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The cross-vaulted ceiling was whitewashed, the lighting hanging down bounced off soft burgundy walls warming the room; deep red booths lined one side of the wall while the counter seats had worn black leather. This wasn't one of those cheesy suburban taverns. This one played off the dark woods from the moldings, counters, tables and bronze hardware beautifully, the floors in a black and off white pattern fit seamlessly, the whole place gave it an aged sort of vintage look. Lord Orinian had found this particular diner ages ago and since then he had always visited it when he was in Eralda, sometimes difficult given his profession. Tonight the place wasn't crowded, just a few booths had been occupied and even less people sat at the counter, most of them giving off the impression as regulars – inventory more or less rooted to the furnishing.

Orinian had placed himself in the bar, a magic field of anonymity spun across his shoulders and forehead, a glass of Earth Whisky in front of him, the resin yellow beverage gleaning warmly in the soft, ambient light. Upon sensing her enter the tavern he raised his head curiously, craning his neck just a bit in the direction of the entrance to regard her. Atrey Oine. The Cyborg.

He hadn't met many of her kind – especially not one as remarkable as Oine was said to be, so he was perhaps a tad miffed that it should be under such dire circumstances. He had wanted to devote some time delving into this strange woman's thoughts and emotions. Was she a woman really? Yes, at least on the outside, he could tell as he shifted on his high chair to get a better view of her. Not one hard to look at either. She was lean and delicate, yet curved in the right places, golden-skinned and with piercing aquamarine eyes, an odd combination but quite appealing on this brunette woman. With a determined stride she made her way up to him as if it was the most natural thing in the world that she had the powers to locate him just as he knew who she was the very moment she'd stepped over the threshold to the tavern.

"Atrey Oine?" he stood from his chair as she stopped in front of him. She was about half a head shorter than him and she looked somewhat vulnerable, like a little girl almost with her long lashes, petite nose and narrow chin. Still looks could be deceiving and they definitely were in this case. King Angarian had described this Cyborg as one of his best secret agents. Strong and enduring and with a fast mind - not thinking twice when a deletion was needed in the name of her King and country. Orinian had studied and her – as well as her brethren and sisters. The cybernetic race, an ilk without counterpart in any of the other universes.

Sure, they were not the only man-made specie, far from it, there were the Bouleves and the Rizans and the Trolls, the latter having been made for slave labour in Saninger some four thousand years ago. A failure, since they had been hard to pet and a lot of them had run away, some of them even as far as to Earth. Conversely this woman was as about far from a Rizan or a Troll you could get and still be considered humanoid.

"Yes, and you should be Lord Orinian of Alozzia," she smiled gently, her teeth shone like pearls against her shimmering skin and red lips. "General Tirkar informed me that you wished to see me that it was supposed to be quite unofficial. So I guess that explains the choice of location."
"Sure," he established as he took the offered hand, noting that her grip was strong and hard yet gentle. "I wanted to ask you a few questions, more as confirmation of my own suspicions than an actual hearing. I imagine you can envisage what it is about."

"The Cosmic break of course," she said as she detached her hand. "And the presumed intruder." The next moment she had slipped up on the high chair next to his, so quickly and agilely that the Lord was uncertain how it had happened.  Had she actually levitated? "Besides, since you're the interviewer, I imagine the drink is on you as well," she gave him a flirty glance before she turned her attention to the barman. "A Jinx please – make it a double," she ordered and the mustached old man nodded to confirm he had taken her order.


Queen Sarentona hadn't been to Whitehall in over a century, but she had not forgotten King Angarian's ostentatious marble palace high on its cliff. The portal she and her entourage used was not located that far from the walled in palace, so they made over there by walking, allowing them to take in the exquisite vista. Whatever one might have to say about Eralda and its people, one had to give them that they lived in a truly lovely place. A paradise of beauty and verdancy filled with lush greenery, high, snowcapped mountains from which large waterfalls streamed down in lakes and streaming rivers and with a diverse fauna of birds and mammals, more species than anywhere else. Striped, stag-like animals crowned with mighty mother-of-pearl shimmering horns graced the grass and jumped agilely from tuft to tuft, stalked by silent feline carnivores skulking in the shadows beneath the proud, wide-crowned trees. In the air an abundance of birds loped and dived, ascended and darted to and from while calling out to each other with shrill melodies.

The uneven ground was mostly covered in grass and flowers of all kind of colours and among them there buzzed insects of all varieties. Butterflies with colourful wings the size of human hands, dragonflies with shimmering gossamer wings and small bees and gnats. Above the scenery the sky spanned higher and bluer than it ever became in Ebraa, dotted with fluffy little clouds and pierced with a handful of daystars. The place had moons too, but none of them were visible right now. The queen knew that if they went down to the sea, the horizon would appear much farther away than in her own world, as Lealia was a much larger planet than Ebraa.

