Princess of Amathar – Chapter 20 Excerpt

Sliding down a three thousand foot long rope from a point in midair provides a rush that I am sure only a skydiver could appreciate. Add to that, the pleasant sensation of being shot at, and the net effect is a feeling that even the largest of roller coasters could not inspire. It was a feeling however, that several thousand Amatharian soldiers were able to share with me, for that number of men and women were sliding down the ropes from the cruiser to assault the mountain prison of the Zoasians.

As soon as my boots hit the ground, I gathered my company of one hundred warriors and swordsmen together, and gave the orders to move toward our target. We covered the ground toward our assigned entrance, all around us, the smell of smoke and the sounds of bombing in the distance. We encountered no resistance until we reached the installation’s entrance, which was a great iron door. Part of my team was a pair of demolitions soldiers, who carried all they needed to penetrate the site. With several quite tiny explosive charges, they cut a rectangular opening through the door, which allowed us all to enter.

As soon as we moved into the dark hallway beyond the portal, we were set upon by a group of twenty or so Zoasians whose duty it was to protect the hallway. Though they shot down two of my soldiers and delayed us slightly, we quickly overpowered them and continued on our way. The interior of the installation was a great dark maze of wide but low corridors, with small rooms and vestibules scattered here and there. The lighting was poor, probably owing to a destroyed generator nearby. Though we encountered numerous reptile-men, most save those we had initially encountered, were in no mood to fight, instead intent on escaping the invading force.

We seemed to have gone through so much of the supposed prison, without seeing a single prisoner of any sort, or indeed of any barred cell or room, that I was beginning to suspect that the Amatharian commanders had been misled as to the nature of the place, when suddenly we came upon a barred door. Once the demolitions team eliminated the obstacle as easily as they had done before, we found ourselves in a great room.

The room was of brobdingnagian proportions, as large as any warehouse which I have ever seen. It resembled a zoo more than a prison or a jailhouse, for rather than cells placed into the walls, the room was filled with cages, each about twenty feet square and separated from one another by eight or ten foot walkways criss-crossing between them. The prisoners of this zoo had no shred of privacy, for their every action was visible from all four sides by their fellow inmates, as well as anyone who happened to be walking by their cell.

The place was like a zoo in another respect as well. Every occupied cell, and it seemed that very few were unoccupied, was the unhappy home to one of a huge variety of creatures. I was able to spot a few which housed beings of the same type, but there seemed to be scores of different species represented.

“Are these all sentient species?” I asked the swordsman at my elbow.

“I’m unfamiliar with most of these beings,” she replied, “but of the ones I do know, they are all intelligent peoples.”

“Break up the company into squads,” I ordered. “I want all of these cages opened, and the prisoners set free.” The word “squad” is something of a loose translation on my part, just as is the word “company”, but they seem the closest I can come to the Amatharian terms. An Amatharian squad designates a group of eight or ten warriors led by a swordsman, and a company is nine or ten such squads led by a knight.

The prison was of such great size, that it seemed hours before even ten squads of Amatharian soldiers were able to open all the pens. Many of the alien prisoners made a hasty retreat, glad for the chance to escape their confinement. A few stayed in their cells, apparently unable to accept the fact that they were now free. Some, particularly those who had previous contact with Amatharians, and who knew the Amatharian language, chose to follow our company. Finally, among the prisoners were two Amatharians, a man and a woman, who were brought to me.

“What are your names, and how did you come to be prisoners of the Zoasians?” I asked them.

They looked at me inquiringly for a moment, obviously never having seen an Amatharian of my complexion before, and then described their ordeal. They had been part of a mapping expedition and had been captured by the snake-men. They were not part of the group we were attempting to rescue. The man introduced himself as Senjar Orsovan of the Earth Clan, and then introduced the woman, who seemed incapable of speech, as his sister Shenee Orsovan. The two of them were the sad specimens, obviously the victims of mistreatment by the Zoasians, and seemed even worse than they probably were because until now every Amatharian I had seen was in the keenest physical condition.

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Princess of Amathar – Chapter 18 Excerpt

In many ways, life aboard the great Amatharian battlecruiser was much easier for me than it had been in the city. The ship operated on a fixed schedule based on its own version of the city-cycle, which was recalibrated each time the ship docked in Amathar. Each person on board was assigned a duty and worked three cycles, followed by six cycles off duty. I knew absolutely nothing about the ship or its procedures, so initially I was assigned to the security detail. Since I was a knight, I was given what was essentially an officer’s rank— command of ten swordsmen, who each commanded eight to ten warriors.

