Alpha’s First Draft

Done at last, here is the first draft, all laid out, of the first book of this whole project. Alpha: The Book of Princes.

I took six months to write all this, so there’s a fair bit in here. It won’t be perfectly consistent, as I made some turns along the way, but there’s nothing substantial to throw you off. No promises that every last bit of it will make the final draft, of course, as I aim to cut it down to size and maybe add a few things I forgot entirely, along the way. But this is the body of the book. This is the story I’ve had in mind for longer than is wise for anyone! And I am a fair bit proud that it’s laid out in words, at last. Not the final ones, but the first.

Act I

Alexander’s Awakening
Playing Dice
Half a Million Times the Speed of Light
The Prisoner’s Dilemma
Mother’s Nature
A Certain Little Prince
Ancient Histories
The Stars of Our Sisters
Fate’s Interception
Her Boudoir
With Child
The Colour of Your Mind
Necessary Fiction
When Spies Come Home

Act II

Barnard’s Littlest Nebula
Meeting in the Aisle
Unfinished Business
A Glasgow Kiss is Just a Kiss
Swords Off Orion
Sympathy With the Devil
As the Brother, So the Sister
That Sharpest Edge of Instinct
Rhymes With Struck
The Danger in Emergence
The Power of a Thousand Sons
Looking Up From Rock Bottom
The Crimson Queen
Princes
The Mind Sea
What She Had Made
Second Lease on Life
Brat’s Got Yarbles
Medusa
Drifting
Betwixt
Tomorrow Never Knows
Hey Joe
Where You Gonna Go?

Act III

Intercept
Queen Madala
Earth’s Fine Crescent
Brother Nature
The Last Light of Dying Day
And a Woman
Our Immortal and Beloved
Isis Weeps for Thee
Jet Twilight
At the Centre of that Sphere
The Charge to Zero
Beyond the White Line
The Magnitude of Vengeance
The Final Moment of Her Life
Not Chaos, But Abyss
Silent Distance
Pyramid Song
Black Hearted Angel
Some Equal
Shooting at the World
The Daring Fireball
Destroyer of Worlds
Child in Time
The Princes Met
The Eye of the World
White Light, White Heat
The Other Prince
A Parting Gesture

Act IV

The Journey to a Distant Home
Return to the Parting Stars
Andala’s Smile
On the Lawn
The Girl With Kaleidoscope Eyes
Another Kind of Power on Andala
Nothing Lasts the Pyre
An All Too Familiar Ceiling
Our Man in Ayanakert
Dissent Wears a Smile
Nude or Not
The Lady in Red
Fairy Godparents
Farewell, My Child Among the Stars
The Gift of an Impossible Princess

Unprepared as I am, to a fault, I’m surprised now that I see them laid out by the fact that Act IV isn’t much longer than Act I. It felt like it! I forever go long the further into a draft I go, as Proteus surely shows. Speaking of which, I suppose I’ve found my next project. No forgetting the tale within the tale, which I left almost on the verge of its true direction. As, no matter its original purpose, it’s there to let me explore this little world. Where I like best, sometimes, without a sensible limit!

I’ll be reading through all this again, when it makes sense to. And I shan’t forget my notes of ideas fumbled while writing them. I’ve no idea how many drafts this book will take to do, of course, but I’ve a sense that in some ways I’m done, but in others I’m so very barely started.


The Gift of an Impossible Princess

And so, Alpha’s end.

The lights were low aboard their home, as the dragon flew between the sapphire stars of night. Alexander checked the house, alone, on his way to bed. The cockpit glowed darkly, as the ship shot through space, calm upon its course. They were going fast, but not so quick the system couldn’t handle it. Sixty thousand lightspeed. The instruments were as dark as constellations of suspicious stars, green and much too regular. He let them flicker to themselves, against that constant sky; so slowly moving, no matter speed.

He walked through the livingroom, looked down the little staircase and paused for a moment, then turned off all the lights. Between the Earth and Andala, far from either one, were the most important people in his life, safe aboard this little ship.

Carl was sleeping, and Christopher sat with a screen in hand, reading much too closely to want disturbed. Alexander passed on by to his own room, where Katerina lay in bed.

"All done." He said as he approached her. "You awake?"

She was not. She had her back turned, the fresh bed sheets hanging from her side. He pulled them up a little, as he climbed in their big old bed to join her. She looked so small, there in the theatre of their bedchamber amidst the stars, that he always feared she might catch cold without him. But her shoulder was already warm to touch.

