24.XVI \ 206

Sturlusson drifted toward the house on the facing corner to the left, keeping a fixed gaze as though hypnotically impelled. “I replicated and re-engineered some of my father’s signal discoveries to regain communication with the Vedani. That was mostly after refugee block life, but I continually taught myself a lot of things. I got to know their old friends the Kao-Sidhe. From them I learned of the Aureny, and the Red Nexus Dragons found us all. One thing after another. Together, we could be more than Celeste, and Charlotte, and Vario could quell. Now, I myself cannot stop what I’ve set in motion. I’m not even at the center of it, and I never actually was.”

They’d arrived at the foot of a brick walkway leading up to the front door of this corner house. The roof sprouted plant life, and the facade peeled. “This change has taken my life to occur, and my entire lifetime has been this change. Yours as well. Here are remains of its beginning.” He hoisted a presentational hand, a gesture that said home sweet home. “I was born in this house.” His tone was pure nostalgia.

Soleil assessed the position of the sun in the sky, eyes sunk deep. It was about a hand’s breadth from the horizon, where before it had been two. Turning a neutral gaze to Raev, she said, “Leave me.” She gave him throne room demeanor, conveying that was the way she was processing this. It was the sort of statement that came along with critical matters on the verge of immediacy. There was no canny response, and no better one than action.

Seeming to understand, Raev unhitched a nod. She could find her way back to the ship by sunset like everyone else. He left her there, walking back the way they came. Soleil lay down in the walkway looking up, rooflines and treetops framing a dimmed sky.


24.XV \ 206

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 \ 206

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 \ 206

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 \ 206

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 to speak, 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 cogitation.

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.