Amatharian ships didn’t have names, though they did sport numbers. The battlecruisers were essentially all of the same class, though they had minor differences, and some were newer than others. Their importance was based entirely upon who commanded them, and what mission they were on. This ship was Sun Battlecruiser 11, and it was the flagship of Norar Remontar’s twelve-ship squadron, one of four squadrons making the assault on Zonamis. Like the other ships, this one was painted navy blue with silver trim. Like the other three flagships of the fleet, this one had a great crest across the bow— in this case, a flaming sun with outstretched wings. And like all Amatharian ships, this one was arrayed with the banners of her knights. When I first saw my own banner, with a flaming sun embossed by the letter A, flying among the many others, I was filled with pride. There were more than ten thousand soldiers aboard this one ship, and about one in a hundred were knights.

The accommodations on the vessel were far more spacious than I had expected. Every soldier aboard had his own cabin, and though they were very small in comparison to their homes in Amathar, they were far larger than I had seen on any ocean going vessels of Earth. Each was large enough to have a bunk, which was mounted to the wall rather than sunk into the floor, as was the Amatharian fashion, a small table and two chairs and a closet. My own cabin had a large window looking out toward the landscape that rolled continuously past.

Now that we were finally on our way, I spent more and more time thinking of the woman I knew I was in love with, though I had seen her only one time— the Princess of Amathar. Sometimes these thoughts would lead to remembrances of her cousin, Vena Remontar, and the friendship she had shown me. Other times I just fretted over what might have happened to Noriandara Remontar since her abduction by the Zoasians. Even cruising at full speed, it would be a long time before we reached Zonamis, and I worried about all the things that she still might face. I figured our maximum speed to be between two and three hundred miles per hour, and so even accepting the more generous of the two figures, it would be the equivalent of four and a half months before the fleet arrived. It was a long time.

I tried to make good use of all the time I had available. I learned to pilot the Amatharian aircraft, both fighters and shuttles. It wasn’t as difficult as one might expect. I imagine that any child capable of playing those fast action video games could easily manage it. The controls consisted of a joystick in the left hand to control the steering and a lever for the right hand that controlled lift. There was an automated training simulator on board which I used at first, but after it became apparent to me and to the pilots that I would probably not crash the vehicle, I was allowed to participate in some of the flight drills, which were constantly leaving the battlecruiser and returning.

I improved upon my growing skill with the sword, which was in fact my primary duty aboard ship. As the leader of a security team, I did little but see to the watches around the vessel, and drill my troops with the sword and the light rifle. I must say that I had never seen men and women so devoted to duty as those one hundred or so Amatharians under my command. In that entire time, never once was a soldier absent from his duty because of sickness or anything else.

Even with all of the military activity in which I was involved, there was plenty of time for recreation and social activity. The swordsmen and warriors of my company enjoyed playing a kind of catch, in which they used an irregular shaped cloth bag filled with plastic-like beads. Another game involved the skewering of various thrown objects upon a stick as the individual ran through a maze of obstacles. I gathered that this traditional activity once involved the use of swords, but now it was considered a great dishonor to endanger one’s sword for a mere game. In addition, I spent a large amount of time in the ship’s prodigious library where I read biographies of interesting Amatharians, novels of several different types, and a book of rather dark and morbid poems penned by Mindana Remontar herself.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 16 Excerpt

After we had eaten, we walked across the great plaza to the stepped pyramid, which was the Temple of Amath. Vena Remontar told me that an invitation from the High Templar was something to be acted upon promptly. The great structure was most impressive. It was more than a mile wide, and was over two thousand feet tall. It looked as though a giant boy had built it, playing with his blocks, placing successively smaller blocks one atop another until he had built a pyramid of steps. Each of the steps was over one hundred feet tall, and there were twenty-one of them. The entire surface was carved in intricate designs, so finely detailed that not a single inch of blank wall could be found on the outside. Running up the front of the temple was a set of broad steps that led to the tenth level, where there was a large, dark entrance.

My friend and I walked up the many steps to the doorway. Waiting here was a small crowd of templars, each with his bald head. Some were writing in their pads, others were about other business. It may seem odd that the templars were engaged in so much writing, until one considers the extent to which Amatharians in general were fond of the written word. Amatharians had no telephone, but wrote letters every day, even to friends they were likely to see often. To a certain extent, the spoken language of these people was divorced from the written, and the written form allowed them much more freedom of expression.

