24.XV \ 205

Soleil dropped a set of thought filters onto her perception, engaging her applicable knowledge to sift what was being told to her. She allowed Raev to continue without being interrupted.

“Also for the denial of the presence of Vedani sentience. The Kao-Sidhe cover-up and displacement was an old matter continually carried over, though who is really responsible for that, if anyone? The next to do so, it may be presumed. So far, that isn’t you. It seems you pioneered a different way. They actually… hang out with you.

“Overlooking the Aureny I see as pure human error. It definitely wasn’t Aquarii, or Dragons who wanted all their gems at the cost of their lives without recognizing them as people. Though, the Aquarii may have enjoyed benefits and advances with the unexplained influx of new materials… at least until they were removed of an intrinsic link to their ancestral history.

“The continued exile of the Red Nexus Dragons had coincidentally reached its time. They’d figured out their own situation, achieving contact with the Kao-Sidhe and Vedani as they were doing so.”

Raev let his head nod humbly with just a touch of self-aware sardonic mockery. “I was able to figure out how all their emerging grievances fit with the Hirylien Remainder as they reached a tipping point. There were ways we could create the changes we sought in a threatening and hostile society.”

24.XIV \ 205

The street changed once they’d made their way beyond the first horizon. Their total walking distance wasn’t measurably huge, but they had certainly covered a lot of ground in barely any time at all. The sun was dipping, though not yet sinking fast.

Here the commercial buildings thinned into some undeveloped tree space. Through this micro-savannah, they approached some curved streets. Two semicircles met against the straight road they walked, forming a bisected loop. Raev paused for a long while upon the sight of this junction. Soleil took the opportunity to encapsulate the scene around them, and note its effect on him.  He continued again in the same relaxed and almost quiet tone. “Only one person remains with direct decision-making culpability in the Slaughter of Hirylien… your father.”

24.XIII \ 205

The two progressed along this business thoroughfare with residential side streets. The hills were on the side of the reservoir where they came from. “I suppose I hadn’t reached an active enough role to be given the confidential information regarding these issues,” mused Soleil. At six, there was no way she could have been relevant, and at twenty-four they’d hoped it was long buried.

“They were wise enough not to include additional people in the decisions of wrongdoing. It’s part of why I was willing to give you half a chance.” Raev glanced to his side, regarding Soleil. “You’ve thus far shown yourself to be decent, and honest. If you were hiding something nefarious, like what we’re discussing now, the Aureny would have tossed you over the edge when you were matching forces.”

She recalled clarifying her intentions before walking into the chamber. “You’d have been just as happy if they did away with me in the case of my having compromised integrity.”

“You are right about that.” Sturlusson’s voice was steely and ruthless, though not cruel. “But they didn’t. You also made no misstep throughout the Tempering, which means you were able to respect them as well. So, I’m giving you that much.”

24.XII \ 205

This street ended at a t-junction, facing a defunct corner store bearing a sign that read Convenience in large script.

Here the Princess stopped, and her guide regarded her. “I know how this might sound, but – the Imperium is founded on cooperation and inclusion. It can’t even exist today without the collective skill sets of different planetary peoples. Cooperation is the force that propelled it to the present moment, even the spark of its inception. Relation is the mandate. That includes all known… all known…”

Soleil let out a sigh and dropped forward, empathetic pain wrenching her face where it could scarcely be seen. Her brow remained furrowed, gaze on her thoughts. “I know it sounds like I’m harping on an ideal, yet – any civilization is little else than an ideal. That I can name it means it exists, though it mightn’t have guided every action. I’m not the only one who knows where the backbone lays. But the power…” She looked up and faced Raev to show him her expression: the internal accumulation of assessment, graced with stunned acknowledgment of all the reality she’d faced. “…The power is acting against itself.” Her continuing readiness to act held her together, and her sword of logic sharpened as she continued applying it in her cogitations.

He took this in with a frank and direct gaze before replying to the skyline. “How often does an established power structure depart from the ideals which created it? It happens, when those with power are afraid they might lose it. They can betray what empowered them, which may empower another.” Sturlusson lifted his hand to direct them to the right, where a wind whistled down a long, hard road.

24.9 \ 205

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.