Hvs.tCF 40:1/Text

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He collapsed into being, like an explosion in reverse. He balled his fists before he knew he had hands, planted his combat boots on a hard marble floor, before he knew he had feet. He took a sharp, violent breath, and met the world.

Popping into thin air was the worst—and only—thing that had ever happened to him. And the air was thin here. Faq was a mountain city. That was his side: Faq. A young Queendom. Three cities. Allies to the south, enemies to the east and northwest. Lucky for him.

He knew these things before he knew who he was. But now the room assembled itself in his vision, and something like an identity coalesced in his...what? Soul or something. He was a Prince.

That was cool, he guessed. He'd allow it.

He touched his raiment. Heavy blue cotton vest and trousers...denim, with brass studs in it. Spiked leather bracers on his wrists, a matching collar around his neck. Laced-up, serious buttkickers for boots. All right. Tucked inside each boot was a thin knife, balanced for throwing. These were the mates to six heavier daggers inside the vest. He knew he could put a knife in an enemy's eye socket from across a courtyard, and he itched to do it soon.

This room...a big empty chamber, began to make sense to him. Tables, corridors leading away, beige marble arches, a throne...it was a Royal Court. He wasn't sure why they kept gwiffons in here, but okay.

There were three warlords near him, who'd formed up in a little line and snapped to attention at his appearance. He glanced at them in their clean white matching plate mail and generic swords, and wondered if the Titans had given them matching blank personalities, too.

The other four people in this room, the interesting ones, were up on the dais. They were looking down at him.

To one side of the big oval-backed throne stood a hot blonde barbarian caster. He would have to get to know that, for sure. Next to her was a big brown guy with magic headgear. That was his Chief Warlord, although...not for long, the Prince assumed.

To the other side of the throne stood a gray-skinned foreign warlord in a leather jacket, also in denim trousers and boots. He didn't know what that guy's deal was, but he liked the look of him. He kind of had the urge to have a few drinks and a fist fight with him, in rapid succession.

And in the middle, upon the blue throne of Faq, sat his dear mother, whose fault it was that he stood here today.

She was sitting there in a high-necked white gown, wearing a battle helmet inset with a gold and sapphire crown. Her eyes were fixed on him, and she wasn't smiling. Whatever she was seeing in him, he could tell right off she didn't like it.

Well? What did she want? He ran his hand over his face and head. His lower lip, eyebrows and ears were jabbed through with metal pins, barbs, and studs. His hair was in stiff, crunchy spikes. He gave her a big, wide grin, and felt his piercings shift around.

"Hi, Mom!!" he yelled up to her, though she was only a few steps in front of him. The sound of his voice came back a few times from the vaulted ceilings and marble walls.