A Dreaded Sanctuary

<< The Simulacrum of Dread

“If you want to try pioneering, prepare yourself first. Don’t just plan for inimical environments, or hostile life – plan for one kind of world-ending worst-case scenario. Then, throw in another, and then another, and so on. Keep going until you run out of ways for absolutely everything to fall apart. For humans at least, so long as you still think you’re ready to handle anything, I assure you – you’re not.”

-Eihks Richard, The Journals of Gem Pioneering: Facet Iar-Twenty-Eight-Al-Three-Thousand-Five-Hundred-Sixty-Two-Grus-Six-Thousand-Twenty-Seven-Iar-Twenty-Two-Hundred

Sebastio rose from his bed-pad.

He looked back at the spot where he’d hovered half the night in silent pondering thought beside the still, sleeping Adz.

Slumbering unsleeper I am, he thought with some amusement. His small circlet came off the bed stand and went onto his head, then he up-signed his visitor, signalling the go-ahead.

{Lord Artaxerxes, good day,} said Telmbian, the personal steward eidolon of the Lords of the estate since eight administrations prior. He was, of course, studiously early.

{And to you,} Sebastio answered, gesturing expansively at the eidolon’s featureless humanoid manifestation by the door of his quarters. Virtually every square centimeter of Pennat Gate had sufficient Toothskin refractors that an eidolon could seamlessly pass from harness point to harness point to get just about anywhere. The digital persons who called Pennat Gate home or rendered services for its benefit regularly engaged in strolling about almost as much as any physical entity, even when not performing duties requiring tangible substance.

Sebastio’s eyes wandered over the room’s many works of art, protectively ensconced behind dedicated, durable, non-dangerous Ullos containers. Obviously, the centerpiece was Akrid’s Song of Steppes, original simulator and original holojector both. The extraordinarily stylized depiction of a canyon-riddled Moedif cliffside took up the entire wall facing the foot of the huge bed-pad. Tiny figures of tallsquats took long careful strides along the schist-veined planar solids, vigilant for stony-skinned floutfruit to split and soak up. The flesh-tearing winds of the planet infrequently flared up and scoured the region with hard water rain and loose granules of sand. An errant nimrod crept along a canyon wall, looking confused and despondent at the ascetic quality of available prey.

Sebastio despised the thing.

The rest of the productions had varying levels of charm, from a collection of ancestral vases holding almost holy ashes from the trail of the second Ord dagacha diaspora, to an open vellum book featuring drawings of thousands of people inked out respectively in the blood or hemolymph of each subject pictured. All of them were treasures of time and circumstance. Glancing sideways at the still-sleeping Adz, oddly cute in the most benevolent way possible for a creature twice his own height and width and considerably greater in weight, he knew that he had found a companion worth more than all the other valuables put together.

He sighed softly.

{We will be out to visit the dignitaries momentarily,} he assured Telmbian. {Is Louis ready?}

The steward up-signed.

{Excellent. Please give us a moment to get ready ourselves.}

{As you wish, Lord,} answered the eidolon before decohering and passing right through the closed door, avoiding the imposition upon his charges and superiors of any barometric change caused by the opening of such barriers.

<Perhaps offering to leave Adz out of the proceedings would benefit more in the long run,> suggested Caladhbolg helpfully.

I said I wanted to marry for the sake of inconvenience as well as advisement. If I go haring off to a meeting without it, the very day after the ceremony, what does that say about how much I hope to involve my “wife” in the proceedings?

Sebastio snorted silently.

He was about to awaken his Lady – a title that he’d always found humorous in its provenance, given it, like its counterpart, became awarded regardless of gender or even sexualization of species to the spouse of a Lord – when he stopped.

He had not slept, and yet their marriage bed-pad had seen a few schoolchildren’s jokes and bawdy inquiries rather than any stripe of consummation. In retrospect, it showed a more relaxed side of Adz uncharacteristic of most udod aodod, something reassuring to the Lord for its relatability even as it minutely eroded his certainty of his new co-ruler’s coolheadedness.

