21 \ 203

Though she’d gone to the Tempering with only one full night’s worth of sleep after matching forces with dozens of Aureny representatives, Soleil requested two full sleeps after that to restore herself before discussions. An emissary named Xhatter came to see her between the two, asking if the Princess would like to see the flower fields. Soleil agreed, also gaining admission for her companions.

They were guided through simple but well-engineered warrens to a cavernous level near the surface. Under some skylight openings far overhead, a lush plain filled with fleshy petals breathed color. Wider than ten sporting greens, beams of light arrowed through and suffused throughout from one level to another. There were more garden caverns above and below each other; large crystals, hanging in skylights and holes, refracted and scattered light into the recesses. Other stones placed on the floor received beams to cast diffuse auras that bathed the surrounding plant life with light.

The carpet of foliage ranged from Soleil’s waist to shoulder height, rich painterly palettes on petals of thumb-to-wrist thickness. The Princess didn’t keep track of the others’ explorations, but she could hear their admiration and enjoyment as they spread out.

Soft munching sounds traveled through the place as Aureny shuffled gently, cropping and masticating hearty mouthfuls between stony tooth ridges. Xhatter explained through Rosy Glow that this was the prevalent way of eating, though there were other methods of growing and trading.

Soleil selected a patch of sunlight, to lay down amongst the flowers. She was sure she wouldn’t be stepped on. This was what she would do today.

20 \ 202

The oceans of Foshan are the deepest of any inhabited planet in the Pan-Galactic Imperium, making the light on the surface appear unlike any other: prismatic layers of motion and mood, smooth and sharp in dimension. On a clear day, the surface is brilliant.

The pilots of the mismatched copters hovering in stakeout stalemate had to make themselves ignore the hypnotizing wavescape below, as it could cause momentary blindness – not good when fingers were resting lightly on triggers.

“Does our intel give us an expectation window?” asked a Foundational pilot to her crewmate.

“Any minute now, okay? This is the surfacing triangulation. We know what we need to do.”

In one of the corporate craft which had descended to threaten-the-threatening after the call from Arys Steinman, Karma Ilacqua was making rapid fire calls with her sunglasses. Her pilot tuned in and out, catching a snappy line here and there but keeping her nose well out of the business.

“They’re considering it.
“What would be attractive to you?
“How many? Dozens, specifically pertinent.
“Send me a rundown of your speculative interests. I’ll see what I have that may apply.
“What forms of situational support can you offer?”

No one remarked when for a shocking moment, light reflection disappeared entirely from the waves. Maybe it was a cloud, one of those invisible clouds.

Arkuda, watching them from within the surface shimmer of sunlight, could feel when the parts of the universe that were alive in Ignivf released from the living being. There would still be such a thing as a spark, still the bloom of heat, but the life was gone. It hurt, and without sublimating, Arkuda experienced multiplicity – the many places in er elemental existence where the final absence of Ignivf made something feel dead.

In the moment at the birth of a sun, Ignivf was no longer there. Where the sun’s intensity kindled a density that sent explosive hot showers awaited by a landscape of dormant seeds, Ignivf was gone. Like the disappearance of a color, without any colors missing.

People may fail to register the warmth of the sun on their face; synapse transmissions were spiritless. In the morning, an engine doesn’t start. At sundown, someone’s lights won’t work, and someone else has a hard time lighting a fire. These things are no longer like they were, and will not be again.

Arkuda sank down into the photon stream, to reappear in the Arch. The full daylight of the sunstrips was somehow solemn. First AIDD Arjun Woollibee, addressing an unusual issue, walked into his control office to find the Dragon Arkuda in humanoid form laying down on er back, looking at the ceiling. “I need to talk to Arctyri,” ‘e said.

Something was certainly amiss. “We’re working something out, also we’re not scheduled to go up for a few more days.”

“I am telling you that ‘e will be here soon to check on us.”

“Are you alright?”

“Arctyri will be here soon.” Later that day, Arctyri’s arrival was announced by formations of icy spires in the oceanic vicinity. The crew had been alerted while they resolved the issue, so there was no undue alarm.

In a burst of effulgence, Arkuda remanifested in the photon stream. Uninterrupted, it expanded and coiled in a loosely incorporated form the like of which Arctyri often favored. Without explanation, together they circled the structure. Those observing witnessed an unforgettable ephemeral phenomenon that no recording could really capture.

A swath of sunlight at the bottom of the ocean wafting through a cold concentration created a filamental filigree of flames drawn in ice, feathering out in gestural whorls of magnificent sculpture, sparkling and translucent like an ancient dawn. These crystalline forms dissipated slowly upwards, reforming as they touched each other in barely glimpsable micro-scenes of memory. The ice melted and the sunbeam went away, leaving a hush of wonder and a few tracks washing away in the sand.

19.3 \ 201

“It is I: son of Rossalin.” He wielded his sword with the same determination of existence with which his grandmother swung her flail thresher at her homesteader’s pile of grain. Launching himself forward, he swung an arc at a scaly mass that was nearly close enough.

“I am the one who illuminates the decipherment of thought when need calls you to me. I am the brightness in the dark.” A quick lash of Ignivus’ tail barely missed the ducking crown of the battler’s head.

