CHAPTER TWENTY (draft)

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CHAPTER 20

We get back to Phoinios Heights, and my head is spinning with all the crazy information. Ghost Moon! Suddenly all kinds of common, everyday Atlantean references come to "haunt" me, and I start to space out with my usual intense thought process concentration mode—even as we enter the house, and everyone we know surrounds us. Aeson presses my arm and steps back to let the others greet me, while he himself goes to check a nearby computer display where Oalla and Erita have been scrolling through data in our absence.

"Gwenie! Oh, Gwenie! Congratulations!" Gracie cries, coming to hug me, with Laronda not far behind.

"We watched everything on TV, saw you up there! You done good, girl!" Laronda exclaims, squeezing me so hard I can barely breathe, while the two Grails clank together in my arms. "And look at you, not one but two Grails! And your uniform is still lit up, so shiny and crazy-White in that fancy-schmancy Champion neon! How long will it glow like that?"

"Not sure. It'll probably start to fade soon." I smile.

"Oh my God, let me see—" Gracie reaches for the large Yellow Grail and takes it from my fingers, while Laronda snatches the small White Grail and examines it closely.

Now that my hands are free, I turn and give Chiyoko and Hasmik a series of huge hugs. Then I see Oalla, Dawn, Erita, and an unfamiliar tall, full-figured young woman dressed in a conservative Atlantean business outfit, the kind I've seen on the media worn by authority figures. She has astute eyes that are somewhere between hazel and green, strong features, and shoulder-length soft wavy hair of a natural blond shade that is definitely not dyed but can pass for the fashionable gilded look. Her sharp expression does not soften even a bit as she looks at me while Erita introduces her as Arbiter Tamira Bedut.

"A pleasure to meet you in person, Imperial Lady Gwen," Tamira tells me in a confident low voice. "I am here to make sure all your final legal documentation in regard to Citizenship is filed correctly."

"Oh," I say. "I thought I was already officially a Citizen?"

Tamira nods. "You are. This is merely a technical formality that is a necessary part of the process. All the other Games Champions must file identity change documents with our Grand Courts, which can be done with or without Arbiters. I'm at your service, and everything is ready for your signatures. It will only take a few minutes of your time, after which I will leave at once to file them before this work day ends—"

"Okay, give the Imperial Lady a moment to rest before you drown her with that boring stuff, Tam," Erita interrupts, rolling her eyes slightly at Tamira. "Yes, you live to work, you're a perfectionist and it's what I still adore about you, and why you've been retained here, but really—slow down. . . . It's been a long day for her, and for all of us, to be honest."

Tamira turns to give Erita a slightly chilly but entirely professional glance. "Very well. But expediting this process is for the Imperial Lady's own benefit. Filing today is best."

"We know. Just—in the name of all deities—" Erita shakes her head. "Let her sit down at least. Have a drink. You too."

I stand and watch them bicker somewhat oddly and exchange glances with Dawn, who looks on with curious amusement. I recall that Dawn and Blayne have been meeting and working with this Arbiter on my behalf, for weeks, but I never had the chance to meet her in person until today. And then, as Dawn mouths silently, "She's her ex," I remember being told that Erita and Tamira were in a relationship once, but it ended on an unhappy note, due to irreconcilable personality clashes.

While I space out for a moment thinking about it, Tamira shakes her head in frustration, excuses herself politely, then goes to get a drink from the side table.

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