Alexander pulled his laptop from the side table, and flipped it open on his knees. His fingers danced a shortcut on the metal keys and the screen was blank but for a cursor. He wrote.

Sunday? Monday night! It’s been an unusual past few days. To say the least. I haven’t a clue quite where to begin, in fact. But let’s start at the beginning.

Apparently, Katerina, who I love, is from another world! I ought not hold that against her. She had her reasons not to tell me. But it is quite a shock, I will say. And it is the truth, I soon discovered.

His wife breathed loudly, quite asleep beside him. He played with her rich red hair, which he swept behind her ear.

I still can’t believe it. How could you? But it’s very real indeed. She has all the powers the Andalans do. In fact, she has more than most of them. She’s not just one at random. She is the sister of the king.

Katerina turned a little, and her heavy breathing became a snore. Alexander looked at her and grinned.

A princess! My goodness. And it’s worse than that. Or bigger, I should say. As little Christopher, my dear son, is their prince and bloody heir.

I can’t help but feel the fool in this predicament. Wouldn’t you? My beloved wife has played me for one, if you look at it that way.

But I won’t.

Seeing what I’ve seen this day beyond all days, I pity her for what she’s been through. She never chose to be born who she was. And no one asked her what she wanted until she left to take it for herself. I can only begin to imagine what her past life must have been like. If today’s glimpse was anything, it was horrid! No, I forgive her lying to me, I really do. Let’s concentrate on what matters, and where we’ll spend the rest of our lives. The future.

He smiled, impressed by his own nobility. He could see what others couldn’t see for pride. He was a man of intuition, he thought to himself, his fingers resting on the keys for whatever thoughts came next. As his wife, and impossible little princess turned to face him, and, quite unconscious, slapped him gently on the cheek.

Before I started writing his words for him, he wasn’t quite as long. But they have the time now, at that speed. And I’ll see to trimming Alexander’s epilogue just as I do every other bit of my own.

I suppose that’s the conclusion then, of my shitty first draft! Half a year since I started it, and much longer in the making. There’s something not right about the feel of it in my mind, and so I find that I’ve a lot in common with my diarist Alexander. I’m suspending judgment, as it is only wise to do, and my eyes are on the next future, where he too dreams to look. In my case, it’s the great rewrite. In his, it is the rest of his life.

Tradition maintains that you should stick a first draft in a drawer for a few months, to let it savour before you come back with the knife. Of course, what’s really changing is your mind. The difference between reading what you’ve written and reading what you’ve really written is a matter of how strong the memory of the event remains in your mind. It’s nigh impossible to let the words be themselves when you still know precisely what you meant to say with them.

My own memory is typically pretty long lived. Far as I can tell. I hope this doesn’t translate into poor editing when I get there. But first I think I’d better spend the meantime on something useful. Return to the background work of making Anatara? Perhaps. Proteus again! Maybe, as that story’s far from done. I could indeed tend to most everything I was writing about here before this year, it’s all unknowns, looking for a push. But there is another matter that is closer to the front of my mind.

This first draft needs stitched up! I’ll set around some links. And, all the better, slice and dice the body for myself, so that I can read it side to side as well as top to bottom. I want to read each character’s lines as they’re said. I want to see the structure, and what is missing. I want to step aside from the work I did, and see the work I’m yet to do.

So he’s right, if I may be too.


Farewell, My Child Among the Stars

Christopher learns his fate, as they escape Andala at long last.

"I don’t get it." Said Christoper to his father. "You want me to stay here?"
“Not today.” Said Alexander. “Not yet. But when you want to.”
“What if I don’t!”
“You will.” Said Aikatari, still crouched before him. “You have a taste of power now. And you shan’t forget it.”
“I can’t. I won’t. I will not stay here.” He said, adamant, darting to and from her eyes.
“Not yet.” Said his father. “No one expects you to, not today. I talked them out of it.”
“Today?”
“Not today. But when you’re comfortable.” Said Alexander, trying to stay ahead of his scared little son. “Whenever you decide. No one else!”
“I can’t just leave everyone. Just like that! What am I supposed to tell them? What would they ever believe! People don’t just vanish from the world like that.”
“I know. It’ll be tough. But we’ll work something out, Christopher, I’m sure.”
“You’re young, you’re free.” Said his mother, from behind the family crowd. “You’d be surprised how much so.”
“But I’m not!” He said. “Look at you all, staring at me!”

