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There Will Be Dragons: Chapter Five

       Last updated: Wednesday, July 2, 2003 00:39 EDT



    When Edmund came through the front door of his house…



    …he was more than a little surprised to see Sheida Ghorbani lounging in his chair, a goblet of wine in her hand while her lizard was perched on the table snacking on a mouse.

    “Make yourself right at home, why don’t you?” he asked, shaking off his cape and hanging it up. After stamping a bit he took off his boots. These were right/left fitted with a good sole and oiled leather; he wasn’t so into period that he was willing to wear the rotten footwear available in even the high middle ages. Once he had them sort of cleaned he set them outside the door on the portico; they were coated nearly knee-high in mud.

    “Anyone else would simply translate from the inn to their door,” Sheida said, taking a sip. “Or all the way into the house. Only our Edmund would stomp through the mud. Nice vintage by the way.”

    “I’m not ‘our Edmund’,” Edmund replied, walking over to the matching chair and throwing another log on the fire. Fireplaces were inefficient methods of heating a room as large as the front hall and he’d often considered breaking down and putting in a pot-belly stove. But that was too out of period for his tastes. So he put up with having to spend half the winter in front of the fireplace. “Charley sent it up from down-valley; he’s finally replicated some of the root-stock from the Merovingian period. It’s not nearly as undrinkable as most people thought.” He sat down and stuck his feet up in front of the fire. “So to what do I owe the pleasure and privilege of a visit from a Council member? You realize, of course, that that ‘our Edmund’ sounded uncomfortably like a royal ‘We.’”

    “Come on, Edmund, it’s Sheida,” she said bitterly, stroking the lizard as it downed the last of the mouse. “Remember? Sister of some red-head named Daneh? Sister you were dating first?”

    Edmund smiled without looking at her and summoned a glass of wine for himself. “That was a long time ago, wasn’t it?”

    “It wasn’t me who disappeared for twenty five years,” she replied, taking another sip and twisting a strand of hair around her finger.

    “No, it wasn’t. I still don’t know why you dropped in.”

    “We… the council… I have a problem,” she said.

    “And you came to an old recreationist, a, what was the phrase, ‘a man so stuck in the past his Latin name has ‘saurus’ in it’, for help?” he asked.

    “Yes, Edmund, I’ve come to you.” She stopped for a moment indecisively then went on. “I came to you for a few reasons. One of them is that you’re so steeped in the past that you understand it, and the… problem I’ve uncovered hasn’t been faced for nearly two thousand years. I also came to you because you’re a good strategist, as good a one as I know. Last but not least, I came to you because… you’re my friend. You’re family. I trust you.”

    “Thank you,” he said, looking into the fire. “I had begun… I’ve been wondering lately if anyone even remembered I existed.”

    “We all remember,” Sheida said. “You’re quite hard to forget. Also hard to live with, but that is another matter.

    “I have to ask for your word that you won’t mention any of this to anyone. It’s… I’m not sure that what I think is going on is reality. I might just be going paranoid in my old age…”

    “There’s nothing wrong with paranoia,” Edmund said with a shrug. “It’s when you can’t separate reality from fantasy that’s the problem.”

    “Well, I wish this were fantasy,” she sighed. “Do you know Paul Bowman?”

    “I know of him,” Edmund said, shifting to look at her. “I don’t think we’ve ever met if that’s what you mean.”

    “I think Paul is planning a… well, the only correct term appears to be ‘coup.’”




    Rachel had met Donna Forsceen through Marguerite and cordially detested her. The girl thought about nothing but the newest fashion and looked like a young boy from all the sculpting. So she only exchanged a few words and then moved on to the buffet. She looked at it and groaned. There were two types of food available, the usual heavily spiced, and extremely hot, food that was all the rage and an array of chocolate confections. She didn’t like the current trend towards “how hot can we make it” and simply grazing off the chocolate would probably put ten pounds on her, all in the wrong places. As soon as she was eighteen she was going to be sculpted down to a toothpick, whatever her mother thought, and have it locked in.

    “Rachel! Rachel Ghorbani! What do you think?”

    The voice was high and squeaky and emanated from a unicorn about the size of a large pony. Rachel, picked up a strip of protein flavored somewhat like pork, Rachel immediately flashed back to one time when her father made her eat opossum, and regarded the creature with puzzlement. The unicorn was a brilliant white, of course, she’d rarely seen much imagination in the unicorn look, had golden hooves and horn and bright blue eyes.

