" It's his first duel since the one with Diurn... He's only had two, hasn't he..."

" He's been away since that incident..."

" That's no surprise..."

People scurried out of his way, moving to the other side of the hall, casting glances back towards him as he stalked his way to Redlin's portion of the West Wing with Kaama in tow.

... He didn't like that they were whispering. It was weird to be taller than Kaama, as well. And the hallways smelled different than they used to, somehow. No sharpness of cleaner, just faint perfume.

He felt out of place.

He arrived at the door to Redlin's suite, and knocked on it loudly.

" Lyewa-Redlin," he called. " You wanted to see me."

A taller man, much older, opened the door.

Lyewa Redlin was the fifth eldest of his brothers, but did not cut such an imposing figure as the rest of them. He was, as a matter of fact, embarrassingly casual and lax.

" Oh, Lyena. I didn't think you'd actually respond to me," he said.

" Why wouldn't I respond if formally summoned?" Nova asked tersely. " After all, tomorrow we have a duel. You have dragged me all the way back from the conflict at Shian for this."

" Come in," Redlin said, stepping to the side.

Nova entered the room; it was scarcely decorated beyond a few tchotkes and the bare minimum of furniture.

" I don't got much at the palace since I've been living in my district of Gresatt," Redlin pardoned himself. " This is the first time I've been back in a while as well."

... That explained why he didn't have disdain in his eyes.

Or maybe he was hiding his disdain. Probably just hiding it. Even if he had been away, he surely knew. Even if no one talked of it, he surely knew...

" I see," Nova answered shortly, Kaama standing behind him.

" Lyena, I need to talk to you about why I want to fight," Redlin said.

" Do so, then."

" I don't want the succession. I'm not interested in it. You can have your title back after I'm done with it, for all I care. But I must make Lorn acknowledge me."

" I'm not going to simply hand my title over to you like lending out a library book," Nova deadpanned. " Make Lorn acknowledge you through your own effort."

Redlin blinked at him in mild surprise, as though taken aback by his brash speech.

" Still, I'm challenging you. It's not that I want to. It's that I have to. I would like you to at least understand that."