It underscored their relationship’s present essence, though. They had signs of future chemistry already, but still Sebastio held Adz at some length while Adz had yet to come to its own conclusion about their union’s emotional impact. It would arrive at that conclusion swiftly; mental differences of their kinds left Adz with feelings inclined to be more… modular than that of its Lord. It might express a combination of resentment and attachment and eagerness and anything else a human might bring to the table, if in different measure, but it would do so without very much evolution of those feelings over time. Its affections would stabilize quickly, and those affections wouldn’t change greatly except when violently impacted by some external influence.

With that all kept in mind, Sebastio knew calling Adz “my love,” “darling,” “sweetheart,” or anything of the sort could only come off as disingenuous. Eventually, the fruit of love might grow, yet it was presently no more than a tiny germ. So he quietly, carefully, crept close to his other half, and whispered, “My Lady.”

Four eyespots slowly bloomed like flowers, the smooth flat surfaces of each lens born into the new day. Adz, as a descendant of mountain-dwellers, had a bit of a grayish sepia tint to its scaling. The effect was that the disc of each sight organ almost perfectly matched the color of its body, and it had been one of the things Sebastio had immediately considered beautiful.

The designer’s long nostrils flared, the strands of eyefibers pulsing in circular waves indicative of approaching wakefulness. Eventually the waving stopped, and Adz’s head twitched, large ears going sideways on its cranium and emphasizing a vaguely feline aspect of its head’s structure. A surprisingly human yawn, showcasing bony lunes of keratin-like material without the companionship of a tongue, spoiled the effect.

“Do you still feel confident about your philanthropic projects, Lord?” it asked.

Will the convocation still take place at Selen Gazebo? Or is it literally asking?

“Please, Sebastio will do. After all, we are married.” He chuckled. “The Œlthlant duke-turned-Fountainist still wants to meet at high noon. Even after most of a year, that kind of scheduling takes getting used to.”

“I am sure, you peculiar Rhaagmini outlander-”

Its half-joking statement cut off when Sebastio placed a lingering kiss between its middle eyespots, and its body language transitioned to extreme self-awareness. He would never dream of the scandal of a kiss outside closed quarters any more than engaging in coitus (being neither exhibitionist nor having New Armisian sensibilities of modesty), but the reaction from his Lady gave him a long-lived lopsided smile.

I am sure that and more are accurate, but we need to leave soon.”

Adz’s leg-cables coiled deftly beneath its form and brought it to standing far faster than any human might manage. It quickly reconfigured its clothing from a sleeping chiton to a working kilt and jacket similar to what it had worn when they’d first met. One tremendous difference lay in the tourmaline gorget denoting the udod aodod as an Yrdkish Lady.

“Let us leave then, Sebastio,” it said in a slower pace than normal.

Oh dear. I probably shouldn’t have taken such liberties if it’s that badly skewed.

“Of course, Adz,” he replied.

He looked out the window, at that point at which Yrdky’s artificially managed atmospherics made what the land’s residents called the horizon. The terrain seem to turn fuzzy and blurred and downward, almost misty, past a certain point, despite Yrdky’s underpinning “geography” – if such a term applied to an infinite spanning omnidirectional plane. The effect was appreciated by most sentient creatures, in the vein of aping a very common expectation shared among those used to the idea of planet-bound living.

For Sebastio Artaxerxes, the effect brought to mind the fact that the territory’s expanse was very real beyond that limit, and yet closed off from his sight. It formed a neat and painful parallel with the news from the Jon’s Court.

The man now infamous as Caladhbolg’s wielder, or thief, or avatar – starting the very day of his marriage as it happened – now lay excommunicate. In fact, he had the dubious honor of being the first person formally expelled from the Parsed City-State’s citizenship in twenty million years who was not also sent to the Purple as punishment. His predecessor for the title happened to be Gonnic Pickering, of no relation to the Hammer and Scapula’s male half, and a man so wise that he’d put together a star-sized quadratic accelerator and tried use it as leverage in getting his district “emancipated” from Rhaagm’s infrastructure. The city’s government, when they’d finally stopped laughing themselves to tears, gave the fool a one-way ticket to a very backwater facet, a small stipend to see him on his way, and a directive to never show his face in Rhaagm again unless he wanted to taste the tender mercies of Crippled False.

At present day, Sebastio had a grandiose kingdom being run to his satisfaction by Tuoamas and the ex-Lord’s choicest cabinet, and a very definite place in Yrdkish society. He also had a block against his visiting Rhaagm again any time soon. If he wanted to return, it would be as the guest of a legion of mannequins, under the direct supervision of the Pursuant, or that tribulation which the Parsed City-State made into a proverb of torment: the subpoena.