One of the shaven fellows took charge, or had been left in charge, and guided us from the open greeting area, into a large chamber. It was much like one would expect a very large church or cathedral to look like, not that I’m an expert, but it had no rows of pews or any other seating. The walls were colorfully decorated and large bright banners hung from the ceiling. Of course huge numbers of templars buzzed here and there, taking notes, examining the scenes depicted on the walls, and staring at the shrine in the center of the hall.

The shrine took my breath away. Not because it was big, though it was that. Not because it was carefully inlaid with precious stones and highly polished gold and silver, though it was. It quite knocked the breath from my lungs because the symbol on the great shrine was an A. I don’t mean it was an Amatharian A. It was an honest to god, Greco-Roman, American English, Times font type A!

“That’s an A!” I shouted.

The entire population of the hall turned and looked at us.

“That’s an A,” I said.

“Show some respect, knight,” growled Vena Remontar. “Keep your voice down.”

“That’s an A,” I whispered.

“You are correct, knight.” A voice came from behind us.

We turned to see an older Amatharian man dressed in the brown robes of the templars, and wearing a large silver medallion with the letter A on it. Vena Remontar bowed low and I followed suit.

“I am Kurar Ka Remiant Oldon Domintus,” said the man, identifying himself as an overlord. “I am the High Templar.”

“It is an honor to meet you, I’m sure,” I said. “That is an A?”

“Yes, you are quite correct. That is an A.”

“Well. How did it get here?”

“Before we answer any of your questions,” the Overlord said, “you have a great many things to do for us.”

Oldon Domintus turned and led the two of us across the great hall to a doorway opposite that through which we had come. Beyond the chamber was a great long corridor. This hallway was lined with pictures painted in the bright colors: pictures of Amatharian knights engaged in battles, pictures of templars performing rituals in the great plaza, pictures of great buildings being constructed in Amathar. The High Templar maintained the image of a man showing friends around his home.

“Has Vena Remontar told you about our temple?”

“I’m afraid she has not yet had time.”

“This temple was built three hundred generations ago. Construction was begun under the direction of Amath himself. He envisioned a monument to his people where they could look for guidance. It was built here beside the Garden of Souls, so that those feeling the draw of their souls could reflect.

“You felt no need to reflect before entering the garden?” he asked me.

“I’ve always been a pretty spontaneous fellow,” I replied.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 15 Excerpt

The sky train sped above the seemingly endless city. Several times it stopped at stations, but we remained aboard. I continued to watch in fascination, the buildings passing by. Abruptly the color, style, and size of the structures changed. We were now crossing a region of huge, dark buildings, many of which were larger than the giant warehouses and sports stadiums that I had seen before. These were far less ornate and far more utilitarian than the other buildings as well.

“This is one of the industrial regions. It is a circle one hundred kentads (about fifty miles) in diameter containing nothing but factories and warehouses. This is where the majority of our manufactured goods come from— this or one of the nine other regions just like it.”

I acknowledged Vena Remontar’s commentary, and then turned away from the window. Several food servers in the traditional white bodysuits were delivering tall glasses of ice water and trays of small appetizer cakes. The young knight, and I as her companion, were served first.

“There certainly seems to be a great deal of respect and privilege associated with being a knight,” I observed.

“That is very true,” Vena Remontar replied, with a slight smile, “but it is more than that in my case. The Remontar family name is well known, as are all who carry that name. In addition, my cousins are the heirs of the Sun Overlord. Norar Remontar and his sister are beloved of the entire city.”

We busied ourselves eating the delicious cakes, which were filled with ground meat and a variety of vegetables. In certain parts of the land of my birth, they might have been called pasties, though they were seasoned unlike anything found on Earth. The water was delicious. It seemed that water was the beverage of choice among the Amatharians, and they went to great lengths to see that any water found within the city was not only crystal clear and healthful, but tasty as well. With the exception of mirrah, and a few other fermented drinks, water was all that was available to drink in most city places.

We had just finished eating when the sky train made one more stop in the industrial center. After it began on its way again, we crossed out of the region of factories and complexes and began crossing a vast open cultivated land. I watched out the window as we continued on, and the buildings of the city grew distant behind us. Roaming the ground like huge grazing animals, were monstrous machines, planting, thinning, and harvesting a tremendous variety of vegetables and fruits.

