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At some point, this was going to evolve into a "Varania and Leto are Danarius' half-sibs", as well as a "How Tevinter Actually Functions"...but I never quite got there.

Pride Does Not Come Before A Magister

The strength in SLAVES, he decided, was in their capacity for enduring boredom.

As Foreign Executor of the Merchants of the Tevinter Staple, the Lord was often bored. Certainly he did not have the temperament of a SLAVE! He spat a pip at the nearest one, who moved not to deflect but calmly to collect his discards.

'Come,' he told the SLAVE. 'Let us be exciting, for the sake of your sanity! And laugh!'

The SLAVE submitted in due course, after the Lord had his fun, during which the washstand set rattled unpleasantly until the Lord's proceeds stained and sullied the newly torn seam of her fine linen shift.

Later she sat tracing the mended seam of the soiled shift, knotted between her hands and sometimes her teeth. The midwife had given up; the child (for the SLAVE was barely budded in the breast) refused to collaborate. Between cramps, she was taken with a laughter which would heave itself up at times least appropriate to her circumstances, and which shocked the midwife who knew her as placid to the point of stupidity.

'Come,' the SLAVE shrieked, with, the midwife thought, a haughtiness unbecoming the shape of her skull. 'Learn to obey with promptness, Boy! Out, out, out, out, out!'

Whether out of idiocy or cruelty the SLAVE then presented the male Issue to the requisite priest as what he was, the master's halfbreed Progeny, and in fact insisted the child's name was to be Danarius, which was a name most significant to the Lord's ancestors.

The priest sat forward, hands clasped gently between his knees, the better to accuse the ELF of foul seduction.

In Danarius' fourth year, his mother was wedded to a foreign elf of unexpected height and the bronzed skin of a field worker, brought back from the Lord's latest venture to the Island through the strait. The SLAVE was missing both arms, stumps puckered like the mouths of dead fish, the once powerfully muscled torso already bearing signs of decay.

The SLAVE, who never spoke, had welded around his throat a fine, high collar of which child Danarius was most envious. He learned through listening, as he always did, that it was this device which supported a throat otherwise crushed by the Lord's great hands in a violent battle on that far distant Island, making breath and the sipping of broth just barely possible. It had been made from the jewels which the foreign warrior had worn to the battle where his freedom had been ceded as spoils.

'I wouldn't go so far as to call the ELF cunt a fair adversary,' said the Lord to his visiting colleague, laughing broadly; the mage had been called in to remove the wounds and scars that fight had left on the Lord's smooth skin. 'I would never have spent the coin to put him into the arena. No, 'tis to the betterment of the breed this way. He is mostly armless — harmless, you see? Ha ha! — and the Issue will, if favourab le, bear the majority of his better traits.'

The mage was interested. 'If it's not favorable?'

'Then, there's always the next raid.' The Lord raised a fine glass of wine. 'If you might care to encourage the rest of those magister dickchewers to release my funding for the venture, somewhat the sooner?'

'You are mostly armless,' Danarius told the half dead SLAVE, gravely, when he went back to his mother for the night.

Which was tasteless on his part, not to say strange on the part of one so innocent, his mother thought.

'Boy,' the Lord called him. 'Boy! Where is the dratted—'

But Danarius' respect diminished with each command which was issued from his master in weakness. He never missed an opportunity to remind his father of something he might have overlooked. The inkpot in question, corked and sealed, was produced secretly from the folds of his smock and returned to the desk slyly at a moment when the Lord scowled in the opposite direction.

"Tis here, Papa,' Danarius said. 'You just did not see it, right here, in front of you, rather obviously.'

In accordance with the recent Minrathous fashion, all seven of the House's SLAVES were encouraged to call the Lord, Papa.

In the circumstances, most of them had warmed to the Lord.

The eye became appraising, a gem of experience set into the skull. 'You're a cunning little worm, aren't you.'

'Just like you, Papa,' Danarius said, which made the Lord laugh at the halfbreed, ha ha.

In Danarius' sixth year, his magic manifested as a nightmare he threw from the familial bed shared with his mother and the silent SLAVE, killing a stray dog rummaging through the kitchen scrap heap which formed their outlook.

The skull formed a rictus matching so closely his nightmare, Danarius wondered if perhaps he had, in the soggy vernacular of SLAVES, made his dreams come t rue.

