143.2 \ 335

The King Proxem assessed his adult daughter, his challenger. Her jumpsuit armoring was of exotic make, without adornment, effect, or decoration. It was complex, and lightweight-plus. The Princess Ascendant’s lips were an unusual deep space black, maybe signifying something. A change in her, certainly. The sword. The scroll. Black hair braided, and rolled into the high-necked collar of a half-deployed hood. Here in this room, not long ago to him, she’d worn a family colors ballgown.

Some part of him must have thought he might just talk her home, but that likelihood was not prevalent. He couldn’t exactly feel his position, so he pivoted to the situation. She looked supported, and strong. He flexed his experienced hands at his sides, also noting the pen in the scroll. He felt physically comfortable in usual light official suiting, wearing just the emblem of the Old Armor that had been reworked into a sparse chain harness. At his sides were the knife and the short sword he knew well.

143.1 \ 335

Moonshadow descended over the grand checkered tile balcony outside the reception hall, where long ago now Princess Soleil had fallen into a deep dream coma. The scene flickered in her memory beneath her as though she had been there in the darkness above. Now the sky was just lightening in the early morning, tinting some dragon’s breath clouds. The window-paned doors were wide open; the layered curtains were unlaced, billowing slightly through the doorway.

Dusk-Arrow had the shape of a greatsword and the balance of a 1-1/2 hander, and swinging it felt like a sword aflame. She connected her body to it in this briefly disappearing second with an elliptical hand-switching whirl overhead, opening the space in her skeleton for peaceful breaths floating within her carven frame. “Go hide when I walk in, okay,” said Soleil to her mount. “Don’t come unless I call.” Moonshadow quietly brought her to her destination landing.

From the compartment just barely big enough in Moonshadow’s column, she carried out a heavy, tightly rolled, deckled rag vellum scroll passionately pressed immediately upon request by the printer who dared. There was a red ribbon to tie around it, and a fine pen clipped in. She took this in one hand, and slung the sword over her shoulder as she took her next steps alone. In just that moment, the sky had progressed to a beautiful, brilliant dawn.

142 \ 334

Toller had earned it up to get back to Genesee. A lot had changed for him, and he knew a lot had changed for the home planet, too. That first sense of exterrestrialism, or interterrestriality, transformed into feeling like the planet had become a friend instead of a mother – a being he could keep in touch with to remember who he was and how far he’d come. He knew he might not feel as much like he belonged after the time away, but he’d found another kind of belonging that spanned the stars.

It was just him and his backpack. Toller was backtracking. He hadn’t gotten all the way to Meriada – still might be too soon, still – but he went ahead and faced the pain of Anzi’s destruction. There might be someone who could use a hand. The city and the people who remained of it had moved to the outskirts untouched by the lava flow. Toller was making his way around the lopsided crescent. The whole landscape here was in early remediation phases, where life could be sustained, but it was also bursting. It was space pioneer life out here right now, but the surge of regenerative resiliency laid a cheerful tone over the struggle. There was a lot of cottage food and microfarming from neighborhood to neighborhood. This next one up the road had just gotten a mural on the facing outside wall, and Toller was definitely going inside.

He didn’t know what hit him, he didn’t know what just happened, but there was a time warp and he was looking at a beloved ghost. Her hair was short now, though. Cheli was making a drink for someone at the counter, behind the fresh sprouts growing all along the top and the bowls of fresh vegetables. He watched her pour it into a worker’s cup, who thanked her and left. A little dazed, Toller walked up and asked with a gesture to the jar against the wall, “Are you actually making spiced powder apple?”

“Um, Yeah!” she exclaimed with recognition, throwing her arms open. They hugged tightly over the counter. “There might even be some that you made in there. I seriously grabbed and ran with that huge jar, and it kept me alive. There’s no one else in here right now, I’ll just sit down with you.”

The day was mostly sunny right now through the screen window, where there were two chairs. They sat, each with a warm cup in their hands. “I turned thirteen,” said Toller as the first order of catch-up.

“I’m the big 1-7.”

“A lot has happened.” They both sat there, nodding and sipping. “I made some friends. I feel like I have some options.” Cheli smiled wordlessly, looking around her and through the window with some measure of wonder. “I have a newsrag. Care to have a look?”

“Yeah, actually. It’s been a little while. Give me the big stuff, news from another world.”

Toller shook the inkcloth and got an item that was new within minutes. “Plexus Signs Package to InnerG Transport. Hmmm. I might even know something about that,” he started before stopping awkwardly, unsure if it was even safe information. Cheli looked sidelong at the tone in his voice and shook her head, smirking. She was proud of him but didn’t really need to know, even though she could guess. “But that story would take a long time to tell, and might still be happening.” As he talked, Cheli looked as though she was figuring something else out while she listened. Toller shook up another headline, also brand new. “Twilight’s Arrow Reported Missing. A dragonslayer sword. It’s actually really old.” Cheli craned over to look at a picture of the sword.

A woman came in through the door with a basket of jars. As she rose from her chair, Cheli leaned over to Toller for another hug and said, “Ask me later if you think you might want a spot of work around here.”