The Solune Prince (Act I, Scene viii)

First draft disclaimer: This narrative is a first draft, and is therefor subject to grammar errors, repetitiveness, lack of clarity, and other issues. Later drafts will smooth such things over, but for now they remain. Please be tolerant.

The Riley Pack

Chloe had never travelled for more than three days at a time.

“How many days did you say this would take?”

“It took us ten, and then one more on the other side.” Elliott said.

Dool shook his head, “She’s slow. It will take us more.”

“Oh… ah, I apologize for what it is worth.” Chloe said.

They had exited the kingdom in two days, not even bothering to stop in the city Hannibal as they passed through. The Elken jungle also gave them no issues. The King had made a deal with the pair of rangers that patrolled that area long ago. They guarded travellers from the fiercely territorial tribes of Elken, and other than those two guides, they encountered no one in the short trip. Outside and to the north of the kingdom the wilderness turned to grassy plains. They passed the plateau on which the N’Tariel lived, but did not turn to visit. They did not need to resupply, and Dool had stated that too much time had already gone by in the kingdom.

Now they were entering the territory of the wild 100% Riley. Chloe became very nervous as the plains became littered with dark trees.

“Ah, did you happen to encounter any of the Riley here?”

Dool shook his head, not bothering to look back. Elliott shrugged, “nope.”

“Well… We might.”

“Why?” Elliott, who had slowed his pace to match Chloe’s, was right next to her.

Chloe looked down on him. Had he always been so short? Elliott looked back up at her. She had always been this tall. He wasn’t sure how to feel about their height difference. Chloe noticed his dark skin turn a little bit redder.

“Oh, ah, well… The 100% Riley are savages.” Elliott gave her a grave and suspicious look. “Ah! I don’t mean that in any sort of derogatory way! I mean they are uncivilized and… they eat us.”

At this, all of Elliott’s suspected racism changed to shock, “they what?”

Chloe looked away, but spoke, “The Solune are supposedly very delicious. First the Condors ate us, so we fled the Underside. Then here, the Riley hunted us.”

“That was four thousand years ago though.”

Chloe nodded, “so, while you became less appealing to the Condor and the Riley, we remained as sought after as before. For a long time the King tried to combat this by adding alkaline foods to our diet.”

“And?” Elliott asked.

“Ah, well, it sort of worked, but we’re still… a delicacy.” Chloe looked down at Elliott, “So if they come after us, it’s my fault.”

Elliott frowned.

“There’s a group watching us from the eastern ridge.” Dool said.

“Ah…” Chloe also frowned, and then timidly drew the King’s Sword.

Daniel Triumph.

The Solune Prince (Act I, Scene vii)

First draft disclaimer: This narrative is a first draft, and is therefor subject to grammar errors, repetitiveness, lack of clarity, and other issues. Later drafts will smooth such things over, but for now they remain. Please be tolerant.

Honeymoon

alice-2017-001.jpg

Alice and Finch were both high ranking members of the guard. Finch was a Vice-Captain, and have been in that position for nearly seven years. Alice had joined two years after him, but was far better suited for the role, and had, in the span of two years, surpassed him and become his Captain.

Right now, the two were sitting in front of the Captain-Commander, Natasha Glass Rhye. Natasha now only worked part-time, overseeing the five groups of captains.

They were sitting in her red-plushed office, in large armchairs. Natasha, a giant of a woman, was too large for her chair. She had been intending on getting a custom seat for years, but never cared enough to get around to it. Natasha was a tall blonde with the tanned skin of a woman on duty. She wore a white lace top and black dress pants, an overall attractive and classic look.

On the table in front of her were her two top hats, a white and a black. Nearer to her body were the forms.

“So you two wish to take a vacation? How long?”

“Three months.” Finch said. Alice had wanted one, but he knew that they would want more when the first month came to an end.

Natasha nodded, “You are aware that this will leave the day watch with no Captain or Vice-Captain.”

Finch nodded, and Alice said, “I am prepared to make suggestions on the topic of deputies.”

Natasha said, “Artus as captain and Vhirghinnia as Vice-Captain?”

“No, Artus as Vice-Captain and Jutt, that is, Alexandre Dirge as Captain.”

Natasha leaned back. Her seat did not lean with her. She would have to make sure the new chair reclined with her.

“Alexandre? She is and has never been in the guard.”

“No, but she is bound to Artur. They would work well together. And did you yourself not work with her?”

Natasha nodded, “that is precisely why I have yet to turn you down.”

Alice gave her a stern look. She was one of those women who could give such a look to a superior with great effect.

Natasha felt her stare, knew that it was out of place, and yet still felt uncomfortable.

“Very well, dear. I mean, Alice, I will allow it. However, if Alexandre is not fit for the task then I will have it my way.”

Natasha, like most people older than Alice, felt strong urge to address her using diminutive terms. Due to her position as Alice’s commanding officer, however, such addresses were inappropriate, no matter how many times Alice told her it was okay.

“You can call me dear,” Alice giggled, “A lot of people do! Or little miss.”

Alice blushed and smiled a childish, girlish smile.

Finch waved his hand, “either way, we’re approved. Let’s go Alice.”

“Right. I really should be off myself, to go Chloe off. She’s taking a trip herself, although it is official business.

Finch knew Chloe, she was his teacher for many years, “Oh, she must be excited.

They stood, and Alice said, “Oh, and don’t worry Mistress Rhye, I’ve already talked to Jutt on your behalf about the deputy position. It’s smooth sailing for you!”

“Hmm.” Natasha stood and took the black top hat from her desk. Placing it on her head, she asked, “Where are you planning to go?”

“Somewhere exciting, for her sake,” Finch stated, “the Dead City.”

Years Prior

Alice and Finch had known each other since childhood, and after five years had become bound to each other. She was his bondswoman, and he her bondsman. Now, finally, they had come to a point in their relationship where they figured they should go away together and get to know each other a little better.

Because the two had been together since so young an age, neither had learned the ways of relationships. Their first two years together were dry, and they had nearly fallen out of love because neither of them knew about the common glue of all good relationships. That sticky, wonderful glue that keeps partners bound together. That sticky act called sex.

They knew all about it now though. Alice and Finch went home in a side embrace, talking romantically about what they planned to do with each other when they got home.

It was lucky that Crystal Jealousy had come when she did, those. She was a mother figure to Alice, but had abandoned the poor girl at the age of thirteen for reasons I don’t quite have time to explain here. But, feeling ashamed, she returned six years later, upon the completion of one of her many cross-world circuits.

And just in time too.

She did what any religious or otherwise worldly parent would do. She figured out what the problem was, and then solved it.

It was only a few hours ago, but Finch remembered it clearly. He kept looking at the sun, willing it to fall into the hills. Meanwhile his mind was trapped in Jealousy’s office. She had both a room and an office in the castle. Apparently, she was not only an heir, but also an illegitimate child of the King’s, his first child, the daughter of a long deceased Riley.

She sat on a giant lounging chair, the kind you would expect to find in a counsellor’s office, except it was for her, not her patients. Her patients, Alice and Finch, sat on a very small loveseat. All of her furniture and trim was red and fuzzy.

Jealousy was not lounging, such would be a great act of disrespect for her daughter and her mate.

“So you two are bound?”

Binding one life to another was something akin to marriage, but, as Natasha had put it, “Without the history of patriarchal slavery. You can become a bondsman or bondswoman and maintain your pride. As stated in nearly every book of national law, a wife is a slave to her husband, it states as much in our own law! Disgusting.”

Alice nodded, “We heard that bonding was more noble an act than marriage.”

Jealousy nodded. “And you intend to remain bound for the duration of his life.”

It was a statement, and both of the young adults before her nodded. Finch knew that Riley lived shorter than average lives by about a decade, so her last few words did not confuse him

She said, “Go to bed one hour earlier that usual. Shut up all the windows and doors, close the blinds and get under the covers and figure it out. That after their two years, neither of you seem to have encountered each other’s bodies is a tragic end waiting to happen.”

Jealousy then turned her noble chin and addressed Alice specifically, “And make sure he sees your figure.”

“What?”

 

And so, here he was. He watched the sun set. They often went to bed an hour after sunset, speaking of their day in the dark. Both had excellent nightvision, and so their few candles remained nearly untouched.

“I think,” Alice said.

“It’s time to try what she suggested.” Finch nodded.

Finch lay next to Alice for about ten minutes before saying, “Umm… Do you know what we’re supposed to figure out?”

“I think so.”

A moment of silence between them.

“Me too, but I can’t really see anything.”

Alice lifted the covers, turned to the bedside table and lit the candle. It burned dim and atmospheric. Their room was the perfect size, not much floorspace due to that fact that neither cleaned much, and very sturdy. The walls were a tame brown-orange, and the sheets a soft yellow. The bedspreads were soft fur. Finch figured that Alice would prefer to be sleeping under something that had once roamed the earth, and he had been right. Plainkind usually slept under rough leather, and he figured she would appreciate leather with something soft attached.

Alice was a mixed Plainkind, but she had been raised in the Solune Kingdom since she was very young. Despite losing her blood mother to a starvation incident and being an orphan for many years, Alice maintained a cheerful and endearing temperament. That’s why she rose to the rank of Captain so quickly. Alice knew the names of every single one of the thousands of citizens in the city, and each of them in turn knew hers. She was renown as the best guard in the ranks now, at the age of twenty-one.

Alice also built muscle easily and quickly. She had worked in construction during her teenage years, under her adoptive father, Jithin. According to Chloe, who was a reliable authority on everything Alice, who was only 3.2 cubits tall [4’10”], weighed an astounding 316 pounds. Most of it was structural, she had said. The Plainkind did not store energy as fat, but instead as an alternate and weaker form of muscle. Alice was zero percent body fat and sixty percent muscle. Another ten percent of her weight was due to what Chloe called “vestigial limbs” in her back. No one really knew what that meant. Alice was a tiny figure, but very strong. Plainkind muscle is extremely dense, so she simply looked like a woman who lifted heavy things (such as livestock and boulders) for a living, instead of like a hulking monster.

In contrast to all that was his partner, Finch was only 110 pounds, and the same height as Alice. He was also two and a half years younger, at eighteen, but was also a little more mature. Finch was generally an introverted, shy person but Alice was so awkward and oblivious that he often had to make the first move in anything important. It was he who suggested that they should share a house and then a bed. It was even he who asked Jealousy to for help.

Finch rolled over to Alice and sat on her midsection, leaning over her. They stared at each other, and enjoyed the feeling of their mutual breaths. Alice took off her nightshirt, and then Finch felt an odd sensation, like blood exiting his brain. Usually, this heat in his midsection was an annoyance, but as he looked down at Alice’s anatomy, he decided that tonight would be anything but annoying.

Finch closed his eyelids and his parched brain was immediately flooded with even drier biology textbooks. He harvested from the loose pages the information he needed, and then quickly filled his mind with images of Alice instead. Then he took her imaginary clothes off. He had done this a lot before they lived together, but now he realized he didn’t have to. His eyes opened and peered at her gorgeous red cat irises, then he pushed gently into her.

Alice let out a noise she had never made before in her life, and Finch was suddenly eager to hear it again. They made sultry expressions at each other, positioned on the bed in awkward stillness.

“I figured out what to!” Finch said excitedly.

“I-ahh, know that Finch. Can you please do it some more?”

Those were the last comprehendible words that either of them spoke that night. Within the hour Alice broken their wooden bedframe, Finch flung the candle across the room, where it was promptly extinguished, and both of them, until the sun warned them of their impending day.

Finch thrust into Alice and released what his body was willing to give and then stopped, staring at the small line of light that dared to show itself along the edges of his blackout curtains. They were his, as Alice did not believe in curtains, at least not until this night had come.

Finch was breathing heavily. Alice was too, but not nearly as badly. She could have gone on, but her emotions were strained as much as his body was.

“Finch we don’t work, we’re on vacation.” She said.

Finch looked down at her breasts and then her face, and said, “oh yes.”

He exited her body, stood, took a roll of thick tape from inside a trunk, and taped the black curtains to the wall. He would have none of this light ever again. Then he leapt over Alice and lay in the bed next to her. She put the fur covers over him. They looked at each other, noticing in their dark faces that glow that is universal to all good relationships.

Their mattress was now sitting directly on the floor, each and every one of the slats had busted. There was a dent in the wall where the bed had been repeatedly thrust into it, revealing the mercifully sound-proof masonry.

Alice shrunk into the blanket and said, “we should sleep naked, just in case?”

“In case?” Finch asked.

“In case of… an emergency.”

Finch was completely unsure what she meant by this, but, placing trust in her, he nodded and closed his eyes.

Alice listened to his breathing and stared at the ceiling.

“Oh no,” she said to his sleeping form, “oh no, oh no! What is this?”

And, fretful, hot, and filled with energy anew, Alice turned over and forced herself into a fitful sleep.

The New, Less Pressing Problem.

When Alice woke up, she knew at once what the problem was. When Finch woke up, they again had sex until lunch time, whereupon they dressed, ate, and exited on Alice’s request.

Daniel Triumph.

The Solune Prince (Act I, Scene vi)

First draft disclaimer: This narrative is a first draft, and is therefor subject to grammar errors, repetitiveness, lack of clarity, and other issues. Later drafts will smooth such things over, but for now they remain.

Study, Solitude, Sleep.

“We need to leave this evening.”

“Why evening?” Gwenhime stared at the tall, dark man.

“It is customary to leave in the evening. The first day gets the body used to the long journey. It’s a form of preparation.”

Dool nodded to the King’s wife.

“Hmm,” she mused, “okay.”

“So where is she?”

“Who? Oh, Chloe? I am unsure.”

Dool scowled, but Gwenhime pacified him stating that she would go look for the missing daughter.

 

The King had already noticed her absence. He had stopped by the girl’s room in order to see if she needed anything carried, and had found one bag packed, and one small girl curled up in the corner of her bed. He entered curtained the room, walled with stone and tapestry. It was mid-day, but Chloe’s room made one think it was nightfall.

He sat down on the bed, and she noticed him for the first time. Chloe stared at her father, her face shrouded in blonde locks. He looked back.

“Have you changed your mind?”

Chloe said nothing and the King, who had been a father for thousands of years, knew that it was still his turn to talk. He did what most parents should do, but none ever have the insight to try. He stopped asking questions until she was ready to give answers.

Before the silence became awkward he started.

“Do you remember the first time I sat on your bed? We had just gotten it for you when-”

“When I turned seven and finally moved out of your bed…”

“Right. We got you this room, but you decided that you weren’t ready yet, used it only for study and solitude, but not for sleep. And then, for years you remained in that position, not ready yet.”

Chloe nodded, and her father continued.