Aikatari smiled and looked down to her knees. Everyone else shuffled back a little, but for Carl.

"Can I stay here too?"
“What are you on about?” Christopher shouted at him. “You? Here! With them?”
“With you.” Carl shrugged. “I’m not leaving you alone to all this. To Jocaster! I’m with you, man.”

Christopher couldn’t see Carl’s generosity, as he stood, in horror. Not for the moment, at least.

"Ugh." Carl rolled his eyes. "I’m looking out for you, dummy!"
“I don’t see what use that would be.” Said Christopher. “But thanks.”

Alexander curled his lips as Aikatari turned to him, still upon her knees, to ask the obvious about this plucky kid.

"I, uh, you’d need to run that past your folks, Carl."
“Sure you will.” Said Carl, quicker than Alexander could think. “I don’t need to check in much anyway. I’d rather not bother them.”
“With little matters like what world you’re on?” Said Christopher.
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Evidently.”
“Look, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” Said Alexander, then he grinned. “Careening wildly out of control as we do, no doubt. But not today.”
“No?” Said Carl.
“No.” Said Alexander. “Today, we’re going home.”

Aikatari grabbed Christopher, gentle but certain, by the shoulders. She had one more point to make before they did.

"You have come a long way." She said, seeking once again his eyes. "And succeeded. For the firet time in your life, you found out who you are."
“Perhaps.” He said, so very briefly in her gaze.
“That power, that you found, is all yours. You were born with it, and you will die with it, too. As we all do.”
“Die…” He whispered, caught by surprise.
“It is life. It is your essence. It is your aner. No one else’s. Not mine, not Jocaster’s, not Madala’s. You understand me?”
“I guess.”
“Only you can master it. And I am here for you, when you choose to begin. You will always be welcome here. My daughter’s son, my Christopher!”

She kissed him square on the lips, as no adult had ever dared before. Carl watched astonished, as did Alexander, as his son’s eyebrows shot sky high.

"Katari!" Said his mother, furious with her own. "Not like that. Humans don’t do it that way, not with children!"
“She is right.” Said Aikatari, cupping her grandson’s blushing cheeks in both hands. “But you are not human. And when you want to explore this, we are here.”

Andala’a leading lady, the mother of its new Kai, rose to her feet with an inhuman grace, as her arms slipped from him. Christopher stared at her, amazed, by just what he didn’t know.

"Right. Let’s skedaddle." Said Alexander, grabbing both boys by the arm. "Thanks for the hospitality, dear mother in-law, but we really must be getting home."

Madala said goodbye to her mother and brother, in Anatara. There were a thousand ways to say it, but she chose the shortest one.

"Oh," said Alexander, an idea landing in his head, "sorry to be ungrateful, but it would be quite marvellous if you didn’t visit us, not on Earth."

Carl, Christopher and Katerina all stared at him. But he had a fair point.

"Nothing personal! Causes the neighbours a lot of fuss, that’s all. You know how they can be."

Jocaster smirked.

"Of course not. We will keep this all on Andala, where he belongs."
“That’s the ticket.” Said Alexander. “See you in the summer.”
“The when?” Christopher gasped.
“The, uh, whenever you like.” His father grimaced in apology. “Let’s go.”
“Farewell.” Said Aikatari. “My child among the stars. I, and Andala, await your return. Good luck!”
“Thanks.” Said Christopher, turning back to her has his parents pulled him away. “Someday.”
“Soon!” She called. And Jocaster smiled with his mother.

Atarchus and Samean stood either side of the door as the Kinnerins left the royal house, Baiayana. Jocaster’s men grinned at them, not threatening but as a pair of awkward friends. Alexander and Carl kept a close eye on them as they passed, with polite nods. And out in the green, at last, their car waited just as they parked it.

"Well, what do you know?" Said Alexander. "One-two-three-four." He feigned a headcount. "We’re getting out alive!"
“Get in the car!” Katerina commanded, keen not to tempt fate. So they did. And together they shot off through the morning sky to their spaceship and home beyond, to fly again, among Aikatari’s stars.

Not too shabby. And not the ending, quite yet. There’s one more little bit to go. Not counting all the loose ends I’m sure will occurr to me in time. Yet this is the last we see of Andala, this book. The supernatural world lingering beyond ours, that so tempts Christopher with his origin, his nature, and his fate.


Fairy Godparents

My doubts about the order of things to one side for now, and the coronation behind us, it’s time to settle young Christopher’s fate.

