Upon achieving an artificial enlightenment in the novel John Dies at the End, David Wong stats that, “The walls of the maze turned to glass.” In my experience, this is similar to the experience of achieving wisdom. Wisdom is like height, in a sense—it allows you see further in time and in space, but you remain where you stared. It is very strange; distressing even, to see who else is in the maze with you, and who they are…where they are. But, you also know where you have to go, and you know that all you need to do is develop the knowledge and skills to get there.
From, Chloe Rhye, Fifth Prince of the Solune.
You can start it like that if you want, but it’s a bit pretentious, and it sounds more like you than me.
Janna Rhye, Fourth Prince of the Solune and (Heir)
That’s interesting, I like how it all flows into itself. Reading it is very strange though; a challenge in its own right. It’s a strange memory. It may take longer to write out than we expect. I’m not sure that we should be making it arbitrarily more difficult to read than it needs to be.
I know but; it is fun, yes? Is this story you have really what happened all those years ago? I guess it must be, we have the knife still after all. I think we should meet in and discuss further. Anyway, the piece is fairly serious, and so I think that we could try something even older—an ajbad! Look! Interpuncts!
Abjad? What? And did you write that backwards? Have you been getting into Da Vinci again? I can’t use that, it’s unreadable.
Anyway, yeah, we should definitely meet and lay this all out and set the grammar rules, okay?
Next time I’m in the Kingdom, I’ll send a messenger…or an Agent or something.
Okay! :3 Hope to see you soon!! Bye~!
From, Chloe Rhye.
Yeah. I think in a month or…perhaps more. Drake and I have a lot of work left to do out here. Hope the dust of the library is treating you well Sister.
[Author’s Note: This is the last chapter that came out before the six month hiatus of The Solune Prince. After this, the writing gets a lot…well, a bit smoother.]
Natasha approached the elevated thrones, moving past where she had stood before, and positioned herself where Chloe had been.
“I can now answer any questions about the expedition.”
A hand went up.
“What is it, Siren?”
“The state.” Natasha said. “Since he has some experience handling expeditions, Astore will maintain an account and manage wages. Perhaps he can explain for me.”
“Sure,” Astore began, “Any residence or food will be supplied. I am unsure of the exact numbers at the moment. I will maintain communications with the treasury via a messenger while we are down there, but we will be travelling with a large sum of gold. Assume that wages will be modest though, as a lot of what we will take will account for room and board.”
Natasha said, “That was actually a good question. Likely, as a royal envoy group, you will be provided something reasonable, and if more payment is needed, we can negotiate government to government through letters.”
The King and his wife entered quietly; politely. They joined the group and stood near the centre.
The King announced, “The arena is being assembled. There is a field we keep cleared outside the wall, in front of the castle, for arenas and other similar events. Tomorrow it will be finished. The event, we have decided, will be advertised in the city today, and proceeds used to fund a portion of your expedition.”
Siren looked up.
Lilllith said, “Truly? You believe your men can assemble this in one day?”
Chloe smiled with the pride of her city.
The King said, “Yes, it is a little modest, but it’s finished.”
“Colour me impressed; though in disbelief. Never have I encountered such an expedient group of contractors.”
The King said, “They are not contractors. We have contractors in this city, but as you suppose, they are slower workers. Contracting assumes a certain lack of trust—it’s why they have their name: they must be held to their work by contract.”
“I am aware, King.”
“The guard has developed more networked trust, and so I have sent them to build. They are trained in such things, of course. We had to do something to compete with the image the East had set forth.”
“If the guard is building your arena outside of the walls, then who is keeping the peace within?”
“Higher ranking individuals in key roles. Such people can do the work of many; it is why they have been their positions. The Captain of the castle guard is here watching to door, I am sure you have seen him.”
“Yes, I had assumed that your men were simply all so well trained.”