“Jealousy was the same way… Now that I think of it, all of you except the twins were…” he leaned back on the wall, dislodging a large brick. “Oops. Now, wait, did I not contract those workers to put in walls that I could lean on without worrying!”

Chloe exhaled, the most vague suspicion of a laugh. Chloe, out of all of his children, laughed the most.

“So, you were seven, and you declared, demanded that to your own parents get you a bed for your room!”

Again he heard an exhalation.

Fervently, the King went on, “We got it for you, of course. This mild daughter, how could we not spoil you? Maybe, if we could spoil you you would grow up more cultured. That was your mother’s thinking. Although, we both knew that someone of your nature and with out lifespan would quickly be beyond such things. It is difficult to find someone aged over one-hundred years who is so easily flawed.

“And what? The bed broke when I sat on it! Splintered! It cut your face did it not? But scars fade all too quickly when you live for many centuries. Now the bed is sturdy, but your walls I have broken.”

“I do not want to leave, King” Chloe said.

“You do not have to, Mistress.”

They were using titles, talking business.

“Or was it Prince?” The King smiled.

Chloe shook her head, she was not in the mood to be playful. The King continued, “Chloe, this is your choice. If you do not go, it is likely that I will instead.”

“What?”

“Throw off my responsibilities for your sake.”

“No…” and then, “King, Mars, Elham, Isaac, father, all that you have come to be called. I will go in your name, as an ambassador of war.”

Chloe stood, and Isaac followed. He said, “War?”

The king was not aware that much had happened to place his daughter in this position. That she had been deep in thought, and that she had already wept. Although, upon seeing her face, all of this and more had been communicated to him silently. Like all social creatures who had lived more than three hundred years, Isaac could read someone’s entire day’s story by gazing upon their faces.

It took only ten or twenty seconds, but he stared at Chloe Rhye’s face. He saw lines of joy, fading past her eyes and corners, her lips lined with fervor and passion, her puffed cheeks and red eyes. He saw her recent past and nodded.

“And so it will be a war, but you suppose not a large one.”

“I suppose three battles. The first to antagonize and draw out the enemy’s true nature. The second a display of power, and the final, a victory.”

“By drawing the enemy into your barracks during a time of their weakness. A clever plan.” The king nodded.

“But not a trap. They know all, and make the decision themselves out of wounded pride.”

“I’ve performed a similar tactic in the past. It is nearly flawless. As always, I am in awe of your omniscient genius.”

Chloe blushed, put on her single bag, and tied the King’s Sword around her hip.

“Thank you.”

Hours Earlier

“Yes, yes! Marginalized! I love your vocabulary!” Chloe exclaimed.

Elliott flushed, but his skin was dark enough and it light enough that he knew it was hidden.

“Thanks. Anyway, yeah, there are a couple of cultural issues in the Lussa city. The first is that the Royalty, the people who actually speak to us and hear our issues, are falling. There’s a silent powers struggle between them and the police.”

“A cold civil war?”

“Yeah!” Elliott’s eyes became wide, “Wow, that’s amazing, how you can find so few words that mean so much. Damn! I’m jealous!”

Chloe flushed, but unlike Elliott, it was shameless and open.

“Thanks…”

“So? What can we do? Even if you come, nothing will change. In fact, you’ll probably be in danger.”

“Oh yes?”

“Yeah! Look, if you’re a member of the royal family, which you are, then the police will be after you, which they probably are!”

Chloe considered this.

“We will have to fight back then. To prove that we are not only worthy of the people, but also worthy of our power. We need to show the true evils of our enemies.”

“Expose them? How?”

“If the police have power over all press, as you say, than it is because they want to hide the fact that they are not in complete public favour.”

Elliott shook his head up and down, and his hair went insane, as if he was some sort of hair-metal headbanger.

“So, what is the public favour? We will find out! That will be our first mission!”

“And then what?” But Elliott already knew, “Oh! We’ll publicize it! I know exactly what to do! A press conference! It’s perfect!”

Chloe smiled, and then became very worried. It was all well and good to plan such things, but would she, at the adjusted age of seventeen, be able to actually act on her words? No, she decided, someone else can do it.

Chloe began to cry. Unlike her flushing, this she was ashamed of, and shuffled Elliott out of her room so that she might find peace. Instead, she found only sorrow. Hours later, her father found her.

Daniel Triumph.

Gathering All of the Evidence [ROUGH DRAFT]

Evidence

This is a compilation of the first draft of the Evidence series.

Evidence is a novella, only 20 000 words long. This is the first draft, a simple copy of all the chapters that I’ve released individually over since May 28. This is almost word for word what you would find in the Table of Contents. If you want to read the final draft, you will have to wait for the editing process to be completed, right now there is no ETA. Otherwise, feel free to enjoy this heavily flawed first draft. I apologize for any grammar or logic mistakes, as this is the first draft, and it is entirely unedited and not at all proofread. Apologies.

One day, this will be fully drafted and finally self-published.

Finally, to hear the two songs that inspired it all, follow the YouTube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpcDQGdwlGU, and then, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMcUxONgcsE.

You may download this manuscript: Gathering All of the Evidence

Gathering All of the Evidence

The First Draft

By Daniel Triumph


© 2017 Daniel Triumph, Canada.

Digitally published August 16, 2017 on danieltriumph.com and as a .pdf file.

Some rights reserved.

Writing period: May 28, 2017 to June 23, 2017, total 27 days.

Some rights reserved.

The following rights are reserved:

  • the right to translate,
  • the right to make adaptations and arrangements of the work,
  • the right to perform in public dramatic, dramatico-musical and musical works,
  • the right to communicate to the public the performance of such works,
  • the right to broadcast (with the possibility that a Contracting State may provide for a mere right to equitable remuneration instead of a right of authorization),
  • the right to make reproductions in any manner or form (with the possibility that a Contracting State may permit, in certain special cases, reproduction without authorization, provided that the reproduction does not conflict with the normal exploitation of the work and does not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the author; and the possibility that a Contracting State may provide, in the case of sound recordings of musical works, for a right to equitable remuneration),
  • the right to use the work as a basis for an audiovisual work, and the right to reproduce, distribute, perform in public or communicate to the public that audiovisual work.

The following rights are not reserved:

  • the right to recite literary works in public.

This is not a Creative Commons work.

 


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Dedicated to all the authors who have ever written an entirely unimpressive manuscript, and to all those writers who intend to finally write that second or third draft!

This is my first manuscript release, I hope you like it more than I do, as I can only see the flaws I wish to iron out for the final piece.

1

Janna sat on the floor inside of Drake’s cramped workshop. Her legs were crossed, her eyes closed. She wasn’t ready to go back home yet. Most of the places she’d been to had very little civilization. She had beaten people to pulps, maybe even killed them. Her outlandish habits, literally the habits she picked up outside of her lands, had gotten her into trouble, and she would have to pay for it all upon returning home. Janna wasn’t sure what to do, but she had a strong urge to hide her mistakes.

So that’s what she had done.

In the small city of Baracus, fights were common. Duels happened daily. But they were sanctioned duels. If two people wanted to duel, they simply channelled the Servant of Duels, and then the duel would be protected. The combatants would be unable to die, and would receive healing from any mortal wounds after the fight.

But outside of the Solune Kingdom, outside of the North Metch Lands, the East Metch Kingdom, the Plainkind Desert, the Djeb and even the Lussa City, in the smaller, more remote parts of the planet, people didn’t duel. They relied on their natural survival skill and the passive protection offered by the Servant of Conflict. That’s why Janna was in trouble now. She had did an absolute number on someone. It was just outside of town, in the middle of the day. This gnarly looking guy had approached her. He was looking for a fight, and she gave it to him. His entourage followed soon after and she dispatched them one by one, two by two. She used her swords, her fists and her la. In her own thoughts, she beat the shit out of them.

But after the adrenaline wore off, after the battle high left, she realized, this isn’t how things work here. Janna immediately did what she could to stabilize anyone who she had put on the brink of death. The Servant of Tendrils might help her, but she wasn’t sure. He was one of the younger Servants and his domain was time and consciousness, and more specifically, timelines.

Drake opened the door.

“Come on, we better get going.”

“Yeah.” Janna stood up, “Back home.”

In Murdock, Chloe had become very invested in Law and Poetry. It’s one of the six divisions of government, for whatever reason, poets often act as lawyers in the Solune Kingdom. Many scholars, and even citizens have wondered why. The reason, Chloe quickly found out, is that poets know a little about everything, and they study and write about humans all the time.

Chloe was not a poet, but she was studying to become one. It was frustrating for her because until now aside from reading, she had been entirely self taught. Classes were dumb, and Chloe hated all the structure. It took her an entire semester at the University to get a hang of everything.

She had never been told what to study, what to read, and when to do it all by. Chloe had never written a test. It took a lot of adjusting.

Now, though, she was blazing through her courses. Chloe was a genius, and once she knew what was going on, she blazed through it with ease. She aced all of her tests in the second semester. She was just finishing her final one now, and soon would graduate as a poet, in addition to everything else she’d learned in the past.

Chloe was going home after classes one day when her older sister met up with her. Natasha was a very tall, straight faced woman. She was also the captain of the guard, and she was currently in uniform, a grey jumpsuit with a light blue pinwheel on the right shoulder, and a rank ribbon on the left.

“Hey Chloe.”

“Hello Natasha, how was your day?”

“Not important.” Natasha replied, “Janna’s coming back.”

“Oh!” Chloe beamed, “That’s great, isn’t it?”

She added the question because Natasha’s expression remained severe.

“Not quite.” She said, “She has quite a list of misdemeanors and maybe even some felonies.”

“What?” Chloe was taken aback. What had her other sister done?

“She might have to be detained upon her return. Not quite the warmest welcome, but I think she’s prepared for it.”

“What did she do?”

“Well, I don’t know for sure, but her exploits outside of the kingdom weren’t pretty. She’s been one of the biggest sources of power for the Servant of Conflict for many months now.”

“Eh…” Chloe was a little lost, “How do you know that?”

“I asked Alice. Technically she still runs the Conflict temple in this city, and she’s been keeping me updated.”

“Oh. So that means…”

Natasha knew Chloe was supposed to be some sort of genius, but she sure asked a lot of questions. Her ditsy demeanour really wasn’t representative of genius. Better this than the overconfidence that geniuses have become known for though.

“It mean that she’s been stirring up a lot of trouble. A lot of trouble.” Natasha said.

“Oh no… Didn’t she go to find Zeallott?”

“Yes, I know not if she failed or succeeded. Our brother has done far worse than she though.”

“Really?” Chloe looked away. She already knew that much.

Zeallott had become unhinged long ago, that’s why the King exiled him, exiled his own son. Chloe was sort of sad, but she was very young at the time. Janna on the other hand, was older. She knew Zeallott, they were very close. Chloe always wondered why Janna decided to hunt him down. Why not send someone else? If she had succeeded, it must have been a painful experience.

“Look, I have a feeling our father will still consider her as heir no matter what she’s done. You were not yet born, but back in the days before we had a kingdom wall, the Solune were in constant battle with the East Metch. Our father fought for this land relentlessly, and of course committed many counts of war murder.”

“Well…” Chloe had knowledge of law from school now, “War murder isn’t quite the same. The enemy is the only one that would punish you for that…”

“Right, but if Janna has committed murder outside of this Kingdom, she may have done it in similar circumstances. The reason Zeallott and for that matter Venus ring so high on Conflict’s contributors is because they mobilize large groups. She may very well have been fighting a war with her man there.”

“Drake. His name is Drake. And he’s a Solune Agent, you should know his name.” Chloe said.

The two walked together through the kingdom until they reached the castle, where Natasha went back on patrol.

“I will see you tonight.” Natasha said.

Janna stood outside the capital, Murdock. She took a deep breath in, then out again. Drake began to talk, but she stopped him. She just stared at the walls. The walls surrounding the city, and the walls of the castle, jutting out in front of her.

She sighed.

“I wonder how long it will take before I am arrested.”

“Well Natasha runs the guard now, so probably not long.” Drake said.

“Yeah. We’ll see.”

2a

Janna stared at the castle. It was built into the city wall. It didn’t make much sense, for a castle to be so accessible from the outside. She looked at it for a long time, and then,

“Hey Drake, do you think I should go to the castle doors, or through the town gate?”

Drake looked at her.

“It’s obvious what you want to do. Just do that.”

“Okay. Yeah.”

Janna walked to the large double doors.

“You know what, I’m sick of all this timidness.”

She pushed them open and stepped in like she owned the place. Standing there was her sister, Natasha. For some reason, she wasn’t in her guard uniform. She was wearing a white frilly top, and she towered over Janna.

“I have been expecting you.”

“Damn.” Janna said, “That was fast. Ever vigilant, sister.”

“I will allow you to do what you must so that I don’t have to.” Natasha told her, implying something.

“Yeah. I was prepared for this.”

Janna put her arms out and hung her head. Behind, Drake stepped into the castle. He realized quickly what was going on, and so he jumped into place next to Janna and did the same.

Natasha put cuffs on Janna’s arms, and then closed them with pins. Then she turned to Drake.

“I forgot about you. You’ll simply have to follow me.”

She brought them down into the dungeon. It was down a staircase, underground off to the east. It wasn’t underneath the castle for obvious reasons. Instead, it was under what is now the guard’s district.

Natasha brought the two to a cell and put them in together, removing Janna’s restraints.

“You will likely have trial tomorrow. There is a very strong chance that Chloe will either fight against you or represent you in the coming days. I know not where her mind is now.”

Janna nodded.

“Not all of your charges have been documented, and a lot of it might not be accurate, as it was gathered from secondary sources. As you know, the Solune Agents are dispersed throughout many regions. We have been collecting data on you for quite a while.”

“So? Of course I know, I’m an agent.”

“Yes, well, I will leave it to you as to whether you wish to admit what you’ve done or not. I would that you fill in the blanks but of course, I am used to criminals wanting to keep their counts to a minimum.”

“Yeah well, we’ll see, alright? Actually, what do you have on me anyway?” Janna asked.

“Sure, there is murder, obviously, and you have a few counts of assault, and quite a long list of battery, as this is easy to prove. You were reported mostly in areas to the north, but in between at some point you were in the Djeb, which makes no sense geographically. Can you change locations at an instantaneous speed? Perhaps you are intending to escape using this method.”

“Yeah well, it’s not within my ability.” Janna shrugged as if teleportation was normal.

“Very well. I trust that as you turned yourself in, you will remain under the same reasoning.” Natasha said.

Drake spoke, “Hey Natasha, if you see us gone in the morning, don’t worry we just went to the vendors for snacks.” Then he winked.

Natasha raised her chin, looking down on him indignantly. Then she promptly left.

“Why do you always pick on her? You’re usually so quiet.” Janna said.

“I don’t know. Some people get offended easy, and I like to pick on those people. Call it a compulsion. Anyway, now she thinks that I was the one that sent us to the Djeb and back.”

