aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Skycorp classes never felt more like opportunities to sleep. Calysta sipped on some coffee and tried to sit through most of the classes with her eyes open. Illya had the same ambitions as she did, but he kept drifting off through the instructor’s droning start to Kaereal Cultural Studies. They had an instructor from the University on Kinte conducting the class again.

“The 99 Continents War,” the teacher said, “Is often called The Great War or the War of Madness, though there have been several Great Wars depending on which continent's history you are reading. So, we will be referring to this war as the 99 Continents War. The major battles happened close to 500 years ago but the events leading up to the greatest war in planetary history are important and have left deep cultural impacts. Normally, this war alone would be taught as an entire course at university, but as this class is a condensed version specifically made for entering cadets for Skycorp, we will be watching a hologram, which goes over the seeds of the Great War, its course, and the aftermath. I suggest you take notes, as much of this information will be included in the final exam.”

The teacher leaned over to pick up his pad and at the touch of his finger, the lights dimmed, pitching the room in near blackness before the hologram points flared to life. A heavy thud and a small snort came from beside her and she felt more than saw Illya jolt awake. Someone had kicked the bottom of his chair, forcing him to wake up for the hologram. Calysta winced and leaned over slightly, sliding her hand into her husband’s while it was dark in the room.

A hologram blared to life in the middle of the room showing the green and white swirling orb that was Kaereal from an approaching space view. A narrator began to set the time and scene while the hologram zoomed in slowly toward the planet, focusing on a space near the equator. “A mere 50 years after the First Flight of Gyl the explorer, extended travel between the 99 continents became a reality. The first to achieve this was Lyr, son of Hyden of the Markot Clan and Warrior Emperor of Rey.”

The hologram had zoomed into a map-like structure showing what the topography of old Rey had once looked like. It was one of the largest continents, spanning over 100 miles and with deep valleys where large Cryn- falcons- made their homes among the warrior clans. There were forests deep in the pits and the pink Goddess’ Ore ran in thick veins in the crevices.

“It was Hyden who had first united the constantly warring clans on Rey through conquest after the visitation of Gyl and his great flying machine. It was Lyr who set his sights on expanding that kingdom further into the sky. He put the clans together for the common goal of making his claims to the lands Gyl had come from.”

A tan faced man with golden blonde hair and a war scythe bathed in glistening blood appeared, standing in the room above. He wore a red Cryn feather in his cap and his brown eyes were dark as he looked down upon the kneeling chieftains of the other warrior clans. The tall, almost dashing figure of Lyr leered out into the crowd of chieftains at his feet and raised his bloodied war scythe. “By the sweat of our brows and the breaking of our backs we will rise to the sky and the world will be ours. Those who oppose will fall at their feet and become ours to command.” The words were met with war cries and scythes lifted upward from the bowing chieftains.

The hologram faded out Lyr and the chieftains and replaced it by drawings and 3D rendered images of boat-like ancient flyers. “A united Rey was a dangerous juggernaut,” the narrator continued, “Using the floating Goddess’ Ore from the valley’s of their home continent, the clans under Lyr’s rule built better and more dangerous flying mechanisms. These flyers could house over a 100 men at once along with their cryn mounts, store food for weeks, and had battlements prepared for ranged attacks.” A beastly looking contraption with hot coal burners under balloon like sails and lined with pink metal sailed into the skies.

“When the airborne men of Lyr made their first landfall, it was on Hycia. As the people were farmers, there was no warning and no way to stop the attack by Lyr’s men as they dominated the skies with their flying machines and trained falcons. Within a day, the people of Hycia were under the dominion of Lyr, having surrendered in the display of his power.”

The hologram showed flyers looming over farms, their great shadows hiding the incoming falcon riding warriors as they mowed down farmers in their fields. “The men of Hycia were bound into harvesting raw materials for more flyers while the women were made to produce food and other goods. Children were brought aboard the flyers to serve the warriors and to learn the ways of Rey warriorship. When Hycia was firmly under control, Lyr left a working chieftain in charge of the continent and again set out for more land.”

A map zoomed outward, showing the conquest of the surrounding continents in quick succession. “ Without the advantage of air attacks and no intercontinental communication as of yet, the surrounding skies quickly fell under the heel of Lyr. Juya, Uria, Pyrta, Lyon all tumbled within a galactic year. Lyr set up new governments and viceroys at each continent. He used the continent's raw materials and its people to make more warriors, more flyers, and better equipment.”



Lyr returned to the screen, smiling and eyes glinting over the land from the seat of his flyer. “I will make the world mine and it will be the mightiest of all the worlds. My name will be greater than those of my father before me and their fathers before them. I will own the sky, and one day, the stars.”

The map returned, showing Lyr’s conquests in red, slowly bleeding across the planet surface. “Lyr continued to invest in building his clan with the blood of the people he conquered, putting them to service for the empire. He continued investing in inventions as well. Better weapons were made, better flyer designs, and the first true map of Kaereal was constructed under Lyr’s instruction. Those warriors and slaves who proved themselves loyal, brave and true were rewarded handsomely. Those who resisted lost everything. It wasn’t until falling upon Aerikta that Lyr met any kind of resistance. Staunch purists, Aeriktans refused to surrender and be taken captive. Their women killed themselves by leaping off the edge, for fear of being taken as wives to the invaders. They took their children with them when the line of Aeriktan men failed. Those that could be captured and put into service resisted by a variety of means, including poisoning their new rulers and sabotage. A famed group of women hijacked a flyer and flew to Ewen, where they crashed. After some language difficulties, the Ewenians were warned and mounted a defense before Lyr could arrive.”

The hologram swapped to a small Aeriktan woman with filed teeth sabotaging lumber and food supplies meant bound for a sleek looking Rey flyer, then waving a group of women onward to take the ship. The ship crashed and the first ever meeting of Aeriktan’s and Ewenian’s was displayed. A delicate looking Ewenian woman offered a hand to the Aeriktans.

“In exchange for the knowledge of the flyers and the Rey empire, the Ewenians let the Aeriktan rogues stay and help mount a defense. When Lyr arrived, he found crude fliers to meet him led by the famous Ewenian warrior Watasyosi who had crafted spear pointed harpoons at the Rey fleet, taking down several of the ships. The battle that ensued was bloody but Lyr won thanks to superior weapons, warriors, and equipment.”

“Watasyosi was a bright leader however. Before the arrival of Lyr, he used the Aeriktan knowledge of the flyers and sent an envoy to the north, south, east and west to find other continents. To serve as a warning and the hope that others might come to their aid or defend their home lands. The western envoy was never found, but the eastern, southern, and northern groups landed on Byrna, Daterayn and what is now the islands of Kinte.”

“Meanwhile, trouble began brewing with Lyr. Like the Aeriktans the Ewenians were highly purist but rather than refusing, they allowed themselves to be taken in by the Reys. They learned the secrets of their medicine, their ships, and their navigation. They set up the Aeriktans with better poisons and flight patterns. Ewenian children forced into warriorship learned the trade and returned their blades upon their masters. After several thwarted and successful sabotage attempts as well as no less than 12 assassination attempts, Lyr grew angry. The last straw was the death of his wife by the hands of her adopted Ewenian child.”

The man’s face returned but the glint in his eye was gone, replaced by a cold rage. He spoke over his chieftains on the open deck of a flyer. “I promised you the world and the stars, but I see now neither can be made ours without stamping out the line of resistance entirely. Those who oppose us will be given no mercy. We are the superior blood and the world is our birthright.”

Lyr’s face faded away to the image of a burning fire which had once been a village. Then the pits of a mine, smoking in ruins. Forests smoldered and war waged as more continents were over taken. “Even with the warning of Watasyosi, the rest of the continents fell. By the time Lyr was in his 70’s, he had taken every continent save for 10, those at the most southern hemisphere, and those at the most northern hemisphere. The cold weather protected these areas from true attacks from Lyr.”

“Still, the message of Emperor Lyr went far and wide. No longer were conquered peoples given mercy. Resisters were responded to by beheading or mass “flights” of victims forced off the edge of the continents into the Wilds below. Men were chained, women were forced into labor and childbirth to spread the blood of Rey. Children were taken into the army to train as warriors. People whose children were discovered too old to train as loyal subjects were dropped into the wilds.” The Edge appeared in the hologram and showed feather capped men pushing crowds off the side at scythe point. People dropped off like water brimming over a cup, but their screams were swallowed by the wind.


Lyr appeared again, this time looking old but still solidly built and strong. His face was wrinkled and his blond hair had turned to silver. He stood over 4 men kneeling in front of him, scythe in hand. “After the death of his first and most beloved wife, Lyr had three other wives, all who met their ends in war except for the last. After so many attempts on his life, Lyr grew paranoid and harsh. His empathy had all but vanished for those under his rule or his family. He had conquered the world, but the stars still eluded him even with all his power. Lyr’s last wife, Kyra, was murdered by his own hands when she was thought to have conspired to put her own son as the one to inherit the empire. Lyr had known the time would come when he would have to pick a successor and he had spent years learning who was loyal to his 4 sons and whom they had bedded. At a great feast on the home continent of Rey, Lyr invited his sons asking them to bring their offspring. Those with the best trained and strongest offspring would inherit the empire.”

“Daktan, Tikan, Henaniah, Fyrnat,” the narrator continued, “Came with their own spies and informants. Their own local supporters and their offspring. Lyr watched them take competitions to prove which was the best offspring while they feasted and partied for 7 days. With his 4 sons and many grandsons kneeling at his feet, he announced that his son Tikan would take the Empire. At the moment of his announcement, soldiers surrounded the remaining sons and they were beheaded along with all their offspring.”

The hologram showed the shadows of war scythes swinging, but didn’t depict the bodies falling or the screams. Calysta squeezed Illya’s hand more out of instinct than anything else and looked away from the hologram until the scene changed to a dark haired man rising up to meet Lyr.

“All of the viceroys and agencies who did not swear fealty to Tikan and his son were dropped off the edges of the continents and replaced by those eager to earn the new emperor's favor. Lyr gave the empire to Tikan claiming that ‘Out of your brothers, you have remained true and chosen a Rey woman for your wife. Your blood is not diluted and you have the strongest offspring. You will be my successor and your brothers lines have been burned from the world root and stem so there will no doubt who is superior.’ Lyr later died in battle to the north attempting to cross the Frost Lines.”

Under Tikan, the lives of slaves were hungry and painful, bent to the whim of their Rey masters. It would take another 4 generations before true resistance began again, this time with more modern weapons of war and the stars as a playing field. The Alliance began in the most northern and southern continents, the ones never conquered by Lyr himself and grew through underground networks.” The hologram showed more modern flyers taking to the skies and real flight combats taking shape with fiery, atmospheric explosions. Green began to spread across the continents little by little. “Continents under Rey rule for centuries found their liberation, but the Rey strongholds were deeply entrenched after generations of rule.”

“Once the fire of rebellion sparked and became an ember, the underground Alliance grew in size and scope, however. Those who had left the planet when space flight became viable, returned bringing the knowledge they had gathered to build better weapons and communication. The Reys had also put their centuries of superior funds to work, eventing the first space traveling flyers and attempting to expand into the stars. The 99 Continent War began with flight battles over continents, destroying crops and towns and breaking the Reys from the infrastructure down. It was at this point, the Reys began to understand that drastic measures must be taken to end the battle. A weapon so severe that it would shock the planet. The 4th son removed from Lyr, Riulta brought the Veyra Bomb from a design, to a working weapon of war in a little under six galactic months. So named Veyra for the silver moon, the Goddess of Death, the bomb was devastating enough to pulverise a continent out of the sky.”

This time, the holograph changed to an older image. It wasn’t some dramatic rendering that used Lyr’s written accounts for his speech. These were real images of the event as it happened. “The bomb was placed deep in the caverns on Hycia and used a rare ore found only on the moons to create a volatile reaction within the continent.”

A view of a war scoured continent came onto the scene. Pillars of smoke billowed up as flyers and buzzed around like flies compared to the size of the land mass. Suddenly, there was a great flash and a cloud of smoke hurled outward in every direction from a central point. Calysta winced a little from the light and squeezed Illya’s hand tighter with her tiny fingers. A thunderous boom followed almost 15 seconds after and echoed through the room.

Bits of crumbling contient fell and flew in every direction, smashing into flyers on both sides. The narrator continued his story as they watched the continent fall. “There were over a million men, women and children living on the largest continent of Hycia. None of them survived and nearly all traces of the civilization before the Rey conquest were lost. This happened twice more, taking a total of 3.6 million more lives, including those on the continents of Rey. These homesteads now lay in the wilds as tombs.”

“When Rey fell into the Wilds, the backs of the Rey power were broken. The remaining, now homeless children of Rey were rounded up and brought en masse to Kinte. There were those in the Allied forces who wanted the remainder of the Reys and Lyr’s bloodline to be dropped off the edges to prevent another war with them and any remaining loyalists. However, after a vote, it would believe that the Rey should be sent to make a home across the stars with the chance that they may be able to rejoin the new Alliance, given time and proven merit.”

“Ships of Reys settled on Reylia, New Rey, and began anew under the leadership of Ayris, 15 year old descendant of Riulta and Lyr. After 200 years, the new Reylian people were given full citizenship into the Alliance and now their warriors serve as ground troops and protectors to all the peoples of the Alliance.”

An image of Chief Tikan appeared, this one taken when he had both eyes. He bore a striking resemblance to Lyr with tanned-olive skin and dark brown eyes along with a strong jaw and high cheekbones. The only thing that differed was the fact Tikan had dark, black hair and wore an amicable smile.

Calysta jumped a little when another thundering sound began suddenly through the room. Only this time, it wasn’t the hologram. The Chippeqouti Elite were slamming their fists into their desk in high praise to the current ruler of Reylia. A few of the other Kaerelean and all of the Terrans hadn’t expected such a sound and all jumped with the roaring sound.

Part of the narrator’s voice was drowned out by the men cheering, until they quieted down again. “....the 99 Continent War shaped many of the policies and cultures prevalent in the Alliance today. While exploration is an interest, slavery and indentured servitude is outlawed in all Alliance memberships. Open trade with all and the preservation of land and culture is encouraged among all the peoples of Kaereal and beyond.”

When the hologram ended, the instructor raised the level of the lights and looked at his students. “The hologram was very comprehensive and we know as much about Emperor Lyr as we do, because he left written records that followed his conquests. These entries grow very disoriented and do not make sense toward the end of his life. We do know he enacted in the tradition that all subsequent Emperors chosen among his progeny must kill any brothers and sisters blood line completely. We also know that he died on the icy barrier called the Frost Lines, trying to expand the territory for his son and grandson to entirely solidify his empire once and for all. Though he was advised not to attempt the battle, as it would cost thousands of warriors their lives to take the ice cliffs if the weather turned, he could focus only on the the last lines of resistance. He wrote in his journal that he would keep warm by ‘bathing in the blood of his men and his enemies alike before he gave it up.’ By this point, he was sending men into battle to slaughter against the guerrilla’s of the Frost Line. A historian’s account of the battle states that he was caught in a snow drift covered in the blood of his dying warriors and went down ‘screaming at the stars.’”

The instructor concluded his comments and then stepped back to survey the classroom. “You may ask any questions you would like there is 15 minutes left before the change over. If I am unable to get to your question before the bell rings, you are welcome to see me after class.”


****************************************
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
After the more heavy topic of the Great War, Calysta was relieved when class changed over to Edgar’s Chippeqouti culture class. It was important to know history and she knew Kaerelean history well, but she could only take so much death and destruction in one day. She smiled at Edgar when he entered the room wearing his traditional garb, but that smile faded when he started on the subject for the day.

The story of the 7 Generals was lore she had known from Illya and the description of Deni taking her child into battle only compounded on top of what they had already witnessed in the Kaeelean culture class.

A hushed, heavy silence fell over the classroom even as Edgar asked if they had any questions. Heads had turned and eyes bored into the Chippeqouti General at the front of the class. Calysta could feel their gazes and shifted closer to her husband in her seat more out of instinct than conscious effort. After a moment of quiet, a throat cleared and Swyft asked his question. "Elder Edgar, how far did the Chippeqouti empire extend?"

Edgar sighed. "Dat es nut a question. Try again." His class was very slow learning this particular

A murmur went through the room at the denial. Swyft had asked a perfectly reasonable and normal question. He was also the commander of the entirety of Skycorp. Nobody wanted to ask questions now, except for the commander who didn't seem determined to get the answer to his question. "How far did the Chippeqouti Empire extend?" he repeated congenially.

It seemed that the entire class room was struggling with the concept. The Elite sat by with grins on their faces and one of them nudged Swyft after he posed the question incorrectly a second time. However, before he could provide help Edgar repeated himself. "Dat es nut a question. Try again."

Swyft sat back, feeling the nudge from his fellow student Elite and thought for a moment, then nodded to himself as if deciding something. "Ah. You will tell me how far the Chippeqouti Empire extended," he said, voice even and confident. A command coming from their top office made the rest of the teachers and Skycorp attendees exchange glances.

This time Edgar smiled and he nodded. "Dis es a good question. I will answer et. Chippequoti empire was mostly en what yah call fringe lands. Dere was some near Alliance territory during height of power wit dah flight provided by Ehaui. I tink dat yah records show much of our territory unexplored. Et was very dangerous for long time because of war. War will make et dangerous again."

Swyft listened carefully and nodded at the answer. He wasn't going to tell the elder than war had already made that part dangerous and they had lost scouts near those areas. Instead, he took a small sip of his tea and looked to the man again.

"You will tell me the reasons the Federation formed in direct response to the Chippeqouti empire," Swyft asked. While the Elder had touched upon the Federation's attempted genocide against his people, the reasoning sounded like it was a mix of reasons rather than just a territory dispute. The Federation was largely made up of Tannas and the reaction of mixing the races sounded oddly specific.

It seemed that Swyft was an eager student and he wanted to know more. Edgar nodded again with a broad smile. "I like dat yah questions are bold. Dis es anoter good question. Dah Federation originally hire dah Chippequoti tah protect dere interest when dey invest tah open mines and factories en Fringe territory and beyond. Dey expand and soon dey choose nut tah pay Chippequoti. Chippequoti close all factories and move dem out of dere territory and demand payment for services. Federation refuses and when we move tah take mines en oter territories as payment for work dey begin making war and dis es how dah war starts."

Another round of exchanged glances ensued and Swyft nodded in understanding. Wars had been started for less than what they described, though the Chippeqouti sounded like a mercenary empire of some sort and their territory had been broad sweeping. Swyft considered for another moment and started to open his mouth for another question when he was cut off by another voice. The delicate voice of Daphne echoed to the front of the class from her perch next to Ehvan. "You talk about the Chippeqouti empire and how they will always be at war....ah...You will tell me if they always like being at war?" Her statement came out a bit like a question but it was still a demand and she looked at Edgar unafraid of being rejected.

This particular time of history seemed to have brought on a new onslaught of questions and Edgar appreciated the questions. "Dis question es phrased well. Yah should work on yah tone. I will answer dis question. Dah Chippequoti because dey are made by dah four winds and the god of war dey will always be at war somewhere. Et es life dat dah winds breat ento Chippequoti. Chippequoti do nut break alliances, dey are still allied wit Ehaui even to dah deat for more den 15 hundred years. Dey will be dah same for Alliance. Nut all Chippequoti like tah be at war, but et will follow dem always."

This time the room went quiet and no other questions followed for a long moment until Daphne spoke again. "You said that the descendant will return to Qouti...er Old Qouti... and they will reject them. You will tell me why. And if this is something that's happened or if its prophecy and yet to happen." That portions was a little unclear and could be taken both ways, but it was fascinating, if not terrifying culture. She hadn't been this interested in class since navigation and Fringe Studies.

The young woman asked another question and it was well phrased. "Dis es anoter good question. Et was prophecy and et happened nut so long ago. Dah Dark Chippequoti and Sevent General rejected, but dere was return and all Chippequoti united again."

Now all the eyes really were on Illya. He had to be the one who made that happen because now everyone knew he was the descendant because he was the one and only General. Calysta pretended not to notice the stares as Swyft tried his question again. "You will tell me if there are anymore prophecies regarding the 7th General and the lineage."

Edgar could feel a bit of tension rise in the class. There were many that thought well of his grandson and some that thought ill of him. There were a lot of things that would be said. "Dere was prophesy from Old Quoti saying dat General who would reunite dem would be of evil blood. Dis es very difficult prophecy tah determine. Et could have many meanings. Some tink et means dat dis General es evil and some tink et means he has dah blood of Ehr's sons and dah blood of Deni. Every man chooses ef he will be evil even ef he comes of evil blood."

Daphne nodded and that seemed to be the end of her questions, in fact, it seemed to be the end of everyone's questions. A few murmurs of approval bubbled over the class, but no one said anything more. Swyft was one of the ones nodding in approval of the statement. Every man did get to choose for himself through his actions rather than his blood. That was something that they held true in Skycorp, if not generally by the Kaereleans, minus the purists who disliked those of mixed heritage. He pondered over the lesson a little longer and then raised a final question. "You will tell me what if that comes to pass, what will happen after, if there is a prophecy."

It seemed that Swyft had a difficult question to answer and Edgar was not certain what the man was asking. "Yah repeat question from yah classmate. She ask ef dis prophecy of Chippequoti reunited already happen. Et already has happened in ets entirety. Yah question es nut repeat. Yah question es tah ask ef dere es more prophecy about dis Sevent General. Dere are no oter prophecies. Dey say he reunites dah people and he es of evil blood. Dis es all. No one knows dah future of dis General."

Swyft nodded when the answer came and that was the end of the questions. Nobody knew what else to ask and everything was looking rather bleak, so the room lapsed into silence. Calysta cast a glance at Illya and found him looking very, very quiet.

Illya sat quietly in the front row for a long moment and then he glanced back at the rest of the class. Looking forward again toward Edgar he raised an eyebrow and his grandfather gave a nod. "Well, dere es one last prophecy. Et es dat dah General has great hunger and he will have large portion for lunch en about 10 minutes."

Calysta snorted out a laugh when Illya gave his own little prophecy about his food and Swyft, who normally kept a polite and composed face, found himself caught off guard. A broad, toothy grin stretched to his face and he let out a good laugh. The entirety of the Skycorp crew looked as amused as they were surprised at the usually composed and unflappable commander. The younger ones laughed along with him as the joke sank in. "Does that prophecy include his Allies?" Calysta asked, still snickering.

The mood in the room lightened some and Illya shrugged when Kalizda asked about the prophecy regarding the Allies. "Eh, dah Allies dun eat portions large enough tah be wort writing prophecy about."

She titled her head, having tried to to play with him or at least lighten his mood, and realizing she hadn't been successful. She knew the topic had been four times as uncomfortable for him as it had been for her. Sighing some, she dropped her gaze and turned her attention back to her pad.

Edgar stood in the front of the room watching the class play along with the General's attempt to make a joke. It had been a fine joke, but it didn't serve much of a purpose besides that. "I tink et would do dah class well tah go eat. Unless yah insist sitting here longer tah fulfill dah prophecy from dah General." With that he gave his official dismissal. Glancing at Kalizda Illya noticed she didn't look as pleased as she had earlier. "Why yah upset?"

Swyft nodded in agreement and it seemed class was dismissed. Everyone really was hungry and the thought of food to break up such heavy talk was appealing. Nobody said anything to Illya in particular as they left, a few people stared but those were mostly the teachers who were astonished over who they had been teaching. Most of the younger participants took the idea of prophecy with a tinge of salt and didn't believe blood could be bad. Only that a man's actions could be. Illya was alright as far as they were concerned. Calysta began packing up her pad and shouldering her bag when Illya suddenly asked why she was upset. She looked at him curiously, curls falling around her cheeks from her loose braid. "I'm not upset, love. Why?"

Illya stared at Kalizda with disbelief. "Well, yah look upset after yah make joke and I respond. Et was nut racist."

Calysta looked at him bewildered. "I know you weren't," Calysta said, "You were only teasing them. I thought I might join in was all and try to take the focus off you."

"Ooh ok." Illya grinned and offered her a hand. "We go get lunch now."

Calysta shook her head and took her Chip's hand, giving it a gentle squeeze before his large fingers engulfed hers. "Aye, let's go. You should know that for the most people here, they don't believe as much in prophecy as they do actions. They won't bother you about it, I don't think."

"Dat's good." Illya strode with her to the lunch room and grinned. "Oh, look dere's a long line already. I bet et takes meh about 10 minutes tah get meh food to dah table where I will consume large amount of food."

She went to the lunchroom hand in hand with her Chip and while a few eyes followed them, it wasn't as many they might have expected. Still, she could hear some of the teachers twittering about the 7th General myth. It was all information she had learned years ago, but for them it was new. It would circulate on the rumor mill for a while before calming down. When Illya repeated his prophecy with a grin, she chuckled. "You know, I think you're right. You'd better eat enough for the history books." She guided them toward the line where they ended up standing behind a few of the professors talking about the lesson. One of them, the diplomacy professor, had his back turned to the line behind him and was shaking his head. "It's excellent that they are our Allies, but their story is one reminiscent of Lyr, don't you agree? Rey history of a warrior culture tends to prove them right. War follows the warrior."

For the time it seemed that it was over and Illya was content to stand in line till he heard the professors talking about how they sounded like the Reylians. Even if Illya appreciated the Reylian culture he would not have assumed at any time that they were similar in such a way. However, he was going to let it go for the time. Perhaps they would say more and he could learn a bit of what they thought instead of interrupting. Glancing at Kalizda he put a finger up to his lips. This particular professor as obnoxious as he'd been in the past was informative when he opened his mouth to jabber.

Calysta's eyes widened as Illya held a finger to his lips, urging her not to say anything. She clamped her jaw closed and listened along with Illya to see what else Professor Blythe would say. Another one of the professors scooted along the line and plucked up his tray as Blythe talked. "Perhaps, but I wouldn't compare the two necessarily just because both built empires. Lyr was also a mad man and Tikan, while descended from Lyr, is agreeable. Peace never lasts forever, and it's a warriors job to defend in those times. So, the phrase a war follows a warrior is banal at best."

Blythe puffed up a bit. "I'm only drawing comparisons because that's my job. History does repeat itself eventually."

Calysta's face was turning a rosy shade of pink in embarrassment for the diplomacy professor as she listened in and winced with his words.

A broad grin came to Illya's face and he rested a large brown hand on Professor Blythe's shoulder. "History does repeat etself. I tink yah comment was apt."

Blythe's stiffened at Illya's touch and didn't move as all the color drained away from his face while the Chip spoke. The rest of the professors when very quiet all of a sudden as they notices the General and Emperor himself. The diplomacy teacher swallowed and finally turned his head to look at Illya, white as a sheet. "Oh. Uh..." he swallowed, "Well um, that's...that's good to know. Though, forgive the comment, but I hope you're the exception to the rule."

Quirking an eyebrow Illya grinned. "I'm nut sure how yah want meh tah be dah exception. Should I be crazy like Lyre, or of evil blood? I guess dere are two pats for meh tah take."

Blythe sucked in a small breath as the line moved forward slowly. The other professors stepped back but he stayed in the same place under Illya's paw of a hand. "The exception for either scenario," he said quickly, "Let history not repeat either of those tales." Calysta looked at the professor, her cheeks still pink, and smiled a little. "Aye."

Illya couldn't hold back the chuckle any longer and he let the man's shoulder go. "Yah very easily persuaded. Much easier den yah were when yah teach meh diplomacy. I learn few tings from yah. One of dem es tah let yah talk."

The professor let out a nervous laugh and nodded. "Glad to know you learned something from me," he said, "Maybe we can have another chance at it some time, General."
"Yes and den maybe yah learn by den nut tah make assumptions about Chippequoti." With a smile Illya beckoned for the man to move along in the line. "Dun worry, I have yah back."

Blythe shuffled out of Illya's reach and gave him a nervous glance before scuttling forward in the line. Calysta looked at Illya and nudged him a little, looking a little amused. "Oh, I think you've made him feel very safe."

"Et dun hurt tah ruffle some featers every now and den." Illya chuckled some and he leaned closer to Kalizda to kiss her. "I like ruffling yah featers jes fine."

Calysta kissed him a little more slowly than she normally would have for public. Hearing about those prophecies always bothered him and she didnt believe he was of evil blood in the slightest. She knew her husband was a good man, if not all his decisions were so, and nobody was perfect. She let the kiss linger a little and her fingers curled at the nape of his neck while she did, then she let go to smile up at him. "Aye you do, but did you know, fluffing your fur was just as fun when you let me?" Calysta winked at him then plucked up her own tray to keep the moving down the line.

For a moment Illya forgot they were in public and he spoke a bit louder than he intended. "Maybe I ought tah let yah try fluffing meh fur dis..." About that time he noticed the room had become especially quiet and Dane standing behind him started to laugh. Illya glanced at him and shook his head. "Yah pervert."

Calysta's eyes widened when Illya spoke impossibly loud with his suggestion and the whole room went quiet. Heat rose to her cheeks again when Dane laughed, calling Illya a pervert. She hadnt intended on everyone hearing that, but now it was too late. She drew herself up and smiled winningly at Dane. "Only for me," she chimed with pride.

"Dats right." Illya laughed a little out of embarrassment and then gently pulled Kalizda along with him. "Lets get food."

********

Swyft sat to his lunch on his own and stared into his tea cup, wondering if Kelly, his well-meaning wife, would notice if he swapped it out for a cup of coffee. Around him were a few of the Chippeqouti Elite men and a couple of the Kaerelean instructors chatting about the classes.

"Perhaps, but I wouldn't compare the two necessarily just because both built empires. Lyr was also a mad man and Tikan, while descended from Lyr, is agreeable. Peace never lasts forever, and it's a warriors job to defend in those times. So, the phrase a war follows a warrior is banal at best."

."I'm only drawing comparisons because that's my job. History does repeat itself eventually."

The instructors seemed to think that there were some similarities between the Chippeqouti and the Reys.

He agreed with a few points. The Chippeqouti and the Reylians were both proud warrior peoples. Both had participated in forced expansions, from what he understood from Edgar’s lesson. The motivation had been different though.

The Chippeqouti Empire had been fueled by prophecy and religions as much as the want for power. Lyr had been mad in the end, seeking more and more power. It was power alone that had forged the Kaerelean’s empire and not at the behest of a messenger from the gods. Lyr had taken great pride in making his own destiny. He had loved to war and to conquer people, make them bow under his boot heel. He didn’t particularly care for the people he ruled beyond how well they warred with him.

Of course, he had seen some of the reports leaked over a decade ago about the current Chippeqouti Emperor before he allowed the man to enter Skycorp. They damned him as a war criminal. A man facing the genocide of his people could very well become a war criminal. The Alliance had all been war criminals in the face of the Rey Empire too. Then the Reys had become the ones committing the genocide.

But who was right?

Swyft considered his cup again, debating on which was the better motivation and in the end, he didn’t find one. The Chippeqouti had their pasts and the Alliance had its own bloody history. One was tea and one was coffee. Both were caffeine and both were in the Alliance against a much greater foe. Comparing them was a moot exercise.

He took up his mug of tea and down the hot contents in a few swigs before moving on to his food in silence.

*********

Lunch seemed to lighten the mood further and Calysta spent her time nibbling at her food while listening to the Chippeqouti men chatter on about the lessons. The story of Lyr had gotten them all fired up one way or the other. It was interesting to listen to them so excited about a history that wasn’t their own, if she was being honest.

The next task of the day was meant to be a more active team building exercise. Calysta had expected tag-team drills or studies, but Illya had suggested something more intimate. This was something that nobody would want to do, but if they were going to be partners in a life threatening task if they were ever needed they would all have to know a little more about each other. These were things the Elite knew about each other, but they didn't know about their partners and their partners needed to know them too.

As the group gathered in the gymnasium Illya sighed. "Alright..." His throat was still sore and his voice remained rough. "Dis es exercise dat es essential. Yah must be honest wit each oter because yah lives could depend on et and dah lives of dose in dah Alliance could depend on yah ability tah be honest wit yah partner. Yah all know dat we are a final defense. Dis es merging of two greatest armies. Pilots dat are unrivaled and soldiers dat are unrivaled." There was always a small need to remind people what was at stake that was greater than their fear and give them a sense of pride before asking something like this. "Dis exercise requires dat yah tell yah partner any problems yah may experience ef et es en yah mind, or body. I will do same exercise wit meh partner."

Swyft listened to the General's announcement and took a moment to consider what was being asked of them. He and Markus worked in quiet tandem mostly. It suited them well and while he was in favor of team building this wasnt something he was comfortable with. Still he would participate though. Nodding to Markus, he gestured to the door. "Take a walk?"

It was a necessary exercise and Markus knew it. This didn't mean that he relished the idea. However, it was a needed bit of relief. He wouldn't have made it through an entire wrestling match. While he would have normally liked the idea of walking it was hard to do anything today. "Short walk." Markus grumbled and made a halting step forward with Swyft. One hand kept twitching and he couldn't do much about that. "Peck yah spot fast ef yah dun mind."


Swyft started to get up but shifted when Markus jerked forward. He gave the man a curious look and started toward the door with Markus grumbling about picking a spot. He had intended on actually walking, but his partner was moving oddly. So, instead of continuing onward, he slipped out of the door and went to the lounge across the way. He picked a pair of seats at a table in the back and waved Markus onward. When he slid into the see he glanced back at his partner, catching a glimpse of the man's hand as he did. Was he tremoring? Swyft pretended he didnt notice and offer Markus the seat across from him before clearing his throat. "So, would you like to go first or shall I?"

The walk felt rough at best. Markus didn't care to do much on days like this. If the episode continued he'd be getting hauled around by tomorrow till the episode ended. When they stopped he stared at the seat for a long moment. There was always the chance his legs would randomly give out just before he could seat himself. There was very little he could do about the situation at this point. Gritting his teeth he swung one leg over the bench and then half fell forward and braced himself with his hands on the table top. His other leg moved a bit sluggishly, but it made it to the appropriate spot. Finally he flopped onto the seat and glowered at Swyft. "I go first. Yah already see et. Federation poison meh years ago and Ehaui help meh stop dah progress of disease et starts in meh nerves, but I never fully recover. Some days I dun have full control."

By the time Markus made it to the table he was clearly struggling and Swyft winced as the man struggled into the seat. He got a mean look from the man, and it wasnt that he wanted him to suffer, but he also didnt want to be over heard. Thankfully, he was to the point and Swyft nodded. "The gas on the planet surface has similar effects when concentrated," Swyft said, "Is there any specific course of action I need to take when in the field if you become incapable or incapacitated?"

Markus almost laughed when Swyft asked what to do. "Ef I go down yah job es tah do most damage tah enemy yah can even ef et means killing meh. I know dah risk when I join." The question was absurd. Then again Swyft wasn't a soldier. "Now, ets yah turn."

Markus allowed the brief flash of amusement cross his face when he answered and Swyft stayed quiet for a moment. "My job isnt just to kill if that happens. If it's possible to retrieve you to fight for another day, I will. You're not good to anybody dead and if it's a last resort that's a different story. I understand the conditions we'll be facing." It didnt seem he had anything else to add and Swyft shifted uneasily, but he felt like Markus should know a few things. "I have a few injuries myself "

"Yes, and yah tell meh dese injuries. I'm waiting." Markus could have guessed that Swyft would have a few injuries. He was instructing now and at an upper level where he would not be involved in as many of the physical portions of the work. That was at least how it made sense to Markus. "Dun take so long tah get et out. I'm nut yah enemy."

Swyft took note that Markus ignored his reply and moved on. He would simply do what he had to and now the man knew it. When he mentioned they werent enemies, Swyft nodded in agreement and took a breath. "Alright. Bad knee on the left and limited rotation on the right shoulder. I was also gored by a Varient Boar about 15 years ago on my last mission and it caused some issues along my spine. Nothing some therapies havent helped but it might me stiff in hand to hand combat or high gravity manuevers. There's also something else I'd like to mention."

He looked out over the room and then back to Markus. "I have a son here on Kinte. He's about 5 now and not in the best of health and he wont be evacuated quickly if it comes to that. But that's not my only son. I have another from a previous marriage who worked closely with Terra. I tried to find him when war came to us and tried to ask him to come home, but he refused."

"Dese are concerns dat will give yah trouble tah fight? Yah sons give yah worry and yah nut focus on dah battle ef yah tink dey will come tah harm?" Markus knew the feeling after a fashion. "I worry. I have one son and I know dat he will fight to dah deat ef need be. I cannot change dis, but I know dat I train him well and dat es his best weapon and defense. I will fight and I will do what I must ef meh son es put en danger he cannot escape. Ef yah sons cripple yah mind tah fight den ask Chippequoti for help. Illya es most resourceful. I'm sure he could make evacuation plan for yah son wit Elite trainee. Trainee are quite accomplished too."

Swyft kept his face fairly neutral but nodded when Markus offered that the Elite might be able to help. "I appreciate that, but I'm not sure it's possible. He's under an isolation. He's an immunodeficient half breed in the hospital at Kinte. I havent hugged my son since his last medicine failed a year ago. There's no way to evacuate without exposing him. I do worry about that but I also have a concern that I might see my older son on the battle field." He glanced back to his partner again. "He might be among those we have to kill and on the chance we do seem him. Don't let me hesitate to do what I need to do, Markus. It's my son who has no choice versus my oldest boy who made his. I guided him like you did yours but this war has divided alot more than land."

