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A brassy trumpeting began to sound, spreading around the cavern until it seemed like it could shake the place apart. Stomping polyrhythms began again in earnest when this subsided, the bass wobble harmonics multiplying. Mystvall removed their large circular neck torc. Drawing Soleil’s attention with piercing focus, they let loose a melodic bellow.

OBSERVE.

With a great heave, the torc went spinning through the air until it ricocheted crashing against a far curved wall, sending crystalline gems sparkling down through the air. The torc rebounded directly toward someone across the chamber, who caught it and flung their own torc into other recesses. Crashes and catches syncopated, tinkling explosions in chorded pitches.

Aureny began launching their regalia in groups via criss-crossing trajectories, rotating throws and catches. Pauldrons and other accessories went into the mix. Hardly accident nor error could Soleil notice as chunks of metal and stone greater than her size went hurtling. The body-fitting designs also possessed aerodynamic qualities. Crystals were falling constantly on every side, facets flashing as the glow inside dimmed, chiming as they tumbled into each other. These riches piled up on the floor far below.

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The Princess was now beginning to differentiate between the traits of the people and the traits of the person in their emissarial escort. Though there was a pervasive hostility about the way the Aureny addressed her presence, Mystvall didn’t direct that toward her in any pointed manner, and they exhibited persistent patience in not outpacing her as they progressed.

They finally stopped before a tunnel mouth, where the gemstone formations burst forth in a ring of stunning variety and intensity. They were perched upon a view of an enormous atrium, like looking into a heart at the edge of a blood vessel. Across this vast space were many more openings like theirs in the chamber wall, with an Aureny at each. Soleil observed that each opening was set in a funnel-like depression, and she recognized this as a shape employed to cast and receive sound. Inside this central chamber, the crystal growth was awe-inspiring, casting glow in a rainbow of pulsing hues. There could be a full phronium spectrum here, maybe beyond the spectrum, even power material of an entirely different kind. The distant floor of this geode-like atrium was flat stone, even and cleared.

In stillness, Mystvall had retreated into a quiet state of meditation. Rosy Glow came to settle at Soleil’s eye level, casting an excited carmine blush. “What they’re going to express, I can’t really translate for you. Though there will be a lot happening outside your range of hearing, you will still experience an incredible concerto. You should remain in total awareness in order to keep yourself safe. Don’t worry about me or let me distract you – unlike you, I’m able to not be injured by stray projectiles. They’re rarely, if ever, off mark; if they’re not trying to hit you, they probably won’t as long as you don’t jump in the way of their target. I’m staying nearby in case you require a verbal communication. I’ll try to locate myself in a place where you can safely stand if you’re suddenly confused, since it’s a little easier for me to view trajectories without having to worry about my personal safety. But you don’t have to just follow me! Stay in your own body and do what feels right for you! There may be more safe spots than the ones I notice, that might be easier for you to reach.” Rosy Glow appeared to fret a little, then fell silent.

Soleil took this in wordlessly, readying herself before further questions or events. She was wearing the Vedani gearsuit, which Uixtr and Moonshadow had cleaned and serviced. With a sharp knock, she engaged the suit’s armor shock sensitivity, feeling the localized hardening of the tensile fibers. She pulled the hood out of the collar, tucked her long hair underneath it, and tensed it to fit. Uixtr had shown her the visor, a little piece of sheer film which hardened to clear; she pulled that down over her brow and tapped it, then dragged her glove across her mouth and smacked both sides of her jaw. The suit might keep her from getting dinged, but not from being crushed, tossed around, or broken. “How long should I expect this to last?” she finally asked.

“Two, maybe four of your hours,” replied Rosy Glow, who quieted and turned to look at Mystvall, whose silence had intensified. The loaded hush filled with something outside her hearing spread throughout the cavern. Wobbling into her awareness was more than just a vibration and bigger than a sound, a mesh of transmission nearly visible throughout the air – low and full bodied, emanating from every balcony divot in the geode wall. The crystals in the resonating bowls were effulgent with frequencies. The phenomena were all tied together. Soleil boggled knowing that they were hearing a great deal more, if they even thought of it as hearing. Guessing by their sensory organs, hearing might be the same as seeing to them, and breathing a part of it. The headplate might also have a resonant chamber, she felt sure with the way some held it at an angle.