The guardians had opened up the large gates, Sarentona noted as they turned a curve. Their arrival was anticipated. With slightly hastened steps did they cover the last leg, up the tree lined white-bricked road to the palace, which shone alabaster white in the brilliant sunshine and from pointy towers and spires fluttered banners and flags in bright colours. Most of them were the red, yellow and purple diagonalized tricolor of Eralda but Sarentona also spotted the yellow and blue standard of Whitehall, the dragon and the two crossed swords.

The prosperous king himself sat on the porch steps watching two of his many grandchildren play chase across the driveway. He was dressed for riding in high boots and a red jacket and his long, flaxen hair was tied away from his tanned forehead. Beside him stood a young woman, wearing much the same, her dark hair tucked in under a garnet hat and she carried what appeared to be an electronic notebook in her glowed hands. Angarian stood to politely salute Sarentona and her entourage and kiss her on her outstretched hand.
"My noble and beautiful Queen Sarentona, it has been too long. Welcome back to Whitehall. And Tilathian, always a pleasure." The king then proceeded to shake the hand of the diplomat, who had removed his hat, in the honor of the royalty.

Lastly the woman approached them, waiting for Angarian to introduce them. Her make-up was immaculate, perfectly applied to emphasize her almond eyes and regal cheekbones. She looked glamorous and somewhat haughty, disguising the turmoil that raged within her, but which Sarentona knew to be there.
"I don't believe you've met my great-great granddaughter Kaine," Angarian turned towards her. "She'll be responsible for your group, my Queen. Anything you need - food, drink, entertainment - just ask her!"
"It's an honor to meet you, your majesty, ambassador," said Kaine and curtsied. "If you follow me, you'll be staying in the east wing of the palace on the second floor. Your rooms have a wonderful view of the lake Affira."

Moments later the younger woman was leading them through the cool shade of the porch and into the entry hall. They turned up a grand curving staircase, their footsteps echoing across the high-ceilinged room. Not much had changed since Sarentona's last visit. There were a few new works of art covering the wall and the red carpets from Persia, Earth, were replaced with deep blue ones which seemed to be made of some kind of intelligent matter, since they were changing when threaded upon, displaying signs and arrows, guiding people where to go.

Raising her eyes from the floor, the queen paid attention to their guide, who had begun saying a few words about herself. Kaine was the daughter of Lady Idre, a Celestian woman who had been a member of the royal family of the Northern Harne Kingdom, before it became the United Harne Republic. She looked very much like her mother with the same bluish black hair and full lips in a fair-skinned, heart-shaped face with high cheek bones.

The queen of Terandabar had a useful aptitude; she was very able to actively take care of two things consecutively. While listening to the young woman, she closed her eyes partly, concentrating on things said but not heard – at least not by the other ears in these hallways. Thus she learned that the whispers of the spirits had a lot to say about Kaine. Kaine wasn't married yet; she spent most of her time either on horse-back or breeding the same animals. She was also composing some music, and had written a play or two. But her main contribution to the Eraldan society was about 30 egg cells. Cells which had been fertilized in petri-dishes and become the biological base materials for the cyborg race. Thus Kaine was 'mother' to Sarentona's trusty Kelmar. That made the queen feel some kind of bound with the dark-haired lady, however she didn't say anything about it – mostly because their hostess was quite talkative herself.

"So what's a boy have to do to get a drink around here?" asked Tilathian when Kaine paused in her tirade. His voice was oddly flirtatious and that made Kaine turn her head and grin at him.
"I can offer you our wide selection of beverages," she replied. "We have the finest wine from the Senria, as well as Cider imported from Kathira, hot spiced rum from Valnadaran, Ale from Elasastia, an assortment of hard liquor and beer. There are also a selection of non-alcoholic beverages like pressed fruit juices, hot and cold teas and coffees, resin mead and finally Coca Cola and Red Bull and similar carbonated refreshments from Earth.
"I think I settle for that Coca Cola," Tilathian said. "I've never tasted it, but I've heard a lot about it."
"I take the same," Sarentona decided. "But add some rum to it. And lemon and ice. The way they do it on the human's planet."

"I'll take care of it," Kaine promised as she turned a final corner. "Now, here we are at your suite. Your body guards will be longed at the opposite side from yours, so they'll always be in contact with you."
"Thank you, Kaine," said Sarentona, as the young Eraldan opened up a large, white door and stepped to the side, admitting the party inside of a large suite. "We'll call if we need anything else."

The living room was bright from the windows lining the eastern wall. It was painted pale blue and the walls were inlaid with seashells and the fossils of sea critters. A low table was surrounded by three long couches and set with a bowl of fragrant oranges. Two doors led off into their separate bedrooms, each as pleasant as the common area, and beyond her bedroom, Sarentona could glance a bathroom, and in that instance she felt that she really needed to refresh herself after the long trip.


"Do you know what's the most interesting thing, Orinian?" Atrey said after she had consummated her recollection of her research of the damaged time-space fabric and the alien creature which was believed to have come through.
"No?" the Lord of Alozzia asked after a momentary silence. He had to admit to be bit dismayed; the Eraldan Secret Service hadn't really learned much more than he and his sprits in spite of having all those hi-tech machines. Sometimes he was convinced that good old magic was much better for understanding what made the universes tick – and what might damage them.