Drake laughed, and Janna did too, but mostly at him.

Chloe had just graduated, and she sat on the elevated garden outside her university, holding her poet degree and law qualification rolled up in one hand. She was looking around wistfully. She knew Janna was coming, but she wasn’t really sure what to do about it. Chloe was certain that she and maybe even Natasha would have their hands fairly deep in her fate now.

She also knew that Janna would likely serve any number of years she was forced to. Even though their father, the King, considered her the primary heir, he would not go against his own law unless it was to permanently alter it. Chloe wondered if Janna would remain the primary after this. She couldn’t tell.

Chloe never understood. It wasn’t because she health herself wanted to be the heir, but rather, Janna seemed unfitting somehow. Her mother had said that Janna was just going through a young adult phase, and that all her troubles, her hardship and mistakes would eventually turn to wisdom. If was true then Janna had given herself quite a lot to think on. Chloe had asked her father why Natasha was not the primary heir instead. The two were very alike, and Chloe was certain Natasha would run the kingdom just as well has he had. The King told her that Natasha was in fact, too similar. He had created and maintained a wonderful kingdom, but exposed to the outer world it felt stagnant. He was old and stuck in his ways, and he understood this. He recognized Janna as someone with great potential for change, the kind of change the Solune Kingdom needed. Chloe didn’t quite comprehend what he meant by this, but she knew that as the youngest, wisdom was something she lacked in comparison. She would learn in time, she was sure.

It was not quite midnight when Janna was visited by a second apparition. It was a young women with porcelain skin and blonde hair that fell far past her back and down to her thighs. She had a young face, but right now it was twisted in frustration and anguish.

“I can’t believe you.” Chloe said from the other side of the bars.

Janna looked up at her younger sister, not bothering to move her hair out of her face. She had a feral, uncaring look.

“What.” She stated.

“I, I was going to argue for you, to be your poet in this trial!”

“You… Were?”

“Yes. Was. That’s past tense. I learned about tenses in school.”

Janna felt a pit in her stomach. “What… made you change your mind?”

“I saw the list, Janna. I read how violent you are. Janna, how can I possibly represent you?”

“Diligently?”

“But honestly?” Chloe huffed, “I don’t know what to do. You did all these things, didn’t you?”

“Probably they missed some.” Janna liked to tease her sister, but this wasn’t one of those times. Right now she just didn’t care, her words were motivated mostly by apatehy.

Chloe looked at her mournfully almost.

“You were… You used to be my role model…” Chloe was on the edge of tears.

Janna tilted her head. She moved the hair from her face, a serious look in her eyes.

“Listen, I don’t know what you think you know about me, but hear this, if you think my actions are worthy of a full punishment, prepare to be surprised.”

“Huh?”

Of course she didn’t understand. Still a complete airhead, thought Janna.

“What I’m saying is that what is there is likely enough for an execution, or a life sentence. One might incorrectly think this is the end for me. But, my poet would have it down to five years, maybe half that. Maybe I’ll even walk out of here free, a fine or some limitations placed on me.”

Chloe was inexperienced but what Janna was saying could happen based on what she had learned.

She thought again, very hard, and then she said, “You should expect to find me opposing you and whoever is appointed to try to lower your sentence.”

Janna said, “Hmm. Call me surprised. Honestly, I hoped you’d be on my side through all this.”

Chloe closed her eyes, holding her emotions. She opened them, and then left.

In the cell, Janna leaned back.

“She’s doing something weird again.” She told Drake. “Look at how her eyes move when she paused. She has some kind of high level genius plan I suspect.”

Drake did not answer, he was asleep.

“She will learn what kind of punishment I’m actually worthy of for sure now though.” Janna mused to herself.

Chloe went up the stairs back into the castle. As she walked to the room that had become her personal library, she mumbled under her breath.

“It’s good that I, the weaker poet, should oppose her. I hadn’t even considered lowering the sentence. Surely I will not notice more things. Of course, I should not stain my name or obstruct the law in my first case. Further, I should make sure that everything that happens to my dear sister is through full justice. She doesn’t deserve my intentional leniency.”

Chloe thought on what she had just said, leaning both arms over her small reading desk.

“Maybe she does deserve leniency… I just don’t know right now.”

Chloe, like all truly intelligent people, was very open minded. She was entirely open to the idea that she may be wrong, not just in this case, but always. She sat at the desk and opened the thick law textbook. She hadn’t had to read all of it for her classes, but she figured now was as good a time as any to continue her study.

Janna’s dreams were fitful, filled with images of her sword cutting into exoskins and her laser eyes searing flesh. She could hear the sounds of meat being sliced, wet bones, usually arms but also sometimes legs or ribs, cracking underneath skin. She didn’t feel bad about the fighting, but she did have a tinge of regret. She had been on a mission, a mission from one the the planet’s many Servants.

This is where her mind took her now. Her conciousness didn’t leave her body, but it did go somewhere else, another plane of existence that ran parallel and often straight through her own. It was the plane of the Servants of Dawngale. It ignored distance, but not time. This is how Servants could seemingly influence many places at once, although in reality they had to do everything one at a time, just lile everyone else.

“I hear in your dreams that you are regretful of the work you have done for me.” A voice boomed.

It wasn’t particularly authoritarian, not like the kind of voice you’d expect from a god. It wasn’t even that deep. In fact, it just sounded like a normal man speaking loudly.

“Yeah, you know what, I do. Look, I did all these things for you and still I haven’t found Zeallott.” Janna said defiantly, “In fact, I don’t know that I’m any farther in finding him than I was before I decided to help you.

The Servant of Tendrils was a very large apparition, but other than that he appeared to just be the ghostly blue floating torso of a Solune man. In fact, he had once been a man, long ago.

Drake awoke his beside Janna feeling a chill. He looked around the cell. There was a bed; they didn’t have to sleep on the stone floor. He considered waking Janna, grabbing her shoulder. But as he felt her, he noticed how cold she was. She was actually the source of the chills.

“Hmm.”

This could mean one of two things, either she was dead, or she was communicating with a Servant. He pulled one of her eyelids open. Her irises were blue.

Janna was unique in her family in that her eyes were uncharacteristically blue. The Solune people usually had dark eyes, browns and such. Rarely, one might have other dark colours like a deep green or blue. Janna’s eyes were pale blue, a Riley characteristic. Now, however, they glowed brightly.

Surely she was convening with the Servant of Tendrils. Usually they did this together, as both of them served Tendrils.

Drake moved quickly, lifting Janna up over his shoulder, and putting her on the bed. He crawled in next to her, and tried to fall asleep as quickly as he could.

Minutes later, he appeared next to Janna in the world of the Servants. It was mostly black, with Janna standing around, illuminated by the floating Tendrils.

“…not joking around with you.” Tendrils was mid sentence, “Okay, the real reason I haven’t told you where Zeallott is is because he needs to do something before you…”

He trailed off, then something began growing out of the ground. It was a bright blue stalk, and as it grew it separated, almost like the branches of a tree. Unlike a tree, though, after jutting away from the tree, each branch would turn back upward, parallel to the trunk. It was like a hand with many blue fingers pointing straight up, all of the same size. Janna recognized this as the tendrils of time, timeline that Tendrils would read. And that’s what he was doing.

“In some timelines you kill him, and” he felt higher up the tree and then grimaced, “I really don’t like those ones. So…”

He felt other lines, “I think you should definitely capture him… It seems even letting him free for too long is troublesome, especially if he stays in contact with your uncle.”

“So you know where he is and you haven’t told me.” Janna restated.

“Right. You can’t capture him for another year or two, but you must capture him before he… Well, I’d better not tell you. But before the next five years pass. It’s a specific and important window.”

Janna put her hands on her hips and shook her head, “Man, what is this? You’ve just been using me.”

Drake nudged her.

“Us. Why should we even help you at all?” She asked.

“Well, every time you help me, you keep the Boul spinning in peace. For the most part anyway. Some things are inevitable, they appear frequently on my tendrils, and eventually they end up in all paths. Either that or I have to choose between two calamities, and often the one that has been persisting is the better option. I have to let some bad things happen for this reason.”

“Whatever. Look, I’m not really interested in all that, find someone else.”

“I’ll let you think about it.” He said.

“Eh? Well, at least let me peer into the future for a sec.” Janna said, “Tell me how bad this trial goes.”

Tendris reached his hand down, right beneath a splitting point. Janna was worried that the split represented some sort of good or bad scenario for her.

“No no, that split is not for you, it’s for the East Metch. Something about a civil war. You won’t be affecting timelines enough to make a split around yourself for a few more years yet.”

Servants could not usually read minds, but their domains within the world of Servants was an extension of their minds, therefor, a visitor’s consciousness became an independent portion of the Servant’s thoughts.

Janna didn’t know how to feel about his statement. She wondered what was going to happen in a few years, but she didn’t bother to ask. Tendrils said an awful lot about timelines and the future, but he was silent on many, very specific events. She knew this would be one of them.

“It seems between one and two years of incarceration.” Then he laughed, “And only mere months for Drake.”

Drake felt what he could only think was survivor’s guilt.

“Well, that’s on the lower end of what I guessed. I can handle a year, I think.”

“And,” He said moving his fingers slightly higher, “It seems that it’s best for you to learn this lesson the hard way.”

Then he moved his hands even higher, “Oh yes, very good.”

Janna crossed her arms, “Whatever. I’ll see you later I guess.”

“Wait!” Tendrils held her mind within his own. “I didn’t tell you the whole reason I brought you here.”

“What?” She turned only her head back.

“You will be visited by three apparitions.” He said.

“Yeah, well two of them already came.” She told the Servant.

“Umm, what?” Tendrils was confused.

He began feeling the blue lines until he found one that matched what she had said. Then he felt up it, past various splits.

“Oh, okay. Thank you for helping with the calibration. I tend to miss small changes, especially if they are beyond unusual fractures. Everything I’ve been saying applies to you in this line also. Stay well.”

And then she drifted back into her own nightmares. She watched her dreams with numb detachment. Sure she’d done these things, but it was under Tendril’s order. Was she really guilty for that? She didn’t know. She mulled this over in her dreams until her consciousness lost control of her thoughts.

The next morning had not yet come when Janna was awakened by loud footsteps. She opened her eyes, realizing she was under the covers and lying in a bed. She looked at Drake, wondering if she should wake him later so they could fool around. She figured it’d best wait until morning. Or until they weren’t in a cell anymore, but she wasn’t sure if she could be bothered to wait that long.

The footsteps were coming from the right. It was the third “apparition.” It seemed that the Servant used that term in a literal sense, as in, they appeared before her. She sat up, and pulled herself toward the wall so she could lean her back on it. Then, her father stepped in, ducking under the doorway.

He looked like a very grumpy man in his fifties. His hair was beginning to grey. In reality, the King was only forty-six adjusted years old, he was just aged by his work.

“I hear from Natasha that you have gotten yourself into a lot of trouble.” He said.

“Yeah, well.”

“Were you not searching for my eldest son?”

“Yeah, I was sort of lead astray on many tasks by Tendrils.”

“The Servant?”

“Yeah.”

The King thought for a moment, in instant really, “So you will be making a superior orders plea.”

It was more of a statement than a question.

Janna asked, “What’s that?”

“It means you were acting under orders. It puts some of the blame, sometimes all, on your superior for issuing commands that forced you to break the law. It’s usually a military or guard’s plea, but it is valid in this case.”

“Oh. That sounds like a good plan to me.”

The king towered over her. She was sitting and he standing, but the King had continued to gain bone mass in his age, and he was now nearly five and a half cubits [8 feet].

“Of course. Most poets don’t often find themselves defending a guard, and especially not a soldier. We haven’t had an active army in nearly a millennia, that was when I built the Kingdom wall you see. They would be unlikely to think of the superior orders plea, but of course I used it before serving my time for the Solune-Metch wars.”

“Right.”

The truth about the Solune King was that he not only ruled, but also founded the kingdom thousands of years ago. His age was hundreds and hundreds of years higher than the forty he appeared. This was also why he was gaining so much bone mass. For whatever reason, the Solune gained bone mass perpetually as they aged. Often people died before it became apparent, growing maybe a thumb’s height in their lifetime. Of course the body adapts to such slow organic change, even in the case of the giant king.

“Hey dad?” He looked back to Janna on his way out. “Thanks.”

“Of course. Trust me, the violent acts you have committed are but a minor stain. My hands are red from the volumes of killing I’ve done. I’ve fought in the many wars, both forced into, or forced to start.”

Janna wanted to ask why he thought he had to start wars at all, but she felt this was not the right time or place. So, she asked anyway. By this time the booming voice of the King had awoken Drake, and he lay with his head to the side, eyes open, listening.

Aside 1

“Why did you purposely start wars?” Janna asked.

The King turned away from the door. He looked around the barren couple of cells. This was only a temporary hold, so there wasn’t much here. He saw the guard table and some chairs on the other side of the prison. The chairs were too small, so he grabbed the table in his giant hand.

He set it down and sat.

“You have to understand the circumstances.” He said. “You see, we had escaped a predator that nearly hunted us to extinction on the Underside of the planet. My and my two brothers were the first generation to be born on the Overside, and already we looked different from our father. I will leave the story of my mother for another time, she was not a Sollussa.”

“Sollussa?” Janna had never heard this term.

“That is what the Solune were before we came to the Overside.” He continued, “Subsequent generations of the Sollussa have become subjected to the hand of Mother Nature, that is the Servant of the Overside. She altered us, made us less Sollussa and more like the Riley that are native to this side of the planet.”

“Oh. Interesting.” Janna nodded.

He went back to the war. “When we arrived, we encountered a group of insane Riley outcasts. Not all Riley are insane, but this group was, and like our previous predator they found us very palatable. My father’s friend, who had lead the expedition to this side ordered we move our village to the south. During the trip, the Riley figured they would get a final meal out of us. They succeeded, some of were take, one of them the leader. I was only young then, I had just reached adulthood, but the people liked my attachment to logic. I lead us south, past a jungle to here. There were others living here, however.”

“The East Metch?” Janna asked.

“Yes. I had to drive them out.” The King replied.

“Why not just share the land?”

“Two reasons. They did not speak our language, and they were very stubborn. Maybe they   even. We integrated poorly, treated as less than human [human is a blanket term for all non-Plainkind intelligent bipedal races on Dawngale.]. Eventually we began to fight over resources. I decided to wage war and drive them into the lush woods to the East. I gave them the better land. The war waged on for a long time, but we got our land. This is why the capitol is placed so close to the Eastern border. The problem was, every few generations, the Metch would figure they lost by fluke and challenge me again. At first our laser eyes worked fine them, searing skin and giving us a range advantage. However, generations passed and they built an immunity. Regardless, the wars stopped when I built the wall.”

