Division

A MESSAGE FROM THE SILVER COURT

At approximately 7:12 PM Tuesday evening, the Emperor of the Tavari was attacked in his home by an officer of the Royal Tavari Marshalls.

In the ensuing response, in which both His Esteemed Majesty acted to defend himself and another officer of the Royal Tavari Marshalls acted to neutralise the attacker, the Emperor was shot in the arm and abdomen. The Emperor has undertaken emergency surgery and is now recuperating.

His Esteemed Majesty is projected to make a full recovery.

At this time, and until such time as His Esteemed Majesty is cleared by medical and lawful authorities to return to work, His Most Honourable Imperial Majesty Emperor-Consort Hendrik, Prince of the Vistara and Duke of Koersland, shall be Acting Chief of Nuvo. Under effect of law, the Chief of Nuvo is Lord-Patron of Ilarís, High Chief of the United Tribes of Rodoka and the Isles, King of Tavaris, Chair of the Council of the Tavari Union, and Emperor of the Tavari.

· · ·

This attack will not stand.

All people have the right to self-expression. All people have the right to freedom of conscience. All people have the right to freedom of religion. The notion of attacking anyone for the singing of a hymn is intolerable. The notion of a member of the military attacking the monarch for an action undertaken in the course of an act of legislation raises tremendous concerns and is a cause for immediate, urgent action to ensure that the safety of state officials and institutions is maintained.

An investigation into all personnel employed at the Royal Palace, both civilian and military, has been initiated. A review of protocol across all government bodies associated with state security has also already begun. To ensure the security of the Silver Court during the course of these investigations, responsibility and jurisdiction for the Royal Palace will transition immediately to the Police Department of the City and Province of Nuvrenon. The Nuvrenon Police Department is an agency of civilian professionals who have served and protected the nation’s capital with honour, distinction, and effectiveness since 1993. They will be assisted in this responsibility by officers of the Rodokan National Police and the Public Safety Administration of Greater Ilarís.

Emperor Otan IV will continue his efforts to build bridges and break down walls between this Union’s communities, religious or otherwise. Neither he, nor any Tavari anywhere, will be silenced for standing up peacefully for what they believe. The cause of this Union, the very reason it exists, is to stand up together and declare that Akronists and Avatidari are equal in dignity, equal in freedom, and equal in deserving a society that welcomes and honours their contributions and their presence.

Hate will never win.

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CONTENT WARNING: This post contains a depiction of graphic violence.

The Royal Palace
1 Palace Square
Nuvrenon, Tavaris

6 February 2024
7:04 PM Tavari Mainland Time (UTC -8:00)

“Good evening, Tevri.” The Emperor smiled warmly at the Marshall posted at the door of the state apartments, clad in that elegant, silver-trimmed, midnight purple dress uniform that denoted the Royal Honour Guard of the Royal Tavari Marshalls. The soldier dutifully opened the door as the monarch approached, just as he always did, in a perfect fluid motion so tastefully executed that Otan almost didn’t notice that the Marshall did not reply.

That was unusual.

Still, it wasn’t as though Tevri were required to answer. Otan hadn’t issued him an order. Perhaps Tevri was not actually having a good evening. He was an orc too, after all. Otan didn’t make anything of it.

“Good evening, Mantova.” The Marshall on the other side of the door nodded to him, but she didn’t answer either. She remained standing ramrod straight, jaw firmly shut, eyes looking straight ahead—as if the Emperor were not even there.

“Good evening, Emperor.” At the other end of the room, another Marshall seemed to pick up on the awkwardness. One didn’t typically speak to the Emperor before he spoke to you, and this was a Marshall that Otan didn’t recognize. That wasn’t unusual—duty postings changed all the time—but there was clearly something going on.

“Good evening, soldier.” The Emperor warmly greeted the new Marshall, who was waiting at the door to his bedroom. There were still a few memos Otan wanted to catch up on, so rather than his bedroom, Otan made his way toward his private study. Strangest of all was the fact that there wasn’t a Marshall posted at the door to his study but a black-suited palace valet, a member of the civilian support staff. The Monarch was typically attended to by the Honour Guard in the state apartments, with the civilian staff posted elsewhere in the palace. But the valet, Otan recalled as he got a closer look at him, was one of the ones assigned to the staff of the Shrinemaster of the Royal Shrines. Which was to say, the King Emeritus.

