"What silk thin difference is there if I stay to dream or go?"-Kyoko Selden

Isela crossed the Ni-Chee in a storm of sunslight. Wind churned the dunes, revealing skeletons of her planet’s distant past: gladiatorial rings, wing’ed ancients, temples worn soft by time.  All worlds are built upon the apocalypse of everything which has came before it.  When a world exists, it seems eternal, and it is difficult to imagine it as one in a succession of many.  Yet the present must forever consume its past, or die.  

She walked heavily, thinking of loves that had gone from her life. Like the bones that lay sleeping beneath the sand, the voice in her mind too had fallen silent, leaving her alone with her questions. She could only hope that in Phayara there would be answers. She drew up her hood, catching her horns securely beneath it. And trudged on.

The gates were down.

In all Phayara Khado's history, such a thing had never happened. But now the massive golden gates were propped wide, the center of the city visible between them, vulnerable as an exposed belly. Vines streamed from the painted parapets; Gilahawks circled the sky, dropping festoonery. Impromptu bands went marching raggedly through the sandy streets, exhausted but jubilant. Soldiers sunned themselves atop the gates while priest apprentices danced beneath, playing a game with Evoks.

It was an apprentice priest who first saw Isela. He was burlier and louder than the others.  His skin was a burnt orange which matched his robes. “Ho!” he called, "Welcome!" He ran to her, his oversize robe tangling in his feet, and bowed in the Phodiine way—claws crossed at the wrist, his body bent low.

His horns were dirty.

“Phayara has changed,” she said.  Her words come out as a croak.

“You need to drink, mairo,” he said. He waved over a large Evok and loosed an ornately stamped canteen from its harness. Other priests wandered over, smiling, welcoming her with open arms.

"Drink, mairo," the priest said again. She tried to correct him —she was no one’s mairo—but they appeared not to care. “Welcome, welcome home to Phayara, beautiful mairo. Your journey is fruitful. The promise of Phado has come true” they said, patting her as if she were weak and feeble. Had the sand aged her? She felt her vanity flicker.  

“Please, I have a house here,” she tried to put in. “I just need to clean up, lie down...”

“All the way across, and by yourself,” clicked the orange priest. “Where do you hail from? What a wonder. And all for Goddess, I wager.”

She shrugged helplessly, unable to get a word in edgewise.

They insisted on escorting her into the city. The orange priest lifted her onto one of the big Evoks.

"Have you ever seen so many of our people all together in one place? Its extraordinary! Simply extraordinary," he said. Indeed it was. They had come from all over Phyrnos to see the risen goddess. Gilahawks and Uquelycra and even Phodiine beetles scurried in the streetsl. Everywhere there was singing, dancing, feasting.  Gigantic Vyrna lifted and crashed harmlessly over the crowd, shimmering down their backs.

“Wonderful, isn’t it, mairo?” the priest says, coming close. He puts his claws on the haunches of the Evok. “Hush.  You’re tired.  You don’t need to speak. Just enjoy it.”

She smiled and gave up.

“My name’s Hillm,” he said, draping his claws around her hips. The Evok was too tall for him to do this comfortably.  He had to walk alongside them on the tips of his claws and hoped she wouldn’t notice.  The Evok snorted at him.

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