“It is I: son of Leta.” The flowers in his grandmother’s hair and garden surrounded him with a soft feeling of safety, smoothing his movements with sureness of love. He whirled his blade as the dragon closed, avoiding him yet.

“I am the one who can lead you out of chaotic jungles to have all the many things you desire, novelties and passions.” The Dragon snapped at the sword but fell just short. “I am a magnificence!”

“It is I: son of Veres.” Veres, who made his way to another galaxy as a beacon of the future for his family. His determined reach was in his grandson’s sword as it scored a breadth of scales that were surprisingly easy to slice. Ichor hissed and bubbled at the edges of the cut, Ignivus roaring with anger as well as pain. The swordsman marveled momentarily at the way Dragons reform themselves into different kinds of bodies that are yet alive.

As Ignivus rushed in a lightning rampage toward him, the man avoided the smashing feet and coils with a series of tumbles and slides, getting knocked around a little but keeping hold of his sword, which may have made a couple slices. “I am the one who weaves between worlds as you discover them. I give the first and last breath of hope for life in another place.” Ignivus crushed er feet into the pavement, cratering the terrain. “I am an essential sign of your survival.”

“It is I: son of Keron.” Keron, who bent the world with benevolent forces to build a beautiful and great home. He gave his grandson something to fight for. During a rushing sweep, the swordsman leaped, grabbing onto a spine near the head of the Dragon, blade dangling firmly in his fingers.

“I am the tenuous connection in the essence of dreaming, as you and many beings know it. The history of ideas and invention without me is bereft.” Ignivus writhed furiously, while the swordsman gained and retained purchase among horns and spines.

“I, brother of the lost but redeemed.” He made his way forward, looking for the spot, the moment, the strike, keeping astride the motion of a mad world.

“I, who kindle and blossom.”

“I, love to the rapturous stalwart.”

“I, who rids the stale paradigm.”

“I, father to a voice of wisdom.”

“I, who keeps the heart alive and beating.”

“I, friend to efflorescence in twilight.”

“I, who lit an age to the depths of its corners.”

“I, champion of life’s passing sweetness.” Getting close to the edge.

“I, who from the formless personified a reality. You, do you think that you are greater than I?” Ignivus snapped er head back, sending the swordsman spinning and flipping in midair, light glancing everywhere from the blade still in his grip.

He fell close enough to catch a protrusion in the center of the Dragon’s forehead, and for a fraction of a breath he dangled looking Ignivus directly in the eye. “No. I know we are the same.”

He launched the hiltless sword deep, deep into the recesses through the gazing orb of awareness, exploding in that moment as the sword flew forward, like into a destiny it had already known.

19.2 \ 201

Dragonslayers were not well accredited, in this day and age. The presence of this one was a provisionary fluke; Alisandre was the only location with one on hand. Perhaps even the old orders had lost the heart. But not this one, this time. Extraneous noises faded from hearing. Ready to end the dance of gazes, the swordsman hoisted his weapon and issued a challenge.

“Do you know this sword? This was the sword that killed your kin, Hamurlae. When the songs of forging turned against us and began destroying our families, taking our lives, strife arising from partnership: we gave up our treasured accomplishments to save our sanity, the songs of forging lost with Hamurlae. This blade was made with those songs that can never again be sung. The jewel, however, has been replaced – not the first, which burst in the heart of Hamurlae.”

Ignivus let loose a deeply offended roar. “Who dares wave this ill token before my sight?” ‘E lashed er coils to strike a set of claws at this bravo. He stepped aside from the spray of street chunks.

19.1 \ 201

I recall such vile figures as this from a long ago time,
when those that formed their side incited our rage.
They who built our cage demonized, yet feasted by our fire.

As Ignivus said this last, ‘e focused er attention on the barely-armed man, flight-weaving and coming to land like a lizard with vestigial feet, bright in color. A jewel in the sword pommel caught the light of flames that Ignivus sparked in the air around er.

The swordsman said nothing while striding forward, carrying the large blade at a balanced lift. There was no scabbard. They thought things had changed. They thought they wouldn’t need dragonslayers anymore. Now people may remember why they existed in the first place: it wasn’t weapons that killed a Dragon. They can’t be overpowered, only matched. In valor, certainty, and conviction, a person can match a Dragon. In some way or another, a dragon is as a person. In some way or another, a person can be as a dragon. Dragons don’t need to be killed in order to die, but when they need to die, they can be killed. They know a lot of things, but they aren’t always right.

The two circled as the swordsman continued to advance, while Ignivus assessed and kept a distance. People had learned that killing a Dragon is not a great idea in every way. It was with a pained expression that Claymore had given him the go signal. Beyond any pure sympathy of respect, things no longer work as accustomed when a Dragon dies. The fundamental makeup of the universe is changed, which does also happen on its own, including when a dragon emerges from its elemagnetic generative gyre (as academics had newly dubbed the rarely-observed birth phenomenon).

Choosing to create such an occurrence causes a shock, something people in history hadn’t been able to explain until they understood more regarding intrinsic connections. It was a mystery as to all the things that would change, maybe unnoticeable right away. Here, they decided to run the risks.