“Have we left the city?” I asked.

“This is one of the five cultivation areas within the city,” explained the knight. “Each is a circle two hundred fifty kentads (about two hundred miles) in diameter. Four are in operation growing our food, while a fifth lies fallow.”

As we cruised along, our conversation did not lag. I had a thousand, no ten thousand questions for this lovely young woman from a very alien culture. She explained much about the hopes and aspirations of the Amatharian people, the day-to-day functioning of the clans and family businesses, and the many obligations and requirements. Even though I know that I learned much during the course of that lengthy ride, it is hard to remember the exact order of the conversation now.

We passed the far edge of the cultivation area and once again entered into the urban mass. This portion of the city was obviously of far greater age than the majority of the buildings I had seen until now, though these old edifices maintained the same style and ornamentation as the newer ones. I had come to think of Amathar as one would think of a city one Earth, a great urban realm, but this city was on an entirely different scale. Within the walls of the Amatharians’ home were not only vast areas of cultivated fields, but mountains, lakes, and rivers as well. This older portion of the city, though still urban, was built upon a low mountain range.

The train stopped at a station upon a platform high in the air, and this time we stood up and stepped off the sky train. Vena Remontar led me down a great escalator so steep that it seemed I was walking straight down. Once at the bottom I looked around at a plaza some two miles across. Great statues of stone, some as high as forty feet were interspersed with surging fountains, tall green hedgerows, and monstrous tile pictures. Two sides of the plaza were lined with large buildings resembling hotels. The third side faced a large park or wilderness area. Facing the fourth side was a fantastic stepped pyramid, more than a mile wide and more than two thousand feet high.

“That is the Temple of Amath,” my blue-skinned companion said. “At the other end is the Garden of Souls.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 11 Excerpt

Malagor, Norar Remontar, and I stepped out of the elevator and into a room lit just like the one from which we had left.   This room had no geometric video controller in it however, and it was triangular in shape, with the elevator opening in the middle of one of three equal sides, and an open doorway on the wall to our left.

“This is peculiar,” said Norar Remontar.

I nodded my head at the understatement.

“I would be willing to bet that this elevator, these rooms, the lighting, and the controls for the video images, are all artifacts of the Elder Gods, or whomever it was that created Ecos.”

“I am inclined to agree,” said Norar Remontar.

We looked around this new room for several moments, but found nothing of interest. Finally Malagor voiced the opinion that we really had no other alternative but to head down the hallway and see where it led us. I was toying with the idea of suggesting that we try our luck one more time in the mysterious elevator, but I decided that Malagor was probably right. It was time to continue on our way. That is just what we did.

The dark hallway beckoned us like a gaping maw, but I tried not to think of it that way. It really doesn’t take too long to adjust to continual daylight. I think it would be much harder to adjust to continual darkness. Norar Remontar turned on his small flashlight; I unsheathed my sword, and the three of us with a quiet look between us, started down the long hallway. This time it continued straight for what must have been five miles before opening into any type of room what so ever. At last it did though, and as soon as we stepped into the room, I knew we were in for trouble.

A sudden wave of stench assaulted my nostrils. It was the smell of several dozen bodies that had not seen a bath in a long time, mixed with the smell of bodily waste accumulated over a period of several generations. I wasn’t the only one to smell it. Malagor immediately began coughing and gagging, to the extent that I feared he would pass out. A look of disgust crossed Norar Remontar’s face, but otherwise he remained characteristically stoic.

Malagor had just regained his composure, when a horde of creatures burst screaming toward us from the dark. There were a score or more of the short, bipedal, four armed rat-like creatures, and they attacked using stone axes and razor sharp teeth. Screaming like banshees, the Kartags literally fell upon us.

I skewered the first creature to reach me on the end of my sword, turned, and threw my shoulder into the next one, sending it flying backwards into its fellows. At that moment the entire room was lit up by the incredible brightness of the Amatharian sword unsheathed. It sizzled and sparked as Norar Remontar used it to cut through the bodies of three of the Kartags. At almost the same moment, Malagor let loose with a burst of light rifle fire which cut a nice round smoking hole in the chest of another rat. This display of destruction was all that was necessary to convince most of the beasts to retreat. I quickly lopped off the head of one who apparently was having difficulty making that decision.