His mother was not dismayed. His mother laughed often through their duties that day, and danced with him after in the midafternoon rain and beyond with an energy he had never seen in her, until the last of his fears at what he had done evaporated in the sun, while the silent, defeated warrior SLAVE watched from their shared bed he rarely left, expressionless as stone.

'You are a man now,' his mother said.

When the Lord called for his Boy, later. 'I am a man now,' Danarius told him, flush with pleasure.

The Lord led the Boy into his study, which was a grand chamber adjacent to his bedroom. There, he pulled a worn ledger from his shelf and referred to a page. Another, then another, then another. Then the Lord sat upon a low footstool, smiling, and beckoned the confused Boy close.

'The venture which acquired your dam was 1100 Sovereigns. Say, as a fair apportion of that venture, the Girl herself was worth some twelve sovs. The apport ioned cost to acquire your sire was 23 sovs. Him, otherwise worthless in his harmlessness, ha ha, I value purely as novelty; there is likely a buyer for him at equal value of 23 sovs. She, on the other hand, is a skilled and trained domestic worker, say at fifteen sovs in the current market — there's a scarcity of breeders. Now, you are untrained ELF Issue with that parentage, nothing particularly special. You would be worth some six sovereigns and fairly so. You have no skills to raise your price, certainly. I've seen you poking about in the garden but not working at it. I know as well as your mother that your heart is bad, a flutter in the upper chambers. Vertiginous, aren't you? Pale, sallow, thin as a reed. Your hair is fine, your eyes dull and teeth too small for your mouth. Your head is a disproportionate size for your age. You have what we call a barrel physique, seemingly stocky but hollow as a gourd. So, six sovereigns, the value of your manhood. No, wait. F or the first three years of your life, you were sick with what we thought was consumption, and the cost to keep you breathing amounted to seven sovereigns. This is an exceptional cost which you also owe to the house. However, as Issue of an owned SLAVE yet to reach the age of majority, I am obliged by Imperial law not to include the costs of your shelter or upkeep in the total. This was a law passed during the last SLAVE revolution, to permit "fair and reasonable opportunity for a SLAVE dam and/or sire to purchase their Progeny's manumission". And so! Are you not grateful you live in Tevinter, where all know their worth so well.'

The Lord waited with his palm held out, open. Danarius might have felt chilled had he understood.

His cogitation was interrupted, impatiently. 'The price of your manhood, Boy! What are you, thick or something? And you call yourself a man. Produce for me thirteen sovereigns before the age of your majority, and you may call yours elf whatever you like. Until then, you are called whatever I want to call you. For now, that is Boy. Be grateful it's not Dog! Ha ha!'

'But, Papa.'

The Lord sighed heavily, an abrupt change of mood. 'It is not possible to practice charity every hour of the day when confronted with a SLAVE's vulgar insistence on flapping his thirteen sovereign tongue. Where are your pockets, your purse pouch?'

'I— have no pockets, Papa.'

'There is your problem!' Then a growl, all trace joviality lost. 'Now get me my sandals, Dog.'

Danarius could not suppress what emerged as a wail. 'Papa! I am not an ELF! That weird ELF is not my father, or did you forget? It is you—'

The slaver Lord cupped the Boy's chin. One broad thumb pressed the left cheek firm against the teeth within, as did the fingers splayed on the right, a touch for which Danarius knew no precedent.

'Suffering is often a matter of choice,' the Lord said.

Danarius at last realised something was amiss, but had not enough control over the newly bubbling magic in his blood to disturb the grand body which closed on him now, the fingers and thumb which pushed between his teeth until his cheeks burned and yawned, the pain stripping the colour from his sight, then he lost even the darkness, when his jawbone broke in the implacable hand.

'There should not be talk of any going home,' the Senior Enchanter (Admissions and Departures) told Danarius, puzzled. 'Why would you want to? There are no SLAVES in the Circle.'

'In truth? I should question the use of the Tranquil, then.'

The Enchanter tilted his chin. The youth set his shoulders and smiled.

'Hm,' said Danarius. 'They are the most profitable component of the Circle's industry, aren't they.'

It was not a question. The Enchanter sighed at the tendency of youth to melodrama. He droned in apparent humour, 'Had we been aware of your interest in the Circle's accounts we would have recommended you to apprentice to Murgit with his books and rulers instead of Cathania.'

'Call it a sideline,' Danarius shrugged generously. 'A hobby of mine. One does hear that interest in these things run in the blood. The Executor of the Tevinter Staple could hardly be less than an impeccable accountant.'

