23.4 \ 205

A change occurred in the air, the kind that happens when musical instruments reach the same key. An accord of acknowledgment. They took a moment to reach emotional balance before continuing. From the center of the sledge seated in her bubble of serenity, Rosy Glow continued to focus the channels of communication. She altered hand positions like directing flows of energy, but otherwise remained in stillness.

DOES THIS HAPPEN A LOT?

Soleil reflexively covered some of her face with her hand. “It is an occasional bad behavior that may be done to other people or one’s own. The majority find it to be as reprehensible and shocking as you do.”

IF WE ARE MET WITH ACTIONS OF GENUINE RESPECT, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE WE MAY EXPECT?

The Princess turned to look at Wendel, Toller, and Derringer as though they were her council. They didn’t require her partially upraised gesture to know they needn’t speak, that this was a consultation of silent support. She just needed to look at the faces of other humans to collect these thoughts. “If you were to become citizens of the Pan-Galactic Imperium, you would possess all the participatory rights. I understand if that isn’t very appealing at this time. Bans on exploitation and a modicum of diplomatic negotiation seem baseline, at a time of due recognition.”

YOU BELIEVE THESE WOULD BE ADEQUATE DETERRENT FOR SUCH OCCURRENCES?

“In honesty, you have incredible riches that would be difficult for strong enterprise to resist. Any effective commerce you might conduct could allay the pressure to appropriate, while strengthening your status in negotiations. I am beyond grateful that you’ve given me the opportunity to appreciate the treasures of the Aureny for the importance and beauty they contain, than for the commerce they may attain.”

WE ARE JUSTIFIED THAT YOU HAVE FELT EVEN ONE SUCH MOMENT OF APPRECIATION.

One stomp of a limb traveled from one member of the Aureny assembly to another until all had made the gesture.

WE DO NOT AIM TO ALTER OUR COURSES OF ACTION. THIS IS WELL FOR YOU – EVEN AS WE MAKE CERTAIN THAT OUR VOICES REACH CONSIDERATION, WE HAVE PLANNED TO SHOW YOUR PEOPLES SOME RESPECT. YOU AFFIRM THAT IT IS RIGHT FOR US TO DO SO.

“Ominous, yet forgiving. I certainly have a lot to consider from this. We have now met. You know people who can find me, and I say that you may find me, best if anyone, regarding matters of organizational liaison.”

There came a moment of troubled conference that went untranslated between the nearest emissaries, then it was Mystvall who clearly addressed Soleil. IT IS POSSIBLE THAT YOU HAVE NOT RECEIVED THIS INFORMATION, WHICH MAY COME AS A SHOCK. The focus she received from Mystvall felt like a direct gaze, though it was given without the visual affirmation of pupils. YOUR GRANDMOTHER, QUEEN CELESTE, MAGUS THE 24TH, DIED PEACEFULLY.

“My grandmother, the Queen,” Soleil reiterated, shaken, hand to her chest.

23.3 \ 205

In empathic overdrive somewhere between anguish and rage, Princess Ascendant Soleil controlled her breathing and held the moisture in her eyes. She broke an expectant silence.

“I had not previously known of all this. It sounds characteristic of the misfortunes of private enterprise, not necessarily with any direct involvement of the Pan-Galactic Imperial government or the Magus Dynasty. This could even have occurred without any other parties observing, though one could possibly indict our entire societal structure for creating the likelihood of this unscrupulous mentality.

“Blame will never salvage what was lost, aside from token scraps. I realize this. Alone, that the amazing people of this planet should exist to human knowledge without being celebrated or honored is a hideous mistake.

“You are likely aware that I, personally, can make you no guarantees. But I am listening now, and can aid your communication where possible. I am able to reach the ears of every level of our government, and they know that someday mine may be the hand of power.”

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.

93 \ 181

“With what we have on board, we can manage a linkthrough at one of the remaining polygons, and that’s where we’re going. This is one of the last few, and our only option without having to dawdle about with sensitive cargo. Let’s look ahead to these coordinates.” Sturlusson fed them in, and his pilot Trosper interfaced them to the ship’s advanced viewers. An unexpected sight met them on the display.

Sturlusson cursed quietly and left the chamber. He returned leading the Princess to the cockpit ahead of him. “Can you identify that ship?” he asked, pointing. A very beefy vessel was floating next to a bizarre space object.

After Trosper obliged her better views of a few identifying areas, Princess Soleil replied, “It’s an official Vanguard vehicle.”

“Yes, it is,” Raev Sturlusson replied. “Anything more specific?” She shook her head no. His expression turned dark, yet he chuckled a bit through his glower. “Really, this is exactly what they should be doing.”

“Were you expecting this, Raev?”

“No, Verne – despite my eminent capabilities, I am not up to the minute on every corner of the universe. But in this case, we’ve caught up to the cutting edge of news; in fact, we’re making the next headline. I’m used to this. Aren’t you?” The last he directed to the Princess, still studying the data.

Soleil turned to face him directly. “Yes, but not as often in such a manner.” She again felt that the benefit of her position within the opposition would amount to little if interrupted at this point. Though she admired the valiance of the Vanguard, she did not wish them this situational victory.

“Well, it’s like this much of the time in my world. Then again, we give them every reason. They’ve got every reason right now. Secure everyone in the back,” said Sturlusson, dismissing Princess Soleil. “Verne, choose your path of approach.”