The screaming inhabitants of the tunnels ran away into the darkness and it became once again like a tomb. The light from Norar Remontar’s sword dimmed until it gave no light at all. I sheathed my own weapon, and followed the pale circle of artificial light as the Amatharian continued on his, and our, way. I felt Malagor take up a position behind me.

The stench was just as bad now that the Kartags had gone, as it had been when they had been present, and we soon found out why. Continuing on through the room, the size of which, like the previous giant room, was indeterminable, we stumbled upon the camp of the filthy creatures. It consisted of nothing but a pile of filthy furs, most with pieces of reeking meat hanging upon them. Scattered between the filthy animal skins were chips of stone, obviously flaked from hand made tools, and here and there, piles of feces. I had been willing to give the Kartags the benefit of the doubt up until that point, thinking perhaps they were only attacking us because we were invading their territory—that perhaps they were simply misunderstood. I could not imagine any intelligent creature though, fouling its own campsite, when there were uncounted stretches of tunnels from which to choose a suitable spot for a commode.

The room turned out to be relatively small, at least in Orlonian terms. When we had gone about a hundred feet past the Kartags’ home, and about two hundred feet beyond the scene of the short battle with them, we found another passageway continuing on into the darkness. Being more interested than ever to get out of the infernal underground, we trudged on.

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 14 Excerpt

I had literally just closed the door after Nicohl Messonar had left, when the disembodied voice announced that Vena Remontar had arrived. I am sure that the two must have passed in the hall, though I was not fortunate enough to witness it.

“Are you ready?” asked Vena Remontar. “Wear your swords.”

I strapped my weapons belt on below my tabard and carefully sheathed my swords in their new holders. In spite of the fact that the swords were uncounted years older than the sheaths, they fit perfectly. We started out the door, and down the hallway. It was the first time I had been out of Norar Remontar’s apartment since I had arrived, and it felt good.

“We need to stop here first,” said Vena Remontar, as we stepped off the escalator onto the fifth floor.

The lower floors had much higher ceilings and seemed more spacious than those of the upper floors. Here were located restaurants, shops, and other facilities used by the people in the building. We entered through an open doorway to find a large gymnasium. There were two young girls; I would have thought them about ten years of age, practicing their swordsmanship in a haphazard manner, at the far end of the room. As they noticed us, they stopped to stare at me and giggle.

“I wish to see if the title of swordsman that Norar Remontar laid upon you is warranted,” the female knight said.

She drew her long sword and I followed suit. We nodded respectfully to one another. Then with a skill and speed born of battle, Vena Remontar charged at me, bringing her blade down directly toward my face. I raised my own to block the stroke, and just as quickly she swung two more blows. The only thing I could do was take the offensive, so as I blocked the third blow, I swung my weapon on around in a great arc toward her side. The woman was off balance from her attack, so the only way she could block the arc of weapon, was to turn her back on me, and swing her blade outward to meet mine. I expected that this would offer me a chance to attack her back, but it didn’t. As soon as she had done so, she tucked and rolled forward, spinning as she rose to face me. This was a brilliant maneuver and would have put several yards between us, but I wasn’t ready to let up. Using my gravity-enhanced strength, I jumped forward, almost landing on top of her. Vena Remontar thrust quickly several times. I blocked those attacks and countered.

“Not bad, thus far,” she said.

“Thank you.”

As I said this, I swung down. I knew that were we really engaged in battle, her sword would have glowed with power, and sliced through the mundane metal of my own, but for now, the soul was asleep, and we were on equal terms. Actually, I had an advantage of superior strength. She blocked my swing, but was unprepared for the added power, and it knocked her from her feet. Without hesitation, she swung toward my knees. I jumped up, and the blade passed harmlessly below me. The young knight rolled to her feet.

I could see by the half smile on her lips that she was enjoying herself. With a flick of her left wrist so quick that I almost didn’t see it, she whipped her short sword from its sheath and grasped it like a dagger. I chopped down with my blade in an attempt to catch her off balance, but she wasn’t off balance. She blocked my blow with the shorter blade and began to attack with the longer. Then she attacked with both swords, forcing me to defend, and I am sure, hoping to wear me down. Unable to attack for the moment, I began to leap quickly to either side, and then to the back, forcing her to chase me. I knew that it was I who would be able to wear her down first, and after several dozen parries, I could see in her eyes that she was coming to the same realization.

