5/3/1272 08:30 The Marwbrite Temple, Alsae

“You’ll know them when you see them,” Marwbren says. “They haven’t even been born yet.”

“What am I to do to speed your will, My Goddess?” Tania says as Marwben hovers over her with a leather, multi-tailed whip.”

“Remove the impediments,” Marwbren says. “One will wear the Ring of Empire, one will be my thirteenth occultist. One will be Desmond’s last grandchild. One will make the East Coast of Penamharik bloom, and five others will be Sword Saints, some because they sought it, others because they were called.”

“Where will these youngsters lead me?” Tania asks.

“To your fate,” Marwbren says. “What happens between now and then is yours to imagine.”

“Thank you, My Goddess,” Tania says.

“In return, I grant you absolution for everything between now,” Marwbren grins, “…and…well you’ll know when the absolution runs out.”

Tania inhales on the edge of a final question.It never gets past her lips. Lucidity returns. Tania, stripped to her foundations and sitting in a meditative full lotus, comes down from the hallucinogen given her by the Cardinal of Alsae. She feels purged, whole, absolved. The steps of her plan for the next five years come to her as if some great mental dam had burst. Her chakras balanced and her sins lifted, Tania feels more focused than she has ever felt. She’s so excited, she almost leaves the meditation space without her clothes. She takes a moment to catch her breath, then dresses and storms out into the nave of the temple.

There she sees her Sister Tselenah standing and speaking the Cardinal.Tselenah wears the black widow’s scarf on her head. Tania’s expression hardens as she approaches the conversation.

Tselenah glances at her younger sister almost as an afterthought. Donovan turns.

“You may not kill her in the church,” he says in Arghentian, to a snort from Tselenah. “The Regent says she has a message from your mother.”

“If you’ve come to take my birthright,” she coldly replies to her sister, “Step outside. If you are here to talk, with His Eminence’s approval, we will retire of the confessional booths at the far end of the temple for a moment of privacy. Consider your words carefully, Your Regency.”

“Well, well, well, if it isn’t mother’s favorite little traitor. Are you taller, or have you lost weight?” Tselenah says, ignoring her sister’s threats.

“Both,” Tania replies. “I read about Basilio. I am sorry for your loss, sister.”

“Because you liked him, or because I’m now back on top of the succession chart?” Tselenah says, her face calm and expressionless.

“Think what you like, my words won’t change your mind,” Tania replies. “If you please, Your Regency?”

Tselenah curstsies to the Cardinal in the modern style, as opposed to Tania’s traditional greting. “By your leave, Your Eminence.” She sashays across the nave to the two confessional booths on the end of the long row lining the west wall. Tselenah slips into the parishioner’s side.Tania slips into the priest’s booth.

“Forgive me, sister,” Tselenah snorts. “For I have sinned.” She laughs at her own wittism. Tania does not share in the mirth.

“How long has it been since your last confession, Your Regency?” Tania jabs.

“Never,” Tselenah mocks. “I’m not some archbishop’s harlot, unlike some I know.”

“I last sought absolution this morning,” Tania says. “It was clarifying.”

“Good for you, Marwbren’s little girl,” Tselenah sneers. “So you read about my husband?”

“I read enough to smell our mother’s hand,” Tania says.

“I never thought you were stupid,” Tselenah says. “Just over-ambitious.”

“I also read about the fleet,” Tania says. “That smelled of your temper.”

“I’d be more careful with your comments,” Tselenah says. “I still have my temper.”

“And a first grade proficiency with rune magic,” Tania replies, a sardonic grin audible in her voice. “I have nothing to fear from you.”

Tselenah slides the royal message under the screen between the booths. “Mother wants you to come home,” she coldly says. “Over my protests, she has installed you in the second slot on the succession chart.”

Tania opens the note.

All is forgiven.

Come home.


Tania chuckles. “An insurance plan, in case she can’t find you a new husband,” she says with wicked mirth.

“Or in case I decide I have no taste for the Crown,” Tselenah says. “But I already control the day-to-day government functions in the palace. You’ll never be Queen of Arghentia.”