The King laughed, then his wife, and then certain other members of the room. “Not so much well trained, but I suppose you could call it that.” The King continued, “When citizens encounter a guard from the upper ranks knocking on their door, inviting them to the arena, if it is within their schedules, they—”
“They feel the presence of force within the city.”
“…Something of this sort. Of course we are aware that most people are very dutiful, or busy, and will therefore be unable to make it, or simply uninterested. But, as you say, the point is made; the presence is felt.
“Further, should anything go wrong, the ranks within should be able to manage. If not, it is not as if the guard has been commanded to a battlefield. They are right here, outside the wall, waiting to be alerted.”
“How interesting. You must understand that such expedience is highly abnormal where I come from. It takes a certain massive amount of energy to rile a crowd, even of workers, to get a job done. I am sceptical, but I will be interested in seeing if your empty field will have an arena in it—a modest arena as you said, on the morrow.”
The King acknowledged her and then announced, “Everyone who has arrived and volunteered your time, I hope you have a sufficient grasp on the situation. Please come to the arena tomorrow at the same time, noon.”
Chloe, feeling a certain obligation to end the discussion she had started, stood up and addressed the room. She closed the discussion and invited further questions to be directed to her father or to Natasha. She concluded with, “As I am aware that some of you are…busy in the mornings, I believe that it would be fair for you to be accommodated with a meal before the arena event begins…yes?”
She looked to her father, who nodded. “This is within our power. Any of you may come to the basement of the castle tomorrow morning. I will have someone inform the staff of your names.”
He looked to Natasha, who nodded.
The session ended and the non-royalty among them, along with Natasha, exited; leaving the King, his wife, and Chloe behind to discuss.
Lilllith, having inquired, moved ahead of the rest and exited the castle to watch the assembling of the arena-in-progress, and perhaps make some suggestions or modifications of her own.
Alexandre and Siren exited shortly after, but quickly went their separate ways, leaving Astore and Natasha in the noise of the foyer.
Natasha said, “Keep an eye on the Lussa woman. She…” Natasha considered her words carefully. She reminds me a little of my mother. Instead, she said, “Not too close an eye. She is a guest, and yet…”
“She is still and outsider.”
Natasha frowned, and then her face hardened. “We do not speak of our guests in this way. She is from outside the city, outside the Kingdom. Yet, she is a guest.” She sighed. “Watch yourself, especially as you exit the city and become the only uniformed ambassador of the Solune Agents.”
Natasha looked at him with severity, and then left him to himself, standing in the foyer. The noise of the crowd, of the little Solune square, opened up around him.
It flowed from the hole in her arm. not pink this time. Red—It was serious.
It was serious, but not that serious. She might die, but either way she would live. —— “funny,” she thought (and also said).
“Ah, the King is awake.”
There was someone else there, she heard him. Someone she did not know. Someone she immediately disliked. She said “Fuck.”
The voice touched her ears, exercising her nervous system, and permeating her brain. but only the outer layer, she thought. (But did not say out loud.)
She looked around and saw the person, a blue, glowing blur. She couldn’t see properly. She was tethered to the land, not vicariously, but rather, quite directly.—The clay and sand, a place where an old tree had fallen and died and another had sprung up to take its place: A new tree—a new branch from the new tree had invaded her new arm. I am very new. I am only a youth. yet I am an adult, and the garden has shown its teeth. the branch is not truly new anyway; it’s near the bottom.
The pit she was in, where was her family? Where were they? Would they ever return for her? Or was she in God’s hands now.
[Author’s Note (added months later): The whole thing with Siren’s name really being something else; that likely will not make it into the final draft. I’m leaving it in here because…it’s here, but if it never comes up again, this is why. Also, his “real name” was going to be Anselm. Maybe it can be his last name. We’ll see. Either way; enjoy.]
Natasha did not wait for anyone to introduce themselves, rather, she began for them. “Astore, here on the wing. Something of a reliable man. Want is your name and station?”
Astore straightened. “Astore Reginal. I am an ex-guard and current rank three Solune Agent.”