"Den ef et gives yah comfort ef I see dat yah hesitate I will kill for yah." Markus clenched his jaw some. "Meh son has great compassion for all young of all races. Yah tell him about dis place where yah young one es. Dere will be special detail tah protect dem en time of war. Chippequoti know dat all children are precious. Now yah mind at rest and yah know yah duty es unhindered. Meh son es nut full blooded Chip. All full blooded Chippequoti have blue eyes."

He knew that Markus wouldnt like to know those things but he deserved to know. Swyft nodded at his reply. "Not comforting, but it certainly motivates." At the offer of a special detail, Swyft tilted his head in consideration. "If that's the case, then you should know there are about 3 dozen children in the same condition."

Markus shrugged at the mention of the number of the children. "Et makes little difference to meh. Tell dah counsel woman and General. Dey can try tah save dah children. She was half breed once. I'm sure she remembers before she becomes Chippequoti."

Swyft raised a brow at Markus. "Before she became Chippeqouti. Some would argue she still is half breed. But I'll mention it to them. As for everything else we've talked about, I don't want what I've said to be mentioned to anyone else but I felt you should know. Now, you know what motivates me. Is there anything else you'd like to add?"

"She es Chippequoti. Kalizda cares for her people and she makes sure dat dah Chippequoti receive fair treatment in dah Alliance. I feel honor dat meh son was wise tah choose Kalizda before she has power. He was wise dis time when he chose woman." Markus shook his head some when Swyft asked if there was anything else he wanted to add. "Only dat yah have piece of lunch on front of yah clotes."

Swyft was surprised to hear that Markus felt that way about his son and daughter in law. He had been under the impression that there were bad terms. "You think it's bad she has power now? I think she's worn the mantle better than most." At the mention of lunch on his uniform, he looked down quickly. He hated looking messy.

"Oh, I feel great pleasure tah know dat she es counsel woman now. Meh son has powerful woman. Dis es dah way et should be wit Chippequoti."

After checking his tunic and finding nothing there, Swyft eyed Markus, thinking for a moment, then made a move to stand up. "Well, if that's all then we should go back to the to the class room." While they were walking down the hall he spied a few other groups that had broken off into places beyond the small desks of the class room. Ehvan and Daphne were propped up on the wall outside the lounge in conversation. The man was having to stoop some to hear what she was saying.

"So, how do we start this?" she asked Ehvan quietly, "And what exactly are we supposed to talk about?"

Markus slowly rose from his place and nearly fell back onto the bench. He hated being this way, but he ill and there was nothing to do for it for the time. It appeared that many others had broken off from the larger gathering and he stumbled on. Ehvan leaned against the wall and he had his arms folded in front of himself. With a slight slump he could hear Daphne better. She looked nervous and he shrugged. "Eh, we talk about tings dat might make us hesitate, or tings dat would make duty difficult. For meh et es nut fear. I am hurt badly. Dere are guts dat never make full recovery after I was shot many times witout meh armor on. I dun have bones dat cover meh guts. Sometimes dere es a lot of pain and sickness."

Apparently, Ehvan wanted to get right to it and he spilled his guts about...his guts. Daphne looked him over in concern, thinking how many times he had to be shot for him to be horribly sick like that. "Oh," she whispered, "I didn't...know that. What happened? If I can ask....and if that happens in the air we may not be able to do much. What if you get sick in battle?"

The little woman seemed worried and that wasn't anything surprising. Evhan had determined she was a bit shy for this work, but she'd have to do. "Dere was raid by Federation. Ef et happens in dah air, or battle den I jes do what I have tah do."

Daphne listened and folded her hands over one another as she thought about he was saying. There wasnt really anything they could do besides keep going, so she nodded. "Is there anything I should do that could help or reduce the chances of that?"

With a roll of his eyes Ehvan unwillingly admitted a small detail. "I should nut drink. Et makes tings worse."

"Well, you're not wrong," Daphne agreed, " Alcohol causes inflammation among other things. You also get a bit jerky when you do. I don't like it."

"Yah dun like et and neiter does Ahvah and a few oters. Et's nut yah choice, but I will nut be drinking much here anymore and I dun do et ef I know dat I will have work tah do, or ef et looks like dere will be work tah do."

Daphne looked at him a little fiercely and nodded. "I know it's not my choice. It's never been my choice. Not for me or..." she swallowed and trailed off. "Anyways, I dont like drinking. It turns people into things they regret in the morning and somethings they dont regret at all."

The way the little woman shot off at him seemed to indicate it was a bit deeper than just a dislike. "Well, now I know dat drinking wit yah around es nut working. So tell meh what else. Es dere oter tings dat make work and focus for yah difficult and would put team at risk and what I can do."

Having that come out, she wasnt sure where her wind up was going. She could feel her heart racing now and heat flashed in her cheeks. "I...well...good." Hadn't anticipated that to be so easy. "I don't have anyone on Kinte here. I stay here and I dont go home because...well ...because it's not really good to be home. Especially when there's drinking at home."

"So dat's et?" Ehvan wasn't quite certain how that made things bad for a potential mission. Clearly he couldn't drink around her and he wasn't supposed to be drinking anyway, but he didn't know if there were other concerns. "Well, dun stand here all day and wail about drinking. Et does a lot of tings dat people dun like. Make someting of yah next weekend and visit Chip village en Pytra. Den, I really need yah tah tell meh ef dere es anyting else."

Daphne shot him a look when he smarmed about her wailing about drinking until he offered to see if she wanted to come to Pyrta.

Suddenly her eyes relaxed and widened some in shock. "You..you'd let me come to Pyrta? I'm not sure if I could afford a place to stay there, but I think that would be...relieving."

"What do yah mean afford? Dun be like dat. When Elite offer dah guest house et es nut of cost to yah." Ehvan fought a small smirk that was coming to his face. "Jes say yes and hurry up and tell meh ef dere es anyting else. Yah take long time tah get around tah yah part of tings."


"Oh!" She said, her eyes widening. "I didnt know that. I would love to come." He cast her a smirk and for a moment she could see why Ahvah fought for him. He was handsome when he looked like that. Was there anything else that would distract her from work? Plenty. "The only thing I can think of is my mom. Sometimes I think of my mom. She didnt approve of me coming here but dad. Well, dad likes to drink and there's one less target at home now, I suppose."

It seemed that the girl had some trouble at home and he couldn't do anything about that. "Well, dats too bad. Nut much I can do for yah. Es dat all?"

She blushed much brighter now from embarrassment for having said anything at all and got up. "No. Just forget you heard that. Thanks for the offer to come to Pyrta. I'd enjoy a trip to visit. You still should talk with Ahvah about where she wants me to fly you two. Why had she said anything at all? Oh Goddesses above, it was because he was cute. She gave him an appraising look. "Is there anything else you have to tell me, Ehvan?"

By all the blushing and sudden haste it didn't take much to decipher the fact that she was embarrassed. "Awe, dun act like dat. I was honest. I dun like tah tink dat a home es place where yah get hurt. Et should be safe. Ef yah need to know I understand. Dere was man dat teach meh tah be Elite and he used tah beat meh. Jes because I'm Elite dun mean dat I dun care, or dat I have no feelings."

Daphne paused, her eyes skirting away from her partner. She hated talking about this and the only reason she bothered to say anything was because it has affected her work performance in the past. Swyft had been the one to see to it that it didnt unless there were emergency trips home. Being Elite sounded more like torture and she was amazed he thought that meant she believed he had no feelings of his own. "It doesnt make it right,' she said with a sigh, "The beatings I mean. It's affected my physical performance before, which is why I mentioned it. Swyft..swyft made sure I was always welcome to stay at Skycorp." Her face was red hot and she wished, for a brief moment, she wasn't so pale, "I didnt mean to suggest you had no feelings. I know you do...After all...I've seen you standing next to your wife looking at her like she was a goddess, yeah? You wouldn't have offered for me to come out to Pyrta if you didn't either. But you asked if there was anything else. And now you know."

Taking a deep breath he nodded, "Alright den dat finishes et. We bot are honest about what may cause trouble." With that Ehvan pushed away from the wall. "Dis means dat we return to dah room. I always hated dis assignment. How about yah?" With a forced grin plastered to his face he met her gaze. "Great fun dis one."

"Oh it was the most fun I've had in years," she half grimaced back sarcastically. Lifting off the wall, she saw Illya and the council woman walking down the hallway. She was about the size he was, but something about the way the small woman walked beside her husband made her look tall. Calysta looked up to her Chip and took his hand. "Maybe a walk to the green house and back if you feel like it?"

The entire group seemed to disburse. Illya got up to go with Kalizda. "Ooh, dah green house eh? Dis es supposed tah be serious." With a grin he wrapped an arm around her shoulders and continued walking with her. When they were safely out of earshot he started off. "I stay away from holograms wit stories about war. Dah dreams start ef I see tings dat remind meh of dah war. Den dere es dah problem I have. Ef children get hurt.. I jes, Kalizda I get bad remembrance when children are hurt and I feel like crazy inside. Yah already know dah rest, but dese tings are someting I dun tink yah know."

Calysta was happy to have his arm around her shoulder while they walked and his comment about the green house made her chuckle before she leaned into him. "Oh aye. Serious. Maybe we can a little later then, yeah? The herbs miss us." While they walked she just relaxed a little with him until he started off with some things for this assignment right out of the gate. Some things that made sense and others that made her hold him a little tighter at his waist. "I don't blame you. After some of the things I've seen, I dont like action holograms so much anymore either. We can avoid those though." She smiled at him gently but her fingers curled in protectively. She remembered his face in the hologram when Lana died. It was painful, and quite frankly, terrifying. It wasnt that he screamed and raged. She knew what Isla had asked of him too. Calysta cleared her throat and nodded. "I didnt quite know, but I'm glad you told me. I don't like seeing children hurt either, and when it comes to our babies...its hard to think about."

When she responded Illya nodded. "Yeah, I tink dat we will jes be careful." Illya knew the boys would eventually want to watch something more exciting than Micky Martian and he wouldn't be able to really tell them no, but he didn't want to watch it with them either. "Now, yah have tings to. Dis will help meh know when I should be more careful as yah partner in battle."

Calysta was glad Illya was keeping his steps slower so they could walk in tandem. He mentioned being careful and she nodded in agreement. She wanted him to be careful too. The children needed their father. Now, it was her turn and she thought about what could affect her in battle. "I dont have any injuries that slow me down particularly," she said, "And I dont have to worry about my immune system anymore, thanks to you and the Ehaui." She cleared her throat and thought about what she would say. "I still it Elian and that last race when I fly sometimes. I see the underside of the continent and all I could think about was keeping him away from hurting more people than me. To keep him away from the kids and you. It's still fuzzy, but I still see his eyes. I worry a little about our tour too."

"Do yah have trouble wit focus when dese tings come up? What do yah notice dat changes? Es et someting I can see?" Illya wanted to know because if his pilot had trouble he needed to spot it and help get her focus other places so they could make it out alive if possible.


"It's been very rare and usually starts as a feeling like I'm being tailed and I start becoming hyper aware. I notice it mostly when in high speeds. Not in space or anything like that and I dont let it distract me, but it did make me nervous when doing the flight demonstration. I didnt want to mess that up. You'll probably notice me sweating more if it happens, though the climate control is fine," she admitted almost glumly. "I didnt mention it because it's not something I wanted you to have to worry about."

"Dat's alright. Dese tings dun worry meh tah know as much as dey worry meh ef et happens and I dun know what tah do for yah." Illya knew she could perform, but there came a time when everyone failed to, or they needed help pulling out of where they were in their head. "Es dere anyting dat would make yah falter? Ef someting happened to meh would yah be able tah keep fighting?"

She didn't meet is eyes but her hand relaxed on his waist in relief. He didn't sound ashamed and he didn't call her weak. With a deep breath, she looked up to her husband and met his eyes. "I can't think of a specific trigger. It doesn't happen every time at least. If something happen to you, Illya. If you were hurt and I could get to you, then there's not a single thing that would keep me from you. Not even ghosts in my head. If you died, I know our children would need me more than ever. That's enough for me. I'd do what I had to in order to protect them and everyone else I could." She gave him a small smile. "But I would prefer it if you didnt make me keep going without you. I'd miss you something fierce."

Illya smirked a little. "Oh, I prefer tah live. Yah dun need tah worry about meh intentionally getting killed." Stopping with her near the green house he stopped and faced her. Holding her little hands in his he looked deep into her eyes. "I always fight tah come back to meh Kalizda. Our children are very important to meh, but I love yah first."

That smirk was something that made her smile grow and she was glad he felt that way. They stopped outside the green house and he turned to face her, taking up both of her hands in his big palms. They practically swallowed hers up, but in a moment like this, she didnt mind so much. His green eyes captured up hers and she gazed back. Those were the eyes she liked to see in dreams. That thought made her blush. He would always fight to come back to her and with that look in his eyes. She knew he meant what he said. He loved her and he would fight with everything he had to be with her again. That was one of the most comforting things he could have said and she squeezed his hand gently. "I would believe no less from my Chip," she whispered, "I would fight to come home to you no matter what too. I love you more than anything, Illya and this is difficult to talk about. But I trust you and I would wait for you."

"Dat's good ting dat yah fight tah come home. I would nut do well witout meh little bird. I get used tah having her be meh wings." Leaning in he kissed her on top of the head. "Ef yah dun have anyting else I tink we jes give few more minutes for walk back and I like tah tink about someting else"

She smiled as he leaned over and kissed the top of her head with a tender peck. It made her heart patter some and she just enjoyed having him be sweet for the brief quiet moment. "No, I think that's all for me. Thank you for listening and understanding, love. Is there anything else for you?" She wanted to make sure before they walked back together. When she was sure there was nothing else. She slipped an arm around him and hugged him a little. "Maybe on the way home we can pick up some icecream for us. Yeah?"

Illya's face saddened some as she mentioned the ice cream. "I would like dat, but I tink I will stay here tahnight. Markus es nut moving well. I tink his illness es making problems. He will need help and I would rater he be here den on dah ship wit yah and dah children."

Calysta noticed that Illya wilted a little and she wasnt sure why until he mentioned Markus not feeling well. If anyone understood what it was like having a parent who was distant and ill it was her. She didnt trust the man, but she didnt want him to suffer needlessly either. Calysta bit her lip a little and nodded. "Alright, would you like me to stay with you?"

"No, yah need tah go to dah shep tah be wit dah kids. I will see yah in dah morning. Maybe Markus will be better trough night and maybe he will nut. Ef et gets bad I might have tah take him to dah clinic. At least he will need meh help tah get up and uh...well jes help him wit tings a man would rater nut have help wit."

Calysta nodded in understanding and t then allowed a playful smile creep to her lips as she slowed her steps. "He's alright for now, so maybe we'll just take our time on the way back to class, yeah. Just you and me for a bit?"

"Uh...I uh..." Illya was left stumbling at her suggestion. "I guess we have a few more tings tah talk about. We could give dem a little more time tah finish."

Calysta tilted her head at his sputtering and it took her a moment to realize he might be talking about having some hard work time. She had actually surprised him with that idea and it made her grin all the wider. "We could do that. I was thinking we could walk through to the lounge on the way back to class for a juice. What were you thinking?"

Illya was still staring at her wide eyed and jaw half way to the floor. "Wuh..I.." And then she explained herself and his jaw slapped shut with a sheepish grin. "Ooh, well et dun quite matter what I was tinking. Dat little walk would be fine. Lets get some juice."

The slack jawed look on his face was worth it and soon he became all sheepish when he realized he might have to admit he was thinking about sex. It did seem a little wild and it had an appeal but it was broad daylight and the green house itself could be entered by anyone at any moment. "It would be fine, yeah? If you had a different idea though, it will be until tomorrow night that we have some time together again so we can take things slower before returning to class."

With a little clearing of his throat Illya nodded, "Dat would be a good ting. I will need few minutes tah get dat idea out of meh head." Kalizda wasn't helping with all her little suggestions and after a moment he grinned at her again. "Yah know ef yah keep talking like dat I might suggest dat we step into one of dese cleaning closets and lock door."

A voice sounded from one of the adjoining sections of the hall. "Oh good goddesses, don't tell me that. The things I find in my closets."

Illya paused for a moment and then started to snicker. "I tink we should hurry tah get dah juice. No taking et slow."

Calysta raised a challenging brow at Illya and his ideas about closets just in time to hear one of the staff call back about wishing they wouldnt do that. Her face flushed again and she hid her mouth behind the palm of her hand, trying not to laugh from embarrassment. "Mhmm," she giggled at her husband, "Let's go...get some juice..." She started giggling again and then took Illya's hand to lead him down the hall.


***********
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The rest of the day seemed to pass in a slow dream-like time frame. Calysta knew that was because they’d had little sleep the night before. Time seemed to practically crawl when it came to the last 5 minutes in their day at Skycorp. She watched as the digital clock counted down the galactic seconds until they were dismissed for the day. She had been looking forward to going home with her Chip to see the kids and check on Sien as well as Ehud.

On the way out of the door, Illya sighed and glanced at her with a look of reluctant resolution. “Do yah tink dat yah could handle being at dah shep wit dah kids alone? I will stay wit Markus ef he will let meh.”

She had seen Illya’s father struggling to walk out of the gym earlier and he hadn’t exactly been graceful at lunch with his fork and knife. The way his limbs shook, it reminded her of some sort of palsy disease and she wondered if the Ehaui could do anything more for him. Still, with the way things were with Illya and his father, it hadn’t been her place to offer help where it wasn’t wanted. If Illya was stepping up to that task she would support him.

“Aye,” she said, “The kids and I will be fine. Will you be staying here?”

It sounded like he would be taking Markus to a hotel if the man would allow it. Calysta nodded to her Chip and then tugged him close for a kiss. “If you go to a hotel tell me which one. I’ll bring you a go-bag and some dinner. For both of you.”


********

Calysta knocked on the door carrying two Chip sized duffles, each containing clothes and medicines for father and son. She also hefted a large backpack with neatly packed dinners for both.

She heard shuffling behind the door and after a moment, her Chip opened it, filling the frame entirely. He looked tired, but no less pleased to see her as he took the bags from her and tossed them unceremoniously inside.

When he turned his sights on the food pack, she saw a happy glint in his eyes. It pleased her to see him take in a deep breath to catch the scent of dinner. “Mmm, yah bring snake stew eh? Yah know how tah feed a man.” Leaning down he gave her a sweet kiss on the lips.

“Mmm...I try,” she hummed into the kiss. One of her hands came to clasp his hip gently as they kissed. “ I thought you might like that. The kids and I will be fine tonight too. They’ll miss you, but I’ve promised them a movie night on the hologram.”

She was tired, but she wasn’t about to disappoint her children who were desperate for some time with her.

“We need tah leave early in dah morning. I have counsel. Maybe Markus will be better by morning. Ef nut I let him stay at Skycorp, or I take him home on dah shep.”

“Aye, I’ll have everything ready for Markus if need be,” she replied, “And the ship will be ready to go when you make it there.”

He closed the food bag, putting it in one hand at the small of her back to give her one last kiss. “I will see yah tomorrow.” Turning he gave her a wink and then stepped back inside, closing the door behind him. The warmth of his hand still tingled on her back and she sighed. There would have been a time when she disliked someone touching her that way or didn’t notice it. Now more than ever, she noticed those little moments. She dared to think she craved them from time to time.

Shaking her head, Calysta smiled at the door and then started down the hallway again.

***************

Movie night with the children went roughly how she expected. Cypher wanted to watch Major Manus the Explorer and Lohgan squealed about wanting to watch the Last Alicorn, a story about “pretty bird horses.” The twins could have cared less what was playing on the the hologram because within thirty minutes of watching Major Manus the Explorer make a daring escape on the back of a tyrei, the boys were asleep tucked against either side of her.

She tucked them both into bed, made some snacks for Lohgan and Cypher, and returned to the couch again. Her lap was prime real estate when it came to Lohgan and Cypher. Lohgan wanted to stretch across her legs and eat caramels with sticky fingers while her oldest boy insisted on leaning over her shoulder while popping fat blueberries into his mouth.

Thomas had fallen asleep in his arm chair to the side, his news paper spread across his lap. Every now and then Cypher would yelp from his spot on the couch. “Mam! Papa! Did yeh see Major Manus? He jumped over dat canyon on dah great cat! Did yeh see it!”

Thomas jolted awake and blinked at the hologram with bleary eyes. “Oh..aye...son. Aye.”

Lohgan sat up from her mother’s lap and shook her head. “No yah didn’t, Papa. Yah eyes were closed and yah made sounds like Cin.”

At that point Calysta gave her father an amused look and started chuckling. “She’s got your number, Papa.”

Her father sighed and rubbed his face causing his beard to making scrubby sounds under his palm. “Aye, she usually does.”

Calysta petted at Loghan’s mess of auburn hair as she settled back down onto her lap. “Why don’t you get some sleep, Dad?”

“I’m fine. Just a catnap.”

“Yah not allowed tah sleep through meh movie,” Lohgan declared, “Yah got tah see the Last Al-corn.”

“I’ll be awake,” he said, sitting up straighter in his chair.

As it was, nobody was awake but her by the time they reached the middle of the Last Alicorn. Cypher’s head was a heavy weight on her shoulder and Lohgan had fallen asleep over her lap. Her father dozed in the big armchair.

Calysta flipped off the hologram and slowly disentangled herself from the children. Lohgan she could still carry with great effort, but Cypher was far too big. She hauled her daughter up and carried her to her bed. The girl still wore her princess skirt and tiara which was hopelessly tangled in her hair. Calysta knelt low next to the bed and slid the girl out of her play clothes and into pajamas, then worked on loosening the sparkly rhinestone crown. It took a few minutes to get the tiara free and Lohgan’s eyes opened slightly before she smiled and went back to sleep.

Cypher had to be woken and shuffled down the hall to bed. She helped him into his pajamas and tucked him into the sheets. “Mam?” he whispered groggily.

“Hmm?”

“Will yah always be with Dah?”

Calysta tilted her head unsure what he meant by the question. She swapped to Kaerelean rather than Traders tongue to be more precise. “Do you mean will I always be married to your Dah?”

Cypher shook his head, but that didn’t tell her much. “I don’t want yah tah disappear. Dah wouldn’t let that happen.”

It made a little more sense now. He sounded like he was afraid that she might get into trouble and vanish like Pris did. Cypher had gotten to see Sien so upset about Priscilla that it made sense for him to be afraid something like that might happen to her.

Calysta knelt next to the bed again, and smoothed down her boy’s wild, black curls. “Dah is good at a lot of things, but I’m not going anywhere if I can help it, yeah? And if I do...well you know that look I give you when you’re in trouble? My eyes get all squinty and my nose crinkles?”

She made the face, but scrunched it down further into a ridiculous grimace, earning her a laugh from Cypher. “Then I’ll give that look to whoever stands between me and you. And your brothers and sisters. I’ll give that look to whoever keeps me from Dah too. They’ll be so afraid. Then I’ll come home, yeah? Dah will come to find me too and maybe I’ll just meet him halfway. You think he’d like my mean face?”

She crunched her face down further to make her point. Cypher laughed and she smiled, then leaned down to kiss his forehead. “Now, you don’t worry about me. You listen to your Dah and to me. You take care of your brothers and sisters too. You keep Sien company and be his friend even if he doesn’t feel like doing much, yeah?”

She knew giving him a task would keep him occupied and bring down his worry some. He was so much like his father, but he was like her in some ways too. Giving him something to do to help was the best thing for him.

He nodded to her and she tucked him in a little further. “I’m proud of you for helping me and Sien the last day or two. You’ve done a good job. Now, it’s time for sleep.”

She gave Monster the dog a pat on the head, then turned out the main lighting in his cabin which left the glow of the tarantula tank to serve as night light. “Good night.” Then she shut the door.

********

It was hardly dawn when she met Illya outside Skycorp. If he had looked tired before, he certainly looked exhausted now. He was moving a bit stiffly too, which could have been any combination of things from back pain to his bruised side from the lung tube.

He was quiet other than the usual greetings and the flight home was nearly silent between the two of them except for what discourse was needed to navigate to Pyrta. The quiet between them was filled by the kids waking one by one and slowly emerging from their rooms. Calysta busied herself with making a breakfast of eggs, fruit, and toast alongside her father for everyone.

When they arrived home and the children were settled again, she looked to Illya. He’d been so quiet all morning. She knew dealing with Markus was difficult for him, but usually he was a bit less stiff when it came to being with his kids again. It worried her.

She was searching through their closet and stealing glances at Illya when he announced that council started in an hour and he was going to clean up in the shower. “Alright,” she nodded.

While he was in the shower, she made her hair and makeup before putting on dress she had selected specifically for counsel times. It was a green and gold traditional Chippeqouti dress with a green embroidered shoulder sash. A literal miniature of something a full-sized Chippeqouti woman might wear. She put it on and braided her long black hair into a neat plait, then put a golden pin to tuck the loose tendrils back.

Made over with light make up, she waited for Illya to get dressed. He put on his General’s uniform and she couldn’t help but look at him. He really was as handsome as the day she married him, still tall and striking in the olive green coat.

He was plucking at his medals when he spoke again. “I hear some tings from meh fater first time last night. Et makes meh tink and I will have time privately wit counsel tah consider what was said. Maybe I will tell yah more later. Oh, and when yah come yah jes stand off to dah side and wait for dah head of Elders tah call on yah as next part of agenda. Yah tah be sworn in as advisor to dah court and meh.”

What could his father have said? With the way he had been all morning it did leave her worried but she knew it wasn’t her place to ask either as his wife or as his advisor.

“Aye,” she replied. She reached around him and smoothed down his jacket in the back. “You look like the General,” she continued. Her lips formed into a smile, offering encouragement words couldn’t, and then she set off down the stairs with her dress fluttering behind her.

*********

Counsel was as long and tedious a process as staying in hologram meetings with the Alliance counselors. Her announcement as his advisor seemed to go well and she followed whatever instruction given to her by the Elder woman pulling her to the side.

She watched the procedure carefully to learn how hearing the people worked and how the counsel would deliberate after. Judging by the amount of Chips coming to visit with various issues, she guessed there must have been a ridiculous amount of backlog. Chippeqouti men and women came in with proud faces and gave their grievances, those were resolved one way or the other.

One little citizen did manage to make her smile through the procession. A small girl, probably close to Lohgan’s age, stepped forward. Her complaint was a very serious matter.

“She isn’t giving me enough sweets.”

The little girl’s mother shuffled in embarrassment, and the rest waited to see how Illya the Emperor would react to such a statement. Calysta couldn’t help the smile forming on her lips as he beckoned the girl closer and gave his gentle admonishment. Chippeqouti didn’t complain to the counsel. He took his time with her, guiding her through the logic and helping her see that she was very well taken care of. Then he rewarded her bravery with a citizen’s pin.

By the time he was done, Calysta had her hand over her mouth, blocking her smile slightly. He may not have liked counsel but he was good at it. Even she could see that.

The rest of the day came quick. They spent nearly all day in counsel, went home and took care of the kids, then it was back to planning their rescue trip to the colonies. Illya had sent her the specs on the ship they selected to drop in with. It was an old Terran Starclass Cargo ship that had been confiscated some time ago. The design was ugly as sin, and it had no crew features beyond a set of metal bunk shelves and a singular toilet. The controls would be much less efficient than one of Kaerelean make. However, it had decent, retrofitted Kaerelean engines and could take a hit or two. It wasn’t the worst thing she had ever flown by far.

She was considering coming to bed with Illya with her promised surprise, but he was deep into reading his pad and had only picked at his dinner. He hadn’t mentioned the end of his sexless week once either. Something was wrong. Was it what Markus had said? Or was he just focused on the mission? Calysta studied him from the bathroom doorway for a moment and then glanced at the lacy little lingerie outfit in her hand. That would just have to wait for another time. She stuffed the outfit and the stockings in their linen closet and shut the door behind her.

****************

Calysta ran a hand through her hair as they picked up Illya’s new meds. She hadn’t meant for him to go through any more procedures today, but the Ehaui had just taken off with it. Sneaky bastards.

The pills rattled in their bottles all the way home and before anything else was done, she stowed them into the lock cabinet at her beside table where she kept her gun and any other medicine away from the children. Now, Illya’s pills would be joining the contents under a heavy bolt and thumbprint scanner. Only she would have access to those.

The rest of the afternoon was preparation. Cypher helped her get bags together for all the children, including Sien. Cypher and Sien would be going to their Aunt Asha’s house while the twins would stay with their Papa at home. Once the children were taken care of, she readied her own overnight bag and put on a solid black tunic with leggings and her heavy boots. It wasn’t expected that they would run into any trouble, but she wasn’t about to get caught without gear she would need to fix the Terran cargo ship or defend herself.

She stowed her pistol in her back holster and checked over her body armor. It had been awhile since she had used it but all the plates looked in good condition. They all fit just fine too. Staying busy with preparation had kept her mind off the fact that Illya was being very quiet and his side was sore. He wasn’t supposed to be lifting anything much less going on a black-ops mission. Priscilla was still out there and she needed their help.

“I have a medical transport on standby once we reach the safe zone and a change of ships if necessary for Pris,” Calysta told Illya, “They’ll be waiting at the coordinates you specified.”

They met Ehud, Asher and Dane at the docks along with the other crewman Illya had selected, then boarded their Terran ship in silence.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The tale of Lyr was interesting at the very least. Almost every one of the Chip men leaned forward in their seats and even Illya had leaned forward some. With question time being opened there were a host of Chips that stood from their seats including Illya and Edgar. When shuffle of feet and moving had ceased Illya looked around the room to be sure there weren't any others who had shown interest to ask a question. Since it appeared that no others were going to stand Illya motioned to Edgar. Out of respect for Edgar he gave the man first right above himself to ask a question. Then it would follow rank. Those with the highest rank would get their question, or comment heard first.

Edgar took a moment and smiled before giving a gentle nod toward Illya. "I am granted honor of dah first question. Yah will tell meh ef Lyr has books for translation. I tink dat many Chippequoti would do well tah learn of yah history in dere own language. Dis es great history and good tah know concerns of yah people."

The instructor waited and watched when he opened the floor for questions. After such an excitement for Tikan he expected a flood of questions but he got an orderly nod from the broad man they called the General. With that nod, an elderly visitor stood and with a heavy accent, didn't so much ask as demand an answer about their "great history". A few cadets exchanged looks in the back. They would have been reprimanded for asking like that.

The instructor looked at him and nodded. "Normally, we would phrase that request differently," he said, "In traders tongue and in Kaerelean. That was a statement whereas the form we usually do is an interrogative. That aside, I'm glad you asked that. There are many books on Lyr and because he was particularly adept at recording himself, many of his personal journals survived and are available for translation. I'd be glad to send them to you, if you would like."

With a sincere nod and brow pulled into concentration Edgar received the correction. "I would be pleased tah receive dese books from yah. Dis correction es one I will learn. Yah teach...Please, yah teach meh correct way tah use questions."

The instructor listened to Edgar's reply and then nodded. "I can do that." It was clear there were some communication issues and he wondered how many spats had been started over the demand versus the interrogatory request. "A question could be phrased several ways. The most common ways are: 'Would you please' or 'Please' or the less polite method of 'Would you' followed by your request. For example, your question would have been asked "Will you tell me if there are any books for translation about Lyr, please?" The instructor touched his fingers to his chin in consideration and nodded. "Or any variant of the ones I described. I would gladly send those titles to you."

Next it was Illya's turn and he found himself wondering what it was he was going to say again. For a moment he stood silently and then went on with his thought. "I dun understand Lyr. He abuse dah people dat he conquer and dis es nut good way tah rule. Why would a warrior do dis tah people he now has under his protection? Yah tell meh, please."

That seemed to conclude what the elderly Chip wanted to ask and the next question came in short order from the burly Chip man next to the Councilwoman. The question he presented was as interesting one as was the way he phrased it. At least he got in the 'please' portion.

"That is a more complicated question," the instructor replied, "The Rey culture considered the people they conquered to be much like the land, it's vegetation, and it's animals. They weren't considered people in the eyes of the Rey empire, but more like chattel. Livestock. Bred, culled, used as needed. They protected them in so far as they would protect a nyte beast, or for a Terran reference, a cow." He shifted on his feet and pulled up the image of Lyr again the hologram. "He ruled by fear and the idea that Rey blood was the best blood. Half breeds were condemned and the only way for a better life than that of a laborer was to become a warrior, and even then you could only climb so high among the ranks. You were only a common man or woman among the Rey elite. "

At the instructors answer a few of the Chip men shook their heads with disgust and one, or two sat down. Some of them had spotted the same thing the General had and their question was the same. There was no need to repeat the question. Then Ehvan spoke up with his question "Most dun fight Lyr when he attack. Please, yah tell meh."

The instructor held a finger and smiled. He had heard the please and at least they were trying to get it right. "That's a good question," he said in a pleased tone, "You see before Lyr's flight, only one other person had even taken to the sky so far as to reach another continent and that would be Gyl. Some continents didn't know others existed and truly believed themselves to be the only peoples. There was no intercontinental communication. No sharing of technologies and ideas. So, when Lyr landed with the first ever War Flyer, the farming peoples of the nearby continents were vastly under prepared. They weren't warrior races, but farmers and cultivators. They had no real weapons, and they certainly didn't have flight. Lyr used his flight advantage in a shock in awe campaign that made it clear resistance would be met with the total slaughter of the people."

Since Ehvan's question was answered now another man in the back sat down. It answered his question too. Next Bahn asked his question. "Yah tell meh Reylians still use birds for war and hunting." When he stopped short it only took a moment to get a firm kick from an Elite man just to the left of him. "Owe," with a growl he slapped the back of the man's head with an audible "thwap." Dane chimed in, "Bahn, yah forget tah say peace." Immediately Asher corrected both of them, "Please." Realizing his error Bahn hastily blurted the correction. "Yah tell meh please dah Reylians still use birds for war and hunting."

The instructor watched the man's comrades correct him and tried not to chuckle. When he finally got the question right, the instructor answered the question. "They do. There are hatcheries on Reylia but the birds are trained for hunting and for the warrior rights of passage. They are also used for traditional flights and patrols."

After Bahn there were a few more questions, but the last one came from Dane, who decided to stand at the end. "Please, dah Reylians have gods of war. Tell meh." The gods of war were never mentioned and he was sure there had to be gods somewhere in the Reylian culture.

The instructor listened to the next few questions, each having a strange phrasing with 'please' tacked in somewhere. One of the tallest Chips to stand up asked a good question. "Aye, as a matter of fact they do." He tapped a few buttons on his pad and the hologram changed to a 3D rendered model of a tall woman with olive skin, lined with muscle. She stood in leather clothes and carried a massive war scythe that trickled with flames over the blade. Her eyes were a fierce red that matched her mane of flowing hair. "This image is based on several written accounts by Reys through history. They call her Kulytra. She showed the Rey clans the way of the warrior by giving them the knowledge of the war scythe, their traditional weapon, and how to ride the Falcons. She chose the First Warrior and lead the Reys in battles when called upon."

With the end of the time for questions the men all sat down and then waited for the official dismissal. There were several that murmured about the singular god of war. She was a flashy and interesting looking goddess and some wanted to know more about here, but there were always a few more that didn't care to do anymore reading than they had to.

****************************************

By the time lunch was called the men had grouped up and began to talk about the classes thus far. The new information on the Rey history was more than exciting as a topic. Usually it was just banter mixed in with insults while they ate, but this time there was actually something to talk about. "You know it was impressive that he was the first one to master flight here." One of the men commented in Quoti. Illya shrugged, "Yeah, well, he wasn't smart enough to realize he was going to get defeated eventually. It will always end if people think they're being mistreated. If you do it like the Chippequoti it's much better."

Ehvan nodded in approval. "I think so. Still, do you think that Lyr would have lasted if he didn't die in battle?"

Almost immediately Dane laughed. "No, he would have been killed by his son. It was his son's duty to kill him since he'd clearly broken all the rules of war and he was going to get them destroyed."

"I know and they got put down anyway." Bahn grumbled. "At least if we go back we could renew contracts. We had several that liked being part of the empire. There were benefits and it wasn't done like that. People were protected, safe, and they paid only a modest fee for our protection. If there is one thing we learned from this it is that the Kaereleans think of slavery without any kind of code, or honor."

"I guess that's why they asked for the blood of the Elite instead of the entire people." Ehvan grit his teeth a little. "Cheaper price if they figured they were gonna get 50 of us killed or all of us. At least they don't want to wipe out all our people. Probably best if we move..."

About that time Illya interrupted. "No, they don't think they want to enslave us. It's against their law. They aren't as good at diplomacy as they think, so they had no idea what we meant. Even if we tried to explain it, they didn't like it. So, we just keep on living and they wanted us to join their military to fight against the Federation. We don't all have to die."

Asher who was usually quiet nodded, "Yeah, I think that's probably what they thought. They really do need to work on their diplomacy. They're not very direct."