Tania sighs. “You’re right,” she says. “It’s too small.”

Tselenah lets out a belly laugh. “Oh, really?”

“I have plans of my own,” Tania says.

“You are still the Duchess of Sáerglen,” Tselenah says. “And still a subject of the Arghentian Monarchy. You should content yourself with the crumbs.”

“I ruled Sáerglen from Queen’s Convent. What difference does it make if I rule it from here?” Tania says.

“I can’t watch you reliably when you’re here,” Tselenah says.

“That’s to my disadvantage how?” Tania says with a smile.

“And what if mother wants to arrange a marriage for you?” Tselenah ask.

“Tell her I’m already being courted by the future Duke of Alsae,” Tania says with a bedroom husk. “Who is handsome, gifted, and tireless in addition to being a Templar.”

“Is he a simpleton?” Tselenah mockingly replies.

“He’s intelligent enough to court me,” Tania says. “And not you.”

“Then may all the Gods help him,” Tselenah dismissively replies. “He’ll need it.”

“This is tiresome,” Tania says. “Mother wants me back, but I’ve learned to like living among the great unwashed.”

“It suits you,” Tselenah says with a condescending sneer.

“You don’t know the joys of a blank canvas,” Tania says. “You prefer to be spoonfed. I understand. Perhaps next time, you won’t slap the hand holding the spoon.”

“It’s preferable to living where people still stab their dinner at the table,” Tselenah says.

“I have terms,” Tania says.

“This should be rich,” Tselenah replies.

“Clemency will be granted for all past crimes. My vassals, those few brave souls who accompanied me from Queen’s Convent, will also be granted clemency,” Tania declares. “Their ancestral stipends will be restored. I will issue them land grants on this continent, away from your spies and and your generals. They will have the right to return to Arghentia unharassed.”

“They’re traitors, like you,” Tselenah replies.

“I’m not negotiating with you, Your Regency,” Tania sneers. “I’m negotiating with the woman you represent.”

Tselenah cruelly laughs. “Oh, I see! Then by all means let me write this down.”She rustles papers and pulls out a pen. “Traitors including my sister will all receive clemency and right of return. All titles and lands of these enemies of the Crown will be restored, along with all the privileges of citizenship,” she says at the pace she writes. “What next? The Matriarchy of Amburos becomes your second duchy?”

“Why not? You’re too lazy to take it,” Tania says.

“What do I need with it?” Tselenah says. “I’m the regent of Arghentia.”

“With no navy and a dubious diplomatic achieivement,” Tania says. “Willful and disobedient, it will difficult for mother to find anyone willing to tolerate you, crown or not. Ariard has no sons. And you’ve made some powerful enemies both at home and abroard.”

“While you’ve already made some powerful friends just by your petty act of rebellion,” Tselenah harshly replies. “They worked on your behalf, thwarting the desires of the Crown.”

“Tell me who they are that I may thank them,” Tania jabs. “Though I lack the context under which that decision was made, it screams you. Mother would have been much more prudent.”

“Fuck you, Sáerglen,” Tselenah snarls. “What else do you demand of mother?”

“I will rule Sáerglen from my home on this continent,” Tania says. “The taxes of my vassals will go to me, and I will pay some percentage of those taxes to the coffers of Arghetnia. My crescent, not the royal one, will fly above my lands, and be worn by my people.”

“You’ll wear the arms of Sáerglen yourself,” Tselenah says. “Your obligations will be the same as they were when you resided IN the country. You will return to Arghentia annually to renew your fealty.”

“I’ll send an ambassador,” Tania says.

“You will be the ambassador,” Tselenah growls. “Mother may cotton to the return of the traitors, but I run Arghentia, and I say it’s you or the deal’s off.”

“Fine,” Tania snaps.

“Any other outrageous demands?” Tselenah says.

“The Crown of Arghentia will immediately cease hunting and hounding us,” Tania says. “You will call off your assassins and spies. In return, I will cease hostile operations against the Regency, and if you tell me who you think my friends are, I will ask them to cease hostile operations as well.”

