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Raev brought them along the path into the trees riding up toward a short crest. Branch tips curled in vibrant tender spirals. “They made a lot of claims to innocence, lies that we’ve proven. I already knew it because I watched the chain of discoveries here on Hirylien. I had a deep grasp of the social dynamics, with solid knowledge of all the changes taking place. It’s what I did with all my time in that year, with the unbiased absorption of a preteen with full linguistics. I observed when and where everything fell apart. I knew.”

They reached the crest at the end of the copse, which revealed a promontory overlook of the nearby neighborhood. Houses were aswim in greenery, collapsed rooflines and choked roadways blocked with immobile wreckage. A sagging bench was set near a trail that wound down the steep hillside, the local shortcut. Raev stood still in the clear space by the bench, facing the view. Soleil drew level.

“The Hirylien Affliction is an advanced mutation that came from a lab. They were confident they could contain it because they had a counter-agent ready when they released it – though they scrambled conspicuously along expectable timelines, which were too long to save most of our planet given the pace of the disease. Vedani are incredible information trackers, beyond our concepts of safeguards and destruction. They already possessed clarity into most of our systems at that time, and more so now.” Devoid of solicitous gestures, he walked over and started down the trail, making it clear this was not the end and that she should follow.

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