"Exactly!" Dane took a large spoonful of pudding. "Look at the way they ask questions. It sounds like they don't even want to know the answer. I wouldn't know it was a question if they asked like that. Probably just ignore them."

The men started to laugh and then Bahn decided to crack his own joke. "They want us to say please when we ask questions. That's not done." Rising from the table he lifted his tray. "Peace!" With that he marched back to the buffet line and got more pudding. Most of the Elite grinned and a few joined him with a joking sort of mockery at the mistake from the class room.

When the group returned to the table Dane started the next phase of conversation. "Then, what about the war goddess. She's pretty sounding. Fierce. Like woman I'd want."

"How you think your agreed would feel about that?" Ehvan smirked.

"Oh she'd tear me to pieces. She's fierce. Maybe fierce enough to be war goddess." Dane laughed a little and then got more serious with the topic. "Suppose they failed because they did not have enough gods. I don't think one god is enough."

At that all the men nodded and they began thinking a bit more deeply on the subject again. "I think you might be right." Illya agreed, "Unless the god is all powerful and rules over them all. Even then, you should still try to appease the lower gods so that they don't complain about you too much to the all powerful god. If you have an all powerful god you should work hardest to make that god happy so if you do displease the smaller ones you're still protected."

Ehvan narrowed his eyes slightly. "Sounds like you've thought quite a bit about the gods. I didn't know you cared that much."

"Well, I think maybe I should after all the things that happened. Clearly I make at least one of the gods angry on a regular basis." Illya grinned back at Ehvan and the entire group burst into laughter. "Dun take tings so seriously Ehvan. Yah might end up old man before yah ready tah die."

************************************************************

As soon as classes were over for the day Illya met with Swyft. Stopping outside the office Illya tapped on the office door and waited for the man to say he could come in. "Elite have some special training for a few members. I will be taking dem out. Ets expected dat we will finish training and be back for classes on Wednesday." It didn't leave much time at the end of finals, but it would have to be done. "I will take, Dane, Bahn, Ehvan, Saar and Asher." There wasn't much else to say about it and Illya knew Swyft wouldn't push the subject. The man knew when Illya said he had to go with his men somewhere that he was going with them. This was a formality and courtesy that they shared. Swyft would be informed of absences for duty and he would not penalize the men for their absence.

Collecting the passes from Swyft for each of his men, Kalizda and himself he strode out of the office and went back to the bunk room. The men were there and they had their bags packed. None of the others knew what they were doing, but based on the fact that they were flying home with Illya it probably meant they were asked to do some work.

All of them knew better than to ask what kind of work, but it was disappointing not to be called in for some action on this round. The fact that Asher was going probably meant that it wasn't going to be too rough. Asher was still young and he would go on milder sorts of missions often times. Especially if they were in small team settings.

For the flight home Kalizda did the piloting work, Illya sat down with the men in the kitchen and shut the door. The kids were all strapped into their seats and this was the best time to give a short briefing. "We've been tracking where she is with a few eyes provided by Nathan." It was better to use the name Nathan when there was a chance that the kids might hear if they misbehaved. "She's probably being held here for a few days, but we don't have much time to get there. Bahn you arrange to get a transport that won't look suspicious. We need a few crates to unload at the docks with some basic goods that no one will question. Asher, I need you to run communications. You get to maintain timing for the team and make sure you give proper notification to Kalizda when its time to start engines. Dane, you know it. Always the same for you."

Dane smiled a bit. "Yeah I know. I get to run defense." The guys nodded. They all knew Illya and Bahn would take care of the offensive movement in the room. Dane was good at defense and he had a knack for spotting trouble before most anyone knew it was coming. "Alright, we have roles now and we'll get into some of the the other details on uh..." Illya had to think of what his weekend looked like and it was busy. "Well, uh...maybe after council and I have dinner with the kids. After the kids are in bed you come over to the house and then we assign more work to research.

There was enough to get started and they all grinned. They knew Illya's weekend was already booked up. With the short meeting over they stepped out of the kitchen in time for Kalizda to be heading toward them. Wrapping an arm around Kalizda, Illya walked with her to the living room to unstrap the kids from their seats. "We'll go over some of the stuff I need you for later."

******************************************

Sunday night finally came around and it was time to fly out. Illya had finished tucking the kids in with Kalizda and the kids would be left to believe that they needed to go back to school. It was better that they thought that. Out at the dock the team met. They had their rucksacks filled with gear, weapons, gadgets, pads and ammunition. Ehud came with a nicely kept rolling bag. It probably had perfectly folded clothing for Pris to wear. He looked almost like he was going on vacation while the rest of them looked like they were going out back packing for fun.

"Well, load up." Illya swung his bag toward the silver mountain. They'd fly it part way and then dock it before jumping from a portal into their cargo ship. As they were loading up the Ehaui doctor and nurse came trailing along with large sacks of their own. They were precisely on time while everyone else was 10 minutes early. Illya waited till the last to get into the ship with the team. He carried his sack all the way into the living room the same as the men. None of them were going to leave the equipment out of sight at any point.

Ehud's back made a nice clink as the wheels hit the ramp and then rattled their way up into the ship. At the top of the ramp he gently lifted the bag over the hump and then stepped inside with it. In the light it was clear that it was a woman's bag. The hard case bag was decorated with paintings of flowers.The first part of this little mission was going to be preparing Ehud for the possibilities.

"Well," Illya beckoned to Ehud. "Yah gonna stay wit Kalizda for dis mission. Dane will hold the ground and he'll make sure nobody gets dah ship. Looks like yah bring dah clotes and little personal items for her eh?"

Ehud nodded nervously. He hated that he had to stay, but he knew the reasoning. Spy, or not he wasn't that great at the tactical work and he would need to leave it to the Elite. They were good at this part and they were going to need to move fast.

"Yah need tah know dat she might have been abused, beaten, or dey might have raped her. Any of dese tings can alter how she will feel about yah. Jes be patient, let her set dah pace and try tah be at home more for a while. She probably won't want tah tell yah, but she will need yah near for a time." Illya thought for a long moment. "Dis means dat she might want yah in dah house and available more, but yah make sure she wants tah share her bed wit yah before sleeping wit her at night."

Nodding dumbly Ehud let the words sink in. He knew those things could happen and while the statements seemed elementary he knew he would have forgotten almost right away if Illya hadn't reminded him. Then telling him to be near felt strange. Near, but not too close was apparently the order of the day. Be near for her, but check to see if being close, physically was too close. She'd need access to him if she felt she needed, but maybe not immediate access. He'd really have to talk with her quite a bit about her needs and that hadn't gone over so well in the past. However, it might work if she felt that she needed to tell him something now.

While Ehud prepared the room for Priscilla in the room he wondered if he should even set his things in the room. Would it feel like he was pressuring her if he put his things in the bedroom too? In the end he decided to leave his things packed and simply set her things out for her. She could get on the ship and he would ask her if she would like to share the room, or be left alone.

Illya laid on the couch in the living room and reviewed the layout of the dock, the distance to cover from the dock to the building where she was currently held, the nearest set of doors on the building to where she was being kept and he glanced over the report of guard rotation. In the early morning hours there were fewer men on rotation and they'd land near the end of the guard's rotation. They would be tired, less alert feeling and more likely to make mistakes. For himself and the men, they would review the plans again and the current situation once they got to the first port and switched ships. At this point they were all tired and ready to sleep a little bit before they had to get into action.

************************************************

About half way through the flight the ship came to a stop and hovered for a few moments before they began landing. Illya hadn't even been aware that they were landing until he felt the ship gently touch down. Sitting up from his place on the couch he rubbed his eyes. He didn't remember falling asleep here. His back felt a little kinked, but it wasn't horrible. "Ugh..."

Dane sat up in the recliner with a grin. "I see why you let her fly. So smooth I barely noticed we landed. Must be nice when you fly places." Looking up at the ceiling of the ship's living room he breathed in deeply and then glanced around the living room. The other guys were sitting up now. He'd seen enough of the ship to see why Illya bought it for Kalizda. She was a great pilot and the ship made the frequent traveling far more comfortable than just a plain flyer, or transport ship. "So, now we've got about half an hour to lay out a few more things and make another check before we board the transport eh?"

"Mmhmm" Illya squinted at his pad as he pulled up the first document they'd assembled earlier in the night. "Eh, grab the uh..." Asher leaned over and pointed to the second document down. "That one?" Turning to his right Illya frowned a little, "Yeah, that one."

The fact that Illya couldn't read the screen had Dane curious and he got up and leaned over to stare at the screen. "I swear by the Winds you need glasses. Can't see that from here?" With a laugh reached down and expanded the view on the screen. "Maybe if we make it bigger you'll be able to see."

"It's not that big of a deal." Grumbling at Dane Illya pulled his tablet away and set the plans to project. With the receiver on the coffee table the image came to life and the men sat around it in the living room while Asher did the point of view changes and Illya made sure everyone knew their part, they confirmed timing for events and checked their watches one last time to be sure they had the same time. Once the final check over was done the men grabbed their bags and walked down the plank before walking across the passenger port to the industrial section.

Inside the industrial port there were several transport ships lined up and Bahn pointed them to their load. Silently the group of Chippequoti men made their way toward the ship with their equipment. Kalizda and Ehud would follow behind them in a few minutes and then remain hovering just out of radar distance from the planet where the Terran colonies were placed.

Once the men had their transport in the air they set their watches. They had to be back to the Silver Mountain and then classes the next afternoon. There wasn't any time to waste and they only had 5 minutes of flex time once they hit the ground.

Immediately Dane pulled up the view of the location they were going to land at. The security patrol followed the same pattern they had for nights before. While they watched the patrol they got changed into their armor. By the time the ship landed they pushed the first bit of cargo out of the back end of the ship. Illya, Asher and Dane moved forward. Bahn stayed in the ship and watched from his position.

Part way through the streets Dane peeled off from the group and took position near some of the cargo boxes. Climbing on top of a moderately tall shipping box he scanned the area and tapped the transmitter a few times.

Illya and Asher paused in place and then when the tapping continued they made a rush for the back door of the warehouse. According to their data they needed to get into the warehouse and up 3 flights of steps before they got to where she was being held. Asher pulled out an electromagnetic key card. It usually jammed most signals for locks and enabled them to be picked easily. Within a few seconds they slipped through the door. Closing the door behind themselves they started the ascent up the stairs. So far they'd been able to bypass all the guards. On the second flight the first guard was asleep until they were almost to him.

The instant the man's eyes opened Illya drew a knife and quickly moved forward. With a harsh back handed swing with his forearm the metal caught the man in his temple and knocked him silly long enough to make the killing a fast, quiet and easy one. At the final doorway Illya nodded to Asher and they moved in. Illya took the front with Asher as cover.

There were two men in the room and Priscilla was on the far end in a cell. "Hands up." Asher was the only one speaking at this point because he had the least problems with his accent coming through. The men slowly rolled out of their bunks and put their hands up. Illya opened the cell and beckoned to Pris. Holding his one in one hand he pointed the tip of the weapon to the ground and then held his other hand. "Ets alright." Whispering to her he beckoned with his free hand till she took hold of it. "Jes come wit meh." Carefully he shifted his hand to wrap around her shoulders. "Dis alright?" He didn't want her falling and he didn't want her freaking out either. She looked unsteady on her feet and scared. "Yah dun have anyting tah worry about."

Asher watched as Illya stepped out the door with Pris. They all agreed that she would probably be most comfortable if it was Illya that walked her out. Now Asher was faced with the part of the mission that he knew was necessary, but messy. There could be any witnesses. Two clicks from Dane meant that Illya and Pris had safely made it out the door and they were waiting for him to escort them. Asher fired off two rounds and shot both the men that had been guarding Pris.

Racing out the door Asher met with Illya and Priscilla in time to hear that Ehvan and Saar were on their way. The two had flown separately and they were going to go through the building to find out if there were any ties to the Federation with this operation. They would only be about 1 hour behind if they ran into anyone else in the building they had the orders not to leave witnesses.

Dane surveyed the area. They almost had another patrol moving through. He wondered if Pris would be able to run fast enough to make it with Illya and Asher. It looked like Illya was moving slower with her. Giving three clicks he gave them the order to take cover and wait for further instruction. The guard passed over and then passed two more times before there was enough space for them to move without getting spotted. Already, they were nearly out of their spare 5 minutes.

Illya, Asher and Pris dashed for the other side of the port and then slipped in between shipping crates. Weaving through the aisles of crates they arrived at the ship about time Bahn was lowering the gang plank. Asher and Illya glanced back to be sure it was all good. Once they were safely in the ship Illya ordered the gang plank shut. "Dane, Ehvan and Saar, you've got 30 minutes to get out on Saar's ship. A few clicks were the only response he got and he knew they would do it. Those three were some of his best.

Looking over at Pris Illya took his outer jacket off. "Here." He didn't know if she'd take it, but she looked cold. For the time he could sit in his armor and call it fine. "Only half an hour and we'll have you out to see Ehud. He's here to get you. Kalizda's on the ship too. Got a room all set up and some hot soup and Chip bread waiting for you." Kalizda knew her part wasn't going to be running the mission the same way the men were, she was running support in this case and it was needed by the look on Pris' face. Even if he had all kinds of training for these things Illya didn't know if there was a lot more to say. "You're past dah worst of et now. Yah gonna be alright eh?" With that he got quiet and waited for the message to come in for them to stop and allow portal access to the ship. Then Ehvan, Saar and Dane would pick Bahn up at the next port and fly the rest of the way back to Pytra and then to Kinte.

As soon as the portal opened Asher waited for Pris and Illya to step through and then grinned. "Alright." He was glad that the mission went smooth. The message came over the channel that there weren't any Federation ties, but they had a few more dead bodies to add to the original count. It sounded like the torture went pretty fast and resulted in some information, but not as much as they would have liked if they had more time. With the Alliance as it was, they couldn't risk bringing a prisoner back to torture for more information. They had to get what they could, kill the witnesses and move on.

Just as they got on board the ship Asher began to slip his armor off and then it got caught on something. "Hey, wanna help with this?" Glancing over his shoulder he caught Illya's eye.

Whatever it was that was catching the armor wasn't that big of a deal. "Et's nut delicate." With a jerk Illya pulled the vest off and Asher half stumbled before he smashed into the wall of the ship and then yelled "Ow!"

"What?" Illya was left holding the vest and he stared at Asher for a long moment while the other man cradled his hand for a moment and then revealed that his middle finger hand been broken. At the sight and knowledge of how the finger was broke Illya couldn't help smirking. "Ooh, sorry."

"Can't believe it." Wincing some Asher got to his feet and stared at his crooked finger again. "Went that whole way and nothing, then I stumbled into the wall cause I lost my balance and busted the finger."

******************************************************

Ehud stood by as he heard that they were boarding the ship at last. He'd been pacing like a mad man the entire time he waited for any kind of news and there wasn't anything until they signaled they were in range. When Pris came into view he stepped forward hastily and he wrapped his arms around her before he remembered what Illya said. "Oh, uh, was that alright? I want you to feel safe with me. I'm just so glad you're here."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The story of Lyr seemed to have the Elite men all worked up into excitement. Calysta couldn’t tell if the man was a point of admiration or disgust by listening to them chatter. Naturally, there was an air of superiority in the way they spoke in Qouti and it was a reminder that they were, once, a conquering people, if only by being mercenaries. Of course, she knew there was a Terran term for it, or at least something similar. They were the galactic mob. The kind of contracts weren’t frowned upon by Kaerelean standards so long as they were entered into willingly.

When the topic turned slightly to slavery, and how Ehvan seemed to think they all had to die to fulfill their bargain, she paused her fork halfway to her lips, waiting for him to finish. She would tell him that wasn’t the case at all. However, she was relieved to see Illya step in until she heard his little quip about Kaereleans being poor at diplomacy. At that point she knew it was just Chip pigheadedness again. The Kaereleans wouldn’t have an Alliance built upon for over 500 years if they were so poor at diplomacy, but there was no arguing the point with them. It would only cause a fuss. They would think as they wanted.

She finished the bite of stew that was raised to her lips, glad she was the only one who understood their words in Qouti, but nearly choked when the topic turned to the goddess Kulytra. She would hardly call an empire that lasted 8 generations of Kaerelean life span to be a failure on either Lyr’s or Kulytra’s goddess prowess. It was Illya’s logical if not, backward reply about an all powerful god’s favor over smaller ones. She had little idea that he viewed his faith in such a hierarchy after her father had been muddling around trying to teach him Christianity. Her father was going to have kittens when he discovered that mix up.

What he said next made her snort a little into her next stew bite and she stifled a cough. “Well, I think maybe I should after all the things that happened. Clearly I make at least one of the gods angry on a regular basis.Dun take tings so seriously Ehvan. Yah might end up old man before yah ready tah die." She couldn’t help but laugh at that one with the group and shook her head. Ehvan could be an old grump and her Chip had no problem stirring him up.

*****

Swyft was used to the direct requests from Illya Blackwolf by the time the man came in asking for passes for not only himself and the councilwoman but several other men in the program. He and the councilwoman could really come and go as they pleased. He was no longer a cadet as well as the leader of his people at the compound and abroad. She was the councilwoman representing the home planet. Far be it from him to stop either of them.

Still, it was good that he had come requesting the passes and it took him only a moment to find the names listed in the registry then to issue the passes to the pads of each individual as well as copies to the Generals. “Have a good weekend,” he told Illya mildly as he handed them over. He was sure that whatever he was going to do, it likely wouldn’t fall under the category of “good” for everyone. That wasn’t any of his business though. When the man was gone, he leaned back in his chair and began reading the news again. The Fringe had been lit up with revolution on Zkree and its neighboring planets. It seemed their failed eugenic underground had risen up and skirmishes were happening all over the planet in order to free themselves from being killed by the genetically “perfect” majority.

There hadn’t been any hint of involvement from the Alliance but it was awfully convenient. Zkree had been a hotbed of Federation support. Now, the area was almost entirely destabilized, kicking a leg from under the Federation conglomerate chair.

He read the article carefully and then went to make the Zkreen fringe space as a Blue Zone for travel for his Skycorp pilots. There wouldn’t be much scientific discovery there, for now, and sending a pilot to deep in there might cost them their lives. With that done, he picked up his tea and took a sip before turning to the next article that was a piece on the upcoming tour. No list of locations was given or times, but it did give an historical overview of the council member's home planet tour in the past, and that the tour tradition had not been observed by the current council woman until now. Some of the comments below the article were both filled with praise and some were scoffing a bit at Council Woman Monroe.

“She has been doing what she needs to do to ensure the smooth operation of the home planet. Good on her for staying around to work rather than spending her time on travel.”

“Councilwoman Monroe has no respect for the traditions the councilmember comes with. She wears none of the traditional with her associated rank and has none of the background. She doesn’t stay on Kinte where all of her advisers and other councilmembers convene. It’s unheard of and bordering offensive.”

“Councilwoman Monroe has made several mistakes as councilmember, but not loving her people isn’t one of them. I’m excited for her visit to my home continent!”

“She’s great for someone who doesn’t like competency. A former captain with Skycorp does not a councilmember make!”


The comments went on and on. Swyft had no idea how Calysta could stand facing that deluge of unnecessary opinion everyday. Then again, perhaps she was more prepared than most, having faced plenty of unwanted attention as a half-breed. She was tough and he knew that. However, he was glad the woman who he had seen from the time she was a young teen, found someone who was rock steady in his devotion toward her. That probably made the biggest difference of all. For all the things he knew that Blackwolf had done, he also knew the man was a decent fellow.
Swyft drained his teacup and sighed some, thinking on the tour a bit more before flipping to the next article.

*****


Calysta knew it was going to be a long few days. Preparing to go get Priscilla while attending classes, preparing for the beginning of the tour, and being a mother was already enough to make her tired but it was the lack of sleep that was getting her. It wasn't so bad when she had been the captain of a ship and had 24 hour duty hours if required. Back then the only person that had been relying on her was herself. Here there were children to worry about and her husband who would have far worse side effects from lack of rest than a few circles under his eyes and grumpiness. That was all she needed was for him to have a seizure on this mission.

She forced those kinds of thoughts to the back of her mind and brought them into the air with a ship on the course toward home. As soon as they were free of the shipping lanes and flying above most of the air traffic, she placed them into the speed required for the lane and put the ship on autopilot.

She knew the kids would already be unbuckling their seats and was unsurprised when Cypher was already bounding around the living room to undo Lohgan from her seatbelt. She took care of the twins, releasing them like a pack of nyte beasts. “Dinner will be soon, so go play and stay out of the kitchen.” The kitchen door would be closed for whatever briefing he had going with the men he had chosen but that didn’t mean the kids wouldn’t be trepidatious enough to open it for themselves.

Calysta sent the kids off to play and picked up the living room a little before a warm arm came behind and wrapped around her waist, gently tugging her close. She smiled, unable to help the way being tugged close like that made her feel. Having him close like that was both exciting and comforting at the same time. “Hey,” she smiled, sliding her own hand up his back. She took extra care not to bump any areas that stayed particularly sore before stretching her arm to encircle his hips.

He mentioned going over more ops information with her after they had landed at home and she nodded. “Aye, just let me know what you need.” The truth was, she could run missions as a captain, but she was no black ops specialist. That was the Elite’s specialty. She had worked with Asher, and Dane before but not Saar so much. He was quieter as far as she knew, but he had never been any less friendly toward her. She had met his wife in the bath houses a few times and she knew he had children. There had also been the few weeks she had given flying lessons. He had been one of her students for that fiasco.

Thinking of the flying lessons made her think of Maks and she squeezed Illya a little closer to her. She wanted him to be safe. All of them.
They spent the next day or so finalizing plans, routes, and times. Illya ran a tight operation which was something she appreciated. It left little room for error. Calysta made sure that the Silver Mountain was outfitted with everything that could be needed. Fuel, preflight checks, emergency medical equipment and space for the tag along doctor and his assistant. All the children’s toys were put away and she intended for Priscilla to have her usual room when they recovered her. Calysta was also taking her own armor. While she didn’t think they would be going into a firefight, she would rather have the armor on. The Silver Mountain had been under fire before, not with possible Chip rounds, meant to pierce through their thick bones.

Calysta prepared as much as she could and on Sunday night, she kissed the kids goodnight, each one in turn. “We’ll be going to Skycorp and be back for you soon. Be good for Papa Thomas. Cypher your summer reading chapter is due tomorrow afternoon. I’m going to check, so you need to do it. I love you and yes...yes Sien can stay with you tonight and tomorrow. Keep him good company.” She knew if Sien was around, Cypher’s homework might just get done. Lohgan was flopped on her bed with her dog and snoozing perfectly fine in a pile of clothes she had been playing dress up with. Calysta tucked her daughter in and kissed her cheek. The twins were also asleep by the time she and Illya put them to bed.

They were wild, and a bit rambunctious, but they were healthy. They were hers and she loved them.

She and Illya met with the group with their packs 10 minutes before take off and the Ehaui doctor came strolling in at the last minute with his nurse. As good as the Ehaui were sometimes, they did have their quirks and timeliness was one of them. They gathered in the living room of her ship as Illya gave them a last brief and some instructions to Ehud who looked entirely numb. She was sure the man would agree to jump off the twin moons without a single thought if it was necessary to get Priscilla back.

For all the scruffing she had seen between them since they got married, she knew he cared about the woman. Priscilla cared very much about him too. The thought of her having been abused wasn’t any easy or comfortable one for anyone, but it was a possibility they would have to face.

When Illya was done, Calysta showed him to Priscilla’s usual room when she stayed on the Silver Mountain. “This should be nice and familiar for her. You can set it up anyway you think she’d like, yeah?” Calysta said, trying to encourage Ehud. All she got was a silent head bob as he faced the dark room. It didn’t seem quite good enough and she looked up at him. Ehud wasn’t as big as Illya, though they had similar heights. Everyone had similar heights when she was so short by comparison after all.

“Ehud,” she sighed, “Pris became my friend after she came to Pyrta and had no one else. She was alone and hurt...and honestly I think she was terrified for a while that we might ship her back to Terra. We’re the closest thing she has to family and friends now. I’m not sure why she didn’t tell us about this but she’s one of the strongest people I know. I also know she loves you very much. I’d never seen her as happy as when you decided to agree with her. Whatever happens or will happen, I just thought you should know that.”

She wasn’t good at the comforting thing and she couldn’t make any guarantees to Ehud, but she could at least tell him that if Pris couldn’t. Clearing her throat she nodded to the man who hadn’t replied. “Anyways, get settled in. Take off is in 2 minutes.”

**********

Calysta began slowing their ship and expertly maneuvered them into the drop off point. Illya and the rest would be using a ship-to-ship close range portal to board the cargo vessel and take that into the colonies while she stayed behind in the Silver Mountain ready to receive them. It kept her large, sleek ship out of radar view and minimized as a target. The doctor and nurse were placed on standby.

It didn’t take long for the men to gear up and for them to open the portal to the cargo ship. She did want to leave the helm in case they needed a quick getaway, but she managed to poke her head out of the cockpit door to give Illya a smile. She knew he and his men could handle this, but it didn’t keep her from giving her husband a look before he slipped through the portal.

Glancing to Dane and Ehud, she gave them a half sort of smile. “And now it’s a waiting game. Get comfortable for a minute. I’m going to take us to the rendezvous point.”

She gave Ehud a nod and then slipped off to the cockpit again to get them moving along. Ehud didn’t reply and that was okay. If it were her, she wouldn’t be able to talk much either. She only hoped Pris wasn’t too badly hurt.

******

Priscilla rolled over on the cot that had been provided feeling sore, but too drowsy and tired to care very much. She had no idea what time it was and while she had managed a sip or two of water at some point, they had obviously put something in it. Whatever it was made her incredibly tired and generally uncaring. They’d probably done it because she had been interrogated some about her brother and she had said nothing of value to them. She’d been taken from Ehud and his life threatened along with Sien’s and that had been enough to get her to comply, but that didn’t mean she had to give them anything extra.

It was then they had decided she should be drugged. Making her wait for water until she was desperately thirsty then lacing it with something she imagined was...the word wouldn’t come to her mind and she searched for it blearily. Medicine. No. Sedative. That was the word. She sighed into her cot, glad to have gotten her sluggish mind to work.
Something to make her docile enough to be hauled around without a fuss. She hadn’t realized it was the water at first, but once she had, she’d stopped drinking and eating anything they gave her altogether. It had forced their medic to come in and occasionally give her an IV of fluids which she couldn’t fight back from because her limbs felt too heavy to lift. Some of the effect had worn off, but not all of it at this point. For all she knew, they would just give her more in the next IV if she looked too spry.

The world seemed to be moving fast around her and she was too slow to keep up. Even when the door to her guarded room burst open she had trouble really focusing on what was happening. Her guards backed off and a tan hand stretched toward her from across the room attached to a familiar form. Illya’s bulky frame was there flanked by two others and he was talking to her. A slow second of realization hit her. They had found her.

She half rolled off the cot and walked over reaching out for the big paw of a hand that was offered to her. This was her chance to get out and she was going for it, feet dragging or not. Her heart pounded with thick, drugged thuds as she gazed at him with wide eyes. Before she knew it, she was across the room and tucked under Illya’s arm like a baby chick would scuttle under its mother.

They walked briskly away from that cold cell she had been in and she was hardly aware of it. How did they find her? What if they got hurt trying to come get her? Was Ehud with them? She followed Illya, trying to run with him, and opened her mouth to try asking if he was but the sound wouldn’t come out. Everything in her body felt infuriatingly slow.

Crouching low as Illya instructed, she looked at him, trying form words as her heart pounded. The spike of adrenaline was starting to make things move a bit faster but not enough for her taste. Surely Ehud had come. She did have that much faith in him. Part of that truth felt selfish though. The only reason she hadn’t screamed in the store was because they threatened him and Sien and it scared her so bad in the moment all she could think of was Ehud looking like Harry had, his body all twisted and a shadow of himself.

Tears pricked at her eyes and she shivered some which seemed to prompt Illya to offer his jacket. She took it without a word. It was ridiculously heavy over her frame and would slow her down more but the way it smelled was familiar enough to be a comfort. All the Monroes tended to smell like oils of some kind except for Calysta and Rose. The girl had a perfume she wore that was floral and Calysta always smelled of fresh linen and soap of some kind unless she had been working on something ship related. Then she smelled vaguely of hot metal and grease.
“You’re past dah worst of et now. Yah gonna be alright, eh?” Illya spoke to her and she blinked at him wordlessly, unable to come up with the words to say in return.

Within a moment or two they were moving again and Illya had to catch her after she tripped in the dark with her clumsy, reluctant legs. They made it to a portal of some sort and tried to ask if the others were coming but Illya pulled her through the circle and into somewhere else. Wherever it was, it was still pitch black except for the light of the stars and the soft glow of a familiar vessel in front of her. That was Calysta’s ship! Standing on the open ramp of that ship was another familiar form. Ehud was pacing and paused as soon as his eyes landed on her. Suddenly, she was afraid. Afraid he was some sort of trick on her mind or that if he wasn’t, he would be angry with her. She wasn’t sure she could handle an argument with him right now over this. It always ended in an argument lately.

Before she could say his name he was engulfing her in a tight embrace. Priscilla stiffened slightly under the weight of Ehud's arms and the pang of more bruising came through whatever they had given her. She blinked slowly and it took a moment for her to register that Ehud had said something. Ehud was here. A rush of relief followed by guilt crept over her and tears began to well in her eyes. "You're okay," she croaked, "They didn't hurt you?" Words were finally able to come out of her mouth, though she was sure they sounded awful.

The response from Priscilla was entirely confusing and Ehud blinked a few times. "I..I'm fine. They never touched me. I got Illya immediately after you went missing and we planned your rescue these last few days."

Her thoughts came in slow like molasses but when they finally registered in her mind, her eyes widened and her chin trembled. She wrapped her arms around him and started to cry. "They told me that they would kill you and Sien and I couldn't bear that thought," she sobbed, her words slurring some.

Taking a deep breath Ehud gently rubbed her back. He didn't know what to say to her. For now the best that he could do was simply to be here and hold her.

He got quiet when she started to cry and she knew she shouldn't have, but she couldn't help it. She was relieved to see him even if she had been dreading how angry he would be if he found her. Calysta made an announcement about getting ready for take off soon, but Pris didn't budge. She felt exhausted and Ehud's hand was warm even if it kept hitting sore spots here and there. She whimpered a little at a particularly sore spot and sucked in a calming breath to stop the crying. When she got herself under control for the moment, she lifted her chin to look at Ehud for a slow second. "Not angry?"

More than likely there wasn't any stopping the tears. Ehud held onto her and he felt his grip tighten only to feel her muscles get tense. He had probably held her too tight. As he eased up she lifted her head and asked if he was angry. Slowly he shook his head, "No. I'm not angry with you."

She studied him with glazed over and blood shot eyes, then let out a tiny sob of relief before hugging him again. It felt like everything was happening all around her in a whirl and the only solid thing was Ehud for a moment. "I'm glad you came to get me," she said finally into his neck." She felt exhausted and as another call came over the intercom, she looked at Ehud. "Please...can we go home?"

"We're going home now." Ehud met her gaze. "Let's go to the room. I've got your things for you there. Some fresh clothes, makeup and Kalizda made food for you if you're hungry."

Priscilla blinked at Ehud in surprise once she understood what he was saying. She was hungry but she didn't feel like eating. Ehud seemed distant too. Maybe he was angry though he said he wasn't. "Okay." She wobbled her way to whatever room Ehud indicated and came inside to find her clothes set out neatly and her toiletries arranged. She did very much want a shower but she also didn't know if she had the energy. It seemed like a great amount of effort when everything felt so slow. Still, she didn't want to look bad in front of Ehud. "I...probably look bad," she winced, "I'll take a shower and clean up. " The bruises on her face weren't as bad as the ones on her back and hands at least. "Ehud?" She leaned heavily against the doorway and looked at him. "I'm. ..I'm glad you came to get me."

The way that Pris' shoulders drooped as she entered the door made it hard to tell if she was tired, or disappointed. Considering their experience thus far she was probably tired and disappointed. Unsure where to go, Ehud stood in the hallway and waited for her to turn around and face him again. "I wouldn't count myself much of a man or husband if I didn't come to get you. You're my wife." Ehud responded quietly and glanced over her face again. "You don't look that bad. There's a few bruises, but they'll heal." Shrugging a bit he continued, "You set the pace. If you want to shower you can do that. Uhm...maybe you'd like it better if I just brought food to you and let you be alone. If you don't want me in there I can wait out here."

He was hovering near the door and she wasn't quite sure. He'd hugged her and acted like he was happy to see her and now he was keeping his distance. It sounded like he didn't want to overwhelm her. When he suggested staying outside her eyes grew round. "N-noo," she said slowly, "Don't go. I want you to stay. I haven't eaten but I'm not..I don't know if I can eat...think they gave me something to make me sleep some. I don't want to be alone." She knew it sounded a bit ridiculous. She was perfectly safe here but she just wanted to shower and to be with someone she knew. Someone who had come for her and not forgotten her.

Carefully stepping into the room Ehud took a deep breath. "Ok, I'll stay here. How close do you want me? Do you want the door closed or open?" The last thing he wanted to do was screw this up and assume she wanted him in the bed.

Priscilla looked at him. She was bone tired and a bit chilled, but there was a look on his face that told her he would fly to the moon and back if she asked him to. Slowly, she reached out a hand and captured up his hand in her slim fingers. "It's okay. I don't mind the door closed. I'm going to shower." She pulled him inside and led him to the bed with tired, shaking hands. Whatever they had given her was making everything harder and she just wanted to fall asleep right then. She needed to shower first though. She let Ehud sit on the chair by the bed and squeezed his hand before shuffling into the bathroom. She kept the door cracked even if it would let steam into the bedroom. Everything was fine with undressing until she came to the button at the nape of her neck. It was horribly tangled in her hair and her fingers couldn't undo it. "Ehud?" Her voice cracked as she poked her head into the door. "Can you help?"

Once they were in the room together Ehud gently shut the door and he let Priscilla direct him to where she felt most comfortable with him being. Sitting in the chair he leaned back fully to get settled in. It could be a long night and he was grateful that he didn't have any serious issues with his spine. Pris was taking a while getting herself ready for the shower, but he wasn't going to rush her. Only a few moments after he closed his eyes he heard Pris call him. Carefully wandering toward the bathroom he pushed the door open and saw the last button at the nape of her neck. "I can do that." With nimble fingers he carefully untangled her golden curls and then unbuttoned the blouse at the top. "Pris, you're beautiful. Even bruises can't hide that. With a gentle stroke he smoothed out some of the stray curls. "Do you want help with the hairband? Looks like you've got a few knots there too."

He was surprisingly gentle with her hair and within a minute the ruined blouse finally came from her curls. She expected him to leave after that but instead he said something unabashed and unedited. Something without hesitation. Her eyes welled and she gave him a somewhat water but sweet smile as she wiped at her eyes. He hadn't come all out with a list of husband-like duties. He really did care and he came for her even if she had been stupid. His hand was soft over her hair and she took comfort in the touch as she nodded. "Yes, please...we won't have to cut it, will we?"

Ehud froze as she turned toward him with her watery eyes. Had he messed up already?! Momentarily he held his breath and then he heard her response. She did want him a bit closer than he thought he could hope for. She wasn't upset by his offer and rather bold statement. At least the statement felt bold considering the circumstance. "No, I don't think we'll have to cut it." In another bold moment he moved to the side and motioned to the bed. "I could help comb your hair and make sure all the knots are out before you shower."

Priscilla's face turned awash with relief and the offer to let him comb her hair was a much needed relief too. "Please. It hasn't been washed or brushed...and I'm not sure how well I can fix it right now." She made a move toward the bed though she wobbled a little and then sat down before realizing she'd left the comb on the night. She reached for it, and offered it to Ehud.

The two of them got settled on the bed and then Pris reached for the comb on her night stand. Ehud almost started at the top of her head and then he remembered that Haza always brushed her hair starting at the bottom. Carefully gathering her hair and pulling it to lay across her back he lifted the ends of her hair and began to comb the golden strands methodically and carefully.

Priscilla let him work in the quiet and she could feel her hair was stiff and clumpy with unwashed oil and dirt. He didn't complain once though and had even called her beautiful still. She felt some of her tension leave as he untangled her hair with gentle passes of the brush. He didn't pull on it once. When he was done she smiled a little and took up his hand on her shoulder, giving it another squeeze. "Thank you." She truly meant it and she didn't know how else to say it. A moment passed and she stayed there on the bed. "I thought...I knew you would come for me even though I was afraid they would hurt you or that you might be angry. I knew you would."

"I love you." Answering her gently he continued working on her hair in the same slow, methodical manner. Ehud didn't know what else to say and he'd said about as much as he thought he could with this situation. He was still trying to be careful for her sake.