"There is no point in denying him who he is, Madala." Said Aikatari. "The boy is your son. My son. And Ayana’s child."

Madala stood not far from her mother, in the grandest of her family’s formal rooms. She held her elbows tight, and barely looked at anyone as Aikatari made the case that she had always feared.

"I don’t suppose there is a point in denying half of who he is." Said Alexander, between them. He looked at Aikatari’s nose, afraid of the spirals of her eyes. "Half!" He said, turning back to his wife, who didn’t like it.
“He is all Ana.” Said Aikatari. “He is a better Ana than me. So much power! And so much potential for even more. Andala is his future. As he is Andala’s future, too.”
“But he has a life.” Said the boy’s father. “And a future ahead of him. A bright one, I’d say, on Earth.”
“To be what?” Aikatari scoffed. “A pretend human? Chasing after money? Owing the world that isn’t even his?”
“Well, he’s a bright kid. I dare even say brilliant. He gets it from his mother, of course.” Alexander’s smile didn’t earn her response. “He could achieve just as much as she has. Maybe more.”
“She has wasted her time!” Her mother snapped. “Shirking responsibility, running from fate.”
“Perhaps you don’t know this, Lady. Without Katty’s help there would be no ships fast enough to get here in a day, and your bloody minded son would be dead and buggered in that nebula. It wasn’t looking good back there, even I could see that. The boy saved him, but his mother got him there.” Alexander waved to the starry painted ceiling high above them. “Not by magic, either, but good sound hard science!”

Madala smirked as the room fell silent before Alexander’s high horse. Even her brother, lingering in the corner as he always did, heard his point. Several breaths of pause went by before anyone next spoke.

"Thank you, Madala, for saving your brother Kai," said Aikatari, as though Alexander wasn’t there.
“We did it together.” She said. “Alexander and I. It’s his achievement too, every bit as mine.”
“Yes. My thanks to you, Alexander. I speak for all Andala in offering you our thanks.”

No one seemed to find it odd that the Kai’s mother, not the Kai, was the one to say this.

"And his son." Said Madala, catching Aikatari’s sharp stare. "We are both his parents. Mother and father, there is not just one."
“Thanks.” Whispered Alexander, who wasn’t quite as certain for himself.

Jocaster crossed his arms, impatient. For as much as he looked like a Kai, in his cobalt blue robe, he hadn’t changed his mind about his sister.

"The boy," he said, in English for Alexander to hear, "is a little Kai. When I am done, Andala is his. Without knowledge of his power, he will live in hiding, afraid of those who seek him out." Alexander quivered, and Jocaster locked his eyes on him. "They will come. Your world is not so far away. You have seen our enemies. Jinn will find him. Whether he is prepared, or helpless."
“Yeah.” Sighed Alexander. “I reckon you’re quite right.”
“Alex!” Katerina snapped at him. To no avail.
“Come on. We’ve been lucky so far. But space isn’t getting any larger again. You know best of all, Katty!”
“But if he lives here…” she said, her voice tightening to a painful squeak, “we will lose him forever.”
“No, we won’t.” He said, holding her hand. “And he won’t either. Just half.”
“What?” Katerina said to him, her eyes spilling with tears so soon.
“Half the time he lives here, to study his…” Alexander waved his left hand about trying to find another word, “powers. And the other half, he’s back on Earth, living the life he already has. I think it’s pretty fair.”

She pressed her face into his chest, and said nothing more. If it had to be this way…

"I vouchsafe for him, Madala." Said her mother, whose daughter’s sob made soft for just the moment. "There is no safer place for him to be than at the heart of Andala. And no other where he can learn his aner. While he is here, I am his mother, and all the world is his."
“Sounds good.” Said Alexander, as his wife alternated cheeks upon his jacket. “And when he’s ours, he’s ours.”
“Of course.” Said Aikatari. “He is both.”
“Right, how about it, Katty?”

She looked up at Alexander, her face stained in spilled eyeshadow and red despair. She put her tongue to her teeth and whispered very well. Do it, if they must.

"What else do you think they could be on about?" Said Carl, out in the passageway.
“Could be anything, really.” Said Christopher, who couldn’t quite hear them inside.
“No, it’s you, kid.” Carl sighed. “For definite.”

His friend furrowed his brow. No fighting it. He was right.

Carl watched as a pair of girls, about the same age as them, literally drifted by. They were smaller than even Christopher, but flew along above his eyes, each one of them as cute as a devil. They slowed for a moment, looking back at him and his strange companion, who only had eyes for the floor. One of them whispered, and off down the hall they went.

