busy schedule for a visit to Ariedel. At least if she could make sure that the gnomes, and now the Cernlians, weren’t going to be able to attack her on the way. It would probably be good to talk about this in person. Failing that, maybe she could get them some sort of gift to reassure the elves that she wasn’t ditching them? Isn’t that kindergarten-level diplomacy? Regina groaned softly and rubbed her eyes. I wish I could say that made it wrong or a bad idea.

Regina paused and cocked her head. Someone was calling for her attention. After a moment, she realized that it was Ace. She focused on him, and found that he seemed concerned, or at least disconcerted by something.

My Queen, he said. We just got a message from the Cernlian king.

Regina blinked in surprise. We did?

A magical bird summon of some kind brought it to the same village where we usually get letters from the marquis, he explained. One of our Scouts, Ani, saw it arrive and let me know.

Regina’s frown eased as she looked at the image he sent. It was a letter envelope made of parchment, held closed by a wax seal, what she recognized as the royal seal of Cernlia (it had some kind of weird tree in the center). Lyns hadn’t dared to actually use that symbol yet, so it had to be the king.

Alright, she decided. I’ll send a drone to pick it up. Thank you.

Luckily, she had quite a few Winged Drones in the area. After a moment of thought, she contacted Gale, who was a bit further away but still relatively close. She’d rather trust an important missive to a sapient drone. He acknowledged her instructions and hurried to the village. It would take him a bit of time until he picked the message up and flew it to her, but Regina decided to stay in the castle. She didn’t know if she wanted her new guests to see this.

A while later, Gale landed on a tower in the castle. Regina stepped up to him and gave him a quick scratch behind the wings as she took the envelope, feeling his pleasure at the sensation.

I hope this isn’t more bad news, he said.

Probably just bluster and empty threats, Regina answered absently, already opening the letter.

She quickly turned it around and made sure there was nothing else in the envelope, then read it.

To the being calling herself ‘Hive Queen Regina’, greetings,

It has come to our attention that not only are you unlawfully occupying Cernlian land, but you have also engaged in clandestine meetings with the traitor Lyns and his cadre of oathbreakers. We are aware that you have promised him support for the war he is treasonously waging against his own proper liege and nation out of petty ambition.

We earnestly urge you to desist from all such activities. Should you comply, you may receive mercy. Should you, however, persist in aiding these renegades, rest assured you will be called to account. Should you join them in raising hands, or whatever appendages your people may possess, against our sovereign nation, we will treat you as not simply enemies to be defeated but danger to be eradicated.

As a sign of His Majesty’s goodwill, be assured that we will protect you from any backlash the traitor Lyns might attempt to visit upon you in his rage. Simply send word to any border settlement in lands that remain loyal, and it will be passed on.

With the hope that reason may prevail,

Archmage Zephyr, on behalf and in the name of His Majesty, Nicholas the Third, by the grace of the gods king of Cernlia, duke of Heathland, duke of Silver Waters, Lord of the Eastern Expanse

Regina snorted softly to herself as she folded up the letter and returned it to the envelope.

“I was right,” she told Gale, who’d stayed and watched out of curiosity. “It was mostly threats. A few empty promises as well.” Even if I thought he was telling the truth about protecting me from Lyns if I turned on him — as if I needed that — how would that even work? And it doesn’t take a diplomat to see they’re not terribly eager to offer me ‘mercy’ and become the best of friends.

“No wonder,” Gale replied. His voice sounded a bit scratchy, since even sapient Swarm Drones weren’t very well-suited to talking, although he was definitely capable of it.

“It does mean he knew about this meeting relatively quickly,” Regina mused, mostly thinking out loud. She sighed. “That implies they’ve got a spy in the marquis’ camp.”

Regina pulled a face. She wasn’t very surprised at the thought that one of Lnys’ nobles might be betraying him. Probably making deals to save his own hide behind his back. Although it could also be a knight or a servant in a position with some access.

“Well, on the bright side, my Queen,” Gale said and grinned mentally, “at least they don’t have a spy in the Hive!”

Regina snorted, but felt her lips tugging upward into a smile despite herself. “Yeah.” Along with all of the other benefits it offered, their hive structure and psychic link was great for information security.

Although she should probably check that no one in the human villages in their territory could send messages to the enemy, even if they wouldn’t be able to tell them much, just to be safe.



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About the author


Bio: A reader and writer, mostly of science fiction and fantasy. I'm currently trying my hand at writing web serials, though I've finished several novels offline. English isn't my first language, please point out any mistakes you see.

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