Priscilla blinked tears back again. It had felt like he had maybe regretted taking her home since they got married. Like she hadn't quite fit into the neat and orderly life he had crafted by himself. This was the first time he had said he loved her and there was no argument between them or he wasn't prompted by her in some exchange. He'd said it out of his own volition. She wiped at her eyes some and turned her head toward him. "I like it when you tell me that, Ehud. I love you too." Her words were slow but she meant them. Once he was done combing her hair, she thanked him and managed to shower. How long she showered, she wasn't sure. Her mind kept blanking out or she threatened to fall asleep. Finally, when she climbed out, she pulled on the robe Ehud brought her and took a deep breath. It smelled like their home. He had been so brave and he'd thought to do all of this for her. She poked her head out of the bathroom and then stepped out entirely before coming to curl up on the bed. Her hand came to rest on his knee, just to make sure he was there.
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
**************

Priscilla slept for a long time until a pain in her stomach reminded her that she was hungry and very thirsty. The world had gone from the fuzzy, unreal feeling of the drugs to more immediate when she sat up. Ehud was still asleep in the chair beside her. She felt a little bad for him having to wait there all night and relieved that he hadn’t tried to crawl in the bed while she was high as a kite.

When she stirred he didn’t move and she pulled her hand away slowly from his knee. His head was bent at a painful angle but she didnt want to wake him up either. Rather than waking him up she crawled out of the bed stiffly. All her bumps and bruises felt extra tender now that the drugs had worn off.

She found a set of clothes Ehud had thought to bring for her and dressed in the bathroom. What surprised her the most was that he had brought her entire makeup kit. She unzipped her large and well organized makeup bag awash with gratitude that he knew to bring this for her.

Priscilla made herself up, covering the bruises and circles under her eyes with perfectly blended make up and applying her eye shadow and mascara lightly. If she went any darker that it would just draw attention to the circles under her eyes rather than accenting them nicely.
It felt good to be making herself up after days of no showers. However, she left the bathroom door open where she could see Ehud while she worked. The bedroom was dark but she would rather have the door open wide where she could see what was on the other side.

She finished up her makeup, even covering up the bruises along her hands and wrists. Those wouldn’t be very pretty either. Then she combed her hair before turning toward the door.

Ehud was still in the chair asleep. She knew he was tired and worried. None of it felt real right now. It was like everything had happened to someone else and she was there simply in the background. Ehud was real though, and so was Sien. They would need her to be on top of things. At least Sien would anyways. She wasn’t sure what Ehud would be like after this. She had expect anger in his tone after his initial realization that she was alright. Instead, he had been surprisingly understanding.

She plucked up her blanket from the bed and billowed it over Ehud’s sleeping form. She wanted to tilt his head onto a pillow, but she was afraid that might wake him up. When she was satisfied that he was as comfortable as he could be without waking up, she left the room in search of food.

When Priscilla entered the kitchen Calysta was there with a steaming mug of tea in her hand looking utterly exhausted. The tiredness on her face didn’t lessen the gentle smile she gave when Priscilla shuffled into the room. She wasn’t sure what to say. She was embarrassed for what happened and she didn’t know if Calysta was angry either. The tiny woman didn’t appear to be.

Thankfully, Calysta didn’t say anything and simply lifted off the chair she was sitting on to start making another cup of tea. Within a minute, Priscilla was offered a steaming mug too and she looked at Calysta gratefully.

“Thank you,” she whispered, then she cleared her throat, “I know I missed dinner...at least I think I did. Is there any left?”

Calysta’s smile grew some and nodded. “Aye. Snake stew and Chip bread. The men thought you might like something nice and homey.”

Prisclla chuckled some into her cup, the sound of her quiet giggle a little foriegn to her. Dark Chippeqouti always thought snake stew was homey for everyone. It was a kind gesture from them.

“That sounds good.”

Calysta got up again without hesitation and began the process of heating up a big bowl of stew along with the bread. The smells began to waft around the kitchen as they sat in an easy silence until the food was ready.

“Do you mind if I take this back to the room?” Priscilla asked.

Calysta shook her head. “Of course not. This is your home and its your room. Eat where you like. I’ll be up another few hours if you need anything and we’ll be landing on Pyrta soon.”

Priscilla managed a watery smile and then took the large bowl of food back to the room along with two round bits of bread along with an extra spoon. When she came into the room from the kitchen carrying the bowl, she made sure to close the door behind her. Ehud stirred in his chair at the sound of the door sliding shut and grumbled some before opening his eyes.

“I brought us some food,” she offered, putting the bowl on the bedside table.

He was groggy and rubbing at his neck, so she came to sit beside him on the bed, then stooped to pick up the blanket on the floor. She felt another wash of guilt and closed her eyes for a moment, trying not to cry again.

“You...you didn’t get any and I thought you might be as hungry as I was,” she whispered.

When he woke up a little more, she shifted on the bed and patted the spot beside her. “Sit with me? I...I’m sorry. For all of this. I...thought that if I ignored it that it would go away. That it would show I really wasn’t with the Federation and not some Terran by not answering. I thought that it would keep you safer not to say anything…and things felt strange between us. I was...I was…”

The words choked up in her throat and a little sob came out.

“I was afraid to tell you...after awhile...because I thought it would make things worse between us. I didn’t want that to happen. I loved you too much to make things worse. I know you said you weren’t angry, but I wanted you to know why even if I don’t want to talk about it again.”

She started to cry again and her make up smeared some as she wiped the hot tears on her cheek.

After a while of tears and a few watery apologies, Ehud had her settled down again and she suddenly felt very tired. She ate a few bites of the snake stew, and while it was good, all she wanted was to be close to Ehud where nobody could see her, where nobody could burst in, and simply rest.

**************

Priscilla found herself at home with Ehud and a very exuberant Sien who was waiting for her in the doorway. She half snatched him out of the door frame with a fierce hug and held him close. “Oh, I missed you,” she sniffled in his ear, “So much. Have you been good? You stayed with Cypher. Did he talk you out of doing your homework? No? Good.” She gave him a kiss on either cheek and waved him off toward the living room. Already he wanted to show her all of his summer reading projects and asked if she was cooking dinner. He wanted to know if he could help. How could she resist that? Ehud didn’t voice an opinion, so she nodded and they decided on a roast chicken which took little effort beyond cutting a few stuffing items and some seasoning.

When dinner was quiet besides Sien catching up on all the latest news on Pyrta along with bits about school and his excitement over the tour party. By the time dinner was over and cleaned up she was utterly exhausted and her muscles had begun to ache with tension. It wasn’t that Sien was bad for her, she was glad to be home. Maybe it would bring a sense of normalcy to things.

She wasn’t sure where she and Ehud stood at the moment. Their relationship had been nebulous since they’d gotten married which seemed as backwards as anything else the Chips did. Still, she knew she loved him and now she knew that he did love her. Wasn’t that enough if they kept trying?

Priscilla went into the bedroom and Ehud seemed to wait for her by the door, undecided if he was coming in or not. There was a flash of worry that someone might be behind them down the hall, already creeping up on them while his back was turned. What if someone snuck into the house just like that and snatched one of them? Her heart thudded hard into her chest as she pulled him in and closed the door behind them.

That left the blanket covered elephant in the room. Priscilla glanced down at the bed and tried to give Ehud an encouraging look. “Maybe we can do this together?” She shook her head, realizing that made no sense to him. “We can just lay with which other. I just...I don’t want you to be alone…”

She realized that sounded equally ridiculous. What would she possibly do if someone did come through the door? Hit them with her makeup bag? As stupid as it sounded, it was true. She wanted him there.

They got ready for bed and when it came time to crawl in beside him, he didn’t make a move for her until she reached for his hand and laid her head on his shoulder. “I love you, Ehud.” Priscilla craned her neck and kissed his cheek. Then, she rested her temple on his shoulder and closed her eyes. Maybe they could both sleep tonight and start fresh in the morning.

**************




Calysta settled into a seat next to Swyft on the front row and sighed some. It wasn't that she didn't want to be in Edgar's class but it was that she was afraid sitting still too long might make her fall asleep by accident. She had drank tea and coffee to keep going after such a long 72 hours. Swyft on the other hand looked bright-eyed and bushy tailed next to her. As everyone settled in, she picked up her thermos and took another quick drink before leaning back in her chair. Edgar was already here and waiting for his students to settle in. To her surprise, no sooner had the entire class got quiet, did Edgar ask for all the Elite men to leave. She blinked, a little more awake now as the rumble of curious murmurs filled the room. She gave Illya a tired smile as he joined the other elite in shuffling out of the door.

Many of the students looked surprised at the announcement and Edgar only smiled in return. He knew that they would likely have many questions. This was a warrior society in many ways and they'd now been in the company of the Elite for some time. The Elite seemed to do better if they were not in the same room for these sorts of discussions. "Now, yah all wonder why dey go. Dat es because dis class es only for yah benefit and yah dah only ones dat get tah hear dis part. Dis class will have some tings I cannot answer because I do nut know and some dat I cannot answer because et es forbidden." By now he had every student's attention and Edgar pulled the seat on the stage closer to himself before he sat down. "I will take 4 questions about dah Elite and den I will give yah more information at dah end."

Four questions? Only four? Murmurs whispered around the room about what to ask and who should get to ask it while Calysta remained quiet. She was fully away now and her fingers were gripping her new info pad a little too tightly as she stared at Edgar waiting to hear what would be asked. Finally, it was decided Swyft would ask the first question and the commander nodded to his fellows before bringing his voice up to be audible for the Chip elder to hear. "Edgar, you will tell us why the Elite were formed and what purpose they serve."

After all this time it seemed that the class was finally starting to understand how to ask a question appropriately. "Dis question es very good and nicely said. Dah Elite are formed tah protect dah Chippequoti and dere allies en times when et es impossible for oters tah succeed. Dey continue tah serve dis purpose. Dey are guardians of dah people and customs." He nodded at Swyft and then smiled as he glanced around the class room. "More questions?"

There was a little murmur of curiosity over the word "customs" but not enough to inspire them to waste a question chasing that rabbit hole. Instead, one of the other instructors stood. a history professor. "Ah. You will tell us. How does someone become a member of the Elite?" Calysta's grip tightened over her pad as she stared at Edgar and she hoped he wouldn't tell the entire truth of it for once.

The next question was hardly surprising and Edgar looked to the professor. "Again, dis es excellent question and worded correctly. Some of dis question I can answer, some of et I dun know." Taking a breath Edgar thought for a moment before he started to speak. "Dah Elite always start en military. Dey only get invitation for Elite ef dey are recognized tah be good soldier. Many times dey are officer before dey are requested tah train for Elite. Dey will train hard sometimes for 10 years and be learning what et es tah be Elite. In dese years many will fail. I tink dat about 5-7% will become Elite and dah rest are sent back as officers to dere original unit. Dose dat become Elite will start at lowest rank and dey only rise wit experience and ef dey show great ability in dah arts of war."

It was an answer that both did and did not fulfill the question but Calysta sighed slightly in relief. Maybe they would leave that part alone now. She didn't wish to have what Illya went through publicly revisited. Tiberius was muttering along side a few other men and finally one nudged him into asking a question. "So, the Chippeqouti are a warrior people...and the Elite are your top ranks, right? Tell us what sort of status that gives them in your people's ranks."

Edgar was more surprised by the next question. It was not worded quite as well as the others had been, but it was still good enough. "Dah General of dah Elite en times of war becomes dah Emperor, en times of peace he es advisor to dah counsel. Dis means dat dah Elite are elevated status among dah Chippequoti. Yah might call dem lords, or someting of similar nature. For Kaereleans maybe dey would be like council members. Wit dis position dere es also great expectation. Dey will care for needs of dah people, dey are expected tah be generous and dey cannot be part of dah Elite ef dey will nut live by vow tah die en place of dere people ef dey must."

Again the clamor of discussion rose up again none of which were disapproving. Most of the voices were in curious lively discussion before a final question came up. This time it was Rezna. "Edgar, I get that there are only a few recruits that make it through training, but tell us why there are only fifty slots available to begin with or there were more."

With the final question Edgar had already begun to build the rest of this class out in his mind. Clearly the classmates had been very curious about the Elite. "First reason dere are only 50 es because so many fail, second reason dere are only 50 es because et only takes tree men tah make a small team, tird reason dere are only 50 es because dey find et important tah be close. Yah never treaten one of dem witout making yah treat to all of dem. Dey are like broters en many ways even when dey fight wit each oter."

"So, they are like a clan," Rezna mused, "A loud, turd-tanned clan." Her words earned her a few chokes of surprise from the Kaerelean professors and a few snorts from the Terrans. Rezna shrugged casually. "What? You can tell'em I said it."

A mild smirk crossed Edgar's face. "Dah question time es over. I'm sure yah tink I look like part of dah turd clan as well. Chippequoti are nut turds. We are great people dah winds give birt to." With that he continued with the speech he had arranged. Mostly people wanted to know about their role, responsibility and training. "I will start wit more about training for dah Elilte. Dey start like many small children. Dey will live en homes and be wit dere moters till dey are 7. After dis dey will make small trips wit dere faters. At tirteen dey will begin school. Ef dey are tah be soldiers dey will learn history of dah people, history of dah wars and den dey will specialize en one ting. Some choose languages because dey like tah be interpreter, or communications expert en dah war, some choose mat. Den dey will have school until dey are 15. At 15 dey begin tah work apprentice as soldiers and dey will work hard. Ef dey are good dey could be high ranking private at 17. Dey will have option tah stay out of dangerous battles until dey are 50. At 50 we expect dat dey have children ef dey work hard wit dere agreed. Den dey will be en dangerous work. Some ef dey are very good train for Elite when dey are young. Ef dey join Elite young et es customary for General of dah Elite tah try and keep dem en lower ranks and less dangerous positions until dey are 50, but dey have option tah waive dis privilege ef dey are Elite."

Rezna grinned at the elder. "Nah. Not so turd like with you, elder Chip." Calysta knew what Illya had opted to do and why he'd done it. It still didn't settle well with her and she somewhat wished she could go flop out on the bunk with her husband. It was one thing to be learning about this as a scholar and another thing to be married to a man who endured it. "They start out young," Swyft noted to Edgar, "Much younger than what Kaerelean children are considered able to make decisions on their own futures with."

Though there were no more questions, the class had taken to the more interactive sort of lessons. "Yes, dey start young All Chippequoti children start young. Dey know what es expected of dem and dere parents must choose skills for dem tah consider for jobs. At 11 dey will decide what dey will do and at 15 dey will begin working in dere job. Dey have 1 year tah change dere minds. For some dis es nut option. Some will be only what dere parents say."

That made a minute or two of debate among the class and some strange looks given at Calysta. She could hear them asking their questions. Would she raise her children in the same manner? Was it right to do that if they were part Kaerelean? The entire class had met her kids and they knew how she mothered them, but the question seemed to bring up alot of debate. Really, it wasn't any of their business if it was different from the Kaerelean or even Terran way. She knew the debate was born from curiosity rather than judgement though. "We know what they do in war time. Tell us more about what their tasks are in peace time." It was historian again, looking to the elder in curiosity.

In many ways Edgar appreciated the historian and he smiled at the man. "Yes, peace time es interesting and we live en interesting times. Dah Elite operate now as dey would in war and peace. En peace time dey are sure tah find ways tah use wealt and resources remaining from war tah benefit people. Chippequoti had quite a lot of money since last war and since Chippequoti trade among demselves money es only for outside trading. Wit all dis money dey pay for many of school curriculum for children on Pytra and dey buy many expensive books. When Chippequoti returned to dah Alliance and dey buy many tings tah help wit economy dis party es funded by Elite. Dey spend dah wealt dey gain for dah people."

What Edgar was saying made sense though, it did make them sound like war lords in comparison to Terran culture. That perked some interest and there was a great discussion on that for roughly 7 minutes before the place hushed down for the last few minutes of class. "What traditions or special cultural practices do the Elite participate in other than this training and service to the people," asked another student. They were obviously a younger Reylian but their face shone with keen interest.

"Elite practice ceremonial sword dance, dey help maintain structure of society, dey preserve peace so dat Chippequoti can learn from Elders dah proper way of life. Dah Elite also question dah council ef dey feel et es corrupt. Ef et es dah will of dah people dey can execute council members and open for people tah select new council. Dis keeps council from becoming crooked. Ef dah Elite dun hold to dere code dey are executed by dere own members. Dere es never time dat all of dah Elite are crooked, or all dah council es crooked. Dey are very careful nut tah abuse power. Dere es one time dat some council members en recent history gater and try tah execute member of dah Elite, but dey were wrong and dey suffered consequences."

This time Calysta gripped her pad screen hard enough that it crumpled and a spiderwebbed crack erupted under her palm. She jumped slightly as the glass bit into the fleshy part of her thumb and heel of her hand but said nothing else about what Edgar had mentioned. Naturally, the historian had to make sure his information was correct and he piped up. "The consequences being execution in return."

Edgar nodded. "Yes, dey were executed. Nut en traditional fashion as et was urgent case. Dey died promptly and less painfully den law would require."

A lower, darker whispering echoed through the room. "Edgar, tell me the traditional fashion for execution among the Chippeqouti," Swyft said, being the only one brave enough to ask. They expected some sort of horrific method like being drawn and quartered or a torture device to be used before desanguination.

"Law of dah Chippequoti requires dat execution es dun by breaking dah back of dah one condemned tah die. Den dah condemned es drug tah desert, wilderness, or jungle. Dis all depends on where dah Chippequoti live at time of execution. Dey leave dah condemned out in wild wit no help, no weapons and en tree days dey return for body. Ef dah condemned es gone dey are likely devoured by wild beast. Ef dey are alive witout aid from oters den we say dat dah gods preserve dere life and are brought back to dah Chippequoti, healed and returned to dere status." Edgar looked around the room after he gave his answer. "Yah have time for one more question before dis class es over."

Everyone was quite stunned at the idea of a religious judgement and nobody seemed to want to argue with the idea of it lest it be taken out context as an assault on the Chippeqouti religious doctrine. All was deadly quiet for a moment until finally Rezna spoke up. "Well, that's a rough way to go. Not sure if I'd like to go that way or the Udine way. Impaling sounds like it would be faster at that point." That sparked a few comments on how other cultures had handled executions for the moment and the worst that Calysta heard was certainly the Terran electric chair. The thought of that made her shudder. Finally the bell rang and it was time to go. She shoved her broke pad into her bag and tucked her glass speckled hand into her jacket pocket. She would have to pluck all the shards out later.

With that as a final note, there weren't any further questions and Edgar stood from his seat. "Yah all do well and be ready for yah exam next week. I will have time tah meet wit yah all. I dun need tah meet wit dah Chippequoti team mates. Dey already know dis. Yah can study wit dem ef yah need help before exam."

"Thank you," Swyft nodded to Edgar. The talk of the exam sent everyone abuzz and Calysta knew they would be pestering their partners for information later that evening or trying to set up study times. As for herself, she gave Edgar a gentle smile and waved to him with the uninjured hand before scuttling out of the room when the bell rang.

***********

Calysta found Illya in the bunk room. His big frame took up most of the bed and she could tell by his slow, even breathing that he was asleep. It was good that he was getting some rest at least and a nap during lunch sounded better than food at the moment. A nap would do her some good before the next round of classes.

By this point, she was used to the other Chips and fellow Skycorp members milling around. They all knew who her husband was, even if they didn’t believe her children belonged to her. There was little to be shy about crawling into bed alongside him for a nap.

Calysta stretched her arms then yawned some before kicking off her boots and making an effort to crawl into the bunk beside Illya. She stayed on top of the covers, not really caring to wrestle them away from her husband who liked to stay wrapped up. Instead, she alighted on top of the covers and then laid down beside him. As she snuck a hand around Illya’s broad waist he jolted awake.

He sat up like a rocket shoving her back as he slammed his head on the top of the bunk. The metal bunk let out a gong-like sound that reverberated around the room. Calysta flopped on her back into the floor, landing partially on her tailbone and her left hip.

“Ooof!”

Her tailbone smarted as she grunted from the impact on the cold tile floor. The few Elite men in their bunk room laughed some as Illya came around from his sleep, or from being knocked half silly. It was hard to tell.

Calysta’s noticed a sizable dent in the metal frame above him when Dane pointed it out, grinning broadly as he did. When he noticed she was on the floor she gave him an apologetic look as she rubbed her rump, trying to get the sting out. “I know I’m exciting but I didn’t think I’d get that sort of wild right now.”

******
Leading into finals week Calysta was feeling both tired and confident in the same time. She knew her work well and she knew the Chippeqouti enough to do well in Edgar’s class too. That didn’t mean she didn’t have any work though. Sometimes others in the class would come, trying to pepper her with questions while she was eating, or walking home to their ship to meet the kids as Illya walked beside her. One woman, who had been too shy to ask her partner a few thing about Edgar’s class, caught Calysta in the bathroom stall. Calysta sat on the toilet and awkwardly told the woman to be brave and ask her partner.

“You’re in Skycorp. You’re a good pilot, but you need to get used to asking uncomfortable questions. That’s part of the discovery.”

That had turned the woman a bit sheepish at first, but she agreed and went about her day.

The next day at lunch, Swyft sat across from her and Illya with his tray to one side with a sigh. Calysta looked at the commander with a raised brow. “Is something the matter, sir?”

A small smile curled at the corner of his lips and he put down his pad to the otherside of his tray. “I was wondering if you might want to translate a few words for me to prepare for the exams?”

Calsyta bit her lips, fighting a smile of her own. It was funny to think that 15 years ago, she had been asking him for advice on classes.

“I could,” she mused, “But I’m also not a native speaker. You’d probably be better off talking to your partner and translating that to traders tongue.”

Sywft puffed out a breath and nodded. “You make a fair point, Ms. Monroe.”

She remembered his partner was Markus and the man said very little, would be a challenge. It was probably why Swyft had chosen her to ask about translation. Still, it would do Markus some good to talk more with the commander, whether he liked it or not.

********

Later in the evening, Swyft found Markus in the back corner of the study hall. He had to pick and traipse his way over the entirety of the Elite force sprawled like lizards on every spare space of floor. Apparently, when there was no more furniture space available, they had taken to plopping down in random bits of floor whether they were in walkways or not. Their big, brown bodies were flopped on their bellies or propped up against the wall, long legs sticking out. All of them had books in their hands or had earbuds playing lectures in their ears. Some highlighted page after page. They communicated with a series of grunts, when one rolled over on the other, there was a grunt. When one pointed to a page, the other nodded and gave a grumble of approval.

There was something strangely communal about it that comforted Swyft. They were a well wrought team as any he had seen trained. What was even better about the scene was that many of their non-Chippeqouti flight partners were interspersed through the room too.

He spied Daphne spread out on the floor under a low table, book propped on the floor and highlighter tucked behind her ear. Tiberius was laying on his back, legs against the wall listening to a hologram coin with his earpieces in. He had a black eye and a dark bruise along his jawline that was hard to miss. Swyft knew he would have to say something soon about the man’s weekend activities.

Illya was taking up the end of a couch, poured over his pad while his wife somehow had the lion’s share of the sitting space. She was propped on the end with her feet all stretched out along the cushions. The woman was short enough that her feet came nowhere near her husband’s leg.

He tripped his way through the crowd, receiving a few warning grunts, and found Markus at the table looking at his own study aids. “Markus,” Swyft nodded, “Feel up to running a few flashcards?”
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
With the finals near the Elite had determined it was better if they stayed in Skycorp with no distractions. Bookwork was hardly what most of them would have considered part of their job. Especially when the bookwork involved reading about other cultures that they were not trying to invade, infiltrate, or destroy.

While the men were busy working on their studies, Illya was doing his best to go through the various speeches he would be giving as an emperor. The first one was easy, it was just a welcome, the second was an acceptance of the allegiance of the Chippequoti, the third was an acceptance of the attending allies, the fourth was a call to the feast and the final was a farewell to the guests. All these speeches were just for the first night.

Normally, having this many speeches wouldn’t be quite so nerve wracking. This time however, there was the pressure of this being the first ceremony of its sort in over a thousand years. The Council only reminded him of this fact with each new piece of information they sent to him for approval, or to memorize for this occasion. All they really mean to say, was that they didn’t want him to make a mistake. Every single Chip was receiving messages on their pad regarding their role and proper behavior.

Wherever Kalizda was, she was taking a while to get to the study hall. Illya had to lay across the couch to save her spot. At least one time someone had tried to sit on the end and he had to tell them to move. By now it was just the men trying to give him a hard time.

When the couch gave a little dip Illya lost his patience. They knew he was saving it for Kalizda and yet they insisted on sitting there anyway. It was a light enough perch that he figured they were asking for it. With a kick he sent the obnoxious party sprawling only to hear Kalizda squeak. “Oh!” Shooting upright Illya scrambled to the other end of the couch and offered a hand to Kalizda. “I’m sorreh. I eh...I jes tink dat maybe et was one of dah men trying tah take yah spot again.”

It was horribly embarrassing to think that he’d been throwing her all over the place lately. Just a few days ago he popped her off the bunk when she crawled in with him. Being here with all the men and her was both good and bad. Good for him and the men, but somewhat bad because he was falling into some bad habits very easily.

Once Kalizda was seated on the couch she seemed to think that she was going to lay on it. Meekly, Illya decided to sit on one end and simply let Kalizda have all the space she wanted while they continued studying.

The Chippequoti men studied almost entirely in silence for the next few hours. Illya tapped his fingers in time to the words he was reading. Sometimes having a rhythm helped words and phrases stick better. This one wasn't going well with a rhythm so far, but he was working it out with memorization because he'd already tried to fit the words in a rhythm so many other ways. Saar was listening to lectures and he rolled to his back after a while. Ehvan was slumped in a chair with an arm over his stomach, Bahn and one of the other men sat at the table and tried not to step on Daphne. Markus was sitting in the corner and quietly reviewing his work. He wrote down a few things that were more difficult to remember, but other than that most of it was easy. A voice made him look up and he stared at Swyft for a moment. "Flash cards? I dun want flashes of anyting."

Swyft raised a brow at Markus and offered over a stack of handwritten cards. The cards would have been easier to replicate on a pad, but the point of making them by hand was to gain the knowledge in making them, then memorizing them when you worked through them. "It's a memorization study technique," he said quietly, "One we've used for awhile here, though I thought you might be more familiar with the traders tongue word for them rather than Kaerelean. It's supposed to be face paced, but it doesn't have to be...I suppose that's where they get the term 'flash' from."

Taking the stack of cards from the man, Markus eyed them suspiciously. First he looked at one side and then the next. "Dere es no flash. No legs or anyting dat a man should nut see. So yah call et flash because yah tink et es fast way tah study." With a shrug he picked them up and the held the first card for Swyft. The card had the definition facing Swyft and he stared at the vocabulary word. "Yah tell meh what dis es?"

Swyft took his seat as Markus let him know that he understood what was meant though, he did catch the 'yah think et es fast way tah study' and not 'is'. Markus gathered up the stack anyways, and held up the first one. These were flash cards he had made for both Edgar's class and general study, so there would be some questions for Kaereleans mixed in. Markus could try his hand at those if he wanted. "The Four Winds," he said with a nod, "Are the gods of the Chippeqouti, one each for the cardinal directions."

"Dats good. I jes dun know what cardinal es. Dis es nut Four Winds." Just for fun Markus held the next card with his hand over et. "I will flash yah dis card." He wanted to see how this was supposed to work. At the word 'flash' this time a few heads around the room looked up, including Illya's. His son's eyes widened slightly and then he quickly looked down at his pad. Bahn walked over and looked at the card before plucking one from the stack. "Dere es no flash. Nut even ankle!" Slapping the card back on the table he shook his head.

"It's what Kaereleans would call the directions indicated by the winds, North, South, East and West, in traders tongue," Swyft told him, "But if there is a more technical term I can change the card." Markus took up the next card and held a hand over it, though he wasn't sure why. The front of the card had to be visible for him to answer the back of it. It dawned on him that while Markus probably liked to pretend he understood, that he likely didn't know what these were still, even if it was obvious to anyone else who wasn't Chip. Before he could guide the man through how the cards worked for study, they suddenly had several sets of eyes on them and one Chip stalked over. He recognized the man as Bahn. Bahn came over and plucked up a card, inspecting it and then slapped the card back down in disappointment. Ankle? Swyft looked at the man for a second before he realized that they all seemed to think that these cards were some sort of illicit material. He fought down a smile at the mistake, but a choked snort from the front of the room told him someone else was laughing a little. He glanced to find Calysta with her hand clamped over her mouth, staring dutifully at her pad. "No, no ankles," Swyft said, "None of them have them...they're definitions and study facts for memorization. In fact, you can even turn it into a competition."

Bahn rolled his eyes at the explanation. "Den dese are nut flash anyting. Dese are study cards." At the mention of a competition one of the other men laughed. "Ah, a flash competition eh?" Pulling up his pant legs Saar flashed a scarred calf. "Check et out eh?" Asher slapped the calf and Saar grunted a bit and pushed Asher off the bench. Asher fell on Bahn, who in turn kicked Saar for the offense and then a small murmur of discontent rose before they all settled back into studying. Markus grinned all the while and then read the word to Swyft in Quoti. "Elder, define role in society." Just as he finished reading it in Quoti he realized his mistake and re-stated it in Trader's tongue. "Elder, define role en society."

Swyft looked on as the men teased each other about 'flashing' competitions. He found himself grateful none of the Chips decided to flash anything above their ankles and devolved into a bit of rough housing before settling down. They were a funny group and he chuckled at their antics, a rare display from his commander role, and turned his attention back to Markus, who growled at him in Qouti. Swyft blinked at him, having learned some of the language but not near enough to know what was being asked until it was repeated in trader's tongue for him. "Ah. Elder's sit on the Chippeqouti Council of Elders who are the governing body of the Chippeqouti in peace times and for civilian matters."

"Yah listen well tah Edgar. He es good teacher." Glancing at the next card he laughed. "Dis es Kaerelean word. Yah dun need et." Putting the card aside he moved to the next one. "Dis es nut fast."

"It is when covering a great amount of material," Swyft replied, "You should try the Kaerelean one." He wondered if the man would try it or not.

Markus stared at the question on the Kaerelean card. "Dah word es flight. Dis kind of flight en word refers tah oldest flight known tah Kaereleans. Et es flight on dah great falcons." With a grin he settled back into his chair. "I read Kaerelean jes fine. Some skills I learn witout dese classes. Dey are useful, but dey are nut necessary for survival. Now, dah Chippequoti study different way. We study and learn our language and history wit conversation. Ef yah want help yah begin talking to meh. Dis es how yah will be tested. Edgar will talk wit yah. Et es nut about knowing what card says. Et es about how yah say et, what yah say and ef yah hold proper posture. Chippequoti talk en many ways."

To his surprise, Markus did know what the word meant and what was more, he seemed to know more than just that singular word. He hadn't been aware that his partner knew Kaerelean fluently enough to read it. When he mentioned how they learned language, Swyft sat back some, and put the stack of illicit learning materials to the side. Markus didn't talk much, so he was curious to see what the man would actually say, if anything. "Alright then," Swyft said with a nod of his chin, "Then we will practice with conversation. Shall we start in Kaerelean?" Posture wasn't a problem for him. He'd always carried his shoulders straight and true as a commander should, but he wasn't sure how far he would get if the man spoke in Qouti.

A broad grin spread over Markus' face. It was always fun to see the shock on a person's face when they realized it wasn't an illiterate barbarian. "Ef yah want tah show skill in Quoti or Chippequoti culture yah better nut tah speak Kaerelean. Speak en traders tongue for Chippequoti culture. Dis es how Edgar will expect et. He will nut grade yah well for using Kaerelean. Yah will nut find many Chippequoti dat speak et well enough and et will be rude. Yah speak Trader's Tongue for dis. For Quoti language yah speak what yah know and I test yah boundaries. Yah tell meh why Chippequoti bury dead wit dah winds."

"Fair point." Swyft said. Markus seemed to think he had won something here, but he wasn't entirely sure what victory the man was grinning so broadly over. When he smiled in such a way, he did resemble his son though. He was hoping that Markus would speak in Kaerelean some, as he wanted to know how conversational he was in the language. Markus was too focused on test preparation though. Swyft considered the question presented by the man, trying to find the words he needed, though he knew the answer. "Chippeqouti..." he said, gathering himself to continue in Qouti, "No ground. Fire...burn the dead with winds for the gods army." It was crude but it was the best he could come up with.

"That will be good enough. Give further explanation in Trader's Tongue when you run out of Quoti words. You may use broken tongue. It is not expected you will be expert yet. Edgar wants fluid conversation even if you change languages to do dis." Markus folded his hands and stared at Swyft expectantly. "Yah will ask meh question next and I will answer en Kaerelean as expected for meh classes."

It was slightly relieving to know he could fall back on traders tongue, which he hadn't know. "Alright then." Clearing his throat some, he folded his hands over the table and looked at Markus squarely while he considered his question. "Who was the first person to invent flight travel on Kaereal and what happened to them?"

Markus looked at Swyft for a long moment. He started out in a rough accent. "Dah first tah fly by yah ancient story es Kultrya and she es regarded as goddess of war. Lyre es first tah use et en Kaerelean history and he use et as conquering." His language wasn't quite perfect, but it was enough to get the point across.

Swyft shook his head. "Not quite," he answered, "The first to invent flight travel between continents was Gyltram. He flew on a balloon to Rey and Lyr took the design, making it better and sustainable for long term travel, including the the falcons- the cryn- which they had already mastered. It allowed the Lyr to travel with his cryn warriors and conquer. Kulytra was the goddess they learned to fly on the backs of falcons from."

For a moment Markus frowned. "Gyltram es older den Kultrya? Den why es he nut a god?"

Some how things had gotten confused and Swyft thought about how to fix it. "No, that's incorrect...hmm..." The best thing he could come up with was a small demonstration. He pulled one of his flash cards over and pointed at it. "Think of this card as the floating continent of Rey. Here they were groups of tribes, all of them learning how to fly on the backs of the Cryn from the goddess Kulytra some thousand years before, yeah? These mounted warriors can fly far in any direction, but their range is limited. They need to rest, feed, and the riders do as well. They would need to do that long before they reached the next closest place to do that. The next continent, which is here." He pulled another card over and placed it across the table. "So, long flights for conquering were not feasible." Then he grabbed another card and folded its edges, then flipped it on the side to look like a ball of sorts. "When Gyl arrives on Rey, he is riding in a single balloon. A one man ship. Not very practical, but he was the first person to make sustained flight between the continents." Reaching for another card, he folded it long ways and placed it on top of Rey. "Lyr learns from Gyltram and takes the man's design, but makes it better. Grander. Now, he has a ship that can carry all of his warriors and their mounts from Rey.... to the next continent over ...then the next...and the next." He pushed the bigger, better folded card around the table to land on the other continent on the other side. "Gyltram barely escapes and manages to fly to several other continents, before disappearing from all continental records. Nobody knows what happened to his balloon, or the man himself. Gyltram was the first man to make true flight travel possible. Lyr was the one who made it feasible."

Raising a single brow Markus watched the demonstration and waited for it to end. "Gyltram died en dah wilds. Most reasonable explanation for his deat. I will guess dat Kaereleans dun tell children dis because dey expect tah tell dere children good story. Tell meh. Would Chippequoti tell dere children ef hero died en bad way? Why would Chippequoti do what dey do?"

"It is the most reasonable explanation, but of course, evidence has never been found given the information we know from is last recorded location and course heading," Swyft said, "There were also rumors at the time that he had landed somewhere, air sick, and fell in love with a woman from the continent he found himself stranded on. That's likely the false heroic tale. But the truth is, without evidence, no one will ever truly know." He swept his little card demonstration to the side and looked at Markus thoughtfully. "Yes, like Kaerelean children, Chippeqouti children" -he used the Qouti term for children- "Would hear the truth, no matter how terrible. Because it is the truth and they should know it."

With a nod Markus noted the man's emphasis on how the Kaereleans were equal in their telling of truth to the young. "I find dis interesting. Yah lean heavily on unknown. Chippequoti would tell dere children dat hero likely die en his attempts. Dat wilds are vast and deadly. Dis es lesson so dey will nut learn tah tink dey are able to do what dey cannot. Chippequoti will nut make false claims of dere ability because dey know ef claims are false and dey are asked to perform dey will die because dey lie. I make mistake one time believing dat meh son could do what he told meh he could nut. For meh mistake many men died and he was near deat for many decades. For dis, I leave and make him General and Emperor. Dah Elite could nut trust meh dah same dey trust him. Tell meh, would Kaereleans lie about dere ability?"

Swyft began to get the sinking suspicion that this conversation was more of a hunting trip than it was a cultural exchange. Perhaps it was the way Markus' eyes kept a cool predatory gaze, though that was always present. Maybe it was because he had made such a staunch example of the way he had treated his son and now, he wanted to know what it was Swyft thought of such a thing? This wasn't a question. It was a test in and of itself. Swyft leveled his gaze at Markus, calm though he knew the man was pushing. He could have answered that question with another question, but he suspected Markus would find this weak and evasive. He was going to tell the man the truth. "I think you make an improper comparison," he said "Where telling children the truth about Gyl, or any hero for that matter, is concerned, it isn't false to assume the possibility exists without evidence to the contrary. Children are taught the possible methods and the most likely of those methods. It is a story that does inspire many explorers and scientists to search for Gyl's wreckage. Will they find it? I don't know but there is the possibility that they will. It isn't beyond their ability nor is it a false claim to consider all the possibilities and attempt them. No progress is made without attempts and failures." He kept his eyes trained on Markus. "It is another thing to go against all evidence to the contrary, all facts, and knowledge then make a claim that the outcome will still work, when clearly you know that it will not. That kind of falsity is not something I have ever known Kaereleans to do."

