Chapter 22 (part 1 of 2)

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For ten days, Gallen and Maggie nursed Orick and Everynne, watching them recover. In that time, many people began to arrive from distant worlds, ambassadors and powerful lords who celebrated the end of dronon rule. The first to come were Tharrin, delegates from distant parts of three galaxies who simply appeared the next morning on the road in front of the palace. They had come through their own gates. There were dozens of them-men and women with an eerie presence, a sense of light and peace that filled the air around them.

Gallen asked several of them to help clean up Everynne and Orick and move them to beds in the palace. Several Tharrin gingerly carried the two inside, and the physicians ministered to their wounds behind closed doors, then said that both would be up and about soon.

Afterward, the Tharrin came before Gallen and Maggie, requesting audience. They retired to a quiet chamber of the palace, and a powerful man named Lord Meron spoke with Maggie soberly. He was a tall man, with a barrel for a chest, long, flowing brown hair, and penetrating green eyes. He took Maggie's hand, looked into her face.

"You know," he reasoned, "it is not in the best interests of your people for you to try to claim the omni-mind."

"I know," Maggie answered. "I never wanted the thing in the first place. Gallen and I only won it by accident."

Meron patted her hand. "Still, you won it, and the dronon will hold you accountable."

"Can't I just give it away?" Maggie asked. "Give it back to Everynne?"

"The ornni-mind you can give to Everynne," Meron said, "but the burden of ruling the dronon now belongs to you. They perceive you as their Great Queen, and they will seek counsel from you. If they do not receive guidance, their swarm will be overwhelmed by others."

Meron did not say it, so Maggie said it for him. "Still, they'll try to kill me, won't they?"

Meron nodded slightly in assent. "We can set barriers between them and you, protect you. We've already begun moving the omni-mind from orbit, and we'll hide it so they can't easily regain control of it. But you, you will need to hide yourself, keep moving from world to world, as Semarritte did."

"How am I supposed to hide from the dronon and lead them at the same time?" Maggie asked.

"You can appoint a regent, someone to rule in your stead."

"Everynne?" Maggie asked.

Meron nodded. "She'll do. In a way, you will be doing her a great favor. The dronon will not perceive her as a target, and she will be free to reign without fear."

Maggie nodded thoughtfully, and Gallen saw that they had won a mixed bag of goods. Gallen patted Maggie's shoulder, whispered, "It will be all right. We can make the best of it."

"Och, sure," she said. "I wanted to visit other worlds anyway. This will just keep a fire under my toes, give me a little more incentive."

By that evening, Everynne and Orick were both able to sit up and take a bit of food, and Everynne began directing the withdrawal of dronon hives from the occupied worlds.

Over the next few days, delegates from many worlds continued to gather. The omni-mind soon began to fill with joyous people, and it became as crowded as any inn during the Autumn Fair at Baille Sean.

And in that time, Everynne grieved for Veriasse, and put on Semarritte's mantle for the first time.

It was on the fourth evening, just after sunset. The dronon had all left, and a few hundred dignitaries had arrived on the omni-mind. But Everynne did not invite them to her investiture. She planned a public ceremony for later, but for the moment she met with Orick, Gallen, and Maggie in private. "You three battled for me across the worlds. You helped me win this moment, and I owe you my life. I want you to come with me now, to witness the death of Everynne and the rebirth of Semarritte."

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