“So the reason our Kingdom is surrounded by a wall is to keep out the Metch?”

“No, that was a coincidence. I made a deal with a protector, remember?”

2b

“So you’ve forced wars in the name of piece. And it mostly worked out for you. And you were tried for this?”

“Yes,” The King said, “And rightfully so. I made a war plea similar to the superior orders plea. For a decade your mother ruled the Kingdom. Shamefully, she is not a good ruler. She’d earlier went off to conquer the west and that mindset stuck in her.”

“My mother conquered the west?” Janna had never heard of this.

“You can ask her about it. I have to go now, your trial is in the morning. Do not forget the superior orders plea. And,” He looked her in the eyes, “I still consider you the primary heir.”

And then he left, leaving Janna to think. She was sort of walking in her father’s footsteps now, asking for a similar plea. And maybe she would be king too? Janna drifted to sleep with mixed emotions.

3

When Drake woke up the next morning, Janna was gone. Well, not gone, they were still in a cell, but she wasn’t beside him in bed anymore, she was on the ground, leaning on the wall.

She said, “Drake, do you think we should be following Tendrils anymore?”

Drake said, “Well, he might not have told us about Zeallott, but he’s told us a lot about other stuff. Knowing the future is useful, right?”

“I was thinking that too,” Janna replied, “I just don’t know if it’s all worth it anymore. I’m getting too old to fool around doing errands for him. Especially the nonviolent ones.”

“Too old? You’re what, twenty-three?”

“Sort of. Did I never tell you? I’m sort of like my father.” Janna said.

“What do you mean?” Drake asked.

“I age slowly, just like my father. My adjusted age is twenty-one, but I’m really around eight-hundred**. Well, 856**, since I don’t like to round my age up…”

Drake lay back down in the bed, dazed. He thought on this for a long time. He was dating a lot more than he had realized. He wasn’t sure how to feel about this, but at the end of the day she had been hundreds of years older than him for their entire relationship. It’s not like much had really changed, just the knowledge.

“Wait,” He said, “So two years in lockup, or even a decade is a lot less for you!”

Janna nodded, but years were still years.

Chloe lay back in the wooden bathtub. There were many bathrooms in the castle, but she preferred the one in the northeast of the third floor. Not many people came to this corner of the castle and she was at piece. Sunlight drifted in through the orange, yellow, and pink glass of the window. Chloe had put a lot of plants in here too, and vines grew up the walls and through the ventilation grate in the ceiling. She was also the one that requested wood for the tub. It was a strange preference, but wood felt nicer.

Her light skin was clean now, but she just sat and worried. She worried for Janna. After considering many things, Chloe came to the same realization Drake had. They lived for a long time, and the sentence would be a small fraction of her lifespan.

“No reason to hold back now, I guess. Time to be a genius in the field I think.”

Many people considered Chloe to be a genius, but she never quite believed them. This worried her a lot, and so for the longest time she had been trying to convince herself that she was a genius by calling herself one. It wasn’t working too well. Chloe didn’t think she was all that smart, but she did know she was quite talented at learning. She picked things up very fast, and her mind remembered facts easily.

Chloe pulled herself down into the hot water so that only her head was above, and thought about what she was going to say during the court.

“I wonder when they’ll be here to get us-” Janna started as the door creaked open.

It wasn’t the door that lead through the castle, instead it was the door that went upstairs into the guard building.

“Alright, let us go. I hope you are both awake.” It was Natasha

Janna stood up. She was feeling unsatisfied. Drake hurried out of the bed, worried.

“Today is the first day of your trial. Come on.”

Natasha cuffed them both this time, and then let them out. Janna and Drake followed her up the stairs and out into the guard’s district. She led them out towards the six kingdom towers, to the third one. The tower of Poets and Law.

Janna stared up as she walked through the tower’s shadow. It appeared to be looking down on her gravely, implying something about her future. Only now did she start to worry, just a touch.

4

Janna entered the tower. She would have entered much slower, but Natasha was pulling her and Drake along by cuff.

“You know, you don’t have to put me in binds, I did turn myself in after all,” Janna said.

“It is procedure,” Natasha told her as they went inside and up a few flights of stairs.

The court room was on the third floor, and it was already half full of people. On the benches, Janna saw her mother, but not her father sitting. She also recognised Setzer, one of the agents that stayed within the kingdom during missions. Drake was seated near the front in with the crowd, but Janna was led to the centre.

The tower was cylindrical, so all the rooms were round. The courtroom had a podium at the far wall and an empty space in the middle with a couple benches. The law was being represented by Chloe, but Janna wasn’t sure who was representing her. Surrounding, like a miniature coliseum, were all the seats. It was almost like a house of commons that was rounded.

Janna sat, but she felt queasy. She faced the far end of the room and it seemed as though everything was about to start. The small crowd of forty or so people hushed. Janna wondered where her poet was, or who was going to be the chair who judged it all. Usually the chair had to be someone that wasn’t closely attached to the law and was known for their unbiased nature. Also, generally it was someone who was more likely to favour the accused than the law. Recent changes to the Solune laws have put an emphasis on redemption, and consequently, the law now often slightly favours the lawbreaker over itself.

The tension in the room was high now, as everyone was silent, waiting for the chair and Janna’s poet to arrive. Chloe was sitting on a bench adjacent to Janna, and Natasha had come to sit beside her. Chloe assumed that Natasha would be referencing the laws for Chloe, as Natasha had written many of them.

A few more people shuffled in, including Alice and Finch, both guards under Natasha. Then a couple of dark haired men walked in. One had very dark skin was Janna’s age, nearly eight hundred**. This man’s hair was long, and both his skin and hair were slick with eline oils. He came and sat next to Janna, smelling of earth and pollen. The other man took the head seat as chair. He had the pale skin of a Riley and black hair that was short in the front but long in the back. Janna’s mother Gwenhime shook her head disapprovingly and muttered something about mullets.

Janna recognised the chair at once as her older brother Kain. This was a surprise as she had assumed he was down south, outside the city.They had a few moments before the trial began, and so Janna spoke to her poet.

They had a few moments before the trial began, and so Janna spoke to her poet. “Do you think you can lower my sentence?”

“Sure, not a problem,” The man smiled, teeth missing from his mouth, an incisor and a canine.

Janna was taken aback. A wave of shock passed over her; she recognised this man.

“Are you Chance, the exiled Elken youth?” She asked.

“Yes.”

Now Janna became worried. She had known Chance from the days when she was in the public secondary school. Her parents had put her and most of her siblings through a public school for parts of their education so that they could meet their people. It was good, Gwenhime had said, that you should acquaint yourself with the citizens.

The problem was that Janna had been even more violent as a child. She often came home with bruises, while other children came home with black eyes and scrapes. She was even kept home for a year so that her parents could teach her to respect other children. Janna had never broken bones or opened wounds, but she had accidentally hit one child into a rock, and he had lost a couple teeth. He was someone adopted from outside the Kingdom, and the two were bitter rivals.

“You’re not going to make things worse for me, are you?” Janna was worried.

Chance smiled again, the holes in his grin mocking Janna, “Well, it seems you never calmed down after all that. But no, I am here to represent you for a reason quite similar to why your fair sister is opposing you.”

This confused Janna, but she was obliged to take his word. She was worried about other things now. It seemed she was getting some unusual cramps, and she didn’t like it.

“Okay now, it seems like we’re having a strange sort of family reunion eh? Let’s, ah, try to make it a decent one huh? Not every day you have to judge your own sister whilst your other sister does the accusing. Quite a strange situation I’ve been put in.”

The chair sighed and stood. Whenever the chair stood, everyone was to be silent, and so Janna hushed. Then he sat back down.

“Okay, so I’ve heard we’ve quite a list.” He continued.

Chloe nodded slightly, then stood. In her hands she held a scroll. Scrolls were unusual, but Chloe tended to use whatever medium suited her purposes. It seemed this list was long enough to warrant a scroll.

“We have two confirmed cases of murder. Seventy-eight cases of verbal assault. Forty-two counts of battery, that is physical assault. There are more, but I’ve been informed that offences that occurred during war are to be exempt from this trial.”

Chloe’s voice was assertive, but not accusing. Drake nodded with his eyes closed. She was simply stating the facts.

Kain said, “Very well Chloe. Do you have specifics?”

Chloe nodded and pulled her scroll open a little more.

“I have arranged them in chronological order. It seems she encountered her current poet, Chance Sing, and Elken man, in Hannibal on her way out of the Kingdom to find Zeallott a few-” Chloe stopped, she didn’t want to gloss over any of the facts, “I mean precisely twelve years ago. They had a quick, unsanctioned duel, and Chance was sent to the infirmary. Janna exited the kingdom shortly after, heading north.”

“See?” Chance whispered, “How could you not recognise me?”

“You grew your hair out, idiot,” Janna replied.

Kain eyed them, but his attention remained on Chloe. He wrote down a number and then spoke.

“Trivial. Continue.”

Chloe wasn’t sure if she agreed, but she read on.

“Okay, she stopped in the N’Tariel Lands, and fought alongside them against the Bazents for a period, apparently learning new sword techniques from them.”

Kain said, “That’s an ongoing war.”

“I’m aware, it’s what she did after that I’m getting to.” Chloe said, “It seems someone aggressive challenged her, again they did not sanction the duel. She brought this man near death, causing permanent damage to his right leg. He limps now.”

Kain’s eyebrows raised, “Care to defend yourself, Janna?”

Janna stood carefully, “Sure. I think he’s better now, I visited that man, his name is Spring. He was very aggressive, loved to fight amongst his people. Turns out the injury gave him a huge disadvantage in duels, and he started to reconsider his lifestyle. He’s much happier now, has a family, hunts with a bow.”

Natasha stood, “Agents in the north confirm this.” Then she sat again.

Janna sat down, but she felt really off.

“Chloe,” Kain said, “Do you think that Janna has done more harm than good in this situation?”

Chloe had not prepared for this, it was most unexpected. “Ah…”

She looked at Natasha beside her who just nodded. Chloe said what she thought to be the truth.

“It seems as though her injuring Spring ended up helping him in the long term.” She said.

Kain nodded, “Well, considering you still have quite a list, we’ll waive that one. Next?”

As Kain was speaking, Chance whispered again to Janna, “I wonder if you will fair like that man.”

“What?” She replied.

“Injured by this case, will you look back on your ways and change for the better?”

The day continued like this for six hours. Chloe continued in chronological order. It seemed that the times between incidents grew longer and longer. Chance mentioned this to Kain, who wrote some sort of small note and thanked him. Chloe was very diligent in her recalling, but the situation seemed to be stressing her. She felt like everyone was trying to let Janna off easy. Chloe did too, but deep down she felt that Janna’s life would be worse if she was simply let off the hook.

After six hours, Kain stood.

“Okay, we will break for today. How far, ah, by percentage, do you think we are Chloe?”

“Twenty-three.” She calculated quickly.

“Okay, house Janna in a longer term prison.” He replied.

“What of Drake?” Chloe asked, “Should they be separated?”

“Would that help anything? With the law changes, we’re supposed to be preparing prisoners for reintegration, am I correct? They will be together after serving their time, so it makes sense to have them imprisoned together.” Kain continued, “But of course, I wasn’t here for the law change, I was in the Sol-Metch state. I am unsure myself.”

Natasha stood, sighing, “You are correct, they will be housed together.”

The onlookers shuffled out of the room, leaving those involved in the trial, Drake, and Gwenhime.

Janna said to Chloe, “See you tomorrow I guess.”

Chloe replied, “I guess… I don’t think I did very well today.”

“What are you going to do about it?” Janna asked.

“I guess I’ll…” Chloe trailed off.

“Step your game up?”

Gwenhime went to Kain to tell him what a great job he was doing, and also pinch his cheeks.

“Mom, come on we’re in public.” He crossed his arms.

Natasha led Janna and Drake out as Gwenhime scowled at Kain for having a mullet.

“You’ll be put in the more empty building. Are you okay Janna?” Natasha stopped.

“Umm, I might not be. I feel like… I don’t know it’s weird.”

She looked to Drake, who seemed worried. Natasha an expression of confusion mixed with concern.

“I think we’ll have to send you to the hospital.” She said.

“Umm,” Janna said, “Maybe not. It feels like I’m having a weird period.”

Drake blushed and tried to cross his arms, but he was still handcuffed.

“Well, at the very least you should meet with mother then. She used to run the frontline infirmary.” Natasha said.

“…Okay.”

Janna and Natasha waited outside the tower for Gwenhime to exit. Drake sort of looked around awkwardly.

“Umm,” He said, “Isn’t-”

But he was cut off by Natasha who said, “Mother, you’ll have to take a look at the prisoner before we lock her up.”

Gwenhime looked happily suspicious. She eyed Janna saying, “You are aware I’ve retired from nursing? I deal with internation relations now.”

Janna clutched at her stomach, “Yeah well. It’s one of those days you know?”

“Hmm.”

They cantered to the castle where Gwen still kept a small medical room.

“Okay, just lie down. It’s not the first time I’ve had to deal with battlefield menstruation.”

Gwen grabbed her daughter in a few strategic locations, asking if it hurt and how bad. Then she crossed her arms and looked considerate for a very long time.

“Well.” She said.

“What?” Janna asked. She was getting very worried. Maybe something was really wrong with her.

“I think you might be carrying.” Her mother replied.

“Eh?” Janna was scared now, “What am I carrying?”

Gwen lowered her voice, and said softly, “A child.”

Janna looked around the room.

“Umm… now’s not really a good time for that you know.” She said.

“Yes, I’m quite aware dear.”

“Is there even anything in place for prisoners having children?” Janna was almost yelling now. “What am I supposed to do? How long until I have the kid? Ah! What will I even call him? Or her?”

“Just calm down, breathe deeply.” Her mother said.

“Okay. Okay.” Janna breathed, “But listen, I like children and all, they make great target practice, but I don’t know if I can actually raise one…”

Drake just gazed at Janna, a little nervous. He took her hand. Janna looked at him, expecting him to say something reassuring.

Instead he just said, “What…”

So, Janna decided to reassure him and herself at the same time.

“Don’t worry Drake, it’ll be alright. We’ll figure it out. If anything, we’ll make grandma here help us.”

He nodded. Gwenhime started to say something but then changed her mind. She would be obliged to help if she could.

5

“We can’t tell Kain,” Gwenhime said.

Janna looked at her mother, “Why?”

Natasha said, “It would interfere with his verdict. Mother is right, we have to wait until after the trial.”

“Mmm.” Janna thought.

If the chair knew that she was going to give birth in nine or ten months, he might reduce her sentence. She rubbed her face in frustration. Janna was sitting on her mother’s soft infirmary bed.

“Honestly I wasn’t expecting this when I turned myself in. I guess it’s too late now.”

