From On High (Antarctic Exchange #4)
rating: +36+x

Darkness, and then light. The mind crystallized, the web of gold filaments woven into spiraling pathways amidst the fluid blackness, shining spheres beading on the mesh.

Peace flowed, one thread to the next, one golden sphere to the next. They twisted and danced into their proper ordering. Each Blessing in turn was made right.


One particular Blessing was proving an issue: it had become tangled in the webbing. Gently, gently, the knots loosened.


One string snagged. Gently…gently…


The web vanished. Lucrezen Lhivaen Battackan Chlolassouvin opened her opalescent eyes. Sight and hearing burst back into being. She uncrossed her legs and stood up, rising to her full nine feet. In a fit of improvisation, the Foundation had granted her an unused lecture hall to sleep and live in. She was thankful for that: at least now, when she was teaching or sleeping, she did not have to do so hunched over.

She gracefully walked to the door, her layers of intricately-woven robes swishing around her impossibly slender frame. Her grace hid her bubbling irritation. She knew the voice behind the door and thumping on it.

No, no, he would insist on ceremony. It was his way.


Lucrezen sat on the first desk tier. It would do for a throne for now.

“You may enter, hand of the Empress.”

The door slid open, revealing the form of Sakarn Var Surten. The man took a few steps forward, eyes averted, before dropping prostrate to the floor.

“Ten thousand pardons, Highest. Your servant did not wish to interrupt your holy duties, but was forced to by matters beyond his control.”

“Speak.” Scrounging and begging, as usual. Lucrezen was reminded of how much she disliked it. Bow to the Empress, and the Empress alone. I am only her tool.

“The fools of the Black Court, Trighit and Pokum, have been found guilty of a heinous crime by our esteemed hosts, and are currently held by the Director of this site for treason. The Northworlder deems himself of importance to issue you command, and has requested your prescense.”

Exaggerations, most likely. Lucrezen deeply wished to remind Sakarn that the Black Court were likewise children of the Empress, but she knew he would have none of that. Feigned acceptance, until she was out of sight and earshot.

There was a sharp, pinching pain from the left side of her head. And there it was, the consequences of breaking meditation to listen to his groveling.

“I will speak with the director.” And now, time to get him out of the hair that she did not have. “And to you, my valued servant, I bestow to you a special duty. There is an item of some note, which our hosts have provided us access. I have arranged you and your manservant to observe this place. It is of great interest to me.”

“Of course, Highest. I am your humble servant. Your will is mine.”

“Go then. Speak with Doctor Hanakawa. Blessings of the Empress upon you and your house.”

“And upon your ancestors and line to come.” Sakarn stood up, head still bowed, and shuffled out of the room.

Lucrezen stood up, rubbing at the side of her head with a single, white-gold finger.

Once again, she was reminded why she much rather preferred dealing with children. They were much more honest, with their gapped-teeth and scuffed-knees.

Lucrezen sat cross-legged on the floor, still tall enough to be on eye-level with the dour-faced man across the desk. Trighit, fat and round, sat on her right. Pokum, smaller with patches of brown in his fur, sat on her left. Both had heads hung in shamed silence.

She had almost mentioned how much the Director looked like one of her sons. The same jawline, the same eyes.

Ahgh, her headache was clouding her judgment with discomfort. She needed to finish her meditations.

She inhaled deeply, trying to calm the pain and collect her mind. Trighit was a fool: that was common knowledge. But he was the Empress’ fool. And a fool of the Empress was still under her care. At least he didn’t grovel: the Black Court was the Empress’ court of fools and jesters, dancing under the moons of the long night where there was no caste. Everyone was family in the Black Court.

She set the sheaf of papers down on the desk.

“According to your documentation of the creatures, they are harmless until the shell is broken, generally through consumption.” Her voice was clear, clipped, bearing neither Imperial accent nor Northworld inflection. Such was the Blessing of Tongues. “Theodore Lawrence consumed a specimen before a warning was able to be issued. This was an unfortunate accident caused by a careless fool, Director. Not an act of malice.”

“Your researcher flagrantly broke containment, resulting in the death of a Foundation agent.”

“A truth, but it must be said that the specimens were adequately contained.”

“A glass bottle is not adequate.”

“So long as they are unbroken, they are not dangerous. Granted, Trighit’s inevitable experimentation on the eggs would result in breaking of the shell, and such an event would be clearly his total responsibility. But, as it stands, I find deportation unnecessary, Director. Simple revocation of access to items and area restrictions will be sufficient.”

The Director scowled, looking even more than ever like Irdi. He was around the same age, too.

“I will be honest, here: I am not impressed with your researchers.”

“’What the Empress gives, one receives without complaint.’ It is a lesson we teach to our children, Director. We are who you have been given, be it good or ill. It is up to you to deal with them. Will you throw it away, or make good out of it? These two have committed a grievous fault, I will not deny that, but in circumstances such as these, there is a place for forgiveness.”

The director was quiet for some time.

“Very well. These two are to be confined to the residential wing until further notice."

"Ten thousand thanks, Sister." Trighit said, watching the guards walk down the hall to escort him and Pokum to their room. "I don't think I could have lived with the shame of returning empty-handed."

"Keep your hands on what you are supposed to from now on. Have you provided a funerary writ to the man's wife or mother yet?"

"As far as I know, he has neither. They cut their ties when they walk through the doors."

A memory flashed in Lucrezen's vision alongside another pulse of pain, a small girl with braided hair, standing in front of a two magnificent gild doors, engraved with the image of the First Empress, striking down Sanak Thiuh, surrounded by a circle of the First Watchers, their hands raised in supplication. Her cheeks were stained with tears, but she had to be strong, for the Empress had chosen her.

"A pity."


Lucrezen lingered in the hallway for a moment after the guards had taken them down the hall. She walked in the opposite direction, bowed and bent. She had meditations to finish, and a lecture to prepare.

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