15.3 \ 197

Soleil’s suitsoles grated backwards against the firm stone. The slide felt long and far, but she held her stance and pushed up more, if there could be more. That might tell them they’d gone far enough. She laid her temple against the solid hide and gritted her teeth.

Then, they drew back a small measure. Soleil slumped but didn’t fall in the sudden gap, her hands still braced. They tilted their head back to face her again, sensory pits at twice eye level. They huffed, blowing her hair back, before drawing up again to the height of a building. This was followed by a final stamp of acknowledgment. Well met.

Soleil looked down the spiral ledge at the line of expectant emissaries. They glowed and glittered in jeweled finery. How many could she meet with, and which would they be? Would they all judge her as well as this one?

Poised and determined, she progressed, and struggled individually with one after another. She became accustomed to differentiating by comportment – approximating impressions of fairness, lesser hostility, natural curiosity, and openness to communication.

The Princess Ascendant continued until her efforts collapsed. She sank, and couldn’t pick herself up anymore. Panting, she flopped herself onto her back and raised an arm to signal Mystvall, face still twisting with effort. The remaining assembly was dismissed, sounds of exit muffled under Soleil’s exertion.

Rosy Glow traveled with Mystvall down the ramp to her side. Soleil had propped herself onto an elbow, but collapsed again.

YOU WILL REST, THEN REJOIN US FOR THE TEMPERING FESTIVITY BEFORE YOU HOLD YOUR AUDIENCE.

Claws the size of her arms lifted Soleil onto Mystvall’s headplate, and her consciousness slipped as she was carried away.

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