A clatter at the door of the coffeeshop announced the entrance of someone in a hurry. Aturi turned just as Ubashi called out, "Ready to go, lads? We don't have a moment to spare."
"You're alive," Aturi said, with relief. And uninjured, seemingly. "Did you find—?"
Ubashi cut him off, sweeping into their little alcove. "I've booked us passage on a fast ship. We leave with the tide, which is—"
"Just past noon," Livalii said. She always knew about tides, and boats, and things like that. "Which leaves everyone sufficient time to explain themselves." She gave Ubashi a dubious glance, then looked across the table at Tiiro. "I take it this is the crazy old Han Khiru mage?"
Ubashi seemed to notice Livalii for the first time. "Well, hello there." For a man who didn't have a moment to spare, he spent several long moments looking Livalii up and down. "Do I smell the warm air of the islands? I wasn't expecting to meet a Fanaloan flower so far from its native shore."
Tiiro rolled his eyes. "I'm Fanaloan, too." He introduced them with a vague wave.
"Literally named after a flower." Ubashi clasped his hands together. "How charming! I haven't visited Fanaloa this lifetime, but I do recall the highlights. Laholo, my dear."
"It's Lahora." Tiiro sighed. "And pretty much everything in Fanaloa is named after a flower or a fish."
"I . . ." Khai swallowed, and pulled a handful of black powder from the pouch at his waist. "I'm here to kill you."
Gailan gave him a long, slow look. "I know."
"You should--" There were words for this sort of thing. Khai felt that he ought to know them, that he'd heard them before in some heroic story. "You should meet your death with courage and honor. For your name and your House. Lynx will reward you and take you up in glory and you'll be reborn as, as . . . as someone great."
Gailan almost smiled. It looked awful, on that ruined face. "Do I have Lynx's blessing, then?"
Khai sucked in his breath, hard. It kept catching in his throat. "Not if you just stand there crying. Come on, fight me!"
Writing by Jessica Van Oort, art by Ruth Lampi.
Take the Service Academy exams! Have you always dreamed of leaving the dirt behind and working among the stars?
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The new Spire program needs recruits in all areas of specialization. Command crew: Authorized Captains have already been assigned to all available Spires, but positions for junior officers remain open. Clean gene-scans preferred. Engineering: Lead and support positions available. Must be certified in fusion engines, six-space interface, and artificial intelligence. Hydroponics technician: Also responsible for maintenance of seed and embryo banks. Cryogenics technician: Psychological screening required for these positions, as all cryogenics technicians will be awake for the duration of the Spire’s mission. Surgical officers and technicians: Appropriate medical implants and up-to-date certifications required. Dedication inspector: B-level security clearance and impeccable service record required. Clean gene-scans preferred. Due to new advancements in neurological grafting, we are not recruiting Spire pilots at this time.