Otan had been hoping this could wait until tomorrow.

“Good evening, father,” Otan called out before even seeing him. Leave it to the King Emeritus to waltz into the monarch’s private study as if he owned the place.

“Good evening, my son.” Zaram Nuvo Šolosar’s voice was unusually quiet.

Otan sighed. “I know why you’re here, let’s just get it over with. I’m sure you’re not happy with-”

The former King Zaram V walked out of the royal study with skin the approximate colour and pallor of dead grass and a mouth that was a thin, straight line. It was as though he had aged twenty years in the past day. Apparently he hadn’t been looking forward to this either.

“You have committed a grave error, Emperor.” Otan’s father did not, apparently, see any benefit in mincing words. “You don’t understand what it is that you’ve just done.”

Otan rolled his eyes. “I joined the Prime Minister and the Matron in singing a song.”

“You are the King of All Tavaris-”

“I am the King of Tavaris, and I am the Emperor of the Tavari. I sang a song that means something to millions of Tavari people. For hundreds of years, people like you told the Akronists they weren’t allowed to sing their song because they think that Akronists ought to just shut up and go away-”

The sickly yellow-green of Zaram’s face was replaced in a single moment with blazing crimson, and his weariness replaced with rage. “A MONARCH DOES NOT SING THE NATIONAL ANTHEM OF A FOREIGN COUNTRY, OTAN. I TAUGHT YOU THAT WHEN YOU WERE BLOODY TWELVE.” A vein pulsed in the King Emeritus’ neck, but he forced himself to lower his voice. “You… you… it doesn’t matter if it’s Acronis or bloody Tretrid, I don’t care who it is. A monarch does not sing a foreign anthem, does not salute a foreign flag, and does not bow to a foreign head of state. You aren’t the President of some two-tani republic. You are Tavaris. Tavaris does not sing the songs of other countries. And more importantly, Otan, do you know what else you are?”

Otan did not answer. He was well aware his father was about to answer his own question.

“You are the Spiritual Head of the Tavat Avati Shrine Association, the closest thing that exists to a leader of the Tavat Avati faith, you are the descendant of the man who wrote the Tavat Avati, and, not to mention, YOU ARE THE SPIRITS-DAMNED CHIEF OF LINE NUVO! YOU ARE THE PINNACLE OF THE LINE SYSTEM. FOR TWO THOUSAND BLOODY YEARS THE TAVARI PEOPLE HAVE DIVIDED THEMSELVES INTO CLANS WE CALL LINES. IT IS WHAT DEFINES BEING TAVARI. IT’S HOW OUR BLOODY DEMOCRACY WORKS. THE LINES ARE QUITE LITERALLY THE UNDERLYING STRUCTURAL FOUNDATION OF TAVARI SOCIETY. BEFORE THERE WAS AN EMPEROR, BEFORE THERE WAS A KING, BEFORE THERE WAS A CONSTITUTION, BEFORE THERE WAS A TAVARIS, THERE WERE CHIEFS AND THERE WERE LINES. AND YOU—YOU—ARE THE ONE WHO IS CHARGED WITH KEEPING THEM. YOU ARE THE LAST CHIEF. YOU ARE THE CHIEF. AND YOU JUST STOOD IN FRONT OF MILLIONS OF TAVARI PEOPLE AND TOLD THEM THERE ARE NO LINES BUT AKRONA.”

This, rather than the sickly pallor of dying suburban lawns, was what Otan had been expecting from his father. His father was actually quite fond of yelling, truth be told, and quite fond of expecting that his son bend the knee once the volume rose. But Otan was indeed the Emperor, and he was done with the likes of this.

“Lower your voice before your Chief, Mister Nuvo Šolosar.” Otan’s voice shook with far more rage than he had intended it to. His father responded as though he had been punched in the gut.

“Don’t be petulant.” Zaram was bearing his tusks.