"In the early years of my career, I arrested a man," Atrey went on, either not noticing or pretending to not notice that Orinian wasn't exactly satisfied. "Now, that's not uncommon, but this was a very special arrest. The distinct man I took was a traitor, a trouble maker. He and his father in law made a failed attempt at a revolution, trying to dethrone king Angarian."  
"Reikan," Orinian said, wondering at where Atrey was going with this sudden change of track. "And Utrorion. I know about them, yes."

"I didn't take part in the entrapment of Utrorion," the Cyborg shook her head, long fingers twirling the now empty glass in front of her. "Reikan was the one I brought in, he was a very accurate sighter. Since he could see into the future he was quite so hard to catch. One would think performing a revolution then would be futile, as he knew how it would play out. But apparently Reikan thought differently. My Lord, you might wonder what this has to do with the alien we're now trying to frame. You see, one vision Reikan had dealt with this very Alien. Reikan knew this creature would be coming for us. Furthermore, he foresaw that it could be overpowered. If the right adversary was pitched against it. He talked about a daughter of his – a young woman named Saphira, who would be able to hamper the beast."

"Who's she?" Orinian asked. "I've never heard that name."
"I'm clueless at that too, My Lord. For the time being at least. Reikan is in prison now, where he's unable to sire a child, since he's kept on chemical castration to dull him down. Moreover, his wife divorced him and went in exile. Thus I've been looking elsewhere for this woman now for a while. In vain."
"So you think she exists? You don't consider this another dead end?"
"No, Saphira exists, trust me on that!" Atrey's earlier so soft and pleasant voice had taken on a steely edge. "Reikan saw her very clearly. Now, since the alien beast is already here, we're in quite a hurry. We have to find this Saphira."


It had found her!

The Being limped through the shadows, not really knowing where it went, the players around it invisible in their ghastly, night-lit pantomime. Its feet found a narrow path leading up the man-high iron fence, the leafless fruit grove hiding it; the parked cars shielding it. The moonlight picked it out though, pouring silver over an unearthly beautiful apparition as its two hands cradled the cold bars of the fence like a convict wanting out. Beyond the dark it could just see the faint glimmer of the window rectangles cutting through the dark. Somewhere inside was it able to sense her. The one it had come to collect, its number one price. The daughter of the revolutionary, the one who would stand up against the gods themselves and cast them down in the abyss of darkness forever, avenging those who had lost everything. But the being knew it could not reach her now. She was still not strong enough for his purpose. It was yet too early, it had to bide its time. To wait. Wait....
The ambassador and the queen

The queen of Terandabar watched the hazy city rocking in the distance; though in truth it wasn't the landmass, but the ship tipping beneath her feet. The Carcharodon was one of Terandabar's fastest vessels, lithe and narrow with great yellow sails catching the strong Meltemi and converting it into velocity. Queen Sarentona stood steady on the prow, clutching the Titanium railing with anticipation, her free-falling raven hair fluttering in the wind like a banner. To the fish and sea elves who looked up at her through the waves, she seemed to be perched on the head of the great sea-lizard which served as the ship's figurehead, its tusks spearing foremost through the salty air. The queen knew the other rulers would send ambassadors to Eralda on Lealia, the wealthiest and most powerful of all the nations both since they feared the might of High King Angarian and because they couldn't face the terrible truth of the situation without some diplomat to soften the blow for them. Sarentona though came herself, an act of boldness that some would consider to be downright reckless. Or so it seemed.

The southernmost of the great nations of the Lawrian Continent, Terandabar, lay so close to the planet's equator that the skins of its residents had darkened like burnt wood. They shone with the dimness of the night and knew the mysteries of the planet Ebraa. Mysteries, which would baffle even the Lealians. For there, in the heat of the double sun, the ether between worlds was at its thinnest - resilient enough to still be a barrier, but delicate enough for whispers to travel. The queen of this strange land heard things in her high mountain palace, these whispers rising up into their world and echoing through her stone halls.

At first she had thought them to be the voices of the dead, screaming and laughing and singing from the Yonder Dimensions, but as she listened more closely, the cool breaths of sound took shape. Others could hear the whispers, too, though they were never presented sensibly to them. They only spoke to Sarentona, telling her of the Outer Universes, realms beyond the Seven Cosmoses. Dimensions about which even Orinian and Angarian only had a vague idea.  

The voices told about a longing, an intense yearning, a desire to drink of the vibrant energies that made up the Seven Cosmoses. To sample the magic and the electricity, to digest the radiation and most of all to drink the souls of the ones living here. Sarentona knew things, not in the way mathematicians knew things through logic and probability, nor sighters through divination. The queen of Terandabar knew things that no one should know. There were things out there, which one day might come through. Things they needed to defend themselves against. But the Queen didn't know how at this time.