"Is that a uniform?"
“Huh?” Christopher turned to see them go. “Well, they’re not laiyeen I don’t think.”
“See, I wonder how this whole place works. Do they get paid? And if so, why doesn’t someone else more powerful just steal? It’s weird if you think about it.”
“I didn’t get as far as how wealth works on Andala.” Said Christopher.
“You were all caught up at the naked part, right?” Carl laughed, no further himself.

Quieter than an owl in flight, Aikatari descended upon them, quite to their surprise. Christopher saw her first, and Carl saw his cousin’s face turn white.

"Hello boys." Said the lady who ruled Andala, settling down before them on her knee. "Good news!"

She was so close up that Carl looked right into her swirling eyes. They were like the petals of exotic flowers, blue and red. But Christopher did not.

"Christopher." She said to him, reaching for his chin. "Listen. This is important. You have a second home now. A second world to call your own."

He squirmed at her gaze. While Carl was dazzled.

"Here?" Said the bigger of the two. Katari did not answer him.
“Here.” Said Alexander, over the top of her. “We’ve come to an arrangement.”

His son looked more anxious than ever. And Alexander realised his mistake.

"You can have both things now. A life with us on Earth, and a life on Andala." He paused. "If you like."
“Here?” Said Christopher.
“Yes, here with your fairy godparents!”
“Fairy god…” Katerina seethed, unseen. No one appreciated his joke but Alexander.
“Katari and Jocaster. They’re right here for you, if you want.” He said to his son. “And I agree with them, you should give this Andalan side of yourself a try, now that you’ve discovered it.”
“I…” Christopher stared at him, wide eyed.
“You’ve got two worlds now, Christopher. I wouldn’t turn either down.”

Noted is the fact I forgot to mention Jocaster’s robes! There is no crown for Kai, but there’s still a fancy outfit.

There’s two competing versions of this scene, as I described, where either Christopher already knows Aikatari, or meets her here for the very first time. I quite like meetings in the aisle, so the other version surely has its draw. I’d have to rework the entire act to make it so, however, which I’m putting off this draft.

I don’t think this conversation is quite done yet, either. But should it be left so? For now, all is still in flux. As it has been all along. I seem to like my questions best unanswered! Untenable in the end, but for now.


The Lady in Red

Arise, Jocaster.

Listening for perfect quiet across the hall, Kaliander told Jocaster, beneath her, that the first of all Ana had a sacred duty to fulfil. Every one of their people must have his ear. No matter the dispute, he must hear all sides. Literally, fully, and without exception. He understood this, did he not?

Aikatari whispered the same words as her successor, and her son. He understood. He promised that his desires would come last of all his people’s. They were his master, all the more than he was theirs. He would seek them out. The source of his wisdom was in their words.

Not that Christopher could understand any of them. He simply stared at the two, Jocaster right down on his knees, and Kaliander hovering over him, as elegant and as naked as could be, clearly in control. Her bands of beads and sparkling jewels ran down every contour, gliding slightly as she breathed. For once, Christopher could barely look at anything else.

"One day," said Aikatari, bending down to his ear, "this could be you."

He looked up at her, only half aghast at the accursed thought. Perhaps she had a point.

Finally, Kaliander knelt down to join Jocaster. She held his cheeks in her hands, and pressed her nose to the middle of his brow. He sat silent, as she said the closing words of her proclamation. Once, twice, thrice, and now, at last: he was Kai. Kai of all Andala!

Jocaster’s tears surprised her. She wiped them from his cheeks, and he blushed.

"They always cry." Said Aikatari, feeling Christopher’s tension at the sight. "And they never thought they would."

Kaliander and Jocaster pressed their palms and weight together, and stood back up in a way no humans could. She put the final necklace around his neck, the one with the little orb of their world, that he had rescued from the jinn. The one his ancestors wore, all the way back to Ayana. She put her left arm around his shoulders and presented him to the crowd. Behold! She shouted, louder than any other line of the rite. Your new king.

Aikatari leapt with joy, almost throwing awkward Christopher on his face before she grabbed him upright.

Jocaster smiled, tears still running on his ruddy cheeks, as though a great weight had lifted from him. One he’d known all his life.

