The walls of the entry hall, and the main hall as well, were covered in huge, ceiling to floor paintings of many things, romantically portrayed; the countryside, the city skyline, nobles, the commons, battle scenes.

" These are pretty," William observed, passing them.

" You wouldn't say that if you knew who made them," Nova deadpanned with an obvious disdain.

Someone on an upper floor called down to them.

" Little brother! You're finally home, and even speaking of me?"

Nova froze, disdain becoming even more evident.

" Yes. Isn't it unfortunate, Vivan."

" What's that you've got with you? It's really cute, know where I can get one?"

William got the sense that he should not be flattered by this Vivan's compliment.

" He is my raeli and yes, he is the same age as me, don't dare imply I'm anything like you," Nova yelled back up at him.

Ah. So it was that sort of thing.

Vivan laughed at him, leaned over the railing.

" Oh, so you're keeping it legal, hm?"

" I hope you fucking fall off that and break your neck," Nova replied to him. He grabbed William's arm and pulled him forward to start walking again, to where Kaama was waiting at the entrance to the throne room.

" Kaama. Are any of the other ones home? I need more warning about these things."

Kaama took a moment, as though trying to count it up.

" The only one of age is Lanta. Radhe, Ledi, Minos, Midnos, Ouron, Kalan, and Strana are as well, though they are of no concern."

" Are any others coming?"

" Redlin and Levit said they might attend, if possible. The others seem to all be busy."

Nova straightened himself out, fidgeted with his clothes.

" That's fine. I can tolerate them. Let's see Lorn-Fausta and Queen Mother now, then."

Kaama opened the door, and they walked into the throne room.

The man sitting in the throne seemed like a ludicrously overpowering figure; exuding a stern aura, made of cold steel. He seemed larger than life, definitely much more so than Nova, and the coldness of his cut features was freezing. Unlike Nova, he had many visible scars. He looked like he had nothing but contempt behind his eyes.

... The Queen Mother, Irdat, looked much the same. It was almost hard to think that she was Nova's mother, somehow. But she seemed like the sort of person who could do the things Nova had told him about.

William thought of himself as fairly good at being able to tell whether someone could inflict cruelty.

" Lorn, Mother, I've returned," Nova called up to them, tone deferential. It was to be expected, but was still unsettling to hear. " I've come to view the trial I have permitted Lyeha-Lesa."

" And what a miserable fool you are, condemning her," Irdat spoke. Ah. William hadn't heard a voice like that in a while. " Despite her moral degeneracy, she could still be of use to you alive."

Her eyes drifted over to William.

" Why have you brought one of them with you? Can they not trust you to hold their state secrets? Horrid creatures."

Nova's ear flicked.

" ... William is my guest, honourable Mother," Nova replied. " I asked for his companionship during this trial. He will be of no trouble to you."

" You have grown too soft, then. Running around babysitting."

" I am still how I always have been," Nova replied coolly, and she pulled a face. It seemed that that was not a pleasing answer.

" Until you have need to seek our company again, I'll be in my room," he said, and left the room. William followed.