Danarius smiled. The clear, articulated and aristocratic accent was one the boy must have practised in front of a mirror for hours, the shape of his lips alone articulating every vowel with a cringeworthy affectation.

The Enchanter itched at his irritation. 'Had you never left your SLAVE mother's side, you would never have discovered your alleged sire's importance to the Archon. Does that not tell you one good reason why you should remain within the Circle?'

'Nor would I have learned how to use the suggestion of influence to generate influence from nothing. But none have ever accused me of not valuing my time within the Circle for exactly what it has been worth.'

Oh, but the boy liked to provoke with the truth.

Within the politics of the Circle, it could not be said that Danarius was the centre of anything. But the mud stirred thickly as the young man moved, nary a trace on his impeccably fashionable robes. His focus i n study was admirable. His control of the finer entropic and glyphic magics was intriguing, though the usual primal and elemental schools failed him entirely. His first duel demonstrated an indefatigable barrier resistant to dispel as his strongest defence, as he buffed and debuffed apace, weakening his opponent and strengthening himself, a systematic manoeuvring of his opponent to expend herself as if she were no more than his pawn, until weak as a baby she fell foul of a casual nightmare he cast with the grace of a feather, amplified to near tear the Fade itself, mind sundered likewise and a madwoman mage left to be rendered Tranquil.

That she had been assigned to tend Danarius' own rooms after was a manoeuvring the Enchanter did not like to consider.

But his gatherings, never parties, never that, were the stuff of legends, the delicate, mood altering poisons mixed by his junior apprentices and purchased with great enthusiasm by even those who disliked Danari us himself. Many disliked him. Near everyone who encountered him. But still they came and purchased from the bastard halfbreed of the Executor of the Tevinter Staple, who made slaves of them all via carefully adulterated addictions. And who should say if too many intoxicated themselves beyond even the recovery of a spirit healer? The Circle had very little internal governance, except over the administrative protocols for which accountability to the coin and Chantry must be kept. The mages here were, primarily, within Tevinter's Circle by choice. The academic focus offered great research opportunities for those who were not magisters, who had no powerful families behind them, who would otherwise be vulnerable prey outside these walls.

Danarius' own apprentices had been taken from the lowest ranks, and acted with both disdain yet devotion to the one who coddled them, raised them above all others, using praise and derision with a chemist's skill.

'Though I must question the relevance of bringing SLAVES into this conversation,' Danarius said abruptly. 'I am not a SLAVE, you see, irrespective of what appears to be indubitable history. Do I appear to be an ELF? It is a paternal curse, that breed; and my father was not an ELF.'

The fingers, pale fingers, raised to tug the length of beard he had grown according to the fashion, a single line from lower lip to chin. The robes, too, were the height of fashion of the day. Still, Danarius would always look older than his years. His Harrowing a year prior had been frighteningly quick, and had greyed his hair overnight.

'Not all ELVES are SLAVES,' the Enchanter acknowledged, 'nor SLAVES, ELVES.'

'Kindly do not deflect the point. I requested the right to leave the Circle and it was rejected. Is this not the right of any mage in Tevinter, to go where they will?'

'Certainly. But a boy of your heritage will not find influence outside as you have her e.'

'Ah. A boy, you say. Perhaps I am, comparatively. But I would question then, from you in all your aged wisdom,' he withdrew his hand from the fashionably long sleeve, rubbed his thumb on his fingers, and contemplated the ruddy proceeds with interest, 'some truthful answers. How long do you suppose I must stay before I can decently escape this prison without succumbing again to the accident of my mother's unfortunate status?'

The Enchanter felt—


The thought slipped away as an incongruity.

He said willingly enough, 'That will depend on the level of influence you have here, and the favour you earn amongst those who directly contest your father's power.'

A contemplative expression. 'My father is not a magister. He is a merchant. He stands outside the usual rank of the mageocracy. How should any contest him without the laws of free and equal competition to allow the duel?'

'Duel? No. It will be a con test of accountants, if you seek true status.'

'Ah, you mean I require money to top him.' The vernacular rolled off that falsely cultured tongue like a wet sponge.

'In part. More, you require enough magisters to stand in support of your assumption of your father's noble title. The role of Executor will of course pass to another skilled in the business, the Archon will not allow the economy of the Tevinter Staple to fall to inexperience. But if it is recognition you seek, and an escape from your mother's heritage, then your father's empty title will be sufficient for you to be declared magister.'