Sarentona had earned a reputation for rushing headfirst into hazard, thrilling at the unknown with a childlike disregard for death, and emerging victorious from impossible situations. She had cleaved the head from a charging Manticore while prostrate in the desert dust with two broken legs. She had charmed the very sirens off their island and convinced two of them to drown each other. Still perhaps the most impressive and inconceivable of all, she had convinced King Angarian to help her substantiate her theory that it was possible to bind a soul to a machine. Thus Kelmar, her own walking talking super-computer had been born. After him emerged several others of the race they called Cyborgs. These days Angarian even kept some of them within his army.

The scents of peach and citrus were already carried over to her nostrils by the warm summer breeze, mixing with the ever-present ship aromas of oil, rust and brine. The suns made their lazy way overhead, shining down on the sparkling water and warming the dolphins as they slaughtered their fish. The seagulls would swoop in to pick off the missed bites, only to be occasionally picked off by the dolphins themselves. One brave bird made a daring plunge, only to be swallowed whole by one of the largest dolphins Sarentona had ever seen.

"We're passing by the United Ocean Republic, then?" she asked the captain, a lean and lined old man, with the salt of the sea forever embedded in the wrinkles of his black face.
"We should be passing well north of it, My Queen, but sometimes hunting parties will travel this far up."
"I can deal with President Chairethan just fine, but out here on a little boat in the middle of his vast sea, I wouldn't tempt it."
"We aren't at war with the UOR, ma'am," replied the captain, who knew much about sailing and little of politics. When Sarentona stayed silent he continued. "I mean, we're going to be allies. If there is a war to come, we've all got to be allies."
"Just speed up, I'll converge with the sea president's envoy on dry land. Thus we may cross the Portal together with the other diplomats to Eralda."

The sea between the Lawrian Continent and the much smaller Tirsh was narrow and calm, but still took over three hours to cross, even with Terandabar's fastest ships. Sarentona knew that she could send President Chairethan to his knees on land but she also knew he could sink her ship and drag her down to the ocean's depths, so the queen was relieved when they finally entered into the port of Tirsh. Not for the first time did she repine the fact that the only Portal on Ebraa was located on the small continent in the south. But such was the composition of the large landmass in the north that its very rock interfered with the dynamics of Portal magic, making it impossible to open up a stable entry point to any of the supplementary universes. The magnetism of the iron in the ground obstructed the magic needed.

She knew though that it was worse in other places. On Earth for instance the only possible location for portals were either in orbit or in impossibly thick lead structures – so durable was the magnetic field on that planet. Once had Sarentona visited Earth, and she had been nauseous all the time, the magnetism doing weird things with her perception.

The ship pulled up gently to a sturdy dock, where a tall man waited, silhouetted by the dual suns, a wide-brimmed gray hat shadowing his face. He abandoned his restful stance and posed himself more or less at attention while the gangplank lowered and the queen began to descend like a diva. Right behind her followed the trio of men who made up her bodyguard, hands near the guns in their belts as their ever vigilant senses alertly scanned the area for anything that might threaten their employer.
"Tilathian," Sarentona crooned, "how are you, baby?"

Those serious gray eyes almost surrendered to a moment of mirth when Sarentona sauntered up to him, swaying her wide hips dramatically, her ginger dress flouting around her like wild fire, the beads adorning her hair gleaning in the strong sun light.
"You're like my sisters, you know, always having to make an entrance," Tilathian laughed. As his mellow tenor rung out he was showing off a brilliant set of snow white teeth, with the sharp pointed carnivorous fangs prominent even for an Ebraan, his bronzed skin still unwrinkled in spite of his almost five hundred years of age, his ears pointy the way they tended to be in the Southern Territories. "But it's my younger brother you should save your hip shaking for. I'm afraid its charms are almost lost on me."
"You don't fool me for a second. Come here," Sarentona pulled Tilathian's wiry body into a hug. "Cheer up, babe. Don't you know I'm here to save you?"

That time she did get a smile. Yet Tilathian was quick to withdraw, as he knew that time was dire. He then reached inside of the inner pocket of his jacket and produced a folded together digital screen.
"Here is all the information I've been able to gather about the believed threat. King Angarian has been unusually forthcoming; it seems that he's more worried about what happened the other week than keen on withholding information against his old rival for the leadership of the realms. And that worries me."

Sarentona took the offered plastic square and folded it open, then she quickly thumbed it through, just to get a brief impression of the amount of stored content.
"Good work, ambassador. As usual you manage to impress me with your skill to dig up information. I shall go over this as soon as I get a moment for myself, but I can already now presage the seriousness of the situation. I hope this extra gathering of the Council will be focused on result rather than drama this time."

"Believe me, it will," Tilathian assured her. "Even Jareth will drag his lazy legs up from his green world."
"Jareth huh," Sarentona huffed. "Well, in his case I believe it's rather about the upcoming Hallow Eve Fiesta, which will so conveniently collide with this extra gathering."
"Yes indeed," Tilathian's voice was sombre. "Perhaps the coincidence with the seasonal turn will calm most people, making them believe it's all about coming together to drink and to gossip."
"Do you really think so?"
"I hope so at least. Otherwise we might have a panic at hand, my Queen. Come on now, our ride is waiting!" Tilathian almost smiled before he led them across the loud planks to an awaiting carriage pulled by two proud percherons. One turned her big grey head and snorted at the nearest bodyguard, who hissed like a cobra in reply.