    “Very, uhmmm… ” she paused. “Barb, is that you?”

    “Yes! Do you like it?”

    Barb Branson hadn’t been the brightest brick in the load before she started off on Change after Change. Normally there was no real threat to personality or intelligence integration in Changes. But in Barb’s case, “normally” didn’t seem to be working out; Rachel was sure she was getting dumber with each Change.

    “Very nice, Barb,” Rachel replied. “Very… very unicornish.”

    “That’s because I’m a unicorn, silly!” the girl trilled, spinning in place. “I love it! Ooo, there’s Donna! She’ll go spar!”

    “I’m sure she will,” Rachel replied, heaving a sigh. “I swear, even when I can change I’m not going to get that addlepated.”

    Finally she loaded a float-plate with some grilled protein, the same one that tasted she swore exactly like opossum, and looked around to see if anyone had arrived that was worth talking with.

    The elf was still surrounded by a huge group of people, all hanging on his ever sibilant word, and there was a wall of mostly male bodies around the dragon, who in human form was on the far side of gorgeous even if her body was a bit on the busty side as well. She got as close to the elf as she could, without being rude, hoping he would notice her and maybe call her forward. When that didn’t work she stood at the back of the group and tried to listen to the questioning at the center. Unfortunately, the conversations on the periphery blotted it out and she couldn’t even Cast to the center because of the privacy shields so many of the people had up; the technique effectively created a pool of privacy around the centerpiece so that only those in the first circle or so could hear what he was saying.

    “Rachel, there’s someone I’d like you to meet,” Herzer whispered in her ear.

    She stifled a sigh and looked around. Then up. Then up some more. She had seen some large humans and humanoids before but the person he was with was very physically imposing. He was about two and half meters tall and broad in proportion. Herzer was not small, but next to this person he seemed slight. He also had dark skin, black really and not melanine black but some other additive that made it look black as midnight. When she finally stepped backwards for a good look she noticed some slight elven enhancements and wondered at them. Because of the Net ban on full elven upgrade, elven enhancements were generally frowned upon, especially by the Elves. Adding an elven look was… impolite. The thought came that she knew who she was looking at just as Herzer introduced them.

    “Rachel this is…”

    “You’d be Dionys McCanoc , wouldn’t you?” she asked with a nod. “Protein strip?”

    “Indeed.” His voice was mellifluous and if you didn’t keep your wits about you you’d drown in it. But Rachel for some strange reason, found herself mildly repulsed instead. It was just too much. The size, the sardonic elvish and not elvish face, the voice set to charm the skin off a mink. When he took her hand he kissed it and drew his thumb across the inside as he withdrew, sending a shiver through her body but leaving her emotionally even more determined to resist the charm onslaught.

    “And you are the beauteous daughter of Edmund Talbot and the fair Daneh Ghorbani. I know your mother of old.” He had moved forward to take her hand, crowding her personal space again and making her have to crane her neck to look up. But she refused to back up again. He could damn well hit her shields first. There was a slight emphasis, somewhat embarrassing, on the “know”. Or it would be embarrassing if Rachel hadn’t heard her mother’s comments about McCanoc.

    Daneh had gotten out of the Re-enactor movement, but it didn’t mean she didn’t keep up with some of the politics. And she had much the same opinion of McCanoc that Edmund did. Rachel was sure that if she was here she’d have an even lower one. On the other hand, Rachel was pretty sure mother had never met McCanoc, so that was one flat lie she’d caught him in.

    “I am sure you know my mother and father, they are well known in the Re-enactor movement. As are you, Dionys,” she said with a simpering smile. No reason to incur his wrath herself and a lie for a lie. “Whatever brings you here? I would think such a… simple affair would not be to your tastes.”

    “Oh, Marguerite’s mother and I have some dealings, you know,” he said.

    “And when I was invited I was delighted to find that Herzer and Marguerite were friends. Now we’re all friends together,” he added, making an expansive gesture.

    It was only then that Rachel noticed the group with him. She couldn’t determine what it was about the group of five that hovered at his back but she couldn’t find a thing to recommend them. One of them looked at her and positively leered.

    Just like McCanoc to somehow round up a group of total losses. But what in the hell were he and Herzer doing hanging out? She felt a flash of irritation and distress and put it down to having big sisterly feelings for the boy. Until recently he’d had almost no social life at all.

