– 19 –
This is no more trying than anything my forebears have committed. Missing the Ascendant; missing the Scion. We have a succession, like we’ve always known to have. The Imperium is still the Imperium. I’ve made it as it is now – this is what we’ve all said.
I have made it as it is now, so it will continue. As it will, so shall I. All we have, our lives from beginning to end. All this I must.
I am the twenty-fourth ruler of this era. We have forged a memory, all our lives, from beginning to end. The way it could be, and the way it is – we all step upon this stone. It really is not so simple, and never has been. We are thus, and at times the grand total outweighs even a lifetime.
Unwearied, at full measure, equal to my greatest moment. I am always.
(from The Annals of Celeste, Magus the 24th)
– 20 –
I deduce their fall, as I sense her flight. The rest goes accordingly. More will come, quickly enough; I’ll know when it comes for me. I have no worry, and my own fear has died over and over. I’ve never gone with it.
What about them? This, one of the largest and most fraught questions of my life. What about them? The things it has meant, with what I have seen and been.
It’s almost comforting to be caught in self absorption. I think practically nothing of myself, except what may be mine to accomplish. I have nothing but myself here in these walls, which to me are nearly illusory. I am entertaining this illusion now, though it may not entertain me for much longer.
I could send my being out in some way, in some direction, for the cost of the time it took. This has taken me all the time till now to be able to do. I’ve made myself and been remade, to become able. I accept my abilities like fate, but the decision has always been mine – in the surprisingly rare points where one exists.
Here and now, I have no decisions to make. I do little but recall who I am, and try not to think about the parts missing.
– 21 –
The dragon Arkuda is remembering the names of the unbanished dragons alive for the War, and which of them still live. ‘E is one of them. Thinking of the others not by the shorthand pronounceable by other species, but the name of a dragon called by another dragon, the bugle that can be heard over other planes. A human, an eagle, or an ant might hear it as a roar. They might all hear it.
Some that hear a name might have a response, and by that response guess whose name was spoken, calling them closer by remembering. Unseen dragons often lurk in the unremembered. Unremembered by whom?
The Dragon Councillor sought places of revealing, though nowhere near a revelation. A revelation fills the sky. Calling dragons was a matter of timing, not time.
Arkuda liked the Imperium. Thought it was a genius idea for its time. ‘E’d already spent human generations explaining it to other dragons, so they would understand how they were included. Conceiving of oneself as a part of the universal fabric is different from interlocking with a species nation.
Arkuda didn’t mind explaining all that could be explained. This is why Arkuda was selected as Councillor.
– 22 –
The Dragon Councillor had familiarized the General with the kind of bird they use in covert messaging. He hadn’t before needed the service of these creatures, or rather the dragons hadn’t employed them to his function. Claymore could see the recognition and wayfinding abilities in their eyes. Their plumed posture belied a sense of humor. They were said by dragons to have a ‘confusing warble’ which causes them to be strangely forgettable to dragons despite their charming appearance. Excellent birds, said Arkuda, who seemed to have a fondness for them. Claymore, too, liked the bird well on its visits, and noted its plumage.
That’s how he knew this was a different bird arriving to his office, not the one with whom he was already friendly. The bird looked primally satisfied as the man removed its written burden, and left without ceremony.
“3 Pyrean,” spelled the message in shorthand. Claymore understood why this course of action should follow. They had discussed seeking, hunting, baiting, drafting, hiring, and auditioning, all relating to different dragons. They would seek three of this year’s Pyrean Midsummer dragons; Saga, the fourth, was known to have a long-standing conflict with this conflict.
Three Pyrean. That meant he needed to tie up loose ends today, or at least tuck them in. Now that the Sturlusson matter was delivered entirely to the Keepers, he could address his new primary duties. The General opened an occasional line to his planning officer. They spoke of his likely travel course.
He could continue to be the operatives’ anchor as a briefly active agent. The royal family didn’t strictly need him at this time, even if they liked having him around. Keeping himself chained wouldn’t bring the missing Princess any closer. General Alisandre also needed to pay a visit to Freshwater, for more than one reason – he’d been invited to a rabbit dinner.
“While you’re off-planet, do you want us to shunt communications to the next organizational layer?”
“That will not be necessary – for I, Draig Claymore, am in charge.”
“Thank you, sir.”
After finishing his call, he retrieved his box of previous bird-carried messages. He translated one of his more recent missives to Councillor Arkuda. “Cultural liaisons and military historians recommend Viridian Phasing protocols.”
That sentence meant pages of debate that the dragon Councillor would infer because ‘e would be the first to point it out. Convincing the participation of enough dragons was a battle-scale endeavor. This war maneuver (for that was what it was), researched and proven in a nearly mythical time, was a matter of rare curiosity. General Claymore thought to himself that if he could vanquish impending struggle by ringing the first and last note of a twenty-part chorale, he would award himself another imaginary secret medal. His favorite kind.
This was to be a seeking. Claymore knew there were steps to a seeking, and Arkuda would make them easy. But one still had to embark upon it. From his armoire, General Alisandre selected a midweight streamlined woolen outer.
– 23 –
The autopod containing General Alisandre and the Dragon Councillor descended smoothly through the layers of Foshan’s atmosphere, reaching the formational storm clouds beneath. Attendant pressurizing meant they had time to continue discussion. In their case, that meant Councillor Arkuda carried on a considered monologue while the General concentrated and displayed his reactions and degree of comprehension.
“The difference between seeing a dragon, and meeting a dragon… with the latter, you may have some exchange. For instance, I don’t actually talk to that many people.” The General thought that Arkuda talked to a great many, then thought perhaps the dragon drew a distinction between public speaking and conversation. “Having met once, it’s easier to meet again. I’m an easier dragon to meet than most. I am well understood.” The dragon blinked with satisfaction. “I have been well understood by many over quite some time, which makes seeking me simple to an unnoticeable degree.”
“Other dragons are more reclusive, even alien to those who haven’t considered eir existence, or thought as to what ‘e might be like, besides simply a dragon. We have very little in common at times between individuals.” The dragon briefly clasped er scale-plated hands before bowed head. “This is our problem currently.”
A noise alerted them that the autopod receiver had made contact and was now guiding their vessel. Below them loomed a massive black bar sitting very still in the storm-tossed waves. It was as long as some of the tallest buildings in Alisandre Capital, and radiated shadow from its light-absorbent surface. A landing port slid open beneath a pop-up fielding, which deflected an errant wave like a stone. The autopod entered the giant bar with Arkuda and Claymore inside.