Derringer had been hustling along a clear (to him) trail, observing their speed as being inconspicuously reasonable. That was something he could keep up with, even catch up with a little. He stayed on target with light-intensity mini-readings, until he noticed a sudden tack that looked responsive. Gauging from experience, his prey was near an objective, and from the angle of the tack from the initial path, he guessed how near and in what direction. He took an opposite tack to complete a pincer movement. Chasing people down was a lot like cooperating with them. Thinking of it that way, he was actually quite the team player.

The view resolved, and Derringer moved up to a standoff. A government vehicle nicer than his was flashing a Stop-and-Search at a ship nicer than the government vehicle. There was no road here; nothing except for the giant dreamcatcher twice the size of its government neighbor.

This was a strange tableau. Anyone who could add would know that it didn’t add up. He was right on time to catch these two buckaroos twitching at each other, whoever they were. Things seemed on the verge of confrontational, and what but he should be right here, as though he were supposed to be.

The private investigator (did a secret government employer make him a detective?) ran another math problem. The fact that he’s been gambling on trouble, plus observing a fake wreck, plus tracking someone to a random point, plus this fast and expensive sport ship, plus a highly-equipped official, plus having powerful silent protection, plus having some of the best gear he’s ever been allowed to carry, plus that weird strategy-sized thingy… He absolutely simply had to get involved. Even if he didn’t have all the details.

If the Princess were on the government vehicle, his contract would already be over. So he knew which side to take, in case there was a Princess in the other one. A half-moment gear-up, and he dove in to grab the attention of the… was that a Vanguard?

“Is he one of ours? Yours?” Verne Trosper asked his friend of many years about the new arrival.

“You know, I’m not sure. I’m not in charge of everything,” replied Sturlusson, expressing an edge of exasperated humility.

Trosper nodded coolly. “Then let’s brunch first.” With rapid-stage multi-hold aiming, Trosper’s foil-beam salvo ended successfully as soon as it started. “Invitation sent. Accepted!” Vanguard totaled, peppy observer hobbled.

“Let’s pick them up,” said Raev Sturlusson, examining their new friend. “Hey, that ship’s government too, isn’t it.”

“It is, isn’t it. They weren’t acting like buddies.”

“I don’t think they are.” After a clearly understandable adoption procedure, Derringer stood inside of Trosper’s ship facing Sturlusson, who commented. “You’re an interesting person to have that kind of ship.”

“I’m a really interesting guy.” Soleil heard this as she appeared in the hatchway to the compartment where the greeting was happening, compelled to assess this transition herself. Derringer’s eyes caught her presence immediately. “Who’s looking for a really interesting gal.”

55 \ 143

The dragon Arkuda shifts into the next platform of er gateway stair. Here, different thoughts along different avenues. Things stretch in the direction of one’s direction, such as they might. The order of things within orders of things can be glimpsed as the way forward and through. Unlike the dragonroads, the gateway stair runs along a different conception of place – more like transmutation than travel, though it is transporting. Each dragon goes by their own Stair, a process sometimes referred to as sublimation.

While many dragonroads are closed to some, this way cannot be shut. Every dragon alive may reach Tabula Rasa, but whether any others will be present nearby depends greatly. One may be impossibly far from others on the Plaine, yet still find or read the effects of glyphwork carried in the grains. Thus was it known, during the long time of exile, that some kindred were not dead. Their existence was still part of existence, known because there was a mark left in somewhere in Tabula Rasa, evident to those who checked.

It’s time to refine the Phasing, keep the emittance well-constructed and boisterously robust. Factor check: song, strength of song, bond of song to trees, frequency of hearing, times when heard, physical records, content and relation, memories accessed between phenomena, etc. How best to balance and defend? Unanimous participation doesn’t have to mean unending burden. This Councillor is readjusting to military matters; such things happen. So far, there have been no new attacks by the Red Nexus former exiles. Arkuda must check among the participants who may be vulnerable, and figure out how to interface with the peacefully abstaining. The Tabula Rasa has answers! ‘E comforts erself with that assumption.

Arkuda hopes to see some of the dragons no longer visiting Imperium locational space due to non-participation in the Viridian Phasing. ‘E also wants to know more about the recent disturbance in the phasing lattice which left energy signatures and an image of the Princess in command of an unusual vehicle. Arkuda feels an excited nervousness – that of a teacher hoping their pupil will remember all they’ve been taught, and wishing for them to be even greater than that. Had that really been all the time ‘e’d had to teach her? ‘E thinks Soleil would make as good as, or better, a Queen than many. The rearrangement in her absence is less comfortable, lacking familiar presences (especially that of Queen Ascendant Charlotte). The royal line is down two engines, when sometimes there are only two. It’s like losing a dragon: the entire universe has to readjust, and it changes everyone.

The Queen withdraws often to self-counsel on her own chosen matters. Her doings are not Arkuda’s concern, though they exchange niceties almost daily. Arkuda reads each greeting, but not too deeply. Celeste has been looking somewhat fearsome: hair flat and swept into a bun, simple garb lacking only the armor. Her civility remains fully composed as she carries it round the halls.

The Dragon Councillor has been relearning. Redefinition, reassessment, recognition; the return of distant relations; proper guardianship. Re-examining the traces of time, records and stories. The landscape redrawn. Arkuda’s spirit gazes over the brink of a familiar and limitless abyss. This looks to be a dragon conflict. When dragons are at war with each other, everyone suffers; the seas boil.

Lines, thoughts, paths, stretch, intersect, bend, form, terminate, begin; iteration after iteration in due gate-stair process. Stepping through thought-being like the undoing of a puzzle lock. The opening of the gate transforms it into the next, along with the self in the gate – integrative decompression with a steamy hiss.