46

The military office was typically austere. The General had been able to give it some personal touches, like the blond hardwood from his home province, and his mother’s photography of the Capital city. Besides that, it embodied the position, not the person holding it. On the visitor’s side of the large desk sat the Princess’ cousin Margeaux Rienne.

“We want to thank you for managing the security and scheduling of my cousin’s recovery. No other could have been so expedient. Princessa Mireille also extends an invitation to the noon meal with herself and her brothers. They’re dining at the Globe.”

“An honor. I accept.”

“Glad you could make time for this visit, General.”

“You’re welcome by my office, Miss Rienne. Give your brother my regards – he did well at the engineering exposition.” She nodded and left.

Draig opened the refrigerated drawer of his desk and pulled out a cold juice. He popped the top and chugged it. From other drawers he compiled files and devices into a light case. He checked his reflection in the door of the armoire and exited without delay.

Hopping a couple routed transports, he crossed the Imperial neighborhood toward quarters where Bright Wave and her band were temporarily housed. He tried to forget the things filling his day before and after.

46

Draig felt giddy at the thought of a session with the renowned Bright Wave. She had extended an invitation on a day they stood by Soleil’s bedside, expressing concern and compassion. He felt warm on his way there.

Rasakarya is an expressed portrait made with one’s own thoughts and perspectives about their life. The offer of something this personal from a Pan-Galactically known artist made him feel swell. So he cast from his mind the rest of life’s moments when he worked like a slave and worried like an old man.

Eventually he reached the curved hall of the Aquari quarters. The quiet here gave him a sinking feeling, which was confirmed by a look from the guard as he approached. “General Claymore, Bright Wave offers her apologies – she and two of her group were called away to an emergency on the Home planets. The other two are currently in the city, if you wish to contact them.”

“Alright. That won’t be necessary. Thank you for relaying the message.” They saluted each other, and Draig headed back to the transports. He allowed himself a pout where no one could see him.

As he stepped into a private transport and set the flight path, he mentally thanked the Aquarii for the insight they’d given while the Princess had been comatose. He knew that somehow they’d put themselves at risk, remembering their harried look after leaving the hospice room.

He hadn’t been able to really speak to Soleil since she woke. Whether or not she was well, he couldn’t say for himself. He let the roles they played define their distance, for now. If that was the best he could do.

Claymore entered the main military tower at the base of the obelisk’s peak. Rounding a corner, he stopped short in front of the Dragon Councillor and Generals Lucay and Iparia.

“General Alisandre.” In this building and off the planet of his station, Claymore was called by his greater title. The dragon spoke it with respect, yet as always caused Draig to feel like a boy of three rather than thirty. Though as the youngest General in command, he was regardless accustomed to feeling the junior. “We are meeting with General Ionia and fleet admirals on the Alpha base in the Photuris sector of the Libran Federet. The vortex anomaly there is undergoing disturbing developments.”

“This, we need to see.” General Lucay twitched his gray mustache. “Ionos sounded out of his hull trying to explain over the com.”

General Iparia took Claymore’s briefcase from his hand. “I checked your schedule. You’ve got nothing more pressing, so,” he clapped his hand on the young man’s back, “I’m glad you made it to our appointment early.”

42

The sky was turning pale with the first light of dawn. The General and Princessa were reading by lamplight in a corner. A ghostly light shone over Princess Soleil’s face, reflecting off the wall and displays around her head.

A display brightened before making the urgent chime they knew as the change of state alert. Mireille Magus dropped her book to her lap and looked over at General Claymore. In a moment she was by her sister’s bed reading the display. To Draig, Soleil looked no different, except for perhaps a change around her eyes.

“She’s in regular REM sleep.” Mireille searched his face. “She might wake up.” General Claymore was on his feet instantly, quietly. Still reading the display, Mireille spoke just above a whisper. “I will contact my family. Please inform the Doctor, Arkuda, Bright Wave, and the medical staff. In that order. Thank you, General.” He stepped closer to see Soleil breathing easily before striking a salute and exiting.

People arrived shortly. Aided by the dragon and Aquari, the doctor advised that the Princess would likely be awake within the day. Queen Celeste would wait.

It was two deep breaths before Soleil realized she was conscious in her waking mind, in the world again. The room was quiet. No pain, other than heaviness in her limbs.

Trying to clear her throat, she managed to make a noisy breath. Swallowing was easy. She adjusted to the dim light. It was a deep relief to be looking out through her eyes again. Someone familiar sat to her left. Her grandmother, the Queen.