It felt less like getting kicked out of one’s home, and more like what he imagined he’d go through in a conjugation procedure: people recognizing him by name, but hardly ever by his new proboscis or patagium. A divorce propped up by the twin icons of discomfort and genuine loss of familiarity. All the same, Pennat Gate had begun to feel like a kind of home-away-from-home. Whether that would continue or terminate, who could say.

Well, problems are problems.

<Problems are problems,> said the ethereal tenant-of-the-body.

I know. Stop thinking my thoughts, please.

He turned, and reconfigured his own clothing to something more presentable than bedclothes. They departed their quarters, heading out the West entrance and into the citadel’s greatsword of a shadow. Unlike Rhaagm, his new estate home required Sebastio to use designated parks for accessing public folding utilities, rather than being available at each district borderline. There were private facilities available to the nobility, of course, but he aimed to exercise more indirect involvement as a figurehead; he meant to largely eschew privilege in the name of making a point.

One “privilege” intrinsically tied to his person came in the form of the Lord’s armsmen, of course. Bark-Stripped-Sapling managed to somehow maintain a surreptitious air as he followed them closely, in spite of a suit of armor that would turn many a human to mush just by wearing it. The unexpected subtlety could have come from the comparative conspicuousness of Adz, broader and even taller than the executioner. The youngest armsman, a pohostinlat, led the party by a small margin, having been informed of the planned route ahead of time.

Emerging from the cathedral splendor of the citadel’s geometric shape, Sebastio saw Argyva waiting under a cherry tree as tall as a Bokov or even a baobab, with a slim light-skinned figure watching a small flock of birds and squawks – finches and indigo bookleaves, unless he was mistaken – arguing nearby in their tiny bird-and-squawk voices.

“Good morning, Louis,” Sebastio called in French as Bark and Argyva gave each other quick salutes. “How’re you today?”

The young man’s slight frown turned into a slight smile, hearing his brother’s voice.

“Good!” he replied with a chirpy eagerness at odds with the person he’d been about half a year prior.

Louis had grown up quite quickly in the short time since relocating from his near-Earth-Standard home. He wore a beard that would one day become a waterfall of foliage (about which Sebastio felt slightly embarrassed, never having bothered to explain the… explicit fashion in which so much body hair gouged certain human senses of modesty). He also wore a bright blue stamp on the back of his neck where a cerv-mesh would soon go. That move had taken some encouragement, and Sebastio was glad to see his younger brother making new and not always comfortable choices.

On the other hand, the less mature of the two had much more experience with true ugliness and poverty, in ways Sebastio could and would never fully grasp himself. That weight of the spirit would always lie at the bottom of Louis’s heart. It was also something the Lord cherished even as it abraded his own spirit to behold.

“Let us depart, if we want to arrive ahead of time,” he said, looking up and down the border where a folding line crossed part of the park’s open lawn. Sand and miniature goldspires pushed back against the midnight blue of the grass, and the beautiful view of garden beds stretching off in either direction would make incoming folds striking and memorable indeed. Then, just to give his armsmen a hard time, he stepped through the barrier, emerging on the opposite end of the estate a full three seconds before any of his companions. An irate Argyva followed, looking for the trouble he’d already sought and failed to locate. Louis, then Adz, and the strapping pair of lads brought up the rear. Wherever the other members of his armsmen might be, he knew they’d keep out of sight in the highly familiar environment and act more as sentries.

Sebastio struck up a pace a bit faster than a stroll for Louis’s stride – something approaching a crawl for his Lady. It was slow enough that reaching Selen Gazebo at the top of the hill where they’d arrived afforded the other arrivals time to organize. Indeed, a tall helmeted head belonging to Commander Hwolu Satna, once-Duke of Œlthlant, tracked their progress very attentively. A sign of some kind was made, and two more people with Fountainist sashes drew into view. One of them looked nervous, and the other was a gnoll, which meant she (or he, sometimes hard to tell with gnolls) had a perpetual barely-sane grin completely regardless of mental health.

Eventually the Gazebo, which was the size of a sports arena and had enough needless flying buttresses to make a small town’s worth of cottages from the raw material, welcomed them into its shade. 