'Imagine that. Enough magisters together can change a fact. Tevinter: where dreams come true.' The idle affectation turned suddenly cutting. 'You think I mean to kill my father.'

'It is an old a tale as time,' the Enchanter said. The unease curdled.

'I had not thought to kill him until now,' Danarius said, sounding for the first time honestly strained. 'I had thought, rather, to earn his favour. I could be quite an asset to the family, now I am skilled...'

The Enchanter felt, for a reason he could not determine, sickeningly anxious. Nevertheless, he could not hold back the words.

'No, no, you see, the primary purveyor of SLAVES to the Imperium could never elevate a SLAVE's Issue to his title. Never. It would be worse than a scandal. He would be made mock. Laughing stock. A slaver's life after such a horror would be counted in days, not weeks, and like as not he would take the only honourable path left to him and drink a toxic cup.'

The thin mouth formed a line quite awry from a smile.

'I jest,' Danarius said. 'Of course I intend to kill him. You needn't think I take any ideas from your petty skull.'

'No, never.' The anxiety intensified, crushing hard around his ribs, bubbling to the Enchanter's tongue. 'But you must know: his death c annot be traced to you. A SLAVE, even one who is a mage, cannot go murdering the Executor of the Tevinter Staple.'

'Then I shall ensure it cannot be traced.' Danarius stood and bowed shortly, the Enchanter offering the same obeisance in return while remaining seated. 'I thank you for your candor, and the sheer uncomplicated nature of your mind.' He grimaced at the cut on his thumb, pressed it against the matching forefinger again to break the beads of clotting blood, then tucked his hand back into the sleeve of the other. 'On your advice, Enchanter, I withdraw my request to depart until a future, more auspicious time.'

'Excellent,' said the Enchanter. A weight lifted from his shoulders, and he laughed, simply because he could. 'Ah, boy, take it not badly. Your application was rejected in your best interests. Not to mention, your research into the Seheron artifact is highly valued here, and I of all of us hate to see such idealism crushed so so on.'

'I assure you, very little remains to be crushed,' Danarius said, not at all curtly, and took his leave.

The Tevinter Circle was excellent at teaching emotional detachment to its mages. Nothing could matter, of course, except the immediately tangible, and that in itself must be weighed against what would remain when the sensation was gone. Those prone to believing themselves greater than the moment would succumb to demonic temptation, the Circle taught. Be moderate, and be flawed. Seek not false perfection, which cannot be achieved. Embrace hedonism, honour the ethics of happiness, be not deprived or in want, and no demon should be able to offer more than what you already had. Or, what you knew you could achieve. For in Tevinter, everything was within reach for those who tried: freedom for SLAVES, honours for soldiers, wealth for merchants, wives for men, knowledge for the wise.

It was a most comforting and rational teaching, defeating the maelstrom of emotion the demons purported. Even the Chantry priests supported this logical truth. The Maker Himself could only be most glorious when His creations were most satisfied with His providence. This teaching required that providence be fully experienced by everyone, within their means. And those means were subject only to their own mortal limitations.

If Danarius had some internal criticism of the teachings, he kept it relatively to himself, indulged only in moments where his peers were present.

'We accept that all men desire satisfaction without ever questioning the priests. Thus, we seek our satisfaction, plump in the acknowledgement that no demon should be able to offer what this Maker beloved world already gives us. But I ask, what do we seek to satisfy, specifically?'

'Our desires, the Enchanters say. As you would know, Dan, if you felt any honest lust.' A grand yawn and a bloodshot eye peeled open, the mageling idly scratching his bared chest. The sneer was just as idle, and as unconscious. 'Right now, I desire most intently a return of the pipe.'

Danarius watched it returned, his lip curling. 'That is the flaw in the Tevinter doctrine. So we seek to satisfy ourselves. We seek to satisfy our desires. But what are our desires? For carnal indulgence? That satisfaction is brief.'

'For you, perhaps.' A round of laughter.

He chose to ignore it, and continued. 'For food, or water? But those are needs, according to the hierarchy of survival, and cannot be considered a part of this debate. Our desires for greatness? To humble others? But surely that impinges on their satisfaction. While it is Tevinter doctrine, it cannot be an ethical Tevinter doctrine to state that any self satisfaction should be indulged where it impacts on another's ability to satisfy themselves. Yet it is instead seen instead to be healthy, a competition. That competition powers a fit and healthy personality to achieve their own greatest achievements by seeing what others have been capable of doing. The Tevinter doctrine is a proponent of jealous. I say, there is the flaw: jealousy is the demon's gateway, not lack of goods or dearth of services, only that most irrational of urges. That way lies abomination.'