    “So how do you know Herzer?” she asked, looking around at the gathering and ignoring his crowding. She snorted as a faint blue luminance appeared in the air between them as he leaned forward. “And you seem to be encroaching on my space, Dionys. That is most inconsiderate.” She took a surreptitious breath, feeling security in the shield. He was trying to intimidate her, but she had been intimidated by the best of them and even his size was not going to throw her off.

    “So sorry,” he said in his deep, lilting voice again. “Surely we don’t need shields between us?”

    “But, lah, sir, we have hardly met,” she simpered again, fluttering the elaborate fan that had come with the outfit. She now wished she’d worn something more suitable for running. Or fighting.

    “Herzer is a recent acquaintance,” Dionys said, giving the boy a clout on the shoulder. It looked like a friendly hit, but it still staggered Herzer. And there was very little friendliness in McCanoc ’s eye.

    “I met him at a Re-enactor meeting,” Herzer said with a grin. “Do you know that he was nearly the King of Avalonia!”

    “And I would have been, were it not for the judges,” Dionys said darkly.

    “Yes, I’m familiar with your… rise in the ranks,” Rachel said, trying not to let any humor enter into her voice. She had heard enough about McCanoc to know how viciously vindictive he could be. She had no interest in starting a war, it just wasn’t worth the effort it would take.

    He regarded her for a moment trying to discern if there was anything to that simple statement. “Are you part of the Re-enactor movement?” the giant finally said.

    “Oh, you know,” Rachel dissembled. “Dad was forever dragging me off to those things. It wasn’t really my sort of thing and once I could put my foot down I quit going. Some people love it and more power to them. But all that dressing up in tabards and bell-bottoms… not me.”

    “But that’s a re-enactor outfit,” Herzer said. “Manchu Dynasty, right? And you used to love to study history.”

    “Well, study,” Rachel said with an honest chuckle. “Not live. And the period Nazis are the worst. I mean, the ones that go around with their clothes washed in urine, or not washed at all. Trying to replicate the ‘authentic life of the period.’ I mean, why?” She almost started as she drew what was apparently a real chuckle out of McCanoc.

    “Good point. But they were good times, times for the strong.” He grinned tightly and shook his head. “Not like these fallen times.”

    “For the strong?” Rachel said with a grimace and a chuckle. “I suppose. But if being ‘strong’ means fighting a battle while dealing with dysentery, I’ll take these ‘fallen’ times.”

    “Well…” Herzer said just as a languid hand brushed him to the side.

    “What in the Seven Hells are you doing here, McCanoc ,” the elf said.

    “Why, Gothoriel, why ever shouldn’t I be?” McCanoc replied with a thin smile. “Friends and acquaintances, don’t you know. Yourself, of course, included.”

    “Because you were instructed to remain at least one hundred meters from any of the Eldar,” the elf said, ignoring the jibe. “I note, also, that you have made further adjustments towards the Eldar. They shall not be permitted.”

    “I can change myself as I choose,” McCanoc suddenly shouted, the voice echoing across the square, caught in one of those odd moments of silence. “Stay out of my genes.”

    “Not using Eldar Changes,” Gothoriel said mildly. “You know the law. You of all people should remember the Law.”

    McCanoc breathed deeply through his nose for a moment and then spat on the ground in front of the elf. The spittle flicked off of the shield just short of his feet. “Fisk you.”

    “I tire of this. The Council will be informed of your further transgressions. For now, you have two choices. You can be leave or be banished.”

    “I have as much right,” McCanoc started to say as Gothoriel raised his hand.

    “Begone,” the elf snapped then snorted in satisfaction as the air in front of him was suddenly vacant. “Like the demon you so wish to be…” he added so softly that Rachel was sure that only she had heard.

    He turned to the five that had arrived with McCanoc and shook his head. “Begone as well. You have no purpose here.”

    He turned to Herzer and frowned, the first expression that had crossed his face.

    “You arrived with him?” the elf asked then shook his head. “No, separate. Are you with him?”

    “He’s with me,” Rachel interjected hurriedly, not sure why she did.

    “Rachel Talbot,” the elf said to her, bowing deeply. “It is good to see the Talbots are growing and thriving. A fine family, one that I have watched, and sometimes watched after for these many generations. What were you doing talking to that… filth.”

    “Trying to figure out how to break away, frankly,” she said with a sigh. “Thank you for interjecting.”

    “What is wrong…?” Herzer started to say.

    “Later, Herzer dear,” Rachel said, pinching him. “I didn’t quite catch your name Lord Eldar. And I forgot to welcome you, ethulia Eldar, cathane,” she said, crossing her hands on her chest and bowing slightly.