"It's just a horse," murmured Sarentona, not wanting to start an argument this soon in the meeting. She climbed into the carriage and, once Tilathian and the bodyguards had joined her, she snapped the thick door shut, closing them off from the fog and the curious eyes of the people at the shoreline. These people did not yet know the gravity of what had befallen their world. All they had heard were rumors that the Intercosmic Council was holding an extra meeting, something which hadn't happen in decades. For the Council to hold and aseasonal meeting, something extraordinary must have occurred, but what they did not know. So the speculations concerned another war or another plague or something which was horrid indeed, but still possible to handle.

"The lid is on, outside the innermost circle," the ambassador went on as the carriage jerked to a start.
"Understandable," Sarentona replied. "Since we cannot afford a panic."

"Who's driving us?" barked one of the bodyguards suddenly, glaring through the curtained window suspiciously. "I didn't see anyone get on."
"The horses know the way," drawled Tilathian, calmly.
"A couple of nags are leading us!" the bulky man exclaimed, frowning his broad forehead.

Sarentona glared at the man, a wordless warning.
"They're quite intelligent," the ambassador pointed out in a patient voice. "Not like the steads on the main continent. The foals of Tirsh are partly Lealian, and thus bestowed with brains unlike regular horses."
"Freaks, you mean," the man murmured, silent enough to serve as a worded thought but loud enough for the queen to hear and she made an intake of breath.  
"Keep your prejudices to yourself, or I'll have to dismiss you from this mission. You'll be asked to return to Terandabar with the Carcharodon and as a result I'll end up one man short in Eralda. Which will not only mean I'll endanger myself, but also that you will most probably not see your contract renewed at the end of the season."

With some amusement the Queen observed how the young man turned morosely back to the window, neither of them paying much attention to Tilathian as he prattled on about horses, not that he exactly expected them to.

When Tilathian later mentioned something about Voidwalkers, Sarentona felt herself go rigid with attention.
"Sorry, what did you just say?" the queen asked softly.
"The High King is bringing in Voidwalkers," clarified the diplomat.
"Really? Who told you so?"
"Chervin of Alozzia told me about them, because even my other informers are too afraid to talk about them. The face-less, they're called," he smirked at Sarentona's obvious annoyance. "My dear queen, you may know more about the Spirit World than any other here on Ebraa, yet you aren't the only one who knows about its secrets. Not even you were forewarned that a break in the time-space fabric was about to happen."

"No, but I heard of it as it transpired," the queen replied somberly. "Something coming through, and rests of what might have been an extremely ancient soul left in its wake. A horrible abomination, ending up right in the middle of the realm of Orinian. If it could get inside that hard old universe, then our own, much softer and younger might be in tremendous peril. Naturally the spirits of harmony are distraught. They aren't making much sense right now, I'm afraid."

The carriage tilted backward as the path began to wind up the steep slope to the structure in which the Portal was housed. The passengers completed the rest of the trip in silence, not saying a word until they heard the gravel crunching beneath the carriage wheels. Tilathian became the first to exit the coach, stepping out into the bright sunlight, speckled under the overhanging oak branches. Turning around he held out his hand, politely letting the queen down from the vehicle. More a gesture of protocol than anything else, as Queen Sarentona was agility herself.

Tilathian handed a few coins to the livery-clad boy waiting in a bit away, ordering him to disconnect the horses, feed them and give them boxes in the stable. The boy bowed deeply for the queen and her entourage before proceeding with his duty, and the ambassador lead the way up the granite stairs to the old, red-bricked two-story building that contained the Portal.

Crossing a Portal between universes was not something people normally did, as a matter of fact 95% of the population of the Seven Cosmoses lived out their whole lives without even doing it once. But for heads of state and their aids, frequent travels were part of the work description. After a dozen or so of trips you tended to count it off as nothing special. No matter that the regular population was prone to believe all kinds of stories about portal travelling, including ideas that you lost small parts of your soul every time you stepped through to another universe. Other things said were that too many portals and too much usage of them was slowly ripping the universes apart. Destroying them.

But nothing of that was true. As a matter of fact a Portal was simply an opening in the structure which made up a universe, an absence of atoms across a smaller area. A controlled fistula that made it possible for bodies and additional objects to pass through and reach a set numbers of hypercoordinates in the destination universe. True was that it took a lot of energy to manage a Portal, so it was generally kept shut down when it was not needed. Since it took about an hour to start up, Tilathian had called ahead in good time, to have them avoid waiting.

Sarentona and her entourage was met by a voluptuous, fair-skinned woman with a round and merry face, who greeted them with a short summary of the status of the Portal.
"It was already open, your majesty, when Mr. Tilathian called us," she small talked as she led the way through a set of double doors and into a large two-floor chamber which occupied most of the building's space. There in the middle of the hall, on a small platform and surrounded by what to an untrained eye appeared as a jumble of instruments, stood the Portal. It was circular in shape; a torus of enforced Titanium held up by strong abutments and also fastened in the ceiling with thick chains. In the middle of the Portal shimmered and rippled a turquoise field, looking a bit like a horizontally aligned well of water lit from behind.