“I will not be spoken to in the manner in which you are speaking. I am the Emperor, and you are here in this house on my gracious invitation. I should have listened to Žarís. I never should have let you come back here. A bigot like you, just waltzing into my private office, presuming you can shout me down about protocol or optics-”

“OPTICS? OPTICS? YOU THINK THIS IS ABOUT OPTICS? HAVE YOU LISTENED TO ANYTHING I HAVE JUST SAID?”

“THERE ARE PEOPLE IN PACKILVANIA WHO LISTENED TO WHAT YOU JUST SAID SINCE YOU WON’T STOP SHOUTING,” the Emperor bellowed.

The vein in Zaram’s neck pulsed again, and he scowled so deeply that for a moment Otan thought his father might actually be having some sort of spasm, but eventually the King Emeritus finally managed to speak again. His entire body trembled as he forced out the words “Please forgive me, your Esteemed Majesty.”

“I do not.”

“You petulant child. You really don’t understand what you’ve done. You really think this is about… bigots. You really think you can just… make it all go away, don’t you? Just wave your magic wand, sing a little song, and then all of a sudden everything’s perfect and no one hates Akronists anymore. You… you… this isn’t just… This isn’t the same as a platitude like saying ‘Akronists belong’ or ‘Akronists are Tavari, too.’ You, the Emperor, the head of the Tavari state, just got up in front of all those people and sang that there is no line-”

“The lyric is ‘we have no line but Akrona,’ not ‘there is no line but Akrona.’ I did not get up in front of millions of people and call for the end of the Tavari Line system, and no one with a functioning brain stem thinks so. There are, indeed, millions of Tavari Akronists who agree with the sentiment “we have no line but Akrona,” which is clearly a statement about Akronists in particular, of which I am not one, also something no one with a brain would think. I, the Tavari head of state, joined my Prime Minister and the leader of the religion followed by nearly half of my country’s population, in singing a song that speaks about how Akronists view themselves. It is people like you, who insist that real Tavari people are defined by their line, who insist that all Tavari must be defined by their line, who are the problem. I refuse to let this be blown out of proportion. I trust the intelligence of the Tavari people. No one in their right mind-”

“Otan. What about the people who aren’t in their right mind? Did that thought ever occur to you?” Something had changed in his father’s voice, Otan noticed. The rage had broken, and the trembling had ceased. Zaram’s shoulders had drooped, and suddenly he seemed so much smaller. The anger had given way to something else. Fear.

“What, you think someone’s gonna shoot me because I sang a song?”

“Otan, do you remember two years ago, when there were buildings blowing up every week? Do you remember two years ago when we almost fought a civil war?” Zaram’s lip quivered. “Oh, Otan. I… I shouldn’t have… I should have done this differently. I’m sorry I shouted at you, my son. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. But you don’t… you really don’t understand. You really…” He sighed bitterly. “You’re young. I was too, once. I… I… You…” He choked up, and only then was it truly apparent to Otan just how affected his father was. He could count the number of times he had seen his father cry on one hand. “Yes, Otan. I do think someone will try to shoot you because you sang this particular song. I… you trust people. Of course you do. What a noble thing. It… it didn’t even occur to you, did it?”

There was a hotness on his face that made Otan feel small and stupid. “I suppose I considered the threat minimal.” It was much easier to stand against his father when he was being irrational and bigoted. But his father had remembered himself now, and now Otan did too. His father was right, of course. It made him feel sick.

“My son. My beautiful son. You… you think I’m a bigot. You think I hate Akronists. But I am… I’m not even close. I’m not in the same ballpark. I’m not even in the same sport, son. You have no idea the depths of evil that exist in the hearts of millions, millions of Tavari… I wish you would understand… I… Do you know what? You were right earlier. This is about optics. This is about symbolism. You’re a symbol. I taught you that. You know that. Your job is to be a symbol. The symbol of Tavaris, the symbol of the Tavari people, the Tavari culture… of Tavari unity. That matters to people. Every Tavari person owns a little part of you. You belong to them. That’s what being the K- the Emperor means. Each and every Tavari person owns a little share of you, because each and every one of them have the right to see themselves in you. You have to represent all the Tavari people, all the time. And, my son…” The King Emeritus sighed. “I… of course it isn’t fair, of course I understand why you felt that it was right to… to give this to the Akronists, I guess. You wanted to show the Akronists that you are their Emperor, too. But, Otan… you are also the Emperor of the nationalists. By singing a hymn today, you gave a few million people the warm fuzzies in their hearts for a few minutes. But most of those people live in another country now, and by singing that hymn—not just any hymn, but the most reprehensible, most repulsive, most enraging hymn in the entire Akronist hymnal, you deeply offended millions of your own citizens. You’re the unifier. All you did today was… divide.”

