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Sometimes, duty is a bitter thing.

Neal stands in a hallway in the palace, bracing himself to knock on a door he's knocked on without hesitation many times before. Two nameplates are still on it - one older, one newer but no longer new, though by all rights the older one should be gone by now.

Kel sometimes talked about duty as a killing sword, the killing sword, really. Neal had never realized the full truth of that until today.

If Kel knew what Neal was preparing to do, she would either stop him or help him. Neal isn't sure, honestly, which would be worse.

Neal knocks on the door. It opens, and a curly-haired head pokes out.

"Oh, hello, Neal," Daine begins, the same greeting as always, in the same soft voice that once had Neal half-convinced he was in love.

The sword cuts through her spine before she gets through her greeting, and she chokes on the name of a dead man. Somewhere far back in her apartment, a dragon screams.

At the same moment, the screams, shrieks, wails, whistles, and all the rest of the unholy racket outside come to an abrupt, instant silence. For the first time in over a month, Corus is quiet.

King Jonathan never finds out for certain who saved his life. But when the heir of Queenscove comes to him to resign his knighthood, Jon takes one long look at the younger man's drawn face and gives him a special dispensation to return to the Royal University.

No animal is ever again permitted in the presence of the royal family, barring absolute necessity.