They discovered themselves in a mountain meadow that the Princess had visited once before, on a solo backpacking trip after some time learning from a wilderness instructor. The skypilot flowers she remembered here were underground now; it was cold, and snow would be arriving here any day. The Vedani gearsuit she wore matched its panel tones to the surroundings and maintained her body temperature. Stepping down to the ground from her platform, she turned to face her vehicle, and spoke to those who accompanied her. “You said I have to address it properly. How do I do that?”
Here, the Kao-Sidhe looked particularly like themselves, with no end of fine detail; while they were also even smaller, the size of a figurine rather than a doll statue. Garlic was there with them now. Rosy Glow went once more to lie upon the handlebar podium, putting her ear to its surface. She then propped herself up on an elbow. “After listening to some of the Vedani protocols, I think the best approximation would be: try talking to it like a person.”
“Okay.” The Princess positioned herself to directly address the vehicle’s central processing, and gestured with her gloved hands to engage the system. “Hello, locomotive. Will …you… be okay here? Are you adaptable to this atmosphere?” She spoke steadily and clearly, wondering how well it would understand.
The display switched mannerisms, addressing her in the alphabet of her language.
Princess Soleil asked, “Do I refer to you as it, or he or she?”
“Do you have a name?”
YOU MAY NAME ME
Soleil blinked and examined the interface a little closer. “What are you?”
I AM YOUR MOUNT
The trail beckoned to Soleil. “Alright. Wait here, please.” To the Kao-Sidhe, she expressed the need for a private moment, which they granted with simple acknowledgment. She went to find the almost fully-masked trail to the viewing precipice. She wasn’t the first to seek it, but she was one of very few, as the footpath barely existed. It took a couple corners to the mountain’s shoulder.
The sheer rock ridge was so acute she could bend her fingers over it at a point where the edge rested at chin height. There, she was a tiny creature peering over into a great expanse. She showed her face in view of the city where she was born and had always lived – though she no longer completely understood it, as she had once believed.
To one side of the city in the center, across the dial of the valley, the Mt. Kairas viewing plateau could be seen. The visibility of the naked divot made her feel equally exposed. Upon the cue of a glancing glint in her field of vision, Soleil instinctively ducked. She sat with her back to the ridge, facing the mountain forest. She took two loamy breaths and then returned to the others along the trail.
Just before she reached them, something snapped within, like a tether from the edge she had just visited. With her first step into the clearing, Soleil could see her vehicle (which she hadn’t named yet) and the three Kao-Sidhe. “Leave my sight,” she said, feeling like this had been said by many of her own before her, though she’d never said it yet herself. “I am going to grieve. Leave my sight.” It felt like the urge to vomit, immediately present and violently unavoidable.
Realizing that this was a moment of dangerous vulnerability for any human, the aliens shot up into the sky, clearly going far, far away. The Princess wondered slightly how she could then call them back, but she also didn’t care at that moment.
Looking down, Soleil pulled off her gloves one at a time, and stuffed them into a suit compartment. She stared at her hands, sinking down to her knees. Clutching earth between her fingers, she closed her fists. She touched some of the dirt on her hands to her tongue, and began to shudder at a taste from a time past, feeling the part of her that was now missing. Her throat let loose a yell of rage – that this was so much bigger than her, that the lies of her life felt bigger than the truths, and even those matters were not in her hands.
From the edge of the clearing where she crouched on the ground, she turned, half-consciously reaching until she found the root of a tree beneath her hands. She clung to it solidly, noises of anger and sadness subsiding… until she held the root silently for a time, patting it as though it were special and dear. Then she let go.
Standing quietly once more to view the clearing, Soleil noticed a wild garlic plant. Had that always been there? Going into her recollections, the answer was yes. She had even eaten some here, that time long ago. Bemused, she was making her guess about calling the ambassadors, as she privately referred to the three. She also thought for a time about what she might be ready to do. Her fingertips went to her temples and she felt warmth between them, with recollections in her mind’s eye. She focused to remember what she’d learned, and why, in that dream.
Soleil crouched towards the garlic’s tender leaves, soon to wither. She tugged a garlic leaf as though arranging a shirt lapel, and said quietly but clearly, “You may return to me now. I request the counsel of the Kao-Sidhe.”
With a quick motion of arrival, the Kao-Sidhe were again present. Their gazes were intent and expectant, appearance sharp and bright. Dragon Food’s skin shimmered purple, and he wore a changing-hide garment that trailed to a wisp beneath his floating form. Garlic was a hardnecked varietal, roots waving, white papery skin purple-toned. Rosy Glow’s sweet face was framed by her dresslike patch of brilliant sunset.
Surprised by the ease of connection, Soleil felt humbled. “You are very courteous to me, for a people so angry with my people.” She could recall the presence of the Kao-Sidhe as expressed through flame, in her vision.
“And you are very courteous to us, for a people who have so injured our people.” Rosy Glow’s voice was ethereal and warm.
“I know not of the injury others have done.”
“And we know little of the anger that others feel. So we, out of all our peoples, are in positions to aid each other. And so we have, or done our best.”
“You have. I could walk home from here, and you’ve made no effort to prevent me.” Soleil studied them, and the surrounding trees. “How might I aid you in turn?” The three Kao-Sidhe appeared to savor this question.
After they regarded each other for a moment, Dragon Food spoke. “We would like you to meet our friends.”
“Are they like yourselves?”
“No, they’re entirely different. They know of the Imperium, and in a way, you have seen them. We know that they would like to meet you, Princess Soleil. But we would have to go to them first.”
Soleil reflected again on the destinies of the scions in her line, those lost and those ascended. She would be one or the other. “I will go,” she said. “If they would like to meet me, then I would like to meet them as well.”
The Kao-Sidhe aligned their flight in an equilateral triangle and bowed together, then all moved toward the quiescent vehicle. “Then let’s determine our method of travel, with you and your trusty mount…”
“Moonshadow,” said the Princess, donning a glove and touching a handlebar to awaken the system. “I name you Moonshadow.”