“For hundreds of years, Akronist Tavari have had to sit by and just accept that their government doesn’t care about their wants or needs and that, though they were technically allowed to be Akronist, they had to accept that their state followed the Tavat Avati faith, and that they lived in an Avatidar society, and that they really ought to just be happy they were allowed to be there at all. And here, just once, just this one time, the Tavari monarch sang an Akronist song, did something for the Akronists. Just once. And I am told that that is too much. Not just too much, but an urth-shattering, devastating apocalypse that has destroyed the fabric of Tavari society forever, because the Tavari monarch did something that was just for the Akronists one single time.” Otan’s voice was much smaller now, but he refused to be cowed completely.

“We aren’t ready, Otan. We aren’t ready.” Zaram was crying. “I’m so sorry. I feel… so sickened. So ashamed. What a disgusting society we are. You… you’re right! You’re right, Otan! It’s terrible! It’s unfair! But we aren’t ready! It isn’t the monarch’s job to make us ready. I… in the Division Crisis, after the Prime Minister laid into me, I let her put all those pendants in the windows, I went to that temple for Vana Dandreal to yell at me, I let her have the Court put out statements ‘welcoming the full moon’ or whatever… And do you have any idea how many death threats I got? I got! Me! For being too welcoming of Akronists! Do you… do you have any idea what this stun- I mean what this is going to lead to? You’ll have to wear a bulletproof vest! Maybe even for the rest of your life, Otan!”

“You know, father, I was in the military. Every single solitary day, from approximately February 20th, 2008 until December 5th, 2020, I went to work prepared to lay down my life for my country. Not to be haughty, but arguably more than any Tavari monarch since Melora II, I understand that my life doesn’t belong to me. I put my life on the line for Tavaris every day for more than 12 years. I’d do it any day. I would do anything for Tavaris. I would kill myself if that’s what Tavaris needed. I am not afraid of bulletproof vests or bullets.”

“Of course.” Zaram stared at his feet and watched his tears fall down onto them.

“I will review my security protocols. I will have my staff pay close attention to the incoming mail. And… I don’t know, perhaps I’ll visit the Shrine of National Heroes. Give something to the nationalists. Sure, it’ll piss off the Akronists… and the Banians… and the Xoigovoi, the Vonatani, the Ekvatori, the Cescolians, the Balistrians, probably even the Rodokans…” He sighed. “Everything I do will be opposed by someone, why is it that it is only when Avatidari are upset that it matters?” Otan crossed his arms and stared at his father, but his father would only look at his feet. “No! I want an answer! Why is it that I simply must listen to the angriest, most hateful of the nationalists, but angry Akronists are expected to just shut up and deal with it? How many death threats did you get because you interrupted a religious ceremony to tell the Matron of the Church of Akrona she had no right to mourn Shano Tuvria? Did you wear a bulletproof vest and go around moping and handing concessions to militant Akronists after that?”

“I abdicated in shame and moved into my brother’s basement in Dravai,” answered Zaram flatly. “Where it seems you think I ought to return.”

“Oh, don’t give me that. Don’t be all wounded. You came in here shouting at me, calling me young and naive and stupid-”