"So we can get out of here now?" Said Carl.
“I guess so. Once Katty shows up.” Said Alexander, sitting bolt upright and looking around. “No surprise she didn’t want to see all this.”
“Wasn’t that the whole point of coming to Andala?” Carl said. “And she didn’t show?”
“Bit off, isn’t it?”

Alexander peered towards the light that streamed in through the formal entrance. Everything about this place was curves, and so too that mighty door. A figure could very easily be lost in its great open embrace. And against the bloody sun, for a moment, he thought just that.

"Ah!" Christopher wheezed, at the sudden grasp around his chest.

The roaring hall fell, voice by voice, to quiet.

Alexander shook his head in disbelief. There she was, his wife, and princess all too apparent, lingering in the middle of the arch.

Madala swung into the room, slow and deliberate, until freed from Aira’s sun, her own glow caught everyone’s eyes. She wore a scarlet dress, not much longer than her knees and elbows, not the least bit Andalan in style. Far from it. This was one she’d picked up in Florence just the summer before. Its careful frills were as alien to her own people as her flight was to the humans. And in her right hand she held a long, dark, painfully sharp sword.

The whole hall fell into stone cold silence. Half of them looking at Jocaster, and half of them at her.

"Madaleh!" Snarled Aikatari at her daughter in a fearsome voice. And Christopher turned pale.

Jocaster thanked Kaliander, who twitched with sudden nerves at this break from the ritual. She whispered to him, to be careful. He mustn’t kill her, not here. He knew, he said, and rose to meet his sister.

Madala had a violent look to her eyes. Jocaster knew why she was here. He felt her lingering outside all along. But she had no lines in the unwritten script. Instead, she had a symbol.

"You forgot this." She said, the first alien words in the entire ceremony. "Your Akanaine."

She held her brother’s fallen sword across her middle. It was his, for sure. The one he left when he took her son. The one that saved his life against Melesia, back aboard his sister’s ship.

He told her she was right. In Anatara.

"Here." She said, waving the lethal blade. "Take it."

Jocaster reached, by instinct, with his left hand. But he flinched at the sight of her smile. He put out his right hand instead. Palm upward, he approached the quivering knife, and, eyes locked with his sister’s, he was about to close his grip. Until she touched her tongue to her teeth.

As red a red as the scarlet that she wore, glowed in Madala’s hair. Her lips danced with dare. And her brother’s blade charged with her power, instead of his.

Aikatari squeezed her daughter’s son good and hard at the sight of this. He daren’t as much as whimper.

"Katty, not again!" Alexander winced.
“What’s the point?” Sighed Carl.

They both knew her too well. Better than her brother.

Jocaster’s fingers hovered so very close to the deadly sword. The crowd gasped at the insult, and the challenge she posed him. The hall was no place for fighting. In fact, bloodshed was taboo. He risked shaming himself, and losing his blessing as Kai, if he did as much as light his power in defence. Yet there she was, in the heat at the palm of his hand.

Madala’s eyes swirled in toxic haze. She wanted to hurt him, all right. The rules did not apply to her, how could they?, Ayana’s flagrant daughter who threw her life to the stars.

Her brother had no choice. He couldn’t back down now. She was the obstacle between him and his destiny. The one he could not destroy. She had him, and all he could do was seek her vicious mercy.

Jocaster squeezed his fingers to the sword. Electric quivers shook his veins as he grabbed it from her, to his sister’s delight. The two kept staring into one another’s eyes, as the whole world’s highest looked on. Jocaster swung the blade high above them both, and growled a polite thanks. Madala put her arms behind her back.

"You’re welcome." She said, looked to the door, and let him make his way outside.

Beyond the arch lay Jocaster’s real audience. Not his family, not the dignitaries and enemies that filled the room, but the everyday people of Andala, who waited in their thousands to see the new king. He flew, not too fast, not too slow, out into the morning light, and when they saw him the whole city was overrun by a single cheer. The square was packed with Ana, and the sky above. They cheered their Kai, their son, as no one else could.

Katerina would have gone home that instant, if not but for her mother’s arms around her son. They had one last thing to settle first.

Jocaster held his sword, the accidental prize of his ordeal, to the sky. He charged it with his power, brightest white, and the crowd roared again. His light was bright, so many didn’t see the drops of his blood fall from its handle.

There we go. This was pretty much the end of the whole book, before I fiddled around with the order of things this final act. Perhaps it should still be, but for an epilogue. There’s time for that. But first to the matter of Madala’s son. Christopher’s fate is one hell of an open question. In fact, it is no less than the reason for the rest of the tale, entire.