A flurry of vicious and underhanded verbal niceties were exchanged with the jolly carelessness of sneezes. Hwolu, a conjugated man whose species heritage he had not condescended to disclose, seemed decent enough despite a legitimately appalling amount of tissue being constantly shed and recycled.

“You are a far more elegant persona than my expectations led me to believe, if you will pardon me for saying so, Lord.” Hwolu made a long supplicating gesture while keeping large goggled eyes on Sebastio, exposed wrists peeling away in rapidly-regrowing layers. The errant flesh turned transparent as it floated away, vanishing courtesy of a nonstandard hygiene function of some kind. “With that in mind, I am also extremely surprised by your taking these people in.” He indicated the representatives of a watershed moment behind himself and the other Fountainists.

I might well use them as pawns, you say. Sebastio tilted his head back a degree to let his Lordly copper-and-thulite circlet catch the light.

“It is fascinating how some people snip a plant short before seeing that it is a weed.”

The Fountainist didn’t seem heartbroken by his accusation of haste.

“Rudeness is the name given to advice by the truly rude.”

“Have you not made sufficiently explicit generosities with your verbal gestures?”

“Generosities may grow little enough when they may not be seeded in deservingly generous ground.”

“There is little point in doubting my motives, Commander,” Sebastio riposted. “After all, consider your own ‘self interest’ when bolstering your company’s reputation.”

At that, Hwolu had the grace to accept the Lord’s word and go no further. Sebastio saw in the man a kindred spirit of a kind: someone who wanted to take up the mantle of a cause and seek out self gain to wield in the name of that cause. He had gotten proficient in probing into tells of all kinds from all over the gem lately.

Sebastio glanced behind the three Fountainists at the rest of their cohort. Six hundred and twenty five, in total, most of whom were somewhere between an attention stance and a curious tilting lean. They all wore the infrared and searing peridot of their factotum. The whole lot of them were actually coming from an extended expedition through the wilds, held by long tradition to rely on their wits, guns, and physical non-compressible transport vehicles. After their time in Pennat Gate they were slated to go back into the circuit of estates again, but they’d be staying to learn and share their experiences for at least half a year.

Behind the Fountainist group, however, was a small crowd of forty human refugees, who represented some nine hundred thousand souls calling themselves the Mimpaw. That collection of Mimpaw – once from a nation of the same name with billions of inhabitants, now as easily lost in the estate’s population as an eyelash in an ocean – explained why the Fountainists had left their patrols and training in the unterraformed countryside. Without actually trying to brush off the officers of law, Sebastio found himself consumed with the sight of the firstfruits of his towering ambition: a collection of honest vagrants from a universe extinction event, brought to his estate in the hope he might take care of them.

These particular humans hailed from a place where matter followed the traditional pattern of quantized organization into subdivisible components. Their society followed an unremarkable historical model of discovery and innovation for a long time, though their original home had fundamental differences in the barometric elements of its livable field interpretations from Yrdky’s standard environs. On that home facet, they’d reached an advancement level where they had begun pulling apart their equivalent of quark-level sections of their demesne then reassembling them in artificially useful ways.

One of those little experiments induced a state in their local universe’s makeup that one of the physicists Pennat Gate put to the task of assaying the situation had described as “setting the world spiraling down an Abelian drain.”

The end result for the poor souls now rendered homeless didn’t bear extended contemplation. Their salvation had been the substructure of their native facet: their universe, being a single discrete world, lay athwart a hundred other worlds; those worlds fell into the scope of one plane among many; the planes in question splayed every conceivable direction across a manifold which qualified as a realm in the standard facet-inheritance model. In total, one had to drill down twenty seven nested layers of clades from the border of the refugees’ facet to reach what they’d called home.

The cascading destabilization they’d unsuspectingly set in motion reached out and did their facet a greater consequent mischief. That action disrupted the fields which made the universe of the Mimpaw chronologically orderable. After Rhaagm’s deployed observational units that kept vigil on the facet’s status indicated the problem’s threat to the indigenous populace, an emergency graft had been taken, then mapped to a section of industrial land in the Parsed City-State, in the name of saving the people. Only the tiniest iota of them, but more than none.