    “Ethul, milady,” the elf replied, bowing again in return. “I am Gothoriel, Rider of the Eastern Reach. I have known your father for much of his life. Your lady mother less. She is, however, a fine woman. And a splendid healer.”

    “Thank you, milord,” Rachel said, curtseying deeply. She was glad she’d decided to bring robes. “May you spend as many years in Dream as the most ancient trees and pass to the West in peace. And skip the purple protein strips.”

    “Too late,” the elf said with a small smile. “Do you know what…?”

    “Yes, I wasn’t sure at first but after the second try it was distinctive. I wonder whose idea it was?”

    “Are you going to introduce me to your friend, Rachel?” Marguerite said from behind her. Rachel could tell from the tart tone that she was pissed.

    “Marguerite,” Rachel said, turning with a smile and getting her first good look at her friend since her Change. Marguerite had taken her normal form except for the slight translucence that was mandated of fully nannite entities. She could, of course, change form at will, but she seemed to prefer her baseline look for the time being.

    “This is Gothoriel, Rider of the Eastern Reach. That means he’s something like an ambassador to the people who live in eastern Norau.”

    “Hi Gotho… Goth…”

    “Gothoriel,” the elf said, bending to take her insubstantial hand and kiss it.

    He lifted it to his lips as if it were flesh and blood.

    “That was… how did you do that?” Marguerite gasped.

    “The Eldar are different in more than simple appearance,” the elf replied with a slight sigh. “We have some dominion over the world that intersects with the Real and the Unreal. And now that you, too, have joined us in Faerie, you will have the opportunity to join us in Dream.”

    “Oh,” Marguerite said, clearly unsure what he had just said. She turned to Rachel and waved her arms. “Rach! Isn’t it great!”

    “Wonderful,” Rachel replied, smiling and hoping her friend wouldn’t notice her disquiet. “But you didn’t tell me about it!”

    “Oh, mom and dad cooked this all up,” Marguerite said, gesturing around and at her semi-transparent body. “It was, like, a total surprise!”


    “And they’re planning a separation ceremony for next month. They’re going to give me my Independence certification and do a contract dissolution at the same time. Mom wants to go be Mer for a while. Dad doesn’t know what he’s going to do.”

    “What are you going to do?” Rachel asked, trying to absorb that her friend was going to be declared an independent adult when she, Rachel, still had at least two years to go. It just wasn’t fair!

    “Have fun, what else?” Marguerite said. “Rach, I’ve got to circulate some more, we’ll talk later? Hi Herzer, bye Herzer.”

    “Sure, any time,” Rachel said as she wandered off. She looked around and realized that Marguerite wasn’t the only one that was wandering off. Gothoriel had disappeared as well. Entirely, as if he’d ported or discorporated.

    But Herzer was still there. Of course.

    “Wow, that was intense,” Herzer said, letting out a breath.

    “I thought you and Marguerite got along better than a hi and bye?” Rachel said.

    “She started to get… less friendly when my illness got really advanced,” Herzer said, a muscle working in his chin. “Most people got more distant when it got bad,” he continued, looking down at her.

    Rachel nodded her head and looked at the ground. “I know, that includes me. It was just… too weird. I couldn’t handle it. And for that I’m sorry.”

    “Try living it,” Herzer said with a sigh and no sign of forgiving her. “At least I have friends again. It’s been a long time.”

    “You talking about McCanoc?” Rachel asked warily.

    “Yes,” Herzer said. “He’s been a true friend to me, even when I was sick. Oh, he can be… sarcastic at times…”

    Rachel thought that there was probably more than simple sarcasm behind that quiet statement. From what she knew about McCanoc, he would have great fun with a crippled, emotionally wounded young man around. Every twitch, trip or limp would elicit a sardonic look or a snigger from one of his lackeys.

    “Herzer,” she said, not sure how to proceed. “You know, there are a lot of people who don’t… care for Dionys.”

    “I know,” Herzer said in reply. “He told me about it. There are always people that just want to keep the status quo and don’t want true genius upsetting the routine. All those stupid kings of this and barons of that, none of them were ready for the true revolution that Dionys represents! Do you know what his ultimate plan is?”

    “No,” Rachel said, “but…”

    “He wants to become King of Anarchia! He intends to raise an army among those in this world and train them to take over Anarchia. That way he can rule it in peace and plenty, as Charles the Hammer did nearly a century ago. But he won’t abandon the people back into anarchy!”