“You know where you are, and you know who thinks she owns Pamhia and Alsae,” Tselenah coldly replies. “I retain the right to gather intelligence on your operations in Penamharik and decide for myself whether they constitute hosility towards the monarchy.”

“I retain the right to gather intelligence on the monarchy,” Tania replies, “and decide whether their agents and actions are hostile towards my person and my people. I retain the right to act on those decisions in the manner in which I see fit, without legal recourse or consequence.”

Tselenah gafaws. “Keep dreaming,” she laughs. “You have no intelligence operation. Your faction is comprised of low-born, conservative idiots and people who found it useful to kiss your ass while you were in country. That will fade with time as they realize you’re never coming back, and you’re never going to be queen.”

“The thing you should fear the most, dear sister,” Tania snarls, “is that I have had months with little to do but contemplate my mistakes and how to correct them. And I have a continent on which to experiment and perfect my plans. If I were you, I wouldn’t sleep in the same place twice.”

“Any other demands before I take this back to Mother?” Tselenah asks.

“You will accompany me to the Pan-Imperial and we will unlock the accounts of myself and all my subjects,” she says.

“Now that, I can do,” Tselenah says, rising. “Do you think you can keep from making tedious, impotent threats for the space of four city blocks?” She rises and opens the booth door.

“I thought I was merely making promises, Your Regency,” Tania smiles as she emerges from the booth. “My mistake.”

Tselenah in her black and silver regent’s gown textured with the heir’s collar and the arms of Arghentia, practices her royal strut through the nave of the temple. Beside her to her left, Tania’s colorful new gown in the bright red, blue and gold of Sáerglen ripples in festive contrast to the clothing of the regent.Tania’s steps are measured and elegant, the platonic ideal of the stride her older siter struggles with great concentration to master. The pair emerge from the temple, Tselenah stepping a stride west and hanging behind. Tania steps forward and turns east towards the Pan-Imperial offices.

The hallow point fifty calibre sniper round hits Tania’s magical shield before the shot echos through the busy streets.Tania’s eyes flare as she follows the trajectory and angle of the hovering bullet to a distrant rooftop. She reaches into her pocket and feels the travel rune. Her eyes glow and she directs a hateful stare towards her sister. Tselenah returns the gaze with an innoncense so patently false even she laughs at it. Tania’s rage overclocks the chakras that moderate her magic. She jerks away to the distant rooftop screaming as the power burns through her flesh. The spent bullet drops to the ground.Tselenah stoops and picks it up, then shuffles quickly east towards the bank and general store that is her only refuge in this distant, foreign town.

Tania arrives at the rooftop as the terrified assassin is frantically trying to reload his single shot weapon. Tania’s fingers grasp around in her pocket for something painful, something agonizing. She finds the fire rune.

The magic is even more complicated than the travel rune, focusing elemental powers through several of her already-strained chakras. The quickly-summoned magic sears her lympathic system. She snorts out a spray of burnt-smelling blood from her nose. Her hatred for her sister is a bonfire. Compared to her rage, the painful subcutaneous blistering of the fire rune is a minor annoyance. Or at least the young duchess believes so until she finishes the rushed rune, conducts the power outward and falls to her knees just as the sniper brings the barrel of his weapon up for a second, close range shot.

The magic hits the rifle first, melting the barrel, exploding the round in-chamber, and setting the wooden stock ablaze. These effects are as nothing compared to what the magic does to the victim. His internal organs take less than a second to heat to the temperature of a blast furnace. His eyeballs steam away. His legs last just long enough for him to jump off the edge of the building. Horrified on-lookers see the leap, but passing pedestrians below are only showered by hot, fluttering ashes.

Tania tries to stand, feeling in her pocket for her travel rune. Her body revolts. She gasps and her legs crumple again beneath her. She lies on the rooftop, tears of pain and frustration running from the coners of her eyes to roll into her pale hair. The morning suns beat on her like a farrier’s hammer. She crawls whimpering to the shade of the wall guarding the stairs that allow access to the roof. She hides in that shadow until law enforcement and emergency crews come to carry her to the Marwbrite hospital. By that time, the pain in her ravaged body has put her into shock.

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