Unlike the similar circumstances of centuries prior where the Gegaunli karkshes had been brought into the Rhaagm fold, though, the Mimpaw couldn’t remain in the abducted segment of their universe. The shard of the inimical place they’d called home hadn’t been allocated a dedicated tract of real estate. The boiling obscenity of the graft’s upheaving physics remained inarguably contained, true, but even if the powers of state elected a passel of sufficiently dedicated souls to cure the zone’s violated laws, the Ganymedes of the requisitioned region demanded the return of their constituents’ property to standard complex spacetime. The squatters had to go.

So the Pennat Gate Haven Edict, as they’d already begun calling it, eventually came up in conversation during a chamber session.

An agreement had been struck with more political overhead than Sebastio liked. A good bit of it actually came of the reticence the Ganymedes felt in consigning refugees to his care. For that matter, the Bookers weighed in on the topic as well, pushing for a generalization of the eventual solution. Supposedly it had something to do with how he had assaulted one of his own civilians, following what more than a couple of companies and lobbyists labelled as the debut of a tyrant armed with one of the Maker’s creations. Being an excommunicate of Rhaagm didn’t make things much easier, but it did clearly illustrate his level of deviance from what one might consider “safe” or even “acceptable.” The laissez-faire policies and relative peace of his regime since were obviously the product of cleaner and clearer heads.

Well, they’d come through to his way of thinking in the end. The first shoots of a safe haven had sprouted, and Pennat Gate was proving to be an excellent hydroponic garden.

“Commander Satna, could you do us the pleasure of introductions?” asked Sebastio. That was something he’d been trying to get used to: the idea of others getting involved with one’s first meeting of minds. His whole Rhaagmini life had consistently taught that he had to be his own calling card, even if that meant stepping above or below one’s station circumstantially.

Hwolu gave a forehead-swipe of resignation, and turned to his colleagues.

Were he someone else in his lofty position, Sebastio might have considered the informality of the gesture grounds to register a suit with his estate’s Fountainist operational center and get the man suspended. As it happened, it was the first time he’d been treated remotely like an average thinking creature in months – events of his wedding excepted. He didn’t let Hwolu see his internal smile.

“Gorar,” said the man, indicating the gnoll. The lack of title meant an officer at least two ranks below Hwolu’s own. Sebastio had the ken to recognize political significance in that fact but not enough to follow it to its conclusion.

The gnoll gave a cackle somewhere between hyena laughter and a startled naufer’s cough.

“PLEASURE!” came a shriek which lay between uncomfortably loud and earsplitting for an Earth Standard human, to judge by Louis’s reaction. Its pitch leaned toward a feminine persuasion.

The other figure, this one wrapped in a hooded cloak large enough that Sebastio only came up to its shoulder, wasn’t introduced immediately. The Lord was about to politely broach the question when Gorar barked, “DAFFODILS SAYS NOTHING! IT IS OUR MASTER OF SUPPLY! IT IS OFTEN STUPID!”

Hwolu looked at her through his large lenses. His rate of flesh-shedding grew notably for a few breaths, so that a small amount of shiny bone showed here and there.

“Civil, Gorar. Civil.”

He looked at the Lord, flat coruscating cornea disks twitching a bit.

“Minuteman Daffodils is a valued member of our little enclave; in fact, its efforts are why we have been able to support our… guests.”

At this, a charcoal limb, twig-thin and with short conical claws, emerged from the cloaked figure’s voluminous clothing under the bicolor sash. It made a small waving-away at those nearby, before hesitantly and slowly returning to its dark home.

“We thank you all for your patience and attendance,” Sebastio commented, loudly enough that those Fountainists without assistance could hear. Without further ado, he made an expectant sweeping gesture to his right, as though inviting someone to take the stage.

Momentarily, a simulacrum arose on the Gazebo’s osmium-birch floor.

As they’d previously discussed, Tuoamas Pennat manifested with the innate air of command he’d displayed for ages past. Sebastio had a little chilly ripple run up and down his original parts, though, when their gazes met momentarily. Their other previous discussion, where Sebastio had finally called out the Lord’s original motives in taking up the gamble for Pennat Gate, still rang in his ears.