    “Herzer,” Rachel said, shaking his arm. “Listen to me. It’s not that he is a revolutionary. That’s not why people don’t like him. It’s because he’s an evil, bullying son of a bitch! And if you want to get on my Dad’s side, you’d better forget you ever heard of Dionys McCanoc!”

    “That’s bullshit, Rachel,” Herzer said, setting his jaw. “Sure, he can be a bit sharp from time to time, but he’s a genius. And a visionary! People like that always tend to be a bit snappish. And it’s always considered to be rude until after they’re dead and then they are recognized for their genius. That’s all that’s going on.”


    “You’re just trying to separate me from friends that accepted me when you threw me out!” Herzer snarled, warming to the subject. “These people didn’t turn back my calls or send messages giving me excuses why they couldn’t come over! They like me. They liked me when I was sick!”

    “So they could have a cripple around to torment!” Rachel nearly shouted. “McCanoc is evil, Herzer. He may act like your friend, but he just wants you for something.”

    “That’s it, I’m not listening to any more,” Herzer said. “You can think what you want. You’ll see!”

    “I’m afraid I will,” Rachel said softly as he strode away. “Genie, let’s go home.”




    Define ‘coup’ in this case,” Edmund said seriously.

    Sheida took some time explaining Paul’s position and plans. At the end of the explanation she shrugged and picked up her lizard, twining it around her neck.

    “He is… unpersuasible. He has decided that it is his life’s work to return the world to a condition of…growth. Both population growth and growth in thought and deed.”

    “And you think that’s he’s going to do…what?” Talbot said, taking a sip of wine. He half wished that it were water instead, this was definitely going to need a clear head.

    “I think that he intends to try to seize the Keys. At least enough to give him a voting block that is unbeatable. Then he’ll implement his Plan. And, yes, there’s a capital there.”

    “What fun,” Talbot said with a grimace. “The Keys are still under that archaic ‘finder’s keepers’ rule?”

    “Unfortunately. Whoever holds the Key, votes the Key. That’s locked in to the kernel coding of Mother.”

    “But you’re all protected by personal protection fields,” Talbot said. “So…how does he take the Keys away?”

    “The PPFs were implemented with a very small majority,” Sheida said worriedly.

    “If he has the Demon voting with him he can turn them off.”

    “But can’t he do that at any time?” Edmund asked. “I mean, they could already be off.”

    “Can’t, has to be an official council vote. And all persons voting have to be present. Those protocols are not quite hard-wired, but strong enough that he can’t overcome them without a nearly full council. Unless the Council is officially in dispute. And we’re not. Yet.”

    “And are you telling me there are no assassination protocols in place?”

    “Timing Edmund, timing,” she sighed. “The personal protection technologies came about when there were still physical threats, and secondary defenses. But in time things became so…safe, so placid that the other defenses were removed as unnecessary and even…uncomfortable. And there used to be checks and balances, governments and police forces that were independent of the Council and the Net who could overcome such a threat; if the Council ever tried to assert real and direct authority when, say, the IU was still around, it would get slapped down fast enough.”

    “I sort of stopped paying attention to history when the last B-4 was decommissioned,” Edmund said with a laugh. “It was the official end, wasn’t it.”

    “Well, we might be ready to restart it. But, I mean, we’re all there is left of government. Most people don’t realize how impossible that is, historically, but you do! God knows we’ve had enough rows about it.”

    “I know,” Edmund said, his jaw flexing. “A bunch of self appointed dictators. I’ve never been happy with it. But I didn’t realize that the margin of security was so thin. That’s insane!”

    “No one has tried to…there have been no conflicts, Edmund,” she sighed. “We’re all so smug and happy and warm and cozy that there’s no threat. Oh, yes, at a personal level there are still threats. People have fights. But that gets resolved with the fields. Or two people agree to drop them. But that sort of thing is for…children, either physically or mentally. We don’t have physical fights at the level of the Council and have not since…well there used to be guards and…weapons and…things…”

    “Christ,” Edmund sighed. “So you think that Paul is going to try to, what, kill you? Then take your key and give it to someone else to vote? He’ll have to have people ready to take the Keys and vote them, right? He can’t vote them himself.”

    “One person, one vote, no influence,” Sheida said. “Yes, Mother would know if they were being controlled and simply count it as a non-vote.”

    “So is dropping the PPFs the only way that he could attack you? What about outside the Council area? What about…I don’t know…assassinating you right now?”