"It was open?" Surprised, the Queen raised a brow. "Who used it earlier?"
"President Chairethan," the orderly said as she stopped in her tracks, turning slightly to meet the dark eyes of the Queen. "He and his wife Ennoea left earlier today bound for Eralda on Lealia. That's where your majesty is going too, Mr. Tilathian told me, so I don't even have to re-set the hypercoordinates.
"No, that's quite right," the Queen said absent-mindedly. So the president of UOR had also gone to Lealia. Now, that was most probably NOT a coincidence. Since she was the elected Council member of her realm, she wondered what it might mean that the President had travelled to Lealia too. Was he up to something? In his case it couldn't just be about visiting the Hallow Eve Fiesta. That simply was not him.

Just the slightest shake of her head, but the ever vigilant Tilathian had observed it and he raised a brow at her small gesture. A quick exchange of barely notable communication as they threaded the platform. The orderly made a minor adjustment of some levers on one of her consoles and then she saluted the group, telling them it was all clear to pass. So with two of the body-guards leading the way the small group passed through the sea-like force field – and stepped out at what at first glance appeared as the same place. Their entry-point was through a portal in a very similar-looking building to the one they just left.

Yet Sarentona quickly noted the minor difference, old habits had taught her that. The air felt a bit thinner and with a damp chilliness to its quality and the gravity was higher, making her walking feel flimsy. Another orderly managed this portal. A young man in a toppy uniform cap who bowed politely at them before they all stepped through the front door and out in the milky light of Lealia's single sun.

"So here we are now in Eralda," said Tilathian and tipped his hat. "Oh what a joy."
"Indeed," Sarentona replied as she heard that slight sarcasm that spiced her diplomat's voice. "I wonder what beast is the worst, the Alien that apparently came through to Lord Orinian's world. Or one of the women and men we are here to meet. I am so not looking forward to it."
The riddle of the Labyrinth 8 - The ambassador and
Chapter 8. The ambassador and the queen
Daylight was waning, deepening the azure sky to indigo as the afternoon moved on into evening and the harsh Thulean winter wind blew flakes of crystalized snow towards the window, building up small and delicate heaps of glittering powder against the glass. The storm was departing now, vacating the empyrean for what promised to be a magnificent sunset. Curving from the right, then ahead and up high, before being attenuated to nothing by distance, the scintillating argent planetary ring seemed an artefact, having been shepherded into neat disks by the larger chunks remaining from whatever cataclysm had shattered the unfortunate satellite.

In the warmth indoors Cleanthia sat in her armchair, her forehead resting against the cold glass. It reflected her deep lapis-lazuli colored irises as she gazed with a disconnected yearning towards the city street several stories below. Down there people were passing by in their thick winter attire, clinging to one another against the bitter frost and slippery pavings as they entered and exited the warmth of the various shops and restaurants lining the street. The horse-drawn coaches and the few automobiles were making snaking tracks in the snow, their headlights turning flakes into fireflies. A group of youths about her own age darted between arm-linked couples and light posts, throwing snowballs at each other, laughing out loud and in their midst a large and furry white dog jumped around with the most joyous body language. The sight brought a small melancholic smile to Cleanthia's full, rosy lips and before she could stop herself, she let out a quiet laugh.

"Cleanthia?" A vexed voice conveyed her attention. "Have you even heard a single word of what I said?" In response Cleanthia caracoled her head to the source of the voice, seeing her father leaned against the door frame, arms crossed over his broad chest, biceps bulging and his short hair wet from a shower. She begun a dishonest retort but the look in his ice-green eyes made her rethink her decision.
"No, papá. I'm sorry for my disrespect." The rejoinder sounded unassuming enough, but there was a distance to her voice as if her mind was drifting absently.

Antolas let out a long exhale to cool his frustration as he stepped into his daughter's room to glance through the window at what had taken hold of her attention. The scene playing out down in the street made him take in another long breath and the toes of his bare feet curled against the soft rug as if to dig into it. His eyes refocused on the reflection of the two of them in the window glass and he recognized the sad and frustrated longing in her eyes. Seeing her like this, she resembled another woman closely in appearance, height and even age. To him, it was an unnerving deja-vu, Cleanthia and his memory could be seen as sisters, possibly even twins. Despite the appearance, Cleanthia was much younger. Perhaps still too young.

He had met Cynthia Saviterniou at the opening of an art gallery back in Lealia, and immediately been attracted to her. She had been eye-catching; tall, short blonde hair cut into an asymmetrical bob, sparkling cobalt eyes, small perky breast and dangerous hips. They had talked for hours about art, about Lealia and its people, the terrible war with Umakia which just had ended, about travel and many things in between. Antolas had been happy when Cynthia had accepted his invite to a play then to a concert then to a ballgame; he had taken her to places he felt were suited for her. She had gushed and loved every single outing, feeling at ease in the Celestian high society. He could tell it by the way she carried herself, the way she seemed to blossom in being around the cultured, the wealth and prestige. He on the other hand just knew how to play the part. He'd been doing this enough for a lifetime, the pretention; it was all part of the job, all part of being a Voidwalker.