“I didn’t call you any of those things! Well, only one of those things!” Otan’s father, still with streaming eyes, tore his face back up to plead with his son. “You… I’m afraid! I’m so afraid of what’s about to happen! You’ve torn the social fabric, son! You ripped it up and spat on it, because you think that it’s old and needs to be replaced, and yes, there are millions who agree with you, but there are millions who don’t! I… being a Nuvo matters to me! It means something to me, that I can trace my ancestry all the way back, to those same people who laid down the first paving stones in Nuvrenon, who spent their days building boats to cross the Strait of Kings and sail all across the world, following the stars in the sky… When Akronists go around singing that ‘we have no line but Akrona,’ it… it makes me feel as though I shouldn’t be proud of my line. As though lines are… obsolete, and ought to be left behind in the dustbin of history. That I should want to abandon my identity and pick up this new one, because my old one is wrong. It was hurtful to watch you sing that song! You know that? It really stung to watch you stand up there and so happily sing of abandoning everything we have held dear, our entire collective history, to follow this one particular religion that I don’t ascribe to. And, you know… Akronists have a history of going around and telling other people they ought to change their religion. You decry Avatidar bigotry, but seem to ask all of us to simply set aside what we know of what Akronists and Akronism have done all around the world-”

“Oh, spirits take me now, are you really going to ‘but what about’ this? I… I can’t take any more of this. We clearly aren’t going to agree on anything here, so why don’t you just leave?”

The King Emeritus sniffed unceremoniously. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll just leave.” The former King of All Tavaris, still crying, still slouching, and once again that same, sickly colour of dying yellow-green, shuffled sadly out of the state apartments, followed by his silent valet who looked as though he might actually burst into tears.

There was a moment of heavy silence, and then the Emperor sighed. “Tevri? Call Hendrik for me, won’t you please?” The truth was, Otan had no idea what continent his husband was currently on. He could be somewhere else in the Palace—it was a cavernous building, Otan himself still found himself lost in it on occasion, and he grew up in it—or he could be in Yasteria. He certainly hoped he was close by—his heart hurt, and he was suddenly so, so very tired. With a sigh, Otan forced himself to walk to his desk, sit down, and attempt to look at the memo on his desk about Metrati Anar self-governance. He had almost made it through a paragraph when he realised Tevri hadn’t answered him. “Tevri?”

A shadow blocked the light in the office door frame, and Otan looked over to see the Marshall standing in it with an unmistakable scowl on his face. “You should have listened to your father. He was very reasonable.”

The Emperor’s blood ran cold, and suddenly it occurred to him that, while the Royal Tavari Armed Forces was well-known to attract nationalists, there was one branch that was especially known for its right-wing bent: the Royal Tavari Marshalls. The very same branch responsible for his own security.

“I have been very stupid,” the Emperor said aloud as he slipped a hand under his desk and pressed the panic button.

“Yes. Yes, you have.” Tevri took one step forward but still remained squarely between the Emperor and the only exit from the room. “If I was your father, I’d have beaten your arse bloody and then broken your damn jaw so you could never speak with that mouth again. Oh, and I disabled the alarm to your little-”

Tevri had, apparently, expected the Emperor to cower in fear, as evidenced by his total surprise at the Emperor’s fist making contact with his face. “I’d like to see you try,” said Otan as his fist shattered the Marshall’s jaw. The truth was, however, that Otan was surprised too. He didn’t even remember getting out of his chair or running up to the Marshall, or even thinking about doing anything at all. He was just… there, all of a sudden. His chest was heaving, his heart pounded in his ears, and behind it there was a dull, terrible ringing. He had trained for something like this for years, of course. In his training drills, he had always felt confident, proud, even excited. Nothing got the blood pumping like close quarters combat. But in the moment, all he felt was all-consuming, manic fear. A blood-curdling scream broke out as Tevri involuntarily lifted up his hands to cradle what remained of his jaw and the teeth and blood that were cascading out of it. When he did, Otan saw the gun in the Marshall’s holster, and he saw his hands move to grab it.

Time slowed, and it felt like moving through water. Someone was moving Otan’s hands. Someone was pulling the trigger. Someone had just shot and killed the Marshall who had proudly and happily served in the state apartments for Otan’s entire tenure on the throne. It certainly couldn’t have been Otan doing those things, since he was busy watching himself, looking down at his hands making all those eerie, fluid, machine-like motions.