Sebastio had made it clear that he’d known of the man’s ambition to acquire the Maker’s artifact, and the hideous sacrifice he’d prepared himself to justify in light of that acquisition. That assessment of the other man’s motive, in truth, consisted of speculation in large part. Yet its accuracy yielded a hefty bargaining chip, and the deeply personal threat of confronting the Lord with his own inner darkness sold Tuoamas on the fledgling cooperation between an upstart but well-meaning Rhaagmini and Pennat Gate. Pressing that particular advantage distressed Sebastio, but not so much that he refused to do so.

“Lord,” acknowledged the ex-Lord’s likeness, giving a theatrical salutary wave to shame the gaudiest and most ostentatious of buskers. “I am yours to command.”

“On the contrary: we await your pleasure, Lord.”

The retention of a Lord’s title for life was occasionally a difficult contrivance to properly observe. In the estate Sebastio now called home, it had the potential to seriously derail discussion at the best of times. The fact that Tuoamas was now reinstated as Lord in effectively all but the most legalistic of ways further aggravated a technicality into sociopolitical circumstance that would probably make it into history lessons sometime soon.

“My pleasure is now, Lord.” The image stood, turning to address the keepers of the peace and those for whose sake the peace was kept.

Hwolu exchanged keys with Tuoamas, both verifying each other’s identity and role. It was a short but formal affair with frippery and lacey verbiage around its edges, very appropriate with the Lord’s character.

Sebastio felt a nervous tension, suddenly recalling Target’s warning about compromised protocols in Rhaagm. If the Parsed City-State was so vulnerable… But no. Even if some third party wished to impersonate a Fountainist cohort and take up a prominent role at Pennat Gate, there were a thousand other better ways to worm into the confidence of an estate’s nobility.

And anyway, that level of compromise would be neither cured nor protracted by observing foundational cryptographic precautions. Carry on.

<That is the right kind of watchfulness, though,> assured Caladhbolg from the shared room of the Lord’s mind. <Take cautions to err toward paranoia instead of complacency.>

That’s one undeniable forté of Tuoamas’s, considered Sebastio with lightly approving denigration.

“You and yours should feel welcome in our operational center, and these asylees make a most desirable addition to our own modest country… with the proviso of approval forthcoming from our estate’s Lord.”

The image gave a by-your-leave to Sebastio. “Rest assured, Lord,” he said, “I provide my approval for your elected course.”

“Your approval, Lord, gladdens my heart.”

If the title “Lord” doesn’t cross my brain for a year, it’ll still be too soon, Sebastio grumbled inside. On the outside, he and Tuoamas concluded a cascade of farewells and concurrences. Eventually, the simulacrum disbanded, its client returning to other matters of import. By comparison, the holder of Caladhbolg had the opportunity to approach the matter of integrating the estate’s outsiders more efficiently.

“Commander, your arrival sits well with our people,” he told Hwolu. “Take liberty as you see fit to avail yourselves of our oases of service, and integrate with the martial nobility wherever it suits your preparations. Go take a hike around Allison Park, if flowers and simple self-managing greenware suit your taste.”

The masked man’s flesh began to pour off his frame like so much sand and dust.

“We shall avail ourselves thusly,” he replied. The huge lenses of his headwear watched Sebastio as though he were a tiger which had just dropped a cooked steak at his feet, without any bidding to do so. “What irregularities may arise, we will announce with all due speed to better streamline your ability of rectification.”

The conjugated Fountainist indicated the asylees.

“Shall we deliver our charges?”

“Leave them that already stand here be, if you will; a word with them would set minds at rest. We can speak later if you so choose, Commander.”

The Fountainists took that as their cue and departed, mostly, with Gorar barking maniacally at them like a dog herding so many long-legged goats. Louis looked a bit curious when the thing named Daffodils remained behind along with Hwolu. He didn’t give any indication of being overawed or really surprised, though. Sebastio supposed that living in a fantasy realm, atop a mobile structure the size of the Earth Standard circumference of the planet Neptune, with an endless supply of discoveries to be made, tended to stretch the bounds of acceptance and expectation.

“Come along, Louis; I’d like your opinion,” encouraged the Cambrian. He gestured for Adz to accompany them if it didn’t object, and started toward the crowd of dazed-looking humans.

“May we extend to you most comprehensive hospitality and happiest tidings,” said Sebastio in the native tongue of the Mimpaw, doffing his circlet.