Drake had been silent for a long time. Then, “So what is the procedure in cases like this?”

Janna lay back, happy that he was thinking about her constructively. She closed her eyes and listened.

“Well,” Said Natasha, “I do not know actually.”

Janna stared, “You’re the one who locks people up, how can you not know?”

“I-” Natasha caught herself, and then promptly left.

After the court had closed for the day, Chloe had gone straight to her personal library. She was very cross with herself. She had done a very poor job arguing in the law’s name and she was ashamed. The experience would now have to be her guide.

Chloe took her law text and cracked it open, thumbing to the topics she was looking for.

It wasn’t twenty minutes later when Natasha stormed in.

“Do you have a book on the law?”

Chloe had never had visitors in her library before, and she just stared at Natasha dumbfounded. Then, slowly, she pointed at the book on the tilted desk in front of her.

Natasha caught her breath then said, “Well, can you find anything on inmate pregnancy?”

Chloe tilted her head and squinted at her odd question, but flipped to the table of context and then back again.

“Ah…” She thumbed, “Okay, it seems that… before labour, you are to send them to the hospital. Women who are in late pregnancy are not very dangerous after all.”

“Can you please read the exact wording.”

Chloe looked at her, worried, “Uhh, okay, but this is an academic text, not the actual law. It says, ‘Due to issues with the misconduct and treatment of female inmates, a law has been made. Female inmates who are days within labour are to be escorted to the nearest hospital. Alternatively, a midperson may be called to deliver the child if it is necessary.’ That’s it.”

Natasha crossed her arms. “That’s not a lot. It feels like a band-aid fix.”

“Well,” Chloe said after reading a bit further, “It kind of was. We still have no regulations for what happens to the child afterwards. And no rules on treatment for the time leading up. It seems that the author of this text had worries about malnutrition and unmodified punishment of pregnant inmates. They believe that portions should be increased if you’re creating a second person within you.”

Natasha’s eyes narrowed, “I really did not want to extend the law yet again.”

Chloe looked at her sideways, “Hey Tash, why don’t you become a poet? You seem to care far more about law at this point than your guard duties. And I hear you finally started taking lunch breaks, but you still don’t eat. You just fret over the law, according to Finch.”

Natasha frowned, “I- Why do people keep asking me difficult questions today?”

She stormed out of the room.

Janna was on the bed rubbing her tummy.

“There’s a whole other person growing in there.” She said.

Gwenhime said, “Did Natasha just leave two prisoners here unrestrained?”

Drake and Janna looked at each other, then laughed.

“Hmm, I guess this is from those times we didn’t channel the Servant of Birth,” Janna said.

“Hmm. You really have an issue with taking advantage of the Servant’s services.” Drake said.

“Yeah, well…” She trailed off.

“Look, a lot of these issues you’re being accused of could have been resolved if you just sanctioned your duels.” He crossed his arms, “Really, I can’t be telling you what to do all the time. Not only because it’s not my responsibility to, but also because you don’t like being told what to do.”

Janna nodded slowly. “I don’t think I can afford to act like a child anymore. You’re right Drake, I think it’s time to start acknowledging my responsibility.”

Natasha walked back into the room.

“Alright, let us proceed. It looks like I will be writing law again.” She huffed.

After Janna got up slowly from the bed and waved to her mother, they left.

The prison was in the guard district, and it seemed more like a hotel than anything. Janna looked about, confused.

“Are you sure this is a jail?” She asked.

Natasha said, “We took a lot of inspiration from the Djeb. They had very low inmate rates and high integration, so I talked with the leader, Hannah, during a vacation and took a lot of notes.”

As Natasha led them to their room for the foreseeable future, Janna asked, “Has it worked?”

“Yes. Quite beautifully.” Natasha said.

“You seem to have a really big interest in government. Are you planning on becoming a poet or a law writer?” Drake asked.

“I,” Natasha made up her mind then, “I am unsure at the moment.”

The room was very nice. It had a short and very think bookshelf with both self-help books and religious books. There was a simple but comfortable looking bed and a desk with paper and pencils. Finally, one of the walls were not a load of bars. It really was like a hotel room.

Natasha said, “I will see you tomorrow. We unlock the room doors for a couple hours a before sunset, mid-dusk. You can roam freely in the building and make supper for yourself during that time. Then everyone is sent back at dark.”

“If, say, I get in a shouting match with Drake, will the neighbours hear us?”

“Not likely. The interior walls are built like exterior walls so that prisoners cannot purposefully disturb or agitate each other.” Natasha explained, and then left them.

Janna’s head snapped to Drake the instant the door shut. He knew that look well and replied with his own look of surprise and submission. She leapt, tackling him to the bed.

In the castle, Chloe flipped through her text furiously before shutting the book with a thud. She stood and then strode outside. She headed to the University to talk to one of her professors. She was not going to be satisfied as a third rate poet.

6

For Janna, reducing  the length of her sentence had been a convenience more than anything she cared about seriously. Now that sentiment lay squarely in the past. She was prepared to fight a war of words in the tower of law to reduce it to as low as possible. She lay in her hotel-like prison room, staring at the ceiling deep in thought.

It was almost an overnight realization, but Janna had come to the obvious conclusion that her life was no longer to be treated as a casual joke.

A coming of age is defined by the many obvious realizations one has. Janna had not had many during her extended adolescence, and she still had a rather undeveloped way of thinking. Becoming a parent, however, is a very loud wake-up call, and Janna was finally ready to listen.

Beside her, Drake stirred, sighing.

“Hey Drake,” Janna said.

Drake cleared his throat, then said, “Yeah?”

“Do you know a lot about child raising?”

“Uh, no.” He said.

“I thought not. You’ll be getting out long before me, right?”

“I believe so.” He replied, “It seems that my offences only amount to a month or so of time.”

“You should use that time, then, to-” But she was cut off by a knock.

“Ready for trial?” It was Natasha.

“We’ll be five,” Janna saw Drake’s signalling expression, “We’ll be half an hour.”

“Well, it is to start in an hour, but I would like to speak to you beforehand. I will return in half an hour, please be considerate of this.” Natasha said, and then left.

“I’m surprised you’re in the mood, you don’t usually like mornings,” Janna said.

“Yeah, well, I don’t know.”

Chloe fidgeted. Unlike Janna, Chloe awoke a little before sunrise. Natasha tended to wake up shortly after, and her mother a while before. Chloe was in her library, re-reading a few pages from the night before, and taking notes. She was also looking at the short write-up of advice the professor had given her the afternoon before.

“Speak like I’m always right, like I know exactly what I’m talking about. Especially if I don’t know what I’m talking about.” She mused over the words, “This isn’t like me at all.”

Chloe put the note down. She had a little more confidence about going out today, but still she worried. She was also a little curious about her mother. It was odd enough that Gwenhime had come out of her old clinic, a room Chloe had thought was unused now. What really caught Chloe’s attention though, was the expression that her mother had on her face. It seemed an accidental expression, the kind you forget you’re wearing. It was a mixture of trademark parental worry, and also happiness. Chloe found it to be most unusual, both that such a look existed, and also that her mother was wearing it. She wondered why.

The sun was rising outside of Chloe’s sand coloured window. It looked like she had only half an hour left before the trial started up again. She took a deep breath and stood, leaving for the Poetry and Law tower. Her mother’s expression hovered behind her thoughts, and she had a feeling it would bother her throughout the day. Chloe was also very worried about herself, and also about Janna’s future. Needless to say, the prince had a lot on her mind.

As they went up the stairs to the courtroom, Drake said quietly, “You should really fix your hair.”

“You fix it,” Janna whispered, “It’s your fault it’s such a mess!”

Natasha looked back at them silently, but said nothing.

“Uh, what was it you wanted to say to us anyway?” Drake asked.

“Right, Chloe, well, no one else knows about your situation Janna save perhaps father. You cannot tell Kain, but you can tell Chloe. It’s not her job to judge, just to represent the law, so it’s a little bit different.” Natasha replied.

“Oh. Might be interesting I guess.” Janna said.

When they got to the third floor, Janna’s hair was fixed, and Chloe was waiting for them. It seemed they were early today.

“Hello, Janna,” Chloe said, her voice nearly faltering.

Chloe’s mind hadn’t stopped racing. Images of Janna in a cage, thoughts of herself stumbling over her words, forgetting laws, missing something, and through it all her mother’s unusual expression lingered.

“Good morning!” Janna replied, “Are you okay? You look sick.”

Chloe felt sick. Her stomach ached because she missed breakfast. Natasha missed breakfast every day but unlike her, Chloe was used to eating more than one meal. Chloe’s mouth was dry too, but that was likely just nerves. She did have a sore throat though.

“I think,” Chloe replied, “I think I am getting sick.”

“Well chill, you’re freaking me out,” Janna said.

“I… I think we should get through this whole mess as quickly as possible. I don’t want to have to pass the task on to someone because I’m sick.”

“What’s wrong?”

Natasha and Drake had taken their seats, but Janna was standing across from Chloe, concerned.

“Not much. Just this case and what might happen to you.”

“And?” Janna could tell that wasn’t all.

Chloe and Janna had been very close as children. They were each other’s best friends, since they were around the same age, Chloe being only a couple of adjusted years younger. It had been frustrating for them to see all their friends age faster, become adults, and then even die as the years passed. It seemed only family members and the long lived Elken people made good permanent friends. Everyone else seemed to die too quickly.

Chloe sighed, “You know me too well. It seems mother’s concerned about something. It’s not just that, what’s really weird is that she also seems to be vaguely happy about it.”

“Oh. I can tell you what that is.” Janna said.

“What?” Chloe jumped forward, grabbing Janna’s forearms and looking into her eyes, “What!?”

“I’m-” Janna looked at the entrance.

Someone entered, but it wasn’t Kain.

She said, “Maybe I should tell you later.”

“No!” Chloe almost shouted, “Right now! I don’t want to have to worry about this through the whole session! It’ll be very stressful. I think that’s what’s making me sick, it’s stress.”

Janna gave her a disbelieving look, and then, “Okay, fine. We are fairly sure that I am soon to have a child.”

Chloe looked at her in horror.

“When?!” She whispered loudly.

“Well, I got the first signs yesterday, an unusual cramp, right?”

Chloe nodded, she knew about this from a Solune biology textbook she’d read.

“And also my tits are getting some soreness.” She poked her chest slowly, then nodded. She didn’t seem to care that she was in public, but Chloe was used to this sort of behaviour by now. Janna cared about the things she thought mattered and had no care for anything else.

Janna continued, “So it seems I’m about two weeks along or so. It makes sense because that’s around the time that me and Drake stopped… requesting the Servant of Birth to leave us alone.”

Chloe crossed her arms and shook her head.

“I hope you start taking more responsibility for your actions. Look, the Servants provide many useful… services. You might as well take advantage,” She said and then, “Wait! That means you’ll be having a child in-”

Chloe’s voice caught in her lung.

She said, “That’s what Natasha was asking about the laws for! She’s probably going to change them after this trial is over. She still has ten or so months to do it.

Chloe breathed a sigh of relief.

Janna said, “Yeah, well. It’ll still be a pain in the ass. Look, I won’t be able to raise it for the years I’m in here. I don’t know what it’s going to eat. Where are we going to get milk? I don’t think there are any wet nurses around to hire in this day and age.”

“Well, not in the Solune Kingdom…” Chloe said, doubtfully.

Just then, Kain walked in with a group following him.

On his way to the front, he asked, “What about the Solune Kingdom?”

“Oh, I’m just talking about how our laws are different from the East- the Djeb.” Chloe lied.

“Hmm,” Kain said, and then sat at the head of the room. He had no reason to pry.

The people who had come with him took seats in the crowd. It was mostly the same faces as before, Alice and Finch, and many other Solune people worried about their royal family. It seemed that today, Finch and a member of the guard, Setzer, were the only Riley. Janna didn’t really care, but she did note that this sort of session would be of interest mostly for Solune, as it was a Solune prince being tried.

Kain said, “Alright, let’s take another round.”

“Yes,” Said Chloe.

She had been thinking about how to speed up the process, it seemed more of an urgency now than a convenience.

“Is it acceptable if we put certain smaller and more clear-cut accusations under bulk to process them?” Chloe asked.

“Your task,” Kain replied, “Is to make sure that the law is properly applied to Janna. Do you think this approach will have that outcome?”

Chloe wasn’t sure, so following the note she got from her teacher she said, “Absolutely.”

7

“What I would like to do is deal with all these minor affairs such by number instead of by indecent. There are only so many verdicts you can reach for things like verbal assault, and the range of severity is very small.”

Kain nodded. He wasn’t particularly happy to be glossing over details, but it was really in the hands of the poet to decide how to process things like this, and her proposal seemed reasonable.

“Right. Ah, we have about four counts of assault.” Chloe started.

Kain wrote something in his notes. “Okay.”

“Then there’s the battery. Give me a moment.” Chloe read quickly through the descriptions of sixteen events.

Among the reports, there were some more vague suspicions of crime. She decided to start with those and move her way up.

“Okay, so it seems that some of these events are unconfirmed. I’m certain of about two of the unconfirmed events, as I’m familiar of how the accused reacts to aggression. The other three appear to be either mistaken or malicious over-reporting.”

Kain’s eyebrows lifted, “Malicious over-reporting?”

Chloe had thought this was normal.

“Ah, yes. I’m certain that there was one person, likely a Solune Agent who had some sort of grudge against Janna. I’ve had similar events reported multiple times from separate locations. Additionally, I’ve had events that didn’t make logical sense with the other information, and things that are starkly uncharacteristic and even impossible to accomplish.”

Kain’s brow furrowed, “Can you please come up here and point a few out?”

“Yes. These are my notes, so I will mark a few notable examples.”

“No. Mark them all.” He replied.

Chloe took her fountain pen and found all the unusual reports, marking them with a plus symbol. Then she brought the scroll to the front of the room.

Kain looked them over then said, “This is quite suspicious. We will need more information before I can make a judgement call. Who is the leader of the Agents at this time? Is it still father? I mean, is it still the King?”

“Ah, no,” Chloe said, glancing behind her quickly and then turning back, “You’ve missed two leadership changes. It went to mum for a bit, and now Natasha is in charge.”

Kain was surprised that Natasha was running both the Murdock guard and the Solune Agents at the same time, but that gave the thought of a rogue Agent further credibility.

He said, “Natasha, examine this and tell me if you have any idea as to who might be plotting against the Janna Rhye.”

Natasha nodded silently than stood, towering over everyone in the room. She strode to Chloe with two only long steps and stared down to her. Chloe looked up at her sister and handed over the scroll. Natasha looked through it, then nodded.

“This was probably Nashir. She had exited the Agents in the past to live in the Djeb, but I allowed her back in half a decade later. She is stationed in the North right now. Additionally, you missed one of her reports.”