"Perhaps it would be best if I didn't bring you with me on this mission."
"No, please! I'm sorry." Imploringly Cleanthia gazed up at her father.
"Better to be sorry now – than later for choosing the wrong path in life," Antolas went on as he rubbed his bearded cheek, feeling the rugged fabric of hair against his palm. He glanced back at the street below. "You still want to be part of their lives, and that's beginning to concern me. How can I be sure that you'll be able to cut the connections when it becomes necessary?"

"So we're having this conversation again," Cleanthia tucked a strand of her blonde hair behind her ear. "You've taught me well, papá. I'll be ready and I'll do as I've been taught when expected of me."
"Will you?" Antolas stared down into her eyes. It was almost like looking at a mirror image, but where his own eyes had grown cold in the face of two centuries of reality, her eyes still held that dangerous flicker of hope only seen in the young and the naive. That hope was something a Voidwalker could not afford. "I'm afraid you're still too young for this, my sugarplum. I'll contact my sister; she'll continue your training whilst I'm away."

"No way!" she let her anger show while standing and stalking away from the window. The last thing she wanted was to be passed back over to aunt Melandia. The high-borned Lady would be just as annoyed with the idea of having to stop what she was doing to instead dedicate her time to look after her failure of a younger relative. Alone, after the demise of uncle Varonth. No, Cleanthia didn't feel like putting up with Melandia telling her what a meagre Voidwalker she was turning out to be. The thought of having to listen to Melandia's arrogant tone only pushed her anger further.

"That's what disquiets me, Clea." His voice turned almost mellow while detecting the potent empathic wave of anger emanating from her. "You still haven't learned to fully control your emotional aura. If I'd been a regular human, you might've affected me with your wrath."
"I'm sorry." Lowering her eyes she inhaled, trying to steady her anger and with a thought her aura calmed and dissipated. "I know I've still a lot to learn, but I'm nineteen years old. No longer a child who needs to be kept by her aunt. I'm ready for this."

Antolas knew his daughter did indeed have a great deal to learn, but it wasn't so much about controlling her empathy. At almost twenty years of age, Cleanthia was still considered young by their people's standards; therefore her lapse in emotional control from time to time was expected. However that wasn't the real reason Antolas was having second thoughts about taking her with him on this mission. The major concern was her young soul. So very much alike her late mother.

"Look at them!" He nodded towards the window, and they both stepped closer to gaze down in the street. "They live such fleeting lives. Even the longer lived races like the Sprits and the Djinni are still just a blink in the eyes of a Celestian. The humans could be happy to reach 90 – and then they are often in a very bad shape physically. They try so hard to fill those short lives with so much, and they are always striving for company, for companionship. I understand how these associations can be tempting for you. You want to feel it with them and to be a part of it. You want to be surrounded by the strength of their joy and profoundness of their sadness. You want to know them and you want to be known. You want to be seen. You want to exist."

"We do not exist, but allow existence to move around us," she whispered at her own reflection as the glass frosted over with the setting of the sun. The view of the street below became obscured and distorted.
"I know it's hard, sugarplum," he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and squeezed gently. "Our existence is a lonely one. We are so very few, and we're incapable to be a part of the ordinary world. Not even the world of the ordinary Celestians. We cannot be a part of their communities and movements. Yet, I too have stood at this very place where you stand now, hearing my father exhorting about our place in this universe. He told me we must stand apart, but reminded me also that the things we do are important. What we do helps those people out there to continue living their lives freely and secure. In a small way, we exist through each of them, even if they must never know it. Being a Voidwalker is a dedication of a life time, a honorable yet a lonely position."

Cleanthia thought over his words. She knew that part of what her father said was true. She was born a Celestian, and with the capacities to become a fine Voidwalker. Posterity to the gods of old, the real powerful ones who now were gone from the Cosmoses. What was left was this little handful of powerful guardians, who were supposed to look after the world until the gods returned. If they returned.

Still, she couldn't deny the part of her that longed to venture out in the open instead of staying hidden behind false identities and shallow relationships. Her father claimed that her mother's heart gave her this desire to make connections with others and be part of their existence. Cynthia had been a regular woman of Massertia, whose life-span had been just as fleeting as those in the street and there were times when Cleanthia wished to have been more like her mother in that respect. But she was Celestian, a Voidwalker, and it was perhaps time she began acting more like one.

"I understand," she turned her eyes back to him and nodded with a soft smile. "I'm ready to allow existence to move around me if it'll let us do what we are supposed to. To dedicate my life to it, the way I've sworn. Or I'd never taken the oath of a Voidwalker."
"I am so proud of you, dearest," he affirmed and kissed her forehead.

