Winter: 16 years at the Monastery, five months after first flight
Snow crunched under Sunar’s boots as he landed at the edge of the skii-resort town. He drew in a deep breath through his nose, taking in the smells of cooking food and burning wood, and focused his ears on the sounds of a town full-to-bursting with revelers. The slope of the snow-covered mountain caught his attention – he swiveled his head and gazed at it. The slope, usually alive with skiiers, now stood empty of people, mostly obscured by a massive holo-projector field.
He sensed movement behind him, heard tires on snow, the distinctive sound of the temple’s second wheeled passenger van’s brakes being applied. He continued to stare, unconcerned, at the holo-projection of the Emperor’s royal throne room. ‘Seben must have been allowed to drive. He is showing off again, and probably expecting me to jump.‘
The van came to a rapid halt – faster than most would have thought safe for the snow – close enough that he could feel the heat from the van’s radiator against his wings. The doors opened immediately, and several boots crunched the snow beneath them. Gorshun’s voice came from the passenger side of the van with a hint of mockery in his tone, “Sunar! Could it be we caught the all-seeing Sunar at a moment of inattention? The van is inches from you, and you are so engrossed in that holo that you didn’t even notice! Or has the cold of your flight over here dulled your senses?”
Sunar put on his best grin, then turned to lock eyes with his friend. “Ah, so you bet against me again, my friend, that Seben could make me jump? I trust his driving, Gorshun…. as long as I am not in the vehicle with him. I know, as well as you do, that there is no way he would hit me unless I was a hole he was trying to avoid!”
Seben opened his mouth to answer, shook his head, opened it again, then stopped. He had taken too long to reply, so he good-naturedly ‘tapped out’ against the van’s hood to acknowledge the hit and joined everyone in a quick laugh.
Shelga, the adept in charge of their group, pulled a small cylinder out of her pocket at shook it. It made a slight metallic sound as it extended to full quarter-staff length, and everyone turned their attention to her, “This is a big day. A change of Emperor only happens every hundred years, so this is practically a once-in-a-lifetime chance for people.
“The coronation begins in about two hours, and is scheduled to take four hours. The official decrees and analysis will last until around dusk, and that is when trouble can be expected to start. The extra crowds you see around here? We found out this morning that most of them are born-zero’s, so expect that some of them will be trouble. Still, they are nobles, and that means most of us,” she looked pointedly at Sunar, then at two other adepts he did not know very well, “don’t have the authority to arrest them. However, we can hold them if under extreme provocation and wait for someone who can make the arrest.”
One of the younger apprentices spoke up, “Born-zero, adept? What does that mean?”
Oops Sunar thought to himself as he saw Shelga’s eyes flicker to the apprentice and take note of her, someone is going to find herself with extra tutoring on the outside world. Shelga’s eyes flickered to him, and he saw her taking note of him, then he realized he had let his amusement show slightly. Oops
“Sunar, why don’t you enlighten the apprentice?”
Well and truly caught. Sunar turned his attention to the apprentice. “A born-zero is a person born to a noble house, but who has passed well into adult-hood and achieved no rank other than the ‘zero’ rank of which ever tier (planetary, fief, duchy, or Imperial) of nobility they were born in.” He heard a few feet shuffle, all of them in the vicinity of the two adepts Shelga had singled out earlier, “That is not all the word implies, however. There are some born-nobles who choose not to pursue elevation of their rank for reasons of their own. The term ‘born-zero’ is most often applied to a particular subset of non-advancing noble-born who live a life of ease off of their family’s money and prestige. They tend to be rash, hedonistic, arrogant, and very touchy about their ‘noble privilege’. Also note that the title is pejorative, so it would be best not to use it where others can hear.”
Shelga nodded, “A good synopsis, Sunar. You have been taking to your new outside-the-monastery studies well. Tabitha, however, it seems you have not been paying attention in your classes. You are to report to Sunar once a week for additional tutoring until such time as he determines you have caught up in your studies.
“Back to the matter at hand. We do not expect there to be much in the way of real trouble until this evening, after the ceremony is finished and the parties begin.
“Our job, until that time, is to get all of these people accustomed to our presence, and used to following our directions. Stay in groups of at least three, keep your staff out and in hand at all times, walk tall, walk swift, walk bold. Be polite, do not raise your voice, do not get into verbal sparing matches, and try to avoid physical confrontation as best you can. Do not, for any reason, give way. Do not allow physical action to go unchallenged. Be firm if you have to give verbal direction, and let the other party walk away unless they have done something that absolutely requires they be detained. We want them to get it in their heads that it is better to do as we say and move on.
“Any questions? Good, get out there and be seen. Do this right, and everyone will have a much easier time tonight.”
Sunar nodded, along with everyone else, collected the other three Titans with a glance, and strode toward the village. Leben spoke as soon as they were away from the others, “You answered Shelga’s question well, and she still gave you extra duty. That is a tough break.”
He shrugged, “I brought it on myself, and it could be worse. I enjoy teaching others, and tend to learn well by doing so, I think Shelga knows that.”
Gurshan chuckled softly, “True enough, brother. Still, a day like this is going to have far too many chances for us to draw extra assignments, so having one before we get started is not the best omen.”
Sunar rolled his eyes, “That is exactly the thought I was trying to avoid, and you had to go and voice it.” He threw a look over his shoulder at his friend, and noticed Shelga staring intently at them, “For now, though, I suggest we work on being seen an not heard.”
He took a couple of cleansing breaths, and tried to regain his positive outlook on the day. ‘I enjoy patrolling the town, it is always interesting to see how people Outside live, and I should get the chance to see a lot today. Also, Tabitha is a bright girl, and tutoring her should be enjoyable.‘
He lifted his head, smiled slightly, and let the wave of sensations from the town wash over him, then silently repeated the statement several times until he was convinced… mostly.