Outside the room there were two terrible sounds, the unmistakable cataclysmic noise of the exchange of gunfire. It was only then that Otan snapped back into reality. Suddenly, everything was chaos. Everything was screaming, everything was ringing, his ears hurt, his face hurt, there was blood everywhere. He was drowning in blood. Everything was pain, he couldn’t look at anything, he couldn’t see anything. Everything was moving. Everything was heavy. There were footfalls somewhere, they sounded like they were avnai away and they sounded like they were on top of him. Weakly, Otan went to turn and noticed that he wasn’t standing anymore. When had he fallen? Why couldn’t he see anything? It took a moment for Otan to realise he couldn’t see anything because there was something blocking his face. It was Tevri. Tevri had fallen forward onto him and pushed him down onto the floor.

Weakly, and yet with all his might, Otan tried to shove the body away from him, but his body didn’t want to listen to him. There was only ringing, there was only chaos, there was only fear. The Emperor did not even see the other Marshall burst into the room, himself bleeding from his own bullet wound, himself blinded by chaos. The Marshall saw the bodies move just slightly and couldn’t be sure. Was the Emperor alive? Was the assassin? The soldier only had one choice, the choice he had been trained to make his whole career. In that fraction of a second, the Marshall lifted his gun and pulled the trigger. He couldn’t have known that it would be precisely then that the Emperor moved, pushing the body on top of him away.

It was Major Borandi Acašta’s first day as an Honour Guard when he shot the Emperor of the Tavari.

The Marshall screamed, but Otan was silent. He slowly turned his head to face the soldier, and he managed to smile. “These things happen,” he said weakly.

“Emp… Emp… I…” Remembering himself, the Marshall found his walkie talkie. “Code Eleven, royal study,” he said as if no one else had heard the gunfire. There were, in fact, already sirens blaring outside. “We need medical evac.”

“Soldier,” the Emperor groaned. “Listen to me. List… you must listen carefully.” Otan weakly lifted his arm and reached toward the Marshall as if to pull him close. The soldier complied, lunging closely to the Emperor and cradling his head.

“Yes, sir.” Borandi was crying.

“In my authority… as Chief of Nuvo… I hereby order… Zaram Nuvo Šolosar… Line Šonai.”

The Marshall blinked. Was the Emperor delirious? “…Sir?”

“Zaram Šonai Šolosar. It is ordered.” Otan furrowed his brow as he attempted to remain conscious. “And… H… H…”

“Yes? What is it? What is it?” The Marshall pressed his ear against the Emperor’s mouth, desperate to hear him.

“Hendrik is Chief.”

The eyes of the Emperor of the Tavari rolled back into his head and he collapsed, unconscious.

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Rm. G-144, Urth Sciences Building
Shiro Academy
Tilden, Free Pax States

7 February 2024
9:24 AM Local Time (UTC +6:00)

There had, of course, been plans for this. In the height of the Division Crisis, there had even been drills. And yet, despite having been nothing except acutely aware of this very possibility her entire time at university and, really, for as long as she could remember, Elarai Nuvo Nakrotan still yelped aloud when the Tavari soldiers strode into the classroom on an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning and, while physically lifting her from her seat, informed her that her cousin had been shot.

None of the two dozen or so other people who had all successfully managed to get out of bed and make it to their Planetary Surface Processes lecture that morning could speak Tavari, but none of them needed to. All of them knew that Elarai loathed any reference to her status as Queen of Elatana. This class was a high-level urth sciences course for undergraduates in their final year of study, and many of them had been in the same classes together with her for years. It was Elarai’s fifth year in a four year program, after she had agreed to take a lighter course load to accommodate constitutional duties. Now, here, when she was so close to the finish line—the final term of her final year—came that most dramatic constitutional duty of all. Queen of Elatana she may be, the simple reality was that her more important job was the title she no longer actually used: Crown Princess of Tavaris. She was the heir. Her security had to be guaranteed.

This was the moment Elarai had been dreading for years. She had always feared that moment when she would have to look upon the gawking faces of everyone around her staring at her as she was whisked away to tend to her important royal duties that made her so much more special and important than everyone else. What would they say? What would she say? She had never had the courage to try and plan an answer to these questions—she had simply preferred to avoid thinking about them at all. In the moment, when it finally came, Elarai simply blurted out—in Codexian, even— “Now? For what?”