'You learn blood magic,' said one, eying the pipe being passed most wistfully. 'I've seen you studying with that Rivaini mage.'

'Certainly,' Danarius agreed, 'it is merely another school of magic, and blood but a finer fuel than lyrium, both sustainable and self-replenishing, unlike finite lyrium. The sheer loss of life and hours in the processing of lyrium is abominable in itself, when blood simply regenerates through the startling mechanism of the mortal body, for as long as food and water is supplied.'

'Bo-ring. When are they promoting you to lecturer? I've been needing something to h elp with the insomnia lately.' More laughter, more yawns. Mages always found sleep difficult, even the well trained ones. The herbs helped, sometimes.

'Yes, all right,' Danarius conceded slightly, 'the proponents of the sanguine school have argued this before, hence their continued formal institution in the Circle in the face of lurid and unnecessary superstition outside these walls. It just goes to show, we are the only logical, rational nation in Thedas. Should we instead be prey to the lyrium the mercantile, money-hungry dwarves bring us, reaping their profits off our great nation by so controlling the flow of our vital substance?'

'The Chantry shat on that argument well enough,' said the current pipe-holder, between greedy puffs.

'The Chantry is shortsighted,' Danarius said.

'Says,' coughing, 'a youth of seventeen years to the face of an organisation several ages old.'

That irritated Danarius. These were his r ooms, his pipe (which would require sterilisation again), his carefully cultivated herb they were smoking. 'Say, instead, the Chantry has a specific focus, that being to retain their power over the flow of our power, by controlling the influx of lyrium. Have you never questioned that it's the only resource over which the Black and White Divine have agreed to keep at a constant value across Thedas?'

'No—ooo.' The negation was unilateral.

'The value of a SLAVE,' one added. 'There are also controls on that. The Archon passes new taxes, new restrictions every year. My father rages every time I go home, he wants another to help mummy— mother some, since the new house is much larger and the spare and waste of heir have come along; could afford the chattel but not the rest of it! Same old same tiresome old.'

'Weren't you listening to Papa Dan,' said the only female mage present, snickering unattractively as she gestured at Danarius. 'If blood is the only other resource, of course there are controls on SLAVES. When the lyrium stops coming, where are we all going to turn except to...'

Danarius paused to re-evaluate the female, attempted to speak to her directly once, twice, while the churning distaste in his belly (and her raised, provocative eyebrow) finally convinced him his natural instincts where women were concerned should remain unchallenged. He turned his gaze away, somewhat in relief.

'Kill the dwarves,' another was yawning. The pipe was returned to Danarius, who cleared it of ash deftly and inserted another bud. He passed to his right, disdaining to partake, as always; they had not noticed yet.

'And who would dig the lyrium,' said his companion, sleepily passing the fresh batch across. 'ELVES die underground. And I have never seen you with your hands dirty.'

'Free ourselves from the Chantry's lyrium slavery,' said the female. 'Embrace the raw substance of magic, readily and freely available, without consequence. Indulge challenge, and achieve satisfaction. So sayeth Mother Tevinter, and Father Chantry.'

'My desire would be easily satisfied right now with the re-application of your mouth to a more pertinent purpose.' The companion to her left attempted to pull her head down to his lap. The struggle which ensured disturbed Danarius, who stood again and resumed his position of power over the half-slumbering forms filling his quarters. He paced to the window, ignoring the noise behind him, the crackle and flare of discharging, forcefully suppressed magic. His own heart racing uncomfortably; at times like this he sometimes swore he could feel the weakness in the upper ventricle, the fluttering valve. A vague, masculine groan, more of frustration than pain. That was why women were problems, why he disliked them in his rooms, anywhere near him. Danarius shivered, blotting his palms on the fa shionably long sleeves of inner robe.

'Cunts,' the female swore. Why did they always have to be so crude? 'You utter dog cunts. Next time you try that, you lose your balls, and the lot of you watching, too. Now give me the fucking pipe, pissant, and get your fucking hand off my thigh before I wither it.'

'We seek to satisfy our desires,' Danarius asked of the window, the sprawling Minrathous below. 'But what do we desire? We desire satisfaction. Satisfaction of what?'

'Satisfaction of our desires!' The frustrated male calling from behind him.