One of the asylees stepped forward. The woman, wearing a bob and a full-body suit that had the same rough-looking texture that Morris-weave got when subjected to thermal magic on a continuous basis, introduced herself as Vedra Judoff. The introduction quavered a bit with nerves. Her speech showed an erudite and diplomatic inclination, having had a career as a successful stateswoman.

“Your people are safe here,” stated Sebastio, indicating the half-meter-tall helmet of Hwolu. “Irrespective of your tribulations, you have the right to peace of mind. But for the sake of… bureaucratic sidestepping, we need to ask a few questions.”

Vedra gave her assent with a cycle through the Mimpaw equivalent of a bow.

“Do you understand what happened to bring you people here?” Sebastio asked, more curious about the people than the answer itself.

The woman gave an accounting which, adjusting for the unfamiliarity of Willabarm classifications and the principles of Rochambeau sequencing, proved entirely accurate if a tad simplistic. The Mimpaw had done bad. The emergency planning of the extrafacetary community saved a tiny chunk of their corner of reality from itself – a fragmentary portion of a planet’s crust-located civilization and the inhabitants of the planet’s closest moon. A windfall in the form of an offer of quarter in Pennat Gate bubbled up from the soupy miasma of Rhaagm politics. Vedra didn’t bother offering thanks, with the proviso that her attitude made it abundantly clear that thanks of any kind couldn’t possibly mean anything in comparison.

“Are you willing to work in exchange for a place to call your own?” pried the Lord.

Another Mimpaw stepped forward, a haphazardly-dressed gray-bearded technician giving words to a sprawling analogy for their beneficence that started sounding more like an ancestral saga than a sales pitch by the first time he paused for breath.

“Fascinating,” said Sebastio. He meant it in several senses of the term. “Very well. Have you any objection to giving this estate, this organizational member of a nation, your loyalty and service?”

The foreigners traded looks of silent melancholy acceptance.

Finally, the youngest-looking of the lot, a girl who must not have been more than a handful of years Louis’s elder, asked the first question from the new arrivals: whether their people, for reasons detailed or omitted, should have any objections to the prospect.

“No reasons material or spiritual,” the Lord eventually replied, after pondering the query for long enough to satisfy any worries of overeagerness.

Louis made a small noise, looking pensively between Vedra’s frown, Adz’s thinking still form, and the feathery sloughing-away of Hwolu’s meat components, before meandering to Iggez Artaxerxes’s son. Sebastio translated the interview for his benefit. The youth absorbed the proceedings in silence.

“What do you think should happen with these people?” the Lord inquired of his younger sibling.

The French youth thought about it. He looked out the building’s forest of supports. He looked heavenward at the Selen Gazebo ceiling, depicting the gauzy billowing suit and quarterstaff of the same-named songmistress. The depiction, done in hand-crafted films of carnelian against a pure emerald field, showed a scene from when she married into a Seventh Step earldom of Nor’ridge, cementing one of the longer-lived dynasties of the estate’s history.

“I think… what happened with me,” Louis eventually answered, sounding a bit surprised at his own conclusion.

Sebastio smiled, and wordlessly sought Adz’s thoughts as well. The udod aodod wasn’t so much entranced with him as absorbed in its own ponderings.

“Why do you seek to question my loyalty on such an issue?” it eventually asked, Yrdkish clipped and utterly perfect in diction.

As though I don’t trust it, he smoldered. I do, and its thoughts matter, and if there are any reasons to oppose the… Pennat Gate Haven Edict, as it were, they’ll be pivotal ones.

“You are very important,” he replied, which – even as a quadruple entendré – barely counted as “deft” in the upper combative arenas of noble lexical interplay.

“Yes,” Adz answered, encompassing its self-worth, its thoughts on Sebastio’s plans for the Mimpaw, and the unspoken question of whether it might allow itself to be candid.

A fluttering heartbeat made the Lord’s ribs rattle against each other like the carapaces of a tallsquat litter. He turned back to the Mimpaw, and smiled as he began to give them the good news.

This is it. The first official integration of asylees into Pennat Gate’s extended family.

It was an enormous, wonderful, world-changing day.

The tragedy leading up to what would be called the Western Sunrise nineteen days thereafter, which overtook all of Yrdky, most of the central locales of Rhaagm, and which did terrible things in Not-Fire, Bequast, Úda, and Feathers-of-Gaul, was all the worse because of such happy transitory times.

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