Here was the advantage I needed. I rained a series of blows at her head, and then swung with power at her side. Like she had before, Vena Remontar spun around with her back to me and swung her sword, tip down, outward to meet mine. I expected to have a quick shot at her exposed back and left side, but even as she blocked my attack, she drove her short sword, in her left hand, straight back under her arm, and into my stomach.

“Umph!” I grunted in surprise. I expected that I had been cut through, but the tip of her sword merely pricked my skin.

Vena Remontar wiped the tiny drop of blood from her sword tip onto her tabard, and then sheathed her sword. With the drawing of first blood, the contest was over.

“I’m satisfied,” she said. “I thought that perhaps Norar Remontar was being overly generous. But you are quite skilled.”

Princess of Amathar – Chapter 13 Excerpt

I opened my eyes to find myself looking at the ceiling. For a moment I though that I was back in my bedroom at home on Earth, and that all of my adventures in Ecos were just a fantastic dream. Then Malagor leaned over to look into my face.

“I have slept, gotten up, explored the city, eaten, and slept again. You are just now waking.”

“How very nice for you,” I replied.

I sat up, and then climbed out of bed, noticing a distinct disadvantage to the Amatharian beds. Yet I felt so refreshed that my gravity enhanced muscles sent me bounding up onto the floor. I started toward the washbasin, but noticed the doorway just to the left. Passing through it, I found the bathroom. It was a huge room. The bathtub was a small pool, designed to look like a thermal spa, with water constantly flowing from a waterfall into the pool, and then out at the other end. The room also had the other features that one might expect, and they were similarly fashioned to resemble natural features.

I hopped up into the bath and floated in the hot water. The little pool was large enough for me to swim around in, and when I stood up, the water still reached the middle of my chest. Beside the inlet waterfall was a small shelf with a variety of brushes and cleaning agents. I found something that seemed close to shampoo and washed myself from head to toe. I hopped out just long enough to retrieve my knife from beside the bed, then hopped back in and relaxed in the water as I shaved my ragged beard. When I exited the bath a second time, I felt presentable enough for polite Amatharian society. Malagor was waiting for me with some new clothes— a black Amatharian body suit, a plain white tabard, and a pair of boots.

“At Norar Remontar’s direction, I got these from the clothier on the first floor,” he said. “I had to have my own clothing specially ordered.”

I was interested to see how the bodysuit was put on. I found that it had an open waist in the back. Still it took me several moments to discover how to get my lower portion in, and still be able to insert my upper half. Fortunately the material used by the Amatharians was extremely flexible. Once I had it on, it seemed not so much to stretch to fit, as to shrink to fit. It covered every inch of my body in a cool embrace. It was extremely comfortable. The tabard which I put on over it was, as one would expect, slightly encumbering, though no more so than a light jacket or sweater. It reached just below my knees in front and in back, but was open on the sides. Finally I put on the boots, and found them to be the most comfortable footwear that I have ever tried on. All that remained was for me to strap on the weapons belt beneath my tabard. Malagor had also seen to it that I had the appropriate sheaths for my swords. I looked like an Amatharian that had somehow been deprived of his beautiful blue skin.

“Where is Norar Remontar?” I asked.

“He left to see members of his family,” replied Malagor.

Just then an ethereal voice spoke seemingly out of nowhere. “Nicohl Messonar is waiting at the door.” The two of us looked around the room expectantly for a moment, and then at each other.

“Must be a kind of doorbell,” I offered. Malagor shrugged.

I walked out of the bedroom, followed by my alien friend, and opened the front door. Outside, stood an Amatharian woman. She looked to be in her early fifties, and possessed a more mature form of the beauty that was apparently common to all Amatharian women. Her silky black hair cut straight across her forehead, and reaching the middle of her back, was touched with grey, but her dark blue skin remained flawless. She wore a white tabard with a crest— a flaming sun supported by a pedestal— indicating that she was a knight. But instead of the black bodysuit of a soldier, hers was light lavender. She carried no swords; just a satchel slung over one shoulder.

Stepping confidently into the apartment, the woman looked me over, coldly, for a moment before speaking.

“I am Nicohl Messonar,” she said.

“So I understand,” I replied. “Nicole is a common name among my people.”

“The name is Nicohl.”

“Nicohl.”

“Yes, and my name is Nicohl Messonar.” She arched an eyebrow. “It is impolite not to use both names. That is only for husbands and wives, sharing an intimate moment.”