'But what is our desire?' Someone else, imitating Danarius' didactic pace, his over-learned affectation of noble phrasing.

'For satisfaction!' A chorus.

'We try to satisfy our desires, when our desire is for satisfaction.' Laughs. Danarius spun, irritated without knowing why. 'It never ends, do you see? Everything we do, everything Tevinter teaches us to do, it is a self destruction. An indulgence which can never be satisfied, not when our desire is for satisfaction itself. We will never find satisfaction. Thus the Chantry, the Archon, Tevinter feasts as a harvester on the bodies of the wealth we produce, the wealth we spend, the decadence we indulge. We become Tevinter, Tevinter becomes us. Corrupted and bloated and devouring ourselves, and still hollow.'


'So?' Sullenly.

'Hey,' said the blonde suddenly, 'what is all this, anyway? Are you a SLAVE or something?'

'ELF boy,' snickers.

'I am not a SLAVE.'

'ELF bastard,' more giggles. 'ELF spawn. ELF blood. Knife-ear. Stumpy knife at that.'

'Could you not afford your own papers, SLAVE? Does the Circle still hold your manumission in trust?' More laughs, mocking.

'Do I look like an ELF,' Danarius said, steadily. 'Leave your coin for the crop and take yourselves elsewh ere.'

The heaving and groaning commenced them, clinking of coin counted out with an odd emphasis, smirks and sneers. The sons and daughters of middling magisters rarely concerned themselves with how to finance their interim stay in the Circle; for all the frequent purchase of his herbal endeavours, the fact Danarius asked for money was telling in itself.

He thought they were all gone when he heard the female say, too close behind him, 'You want to be careful. Your ambitions are showing.'

He turned, then leaned backwards to avoid her proximity, uncaring if he made it obvious. 'We are all ambitious, here. It's a veritable m—mandate of the greatest nation on Thedas.'

'Well and true, but I say that when you try to tell the fat lazy magisterial heirs that their freedom is essentially a circle jerk tumbling inexorably to oblivion, people will be suspicious as to what you suggest the alternative should be. That dictatorship found so oft en in barbarian nations, mischievously called monarchy? But we have such a fine balance between secular and Chantry right now! Call the Senate corrupt if you will, but it is corruption in balance, a system which ensures no one aspect of Tevinter's survival is more compromised than another. Ah, but no. Perhaps your alternative is closer to home. You seek the purity of ethic the Qunari lay claim to the purity of service. A collar around your neck, SLAVE to your purpose—'

'Whatever you think you heard, I said no such thing. I am well aware of the liberty which reigns in Tevinter.'

So stiffly, his own voice from such a distance, the momentary rage distorting everything.

The girl smiled, raised the smoking pipe. 'Then why do you never participate in those privileges? Because you become a SLAVE again the moment you leave the Circle? Or is it simpler than politics? You fear losing control. So rigid. So starched and proper, trying to be what comes easily to us of the higher classes. Yes, that's it. Do you fear your cant will slip into the commons, the colloquial? That you'll stumble to your knees by accident and suddenly forget that you ever once dreamed of standing upright. It's more natural, more suitable for ELVES, living on their knees, or more of them would have freed themselves, yes? The collar for you must be less a fear than a daydream—'

She was too close. 'Don't touch me!'

'Never fear.' A sneer, a recoil sudden and sharp, the sultry tone dissipating sharply. 'Only a mother could love that face. If she wasn't a raped SLAVE too lazy to find her own way to freedom. The only cunt you'll ever see was hers the day you crawled out of it.'

But the insult, of everything, returned to Danarius his balance. 'Ugh.'

'Ugh?' Confusion flicked across her face.

'Such distasteful language. Unnecessary. What did I ever do to you to be spoken to in such a way? Be born?' He smiled, pleasant, distant. Well practiced. 'And here you, an educated magister's daughter, and I nothing but an autodidact in etiquette, to say the least.'

The mouth dropped open.

'I did think we were achieving a relative level of civility. Intellectualism, even, on this our common ground. But, as you brought it up. Such a lack of female organ in my life would not grieve me greatly, now or ever. Particularly if said lack commenced immediately, with the removal of your own,' he gestured, limply, 'bifurcated bits from my chambers.'

The confusion settled into disdain, off centre, but with an ease of centuries of breeding behind it. The pipe suffered one last long, languid draw, before she dropped it, ground the ash into his rug, and swayed excessively in departure. 'Such a— fucking weirdo.'

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