    “We’re…being careful,” Sheida said. “Let’s just say that Paul doesn’t know where I am at any time, including right now.”

    “There are ways, Sheida,” Edmund said, gesturing around. “Even for a Council member. There’s more than just the Net. And you know that even the Council doesn’t have full control of it. Only Mother does.” Sheida smiled and shrugged, chuckling. “Edmund, we’re both old. And I hope, to an extent, wise. I have protectors.”

    Edmund paused and raised an eyebrow then shrugged in agreement. “Don’t we all.” He took a sip of his wine and swished it around, looking at the ceiling. “In a way I almost agree with Paul.”

    “Surely not,” Sheida said, eyeing him carefully.

    “Well, not the method,” Talbot added with a grimace. “But we are lotus eaters. And even waiting until the gene pool gets down to only women who are programmed to want babies won’t help that. But I have to admit that his method truly sucks so many ways I don’t think even you have worked it all out.”

    “It’s bad, but how bad?”

    “Well, damn,” he thought about that for a moment composing his thoughts. “Okay, increasing population growth ‘naturally’ requires all sorts of factors. First of all, you have to have natural child-birth and no contraception.”

    “Ugh,” Sheida said, looking down. “I don’t think so!”

    “Furthermore, you have to have women that are more or less ‘owned’ by males, otherwise after the first one or two the majority of women decide they don’t want to do that again!”

    “What about societal conditioning?” Sheida asked. “Taking the devil’s advocate position.”

    “Generally requires religion for widespread utility,” Paul said, shrugging.

    “But the point is that the technological and economic conditions for population growth are contrary to technological development. There are occasional times in history where that has been violated, for a generation or so, but over the course of history, over the growth period that Paul is talking about, then you’re talking about a society that has to be in pre-industrial conditions. And that means that there can’t be technological development.”

    “Special groups?” Sheida asked.

    “Most real advancements grow from…an environment that supports development. If all you have is serfs and a few technology wizards then the technology wizards are working in a research vacuum. So Paul can have technological development or population growth. But in a post-industrial, post-information society, you very rarely get both.” He paused and looked thoughtful but then shook his head.

    “There has been exactly one society historically that has combined both over more than a generation. And it was an…enormously odd unlikelihood that would be impossible to recreate under these conditions.”

    “Let me be clear about this,” Sheida said carefully. “You are on my side.”

    “Oh, yes,” Edmund said. “If Paul’s planning on creating a centralized planning situation and forcing people into molds, he has to be stopped. He has no idea what that means. Not really.”

    “So what do we do?” she asked. “Edmund, you’re just about the only real expert in warfare left on Earth.”

    “Nah, just the only one you trust,” the smith replied. “I don’t know the conditions. Weapons?”

    “No, none, no blades anyway,” she added thoughtfully. “No projectile weapons, explosives won’t work under the protocols anyway.”

    “If they’re planning a physical attack on you at the council meeting there has to be a way to hurt you,” he pointed out. “Is Paul trained in hand to hand combat? Killing a person hand to hand is difficult.”

    “No, and we have Ungphakorn and Cantor on our side,” Sheida pointed out. “I’d take Cantor over Chansa in a fight any day.”


    “The Council Chamber is sealed to entry for any but members without permission. And no porting is permitted, in or out. They cannot call for reinforcements. But, nor can we.”


    “Transmission method?” she asked. “They cannot bring projectors in, our own fields would soon detect contact or aerial poisons and no harmful species are permitted in the room.”

    “Poison is subtle,” Edmund pointed out. “There are binary poisons, they could have taken an antidote…”

    “Well, I won’t drink anything if they ask,” she said with a winsome smile.

    “You’re sure of what you think?” the smith asked.

    “I’ve been reading people for a long time,” Sheida said. “Paul is planning something. Something big. Something big enough that he thinks there won’t be anything I can do about it. I can’t imagine what it could be but seizing control of the Council and that would take seizing the keys. My coalition is solid.”

    “Well, I’ll show you a few tricks and there are a few things that you can probably get in the Council Chambers that won’t be considered threatening by Mother,” he said. “Beyond that, there’s not much I can do.”

    “Thank you Edmund,” Sheida said. “Just talking about it has helped. Cantor just gets… very ‘bearish’ and Ungphakorn gets cryptic. You just get logical.”

    “I’ve had more practice,” Talbot replied. “Both at thinking about violence and having people try to kill me. Comes of growing up wanting to be a hero,” he added sadly.

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