42

“Don’t speak, Soleil.” The Queen placed two fingers on her granddaughter’s lips before holding her face between her hands.

A surge of panic woke Soleil more fully. Did the Queen know what had been revealed to her? She welcomed the presence, but her mind recoiled with mistrust. Ugly things she’d learned in her sleep came rushing back. Paranoia took the helm before giving over to cool analysis, as she’d learned to do. Still, she could only bring herself to meet her grandmother’s eyes for so long.

The Queen hummed a long, entrancing tune. It brought her comfort, yet when Soleil realized she was being lulled, she fought back. She felt warmth at her temples, and was reminded of the seven symbols she tucked away. They would remind her, and they were safe. She would not forget.

23

An audio newscast played quietly in the dim room. Mireille reclined in a chair next to the bed where her older sister lay still. Facedown on her lap was an open history textbook on the Phiroen Era of Magus expansion, when a group of imperial fleet officers staged a military revolt. The orb embedded at the top of the curved ceiling pulsed its light in theta rhythms.

Section 23

A knock on the door. Mireille rose, setting the book down. She opened the door a few inches, then all the way, letting the visitor in. “General Claymore. Draig.”

He stepped forward, his eyes on Soleil beneath the covers. He turned his head to nod back. “Princessa Mireille. How’s she doing?”

They kept their voices quiet, both watching the bed. “Her vitals are fine, but we still can’t wake her.”

“I don’t know what happened there. She looked tired, but that was all. She collapsed mid-sentence. I think she was conscious for a few moments more before she passed out entirely.” His brow furrowed. “This hasn’t ever happened before, right?”

Mireille shook her head. “No. No, she’s never just fallen like that. These ceremonies hardly phase her, I can’t explain it. I just hope she wakes up soon.”

After a moment, Draig cleared his throat. “Do you want someone to relieve you here?”

She smiled. “No, thank you. I’m catching up on my history, anyhow.” She gestured to the facedown book. “Get some rest. We may need your help later.”

13

She was finally nearing the end of guest reception. Members of the family stood in different areas, having informal words with those leaving. On Soleil’s left, her younger sister Mireille was bowing to an Aquari Councillor. Brown-haired and still wearing baby fat at eighteen, she took more after their father, sharing his inclination to follow stories and gossip. Soleil understood politics, and Mireille understood politicians. They weren’t the closest of friends – Margeaux knew more of her heart – but they spoke often about matters of state.

Soleil could feel composure slipping, and knew she needed to get out. She put a hand on her sister’s shoulder, who leaned an ear to her. “I need to go for now,” she spoke quietly. “I’ll be back if I can.”

Mireille curved her lips in a smile, speaking back with equal warmth. “Be well, Soleil. I can take it from here.” Turning in a way that kept the shape of her skirts, Soleil went through the double doors behind them that led to the outer balcony. This open-air walk stretched around the outside curve of the Auditorium building, ending in Imperial offices and apartments. There was a dressing room there where she could take a moment.

The night air was cool. Soleil sighed, tilting her face to the sky. It was on this balcony that her mother had taught her the Alisandrian constellations. Though the Pan-Galactic Imperium spanned dozens of planets acquired over more than twenty generations, the royal seat had been on Alisandre since the beginning of expansion. It was this sky, her mother said, that had shaped the dynasty – no matter how many skies she would see over her lifetime, these stars would tell her she was home.

Her formal shoes clicked along the flagstone expanse. The balcony was mostly empty, but for a scattering of strolling pairs, who bowed as she passed. Rounding the final curve, she slowed her pace when she saw the figure leaning against the rail. Hearing an approach, he stood, and smiled.

The high-dress uniform in colors of black, red, gold and white struck a crisp outline to his caramel brown hair and weathered complexion. He made a bow, his eyes crinkling at hers. “An honor, Princess Soleil.”

She acknowledged him, her face opening into a weary smile. “General Draig Claymore.” Though the sight of her childhood friend cheered her, she was still dragging, and was sure that it must show. This was the first she’d seen of him since her return, and she was loathe to make the time short; but she had to admit she felt ready to collapse. “I’m glad you could attend.” Her head felt light and detached, her voice far away. “Please excuse me -”

Section 13

He rushed forward when he saw her drop.

Suddenly Soleil looked up, felt the pavers beneath her hands, and realized she was no longer standing. She was supported on Draig’s arm, and he was shouting to someone. Soleil began to laugh at herself, but when she opened her mouth it was only the jabber of flames, and everything was lost in the sunfire.