"Dis explains plenty of yah people's way of life. Dey waste much on discovery dat no longer matters. Yah will nut likely find answers and even now each day and hour dah chances are less. Still yah most learned should waste time on dis discovery? Et es best tah give most likely answer and continue wit productive work. Wit Chippequoti noting es wasted. Kaerelean use of time seems strange. Yah children play for too many years, dey do nut learn duty young enough." Catching what appeared to be some sort of disapproval, or disappointment from Swyft he shrugged. "Yah learn much culture dis way. Yah learn dat all time and resource es used, all Chippequoti know dere duty. Tah know dah children es tah know dah people."

Markus seemed to get a little bristled at his reply, but Swyft ignored that and listened to the man's dissapproval over how they raised their children. He couldn't help but wonder how this man felt about his grandchildren, if these were his thoughts on Kaerelean children in general. "Yes, I'm learning quite a bit," Swyft said amiably, "Though I would say, that discovery of Gyl's wreckage would not necessarily be a waste. Depending on what was found, it may give insight into cultures before they were untouched, unchanged, and before Lyr destroyed them. You see, when Lyr landed on a place he didn't just take the resources and the people. He destroyed their culture too. Burned their books, their records, their religious places. He scorched them all or dumped them over the edge in the wild. We have many different cultures here and all of them are respected now for that reason, including yours, however, if the wreckage was found and even a small bit of that culture or knowledge could be returned to its people, I would hardly call it a waste." He leaned back comfortably in his chair. "I suppose that depends on what you deem to be valuable though."

There was always a sort of strange perspective from the Kaereleans and Markus sighed. "Culture es valuable, but ef et es long gone, den et es gone and dere es no use bringing et back. Yah see, dere es part of Chippequoti culture dat dies even now and we know dis. Let dah people change and dun put dem back where dey were wit new evidence." There were many things he wanted to learn about the Kaerelean mindset that were not taught in the classroom. "So, now yah tell meh what yah disapprove in Chippequoti culture and I give yah reason. Dese are tings dat yah will find helpful tah understand what yah must know tah understand us."

Swyft didn't exactly disagree with Markus, but neither did he agree with him. It wasnt about trying to relieve the past, but trying to understand it. They were long past the days of the continents as separate, distant entities. The next part of his comment made Swyft take pause. Markus had already played the game once or twice tonight and he wasnt going to give him the pleasure of a third try. Especially not when it came to something he would disapprove of. "I can't say I have the right to disapprove of anything in your culture. Our cultures are very different but it's not for me to say right or wrong for the Chippeqouti from my perspective. I will say that there are aspects that are different and might cause misunderstanding." He looked at Markus and folded his hands over the table. "Such as the concept of your black record books."

Diplomacy was all at play here and Markus found it boring. "So now yah tink dat dis conversation requires diplomacy. Dun boter wit et. I haven't." With a sly grin he prodded a bit further. "What about dese black books?"

"I know you havent," Swyft said evenly, with a small upward quirk of his lips, "I think you're rather enjoying the attempt at riling me up." He leaned back and crossed one knee over the other and opened a palm as he spoke, gesturing with his hand some. "That is where you keep your record of debts and hours owed by individuals is it not? Someone who didnt understand that it was a consensual exchange of one service for another with their name ending up in a Chips black book might see that as slavery. I dont think I have to tell you how Kaereleans view that subject."

Now the man seemed to be catching on and Markus nodded. "Oh, I know how dat looks to dah Kaereleans. Chippequoti assume payment and ef yah in position tah bargain dey will make trade wit yah. Ef yah in no position tah bargain dey will make fair trade. Kalizda and Illya have good example of dis kind of bargain."

Swyft's head tilted some at Markus and he felt curious as he brought up a rather infamous example. "How so? Explain their example to me."

Now that they were making better progress Markus nodded. "Well, Kalizda landed on dah planet and penalty would be deat, but Illya knows she es nut Federation and for price of sparing her life and keeping her shep he procures lessons tah fly. She es his teacher so he learns tah fly and when she gives all flying hours and work required her debt es paid."

"Alright," Swyft said, thinking on the example that Markus illustrated, "And did he tell her how many hours that she was to work in this exchange before she agreed to it?"

Markus shrugged. "I dun know. Would et matter? Her life es spared and as long as she works for him et es his honor at risk ef she goes hungry, has no clotes, or suffers for anyting dat he could provide. Meh son has honor and he cared for her even when she was ill."

"Aye," Swyft agreed, "From what I understand, your indebtedness requires the debtor to be cared for and provided for. I don't doubt that Illya did meet Ms. Monroe with honor. I hardly think she would have married...agreed with him had he done otherwise. She was never one for putting up with being mistreated by the time I knew her." That made him, smile faintly in pride before he turned to the matter at hand. "But I think it does matter. Say you disagree with the amount of hours her time is worth? Or the amount of debt that is paid with her time? Yes, she had little choice when she landed, but she was never given the chance to have a say in the matter? That would have been true consent in the eyes of a Kaerelean. The ability to say "yes, my time and your price are agreeable." She might have even found the price he gave to be agreeable given her circumstances, but she still should have known before entering in the contract." He was matter of fact about the issue, but not forceful. "There is also the theory that perhaps Illya could have been dishonorable and bonded her for life in exchange for saving it when she had no other choice. I have no doubt that Chippeqouti are careful not to do such things but not all Kaereleans know or understand that."

"Well, who es tah say dat she never ask tah see her price." Markus shrugged. "How many years would give for yah life? She dun even work eh...I dun know how long she works." Leaning in his seat Markus craned his neck to the left. "Illya! How long did Kalizda work tah pay her price?" At that Illya's head rose and he frowned at his father before shrugging. "I dun know."

"It is hypothetical, but the premise is still sound," Swyft said before Markus barked at his son to answer how long Calysta worked to pay off her debt. Even her husband didn't seem to remember, which wasn't so surprising given how many shots to the head he'd taken since then according to his medical records. Calysta looked at Markus questioningly, before settling back into her seat a little closer to Illya. "Perhaps, that's something they should know," Swyft said with a small shrug, "Now, I suppose it's your turn. You tell me something you find disagreeable about Kaereleans."

Rubbing his hands together Markus tilted his head up. "Ooooh." He paused as if contemplating and then grinned before he met Swyft's gaze again. "So many tings I could say, but I get tah peck dah most important. I tink Kaereleans lack en most trades dat dun have tah do wit flight. I will admit dat yah people have superior flight programs and abilities, but many oter tings lack dah same skill."

Swyft gazed at Markus some, growing slightly used to this kind of conversation. This would always come down the same air of superiority the Chippeqouti seemed to carry, though it was much less prevalent in Illya than it was his father. "Ah,"he said, "And it what areas do you think the Kaereleans lack in trade?"

Now that the challenge was accepted Markus decided to go on. "I'll make meh list short. Wit exception of Reylians, yah soldiering needs work, most tailors are nut precise enough for Chippequoti, yah metal workers could learn a few tings from our metal workers and dun even get meh started wit dah problems in yah construction." When he mentioned the problem with construction almost every man in ear shot raised his head and grinned. They all hated how flimsy the Kearelean houses and furniture were made. "I tink mostly et es dah houses dat fall apart wit very little effort. I break small pipe jes dah oter day, flood meh whole space and try tah repair pipe only tah rip et trough dah wall and break pipe off en ground and den I have tah call man wit delicate Kaerelean touch tah fex et for meh."

Swyft listened to whatever Markus had to say with a neutral gaze of consideration until he mentioned what happened in his own home. As all the men turned to look at them, looking like grinning prairie dogs popping up from their books, Swyft stared at Markus and for once a broad, unabashed grin spread over his face. The slightly worn crows feet at the corners of his eyes crinkled and his teeth flashed as he let out a rich and hearty laugh. All of the Kaereleans in the room looked up now, totally shocked at both the topic of the conversation and who had managed to get Swyft to laugh like that. The stoic commander's laugh was jolly though and he looked at Markus. "Flimsy houses against men whose bones are stronger than tree trunks and steel?" Of course they would think the housing was flimsy after all that.

"So yah consent? Dat yah tradesmen need tah build houses more sturdy?" At this comment all the men in the room laughed and they cheered on. "Sturdy house, sturdy house." After the short lived chant they burst out laughing and a few of them jumped up and acted momentarily as if they were about to bust through the study hall doors before stopping short and gingerly tapping on it.

He watched them get riled up again, chanting and running up to the study room door with fits of laughter as he still chuckled himself. "I say, that a Kaerelean tradesmen coming to build for a strong Chip Elite ought to make sure it can hold up to them all."

With a sly grin Markus met Swyft's gaze and gave a knowing sort of nod. "Den we finally agree."

Swyft laughed a merry sound and nodded. "Aye, and may it be the first of several things someday."

While the men finished their study session a few of the Elite began to get up and mill around while they continued to study. Sitting for too long was more than most of them could bear. They were used to classes where you stood for a portion of it and then got to do something. Primarily that was due to the fact that most of their classes for the last several decades were additional training. It was much easier to think while they moved around.

Illya’s back was starting to ache and he shifted a few times before he decided he would rise and walk around while he studied. The walking path was a bit crowded with a few of the other men and they periodically had to nudge one of the others laying on the floor to prompt them to give more space for walking.

On a trek toward the doorway to the study hall Illya stopped short as the door opened to reveal Tiberius walking in with a large heavy looking box. At some point he must have left the study hall and then returned with this box. Stepping aside he watched curiously as the man shuffled through the room and then set it on the main table.

As Tiberius made his way past every eye in the room followed him and then stared inquisitively as he proceeded to open the box. Inside there were probably near 100 small, yellow fruits with thick skins. Slowly the Terran peeled the yellow fruit and then sliced it into rings before he began to methodically place one ring after another into his mouth. Occasionally he would spit out a seed and then he looked at the others.

All the Elite had set what they were studying down and watched intently. It seemed there was a lot of this stuff and then there was the offer to eat some for themselves with the challenge that Tiberius didn’t think they could do it without making faces.

“Agh, c’mon we eat plenty of foreign food here. We can eat et witout face.” Grumbling at him Saar made his way over and grabbed one to peel. “I prove et to yah. I will eat dis en one bite. What yah call et?” With a nod he repeated the name, “Lehmohn,” then corrected his pronunciation, “Lehmon, eh lemon.” Finally it seemed he got the name right and all the other Elite gathered around to see if he could eat this fruit without making a face. There were plenty of terrible foreign foods and so far they hadn’t made many faces, but Tibrius seemed to think this one would be different.

Proudly, Saar held up the peeled fruit for all to see and then shoved the entire little fruit into his mouth. With the first bite he seemed to be fine and then halfway through his second bite he began to shudder and his eyes rolled almost to the back of his head before he spit the lemon out shook his head. “Ugh!” Spitting into the garbage can nearby he stuck his tongue out and tried to let the juices drain off his tongue.

When Saar’s eyes started to roll into the back of his head the Elite all started to close in and Bahn reached for Tiberius to throttle the man just in time to see Saar pull out of near seizure posture. Instead the anger melted to a broad grin and he chuckled partly in relief. “Alright, I try one.” Bahn quickly peeled his and this time took the challenge. “I have stronger control of mehself den dat.” Of course Saar shot him a dirty look and Asher along with several others began peeling the little yellow fruits for themselves.

Bahn and Ehvan each had their fruits ready at approximately the same time and shoved the entire yellow fruit in their mouths. Bahn’s face contorted and he moved over to the garbage can to spit it out while Ehvan continued to make faces and then swallowed the fruit with a grimace.

Naturally, this display made every other man want to try. Asher and Dane stepped up next and they eyed each other before starting the challenge. Dane peeled his fruit and waited while Asher painstakingly worked the skin off his fruit and managed to slime his cast several times. At least the lemons smelled good. Asher beat Dane to the garbage can while he made faces and Dane was practically drooling the nasty juice out of his mouth while he shook and squinted the whole way to the garbage.

The Elite watched and paired up as they saw fit to challenge one another to a duel of sorts. There were only one or two men that actually could make it through the fruit without making a noticeable face. Finally, at the end of the challenge it came to Illya and his father. The two of them walked to the table and made a contest of the entire thing.

Markus beat Illya in peeling the fruit. Illya dropped the fruit a few times and started to bruise it once, but he made it to the end. When they were ready both of them shoved a whole lemon in their mouth.

One giant convulsion practically rolled from Markus’ feet to his head and even his hair shook as if offended by the taste. Illya gagged and made faces, but he managed to force himself to swallow the fruit. Despite the fact that the fruit was disgusting and the Elite were proof of that a few Kaereleans and other cadets wanted to try it for themselves. The Elite chuckled some at each other and then the new challenge takers. Though they noted that many of the other participants in the challenge didn’t try to eat the entire fruit in one bite.

By the end of the challenge the Elite were ready to study for another hour or so. Asher found a spot on the floor, Illya returned to the couch and several others looked for new spots to study after they retrieved their pads.

The study hall had begun to empty out shortly after midnight and as the men moved out Asher remained completely still. His pad was tucked neatly into one of his pant pockets and his casted arm was resting over his chest. Bahn walked over to the young Chip and nudged him, “Eh, get up.” There was no response and he pushed again. Finally Dane wandered over and Illya. Both of them stared at Asher and then a singular sigh went up from all the men. “Chip coma.”

********************************************************************

When they were finally getting ready for bed that night Illya was more than glad that they were going to be staying in their ship. His back was sore, his leg hurt, eyes were a bit blurry after all that study and he had a headache. Overall, it wasn't a great feeling after so many hours over the weekend and into the week. They were barely half way through the week and next week would be exams. Half tripping out of his boxers he growled when he hit the bed. With a final kick he let his boxers hit the floor and then he pushed the covers down so he could get into them. "Dis es nut fun week so far. I tink I will like next week much better. I jes stand around and let meh men test. I already do all dis. I'm instructor and I give some exams. I still work on et some tomorrow night I tink."

The past week not being fun was what Calysta would have called the understatement of the year. She was exhausted too and she understood how he felt. Though, she would be taking the exams rather than giving them out. Peeling off her undershirt and bottoms, she pulled down the other side of her covers and slipped in beside him, wiggling her toes until they were past the cool spots in the sheets. Illya would warm them up quick enough. "Mmm...aye...your father seemed in rare form tonight. It looks like it was a good week for him and that he feels better."

Illya had already closed his eyes and he nodded. "Mmhmm." He wasn't sure what she wanted to get at. Maybe she was just making a statement, but women rarely did that from his experience.

Calysta laid back and rolled over, her cheek resting on her pillow as she looked up at Illya. She was so sleepy, but in all the chaos of the week, she had forgotten something. "You were going to tell me what he said to you the night you were in the hotel," she yawned, "But its been a busy week and I meant to ask."

"Oh, he jes tell meh bunch of shet tah make tings hard. I wanted tah beat his old carcass, but I decided nut tah."

She leaned in closer and rested a head on his shoulder, her tiny hand slipping up to his chest. That's the way she usually slept and it was comfortable so long as he wasn't tossing and turning. Nestling in, she took in a steady breath and ignored the evasive question. "What kind of shit," she whispered to him.

Illya set a hand over hers when she rested it on his chest. He had gotten used to her putting it there and sometimes he liked holding her hand just because he could. With a gentle pat on her hand and a deep breath he decided to do his best to answer her question. "He tell meh dat dah Council required I was tah be killed as baby, but he and moter make deal wit council. Dey wanted tah keep meh. Ef et's true den meh fater always know dat I was born wit evil blood and he made many risks. I will need tah as Asha about dis tah be sure he es nut twisting dis story."

Her fingers were warm inside his hand and the gentle pat was comforting. Despite his exhaustion, he was there and she took comfort in it. His next words made her fingers curl over his chest some, as if that would some how protect him, though she didn't realize she'd done it. Of course, she wanted to tell him that his blood was not evil. He was not evil. However, this was her moment to listen to him without interruption. Nodding, she curled a little deeper into his side. "Does that change how you feel about him? If he is telling the truth and Asha confirms it?"

"I dun know ef I would feel he es better fater, or jes be angry. Maybe I feel little guilty because he sometimes seems different den I remember him and den oter times he es same." Illya sighed some and shifted to get more comfortable. "Ef he's telling dah trut he planned tah defy dah council ef et was nut approved tah keep meh. Asha was going tah fly meh moter tah village dat had some people dat agreed tah raise meh ef dey could nut."

Calysta held him close, even as he adjust to get more comfortable. It was hard to imagine Markus defying the council for anyone but she did believe that if he were to do it for anyone, Illya would be that person. "Mmmm," she hummed, thinking in her drowsy state, "Maybe it's possible to be both, yeah," she replied quietly, "Both angry and more understanding of him." She felt that way with her mother whenever the subject came up or she had to deal with something about the woman. "It's possible to love someone and be angry and feel guilt all at once." Her arm gave his chest a gentle squeeze. "Did he say anything else?"

It sounded like they were almost done with the conversation when Kalizda decided to ask another question. Mumbling a bit Illya slowly answered, "Mmm, some...ting about eh....someting wit dah kids. He wants..tah see meh and dah kids more."

Her eyes flickered open some, though she didn't remember closing them at all. Of course, Markus wanted to see the kids and Illya more. They were all he had left and it was easier to do what he pleased if he was close. "What did you tell him?" she whispered.

"I tell him no for now." Turning on his side Illya almost fell asleep within a few seconds and jerked himself awake. "Hmm?" He didn't know if she'd said anything and he started to drift off again.

Illya shifted to his side and she found herself, nose to his chest. Relief flooded her when he said that he had told Markus no. It wasn't that she didnt trust Illya, but she would like to have discussed it first with him and now he had given her that chance. Pleased and relieved, she snuggled closer until he jolted a little with a hum. "Nothing," she mumbled, "It's okay. Go to sleep." She could feel her own eyes shuttering down and she stuck her tiny toes to his warm leg before drifting off to sleep.

*************************************************

The last week of classes weren’t going to be easy for Asher to miss, but he slept through the rest of them anyway and he woke up just in time to study a few days before finals. When he woke it was Friday afternoon and he sat up in his bed. He smelled horrible, but he was hungry and he felt mad. Last he knew they were going to have a few review lectures.

A big hand reached out and he growled, “Yah better have food ef yah gonna talk to meh.” Immediately the hand thrust a loaf of bread and a slab of meat at him. Without much else Asher grabbed the food with a snarl and began to tear into the meat with almost vicious bites. Then he ripped chunks of the bread off the loaf and shoved them unceremoniously into his mouth. When he’d at least satisfied the immediate need for something to eat he stripped down and wandered to the showers without caring much if anyone was in the hall to see him mostly naked. He was wearing only his boxers and he’d put on the cast guard to keep it from getting wet.

Ehvan jogged past Asher in the hallway and dashed into the math class to beckon Illya. All the Elite turned to look at Ehvan and two more men besides Illya stood. There wasn’t much time and so Illya gave his brief explanation. “Asher es awake. We go make food for him.”

The most unfortunate part with the timing was that the cook already had a full kitchen, but she’d have to let them in. “Asher es awake. We make food for him now eh? He will come en and he would be very angry ef dere was nut food. Chip coma makes Chippequoti little unreasonable ef dere es nut something tah eat.”

Asher was ready to eat about time a line formed outside the doors and he was starting to shake some from the hunger pangs. His blood sugar was dangerously low and he half shoved his way past a few Kaereleans before Bahn started to move people for him. “Get out of dah way, he needs food now.” Without much ceremony the Chips ushered Asher to the front of the line and Ehvan began piling heaps of meat and vegetables with thick gravy on a lunch tray. There was no reason to use a plate when they knew Asher would mow through the plate before he even got seated. At least this way they could heap the lunch tray and have another one to him before he was finished with the first.

A few Kaerleans got wide eyes as they saw the usually amiable Asher grunt and take the tray without even so much as a thank you. The Chip almost fell on the food like a wild Tyrei before he even got to his table. It took four trays before he was satisfied and almost back to his usual self. Illya grinned at Dane and two other men. “Yah have clean up.” With that the Chippequoti cleared out of the cafeteria late for the next review session, but successful in getting Asher food before he actually went into a more serious sort of coma.

*****************************

The weekend didn’t seem to have enough time to sleep. Illya and Kalizda flew home after the last day of reviews. Saturday and Sunday he would have more council meetings, a final fitting for his outfit as emperor and he’d have to select what jewelry he would wear with the outfit and any temporary tattoos to accompany the ceremonial attire.

If there was one mercy it was the fact that the council let him push the Sunday meeting out until after lunch. Despite the fact that the one week of no sex was over, Illya didn’t have the energy to even try asking Kalizda if she was up for hard work the entire weekend. It felt like a minor miracle that he had even made it through the rest of his training on Sunday for the ceremony to start the tour.

Immediately following his training he grabbed his duffel at the house, kissed all the kids and gave them hugs before leaving with Kalizda again for the finals at Skycorp. Thankfully he was only there as a formality and to show support for Kalizda and his men. While they were in the final exams he was going to nap on his bunk.

Inside the duffel Illya had a few last things he was going to have to figure out and one of them was the turban. He had instructions on wrapping it, but he failed at least 2 times on the way to Kinte. Before they landed on Kinte, Illya folded the fabric for the turban and put it back into the box it was to be carried in. “Well, I jes work on et more tomorrow. I tink maybe I will come tah Skycorp and wait en dah study hall for all of yah. Dat way when yah finished wit exams we can gater and have small party. I expect all meh men will pass dah exams. Dey are required tah pass first time. Dere es no time tah fail.”

Catching Kalizda’s gaze he gave her a tired grin. “Et will be good tah see meh little bird en her uniform and ready tah fly again.” She missed it and he knew she did. That expression on her face the day of the demonstration told it all. Flying was perhaps her greatest passion. She loved what she did before she met him. At least she had it back now.

Momentarily he felt like he understood what she meant when she asked if he was happy. It was late and the kids had all been asleep for a while and he got up with her to land the ship. Illya considered it might have been his tired brain leaping to wild conclusions, but he was going to ask anyway. “Kalizda, yah are happy when yah fly and yah will be happy tah be cadet again? Es dis dah kind of happiness yah ask meh about?”

It was hard to tell if Kalizda understood what he was trying to ask and Illya frowned while he thought of how to re-phrase it. “Yah find pleasure in yah work and yah like dah result of yah work. Dis es happiness yah talk about?”

*********************************

The next morning came far too early. Illya could hear his alarm going off and he turned over in the bed with a groan. “Why we so crazy? Chippequoti volunteer for too much work sometimes and I tink dis es what we do.” Grumbling a little more under his breath he chided himself for complaining “Yah know ets nut Chip way tah complain when dere es much work tah be done. Yah be proud for yah duty tah serve yah people.”

Leaning toward Kalizda, Illya kissed her gently. “Dis es someting dat makes meh happy.” Kissing her again he winked. “Nut so difficult. Maybe we tink about volunteer for more work tahnight.”

Regardless of the fact that he felt somewhat playful this morning he knew that they needed to be early for finals. Illya made a rushed shower and he dashed out the ship to Skycorp. Standing inside the hallway he greeted each of his men on their way to the showers. “Yah study well yah know yah work.” Each of them nodded in return and on their way to breakfast he joined them.

There wasn’t much chatting, they were all nervous and Illya knew it. When breakfast was over the men silently milled their way into the various rooms they were to be testing in. Illya passed word along to them that he would meet with them in the study hall after the last test was finished for the day.

Finals were the same for two days and the last day the Elite all flopped in the study hall. “Yah know, I say dat we all jes go take a piss over dah edge. Jes for fun. We go trough all dis and we might as well.” Ehvan’s idea got plenty of attention and the men all seemed to think it was a good idea.

Within an hour all fifty of them had left together for the first time in a few months. They only had to return to check their results and attend the graduation. Ehvan led the group to the edge and the entire group of men along with those interested in going lined up. As a joke Illya gave Ehvan the rights to lead.

“Yah go on tree.” Ehvan smirked as he called out the orders. “Straightforward, assume stance on three unzip.” The rest of the orders were in Quoti since he assumed the rest that came with would know that going on. “One, two, tree!” On three the men all began to unzip their pants and more than 50 streams showered over the edge.

*******************************************

The Elite and Illya left Kinte almost immediately after the graduation and it was just as well. They all had to get to the bath house. Illya had a bit more to do. The kids needed to get to the bath house and the girls would go get their hair made. Cypher would make sure he had his final fitting for his model sword.

Rose had a custom outfit with colors of her own choosing. There was going to be a rehearsal for the first dinner and Illya had barely figured out how to wrap the turban. “Kalizda, when we land I go to dah temple for rehearsal wit dah elders. I will be back for late dinner.” All the preparation was beginning to wear on him and then he remembered. “Oh, we need someone tah stay wit dah kids ef Rose esn’t available. Yah supposed tah come wit meh to dah rehearsal.”
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Their study session was broken up when Sywft noticed Tiberius in his first airmen fatigues enter the room and walk to the center with a crate piled high with oblong, yet plump yellow fruits. Swyft recognized them immediately and fought the urge to grimace. His wife drank those in her tea and he couldn’t see how she stood to put them in anything.

Tiberius gave him a nod of recognition, then plucked a fruit from the top and began slicing it before feeding the slices into his mouth one at a time without a single issue. “Care for a slice, Commander?” he asked, casually.

“Oh, no thanks,” Swyft said, waving him off.

“Ten credits if you can eat it without making a face,” Tiberius mused as he took another slice.

“I’ll pass,” Swyft said with a chuckle.

“Eh, nobody can do it,” Tiberius replied, his grin widening.

The rest of the room seemed to take that as a challenge and the Chip men gathered around to start grabbing at fruits and peeling them with little- small for Chippeqouti- pocket knives. Swyft sat back as Tiberius told them what it was called. “It’s a lemon...no...LEM-ON. Yeah, like that.”

It was Saar who tried the first one but rather than slicing into little rounds, he shoved a whole peeled lemon between his gums and chomped. The effect was immediate. His eyes rolled back and he shuddered violently before ejecting the mashed fruit into the trashcan.

One after the other they tried the pungent and sour yellow fruits, some eating them whole or not bothering to peel them. To Tiberius’ surprise, Ehvan managed to swallow one entirely. Nobody including Markus or the General himself could stomach eating one without making some sort of face.

Calysta approached and plucked one up, then used a pocket knife from her jumpsuit belt to cut the fruit into quarters. With a delicate sniff, she examined the fresh smelling fruit then ducked her shoulder. “It doesn’t seem so bad,” she said with a smile. Without further prompting, she stuffed the wedge pulp first into her mouth.

The tiny woman shuddered and her brow furrowed deeply but she consumed the entire wedge with winces. “Oh...Wilds...that’s awful...is that from Terra?” she choked out between shivers.

“Yep,” Tiberius grinned, “It’s part of the Citrus fruit variety. One of the more sour ones. I’m going to remember all those faces you guys made too.” Plucking up another lemon, he carved off a slice and stuck it into his mouth with a playful grin. “It was definitely worth the credits.”

When things settled down and the study hall was marked for closure, only an hour each night so that way it could be cleaned and refreshed, Swyft was on his way out when a collective sigh came from all of them.

Swyft paused and looked to Calysta before leaning closer so he could speak. “Chip coma?”

Calysta didn’t appear surprised so much as mildly concerned. Her brow was pulled in the center slightly and she crossed her arms as Asher was picked up and hauled over Dane’s shoulder.

The small woman tilted her head in his direction and began to speak in Kaerelean for clarity. “It’s a biological mechanism. Chippeqouti have unique immune systems stemming from their bones and if there is an injury that needs to be healed, toxins to be released, or exhaustion to cure, it will force them into a coma to repair itself without disruption. It doesn’t happen all of the time. When they have fevers, they sometimes seize as well.”

Swyft looked at Asher and assessed him for signs of injury, his eyes catching on the casted hand. “He was fine just twenty minutes ago. That must have been some break in his arm to cause him to slip into a coma like that.”

“Oh,” Calysta said, “Don’t worry. A broken bone for a Chip is very painful, but it was only his finger that was broken. It will feel better for most part in a few days when he wakes up.”

Swyft raised a brow. He had only broken his thumb and he would now be in a coma for ‘few’ days? It was strange to think that the large men were some of the stronger species he knew and yet somehow delicate. He wouldn’t call them delicate aloud though.

“Will he need anything when he wakes up?” Swyft asked, “Medical attention?”

“No, not really,” she replied, “He’ll be in a foul mood and hungry as a one-toothed tyrei, but he’ll be fine.”

Swyft watched as Asher was carried out of the study hall and then put his hands into his pockets. “If there’s anything he requires, keep me apprised will you cadet?”

Calysta chuckled at him. “I haven’t been called that by you in a long time. It doesn’t have the same ring as Captain. Aye, sir. I will.”

The commander gave her a nod and the barest hint of a smile. “The demotion was mandated by the board. Broken rules do have their consequences.”

“Yessir, they do,” she replied, not in the least sorry sounding. Swyft knew she didn’t regret her decision to help the Chippeqouti because she had said as much but also because he knew that she was generally a caring person. She empathized with them and believed that they were worthy of the sacrifice she made of her own career by the simple merit that they were people in need of help. Not many would have chosen to do what she did.

“Cadet,” he said, “The next time I pin captain bars on you in front of the board, I expect you to turn to them and smile with pride.” That would really get them going. She would have proven herself not once, but twice under strict scrutiny and intense pressure. The board would have to swallow that pill.

Calysta must have caught his meaning and she smirked slightly. “Yessir. I can’t ignore a order from my commander after all and I would gladly do it.”

They both chuckled and then Swyft gave Markus a nod from across the room. “Goodnight,” he said in his horribly accented Qouti. Calysta winced at the pronunciation, but the comment looked as though it had been understood. With that, he bid Calysta good night and retreated from the study hall.

*******************

Swyft’s rare moment of personality was over after his study session with the Chippeqouti men and their partners. He kept his work time stoic and observant, but cordial for the most part. It allowed him to avoid stiff backs and whispers of ‘there goes the commander’ when he walked into a room. It wasn’t that he particularly wanted to fit in with the subordinates in Skycorp. He aimed for professionalism and knowing his crews well. He stayed quiet due in large part because it allowed him to listen to the real gossip and word spreading among the cadets. Sitting at breakfast with his coffee, eggs, and Pyrtan porridge was the best time. He always knew when something was afoot because he listened and observed his crews when they didn’t think they were under the eye of command. You got to know people better that way.

Thanks to his quiet breakfasts, Swyft listened to the stir that Asher’s absence caused. The tales were wild and only growing more outlandish by the hour. By Friday he had heard no less than 20 reasons why Asher was laying inert and smelly on his bunk.

One of his favorite explanations was overheard while he listened to several cadets titter nearby at lunch time.

“Someone told me it was because he was dying,” one of the cadet’s whispered in Kaerelean, “He’s got an honorary guard and everything.“

“No, I asked one of the partners and they said it was just because he was injured and to leave him alone.”

“He’s just laying there but his crew mates say he’s fine. The man hasn’t peed in three days! He might be fine, but I’ll be a tyrei’s ball-bag if his bladder isn’t the size of a magball.”

“No, someone told me it was a defense mechanism,” said the Terran in the group, “You know...like a opossum.”

“What’s an opossum?” asked one of the Kaerelean women.

“It’s a mammal that plays dead when threatened.”

“You think he’s playing dead? Why in the Wilds would he do that?”

“I dunno, finals stress maybe?”

“Wilds, there’s less dramatic ways of getting out of finals, and if that’s the case...why guard him like that?”

“Maybe the guy really is dying,” the Terran suggested, “And they’re on guard because they think he’ll turn into a zombie after.”

Sywft had sucked in a deep chug of his tea at that comment and tried not to choke as his fellow cadets scoffed at him.

“That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” one of them said, “He’s not going to turn into an undead Chip.”

“Whatever you say,” the Terran grinned, “I’ll remember that comment when he’s eating your brains if he wakes up.”

“I heard it was a religious thing. They worship 4 gods right? Maybe it’s mediation or something like a religious ceremony?”

“Nobody would just lay there for religious reasons with finals so close.”

Swyft listened to all the rumors and kept quiet about what he knew. It wasn’t his sort of thing to share though one or two did give him a hidden smile of amusement.

On Friday, the rumors were all blasted away when the man actually woke up. It started with Ehvan bursting into a math class to collect Illya with the brief announcement that Asher was awake. This was interesting news and Swyft lifted from his chair after the class was over and wandered to the mess hall wondering how long it would take the unfortunate Chip to recover.

Apparently, it wasn’t long. As Swyft stood in the buffet line near the door as the cooks fed the lunch rushed cadets what looked like meaty stew with large bowls and big hunks of bread to go with. Swyft waited his turn patiently, even if he could have jumped the line as commander.

“Get out of dah way, he needs food now!”
A disgruntled sound followed from behind and Swyft barely had the time to turn around before he was being shoved to the side with a big paw of a hand pushing him by the shoulder. He stumbled some and braced a hand on the door frame to catch himself as the Chippeqouti bombarded their way though, as pale and chattering Asher shoving people aside.

He had seen the man frequently and from what he understood, Asher was the youngest and it showed on his face. Asher was light hearted, competitive, and over all polite. The man tackling his way to the head of the line looked like Asher’s dastardly alter ego in some ways.

By the time Swyft made it through the line, Asher had consumed four trays- not plates- of food. Most of the cadets and teacher had simply stopped their own meals to watch the Chip shovel in bites without chewing much between spoonfuls. Swyft was sure if the man could have upended the tray and guzzled the stew while still breathing at the same time, Asher would have done it.

With 4 trays of food under his belt, the man looked more like himself and as Swyft left, he heard a few of the cadets from earlier chatting.

“See, I told you they were waiting for him to wake up,” the Terran said triumphantly.

“Yeah, alive. Not dead like a zombie.”

“I dunno. He looks pretty close to a zombie. Did you see how much he just ate?”

One of them started giggling and said “Steeeeeew…..steeeeeeeeew….” in a wavering voice of dread.

The corner of Swyft’s mouth twitched upward and he shook his head before heading to the next course. He hoped the man felt better now that his strange biology had been hard reset. Asher only had a little time left to study before finals began and no acceptions could be made.

***********
The week had been non-stop and the weekend was the same. Calysta flew them home long enough to go through more training on protocol with the Chippeqouti Council and to finalize plans for the start of the tour while also spending time with the children. Then she flew them back to Skycorp while studying for her finals the next day. Her role as Empress consisted of standing there, looking pretty, and agreeing with Illya so far as she could tell. It was an easy task to do outwardly, but part of her chafed at the idea of being used as a doll-like figure head. It’s not that she had any grand illusions of actually acting like an Empress to the people, but what if she didn’t agree with something that happened? What then? If it was severe enough, she could hardly standby. She didn’t do that with her husband. He listened to her when she felt it was important. Of course, her husband was not the entirety of the Chippeqouti people either. She was there representing them and their culture as one of them. It made her slightly nervous to make a mistake even in her small role.

She watched Illya practice putting on the large, admittedly over done turban, until he gave up for awhile and vowed to keep practicing tomorrow. As they approached Kinte, he also mentioned coming to Skycorp to wait out the exams with her.

“I think they will,” Calysta smiled as she checked the ship console, “They won’t let you down. I’m not overly worried for myself either. I’ve done it once already, yeah? I would like if you were there though. A small celebration would fun when they are done too. After all, this is something new. You’ve created something new in Skycorp by pairing them up. It’s something that should be celebrated. I think we could all use the break too.”

She glanced up from the console after confirming their clearance to dock and her eyes caught on Illya’s, causing her to smile.

“Et will be good tah see meh little bird en her uniform and ready tah fly again.”

Just as she was about to tell him she was glad to be back at it, the console chimed again to prompt her to begin the docking procedure.

“Kalizda, yah are happy when yah fly and yah will be happy tah be cadet again? Es dis dah kind of happiness yah ask meh about?”


Calysta locked into the docking procedure and allowed the ship to take over as her Chip's tired, but amiable grin drifted into a look of curiosity. Then after so many failed attempts at asking if Illya was happy, a question she had never heard him ask before came out of his mouth. Now, she was on the receiving end on the difficult question that she had prompted him with many times before with no luck in an answer beyond the fact that he didn't see what it mattered or simply didn't understand the question.

She returned his smile and used the tip of her toes to turn her captains chair to face him better, then leaned back some. "I am happy when I fly," she replied, "One of the happiest times was being a cadet and I think being back in Skycorp does make me happy. I find pleasure in working there. The people are good and I get to use my skills for something bigger than myself. Something I'm good at. Exploring and discovering something new...I love it. It never ceases to amaze me and it never ends. There's always something new out there to see or do. New people to meet too." She realized she sounded too dreamy and blushed slightly before giving him a small shrug. "I find pleasure in the outcome of my work there. and that does bring me joy. It's...a...kind of happiness, though I think there are several different kinds."