Natasha pointed to one of the murder cases. Chloe’s face contorted, and she rushed to mark it too.

“We cannot use these accusations in trial.” Kain stated, “Please continue your argument, and then have Natasha go over your list with hers. Find out if this Nashir has reported anything else. You do have record of who sent the reports, do not you?”

Natasha nodded, and then took her seat. Chloe followed.

“Ah,” She fumbled to reorganize herself after the upset.

Janna looked over, entertained. She had had her suspicions that the list was a bit too long, but she was also aware of her own violent tendencies and that didn’t keep track of much. Janna crossed her arms and leaned back, then immediately leaned forward again.

“What is it?” Her poet, Chance, asked.

Janna had her arms crossed over her chest.

“Don’t worry,” She said, “I’ve still got ten months to go before you really need to worry.”

She would have to remember not to stretch her upper body too much now that her body was slowly becoming that of a mother’s.

“It will be quite an experience in lockup.” She said.

Chance shrugged. It seemed that Chloe had figured herself out with a bit of help from Natasha, and now she was standing again.

“Ah,” Chloe said, “So, ah, we’ve cut out much of the battery as well. Specifically, we have about three small cases that I’d like to gloss over, and then we have four that were reported at the same time in the same area that I’d like to ask Janna about.”

Kain nodded, scribbling, then motioned. Janna and Chance stood up as well. Natasha didn’t bother.

“Ah, this was only about four years ago,” Chloe said.

Janna thought back to what she had been doing four years ago. She crossed her arms in thought, and then quickly uncrossed them again. Then she remembered. There had been a skirmish outside of a temple for the Servant of Death.

Death and Tendrils had a vicious love-hate relationship. They were lovers in an endless quarrel, and as a follower of the Servant of Tendrils, she often got caught up in his mess.

“Yeah…” Janna said, “That one was messy. To be honest, I’m surprised so much was cut. I’ve brawled with lots of people. I mean, I get into fights at least once a week.”

Chloe shook her head, “A lot of your fights only leave bruises and ruined exoskins. That kind of thing is normal in the north, it would be unfair to try you for that.”

“Well in that case, I know exactly the two things you’ll be after me for,” Janna stated blandly, “And this one’s almost as bad as the murder. Oh, and I hope you have it marked as a double homicide.”

Chloe looked at her pleadingly. She was hoping that all this cutting would reduce her sentence below the ten month mark so that she could be a mother to her child. Natasha and Kain, however, looked to Chloe with grave expressions.

“You had better add it in.” Kain stated. “And Janna, tell us about this assault you were a part of.”

Janna nodded. “This one was definitely my fault. I mean, Tendrils told us to go scare off the Death followers from the temple so that he could have some sort of upper hand in power for a bit.”

“But really,” She continued, “That was a period in my life where if you weren’t more specific, I could be a little extreme.”

Drake nodded knowingly, and then the room got dark.

“Oh no.” Kain said.

The windows had been set up like timers, only letting the sun in for a few hours at a time as it rose and set. It was to ensure that the courts got breaks, all public meeting rooms operated like this. It was one of the few true daily timekeeping devices in the Solune Kingdom.

“I guess it’s lunch time. I will see you all in about a sixth.”

Then Kain and everyone else stood, and went to exit the room.

Aside 2

Natasha and Kain walked up the staircase that spiralled up the round kingdom hall’s wall.

“What do you think, Natasha?”

“I knew that her actions would catch up to her one day. She seems to have realized as much herself. It is fitting.”

Kain nodded to his twin. Despite looking very different, Natasha and Kain had very similar temperaments.

“How long do you suppose she will be detained for?” Natasha asked him.

“Two or three ages.”

Natasha hid her concern. Two or three years would be very emotionally taxing for Janna, with a child on the way. She would be separated from her newborn for one year at least. Kain seemed to catch her concern.

“What’s the matter?” He asked, “Worried she can’t handle it?”

“No.” Natasha said, “I will need to modify the laws fairly swiftly.”

Kain looked at him confused, and also a little suspicious. “You intent to subvert my verdict?”

“No, fool.” Natasha didn’t like it when Kain jumped to conclusions, “I cannot tell you until after the trial.”

Kain was not to know of Janna’s situation, as it might influence his judgement. As chair, such things would be unacceptable. Janna had already been given the advantage that all accused are entitled, that someone close to them was to be chair at their trial.

The law had become a very serious issue for the King. He had raised his children to follow the Solune law at all times, unless they intended to change it permanently. Thus, the royal children were not above the law, but they did have the authority to question and potentially change it for the better. Natasha had been using this privilege actively, and both the King and the citizenry agreed that her improvements were generally positive.

Despite this, Kain’s expression became even more suspicious, “Until after the trial? Very well sister, I’ll be speaking to you immediately after it is completed. I had better not be disappointed in your reasoning.”

Natasha did something she had not done since childhood, she pushed Kain. He fell up the stairs, catching himself on his hands and looking back at her. He wore an expression of both nostalgia and confusion. Natasha looked back with a slight smile edging her lips.

Kain stood up saying, “I… I’ll have to trust you I guess. Or is that vice-captain Alice finally getting to you.”

He then laughed as Natasha’s expression changed to confusion.

Aside 3

Gwenhime hadn’t come this time. She already knew the outcome would likely be one or two years. Murder was considered a high crime, but if it was done for a Servant, or in war things were much different. Servants were thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of years old or more, and their wisdom and values were based on a much different structure of time.

She ambled through the cool, quiet castle looking for her husband, the King. She asked the Captain of the castle guard, Vinth where the King might have gone. Vinth almost shrugged, but he caught himself and stated that the King had left the castle a few sixths ago. He wasn’t sure where the King had gone.

Gwenhime thanked him and exited. The main doors of the castle opened up to open land, with the city Mudock behind it. It was an unusual design, as having a face of the castle integrated into the city wall had inherent safety flaws. Gwenhime knew at the time that it was built that there would be little internal threat, and she wanted to see the raw wilderness of the kingdom when she exited, not the town.

Gwenhime hadn’t come from this place. Like the King, she hadn’t come from this side of the planet even. Gwenhime was a Gharal, although neither the king nor her knew that for the first few millennia of their relationship. It actually came as quite a shock to him, that she was a member of the Solune’s ancient enemy, the enemy that had tried to eat his entire kingdom like so many trapped animals.

But Gwenhime wasn’t interested in eating Solune people. Frankly, she had never eaten the flesh of an intelligent being, and she felt nervous about trying any now, especially if she was biologically inclined to crave it. She sighed. The Gharal have two inherent racial conjuration abilities. This first is flight, and the second is giant growth. Gwenhime conjured a pair of light grey feathered wings and lifted herself to the roof of the castle. She walked along its rim, searching.

She saw the King speaking to a man she knew to be Marcus. She stepped off the castle and glided downward, flicking her wings away and walking to where she had seen her husband.

“This is suspicious. I value your devotion to me and my family, thank you Marcus.” The King said, and then turned to Gwenhime.

Marcus did an outer salute and exited.

There, on the dirt path surrounded buy simple wooden houses, Gwenhime and the King looked at each other. They had been together for so long that this is how they tended to begin conversations, by reading each other’s faces.

Gwenhime could tell that the King’s information was less important, and so he spoke first.

“Gwendalyn I believe our daughter has been framed. Little Janna.” He said. All of his children were little to him.

Gwenhime nodded. They walked back toward the castle together.

“Yes, Janna is also expecting a child in ten months or so.” She replied.

The King turned to her gravely, but slowly his ancient mind processed the many facts that floated within it, and he calmed.

“I am sure that Natasha will ensure that she is taken care of.” The King said.

Gwenhime nodded, “I believe directly after the case. Although, if Janna has been framed then we mightn’t have to worry too much.”

The King shook his head, “Not all the reports are false, Gwendalyn. Just a few. Marcus is an Agent, he told me of his suspicions.”

“Then Natasha would likely take care of this too.”

As the King and his wife entered the castle, not far away in the Hall of Poets and Law, the third session of courts was beginning.

8

Janna looked at him in brief disbelief, and then laughed out loud, “Really? I wasn’t expecting you to joke about it!”

They exited the tower. Kain and Janna led the way, Natasha looking over their shoulders, and Chloe and Drake in the rear.

“I’m not allowed take that into consideration though, I can’t give you an easier time. Worse, there’s a huge chance that someone in the prison there will give you a hard time. You’re royalty and worse, you’re an Agent. There will be people with grudges, probably people with heavy grudges against you, possibly even ones you captured yourself,” Kain looked back at Natasha, “We have measures to protect pregnant inmates, right? I didn’t have to study that part, so I didn’t.”

She shrugged, “Really there is not much support for this sort of situation in the actual text of the law. I am going to be working on amends for it though. Janna will be fully capable for a while yet. We should be okay, I have changed the laws before.”

“Alright.” Kain said tentatively, “I’m trusting you. I don’t want to have not held back on her and then something awful happens like a prison skirmish and then I have a stillborn nephew or something.”

They had all stopped near the east side of the castle. The air was dead. Chloe, Janna, Natasha, Drake, and Kain had gotten really serious now.

“Alright?” He repeated.

“I will be on it immediately after the trial,” Natasha said.

“I’ll help!” Said Chloe.

“And we’re in a good spot too, I’ll be out long before Janna, so I can set things up outside,” Drake said.

“Do I have your word, Natasha?” Kain looked at his twin seriously.

“Yes. I promise.” Natasha’s face, which had been neutral until now, became very earnest and formal.

Kain then looked at Chloe, who nodded.

“Me too.”

Janna blushed a bit, pulling her head down into her collar, “All this for me? Well, I won’t say I don’t deserve it, because really I do.”

She gave a long wink. They said their goodbyes, now each with a small sense of hope.

Then, Natasha brought Janna and Drake to their prison room.

Natasha stopped at the doorway and said, “Janna, you do not have to worry. Just call for me if you have any troubles during your time.”

Then she stiffened saying, “That is not a privilege mind you, any prisoner is entitled to my attention if something is amiss.”

Janna waved, and Natasha exited. She lay back in her bed.

On the other side of the closed door, Natasha stopped hiding her worried expression. She was unsure if she would be able to make the necessary changes in time. She had no experience with this sort of situation.

She was just going to have to hope that Janna was not so foolish as to not report conflict, and as Natasha walked down the stairs and out towards her office, she worried. Janna was the kind of person who relished in conflict, and now she was caged in with the right kind of people to enable it.

Natasha sighed as she stepped into the substitute Enforcement Hall. It had been a larger house before it was repurposed. She immediately went to her desk, took a fountain pen and some reeds paper, and sat down to work.

9

The rising sun was visible through the three claustrophobically small prison windows. Janna was already wide awake by now, having been jarred from her sleep a few sixths prior. She was sitting on the floor near the bed where Drake still lay, a sleeping lump. Janna was staring at the door with her legs crossed. She was trying to keep her thoughts in focus.

My final trial is coming up today, Janna thought.

Janna had gone through many emotions as the trials went on. At first, she didn’t care much how many years she was put away. Her ageing was so slow that any amount of lockup would have been a trivially small fraction of her life. That now outdated line of thought went that she was tired of the hunt for her eldest brother, and could use a decade or two of rest.

But things had changed since she found out she was having a child. She was getting nauseous at times, and getting up in the morning had been a real chore, even thought she had awoken much earlier than normal. Probably out of anxiety, she mused. A lot was going to happen today.

First, she would have her final trial, and then after a break of undetermined and potentially stressful length, Janna would have her sentence length. As if that wasn’t enough, afterwards she would be sent up to the roof of the castle with her family to be announced as the next official heir, then promptly thrown in jail for a few annum. Being the heir didn’t mean that she would have to rule immediately. It only meant that after the King was done ruling or died, Janna would become the next king.

Janna opened her eyes. Still it was not the time for her session. She sighed impatiently and stood. She looked outside one of the windows on the wall opposite the door. The frames were reinforced. This was on a second story, and so she could see the mountains far off to the north, and much further, turned green by the atmosphere, she could see the kingdom walls. It was only a few long years ago that the King allowed for free traffic in and out of the kingdom. That’s when Janna had headed out on her quest to hunt down Zealott.

Bored, Janna drained her eyes and fired laszors out at the distant mountains. She turned, seeing only cloudy shapes as her irises and pupils were still drained down her face. She carefully pulled them back into her eyeballs as she sat on the ground once more.

She definitely needed not just a break, but also a more deliberate approach to finding Zealott. Janna’s worries changed now to her child. What would she do with the coming youth? Should she allow her child to come with her on this vendetta? That didn’t seem to be a good idea, and yet, she was sure that her child would end up joining them.

Then there was a knock. Janna stood and stared.

“Are you awake?” Natasha asked from the other side.

“I am,” Janna said.

She looked to Drake, still sleeping. She decided to leave him behind this time. She would face her fate alone.

Natasha opened the door, and Janna told her of this.

“Alright… I will send for Alice to bring her to the heiring ceremony though.” Natasha told her as they exited.

“That would be good.”

They walked slowly to the tower, the Law and Poetry Kingdom Hall, and as they walked, a chilling calm came over Janna. She felt a lump in her throat, and dark adrenaline sticking in her heart, and she prepared herself.

10

“Yeah, it was four years ago, and it was on the Underside. This was the closest that Drake and I got to reaching Zealott. My disappointment of a brother was still working with our estranged uncle ‘Venus’ back then, so we invaded that domain. I believe that since then Zealott has moved to the northern regions of the Overside, and so that’s where I was last.

“Chloe Rhye had previously driven Venus out of the Lussa City region, so his forces were softened quite a bit. Despite the warnings of the Servant of Tendrils, I thought we could pull it off. Obviously the two of us weren’t going to be able to take on Venus’s army alone, hells, I doubt we could take out Venus alone, but that’s not what we were trying to do. Simply put, this was a stealth mission. The aim was to go in and extract Venus.

“Obviously the best way to go about dealing with anyone who spotted you was to kill them, so that’s what we planned. I didn’t aim to slip up and start dispatching people though. It would have been less taxing to just not get caught. This was supposed to be a fairly long and dangerous mission.

“Venus’s domain is less of a hideout and more of a fully fledged underground base. The entrances are hidden in the lime cliffs that jut out of the deserts east of the Lussa City. We didn’t get far. Once inside, Drake and I stalked down a few unlit caves, going by feel and sound. Of course we were not going to alert anyone by using lightings.

“It seems that there’s an entire multilevel network down there. I wish I knew more, but I know there are at least three levels. We managed to get to the second level by finding a ladder. I actually almost fell down what was essentially a manhole. The ladder descended down quite deep, and we passed from the sound-muting lime down into what I thought was hard rock. In reality, we were in the iron bedrock of the Underside.

