A smaller vessel very suddenly requested permission to board.

Of course, William readily acquiesced.

He did not expect its contents.

And that was how he found himself, first officer Sivira, Kirie, and Nova standing in front of Diurn and his entourage.

Diurn was taller than Nova, and more firmly built, with a wilder look in his eye. His hair was slicked back and clothing immaculate.

William decided he did not like him very much. There was something about him quite different from how Nova carried himself.

" Commodore General William Masterson, I believe?" he said, eye straying to William's side. " And Lyena-Nova."

" Yes," William affirmed. " What business brings you forward, Lyewa-Diurn? I had heard you've been quite busy lately."

" Never too busy to pass up a visit with the Crown Prince," he said, a flat attempt at mirroring William's trademark enthusiasm and amenability.

" Always a pleasure to visit with you, Diurn. What has it been, 3 or 4 years? How have you healed?" Nova said, venom seething in his voice.

William found himself wishing he could get Nova to be quiet for once; he was doing his best not to be hostile.

Diurn laughed, and pulled down the collar of his shirt. A large, ugly scar was covering his neck; it looked as though someone had made a very sincere effort to decapitate him.

" How do you think, Lyena-Nova? Three years since our last duel, and your blade still haunts me!"

William looked between them, trying to discern how to take the level of agression in the room down.

" So what is the reason for your visit, Lyewa-Diurn?" he asked, smiling.

Diurn's attention turned back to him.

" Funny you should ask, little thing," he said. " I have a proposition."

" Oh? And what would that be?" William asked politely.

He put a hand on the hilt of the sword at his side. William saw Nova's hands twitch, as though looking to seize his own.

" I am interested in a duel," Diurn said. " And I would be willing to reward you with the Lyeha."

" I'm not interested in embarrassing you in front of the DASS," Nova refused flatly. " Nor do I bear any emotion towards Lyeha-Lesa but apathy and vague disdain."

Diurn smiled.

" I wasn't addressing you," he said. " I was addressing the Commodore General."

William went to reply, but was cut off by Nova standing in front of him.

" Brother, don't be ridiculous. Masterson is human, and humans are incredibly frail. You'd kill him. We don't need to agitate our relations with DASS so recklessly."

Again, William tried to speak, and was cut off.

" What's this, Nova? You seem to be quite fond of him. I'm surprised. Personally, I find humans to look too similar to children to be of any interest."

What.

" If you want a duel, I'll give you one," Nova threatened. " And instead of a scar, this time I'll cut out your lecherous tongue."

William waved his hand between them.

" Excuse me. Nova. Lyewa-Diurn. I'd like to say that I'm accepting the offer, but I'm a bit confused about this 'Lyeha' aspect?"

Nova swirled around to him with a harsh look on his face.

" Lyeha-Lesa," he spat, " is my younger sister. She has been in Diurn's custody. Masterson. Cease your idiocy at once. You are not accepting his offer."

" You are quite fond of him," Diurn observed.

That was strange. It wasn't anything that William had ever perceived from Nova before. He had thought Nova's irritation with him was both overpowering and genuine. And that their relationship was largely shallow and professional. Perhaps he had been missing some flags.

" Mm... Don't you think you'd be throwing too much power in with our base if you gave us two members of the royal family to look after? And Nova's rich tastes are already stretching our budget enough."

Diurn bowed his head.

" And so, it would follow, that if you were to lose this duel, the Crown Prince would return to our territory."

Ah.

So that was his angle.

" I see. Double the reason to accept, then."

Nova looked over at William and William realized that he had actual concern on his face. This was the first time he had seen it.

He smiled.

" It's alright, Nova. Didn't you say you'd rather view me with regard than Lyewa-Diurn?" he asked.

He realized, after saying it, that perhaps it was a bit too fond to address him as such in front of someone who had already misinterpreted their relationship that way.


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