The soldiers did not answer her as they whisked her away. In the end, it all happened so fast that there had hardly been time to say anything at all. All her anxieties felt silly, Elarai realized then as she noticed that her feet were not even touching the floor as she moved down the hallway. It took more than one tap at the tile with the tip of her flats before the soldiers set her down and allowed her to walk under her own power. Briskly, Elarai was ushered through an open fire exit and into a deep violet state car parked in an alley clearly intended for deliveries. Just as they had told her to expect in her drills, there was no one waiting for her in the car except the driver—this car was kept on campus by her security detail, always fueled and ready to go, but Elarai was so far from Tavari civilisation that if a crisis situation arose, there wouldn’t be any time to get some dignitary or official to meet her. Not even the Tavari ambassador to FPS would have time to get to Tilden Island. Instead, waiting for Elarai in the car was a cell phone which, she noted as she was only barely ceremoniously stuffed into the back seat, was already on speaker.

“Your Majesty,” came the voice of the Prime Minister of Elatana, Tevri Kantõši Nolandar, who could clearly tell Elarai had arrived by the sound of the stuffing. Elarai certainly did not feel very majestic in the moment.

“Yes.” She really didn’t know what else to say.

“Emperor Otan has been shot. By a member of the Honour Guard. We don’t know too much else since it was only about… 13 minutes ago, but he’s in critical condition. Major blood loss. There’ll have to be surgery.”

“Is he…? Will he…?”

“He’ll be okay. Probably.”

“Probably?”

“Probably. That’s all I got.” Tevri was not a sentimental man, and it was only then that Elarai realized how much she appreciated it. It also occurred to her only then that it was 3 in the morning in Elatana, and Tevri’s voice was heavy with fatigue. “We’re putting you on a plane back to Tavaris. I’m sorry, I know this interrupts your studies.” The Prime Minister did not sound particularly sorry, and even if he had, Elarai would have known he was lying. Tevri Kantõši Nolandar had made clear on more than one occasion he was of the opinion Elarai ought to drop her education entirely and be a royal all the time. For all Elarai knew, he was about to get what he wanted. It would be easy after this for them to complain that the Academy wasn’t secure enough to trust her in.

“There are more important things,” Elarai forced herself to say. She did not sound particularly convincing, either. “Is my father-”

“No,” said Tevri, very quickly and very flatly. Whatever disdain he had had for Elarai’s insistence on having an independent career was insignificant compared to that which was absolutely dripping from his voice now. “He is not. The Silver Court says it is unclear who is currently the Chief of Nuvo.”

“Un… clear? Who else but… oh, is Uncle Z- Er, the King Emeritus-”

“Well, I guess they don’t know if it’s supposed to be him or your dad. I don’t know who else it could be, but they won’t tell me anything at all. I can’t stand the way they… I mean, you’re their heir but our monarch, we have a right to…” There came an exasperated sigh. “Either way, they’re insisting that you come to Tavaris, not Elatana. Even though it’s literally useless, since the Constitution and all the laws since time-flipping-immemorial all plainly say that the heir absolutely cannot ever assume the Chiefdom in an acting capacity, so you’re just gonna be sitting around, just waiting for your cousin to die… I… I’m sorry, Your Majesty.”

Tevri Kantõši Nolandar was furious. Elarai didn’t even know how to respond. The disdain in his voice may not have even been about her studies at all, but simply that he was just absolutely seething. The Tavari government clearly had not given Tevri the level of information to which he expected to be entitled—and, as Elarai recalled, this was something of a recurring chip on the Elatanan Prime Minister’s shoulder. The Tavari had not sent any advance notification to Elatana about changing defense attitudes with South Hills either, and they as well as all the other countries in the Union had been pretty much left out of the conversation with Vistaraland about the defense agreement as well. Elarai didn’t follow those sorts of things much—she insisted she didn’t have to, since her role was supposed to be entirely removed from not just the military but from politics entirely—but now it felt less political and more… well, personal.

It was selfish of her, of course. But Elarai had never asked for this. She wanted to be a paleoclimatologist, not a ribbon-cutter.

“I don’t understand, why is this happening now?”