The response from Kalizda confirmed what he thought. At least Illya didn't have to feel guilty about being the reason she lost the flight and Skycorp. Now she had it back. However, there was the curious sort of twist at the end. "Dere es more den one kind of happy? Why?"


She considered how to answer that for a moment because she wanted to be clear in what she meant without giving Illya cause for thinking strange things about how she felt. "Well, not all happiness comes from fulfillment at work," she said, "I...don't like being the councilwoman because I enjoy sitting in meetings all day and enjoy getting into semantics arguments over procedure and law. It doesn't make me happy." She tilted her head at him and her hand reached cross the way and settled over his, giving it a playful but gentle squeeze. "That part of my job doesn't bring me joy. What brings me happiness is knowing that our peoples are safe and our children are happy and healthy. And that I can do something good with the position I've found myself in. It's fulfilling in its own way. I don't live for my council woman's position, but it does bring me happiness of a different kind. I miss flying and exploring, but that wouldn't make near as getting to do those things with you and the kids."


Slowly Illya nodded his head. It made a little bit of sense and he was starting to get the idea. "Oh, I understand." Glancing down at her hand and then back at her face he started off slowly, "I tink...I tink I am happy wit meh work. Et es nut dat I like being emperor and I dun like hurting people, but et accomplishes what I need et to. In dese ways I keep meh peoples and meh family safe. So, I am happy en meh work."


That was the most she had ever gotten out of him about anything remotely being happy, but she wondered if she could take the same logic further. It was a strange way to look at happiness, but it seemed to compute better with him than the conventional ideas of happiness. "I know it isn't easy," she said, "I've been watching you work on everything you're supposed to know and do. I couldn't imagine being an emperor and the stress that comes with it. I'm glad you're happy in your when you...don't have to hurt people." She withdrew her hand and sat up some. "Do you have the same joy....erm...pleasure...when you come home and see your children?"


Illya could tell Kalizda was going to push for more. She always got that little crook to her eyebrow when she was about to ask him something that he didn't normally want to answer. Of course she wanted to talk more about happiness. "No, I dun have same pleasure when I come home." Almost as soon as he said it he thought he saw Kalizda's expression get sad. His heart pounded as he tried to collect his thoughts before explaining himself. "I have eh...yah call happiness witout reserve. Dere es nut someting dat I know I hate about coming home. Et es good tah come home, et es good tah see meh Kalizda and dah children."


When he first started out, he was honest about it. He'd never really been tactful when it came to his honesty. She had hoped he would have had more happiness in coming home, but that didn't necessarily mean it happened. Maybe she had been too hard on him about the drugs and the alcohol. Perhaps her standards had been set too high and he dreaded coming home? Her mouth formed a soft, "Oh." And her heart began to sink as her mind went over any reason he might have for not finding pleasure at home. She had just started thinking about what it could possibly be when he suddenly continued. Her eyes drifted slowly back up to meet his and she mustered a hopeful, but small smile. "You really feel that way?"


"Yeah, I feel dat way. Sometimes et es hard when I'm angry about tings, but dis es nut someting dat makes home bad." Illya shrugged. "Dis es jes dah way of life."


She nodded in agreement and her timid smile began a more confident one. "It is the way of life. Nobody is perfect all the time," she said, "I'm glad you're happy, Illya. I'm glad the kids and I can give you something like that." The ship nestled into the port of its own accord and she made sure the docking clamps were engaged. They let out the faintest hint of a hiss as the ships engines went through shut down protocols. Calysta stretched and yawned some. "I know what would make me happy right now."


As the ship landed Kalizda got up and Illya stood. His back cracked some and he twisted a bit till it cracked for a second time. "Mmmm...." It was a good sort of crack and he gave her a tired grin. "Yah would be happy tah get en bed wit meh and go tah sleep. I agree."


Illya rose and stretched his back which consisted of several horrific sounds cracks that made her wince. He gave her a tired grin though as if he were fine and informed her exactly what would make her happy in the moment. "Hey," she grinned back, "You stole my line. Now, how am I supposed to invite you to my bed, hm?'


"Yah could invite meh wit a kiss." Illya puckered his lips and he leaned in closer.


Calysta chuckled and saw Illya lean down, hoping for a kiss as his invitation to bed. She wanted to kiss him, but while he had been studying how to the the emperor. She had been not only studying as and cadet and how to conduct herself as the empress, she had picked up a little book she thought might be fun too. The Art of Seduction had been quite an educational and exciting page turner. Now, that they were picking up with nocturnal fun again, she wanted to employ a suggestion from the book and this was a good moment to try it. Calysta smiled and stood up on her toes then trailed a finger over his jawline ever so slightly. She had no idea if it was working, because he was still expecting a kiss. She let her lips get very close to his, then grinned. "I could invite you that way, but I like this way too." Then she slid her hand down to his and tugged him forward gently to the door, trying to sway her hips like it had shown in the hologram.



Usually Kalizda would have leaned in and kissed him, but there was a delay. Illya blinked a few times and he closed his eyes and leaned in closer. Instead of getting a kiss he felt her finger trace along his jaw. Opening his eyes again he stared at her with a bit of confusion. She began to sway her hips and sauntered off. "Oooh yah bet I'm coming for dat."

************

Calysta woke when the alarm went off and she found herself tucked up to her Chip and too pleasantly nestled to want to move far though there was work to be done and finals to take. Illya, to her surprise, voiced her sentiments on getting up. When he had he been worried about being overworked? Of course it was good to be proud to do your duty but it didn’t mean you couldn’t find pleasure in other things. Apparently the thought had never crossed his mind before in his 160-some-odd years.

He leaned in and kissed her, then added that kissing her did make him happy and that perhaps he would volunteer for some hard work of his own later that night. The enthusiasm made her chirp a little laugh between his kisses. “Aye, I think at least an hour of your time might be needed. Maybe longer, yeah?”

They didn’t want to be late to finals so they showered, dressed and dashed off to meet the others in the Skycorp halls. The Elite men were quiet which told Calysta they were slightly nervous and taking this very seriously, which was good.

Testing began in short order and Calysta breezed through, answering each question in efficient and quick order. Only a few questions really challenged her, which was the mark of a well studied subject in her opinion.

All the same, by the time the hours of testing were done, she was tired and ready to escape the class room for a good long awhile. The Elite were in the same mind, but their idea of a party afterward was somewhat different. She followed them as they left enmasse from the hall and reached the outer limits of the Skycorp compound where the edge loomed. The sun was out and the mist levels below them were low enough that they could see the dense Wilds canopy, if only just.

In all the pomp and circumstance of a graduation, the men unzipped their trousers and peed over the edge and into the Wilds, Illya included. Tiberius had joined them for the hell of it and laughed. “Glad I’m not the only one who wanted to try this.”

Rezna had followed them outside and cackled madly at the sight, her hand holding her belly as she doubled over in her glee. “You look like a jolly bunch of assholes.” Calysta groaned and swiftly turned her back to them as her face flushed. She had no desire to see any of the men’s parts, her husband included in the moment. After a few whoops of excitement, jokes about pissing on a tyrei’s head, and a spirited ‘stream length’ competition, Calysta heard them zipping themselves up.

To her relief, they had a better party idea than to just piss over the edge when their results came back. It didn’t take long for the scores to be posted. Calysta was first in the class with Markus on her heels and a few others leading the way from the Chip side.

Swyft came around and gave his congratulations to them and told them there were snacks and desserts int he mess hall for the newly graduated class. Their graduation ceremony would be later in the day.

Calysta proudly changed into her dress uniform and received her silver Airman’s star on her lapel. She may not have been captain, but she was no longer a cadet and that felt incredibly good to say again. There wasn’t time for them to attend the big soiree at the end of graduation though. They were all needed back on Pyrta for the start of the tour. She stowed her new dress uniform in her closet on the ship and then took them home to prepare the kids and themselves for the tour.

When they arrived home, getting the kids together was a hard task. They needed baths and girls would be having their hair professionally done. Rose fussed over her outfit, trying to keep it away from Cypher who was both curious and yet dirty from playing outside. Cypher also had a fitting for a new sword matching his new height.

Calysta took it all in stride and by the end of the day, she had gotten the children in some decent order, which allowed her to take a deep breath of relaxation. She wanted to spend some time with Illya before everything started.

“Kalizda, when we land I go to dah temple for rehearsal wit dah elders. I will be back for late dinner. Oh, we need someone tah stay wit dah kids ef Rose esn’t available. Yah supposed tah come wit meh to dah rehearsal.”

Illya came into the living room just as she had sat down for a moment and dropped that little news bomb on her so casually, she half jumped to her feet and sputtered. “Why didn’t I know about that? It wasn’t on my calendar. Why didn’t you tell me?” Would it have been too much to tell her ahead of time?

He started to open his mouth and she stalled him with a finger. “Don’t say you’re telling me now.” Running a hand through her hair, she bent low and tugged on her boots again. She would have to go, no matter how she felt about it. She drew her long hair in a pony tail and put her tunic belt back into place before looking at her dear, but sometimes frustratingly last minute husband. “Alright...let’s go, yeah?” The sooner they started, the sooner it would be over.



*********

Rehearsal was long and Calysta had to remind herself to pay acute attention several times. She wasn’t the kind to let her mind wander, but her brain was just as tired as her body. She was going to crash hard later and she knew Illya would too. They were both exhausted.

When they crawled their way through the rehearsal and adjustments were made, the council finally released them. With every ounce of energy and patience she had left, Calysta paused as they left the large tent and saw Sam standing in the pathway. He looked out of place here among the Dark Chippeqouti milling around. She gave him a small wave and he made a hesitant smile back at her before he started over, his steps confident and eager. He was wearing his Skycorp cap and his regular uniform, which looked nice but wasn't anything compared to the dressage uniform he would wear for the event tomorrow. As he approached, he took off his cap and his stride slowed when Illya came out of the tent flap right behind the councilwoman. His big frame took up the doorway and blocked out the lantern light from inside. Sam's eyes shot up and he stiffened some before giving the General a nod of recognition as he had the councilwoman. "Councilwoman Monroe...General Illya," he said, "Or is it Emperor and Empress?" The grip on his cloth hat tightened and he shook his head. "Nevermind. Uh..." Calysta titled her head. "Are you alright, Sam?" That caused the Pythian young man to stand up taller and her shook his head with a deep breath. "No...no....I was looking for you. I wanted to speak to the General. Alone."

The rehearsal wasn't perfect, but they managed to get through the things that mattered. Illya was tired out and ready to go home. That was until he felt a bit of a burn start in his stomach. There was that Pithian boy and by the look on his face there was only one reason he'd be here. Sam was still sweet on Rose and it wasn't quite welcome, but neither could Illya do much about it. Kalizda, like usual was far more gracious and she even sounded happy to see the Pithian. Flashing her a brief look of scolding Illya then turned his gaze to the Pithian. He couldn't consider Sam a boy anymore. Technically Sam was a man and he hadn't done anything to deserve to be scorned yet. However, it was difficult not to scorn him because of his blood. "Den yah step back into dah tent wit meh." Illya pushed the flap open to reveal the large interior. A few more men pushed out and walked passed. It was empty now and Illya nodded to Kalizda. "Yah can go home. I will be dere en little bit."

Calysta raised a brow at Illya's look, unimpressed by whatever he thought he was trying to convey. Then again when he dismissed her. "I think I will go home, yes." She wasn't going to argue with him about being so snappy when he was already tired and worked up. Especially, not in front of all the people around them. Leaning up and giving a little hop, she kissed the only part of him she could reach which was somewhere along his jaw. "I'll see you when you get home." Then, she made her exit. Sam watched the council woman go for only a moment, then stepped inside the tent and scanned the makeshift room to ensure they were alone. It seemed a very open place to do this, but he didn't know how he would get to see the man any other way. He was always going back and forth between there and Kinte and Skycorp was not good place for this. "Thank you," he said, as he turned to look at Illya, tilting his head up to gaze at the taller man's face. "Sir, I've been staying away from Rose, like you asked. Until she is 17...like you wanted. And I wouldn't disrespect your wishes. Not when I respect you and Rose both. She had a few weeks until she is 17 and the tour will take her months when you go. Tomorrow, at the start of the tour everyone will be here and Rose will be all dressed up and the place will look nice. I am asking for your permission to see her long enough, and in front of you, to ask her if she would choose me or marry me....whatever tradition she wants to follow."




The little peck along his jaw caught Illya's attention and he grinned a bit at Kalizda as she skittered off. Then he turned to face Sam again. Thankfully the last of the men in the tent walked out and the single remaining woman gathered up the cloth over the table and pushed past Illya and Sam on her way through the tent flap. Stepping in behind Sam, Illya started for the large cushion on the floor. He didn't even get the chance to sit down and Sam was already staring up at him and inquiring about seeing Rose. It was true that he had done as he was asked. For a moment it was tempting to say yes, but there were other things to consider. "Yah show yahself honorable even ef I dun like yah blood. Et goes deeper den dat. Sam, yah Pitian. Do yah know what dis means for yah people, meh people, yah and Rose? Dis es serious sort of ting yah ask. Pitian and Dark Chippequoti never mix before and dere es hatred. Dis es nut someting dat I jes make exception on. Et will need tah go to dah Council tah determine ef Rose would be accepted among dah Dark Chippequoti for choosing yah. Do yah know dat Pitian people will probably do dah same? Maybe yah care for her out of time. Maybe dah peoples are nut ready tah see merge and yah bot exiled from yah people and yah have no connections left. Yah see her, but yah dun ask her tah choose. I will take matter to dah council and yah take matter to yah own council. Den I will inform Rose of council decision on matter and when tour es over yah bot have time tah tink about what yah people say. Den ef yah bot still agree I will allow et."




Other than he said Pithian like it was some terminable disease, Sam was glad that it hadn't resulted in a shouting denial at the first sentence. He knew the General was right, at least in some regard, but he had thought the General would have some say in keeping his daughter in the fold of the Dark Chippeqouti. She was the General's daughter after all. The Emperor's daughter. He liked Rose long before he knew that. However, he had hoped it would be less of an issue on his side of things. "I'm not sure what it would mean entirely," he said, "I don't want to see her hurt, but I also know we do care for each other. I'm already set up on Kinte with a modest, but safe and clean apartment near what they call Terran Town. She would be comfortable there near the shops and close to the University for her writing work. If I'm exiled, I'm prepared for that for myself. I'm not sure what you mean by being "out of time" but if I need to have the matter go before the Council, then I want to see it through. I don't want her to make a decision without knowing." His heart sank a little when he thought about how pretty Rose would look in less than 24 hours and the fact that he was lucky he was getting to see her at all. He wanted to ask her badly now that he had a good job and a commission under his belt. "I won't ask until I know and I would like to see her. Would you mind...not telling her I asked you about this until you have an answer? She gets really-" he didn't want to say the word passionate considering his history- "She might get upset. I don't want to ruin the night for her."


"When I say out of time et means dat meh people, or yah people may nut ever feel welcome tah dah tought en yah lifetime. Dis es nut someting dat anyone can change alone. Ef et es bad enough dah family could be forbidden from seeing dah exiled ever again." Illya hated to think about it. Sam was young, he was probably blinded by the idealism frequently touted by the Kaereleans. There were some things wars couldn't undo even in times of peace. Some of those things were hatred. It could take centuries for that to melt away. Glancing down at the cushion Illya slowly got himself seated and listened to Sam reply. Of course he didn't want Rose to know about him asking. "Yah dun worry. I have oter tings tah worry about den playing messenger boy. She will find out when she finds out."


He stared at Illya and he understood in part. His mother and father tolerated Rose because she didn't look like a Dark Chip, no matter what her nationality is. He had known Rose for several years now though and he knew that she was kind. As much as it would pain her happy-go-nationalistic father to hear it; she did not prescribe to Dark Chip hatred of Pithian's. He was relieved when the General said he wouldn't tell Rose right away. "Alright then," he said, giving Illya a nod, "For the record, I don't want to take Rose away from anyone or get her exiled, but I know I wouldn't be a man she deserved if I didn't try my best to be with her and make her happy, sir."


Illya clenched his jaw some as the Pithian threw out the rather flippant sounding term, 'happy.' It was something that admittedly Illya found very little use for. "I tink yah will find feelings like yah express can be short. Dis es why I tell yah tah have caution wit dis decision. Happy will nut warm yah bed, feed yah, care for yah, protect yah or stay wit yah all yah life. Yah need duty, loyalty and perseverance. I only accept yah in part because yah have dese tings. When I know what dah Dark Chippequoti say I will tell Rose and den I will tell yah too. Bot of yah will have time tah consider yah choices no matter ef news es good or bad." Settling further into the cushion he looked at the Pithian tiredly. "Ef yah dun have anyting else tah say, jes get out of here. I have enough talk of dis."


This time the young man looked at Illya and it wasn't a look of anger so much as it was a sense that this man was sorely lacking in something. He had been over for dinners and family functions before with Rose. The General looked quite happy when he was around his wife. Unless he considers his feeling of happiness short with his wife, it seemed a strange thing to say. Sam drew himself up and nodded. "Yes, sir. Thank you for your time. When you have an answer, I'll be ready." Then he walked out, feeling more nervous than when he'd arrived, which he didn't think was possible but there he was.


There was time for a few minutes of rest and Illya watched the Pithian leave. Scooting further into the cushion he laid back and let his head rest on the cushion too. He was just going to close his eyes and think about how he was going to present this to the council. He could easily lose Rose. Sam seemed to be too young to understand the hardships of having no people. It left a void that was difficult to comprehend to a young mind that never experienced that kind of insecurity. It was something Illya would highly advise Rose against if the council determined she would be exiled for this. Gradually he became more relaxed and his mind started to drift. Soon his breathing slowed to the ragged long drawn breath of sleep.


After roughly 2 hours of waiting, Calysta tried messaging Illya on his pad and got no response. She had already stripped down for bed and even laid down waiting for Illya to come home, her eyes threatening to close for much needed sleep. Her mind kept jerking her awake when it realized that no matter how ready she was for sleep, that without Illya she wasn't going to get much of it. So, she pulled on her pants and tossed on a tunic before snatching up her pad and a flash light. The kids were already in bed and her father was home to watch them. Tired and moving sluggishly, she trekked her way through the freshly harvested grass field where the large tents had been erected for the party the next day. She had left Illya and Sam in the first and largest tent. That was where she would check first. When she pulled aside the tent flap and scanned her flash light around, she found a large form leaned against a cushion, snoring softly. "Illya?"


There was a long beam of light that rested over Illya and he groaned a little before flopping his arm over his eyes. Turning over on the cushion he grabbed the edge of it and pulled it half over himself. "Mmmrrrrrrrmmm."


It was Illya. She recognized the sleepy grumblings immediately as he flopped a cushion over himself. Tutting some, she shook her head and walked over to him. "Illya, c'mon," she said gently as she, "Let's go to bed. It's warmer with me in the house, yeah?"


Suddenly Kalizda sounded close and Illya woke with a start. "Gah!" Sitting up he stared at her wild eyed for a long moment. "Oh, I sorreh. I jes tink for little while and fall asleep." Getting up he made a stiff few couple of steps. "Oooh...I tink I get dat medicine dat Council recommends for dah next 2 days of celebration."


"It's alright," she said backing up enough to let him roll to his feet. She was glad he had come to find him. If he had spent the night out here, he would have been horribly stiff from the cold and lack of a mattress tomorrow. He got up stiffly and wobbled forward. He mentioned medicine and she started to reply to tell him he would get his medicine he was over do for when he got home, but he was talking about something else. "Aye, come...wait...what medicine?"


It only took about 10 steps to even his gait a bit more and Illya rested a heavy hand on Kalizda's shoulder. "Mmm...dey tell Ehaui tah give meh block en meh back. Et can't be all dah time, but I go to dah Ehaui n morning and dey put block en meh back. Et will wear off en few days, nut addictive, jes dat et will make meh back nut hurt during dah two days of tour here."


His hand came to rest on her shoulder and she slid her own hand over her Chip's fingers, giving them a light squeeze before she stepped back to walk beside him. Her arm slid around his hip despite his jaunty gait as she took his pace. He assured her that the medicine wasn't addictive and that it was meant to block the pain at the source. "Oh..." she mumbled, "I didn't know they were doing something like that." It bothered her slightly that they would just make him go do this. What if it had been something addictive? "Do you want me to go with you?"

"Yeah, yah come ef yah like. I dun need yah dere. Ef I find one ting I dun trust yah wit ets big needles." With a smirk he caught her gaze. "So, now yah know jes how far meh trust goes."


He smirked at her with his little sly comment about not trusting her with needles and she snorted a little. "I think you're remembering me draining your lungs, not giving you shots in your spine," she chuckled, "Totally different thing. But if you insist you don't need me there giving the Ehaui doctor the eye..."


"Yah mean dat yah dun like tah be wit meh dere? I say I dun need yah, nut dat I dun want yah dere." Illya couldn't hide the shock in his voice.


He seemed affronted that she even suggested that she wouldn't be there. Calysta paused in her steps and glanced up at him. "Of course I want to be there with you," I said, "You said you didn't need me there. I wasn't sure if it was something you could have me there for...since this was the council's idea. I wouldn't leave you with the Ehaui unless I had no choice and..." She gave her a little smirk. "Even then I would find a way."


"Oh." Illya mumbled, "Well I guess dat's good." Giving her hand a squeeze he finished the rest of the short walk with her to the house in silence.


**********

Calysta went with Illya early the next morning to meet with the Ehaui. They cleaned him up, dosed him with some non-addictive pain relief medicine and then got to work giving him a series of epidurals into his spine. Calysta sat with him and kept her eyes on his rather than watching the Ehaui at their efficient yet gruesome looking work. Her fingers petted at his hair, gently stroking at the curls near his temples. “Not my idea of a date, you know,” she chuckled, “Next time we go out, I’ll choose the place. I know a nice one that has a cream and caramel dessert too.”

She joked lightly with him and the Ehaui didn’t take long to finish up. To her surprise the epidurals seemed to off immediate relief in more ways than one. Illya was out of pain, but she could feel her own relief that he wasn’t hurting much for now too. That feeling was short lived though when Illya informed her that he would be getting his ears pierced next and she was expected to do the same.

Her fingers covered up her ears, feeling the tender lobes and she frowned. “I didn’t get told that either…that’s...the only place I have to get pierced...right?”
 
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Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The morning ahead was going to be busy. Illya had more than just doctor appointments, he had the kids and Kalizda to get to appointments too. There was a lot of preparation the day before they were to be presenting themselves as Emperor and Empress along with the honored children. His first order was to get a long lasting nerve block for his back. It was supposed to last about 3 days, but there was a chance it may not last that long. It was of great importance that he had a second nerve block if it wore off too fast.

Despite the fact that Illya didn't like to have Kalizda see him nervous it was relieving that she planned to come with him. He didn't like to be left alone with the doctors. When they arrived at the clinic the nurse had him get changed and she asked him to lay on his side and try to curl his back. It was difficult to do with the rods even if they were advanced flex rods. Wincing some he pulled his knees up to his chest and tried to hold them there for the nurse.

Wiping his back down the nurse mumbled a few things and then left. A doctor walked in a few minutes later with a rolling tray full of different needles. "The first one will be just to help numb the surface of your skin. That will wear off in about half an hour. It will be enough time for me to add the nerve blocks. You need to keep your back bent just like it is through this procedure. Moving around could cause further nerve damage. There is always a potential risk of nerve damage with these nerve blockers, though the chance is low. Any questions?" Before Illya could say anything the doctor nodded his head, "Good, then let's get started."

The first set of fine needles slid under the edge of Illya's skin and it wasn't till the larger needles went in that he grunted. "Ugh..." Even if the skin was numbed it hurt when the doctor fed the long flexible needle through the small gaps between his vertebrae. When the doctor finished with the treatment he removed the long needles had a nurse apply gentle pressure to the spots on his back where they inserted the needles and then cover the with a gentle dressing and tape.

Illya had to stay in the room for a short recovery. It was about half an hour more of laying in the room before he was allowed to get up. However, by the time he made it to the full recovery process his back felt like all the pressure in it and the stabbing pains had disappeared. "Oh..." With a grin he got up and changed. "Dat's first time I bend over tah get meh pants witout meh back hurting en long time. I dun remember et feeling dis good since before dah blast." In some ways it was a pity that this treatment couldn't be given to him more frequently. However, they had quite a few things to do. "Now we go to dah Pleasure House and get oil bats, tattoos and piercings."

Momentarily, Illya wondered if the look she gave him was one of disapproval, or concern. "Jes yah ears get pierced, so do mine. I get earrings too. Preparation day es lot of work. Dere will be oters tah work wit dah kids tah get dem ready. I tink dat I already tell yah all dis." Somehow he must have forgotten to share the schedule with her amidst all this chaos and he felt his cheeks turn a little red. "Well, I guess yah know now."

*************************

At the pleasure house Illya was given an oil tub and it was somewhat similar to the treatments got for the fertility festival. At least the treatments for the skin. The gentle dye they would paint on his skin like a tattoo would cling better if his skin was properly moisturized and then sealed with a heat lamp. Pytra wasn't quite hot enough right now to do the job that the desert typically would.

While he had a few moments alone he sent a message to the Pithian council and his own council regarding the issue with Rose and Sam. It was doubtful that they would want to deal with all this right away, but he was going to insist that his council hold a special meeting on this before they left for the remainder of the tour. He could at least throw his weight in on that one without going too far. They would understand his reason for pushing the meeting to be held, but he could not force the outcome.

Once he was settled into his bath Kalizda had her bath readied in the same room and she was brought in. They had a small briefing with her since he'd forgotten to tell her about the bath, tattoos, process, expected time and a few other things. One of the women came in with hot towels and laid them over the back of the tubs and had Illya and Kalizda each lean back in their tubs and let their necks rest on the towels.

It felt good to get relaxed and the warm oil was soaking into Illya's skin. Some of it stung a little because they also had cleansing oils in the bath. Oils that would help detox his skin. There was a bit of a murk forming near the surface of the oils and he would need to rinse to wash away the other impurities before they began the massage. However, for now it was just the soak and waiting. That was until one of the Pleasure House workers came and sat near his head with a small gun of sorts and a box of gold earrings. "I will put earrings in now." Holding out the box she let him stare at the selection and choose what he would.

After he selected the small wide rings with miniature nubs all along the ring he tried to relax again, but his eyes followed the gun until he couldn't see it anymore. Thankfully she was too busy to see that he'd braced his hands underneath the oily surface along the sides of the tub. The first snap surprised him and he followed her hand as she raised it with the gun and loaded the next earring to pierce his ear with. When the second was finished she handed him a small rag with cleansing oils and told him to gently wipe his lobes if they were sore. Of course they were starting to ache slightly, but not enough to be concerning. Wiping his earlobes a bit he turned to gaze at Kalizda who had received similar treatment. "Eh, when we finish rinsing I tink I will look at yah ears closer. We will lay under heat lamps before massage."

By the time they finished baking under the heat lamps Illya was feeling pretty good. His back wasn't sore in the least, his skin felt softer and better hydrated, he was warm and ready to have his muscles worked. Part way through the massage of his scalp he fell asleep and he didn't wake till they got to his legs. His right leg was still tender sometimes and he winced when they got near the knee. "Oh, I tink I need extra oil dere." Of course the man working his muscles was the regular and he nodded. He had the soothing oil mix ready and he worked some of it in till the muscles loosened. When he finished he walked out and an artist came in with the skin dyes and paint brushes.

Illya took only about 20 minutes going through the various designs and then he choose a great red phoenix with gold tipped wings. "I will have dah bird on meh back. Her wings out over meh shoulders." It was a bold sort of choice, but this was not a time to be meek. As the emperor he was expected to make a bold statement and they were going to be holding ceremonies that had not been held in over a thousand years. The Chippequoti council had high hopes and expectations. Looking over at Kalizda Illya winked. "Yah choose yah tattoo yet?"
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Illya assured her it was just her ears that would need to be pierced but she still had some hesitancy. Kaereleans pierced all sorts of things, particularly Urians, and some even did so at a young age. She had never had her ears pierced because she was so sick as a child. It simply wasn't safe. Apparently, she would be getting her ears pierced as part of this ceremony and so would Illya. Men could have earrings the same as women or anyone else, but she had a hard time imagining him with earrings of any sort. Then there was the mention of tattoos. Surely, they didn't mean permanent tattoos? It seemed like a terrible time to get them and dangerous to get real tattoos then go sit in the bath house? Why did he always wait till the last minute to tell her things like this? At least that was one thing his memory loss hadn't changed about her personality. She could count on him to be predictably unpredictable when it came to telling her things she should probably know.

She was glad that he did feel better once the nerve block epidural had time to sink into his spine properly. She knew, in part, his constant pain was because they had tried to clean him up from pain pills. He had felt better than he had in a long time though, since before the blast.

Calysta took up her husband's hand in hers and smiled a crooked half grin. "Aye, now I know. Maybe you should tell me more about what is actually going to happen today so there aren't quite so many surprises. I like surprises, just....maybe not today so much. Let's start with those tattoos you mentioned."

To her relief, the tattoos were not permanent. They were natural stains that would be used to dye the skin in a deep brown color from what she understood. They would be handsome on Illya's dark skin and ridiculously bright on hers. It might even take weeks to fade out given how pale she was because they wouldn't simply blend into her skin like they would Illya's at some point.

They went to the bathhouse together and Illya took more time explaining to her what to expect. In part, she knew that this hadn't been done in a thousand years. Even he didn't know what to expect with somethings, but it was good that he was giving her a run down of everything thing. They were going to be getting ready for a long time. A very long time.

The first task was to get a bath. To her relief it was not a quick and cold bucket wash as it would be normally, but a soak in the spas located in the Pleasure House. She was asked to remove her tunic, leggings, boots, and any items she had pinning her hair before she was offered a child-sized Chip robe. She knew most of the faces in the pleasure house and greeted them in kind by name, thanking them where appropriate but feeling a bit like a sow's ear getting ready to be magicked into a silk purse.

Calysta followed her pleasure house worker, Rava into the spa area where she found Illya sank into one of the steaming pools. The water gleamed with foamy oils and sweet herby scents wafted in the steam. Calysta stripped of her robe and sank step by step into the hot water, then let out a grateful sigh of relief as she sat down entirely. Water rose up to touch her ears some as she let herself float. These pools were made for Chippeqouti sized bodies and to sit on the bottom bench under the water would have put the water at the top of her head. Instead, she leaned back and allowed one of the workers to come back with a propped towel to prop her head on.

Before she could get properly relaxed, the piercing artist and an assistant came into the room carrying boxes and kits of things necessary for their work. The assistant loomed over her with a gun type mechanism that she assumed housed the needle. Her ears were cleaned and the artist took particular care in marking where the holes would go with a tiny black pen of some sort. When the artist was satisfied, they offered her up a box of earring selections. "Choose the ones you like."

Calysta pondered over the sets. Some were big and clunky with chain or multiple parts she couldn't begin to imagine how many places they connected. Others were smaller and more delicate. All of them were gold. She was aware that the Chippeqouti would not be expecting small or delicate. They liked bold fashion as much as they liked bold people and decisions. This was the time to look exotic and bright even if her job was simply standing there and looking pretty.

"This one," she said, pointing to a three part hoop with gold chain dotted with some sparkling red spots. She assumed those were gemstones of some kind. They were big or overbearing, but would compliment the dress she had to wear.

"That will require a nose stud," said her piercing artist.

"Oh..."

Not wanting to back down from her selection, she took in a deep breath and let it out before giving the go ahead. Not only would her ears be pierced, but apparently she was getting her nose done too.

It didn't take long and the first punch made her wobble in the water some when she tried not to jump. The did her right ear and then her left, then threaded twisted gold hoops through before turning to her nose which was the least comfortable one of all because not only was a straight needle used rather than the gun, but she could see it all happening two centimeters from her eyes.

When they finished, she sneezed a few times and then was asked to wipe down her new piercings with an antiseptic of some sort. Her ear lobes throbbed but it wasn't terrible pain. With that done, they were left to soak a little longer and Calysta tried to close her eyes at the chance for relaxation.

As promised, Illya looked at her ears when they went to rinse off, but while he looked at her ears and notice her new nose stud of gold, she spaced out looking at him. He was all wet and shining with oils under the flow of the water. She could see his dark curls collecting around his temples and ears. They showered together frequently and she was used to seeing him naked under the water, but her eye caught on the gleaming, studded hoops looped around each of his slightly reddened earlobes.

She had the strange and sudden urge to lean up and just play with them. To nibble at them while she talked to him close and played with his hair. It would have been nice to sit there and love on him just a little...

After a moment, she realized Illya was saying something and she blinked herself out of that naughty revelry. Blush rushed to her cheeks and she nodded. "Aye....aye..." She could have been agreeing to any number of wild things but it was better than admitting how she was feeling right now which was, needless to say, hot under the collar.

When they were done rinsing, Calysta found herself baking under a heat lamp, which under normal circumstances would have burned her, but this lamp did not include the harmful UV rays that caused sunburns. It was merely heat. Flush skinned and warm, she was treated to a much needed massage where she began to drift off.

It was only when the tattoo artist arrived that she opened her eyes. She was offered a thick catalogue of tattoos to choose from. Most of them were dotted patterns and animal images made up of various patterns inside their lines. There were so many Calysta felt a little overwhelmed. Did certain ones mean certain things? If she got one versus another, what sort of statement would she be making? Would enough of her even show underneath that gown that you could tell what they were?

Illya took his time with his artist, selecting something she couldn't quite see. It must have been big though, because he was pointing to an image that took up both sides of the catalogue pages. "I will have dah bird on meh back. Her wings out over meh shoulders," he said before looking up at her. Their eyes met and he gave a playful wink to her. She grinned like a fool back at him. He was in such a good mood it excited her as much as those little hoops in his ears. Her excitement came out in the form of more blushing. He'd no doubt chosen a phoenix for her.

It gave her an idea for her own tattoos too. She rifled through the catalogue until she found something similar to a wolf, then looked to the artist. "This one on my hand...then these patterns around it. You can fill up my arms with it if you want. In fact, choose a pattern you think will look good, but I would like the wolf the back of my hand." She wanted anyone and everyone to be able to see it clearly.

The tattoo past was cold on her skin as the artist worked, starting with the wolf howling on her right hand then filled in patterns working up her forearm, bicep, and into her shoulders. Her left hand and arm was completed, then they went down to the small of her back with their pattern. By the time the artist was done, she had dozed off again. She only woke up when the heat lamp was put on her skin again and she grew warm enough to notice.

She glanced up to see Illya with his back to the heat lamp, his skin baking underneath. "Hey," she mused sleepily, "What do you think?" She offered her intricately designed wolf out for his inspection. "I wouldn't go anywhere without him," she said.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The rinse off seemed to draw a bit of attention from Kalizda. At first Illya wasn't sure why, then he noticed she was definitely staring. More than likely she was feeling a little hot for him. He had to admit that he felt the same for her. After a good oil bath like this the skin was always smooth, silky and shiny. There was hardly a better way to look. If there was one thing Illya couldn't stop looking at it was the nose piercing that Kalizda got. The nose piercing with that little chain was beautiful.

Knowing that later she was going to get tattoos and tomorrow she would be wearing gold feathers in her hair and a Chip dress made him want to whisk her away home and keep her all to himself. She was going to be dressed just like a Chip woman and in the best fashion and colors. There was something strangely attractive about the idea of her wearing customary Chip clothing.

However, the next step was the massage and tattoos. Illya was too busy trying to get himself focused on his duties and to be calm about it to notice that Kalizda was trying to show him something right away. His reaction was slightly delayed and it took a few extra seconds to realize she was holding her hand out to him. Gently taking hold of her hand he observed it and smiled, "Well, dat's good. Oterwise he'd hunt yah."

********************************

Early the next morning Illya woke up feeling well rested and a bit energetic. He had a few hours of preparation before the ceremony, but there was no hurry. He wasn't needed until shortly after lunch time. Rolling over in the bed he kissed Kalizda gently. "Hi." His eyes were lit with mischief and he gently rubbed her back. The tattoo on her back felt a little strange. Sitting up in the bed a little more he leaned over and checked out the image she had on her back more carefully and then observed the nose piercing. It was very pretty and when she used the chain from the nose to the earring it was even better. Kissing her again he moved in closer. "Do I ever tell yah how pretty yah look in dah morning?"

She woke to the feeling of gentle kisses on her lips and it made her smile before she even opened her eyes. A warm hand rubbed across her back tracing its way from the curve of her hip to her shoulder blades and down again. She could feel him tracing her tattoos. Illya shifted some after a moment and she stretched out a pale, tattooed arm to pull herself along his side again before opening her eyes. He was looking down at her with a gleam of playful mischief in his green eyes. She embraced another kiss from him and smiled up at him as he drew her closer. Her slim leg slid over his and hooked around his knee to enjoy the warmth. "Hmm....sometimes...but I dont mind hearing it again," she smiled up at him, "You like the tattoos, yeah?"