“Obviously to some, iron carries sound very far through echo. We hadn’t even finished descending the ladder before we started hearing footsteps echo up the manhole. We had to stop, waiting for what I assumed was a patrol, to pass. Finally we reached the second level.

“Upon the ladder didn’t go all the way down, and we had to make what we hoped was a short drop. Drake snapped his finger, and hearing the echo told me it couldn’t be that deep, so I dropped.

“It seemed that Venus was smarter than I assumed. At the bottom of the ladder was some sort of elevated, reverse bevelled metal sheet. When I dropped onto it, it flexed inward and hit the floor below it, letting out a crack.”

Janna could hear Chloe inhale sharply.

“The sound travelled an absurd distance, and we started hearing the footsteps from earlier doubling back. They made a rhythmic clanking sound on the metal ground. From what I could hear, It seemed they were jogging. I looked to where I assumed Drake was. It was pitch black. I could not search his face for ideas or opinions. The footsteps got louder, so he decided to voice his ideas, I assume he was hoping his words would not make it to the ears of those who were approaching us.

“He said, ‘Let’s go up the ladder as far as we can before they arrive. When they stop to investigate, we’ll have to also so that they don’t hear us.’

“I agreed with him verbally, and he jumped up and grabbed the ladder. I followed, and the bevelled plate snapped back into place loudly. We climbed upward as the jogging footsteps loudened. Then we saw light below us and I instinctively stopped. Drake stopped not seconds later. There was a group below, unusual looking. Their torchlight didn’t seem to carry all the way up to where Drake and I were. The group, a guard I assume, milled around the loud plate, and through the small hole below I could see what kind of creatures they were. I counted four at the time, but I later confirmed six after Drake and I dispatched them.”

Kain, the chair of the court, gave Janna a suspicious look. She was being tried for two murders, not six.

“Five of the beings did not have life for me to take to begin with. They were machines, automatons. I could tell that they were unusual back then, looking down at them. I also saw two Lussa with them. Likely such automatic creatures required close watching. For errors, that is.

“After a minute or so of confused searches and many metallic pops from below, one of the Lussa, a man, pointed upward at me. I knew they couldn’t see me in the dark, and what he said confirmed it. He told them to send one machine down in the other direction, and the rest up the ladder. We weren’t quite found out yet, but the instant we tried to run, that would be it.

“I couldn’t look to Drake for advice, so I did the next best thing. I thought like he did. I figured he would want to climb up in unison with the loudest of the pursuers, that way whatever sounds we made as we moved up the ladder would be mirrored by the sound of one of the guard. I knew that this would make them sound unusually loud, but it was our only chance.

“I watched them start the ascent, first a machine with a torch jammed into a mount on its torso, and then the two Lussa, then three more machines. I squeezed my hands, trying to merge my timing with the leading machine. Once I was confident, I started moving, stepping in time. After a few rungs, I hit Drake’s shoe. He hadn’t been thinking the same thing! I stopped and then punched the sole of his foot, still in time with the leader. It took a couple more snaps of machine metal on the ladder, fist on boot, before Drake figured out what I was thinking. My next punch swung into air, and I opened my fist and grabbed the next rung. We climbed in time, but by now we were just outside the light of the torch. Drake had put us in a bad spot. I was worried about how we were going to make it out at the top. But for now, I just climbed.

“Well, my fears were confirmed. He pulled himself up as fast as he could onto the lime. I couldn’t hear much, and was revealed by just how much the lime deadened sound. Then, immediately afterwards, my relief was lost. I had to stop and wait for him to get out of the way. It was only one rung, one step, but that was all that they needed, that was it. My feet were caught in the torchlight.

“I heard a shout, not ‘stop’ or anything like that, but rather worse. It was a command. Likely the machines could be controlled by vocal commands, and this was what they shouted. Something I couldn’t understand, some difficult to pronounce word that wouldn’t come up accidentally in conversation. The clangs on the rungs sped up, and I was certain that the two Lussa watched as I climbed out.

“‘What can we do!’ That’s what I asked Drake.

“We weren’t going to escape without getting lost in the limestone maze, and so I figured it would be best to beat them to a pulp. We would also know exactly what we were taking on, to see how hard it would be to invade in the future.

“The clanking got louder. Drake, once again, was at a loss. He’s not that great at making split-second decisions.

“I walked to his ear and said simply, “Ambush.’

“Like our pursuers, we also have a code. If I don’t explain the type of ambush, it’s automatically a pincer. He stayed where he was, and I rounded to the other side of the manhole and pulled out a torch of my own. The ceiling of the cave was illuminated by the guard now, and light was reflecting down on us. Drake and I nodded to each other, our expressions resolute. I took off my backpack and reached into it until I found a small bag. I pulled it out and threw the backpack aside, out of the way. I took jitzer, that’s a powdered flash incendiary, out of my bag and sprinkled it liberally over my torch hand. Not a hard task with all the light reflecting down from above. When I was done, I passed it to Drake. He put his thumb on the torch’s flick-light, readying himself.

“I tossed the rest aside and we each took a couple steps backward. I watched as a humanoid machine pulled itself out of the hole facing me, just as I had wanted. Its movements were simultaneously dangerous and clumsy. Honestly I have no idea where these things came from, or who built them. When it was all the way out, it targeted me, and I drew two of my four swords. Don’t give me that look, I know using one sword is better! Anyway, it approached me slowly. I assumed that it was awaiting another command, and I simply edged away from it cautiously. The first Lussa saw me, and raced out as the second peeked its head out. Now that all eyes were out, Drake closed his eyes. I followed, squeezing my own shut tightly, and putting my arm over them. Drake flicked the button on the torch and tossed it a little past the hole, in front of the emerging man.

“What I assumed was a blinding flash went off moments later. Then, we began. I thrust my blade into the machine while searching for a weak point. I couldn’t really tell what it was made of, so I just kept cutting and hoping for the best. It seemed that the blinding tactic paid off. I guess the automaton’s vision sensors weren’t more advanced than the Lussa eye, and so the other two men came down upon me. I stepped back and thrust my blades into them, rending their abdomens.

“I grabbed one and let the other fall, saying, ‘Call off your machines! Tell them we’re allies or something.’

“When the man shook his disgusting face, I put my blade under his chin. He snarled at me, and then two bright purple rays of light came from his eyes and burned my face. I let go of him from the shock, and his head fell into my blade. That’s your first murder.”

The crowd in the courtroom murmured. Things were a lot more wild outside of civilized areas. More people had trained to use laszor eyes.

“I was pissed. I didn’t want that dumbass dead, it was just a wrong place kind of thing. I shouldn’t have threatened him with the blade so close. Even thinking back on it now makes me mad. So stupid.

“I didn’t have a lot of time before the machines readjusted their vision, or whatever they do. I rounded on the other man who was clutching his chest. He was bleeding freely, but I gave him the same command. He just stared at me. I couldn’t believe he was dying. What was this about? You must know that by now I knew how hard it was to kill a person, where the limits were. These people must have lacked the exoskin that was evolved thanks to the Servant of Conflict or something. Their bodies took light stabs too freely. His eyes pleaded with me, and I heeded his request. I dragged his body to my bag and took out my healer’s kit; a standard first aid kit. Drake had been dispatching the machines that were attempting to climb up the manhole. They had a noted disadvantage, and he managed to get them all to fall down and break.

“I tried to save the man, but it was really difficult. It looked like I had stabbed him in the secondary heart, and the primary was just freely pumping away. In the end, I tied off the veins and arteries with that, uh, you know that tough string used for stitches? I blocked off all flow to the secondary heart. You can live with just the primary one as far as I know. Then, of course, things got worse! Remember that machine that they sent off? The solo one that went the other way and didn’t come up the ladder? Well it wasn’t looking for us at all, it was getting help. It seems that Venus doesn’t take breaches of security, even unconfirmed ones, lightly. I looked back at the desperate looking man below me. Drake had thrown the last machine down the hole too, and we heard the loud crack of the floorplate below, and then shouts. I didn’t know if any Servant could save the Lussa now, so I just channelled Conflict and Underside, and fed the man some sort of liquid from the kit. I think it was a clot promoter.

“Then we ran. We left my torch behind, and looked back at the Lussa as we rounded a corner. He was still breathing in the dim, but no doubt he’s dead now. That’s murder two. It took us a while to navigate the maze that was the first level, but we got out fairly easily after we lit Drake’s torch and found our old footprints in the lime dust.

“And, well, that’s it.”

Kain was silent for a few moments, and then he called for the break. The verdict would not be given until he had deliberated for as long as he needed, and Kain was a slow thinker.

Janna, supervised by Natasha, headed downstairs to the break room, and Kain went up to the fourth floor, to privacy and peace. He took his three pages of notes with him.

They sat at one of the four long rows of cafeteria tables; Janna, Natasha, Chloe, and Janna’s Poet Chance. The rest of the crowd, those who were watching the trial, either sat at one of the tables, or left the tower, likely planning on returning. Janna was quiet. She sat with her eyes closed, trying to calm herself after the long recounting. But moments later, she heard footsteps from below. Still as tense as she had been in the caves, she opened her eyes and her head snapped around to face the sound. She peered at the staircase. Drake ascended into view, followed by a very unfittingly cheerful Plainkind girl in guard’s clothes. They approached the table, Drake glancing at Janna briefly.

He went straight to Natasha and said, “Where is Kain? This is the break, right?”

“He’s upstairs,” Natasha said, “But you really should not disturb him.”

But Drake wasn’t listening. The instant he knew where Kain was, Drake had already started on his way. Alice followed. Natasha went to stand, but decided against it.

“I am sure the Vice-Captain knows what she’s doing.” She shrugged.

11a

When Drake returned from upstairs with Alice, he seemed a little happier. Forgetting that Drake was still handcuffed to her, Alice ran over to Natasha, excited, and dragged him behind. Alice was unusually strong for such a short, thin woman.

“Hey!” She said, “It looks like your little sister mightn’t be in so bad of a position as she was before anyway, anymore!”

As usual, Alice’s sentences made sense, but were quite awkwardly constructed.

Natasha waved her off, and then Alice sat at the other side of the long cafeteria table next to Chloe, facing Natasha, Janna, and Chance. Janna faced this newcomer with interest.

“Well, what did Drake tell him?” She asked, eyes swivelling back and forth between them.

“Oh, he talked ever so much about the Servant of Death, who I am not vary much a fond of, and also I don’t like the Servant of Conflict either.”

“Are there any that you do like?” Chance asked, cutting off both Drake and Janna.

“Oh yes!” Alice continued excitedly, “I like Mother Nature, and also especially I like the small god of Friendship!”

“The what?” Janna butted back in, “Hang on, what’s a small god and what does it have to do with Servants?”

“I, uh, well,” Alice was eager to answer, but seemed not to know how.

“I can explain if you like,” Chloe smiled.

Janna knew that Chloe had always loved explaining things, and Janna had the suspicion that she would be able to do it better than Alice. It seemed Alice agreed with this too, as she had stopped stammering and was looking at Chloe expectantly.

“Okay, but don’t go into too much detail. Looks like break is almost over, and I really want to know what Drake told my brother. I mean, what Drake told the Chair.” Janna said.

Drake nodded, “Yes, I would like to tell her.”

“Fine, all right.” Chloe shook her head, “I really don’t like abridging though.”

The table leaned in to listen, as though Chloe was about to tell some sort of epic over an imaginary fireplace.

“Let me start by making one thing clear. The term ‘small god’ is a colloquialism.”

She looked at the confused Alice and continued.

“It’s not proper terminology. A small god is like a lesser Servant, or a Servant in training. Actually,” Chloe paused for only a moment, “Small godhood is really more of a trial. It should be no secret that Servants gain power by serving their cause.”

“For example, Tendrils-” Chloe went to continue on about Servants when she was interrupted.

“Can we get on about the small gods?” Janna prodded, “I’m not sure how much extra time we’ll have with Kain deliberating.”

“Right, sorry,” Chloe knew she had been getting carried away, “So we call a small god a Servant Page, or an Apprentice. That’s why it’s like a trial, though it’s on a more grand scale than we’re used to thinking about. See, the Page’s task is to gain enough influence that they can ascend, commit apotheosis that is, and become a full Servant to their cause.. Well, failure means death, right? But no one kills you, I mean not usually. Instead it’s just your natural lifespan that ends.”

Aside 4

Janna noticed that Alice was listening with an uncanny attentiveness.

Chloe continued, “Servants, such as Death, have been known to spur on wars and assassinations to sate their hunger. Conflict has no issues any more since he figured out how to maintain nearly eternal wars. The conflict between the N’Tariel and the Batzers, and the everwar between the East Metch and the… well we’re still not entirely sure what those creatures are. But, both have been raging for centuries because the Servant of Conflict protects against death! Can’t fight if you’re dead, right?”

“Of course not!” Alice shouted a little too loud.

“A lot of Pages fail, and when they die, their cause is lost. Take McPunch, instigator of group hugs. Not a very universal cause, hard to get followers. He was a fine king though, so I’ve read. He should really have supported comradery or something more general,” Chloe was going to list more examples, but she caught Janna’s stare, “Right, well, really there isn’t much more to say.”

“Uh,” Alice said, “Umm, Janna if you don’t really mind that much, I would like to ask about Chloe that I had a question.”

Janna shook her head dismissively. She wasn’t quite sure why.

“Can you tell me about anyone that did ascend?” She asked.

“Of course I can,” Chloe said, “The Servant of Duels for example. Duels is one that Janna really should be paying more attention to. It’s actually a pair of them, Duels. They were N’Tariel duellists that found their art being threatened. Obviously duelling is dangerous, and the N’Tariel dueled with real swords. They created rules to make things safer and avoid bans. It wasn’t long before they got into healing and became Pages for Duels. Their set of rules and first aid spread to the Djeb and Plainkind populations.”

Alice gasped, “I’m a Plainkind!”

Chloe nodded, “It was the spread to wider domains that got them their full Servanthood. The Servant of Music, or Inspiration, or Muses… He keeps changing his cause to similar things. Anyway, Muses and Duels are the youngest Servants as far as I know.”

“Who’s the oldest?” Alice asked.

The sun was drifting toward a horizontal brick that was meant to block it out for a few minutes, marking the end of break.

11b

Natasha broke in, “We had better go upstairs before the rest of them rush off and we have to dodge through a crowd.”

“Well, I think I’d better tell you about Servants later,” Chloe smiled at Alice.

Janna had the vague suspicion that this wasn’t the first time these two had met.

They walked back to the courtroom. It was empty; Kain was still working on his verdict. The session would not continue until he came down from the room upstairs.