“Well, the Diet—the Tavari Diet, I mean—unbanned the old Akronist hymn No Line but Akrona, which is now the Acronian national anthem. Which, okay, yeah, fine. But then they decided to have Žarís and Vana Dandreal sing it outside the Diet, a big ol’ hold-hands-and-feel-warm-and-fuzzy moment. And then, for some beyond idiotic reason, they have Otan join them. They have the Chief of Line Nuvo get up in front of everyone and sing about getting rid of all the Lines. And so they… they shot him.”

“What? Like, like right there? They just shot him?”

“No, it was later, in the Palace. One of the guards in the Emperor’s own household shot him. I guess it makes some kind of sense… the featherbrains all probably want to work in the Palace more than anywhere else. You’d think Otan would know better.”

“I thought they… aren’t they supposed to be doing something about that? All the fascists in the m-” Elarai remembered that there were two soldiers in the car with her and stopped herself. In fact, suddenly, she felt ice cold. She remembered the firm grip the soldiers had had on her arms, how they had so quickly rushed in and simply moved her wherever they wanted… and she, and everyone else, had just let them. What if… what if they hadn’t been there to take her to Tavaris? What if they weren’t?

Tevri’s bitter laugh snapped Elarai out of her spiralling. “It’s gonna take a long, long time. There will always, always… I mean, where else are the nationalists gonna go? The military is the only place for them. It’s the only place you can still be proud of Tavaris.”

The car fell silent. Only the barest hint of the rush of wind and road outside made it through the car’s bulletproof windows. For a moment Elarai watched the blur, realizing then she had barely noticed that the car had started moving at all. The state car—which, Elarai noticed, didn’t have the usual flags on it—was following a black car, with a black SUV behind them. They were all weaving dramatically from lane to lane, but not actually going that much more than the speed limit, and there were no sirens. They could have been, if not quite ordinary people, at least ordinary enough maniacs driving like douchebags on the expressway. People on the road who saw them might not even know they were seeing the monarch of a small country being extricated in a national security emergency. Whatever level of security that provided was welcome, Elarai decided, but it occurred to her that it would still take about an hour to reach the airport in Garneldo where her state plane was waiting.

“How do I know I’m safe?” Elarai decided to be blunt. She didn’t have the energy to dance around everything, and she knew the drain on her energy wasn’t going to get any less any time soon.

The other end of the line was still silent for a few moments. “Have faith in the Spirits,” Tevri finally said.

A laugh burst out of Elarai’s chest, but she certainly didn’t think anything was funny. “That’s… that’s all you can say?”

“That’s all I got,” Tevri said simply.

“I pledge my life to the service and protection of Elatana, its Queen, and its people,” said one of the soldiers in the car. It was the last line of the oath that Tavari soldiers took when entering service in Elatana. There was not quite enough room for the soldier to execute a proper salute, but she straightened her back and stuck out her chin in the closest thing to standing-at-attention there could be in a car.

“I pledge my life to the service and protection of Elatana, its Queen, and its people,” said the other soldier.

“I pledge my life to the service and protection of Elatana, its Queen, and its people,” said the driver, an older man who, as far as Elarai knew, was a civilian.

“I pledge my life to the service and protection of Elatana, its Queen, and its people,” said the Prime Minister, his voice creaking with something other than fatigue.

Elarai hated being a Queen. She had always hated being a Princess. She had never wanted any of this, and the only thing she had ever prayed for in her life was for it to all go away. As far as Elarai Nuvo Nakrotan was concerned, her father was just a doctor, her family was from Dravai, and she was an urth scientist. There oughn’t have been any reason for an urth scientist to have a military security detail of whom she had to be afraid might attempt to overthrow her in the name of traditionalist Tavari religious nationalism. But there was, and there was no use trying to deny it. The heir to the Emperor of the Tavari let her eyes linger on the proudly jutting chins of the people in the car with her for a moment. It was the first time, in all her life, that she had ever felt what it meant to be royal.

The Queen of Elatana clasped her hand to her chest and bent forward as far as she could in her middle seat. “Thank you,” she said eventually, perhaps somewhat lamely, unsure of how to respond to such a display.

“We’ll call that good,” the Prime Minister said. “Queen Elarai, I will very probably see you in Nuvrenon… about twenty hours from now. Until then, Your Majesty, I remain your most humble servant.” The phone clicked, leaving Elarai to the silence.

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