"Mmmm. I like dah tattoos and dat nose piercing." Leaning in closer he kissed her for a third time. He was thinking about getting even closer, but there was a certain risk in doing so. Flopping back on his side of the bed he winked at her. "So, I was tinking we will have long night and maybe yah like tah get dah daily hard work en dis morning?"(edited)

Calysta felt at her nose ring, which was a simple golden stud for now, and blushed some before being swept up into a kiss again. "Mmm..." Did he find her nose ring as attractive as she found his earrings? When he pulled away, she inspected his ears again and found the hoops just as attractive as the day before. Something about him made her heart patter and she found herself nodding an answer to his question about some morning time hard work without thinking much. Then, unable to help herself, she leaned up and whispered into his ear. "I think that's a good idea."

There was the urge to actually act on what she said, but then another idea hit. Illya wanted to see if she'd think he was deaf in his right ear. She whispered in it and he heard it just fine. Maybe she'd get really bold if she thought he couldn't hear her. Turning his head he caught her lips with his and kissed her as she pulled away slightly. "Yah eyes are like dah stars at night and yah skin soft as glow from moon."

He didnt reply but the kiss spoke for itself when he eagerly turned and trapped her into a long one before pulling back to whisper a few lines of his own. She never knew what to say in response when he got poetic but she loved it when he did say things like that now a days. Smiling she beamed up at him and couldn't help nibbling her way up to his earlobe again. "Comparing me to a goddess could be dangerous," she laughed lightly in his ear, "All the same if I am blessed, I believe it when I look at you." It was a cheesy line and she knew it, but she was trying to be more bold like the book suggested.

It was almost impossible not to respond to her little bold statement, but he decided to try and see if she'd get much bolder than that. "Yah tink maybe little fruit and flatbread would be nice for breakfast after dis?" He was running out of ideas of what to talk about if he had to pretend he didn't hear her.

Calysta thought she had been going overboard with such bold statements but perhaps the one had been too cheesy and he had lost interest. His mind had turned to breakfast rather than the offer of morning fun she had just accepted a moment before. She leaned back, trying to hide the dissapointment she felt in herself for not holding his interest. "I'm sure we would have time to cook some," she offered.

"Now?" Illya wasn't about ready to give up on the morning fun. "Yah decide yah dun want tah have hard work dis morning? I tink maybe by way yah kissing meh dat yah agree wit meh tinking."

Now he was back to asking if she wanted to have a little fun. She wondered if he knew what kind of hungry he actually was. "Of course I do. I wasn't the one who brought up breakfast," she mused, "Do you still want to?"

"I still want tah do et." Illya decided for the moment that he would have to play it safe and maybe let the whispering be alone for the moment. "Yah have fingers gentle like dah sout winds and hair black as night."

Illya was back on track with wanting to have sex now and started with his lines again. She settled down against his chest and played her fingers over his collarbone. She wasn't sure if she wanted to be bold again or nor, so she simply smiled and kissed him again for a long time. "Hair black as night and eyes like stars," she smiled.

She wasn't whispering, but she was quiet and Illya tilted his head a little. "Hmm?" He wanted to get her being bold again, but he didn't want to give up the game either. It was a bit of fun trying to juggle all of it at the same time. "His black kite and keys?"

She had quite comfortably made her way to laying half on top of his chest as they had a little bit of sport kissing one another. His reply though made no sense. Kites and keys? Was he having seizure and it was making him confused or could he simply not hear her. She frowned and tilted her head. "No...its alright though." She blushed slightly at how poorly she was doing the seduction part of this. Maybe if she tried something bolder? Maybe it would get his attention fully. Calysta rolled on top of him and bent down to continue her ministrations on his ear. "Maybe I should keep going, yeah?" She asked in her best, if not awkward seductress tone.

Illya was enjoying the fun and he almost thought better of the game. Poor Kalizda was trying hard to be bold and he could tell, but he certainly didn't want to ruin his prank now. Besides, he was still having morning fun at this rate. When Kalizda rolled on top of him and she bent down with her mouth near his right ear she spoke softly with a sultry tone. He was thankful that pretending to be deaf in that ear gave him time to think of what to say or do. Resting his hands on her hips he grinned widely and kissed her again. "Yah have fine bones like dah phoenix and fiery temper tah match."

Calysta sat astride him and leaned up slightly when he replied with a deeply complimentary but also total non-sequitir statement. It wasnt even a response to what she had asked. Maybe she was talking too softly in her attempt at a seduction. That was his restructured ear after all. His warm hands were on her hips as he kissed her again a bit more urgently than playful like before. She swapped to his other ear and smiled as she whispered. "Do you want to find out how fiery I can be?" Her smooth hands slicked up to his shoulders, fingertips grazing at the beginning of his tattoos.

Switching ears was going to delay the fun, but that could be better. An impossibly broad grin formed on his face and Illya chuckled some. It was in part because of the joke. Primarily, it had to do with the offer he just got and this time he didn't have to pretend. He heard it just fine. "Oh, yah know dat I like playing wit fire. Let's jes see how wild yah feel tahday."

Calysta felt a rush of heat come to her cheeks as she blushed at Illya's chuckling and his reply. Clearly, he'd heard that. Pausing to admire the big grin on his face, she beamed back at him. Maybe this book was right after all? She bent down and tried the opposite ear one more time. "Put your hand around my back and hold on then," she told him so close to his ear, her breath tickled over him.

The temptation was almost more than he could bear when she told him to put his hand around her back. If he complied they would get going a lot faster, but he also knew she was testing him. Thankfully having the grin on his face didn't matter right now. Any man in his right mind would grin after what she'd just said in his left ear. When she finished whispering in his right ear he turned his head and kissed her again. "I tink meh back es pretty strong tahday. Yah want top or bottom?" He was definitely still in for the game. Moving his hand to her waist he prepared to roll with her, or just steady her. Whichever it was going to be. At least this way things kept going and he did what she wanted without giving his joke away.

He didn't move to put a hand at her back and seemed not to hear her at all as he asked if she wanted top or bottom. It must have been the ear that wasn't working properly. That would be a problem but the start of the tour was going to make it impossible to fix for several months. She pondered over what she could do, almost forgetting he had asked a question, then blinked back into the moment. "Hmm...I think a smart little bird would take advantage of her wolf feeling so good," she smiled, "Why don't you show me how well you're feeling, yeah?"
There was a momentary pause and then Kalizda answered. Illya winked at her and turned them over in the bed. With a gentle growl he whispered in her ear, "Oh, I tink dis requires a long while, maybe some extra snuggling at dah end."

Her hair turned into a water fall of glossy black when he flipped her over and she grinned when he whispered a little message of his own her ear. It was fun and exciting to see him so riled up. The grin on his face and the hoops in his ears made her hope that he intended to make that prediction come true. "Well, then...we'd better get started." Satisfied she had been seductive enough, she kissed him and didn't stop there.

************************

There was only about half an hour left after the morning work and Illya used it to snuggle with Kalizda. They were going to have a busy day getting ready for the arrival of the guests and any dignitaries that had decided to attend in person. The Council had insisted upon broadcasting this entire night. Even if Illya was the emperor there were still expectations and he still had to perform at a level that satisfied his people and anything less than perfect was not going to be acceptable.

The giant tent was connected to the temple and for the volume of the gathering they were going to be needing more than just the temple for space. Two rooms were set aside in the temple for Illya and Kalizda to get ready for the ceremony. Thankfully, there were a few men to help Illya make sure he had everything right when he put it on. There were several rings and he had to have them on specific fingers, then of course there were a few armbands, eyeliner, necklaces, the turban, crown, feathers, bells, and all the clothing and other small accessories with it.

Illya stepped into the room to see that the first part of him getting ready was another bath, then he had a massage table to lay on. During the massage someone made his hair, the same hair that was going to be buried under the turban. Another person was setting out the clothing and another was standing guard.

By the time he was dressed and had the eyeliner on he felt like a doll. There was still jewelry to add and he pushed the gold arm bands on before he slide the necklaces over his head and then placed the rings on his hands. The only ring that was not traditional was the wedding band from Kalizda and he was determined to keep it on. Now that he was mostly ready the final step was the outer jacket that would cover the gold bands and then he would get to sit down and let someone else put the turban on him.

With only an hour before guests would be allowed into the tent Illya walked out of the room feeling a bit ridiculous, but he was finally ready for the big ceremony. Kalizda sounded like she was close to being released from her room and he stood in the main hallway of the temple leading to the exit that would put them in the tent. When at last her door opened he smiled at her broadly. "Yah look like dream."
 

aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
The morning was not at all a reflection of how the evening would be. Illya took his time with her and she did the same in turn. Not only would be the only respite they got from constant pressure and outside attention for the next few days, but it was much needed attention for the two of them. Afterward, they stayed together talking quietly to one another. She had the chance to look at the great bird tattoo on his back. He’d called it a phoenix. It was swirling with fire and patterns that she liked to trace with her fingers. He had gotten this for her and she knew it.

He could probably only feel half of her ministrations because of the scarring, but it didn’t take away from how good he looked laying there and grinning more like a cat that found the cream rather than a wolf or phoenix. The golden earrings in his ears were also points of attraction. They gleamed in the lamp light and she took her time to gently play with those too, all because she could. She was half tempted to ask if he would leave them in for a while after they left Pyrta. Of course, if he was having trouble hearing out of the damaged and replaced ear, the Ehaui would have to take them out to repair it when they returned from the tour. There wasn’t time for him to have surgery now with all of the official business and it wasn’t altogether a life threatening issue. He still had a good ear. It would simply be something she had to keep an eye on.

Calysta talked with him for a while, murmuring in sleepy, but satisfied mumbles and chuckles when he was being particularly ambitious for more fun. It took away a lot of the nerves she felt for the events that would take place later that evening until it came time they had to get up and go. “I’m a little nervous,” she whispered almost inaudibly in his bad ear, “But I’ll do well for you, yeah?”

Knowing he couldn’t hear her, she kissed his cheek, then his lips with a playful and retreating kiss before rolling out of their bed to start the day.


********

Getting ready was much the same as it was the day before to begin with. She was bustled into the pleasure house where she bathed in oils and her hair was treated with something to make it silkier. While she soaked, her hair was pinned up into curling clips and her nails were trimmed and polished with red and gold shine to match everything else. While they worked, she studied the dark tattoos all over the back of her hands. They stood out in stark contrast to her pale skin and would be there for weeks. At least they were well crafted and admittedly beautiful looking. The artist had done a fantastic job.

When her nails were done, she was put to task on the massage table which allowed her to relax somewhat. They paid particular attention to her shoulders and neck where she carried the most of her tension. Her usual masseuse hunted down every last knot lurking in and under her shoulder blades, neck, and at her collar bone.


Next, she was covered in a robe for warmth and comfort for the literal parade of the cosmeticians to invade her tent space. Despite how much was going on around her, Calysta was relieved that she wouldn’t have to do her own makeup and hair. She couldn’t have done it nearly so masterfully as the women there. They must have also consulted or knew from their training how to deal with her pale skin and admittedly thick rooted, but finer Ewenian hair rather than Chippeqouti women’s hair.

One of the women took their time applying base coats, and oils and setting powders to her skin, while another worked on mixing what looked like wet charcoal into a thin brush. They worked in perfect tandem, outlining her eyes with bold black lines like a cat’s. They painted her lips a ruby red then glossed them to shine like a gemstone. Eye shadow came next, then mascara that took her long lashes and made them doubly impressive. They blended blush on her cheeks and contoured her facial features, then added yet more setting powder. Her make up wasn’t going to run or smudge even if she stood out in a field in the middle of the rainy season at this point.

The gown she was meant to wear was brought in by yet another parade of women and they took the task of getting her into it. Her undergarments were provided, and something that she had picked out specifically for the event. They were soft, red and breathable material with tiny gold designs.

Luckily, the gown came in two pieces and once she had her undergarments on, she could step into the skirt with someone holding it out for her. “Thank you,” she said in relief as they helped her button the heavy skirt around her hips. Then she slid her arms into the separate top before it was buttoned up in the back. Her belly was exposed in the dress and she could already feel the breeze. How could she have so much heavy fabric on and still feel so exposed?

Her hair took longer than the make up. They unpinned her hair, letting the perfect curls fall around her shoulders then brushed them out to gentle, glossy waves while a cream and gold sash was arranged with perfect precision over her shoulders, across her front and down to her opposite hip. They parted her hair perfectly in the middle and dropped a chain with a medallion on the end along the part. The medallion connected to two other chains on either side of her head near her temple and carried little bells. Four bells. She knew well enough that would be one bell for each of the four winds.

Bangles were threaded one by one up her arms, and she was sure they each had meaning, but no one seemed to be talkative enough to explain what it was. They all worked quietly and efficiently and she was grateful for their help. There was no way she could have gotten all this done on her own. She simply wasn’t that fashionable.

The last detail came when they brought in a box filled with something gold and began threading them through her perfectly rendered curls. It took her a moment to realize they were feathers. They had made golden feathers for her hair and it made her smile slightly. The Chippeqouti loved details like that and she appreciated it.

Through the process, she did her best to make it easier on the people working by holding still, moving when asked, and overall not protesting to anything. The only moment she asked for any sort of change came when a traditional necklace glittering with gold and red was presented and they went to take her other necklace off.

“Wait,” she said, “I want to keep that necklace on, please. Ill- It was a gift from the Emperor.”

It felt a little strange saying that but it earned her a smile from the group and they left the gold chain and pendant where it was, then selected a sparkling choker to cover her neck instead. She held up her skirts for them to pull out silky red and gold embossed slippers for her feet, and let them clasp the strap behind her heel. “Thanks…”

She was uncomfortable with the idea that they had helped her put on her shoes, but she knew if she had tried to do it, she would have messed all their hard work up in the attempt.

When all was said and done, they adjusted her skirts and deemed her fit for viewing. She felt more like a doll for display than a person, and she imagined that- in part- that was the point. Chippeqouti did nothing in reserve and that included displaying their wealth and power.

She would have to tap into that mindset and be confident in what she was doing tonight. Confidence wasn’t a problem on a normal basis, but she knew this was highly important to the Chippeqouti and Illya was counting on her not to make mistakes, so he in turn would not make them either. He had a lot of pressure riding on him from the council for this.

It made her all the more glad she had pursued him this morning and they’d had a break from expectation for just a little while.

When she was allowed to leave the tent to take her place with Illya in the main tent, she took a deep breath and pushed aside the flap with the back of her hand. Already, she could feel the pull and drag of the dress weighing all of her movement down on top of all the jewelry she wore.

She hadn’t realized that Illya was already standing on the opposite side, having been released by whoever was helping him get ready.

Calysta's eyes went from the gilded tips of Illya's toes and worked their way up. There was so much to look at her eyes bounced around to rich red fabrics with gold thread, sashes and belts, an impossibly ornate sword encrusted with jewels, then to hands bedecked with large gems on every finger. The only ring that wasn't covered in something sparkling was her simple gold wedding band that she had given to him.

She smiled when she saw it and it gave her the courage to keep looking up until her eyes met his. They were bright green against the smokey eyeliner he wore in thick bands around them, but they were still his and they were practically glimmering at her with delight. There was gold on every inch of him but she saw his eyes and smiled broadly as her heart gave a hard pound.

"Yah look like dream."

"So do you," she smiled, "I almost didn't recognize you."

Stepping back Illya took one of Kalizda's hands. "Yah never know what I might look like ef yah put enough gold on meh." Flicking one of the gold necklaces he wore he laughed a little and then shoved his hands behind his back and worked the back of the heavy red and gold jacket. There was now a bulge near his rear end and he shook it. "Yeah, dis es hot." Shaking his rear end he chuckled some. "I feel stupid en dis."

Calysta laughed lightly and took his hand, giving it a gentle squeeze as he not-so-subtle adjustments to his rear. She was afraid to move too, on the simple principle she was worried about the weight and so much ornamentation. She felt like a dolled up Christmas tree or an over frosted cupcake about to topple. "You might feel stupid but you look...well..." she looked at his earrings and his eyes, "You look striking."

It was a sincere comment and she dared to try walking closer to him. The dress was so heavy she felt like she was walking through molasses. Looking up to her husband, she wiggled her finger asking him to bend lower to her for a moment.


Taking a moment to readjust the rear of his many layers of clothing he sighed. "Well, I guess someting about dis had tah be striking. At least et was meh. Wouldn't want yah running off wit meh clotes and forgetting I was in dem." He couldn't resist the joke and then he leaned in toward her as if her finger had a string attached to his chin. "Yeah?"


She laughed at his joke as he leaned in and then she just barely raised up on her toes ever so slightly and delivered a gentle peck to his lips. "I can't walk very fast in this dress. It's incredibly heavy. So, you don't have to worry about me running anywhere," she whispered with a wink.


"Dat's good. Cause no matter how tired I get dat means I can always catch yah." Illya returned the kiss and then resumed a more proper posture. "I never see yah look so pretty before."


She grinned when he said he would catch her and the idea of being caught by him made her heart flutter some. Would a bold statement work here? She shored herself up and grinned. "Oh. I'm hoping you might later." When he said she had never looked so pretty before, she went from bold to blushing brightly. "You really like it?"


Illya nodded at her question. "Yeah I like et. I would catch yah tahnight." He liked the idea of her letting him give chase. "What would yah do ef I catch yah?" Sneaking his hand around her waist he pulled her in until her skirts were pressed tightly to his left leg. "I like keeping yah here. Yah might have tah work tah get away so I can catch yah later."


The hand sneaking around her waist made her smile brightly and she slid a hand up his arm, mostly because it was the only part of him that was reachable with her small arm span thanks to the skirts. "You'll just have to see what I'll do if you catch me," she told him, "I won't have to work to get away. The ceremony will start in a minute and you'll have to let go." She didn't want to let go, but it was an inevitability. "But I want you to know I love you, yeah?"


Gradually the grin got a little bigger on Illya's face and he snuck one more kiss in before he opened the tent flap. They had just a few minutes to get settled in before the people would begin arriving. "I love yah more den anyting." Stepping into the tent with her he let her slide away, but he still held the tips of her fingers in his hand. "We jes walk like dis over to dah seats and den we can sit down and Elite will come en and take positions."


She kissed him again and was reluctant to let go but they had to. There would have been a time when she never would have believed someone when they said they loved her more than anything, but when Illya said it. She felt warm and thrilled, safe and excited all at once. She loved him more than anything too. He held her fingers so they stayed together when they stepped into the tent. She kept her finger hooked with his, glad for the contact because his hand was warm and he helped propel her along under her heavy skirts.

"Alright," she nodded. Her fingers stayed in his hand as she walked carefully over to place indicated alongside him. Her hair was jingling with the weight of golden feathers and her nose chain clinked softly against her cheek in time with the bells across her forehead. "You'll do wonderful tonight," she told him, "I know you will."


"I hope so, I memorize dah entire ceremony." Illya glanced at her as he took his seat and winked. He had taken his time studying for all this. "Now, we jes go trough et all dah same we do en dah rehearsal, jes wit more cloting on."


Hearing he had memorized the entire ceremony, she let out small chuckle. That was an entirely Illya and Chippeqouti way of going about it. "Aye," she said, "Just a bit more clothing." About 20lbs more she wagered her case. Illya clothes were close to 100 if she had to guess. She tried to smooth down her dress enough in the rear to sit down and ended up unsure if she could reach the seat in her dress or not. In the end, she picked up a handful of skirt and hauled it around with her to sit next to Illya, trying to look sheepish with the hesitation.


It was looking like Kalizda maybe didn't have the height to get on the seat. Illya stuck a foot out and quickly pushed a small bench in front of the seat. "I have et made for yah. Dis way yah get up and down from seat easy." He figured she would prefer that instead of hoping up on the seat to clump down off of it.


Calysta was about to attempt climbing into the Chip sized seat she was meant to occupy. Climb was a good word for it...the seat bottom reached close to her waist. To her surprise, Illya pushed out a small, polished stool from underneath the seat with his foot and she blinked at him before he told her it was for her. "You thought of that?" It was surprisingly sweet and thoughtful. She picked up her skirts in one hand and kept her other hand linked with his fingers as she stepped onto it and turned. "Thank you," she beamed at him happily at chest level, "This is perfect."


A small smile ame to Illya's face as he watched her step up on the stool and she turned slightly before seating herself. "Alright, now we jes wait for oters." Taking a seat he let his ring encrusted hand fall over the arm of the chair. When she was seated he intended on holding her fingers in his.


She let him sit down and then carefully followed suit, easing down with her skirts fanning around her in the chair. Her bangles clinked against the arm of her chair. Once she was settled in, she looked at her husband and nodded. "Ready?"


For once Illya was quiet during the day. With a sigh he nodded and he glanced at her again before he grabbed her hand and then gave them a gentle squeeze.

She smiled gently when he took her hand. He wasn't going to be so formal tonight that they couldn't be together and it was something that made her feel good. He wanted her here. Her fingers stayed in his and she took a deep breath before waiting for the Elite to come in.

The tent was massive and yet when the Elite came in they seemed to take up a fair amount of space. They were meant to be the guard for the evening and since the occasion was the formal one, all of them were dressed in their full dress uniforms.

They presented themselves by rank, Ehvan entering first. His expression was particularly stern as he snapped to attention, and bowed to them at the waist. Chippeqouti never bowed and somehow this was the second time she had been bowed to by the Elite, albeit the first time was in a much more humble setting. It impressed upon the importance of doing this well.

Ehvan’s medals jingled as he righted himself and another Elite man entered, this time Bahn who showed no sign of his usual jovial attitude. It was all serious looks and attitude tonight for the Emperor and his wife. They all came in and bowed in efficient succession with Asher, being the youngest and lowest ranked Elite going last, then they took up their posts. Ehvan stayed nearby along with a top ranked detail as an honor guard would, then the rest of the men took up their posts at the tent entrance and around the walls.

Calysta glanced at Illya who was staring ahead. “I’m ready when you are, love.” She said it in a low, breathy whisper, where only he could hear and it would be the last time she overly voiced her affection for the night. He would be “Emperor” whenever she spoke of him or to him for the rest of the evening. Then she gave his fingers another soft squeeze of assurance. Just because she would have to be less vocal didn't mean she couldn't show her support in other ways.
 

Silence

Anonymous Me
Mentor
The little squeeze from Kalizda's hand was slightly reassuring and Illya nodded lightly toward Ehvan. "I guess we let the hordes in. Going to have to face them sometime." He had switched to speaking in Quoti as it was going to be customary for him not to speak in any other language as the Emperor.

At the comment about the hordes Ehvan let a brief smirk cross over his face. It was no secret among the Chippequoti that Illya didn't care much for being the emperor, but he did do a good job of it. Tonight was the night that the Chippequoti would show the entire Alliance and the Federation that they were far from broken and returning to a golden age. They would be rising as a power among the galaxies again. Once everyone in the tent had regained all composure he nodded and gave signal that they were ready for the Chippequoti Elders to enter the tent and then all the guests would enter.

Junior members of the council entered the tent first with ranks following them. Each Chip bowed as they approached the front and Illya rose long enough to bow in return. It was not the customary greeting and that would be explained to those who were entering behind the Chippequoti. Each guest was admitted in order of rank.

In preparation for the guests arriving the Chippequoti set up a number of junior Elders and some of the pleasure house workers to distribute robes to guests. The Chippequoti people would pass through in their traditional dress and go stand near the throne before they would pledge allegiance and their lives. Illya would bow in return and pledge his allegiance and life to the people. The only duty for Kalizda was to follow suit and with the first Elder to arrive in the tent and approach the throne Illya gently lifted Kalizda's hand as signal that she should rise with him.

The turban on Illya's head was already feeling heavy and he didn't dare bow too low because the turban might fall off. Whoever had determined this whole thing didn't plan the outfit very well. With the first wave of guests it seemed that the dignitaries were mostly favorable toward the robes they received. A few of the Elite ushered the guests to the appropriate tables where they would sit on large cushions and recline at the tables. There were holograms in place for those who were unable to attend in person, but still desired to attend virtually is possible.

Gold embroidered banners hung throughout the tent to make it look more like a palace and less like a tent. There wasn't room on Pytra to build a palace and so it was made as it needed to be here. In some ways it was more traditional given the roaming that the Dark Chippequoti were known for. Each place setting at the table had gold bangles that the napkins were pushed through and the bangles would become another party favor.

Among some of the first dignitaries to arrive was, Sarai. As soon as the woman entered the Ahvah and the junior Elder working with her started to hastily prepare. There wasn't much time to get each guest seated before the ceremony would begin.

Sarai took hold of her tall husband's arm and looked him over. Henryk may have been her oldest husband, matching her in age and beginning to see just the slightly hint of crow's feet at the corner of his eyes. His hair still remained the sleek and light blonde it always had been and his handsome bearded was perfectly trimmed as always. It was exciting to see him like that. What was even more exciting was the festivities going on around her. There were tents and well worn footpaths lit with lanterns in the late evening air. The homeplanet moons were full and hanging high over head, one a pale pink orb and the other a bright silver. She came to the opening of the tent flap and smiled up to Henryk as they were flanked by two of the tall Chippeqouti. "Sarai, Supreme Matriarch and Council of the Urian Matriarchy," she said pleasantly, offering over her invitation on her pad with so they may inspect it if they liked. "I'm honored to have been invited."

After the call from Edgar it seemed that the Kaereleans began to organize themselves into what they considered an appropriate processional for entering the tents. Saar had kept his eyes on the crowd and scanned them until the first one came to the entrance of the tent. As he glanced down at Sarai his eyes widened only slightly and he took her pad with a nervous gulp. Glancing at the pad he held it for a moment and then bumped the tent gently with his other hand. The Elite on the other side peered around the edge and beckoned to one of the elders and Ahvah to hurry up and produce the first robe. Saar nodded to Sarai and he handed her pad back. "Please, yah go en now." On the other side Ahvah and the elder rushed over with robes for Henryk and Sarai. "Yah put dese on." Ahvah nodded and waited patiently for the guests to examine the garments offered to them.

Sarai smiled warmly up at Saar and thanked him before walking alongside her husband though the tent flap. Before she had more than a moment to look around a tall, admittedly beautiful woman approached them in what looked like a hurry and insisted that they both put on a red garment of some kind. Sarai untangled her arm from Henryk and held up the fine robe curiously. Not everyone seemed to be wearing them and they would cover up her outfit. "What are these, dear?" She asked.

The elder was not sure how to answer and they gave a short reply. "They are gift for all guests." However, based on the look they were getting Ahvah decided to add a small bit. "Yah will need tah wear dah gift. Et would be expected dat a guest wear et. Please yah tie front of yah Chip robe."

At first she couldn't imagine why they would be insistent that she wear a gift and the older Chip who answered was short worded. The prettier Chip woman nodded and took it upon herself to explain further. "Oh. I see. Well...what is it that the Terran's say? When in Rome?" She had Henryk hold up her robe so she could slide her arms through. Then she began the task of arranging the robe comfortably over her slitted skirt, holding her leg out to smooth down the sequins against her thigh.

Despite all their attempts the woman was still going to show her legs off. At least the way she was arranging things it appeared that way. Ahvah motioned to the Elder and they split. The Elder went to give robes to other guests and Ahvah determined that it was best to explain the tradition to their guest. "Yah come over here tah adjust yah cloting. Et es more private." Pointing to a small dressing area off to the side she pulled a curtain around them. "Tah show so much leg es nut considered modest among dah Chippequoti. Carefully she pulled the robe over the leg and helped tie it in place. "Ef yah like tah wear robe so yah top of dress show I can help."

Sarai blinked as the pretty woman ushered her to a curtained area and yanked the curtains shut before taking it upon herself to plucking at the sequined skirt near the slit. Apparently, showing leg was some how offensive. Sarai's brow raised and she shook her head. Beyond questioning whether this was really a gift o4 just some ploy to cover up, she didn't like the woman's idea. "No, I think that would look rather strange, like I had spilled something on my rear or...was ashamed of my legs. I will wear it on my top and what remains of my slit will have to simply show. I'm wearing stocking after all. Surely, that's not so offensive?"

It seemed the woman was offended by her aid and Ahvah frowned. Surely she had not made such a bad attempt at offering her assistance. "Yah cover what yah can. Chippequoti find leg showing offensive. Dere es no woman here dat shows her legs. Et es considered someting dat yah only show man yah agree wit. I help yah tah be seen wit honor and nut like improper woman."

The woman frowned and it was strange to see the look of pleasant greeting so easily shaken off. "I'm not improper," Sarai said, "I'm here with my husband after all and if my dress is the measure of my honor rather than my service and loyalty to the Alliance and thusly the Chippeqouti cause... I will wear your robe and cover it up as I must, but I will do so under protest." She took the robe and wrapped it around her tightly, then tied off the belt with a quick jerk of her hands. "Thank you for informing me of the custom, Madam. I will bear it in mind and stay robed so as not to offend."

Clearly their guest was easily offended and Ahvah stared a bit awe struck as the woman huffed at her. "I dun assume dat yah legs bring honor to yah work. Only Chippequoti prostitutes show legs. Et would be embarrassment for yah tah be left wit legs showing during dis important ceremony. Et es custom for Chippequoti tah give gift and fortunate dat dis gift es timely for yah."

The woman's reply, in part, made no sense and it was clear there had been a translation issue. Her heavy accent made Sarai wonder if her trader's tongue was limited and she felt a little bad for being so wordy. This wasn't the woman's fault. She was falling her societal norms, archaic as they might have appeared. She did catch the part about Chippeqouti thinking only prostitutes showed their legs and that made her want to start up on how ridiculous that was all over again. Instead, she took in a deep breath. "I would be an embarrassment?" she asked.

"No!" Ahvah replied emphatically when the woman asked if she would be an embarrassment. "Yah our guest. I am here tah help make sure dat yah appear proper before dah emperor. Chippequoti dun assume dat all guests know what es considered proper and a gift es best tah be sure dat no guest es embarrassed."

Sarai wasn't going to point out the fact that she wouldn't need to be 'made sure' that she appeared 'properly' if they didn't find her current mode of dress improper to begin with, thus making her an embarrassing pariah. Of course, the woman seemed to be trying very hard to assure her no offense was meant, though she was sure some might have been given with the robes if people knew the real reason why they wanted them to be worn. She wanted to tell the woman that, but in the end, she would likely be thrown out of the party if she didn't wear it. The woman also acknowledged that she was guest. Another thought crossed her mind and she tilted her head. "And the emperor would find the dress repulsive?" she asked, less venom in her voice and more curiosity this time.

At last the irritation seemed to fade and Ahvah felt mildly successful as she started to draw the curtains back again. However, the woman spoke once more and Ahvah paused. "A guest es never repulsive. Dah dress yah wear es improper and dah Emperor would nut want tah see yah dressed like dis. Chippequoti provide dis gift so dat all may enjoy dah party witout embarrassment."

Sarai pondered this for a fraction of a second. The Emperor wouldn't find the dress enticing as she had anticipated, perhaps. Sarai shored herself up and looked at Ahvah with a courteous nod. "Just so. Thank you for telling me discreetly. I never leave a woman without having asked her name and remembering her face," she said, "What may I call you, Madam?"

After all the hard work to get the woman to understand it seemed she finally did and Ahvah nodded. "Yes, yah call meh Ahvah." Opening the curtain she pointed to Ehvan, who was standing near Illya and Kalizda. "Dat es meh agreed. He es dah first officer under dah General. When yah approach emperor he will guide yah. Ehvan es his name, but he dun speak trader's tongue as well as I do. Dere will interpreter at front tah help wit translations." Pointing to another one of the Elite she smiled, "Go dere and he will show yah where yah will be seated before ceremony begins."

Sarai could hardly see over the crowd where the woman indicated but the instructions were enough to get the general idea. She took Henryk's arm and looped it into hers before the woman pointed to a much closer man in the olive toned dress uniform of an Elite man. "Thank you, Ahvah. Anytime you visit Uria, you'd be welcome to come have dinner with myself and my family." She nodded again and then set off toward the man Ahvah had indicated with a playful and excited smile lingering on her lips.

High ranking guests were to approach the emperor. Ehvan stepped forward as the first one approached. Instinctively he tensed some and Illya did the same though it was hardly because Sarai was dangerous in appearance, it had more to do with the bit of leg showing. The woman had intentionally adjusted her robe so that some of the leg showed.

As it was required for all dignitaries, Illya nodded to her. There was no bow or pledge to a dignitary. As he spoke the translator conveyed to Sarai all that was said. "Yah most welcome to dah Chippequoti and emperor es pleased yah honor us all wit yah presence. Because of yah service to dah Chippequoti please accept our humble gift of dah robe and seat at table of honor. Et es wit most...." Pausing for a moment the translator had to think of the most appropriate translation for the next part. "Et es wit most respect dat dah first officer of dah Elite will show yah dah way tah yah place at table of honor."

Already seated at the table were Dora and Pyra. Both women had been escorted in with the Elders. The emperor pledged his life to them and Ehvan seated them at the table of honor. This would be explained later to prevent any misunderstandings. As the procession slowed it was now the time for tradesmen and more common folk to enter. By now all the guests had been admitted, robed and seated.

*******************

Ehud waited his turn in line with Priscilla. It was a long wait. They had been standing outside since the first Chippequoti were admitted to the tent. It was already an hour in and he was the third in line. Thankfully he wasn't a blacksmith. Taking a portion of his work for the benefit of the empress would have been more unbearable to carry if he had been a blacksmith. When he was at last admitted to the tent he saw that many of the Chippequoti were already seated.

Cautiously he approached the throne. Part of him was glad that there was enough peace for the Chippequoti to be united again and another part of him burned with anger. They were going to pledge their lives and service to him. It was tradition, but it was also insulting. The Dark Chippequoti always took the lead on these things and nobody seemed to question them simply because they were much more warlike and descendants of the Seventh General. However, it would not change tonight and in some ways it was better that it was Illya. At least Illya had been less stringent than those in the past and the people were benefiting from it.

Bowing in front of Illya he said the traditional pledge and made sure to include Pris in it since she could not speak Quoti. "Forgive me. My agreed does not speak Quoti. I will speak for myself and her. We pledge our lives and our service to the Emperor and the Chippequoti people. Please present this token of my service to the Empress. May she approve of the workmanship." Slowly straightening himself again he waited for Illya to finish his part.

Illya waited for Ehud to finish and took the embroidered cloth and handed it to Kalizda. "Do you accept this token on behalf of the Chippequoti?" Of course the standard answer was yes and he let Kalizda take the cloth and then pass it off to an attendant that would take all the tokens and store them. With that part done Illya bowed in response. "The Emperor and Empress pledge their lives in service to the Chippequoti. It is our duty to protect and serve you well."

A member of the Elite stepped forward and then ushered Ehud and Priscilla to their place without a word. There were only about 20 more families to approach and then they could move on. For now all the tables were silent, but in the guest house servers had prepared drinks and would soon be serving.

Edgar waited until the last of the people were seated before he came to the front of the tent. It was near the Emperor and Empress, but he stood off to the side. It was never appropriate to block their view of the people before them. Instead of using an interpreter he spoke in Trader's Tongue to explain what had happened and what would happen throughout the night.

"Tahnight yah here tah witness important event. Dis has nut been done since dah Seventh General es rejected by Old Quoti. At time he was rejected Seventh General remind dah Chippequoti dat only dose nut afraid tah fall will rise wit power of dah Golden Phoenix. He embarked on great conquest and et was era of great wealt and power for dah Chippequoti. Wit dis rise dere was also great fall and for many years Chippequoti are forgotten. Soon musicians will play traditional song tah memorialize dis time en Chippequoti history." With a slight nod of his head he stepped away from the front.

As the musicians took their place to the side of the Emperor and Empress servers came in at the sides of the tents and served drinks. When the song finished playing Edgar moved to his place in the front again and began explaining the next part. "Tahnight we celebrate dah entrance of new golden age for Chippequoti. Once again dah blood of dah Seventh General es resurrected wit dah Golden Phoenix. Dah Chippequoti under leadership of dah Emperor abandon fears and dey embrace Alliance. We rise tah greater heights den before and we set fire to dah enemy." Taking a deep breath, Edgar prepared to continue. "Yah see dat ef yah nut Chippequoti yah nut required tah bow before dah Emperor and Empress and dey do nut bow to yah when yah approach. Dis es for reason of tradition. Chippequoti do nut bow unless dey make et known dat dey put dere life en yah hands and yah have power tah kill dem. So, dis es balance of power. All people submit to dah Emperor dere lives and he en turn submits his life as he will die for any of dem en service to protect dah people. Powerful and common, et es duty of dah people tah serve and Emperor to protect."

Now that the parts they were more concerned with explaining were over with Edgar took his seat and let a younger Elder finish the night. The woman was brilliant and she would do well as a lead Elder in years to come. However, she needed opportunity and this was one such event. Taking her place, Tiel's robes sparkled in the dim light of the tent. She wore red with gold the same as all the Dark Chippequoti. "Yah wonder what all dah colors mean. Dah blue es color of dah mountains for Light Chippequoti and dah Dark Chippequoti wear dah red of the desert and jungles. Gold es dah color of dah phoenix. Dis es reason for all colors. All guests are given robe as token of Chippequoti regard. Alliance we consider as dose dat we must also protect. Yah also find gold rings for yah arms on dah table. We have red stones from Old Quoti Desert and Blue Stones of Old Quoti Mountains. Dis es laid en gold band for yah remembrance. Please yah take dese also as token of good will. Dark Chippequoti have honor of sending 4 Elite en training trough dangers of Old Quoti tah obtain dese stones for dis night. Of dese 4 dere es only 1 dat completes training. Dis man will be honored tonight. He will be first en over 20 years tah complete training. He es trained for 15 years tah be Elite."