As he spoke, Natasha wrote.
“Next, you.” Natasha looked ahead to Alexandre. “Dirge.”
“Yes, um, yes.” Alexandre was tense. She breathed. “I am Alexandre Dirge. I have a degree in Kemia, and I am between semesters for my masters in Kemia.” Natasha wrote, andw hen she had finished, she looked up at Alexandre and frowned. She hoped that by doing this, she could compel Alexandre to continue.
Alexandre did continue, though nervously. “I am also an ex-gang leader, and an ex-convict, and umm…it was only for a few months.”
“Yes.” Natasha nodded. “Next, to the Lussa guest, Lilllith.”
Lilllith spoke, composed. “I am Lilllith of the Lussa City, though I am known to some as Lilllith of the East.” She paused for a moment, possibly omitting something, and then continued. “Though I retired from the Lussa guard, I am still technically satellite member, and am often called to serve the crown. Before I had the honor of serving the royal guard, I was in the police for a period of fifteen years. I was part of the force during the time of the brief military operation that occurred a few years ago.”
Natasha nodded again and wrote.
Chloe squinted at the ceiling in order to avoid eye contact with anyone in particular while she thought about what she had just heard. So Lilllith has always been a woman of combat. And; she is rather aged after all, isn’t she. How strange…
“Next, Kent Rhye.”
Kent stopped whispering to Senica when he heard his name. “What?”
Natasha sighed visibly. “State your name and station so that the rest of your travelling party knows who you are and has an idea of what you may be capable of.”
“Oh, we’re doing like a roll call. Okay.” Kent straightened, deigning for once to look like a dignified part of the royalty. “I’ve done a whole lot of work studying the Sol-Metch in the south. They have some interesting but dangerous methods for creating energy. Nuclear. In the past, I also served as a judge, although that was under a different law system, and it was a long time ago, so I’m not sure if I could do that again.”
Natasha frowned. She wrote documents like this in point form, so she had to translate his words to fit. “Fine. Next, your woman.”
Senica, not realizing that she had been so rudely addressed, said, “I am Senica Eir-Aeur…for now anyway.” She smiled and looked around, bashful. “I work as an anthropological researcher from the Djeb, although like Kent said we also work in the south. While I was in academia, I…worked part time. Due to the nature of that work, I was trained in unarmed fighting.”
“Fine.” She finished writing, then said, “And you…the man who would hide his given name.”
The blonde-haired man mumbled to himself from the corner before speaking up. He said, “Siren.”
“Sure.” Natasha wrote. Chloe peered down the steps and over Natasha’s shoulder at her papers, something she would not have been able to do if not for her elevation, as her sister was even taller than she was. She saw that Natasha had written down a different name, quite likely the young man’s real name.
“And?” Natasha continued.
“I study biology and the liberal arts. I can play certain stringed instruments.” He scratched his stubble. “That’s it I guess.”
“So, ah, that is everyone?” Chloe asked.
Natasha said, “No, there is one final person.”
“Ah, yes, me! Ah—”
Natasha unclipped the sheets she had been writing on, put away her clipboard and stepped forward so that the stood with the rest, facing Chloe.
Chloe looked around at her audience. She was more alarmed than nervous. She started and then stopped a few times, failing to speak. She realized that she had accidentally begun engaging in one of her greatest fears: speaking to a crowd. She gazed around, dazed and frightened. She found confidence in her sister, Natasha, likely the oldest person in the room.
“I am Chloe Rhye, fifth Prince of the Solune. I have spent most of my life studying. I dabbled in tutoring. I can play keyboard instruments like the harpsichord…sort of. I know a bit about everything, and a lot about certain things.
“My father trained me in the royal weapon, the two handed sword. I am also versed in other forms of martial and offensive fighting, thanks to my mother. And, umm, that is all. Thank you.”
Chloe then sat down in her mother’s throne, exhausted by her effort.