She let the soft, kindling warmth of his aura surround her, but she couldn't impede her eyes from wandering back to the street below, where the lantern men had begun moving from pole to pole, lighting up the lamps with a pale, orange light and where most of the people were vanishing now, only two or three horse-drawn coaches moving down the paved stones.

She may have said the words he wanted to hear yet her hidden yearning couldn't be silenced so easily. The way the Voidwalkers lived their lives, moving through the world without really existing in it, had been approximating a natural law for millennia. Ever since the Seven Pantheons vanished, to be true. The longevity of their race made them slow to change, but Cleanthia felt that things had to change or one day her people would cease to exist entirely, even in the eyes of one another. It was a secret fear that she kept for herself, tucked away in the back of her mind along with this surreptitious longing that she would one day be able to walk down the street outside, having people smile at her because they knew who she was. However her deepest secret was that she would one day love a man, make love to a man and bear a child the way her mother had born her.

It was a secret hope that one day she'd know real friendship and real love, feel something to thaw the winter in her heart which was as relentlessly cold as the one holding Thule in its firm grip, and would do so long into April. Her father had broken that rule once, and if it hadn't been for his great power and high status among the Voidwalkers, he'd been punished severely for taking a mortal woman and impregnating her. Those dreams kept Cleanthia alert and eager and despite her desire to make her father proud, she refused to let them go.


Leaning back in her beanbag, Sarah closed her eyes. With the window of her den open, she could hear the sounds in the street. The splash of tyres through day-old puddles, the laughter of children, the rumble of an oncoming storm. She listened to of the neighbors returning, the building coming alive with the clicks of closing doors, the murmur of switched-on tellies and the aroma of different cuisines cooking in different kitchens. It was ordinary, pedestrian and so dismal that she felt herself turning a bit mad.

Fast, determined footsteps pounded up the small stairs, and she shifted her attention. Julianne opened the door only a second later and Sarah immediately understood something was wrong. She sat up, waiting for her mother's words.
"Well, I hope you're happy with all your daydreaming, because all your dreams are about to come true," her mother snapped without preliminaries. Sarah blinked in response.
"Say what?"

Without responding her mother turned to the round attic window and shut it closed with a slam that made the white curtains flutter in the draft. Her body language screamed of frustration, her shoulders cornered with tenseness.
"Mother, tell me what's going on!" Sarah acted very meek and treaded lightly around her mother's powerful temper, having learned the lesson well and often enough.

"This!" a letter was thrown onto Sarah's beanbag next to her lap. Sarah picked it up and unfolded it to admire the writing. The letters and the language was old-fashioned like a Shakespearian play, the handwriting ornate - lines turned, thickening and thinning at even intervals all straight across the page. She could make out a few basic words like the names of her and her mother and the Spanish word 'fiesta'. Excitement rose in her chest, yet she tried her outermost not to look too expectant.

"What does it say?" she asked in a small voice, handing the letter back to her mother. Her mother didn't take it, instead she returned to the stairs, glancing over her shoulder as she left.
"Just read it, will you!"
"But I..."

"Stop asking questions and get on with it! Clean your room, too!" Julianne's voice faded as her feet rattled down the stairs and Sarah looked around at her spotless room. She shook her head and reached behind her, towards the book shelf and brought out a small book in which she could look up all the old fashioned wordings and phrases in the letter. It took her a long time, the lion's share of an hour, but eventually she sounded out some of the words - and realized that her mother and she had been invited to a party at something called Whitehall Palace. The letterhead showed a large, Scottish-looking castle with four mighty towers with toppy roofs and a coat of arms with a dragon and two crossed swords. The invitation was signed by someone named King Angarian and the party was due three Fridays from now.

Sarah so wondered who this mystery King was, and why he had invited her and her mother to his castle. To an event called the Hallow Ewe Fiesta. She couldn't really grasp where this castle was and what kind of party they were to attend. What would she wear? Sarah owned no partywear at all, the best things she had was a sequin tank top and a pair of shiny, black jeans. Nothing to attend a party at the castle of a King, if Sarah's rudimentary knowledge of protocol was anything to go by. Most of all, she wondered why her mother was complying grudgingly, let alone at all.

It had now turned pitch dark outside, since the evening came earlier and earlier as the autumn rolled by, and she lit her floor lamp to be able to read a bit better. Still it wouldn't dispel the shadows in the corners and with them her discomfort. For even as Sarah felt excitement, she also felt tenseness. In her mind the very idea of going away somewhere, even if it was just for a night, felt overly exciting. But that exhilaration mingled with an unexpected fear of the unknown – of meeting people she had never encountered before. People clearly of higher state than anyone she had come across earlier. A King! Whatever he might be king of, one of the now defunct central European monarchies perhaps, he was probably all protocol and manners, and she knew next to nothing about that.

Standing up from her beanbag she walked over to her desk where her laptop sat. Switching it on, she was soon heading for Google and typing in the names Angarian and Whitehall. Turning up with nothing of consequence.

But if you weren't on Google, then you didn't exist, right?

So what was now this all about?

Journal History

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