As Tiel finished the servers came through again and served food. All the while there was not to be food served to the Emperor or Empress until the guests were finished. The meal was nearly finished when Tiel came to the front again and drew a large golden goblet from a box. Filling it with Chip wine she nodded to Mihael. The big man stepped forward. He still had bruises on his hands and wrists, but they were not as obvious as the bruise on his cheekbone. Mihael slowly approached and waited for Tiel to pass the goblet to Illya.

At first Illya thought he had a good grip on the goblet, but it tipped slightly and he dumped some of the wine. In his attempt to regain his grasp of the goblet he dumped a little more. With his fumble he cursed profusely and Tiel's eyes widened briefly. She almost looked to Edgar for direction, but instead took action. Beckoning to a server she took their cloth from them and tossed it onto the platform to soak up the wine before gently taking the goblet and setting it aside and then drying Illya's hand with edge of her robe. Filling the goblet again she made sure he had it firmly in his grasp before she pulled a knife from her robes.

Illya held his other hand out over the goblet. Tiel took the edge of the knife and made a fast jab that was hardly more than a prick to Illya's hand, but it drew a few drops of blood. She did the same for Mihael and made sure to mix their blood in the drink with the tip of the knife. Withdrawing the blade she wiped it gently on her robes and slid it back into it's place among the folds of her robes. Nodding to them both she gave signal it was ready to drink.

After Illya drank almost half of the goblet he gave the rest to Mihael. As soon as it was finished Illya took a medal in the shape of a phoenix from a box and pinned it to Mihael's uniform. Now he was in his full Elite regalia. He would in time earn more metals, but the first was the Phoenix. It was one of the only times that Illya could show any kind of affection as the Emperor and he smiled a little before returning the salute given to him by Mihael. Once the small recognition ceremony for Mihael was accomplished Tiel spoke again. "Now dah Emperor and Empress will eat and drink wit dah rest of yah. When dey are finished we will welcome questions. Dis es uncommon opportunity for dose nut of Chip blood. Dis entire ceremony has nut been completed en over 1,000 years. Chippequoti are eager tah make sure dat our guests of dah Alliance are nut impressed poorly by our traditions and we do nut want misunderstanding of our ways." Stepping off the stage, Tiel's robes fluttered behind her.

Once Tiel left Mihael returned to his place in the tent. Illya had a small red cloth he held to his hand as did Mihael. Both of them waited until Tiel was seated before turning to a member of the Elite near them and letting the Elite man nearest them finish dressing the small wound to their hands. It was a relief to have survived the first 3 hours of the ceremony and Illya knew there was more to come. However, he was hungry and this was his chance to eat, even if he had to eat slowly. Looking at Kalizda he offered her a brief bit of instruction. "Eat slowly. When we are finished servers will remove all food from tent. This is why the guests start first."
 
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aryamajor

Curious Adventurer
Benefactor
Calysta felt Illya squeeze her hand gentle and the feeling of the gesture was nice. They would get through this together even if it was going to be a long night. Ehvan cast Illya a little smirk and then the tent was opened up for the first in rank to enter. The junior council members filed in with their beautiful, shimmering robes and then the rest of the Council followed. Edgar was there and Calysta smiled slightly at the sight of her grandfather. He was looking younger in his fine robes.

Illya lifted her hand slightly and she automatically rose to her feet without questioning what he needed her to do. Then he stepped forward and the long process of pledging began. The procession seemed to be going well enough. The guest would bow and then so would Illya in return. Both of them pledged their life to each other. It felt strange and the thought of someone paying fealty to her as the Empress made her stomach clench slightly as if it were wrong. She had to constantly remind herself that this was the Chippeqouti culture. They were a conciliatory empire. That wasn’t going to change. Certainly not her lifetime. She was here to play her role for now.

What made the feeling worse was when they gave their pledges to Illya and then immediately offered her a gift of their workmanship. One of the first people to do so was Ehud and Priscilla. He always looked well groomed and so did Priscilla, but tonight they were both resplendent in blue and gold. Somehow the heavy Chip fabrics didn't swallow the beautiful Terran woman. Instead, she made them look all the more extravagant with red lipstick and smokey eyes. Her hair had clips of gold and blond tendrils hanging down by her temples. Calysta found herself almost wishing she had the same stature in her own gown.

Ehud and Priscilla came forward and he spoke in Qouti for both himself and his agreed. Calysta doubted her friend knew that Ehud was pledging her life away to the empire, but he didn’t have any other option at this point. None of them did.

Ehud offered her a beautifully embroidered red cloth that had been expertly folded. He must have spent weeks working on it. When she was asked if she would accept it, she nodded to Ehud and gave him a gentle smile. “Yes, I will accept this token on behalf of all the Chippeqouti.”

Clasping the fabric, she passed it off to one of her several attendants, her hair jingling with all of the gold feathers clasped into it as she did. When Ehud and Priscilla were done, they were allowed to sit down at a designated table.

The room stayed stone silent except for the sound of their voices and shuffling feet as more Chippeqouti and their agreed stepped forward. At one point she was presented a handsome sword twice as long as she was tall and equally heavy. The blacksmith asked if she would accept it and she nodded. “I will accept this on the behalf of all the Chippeqouti people.”

When the sword was presented to her in a ceremonial two handed grip, she looked at it hoping she could at least pick it up long enough to get it to the attendant. She didn’t want to look like she was any different from a Chip woman who could lift the sword easily. Calysta slid her hands under the scabbard and beside the blacksmiths then lifted the sword with all her strength. It was lighter than she thought, but still heavy enough to make her teeth immediately clench in the effort of holding it up.

She managed to hold it up, her bangles and other jewelry rattling together with the effort, long enough for the attendant to slink in front of her and grab the scabbard on either end. With a quiet word of thanks to the attendant and to the blacksmith, they continued the procession of pledges and gifts.

Finally, all of the guests were seated and the ceremony could begin in earnest. Edgar began explaining the ceremony to a respectfully silent crowd as a haunting song was sung by the Chippeqouti musicians to the side. Calysta understood the words, but she could see many of the Pyrtans and other party guests trying to follow along.

Another of the junior council members, Edgar’s protege named Tiel, began the second portion. She looked beautiful in her sparkling red and gold robes as she explained the purpose of several of the party favors, then continued to explain that a new member of the Elite would be joining them. Calysta had been aware this was part of the ceremony because of the rehearsal, but she hadn’t been told who the new recruit was.

They all waited for the next part to begin. There was only the occasional whisper along with a clink of a fork or knife across a plate. Calysta could smell meat and bread wafting on the air and she knew she was hungry. If she was hungry, Illya had to be famished. Their last meal had been breakfast roughly 10 hours before this. She stifled her appetite and waited patiently while their guests ate until it was time to reveal who the newest Elite member would be.

It turned out to be a man named Mihael. She had seen him once or twice around town, spoken maybe an odd word to him, but never had an extended conversation. He was tall and handsome in the way Dark Chips were with deep brown skin, strong facial features, and glossy black hair. The only thing marring the good looks was a deep bruise along his cheek bone. He made an impression on the crowd as he approached and Tiel prepared a golden goblet by filling it with wine.

Tiel offered the wine goblet to Illya but something went wrong with the hand off. Calysta watched his fingers slip, dumping wine everywhere as he tried to regain his grasp. Wine spattered over his hands and the floor while Illya let out a string of Quoti curses. She recognized some of them because she had heard him use them with the Elite, but when the expletives continued he went into territory not even she knew about.

The junior council member seemed to freeze in shock for a moment and Calysta lurched forward to try helping Illya, but Tiel moved in and started the clean up in a quick fashion. Calysta wobbled in her heavy dress some and then stepped back onto her heels to keep her balance as Tiel cleaned up his hand with her own dress sleeve.

When that was done, the goblet was refilled and the two men added a drop of their blood before drinking deep gulps. Illya sucked down the wine fast and Calysta felt her fingers tightening around her skirts at her sides slightly until he was done. Mihael followed suit and then he was given a pin to add to his uniform. A golden phoenix was pinned proudly to his chest now.

Calysta knew they must have been training more men to be in the Elite, but she didn’t know what or where they had been doing their highly abusive training. Technically, she couldn’t stop them. They were their people’s military. Tikan’s men were trained the way they saw fit too and she had no authority to do so. It was brutal training and the only thing she could do was show some pride in Mihael because he had made it through.


With Mihael an official member of the Elite, Tiel spoke again and announced something Calysta was truly glad to hear. "Now dah Emperor and Empress will eat and drink wit dah rest of yah.”

When a steaming plate of meat, bread and gravy was placed in front of them Calysta heard Illya whisper to her about eating slow. “Aye,” she whispered back, “I’ll eat as slow as I can.” She normally lost her appetite when she was under stress like this but somehow she was still hungry and eating slowly was going to be a challenge.

After they finished their meal and their plates had been whisked away with everyone else’s the second half the night began.

Calysta had seen people coming to court before....In Terran movies. There was always a gold laden king with a pretty over-dressed queen who stayed silent while her consort addressed the people who came to court for judgement and aid in matters of state. She knew Illya would balk if she likened their current situation to a Terran movie, but that's certainly the way it felt. She was there and in so many clothes and jewels she felt like an over-stated queen next to Illya. Her job had been fairly simple through everything. Be quiet, look pretty, act gracious. All of which she had tried to do with ease, despite the fact that so many eyes were on them both.

She could see some of the Kaerelean women staring at her off and on, as if they couldn't quite believe the spectacle. She couldn't quite believe it either. Everything going on around her still felt surreal. Of course, she was overdressed by a long shot for Kaerelean standards, but she wasn't a Kaerelean tonight. She was a Chip, an empress, as uncomfortable as the thought made her feel. She wouldn't give Illya cause to have anything said about his choice in wife and she would do her part with confidence if not prideful abandonment. The hardest part of the night for her came up next as those asking for favors lined up. The first was a Chip man asking to have his pilot's license renewed. It was revoked due to some sort of debacle and he'd flown without it, causing him to be the recipient of more than one fine for flying without a license.

When the man came with his petition Illya listened to the story. It was a Chippequoti and so he could answer in Quoti. Though this wasn't quite in his usual line of work Illya thought for a long moment. Telling the man that a renewed license was not a Chip matter, but a Kaerelean one would not serve anyone well. Offering to pay the fines would not fix it either because then the man simply escaped his bad choices, or poor flying. It could very well have been both. After a moment his eyes slanted and he almost grinned. There was indeed a solution to this. A somewhat sneaky one, but it would work on both ends. "This is problem. What is your work?"

Listening to the man's response he nodded and then asked for the amount of the fines. Again when the man answered Illya nodded. "Then you will present the fines to the Council to pay. You will have your license restored to continue your work and you will pay off the fines by giving the Council the hours of your labor and product to assist." The man could still work off his debt, it would just be in service of the Council instead of the Kaereleans.


She was fairly sure most of the Chippeqouti flyers had some sort of fine, but if this man had racked up enough that he was asking for assistance, it had to be a substantial sum. The Kaereleans would not allow him to use labor hours to work it off either. Illya thought for the moment and then came up with a solution that was amenable to everyone. The Kaerelean fines would be paid and his license eventually restored while he worked for the council. A few murmurs of curiosity floated up from the strangers but the Pyrtan's were familiar enough with the system that they weren't surprised by the term 'hours of your labor'.

She could see Swyft eyeing the proceedings curiously, his tall red-headed wife linked on his arm. Pris and Ehud a little further back. Ehud had a furrowed brow, as if in deep concentration for a moment while Pris watched in rapt attention. Nobody applauded at Illya's solution but the man nodded, pleased with the result, or at least relieved and thanked Illya before departing. Calysta shifted some in her gown and tried to remain stationary as she smiled warmly down at their next guest.

The man was at least satisfied, though it wasn't really acceptable for him to question the assistance offered even if he didn't like it. Illya nodded in return and let the man return to where he had been. When the next guest approached it was a foreigner and not a Chippequoti. Tiel beckoned for the guest to approach and gave a brief set of instructions for them. "Yah will direct question tah meh, Elder Edgar, dah Empress, or dah Emperor. I will translate any question yah have tah Quoti and den I will translate answer tah Trader's Tongue. Yah will not bow. Yah stand tall and yah speak clearly."
Swyft patted his wife's arm and let the woman, who was clearly some sort of officiate, tell him what he needed to do before they approached. His wife, Jessie was clearly so excited and very nervous that her hands were shaking. She had wanted to meet Illya in person for ages now, and while that wasn't their only reason for approaching, it was certainly something she had looked forward too. She couldn't see how they could possibly deny what they will ask for. He didn't bow, but held his wife's arm to keep her steady as they walked up to the platform together. Now, this was exciting for all the other Skycorp people in the tent. Rezna leaned in closer and Wynry held her attention still and steady. Even Tiberius paused to watch the normally stoic and professional Skycorp Commander approach the impressive emperor.

Swyft nodded to Illya in recognition and did the same to Calysta who offered him an a kind smile. "Emperor Illya," he said, "I'm not the kind of man that asks for much, but I came to ask a favor. Not for myself but for my son. He is a 6 year old boy and like several others of his parentage, his body is failing him." His wife grip on his arm tightened and he patted her hand reassuringly. "He took a turn for the worse this past week and cannot wait for the clinic to try a new trial of medicine. We request the help of the Ehaui, if that is in your power to do so."

Having Swyft approach could mean many things. However, the man looked nervous and hopeful all in one. It hardly made sense that the man thought he could help him with anything. In reality there was very little that Illya could do to help outsiders. What about the title of Emperor made people think he could suddenly accomplish wonders he didn't know, but it had been a slightly shocking discovery for all sides. For those who thought he could accomplish wonders and for himself to discover that people thought that. Still, Swyft was usually more level headed. As the man began to ask for the favor Illya felt himself sink a bit in the chair. Swyft had a half-breed son. Somehow the man knew that the Ehaui had a successful treatment, or he hoped they did. It could be risky for the Chippequoti, but there was also a child at stake. "Because dis es matter of sensitive nature I will answer question mehself."

Meeting Swyft's gaze and the man's wife he paused before continuing. "I hear many tings about illness of dah half-breed children. Dere es no cure, but dah Ehaui have worked on treatment ideas. Mehself and Elite will fund dese treatments en honor of dah Empress. I will make visit to dah clinic tomorrow as first order of business and make Ehaui aware. Dey will arrange tah treat yah son. He will receive treatment as quickly as dey are able tah prepare first treatment." He knew it would take a few weeks. Maybe 2-3 for testing the boy and attempting a merged bone marrow transplant, but if the boy could make it that long he would recover and be healthy as any other child.


Jessie's eyes filled with tears when she heard the Emperor's reply and her grip became impossibly tight. Swyft steadied her, allowing her to choke out his arm as he gripped her gently to steady her again. Swyft swallowed some, forcing down obvious emotion and cleared his throat.

"Thank you," he said, "The Ehaui are well known for their healing abilities. There may not be a cure, but I have hope they will find a way to help him." He nodded to Illya and then to Calysta. "Thank you, Emperor...Empress....for your help and your kindness." Then the words cut off as he cleared his throat again as Jessie leaned into him some and he patted her hand gently before leading her away. They didn't return to the table immediately as Swyft lead his overwrought wife out of the tent for some fresh air. She started to sniffle in relief before they could exit.

As Swyft and Jessie began to exit the tent Saar held out an arm to stop them. "Before yah leave yah will give meh information so dat Emperor can provide contact for yah. Ehaui will need tah know how tah speak wit yah and arrange treatments." While Saar was busy getting additional information another came forward to ask for a favor. This time a woman had approached and she appeared to be Pytran. Her simple clothes under the robe were the best indicator. She requested aid fixing a farming tool because there was little money to do so. With such a simple request Illya had Tiel translate his answer. "Yah tool will be fexed tomorrow. Yah will receive certificate from Elder before end of night and yah can go tah any tradesman tah get part, or blacksmith tah mend et and Chippequoti will pay dah bill."

Swyft met the long arm of Saar and helped his wife stop. He knew the man from training and gave him a nod. "Aye, Saar." He gave all the information the Chip asked for while another woman, this time a Pyrtan was brought before the Emperor. She explained that one of her combines had failed and she was having trouble affording the part. Calysta watched the woman and knew she was getting into her 100's. Her son had been killed in the attack on Pyrta some years before and her husband had died last year. Before the woman could agree or say anything otherwise, Calysta said Illya's name as a soft whisper then said in Qouti. "If I might make a suggestion Emperor Illya?" It wasn't a command, it was just a simple request to speak if he felt like it was necessary.

They were almost ready to move along to the next person and then Kalizda leaned in and whispered to him. Illya turned slightly and he nodded. "Yes, tell me what your thoughts are."

"This is Maryiam Noblys," Calysta whispered in Qouti, "She is older now and her son died in the attack on Pyrta and her husband died last year. She's alone trying to bring in this coming years harvest. She will need help installing the part and perhaps some farm hands to get her crop up before the rainy season starts. Perhaps we can help if we send someone to install and then let them help a little more? I would expense this if necessary."

Illya nodded as Kalizda explained a bit more about the woman. "The Empress tells me that you will benefit from help bringing in harvest. You will have 2 Chippequoti tradesmen familiar with farming to assist you with harvest." Now that he'd finished he nodded to Tiel and the woman waited for Maryiam to accept the offer and move along before the next person approached.

Maryiam's eyes brightened some when she heard this and she started nodded and speaking in Kaerelean her thanks before her broken traders tongue came through with. "Thanye." she said repeatedly, "Thanye." And then she was ushered away to make the appropriate arrangements with whoever needed to have them. The last Kaerelean of the night came to them. He was a young man, not much older than Rose was, and clearly of Pyrtan descent. He stood proud and square shouldered as he asked his request. "I came to ask if I am allowed to stand with the Chippeqouti men in the next season." He had no idea if it was appropriate or not, but he was bold enough to ask though his plain clothing indicated no such boldness otherwise.

Despite Illya's original thought that he couldn't do much for outsiders, he found that the Pytran's like usual were modest with their requests. The people hadn't assumed much of his title and he had been more than able to help them. It was nice to have the power to help people without killing someone for once. As the final petitioner came closer Illya waited with no small amount of curiosity. What could a young Pytran possibly need. The answer came soon enough. He must have taken fancy to a Chippequoti woman. Despite his best effort Illya couldn't help smiling a little. "Yes, the Chippequoti say that a man must stand for a woman to choose. It never says that he must be of Chip blood."

Tiel faithfully translated the message and then instructed the young man about when the next season for standing would be. Illya decided to make one final statement that he knew the Chippequoti and Pytran's would accept. "It should be known that the Pytrans have assisted the Chippequoti in generous ways in our time of need. The Chippequoti will leave their council open for Pytrans to make request for aid as they need." There was no reason that they should have to wait for him to sit as emperor to ask for help if they needed it. "It is the pride of the Chippequoti that they can return the goodness shown to them by the Pytrans."

The young pyrtan man reflected the Emperor's smile and nodded. Calysta could tell he had a young woman in mind by the way he glowed at the answer. She smiled when she heard Illya's allowance that Pyrtan's could come to council. That would encourage much more cooperation and understanding. They could always come to her for problems, but some of them were still purists and others were a bit proud. The Pyrtans were used to the Chip's by now and welcomed them though. That was the last of the Pyrtan's and now they awaited the rest of the guests whoever they may be. Calysta was glad Illya seemed to be doing so well despite the wine spill earlier. The crowd seemed surprised and excited about Illya's proclamation and a quiet murmur rose up for a moment before dying down.

The night continued with several others asking small and easy to fulfill favors while the tense air around the room subsided even more. Calysta found that the role of Empress made her feel strange and uncomfortable, but helping the people who needed it felt good. That part felt right. She smiled and didn’t hesitate to offer Illya suggestions if they came along, though there weren’t many.. He turned and took the time to listen when she spoke.

When all the questions and favors were granted, the ceremony was concluded and Calysta could move more freely. While Illya spoke to Mihael, Calysta went in search of Tiel.

The comparatively young councilor, was helping coordinate with the other attendants. “Tiel?” The sound of her name caught her attention and she paused immediately when she saw who had said it.

Calysta nodded and then spoke in Qouti. “The crafts and gifts that were brought tonight are something I would like to give to the council to do with as they see fit.” She knew that was expected, and she didn’t want the items anyways. They could do far more good elsewhere. “However, whatever the council does, I would ask that maybe one item is liquidated to a buyer to give a donation to the children in the hospital. I could give a list of buyers I know would be interested for a quick and fair sale. Chief Tikan of the Reylian Tribes, Grand-Matriarch Sarai, and Uzon Cordovo of New Udine would all be interested.”

She listened to Tiel’s advice and agreed so long as the donation idea was mentioned, then let the woman to her work.

People meandered in and out of the lavish tent. Sarai walked over to her briefly with Henryk latched onto her arm. The woman was looking very Urian in her gauzy dress with high slits on either side. For a Chip, the dress was outright scandalous and Calysta wondered if she had done it on purpose.

“You look stunning tonight,” Sarai gushed, “I’ve never seen you wearing so much and look so festive. The red and gold suits you.” Her eyes flicked to Calysta’s hands and she motioned for her to lift them up to see the tattoos there. “What are these? They must have taken hours.”
Calysta lifted her hand to show off the hand drawn tattoos. “Aye, they did. This one is a Chippeqouti traditional pattern and this one is a design I picked myself. A Wolf and a Little Bird together.”

Sarai tilted her head and smiled. “And what does that mean? Or is it just a design.”

Calysta smiled and glanced over Sarai’s shoulder at Illya’s back as he continued to speak to Mihael. “It means everything to me.” Then she glanced back at Sarai. “If you’ll excuse me, Sarai. I need to go, but we can speak more tomorrow evening if you’re staying for the party.”

The matriarch nodded with a big smile. “Oh of course. I wouldn’t miss it.”

“Good,” Calysta said, “And tomorrow you should try the pleasure house and the food on the square, yeah?”

Sarai agreed to do so, and Calysta walked away. She could tell the woman’s eyes were following her as she made her way over to Illya and put a gentle hand on the middle of his back and joined him in the chatting with the Elite.

Mihael was there and she nodded to him with a smile. “Mihael.” She wasn’t sure if congratulations were in order for a promotion like this so she thought perhaps a Kaerelean proverb for occasions like it might be appropriate. “Ah, the Kaereleans have a saying that they say to pilots and warriors. In fact, it’s a Reylian saying,” she said in Qouti, “May the wind be always at your back, and may the sun be always be warm upon your skin, may you journey far and always return home again.”

She could tell the delivery was awkward and she tried not to blush at the misstep, no matter how well meaning it was.

“Speaking of home,” she said, “I’d better go get the children.”

Children were precious wonders but sometimes she was grateful for the excuse to scamper out of strange situations. Illya seemed to want to chat longer with the Elite and she nodded before delivering a gentle and lingering kiss to cheek. “Aye,” she said, swapping to Kaerelean for a some privacy, “I’ll be waiting for you.”

**********





Pris glanced at Ehud, who had been looking somewhat surly all night, and titled her head. "He isn't doing a bad job," she whispered in Terran to her husband.

Through the meeting Ehud heard various murmurs. There seemed to be general approval of Illya even among those not born of Chip blood. Of course it could hardly be anything but approval when the decisions seemed to be well reasoned and generous. The stir caused by Illya stepping out of tradition to directly answer an outsider was a good one and even Ehud had to admit that Illya made a good statesmen. He had just enough sense about him not to get caught up in the emotion and plenty of grit. Thankfully, it was not a night for the grit. When Pris leaned in and whispered in his ear Ehud turned and raised his eyebrows slightly. "Of course he is. You know he's trained for this for as long as he's trained to fight."

Priscilla tilted her head at Ehud. "No, I didn't know that. You wouldn't have guessed that by the way he is at home sometimes," she said back quietly in Terran, "Calysta's face is too honest for a politicians, but I wouldn't have guessed Illya was so serious. Kind yes, but I've certainly never seen him like this." Pris leaned back from Ehud just a little and adjusted the silky blue gloves he had made. The bruises were still tender underneath and she kept worrying that they would show if she wasn't careful.

A slight smirk came to Ehud's face. "Oh yes, he's an Elite and he trained to be an emperor. His father always wanted him to rule an Empire. The good news is that the Emperor is a sincere person. He has some clear prejudices, but he seems to do well enough ruling. He can put most of it aside. And why you wouldn't expect him to be so serious I'm not sure. All the work he does is serious. Either war, or ruling. What about his seriousness surprises you?" Ehud responded in Terran. He found it interesting that Priscilla seemed to have a different impression of Illya. Getting information about a person was important in his line of work and finding out what she thought made Illya different than he appeared was equally important to know Illya's background. It could give away habits, thoughts and inner workings that otherwise would not be found in a fact book.

"I mean, I know he has serious work and I've seen him be serious at times," she said, "But at home with his family. He's almost...boyish? A bit wild, perhaps. Especially around Calysta. I wasn't sure how much of that he could turn off for a role like this. Harry struggled with the same thing, I suppose." She cleared her throat some, wishing they hadn't taken away the food and drink and stole a glance at Ehud, finding him with a touch of a smirk on his face. It was as wily a look as he gave, but it suited him. Leaning into him she whispered conspiratorially to him in Terran again. "His father...I've seen before. Calysta asked me not to let him in the house if I was there alone. I've seen him before out and about though. He does look far more serious. Its hard to imagine Illya looking like that. See? He's even smiling a little now."

"Well," Ehud started in a matter of fact tone. "I guess he might want to smile a little since this time the job didn't involve killing people." He loved making statements like that cause it was just fun to see the reaction that Pris would give him. "Yeah, I wouldn't blame her though. His father is a difficult sort of man. He was better before his agreed was murdered. I think the Emperor could look just as serious if he didn't have his agreed. Maybe worse." Ehud continued speaking in Terran because it provided more privacy than most other languages would have at this point.

Priscilla shot him a look of disapproval, her eyes narrowing. "He's not a sadist, good lord. And having a husband or wife murdered.. well I know it doesn't do much for the mind, but its not always an excuse to be cold." She took a drink of her water and let out a breath. "I'm glad it isn't you up there tonight at any rate."

His tone suggested he was joking now and she wondered if he had been joking before. Rather than saying what she really meant about why she was glad it wasn't him, Priscilla managed a small, but playful smile. "It does? Well, if it were you up there do you think I would do a decent job of keeping that heart of yours all warm?" He had been surprisingly sweet and gentle since he rescued her. It was like someone had thrown a switch and he was the man he had been when they were dating in part. Better even. In part it had given her hope things would improve between them. There was a worry that he would stop being so gentle though, eventually, when he'd had enough time to see that she was good at pretending to be alright.

Ehud gave her a sly grin. "Oh, probably. I can't think of anyone else better suited to the job." Wiggling his eyebrow at her a little he placed a hand over hers. "We'll just have to rule our little home empire. Nothing more."

He smiled at her and it was the kind of smile that promised playfulness. He had been doing that so much more since they came home. It made her grin back and when his hand settled on hers it made her heart patter a little harder. "Mmmm," she smiled, "I like that idea." Leaning over as if she were still whispering, she kissed him lightly on the cheek next to his ear and kept her hand with his. Then, she glanced back to the court display to find Illya speaking with another Chip, though she didn't know the subject of his request.

A slow red blush spread across Ehud's cheeks when he felt the gentle kiss. It was so bold in public and especially at a meeting like this. Shifting a bit on the cushion he was seated on he grinned sheepishly at the person across the table from them. It was an older Chip woman and she was staring daggers. "I like it too." Ehud ventured to say in Terran and then added his small caution. "Maybe we should save some of it for later. We've got watchers."

She hadn't quite meant to make him blush but she was rewarded with a flush of red that flames across his cheeks. It made her smile all the more. Perhaps he really did desire her after all. Then he noted that he liked it and they should pick up where they left off later. People were watching. She glanced across the table and indeed, they were getting scowls. Now, she wasnt sure if the blush was because he was interested or if it was because she had embarrassed him in front of the prude across the table. Still, she nodded and kept her hand in his. If he pursued her a bit later, she would know. "Then we'll certainly have to save it for later," she whispered, ignoring the old woman, "Just don't forget."

Ehud felt himself get even redder and he nodded. "Oh, I won't forget. This is one time my robes are coming in handy.' They were covering a bit of a problem and he wasn't moving for the next few minutes, so there would be time for things to settle down.


She tilted her head, her brow furrowed in confusion for what he meant. His robes her coming in handy? Glancing back to him, she saw his face was now the color of a roasted tomato. She looked over his robes and saw nothing but she couldn't imagine why he would be glad to have them except to hide certain things. That knowledge made a giggle threaten to bubble up, but she suppressed it, though she couldn't fight the smile. "No," she chuckled, "I don't think you will." She didn't want to embarrass him further but when it came time to leave she would be asking if he was ready to move. "And if you do, I can always give you a reminder."

**********

Priscilla's heels clicked along the wooden floor of their cabin. Sien had scuttled along ahead of them, all dressed up in his handsome little blue robes. She picked up his shoes and put them to the side of the door. "Brush your teeth," she called after him. He re-routed toward the bathroom and she smiled at him and then turned to look at Ehud who was coming in behind her. She had drank a few sips of Chip wine and she smiled at him broadly. "Home," she sighed, "The ceremony was interesting. I liked one part in particular."

When they finally got home Ehud was about ready to wrap Priscilla up in his arms. It had been a long time and he felt almost ashamed at the level of passion and lust he was feeling. She looked so beautiful in that dress. "Yeah..." Staring at her for a moment he gave a bland sort of answer and then took a few steps closer to her. "I hope you plan on doing more than drinking wine."
Pulling her into his arms he leaned in close and gazed into her eyes for a long moment. "I hope you want a lot more than wine. You seemed to enjoy teasing me tonight and I'm about ready to return that favor."


His answer at first made her raise a brow but when he slinked an arm around her waist she let him draw her closer. Apparently, he had been waiting for this. It was the first time he had really held her like this in...well...a very long time. She looked at him in those blue eyes and smiled, fully prepared to be mischievous. "Oh you are?" She slid her hands to his hips and smiled sweetly. "I did enjoy it. You're handsome when you blush, you know."

"Hmmm..." Ehud kissed her lips and he trailed a hand along her back where the laces were on the dress. Sneaking a hand up to the top of the neckline on the dress he slipped a finger inside and brushed her neck gently. "Yah really are beautiful." About that time Sien stepped out of the bathroom and stopped to stare. Ehud turned his head slightly and sighed. "Yah go tah bed and don't come out." His accent was getting thicker as he paid less attention to what was going on around him. It was rare he lost his carefully learned Terran accent. With his second hand he roamed along her lower back and hip and ventured to let his hand rest on her rump. "Very nice."


Now this was something Ehud had never done. Not when they were first married and certainly not before they were married. His hands roamed around and she let them as he kissed her for a moment. It felt nice. Better than nice to see him so in the moment and wanting to be there. She wondered if midnight might chime and break the spell, just as Sien walked in. Ehud didn't stop though, to her surprise, he kept going, and only telling Sien to go to bed.

The boy stared for a moment longer and then obeyed his father, scampering off to bed and leaving them to roam the house as they wanted. Of course, there were things she wanted to roam that had nothing to do with furniture. Suddenly, a heavier accent came out. One she had never heard him use before as a hand came to rest with a gentle grip on her rump through the dress. Where had that come from? Would he do it again? She pulled him closer until they met hip to hip then she slid a hand to his cheek to kiss him long and fervently. When they needed air, she leaned back and smiled. "I forgot you were supposed to be teasing me. It was working...I might need a bit more though."


It was all getting much more intense as Priscilla returned the kiss. Ehud brought his second hand down till it rested on her lower back and he brought his other hand up again and began to feel along her sides gently. Pris pressed closer to his hips and he grunted a little. "Yeah, we could do more. A lot more and I have plans for yah." Dropping both hands to her rear end and then lower he pulled her closer again and then hoisted her up. Carrying Pris over to the couch he mumbled a few incomprehensible things before he set her on the couch and then crawled on top of her. Now he moved his hand to her waist again. His hands kept roaming because he wasn't sure where he actually wanted to hold her. "Yah look perfect. Eyes like a lake in dah mountains, hair like gold in dah cold rocks and waist smooth and curving like dah valley." Kissing the side of her neck gently he moved the sash aside and slowly worked a bit lower.

Evidently, Ehud really had been thinking about this all night. He growled out a bit about plans and then started on them post haste by picking her up. She wrapped her legs around and let him set her on the couch before he was over her and roaming with more curiosity now over her waist in particular. The poetry caught her off guard. Who was this man and where had the former Ehud gone? She had never heard him speak like that and it made her sigh some as she blushed with the compliments. He began nibbling his way down her neck and she wrapped her arms around him, encouraging him as she slid one glove off and then another, laying them on the back of the couch. When he made it as low as he could without dress in the way she reached up and cupped his cheek, smiling with heavy lidded eyes. "You always surprise me, Ehud. Always." She needed this and so did he. Then she smirked a little. "The Emperor of the House has free reign over this domain tonight." Though she still had bumps and bruises his weight was a welcome one.

Ehud lifted his head some when he felt her shift more and she told him he had free reign. With that his eyes flashed some and he let out a long breath for leaning in and starting the kissing again. "Dere es plenty tah explore here. Makes et hard tah know whr eh should start." His accent was getting thicker by the minute and soon he was slurring as he made his way around the neckline of the dress before he helped her sit up a little and began working on the laces.

Priscilla let out a sweet and breathy giggle at his reply. He definitely needed this. She wanted him to be close. For them to be close and his accent...what she had mistaken for his real accent...had already sloughed away to something akin to what the Dark Chips sounded like. She knew if she said that, he'd be hot and not in the fun way, so she kept the thought to herself and let him sit her up to work on the laces of her dress. Rather than immediately moving to disrobe him too, she let him shimmy her out of the dress as he would while holding close as possible while he worked on the task. The longer he kept the clothes on, the longer the kissing and this strange, new Ehud would stay. "I recommend a top down approach," she chuckled. She slid free of the laces and her dress went slack. "Still glad for those robes?"

The excitement was going by the moment and with her top down approach he grinned and gave a sort of mish mash of Quoti and Terran. It was not discernible in any sense, but he continued merrily along his trail from her mouth and down.

She giggled a little as he spoke in a mix of languages only God could understand and enjoyed the attention he was trailing down her very warm skin. The night was long and more than once she found herself thinking how Ehud had gone from cold and stone faced to the man with her now.

Priscilla woke slowly and it took her a moment to realize that the heavy thing pinning her to the couch was her own husband. Ehud had fallen asleep with her on the couch, his chest on her belly and his head nestled into her chest. Their legs were still tangled together underneath his robe which was serving as a blanket at that point.

She blinked a few times and recalled the night in a flurry of pleasure and other details. She had never seen him like that before. Her eyes slid down to his sleeping form. His blond hair was all over the place, a work of art from her hands in the middle of their passion, as he cheek lay against her. His mouth was open slightly and maybe he had drooled a bit, but it didn’t bother her.

Besides, it wasn’t like she could lift him up even if it did.

There were many differences between Ehud and Harry. She had done her best not to compare them so far, and now her mind was doing it automatically. Harry had been much lighter than Ehud. Other than the natural difference in their bones, Harry had been made of the sinewy, ripcord muscle. Ehud was built more solidly, though she was sure it was average for a Chip, in comparison to Harry, her new husband was by far more muscular. Ehud was larger in other ways too.

Beyond the physical, Harry had been the kind of man who liked regular sex and enjoyed passionate moments. However, what she had just experienced with Ehud had been fiery, wild and intense. She had enjoyed every second of the much needed attention and she was enjoying the aftermath too. His weight over her should have been uncomfortable. It wasn’t though. If anything, she felt the urge to draw him closer and show him more affection.

Ehud must have needed to too because he hadn’t skulked away or rolled over from her to turn out the light. He had stayed with her, all tangled up and pleasantly satisfied. Priscilla reached down with her free hand and smoothed his hair lightly. He didn’t stir and she let him sleep while she simply enjoyed their cuddling.

The last week had been comforting, relieving, and surprising all at once. A worry still hovered over her that things would go back to the way they had been when he had first taken her home.

Her fingers wandered down to the nape of his neck and then to his bare shoulders, gently teasing him. He hadn’t really let her do this before and she wanted to love on him, even if what they had done wasn’t strictly love making. Maybe it would be with time.

When he woke up, she simply leaned down and kissed the top of his head with a smile that was hazed over with contentment. “Hi,” she whispered while her fingers continued their patterns. “Let’s stay like this for awhile.” The sooner he got up, the sooner the night would be over and the old Ehud might return.
 
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