Janna was in her usual spot in the centre of the room next to Chance, to their right at their own table sat Chloe and Natasha. Five circular rows of benches radiated out from the centre, breaking for the door at the back of the room, and also at the front of the room, for the Chair’s seat. Alice, still dragging Drake behind her, stood on the left near Janna. Alice decided that she was going to stand, but Drake sat down anyway. Feeling limited by Drake, and having already delivered him from the prison long ago, Alice finally uncuffed the man.

“So who is this Page of Friendship?” Janna asked.

Alice blushed and pointed, “I am.”

“What?” Janna didn’t believe her.

Chloe tilted her head, “Really?”

“Well,” Alice jumped, making Drake grateful that she wasn’t still pulling on him, “I got the temple after the four years I came back here.”

“What?” Janna asked again.

She wasn’t quite used to Alice’s odd manner of speech. It’s like she had some sort of broken and hilarious accent to match her jumpy and hilarious temperament. Alice sort of reminded Janna of a more excited version of her own ditzy sister, Chloe. And like Chloe, it seemed that she was not to be underestimated. Alice was a Vice-Captain, and apparently also a Page.

“I got a temple,” She said a little more slowly now, “It was a Conflict temple, from the man, Batshiva. He willed it to me, you see? The poor dude is dead now.”

Janna found it amusing that Alice had called the old grouch that Batshiva had been a “dude.”

“Right, it was a temple for the Servant of Conflict, but I changed a few things, and Conflict’s presence eventually left. Well, I’ve been living in there and playing with my friends there too as well.” And then for good measure, Alice added, “Also.”

Playing with her friends, Janna repeated the sentence in her mind. This Alice woman talked like she was still a little girl or something. Janna waved it off and told Alice to continue.

“It seems to be have been because I am so friendly of a person!” Alice smiled, “Once I became a guard and started talking to all of the people that I ever met in the town, and being a real friendly person also as well…”

Alice finally took a breath. Janna wondered why she felt it necessary to use “as well” so excessively.

“So, what I mean is, I started to feel a buzzing that was in my brain every single time I talked to someone. At least, every time I talked to someone that liked me as much as I liked them. I liked the buzzing, it was a nice feeling. Well, as the months and weeks happened, the buzzing got more… specific. I mean, definite. I, uh.” She searched for a word.

“Consistent?” Chloe offered from halfway across the courtroom.

“Yes!” Alice jumped again, “It was in my brain, and I heard odd ideas coming into my mind, as if they were my own thoughts. I knew they were not. I learned, seemingly from myself, that I had become something of a channel, a source. I was both an inlet and outlet for friendship! That’s what I thought. At first I figured it was Mother Nature, but my ideas told me that it was instead Father Nature. It seems Mother Nature has been missing for thirty or forty years, so I heard from my thoughts.”

“So… the Servant of the Underside came to congratulate you, because the Servant of the Overside was… missing?” Janna tried to piece together Alice’s story.

Janna was coming to like Alice a whole lot. This little girl, or rather, this young woman had a bit of innocent charm to her.

“Yeah!” Alice replied, “I’m a little worried about Overside, I mean, Mother Nature. It seemed that my thoughts weren’t really though. They were just a little unhappy to be with more responsibility than usual.”

“So what has, ah, what’s happened to Mother Nature?!” Chloe’s voice cut through the air.

She had a notebook in front of her, and it seemed she had been writing about the process of the ascension to Page.

“I…” Alice trailed off, timidly, “I don’t really know.”

“Yeah, come on Chloe, how would she know? You’d have to ask Overside or Father Nature or whatever,” Janna concluded, “But still, look at her, she seems so… Well now wait a minute.”

Janna turned back to Alice.

Accusingly, she said, “Do you passively influence people? Is that what Friendship does? You get the power to make people like you?”

Alice blushed, her eyes darting back and forth between the floor and Janna, “No… It was always like that before. I’m super good at friends.”

Alice stood, shifting on her feet timidly. Janna crossed her arms. This girl had a way about her, and it wasn’t just her bright hair and striking facial features. Alice seemed the kind of person that was very easy to like. Something like an innkeeper, Janna mused.

Kain came down from the top floor at the same time as another set of feet thundered up from the lower floor. This second person collided with Kain when they met at the landing.

“Janna,” Drake took advantage of this confusion to speak up. There was a franticness about him, “It was about Death again. You were possessed by her when we fought down in Venus’s catacombs. That’s why that man died so easily.”

The person who had run into Kain, a dark haired, dishevelled looking man, stood up, having knocked himself to the ground. Kain looked down at him, interested.

“Sorry sir,” Said the second man, who then walked to sit next to Alice.

Alice mumbled something to him, and Janna overheard, “Finch… careful, that man is a man who is also a prince…”

Natasha shook her head at the foolish display, and Chloe laughed. They both seemed to know this man, Finch. Janna vaguely recalled him and Alice attending the court either yesterday or the day before.

Kain took his time walking to the podium with a scroll in hand.

That must be the verdict, Janna thought.

He sat at the head of the room and, with a serious expression on his face, as the crowd began to shuffle back in.

12

Before he spoke, before he gave Janna her sentence, Kain called Natasha up. Janna assumed that this was so that they could discuss some form of law, as Natasha knew more about the exact laws of the Kingdom than anyone else in the room.

Then, Natasha sat down.

“You are sentenced to two years, with a potential for coarctatio in…”

Kain looked at Natasha, as if searching for answers. Natasha just shook her head, as if to say there was nothing she could do.

Kain’s eyebrows furrowed, and he said, “Eight months.”

Janna’s eyes widened. Eight months? She could be out, highly constricted, but free for the birth of her child.

She stood and bowed, then exited, followed by Drake, then Chance, then Chloe and Natasha.

Outside Janna leaned back and stared into the sky. Maybe all this wouldn’t be so bad. As she pulled her arm up to block out the sun, someone grabbed it.

“You are quite aware that this coarctatio is only to apply if you are absolutely clean of action during your incarceration.” Natasha stated.

She was handling Janna with force, locking her arms together. Janna turned, looking over her shoulder. She could see Drake being shackled by Alice. They were lead to the hotel-like prison. Janna continued to stare up at the sky as she walked, looking and feeling utterly condemned, relying solely on Natasha to guide her through the city.

“Is there hope of mourning?”

Natasha almost stopped moving, “No.”

It was an unusual phrase, but it had a very specific meaning. Their oldest sister, Jealousy had said it one day, when she was seven or eight, or possibly even as old as eleven. She had blinked, and suddenly looked somehow more mature, and then she said it.

“There is hope of mourning.”

No one else had been there, but two years later, on the exact date that this subtle but meaningful event had occurred, Jealousy blinked again, and looked somehow younger. This was moments after their mother had died, of natural causes.

Janna shook her head. She wasn’t going to think on the details of how her father had gone through to revive and stabilize Gwenhime, not now. Since then, it had become an ill omen, whenever Jealousy said those words. Usually of death, but occasionally of something far more sublime.

Natasha lead Janna into her room, and removed the cuffs. She stood on the threshold.

“Avoid confrontation in the coming months. Report to a guard if anything happens. I know this may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done,” Janna noticed that her sister was being entirely sincere, “But for the sake of yourself and your child, you must be entirely passive.”

Janna grabbed her sister’s hands and stared into her eyes. Natasha simply raised an eyebrow. They stared at each other for many moments, and then Janna fell into her sister. Janna did not shed a tear, but simply embraced Natasha. After a moment, Natasha returned the gesture.

“You have a couple of sixths to rest before the ceremony,” Natasha said in hushed tones.

She did not lock the door from the outside, and as she exited, Alice strode in. Again she was dragging Drake behind her as though she had forgotten about his existence.

Janna ran to the bed, stripped and leapt in. Drake rubbed his wrists, and followed, standing at the edge of the bed.

Alice became very bashful, and ran out the door, locking it from inside. They were not locked in, it was not yet prison curfew.

Instead, the rest of the world was locked out.

End

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© 2017 Daniel Triumph.

 

The Solune Prince (Act I, Scene v)

 

First draft disclaimer:

This narrative is a first draft, and is therefor subject to grammar errors, repetitiveness, lack of clarity, and other issues. Later drafts will smooth such things over, but for now they remain. Please be tolerant.

On Growing Things

“I know I seemed all resolute back in the throne room but…” Chloe’s mind was racing with anxiety, “I’ve only ever left the kingdom once, I don’t know…”

It was noon, and the basement of the castle was half filled with vagrants, children and lazy people. The castle sub floor was a soup kitchen of sorts, where anyone, regardless of financial status. It was filled four rows of long stone cafeteria tables. The King generally ate here to be among the more needing of his people.

He and Chloe were sitting near the center of the room. There was a quiet buzz of voices, and his words softly faded into them. Chloe had to focus to understand.

“Chloe, you are very young in mind. I know that you have been studying since the day you achieved literacy, but all you have learned is the theory. It is now time for you to leave the womb of this city and stretch your wings. The Lussa City and the Underside are both alien to our civilization.”

Chloe remembered her pile of books. She hadn’t bothered looking through them. There was no mention of the Lussa anywhere in her collection and she knew it.

“Ah,” She exhaled.

“I think it’s time you stopped being just a reader and began to mark your own observations. Put a bit of your mind on paper and share it with the rest of us. Even if you don’t, even if you just experience and allow your presence to bolster our foreign allies, it will help you in the future. You are so young, you are a growing thing, and I think it’s time you went out and got some sunshine on your leaves.”

The King smiled at his daughter.

“The rest of the world deserves to be blessed with your presence.”

Chloe flushed and pulled her head into her chest.

“Oh…”

The biggest shame Chloe had was that her handwriting was illegible. Not even she could read her old writings. That’s why she hadn’t ever written any textbooks or journals. But she couldn’t admit that to her father.

Chloe looked up and said, “I’ll try.”

*

Chloe took the initiative to talk to her visitors. She knew that they were in the armory with her mother, preparing for the journey back, so after she had luncheoned with her father, Chloe headed there.

The armory was behind one of the few locked doors in the castle. The door itself was on the east side of the busy foyer. Chloe could hear the same man auctioning off one of his shoes. She ignored him and strode to the locked door and knocked. Chloe wasn’t allowed to have keys because she had a habit of losing them, and was thus considered a security risk.

Elliott opened the door.

“They’re talking about armour man. I’m so lost, you have no idea.”

She could hear Dool talking to Gwenhime among the rows of hanging cuirasses, coats of plates, longshields, worker blades, and longswords.

Chloe, who knew almost everything about everything said, “I know a bit about armour.”

They could hear Gwenhime in neighbouring row arguing with Dool.

“No, leather armour is not practical at all! Especially on the underside. There simply aren’t enough animals from which to acquire it.” Dool said.

“What? Nonsense.” Chloe could hear the joy in her mother’s voice. Gwenhime loved to argue.

“No, it’s true. We have an abundance of iron ores, so everything is metal. And not metal plates stitched to a leather coat like this. It’s all plates that are tied on to the body.”

“Yes, we used to have plate armour, but it’s too heavy. What if someone comes at you with a tuck or an estoc? Hmm? You cannot dodge because you are encumbered!”

“What?!”

Chloe said to Elliott, “Do you not have armor slaying weapons where you come from?”

Elliott shrugged, “Look, I’m just a volunteer. The only thing I know of that can crack police armor is a war pick, or maybe an axe or hammer, also for war. Obviously tools are not made to be effective on a battlefield.”

Chloe knew of weapons like this, a pole with something on the end that you swing into people, like you swing a sword to cut.

“We use spears, or spear-like swords. That’s what an estoc is, it’s a long sword with no edge. You just stab. They tend to be unusually long.”

Elliott shrugged, “Honestly, I don’t really fight a lot. No need for weapons in my daily life, not at all.”

Chloe swayed her hips, which both aroused and confused Elliott. She said, “I carry no weapons on my hip either, but that is only because I have no need of weapons to defend myself.”

Elliott nodded, “Flamethrowing eyes?”

“What?” Chloe was entirely shocked. She had never heard this term, and she had heard of everything.

“Flamethrowing eyes. You can push joules or fat energy into they eyes and fire beams of plasma. You burn people!”

“Oh! Sort of, I am adept with laszor eyes. It’s similar, I think.”

Elliott nodded, “Yeah, I heard of that. Apparently it’s the natural, unmodified form. We Lussa have mixed blood, and so things are different.”

Chloe had always been interested in mixed races. She herself had recently discovered she was half Condor. She said, “Mixed with what?”

“Well, it was a few thousand years ago, so we’re not sure what they’re called. But they have black skin like me, and a single horn, and they have a lot of joule based abilities. I think they went extinct. Oh, and they had an albinism problem”

Chloe looked at him, taken aback. She was beginning to realize that maybe she was more ignorant of the world than she had once believed. “What is albinism?”

“It’s a reverse of pigment. Like, if I were albino, I would be all pale, like you.”

Chloe blushed. She wasn’t proud of being a pale woman, but she spent so much time indoors in libraries that it couldn’t be helped.

“And,” Elliott continued, “If you were albino, you would be dark like me!”

“Wait, so your skin colour isn’t really an identifier of your race? Here, the N’Tariel are all dark, the East Metch and Plainkind are all brown, we are white, and the Riley are very pale, like moonlight.”

Elliott considered this.

“Sort of. About twenty-percent of people are albino, so you can tell for the most part.”

“Oh.”

“Alright!” Gwenhime thundered, “Don’t take anything!”

Chloe and Elliott watched as the extremely tall Condor shoved Dool across the shelves and into vision.

“It’s not that, miss!” Dool was on the defense.

Gwenhime shove a finger into his broad chest and pushed him, only using a single finger, into a shelf of full armour suits.

“I guess you didn’t notice these! Full metal plates! We do it too, but it’s situational!”

Elliott whispered, “is she going to kill him?”

Chloe whispered back, “maybe,” and then giggled.

Gwenhime saw that there were other people here, and made a concious decision not to compose herself.

She shouted even louder, “Never show an ungrateful face around me.” She stuck the one finger deep into his skin. A bruise would appear in that spot tomorrow.

Dool, mortified, ran away and confronted the much shorter Elliott.

“You gotta help me man! She’s mad!”

Elliott shrugged, “You shouldn’t be so ungrateful, according to her.”

Chloe went from hushed giggling to outbursts of laughter.

“Oh my!” She laughed.

Gwenhime put her hands on her hip, “Oh, Chloe. You father wants me to give you his side sword.”

“His what?”

“It’s a fencing sword with a full blade. It is far more durable and weighty than a regular sabre or rapier.”

Chloe turned red again, and tried to hide it with her hands.

“Oh, am I getting gifts now?”

“Yes!” Gwenhime often shouted, “The King’s Sword! Be grateful!”

“Yeah, Chloe, be grateful or your mum will shove you into a shelf of armour.” Elliott shrugged.

Chloe was lost once again in laughter.

Daniel Triumph.