The basso wobble took on a polyrhythmic core. Various members of the assembly began to stomp in time, every sound carrying, not a footfall lost as they took conversational turns. Since she wasn’t yet fearing bodily injury, Soleil figured this must be the build-up. She relaxed loosely while she could.

 

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YOU MUST BE NIMBLE. WE WILL NOT ACTUALLY BE TRYING TO HURT YOU, BUT YOU MUST KEEP YOURSELF UNHURT. THERE IS NO PLACE FOR YOU THAT IS GUARANTEED FROM HARM, EXCEPT WHATEVER PLACE YOU CAN FIND, WHICH WILL CHANGE BY THE MOMENT.

THE TEMPERING IS FOR AURENY, AND YOU ARE SHAPED DIFFERENTLY. WE HAVE ALLOWED SOME OTHERS TO BE PRESENT, INCLUDING ROSY GLOW. MOST HAD TO BE NIMBLE, IF NOT INSUBSTANTIAL, TO APPRECIATE THIS.

THE AVAILABILITY OF SUCH AN OCCASION UPON YOUR ARRIVAL IS TOO GOOD A SERENDIPITY TO PROTECT YOU FROM IT.

As Soleil followed Mystvall at her tiny-legged human pace, she marveled at the encrustations of varicolored sparkling crystals thickening on every surface, more profuse in this area than elsewhere. These caves rolled and slanted, with many branchings of varying inclination.

IF YOU RETREAT TO THESE PORTIONS, BE AWARE THAT WE GO BARRELING THROUGH, COLLIDING WITH THE WALLS AND WITH EACH OTHER. THE GEMSTONE GROWTHS WILL NOT PROTECT YOU.

An echo of thunderous steps approached them from around a corner, and another Aureny appeared. Like Mystvall, they were decked out in full finery, metals and stones gleaming against their hide and in the rough fur at the joints. The two Aureny butted headplates and reared their heads to either side, ticking some crystals off the walls to the ground.

Soleil guessed that the proceedings may be similar, though amplified. She picked up a fallen crystal, and let it go again as she refrained from the desire to keep it. There could be quite a harvest. Having seen this, Soleil now noticed the areas of old abrasion, already sporting new crystal growth. How long had it been since the previous Tempering in this cave?

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It was just Soleil, Mystvall, and Rosy Glow again. Soleil walked with them, slowest of the three, down a different tunnel that descended deeper into the crust, losing sight of even the most distant and misty skylight. Down this way, glowing crystal growths sprouted periodically. Soleil doubted if the Aureny needed light as a necessity, but perhaps the emanations still marked the way for them.

WE WISH FOR YOU TO BE PRESENT FOR THIS EVENT, THOUGH THERE IS NOWHERE WE CAN PLACE YOU THAT IS STRICTLY SAFE. YOU WILL GAIN FURTHER UNDERSTANDING OF US. THE TEMPERING IS A RECEPTION WE HOLD FOR GROUPS FROM OTHER SUBTERRANEA. IT WILL BE BETTER EXPLAINED BY WITNESSING. DO YOU FEEL RESTORED?

“I am well, though my muscles still recall the strain of the previous day. As fully rested as possible, and willing to go forward.” When Soleil awoke, she was in a pile of thick, limp, velvety leaves as large as herself. Wendel had been sitting nearby at that moment, and accounted of their very fair treatment.

They enjoyed their leaf beds, and were supplied with bottomless bowls of palatable chopped vegetable varieties, which Uixtr informed them were human-safe. They were allowed into an adjoining garden space where they could do their necessaries. It wasn’t too bad at all. Uixtr had interpreted well enough without actual translation. After Soleil had been returned to them, Rosy Glow took the time to give Moonshadow some Aureny translation capability. Moonshadow didn’t apply as much organic flair and had a higher rate of confusion from its vibrational limitations, but had gotten up to doing quite well when Toller tested it by hooking their Aureny guardian for an impromptu interview. Soleil viewed the replay that Moonshadow captured: bland yet polite, with maybe a touch of deadpan humor from both, handling Moonshadow’s earnest inaccuracies. The vehicle utilized certain engine and light levels to achieve the needed modulations, looking like an actor putting on a role. Uixtr and Moonshadow had also been escorted for an outing on their own business with the Aureny. All reassured Soleil they would be fine while she had more to attend. She recalled the juicy crunch of the succulent and refreshing vegetables.

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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.