The Seven Star Dominion spread across nine star systems, five of which had more than one habitable planet. The Dominion was a powerful force. Their economy was robust, their scientific research and development was well-funded, and their military was disciplined, trained, and equipped. If they ever took over our solar system, within three hundred years Mars would be terraformed, Mercury and Venus would be on the way, and the Moon would sport a massive colony.
The Dominion incorporated four main species, with the human-like sislaf holding a 67% majority. The sislaf ran taller than humans and leaner, with square faces that had wide cheekbones, hollow cheeks, and defined jawlines. Human skin started losing elasticity after we reached our 20’s, but that loss was slight. We developed wrinkles and discoloration due to other factors – sun exposure, pollution, tobacco use. The sislaf had long ago conquered that extrinsic damage. They aged slower, and they didn’t look anywhere as worn as we did.
The man who strode out of the portal was likely in his eighties, middle age for a sislaf, but he could’ve passed for a forty-year-old human who had been taking good care of himself. His hooded eyes were too green, the line of his jaw was too sharp, and his features were too symmetrical, but overall, the differences between our two species were minute. If you met him in passing, you’d think he was a celebrity who’d gone a bit overboard with plastic surgery. Except for his skin, which was an even taupe with too much grey undertone to allow him to pass for a local.
He stepped onto the polished floor of the arrival chamber and paused. He was seven feet tall and made even taller by an asymmetric grey headdress that jutted half a foot above his left ear. A grey and white robe hugged his lean frame, cinched at the waist with a wide black belt. His hair was black and cut short.
Chancellor Resven, the Sovereign’s right-hand man for “all affairs involving domicile and family.”
The portal swirled with gold, and the second person came through. Also seven feet tall, she was broader in the shoulder, with a powerful build and a particularly even skin the color Behr Paint Company called campfire gray. I had just tinted the columns in the Sovereign pavilion with that exact shade last night. Her platinum-white hair was short and thick, and her cobalt blue high-tech armor fit her like a glove. No weapons, tall boots, and a layered navy and white cloak, clearly ceremonial rather than functional, that spilled from her left shoulder in tasteful pleats.
That was an excellent fold for curtains. I would have to remember to tag the footage the inn recorded later.
The two visitors started toward me. Resven walked with the trademark sislaf fluidity, but the soldier strode forward. There was something else in there besides the sislaf. It smelled suspiciously like the Holy Anocracy. The sislaf had been treating their genotype as a template to be redesigned and modified for generations.
Sean rose out of the floor next to me. He wore a dark blue robe and his “business” face. Nothing about his expression looked specifically threatening. You just knew by some sixth sense that aggravating him was a terrible and potentially painful idea.
Resven blinked. The soldier didn’t seem fazed. She must’ve stayed at an inn before.
“Greetings,” I told them.
“Greetings, innkeepers. I’m Capital Prefect Miralitt,” the solder introduced herself. “This is Chancellor Resven.”
The Sovereign had sent both his chancellor and the head of his personal guard.
“We’ve met,” Resven said dryly.
Technically, we interacted via a communication screen, so we hadn’t actually met, but I didn’t correct him.
“Welcome to Gertrude Hunt,” Sean said.
Resven looked around the arrival chamber. A large domed room inlaid with weathered brown stone, it housed a portal ring grown by Gertrude Hunt from its striated wood and nothing else. Eight arched doorways led to separate hallways branching off into the depths of the inn.
Normally placing the portal inside the inn wasn’t an option due to security concerns. No innkeeper worth their salt would allow random guests to teleport into the inn. But in this case, we had to make an exception. Having three hundred beings, some of them clearly inhuman, troop across our back yard was out of the question. It would take too long, draw too much attention, and neither Sean nor I wanted to add to our list of many problems. We would get everyone into the inn in a single massive procession and shut the portal off.
“It looks… basic,” Resven said.
Miralitt raised her eyes for a fraction of a second. “It looks strategically sound. No place to hide. One group at a time?”
Sean nodded. It was a simple plan – we would welcome each delegation and channel them down the appropriate hallway into their chambers, sealing it behind them.
“How long do you need between the groups?” she asked.
“Fifteen minutes would be ideal,” I told her.
“We can do better than that,” she said. “I can give you an hour between each party.”
“That would be greatly appreciated. Please follow me,” I told them.
We started across the chamber toward the main door.
“Why stone?” Resven asked. “Why this particular shade?”
“Because it’s radically different from anything found in the capital,” I explained. “It will immediately reassure the guests that the transition has occurred, while its perceived age will command a certain respect.”
“How old is it?” Resven asked.
“I made it yesterday,” Sean told him.
We entered a stone hallway. Tiny constellations of lights flared as we approached, illuminating the way.
“The Sovereign is very particular when it comes to his accommodations,” Resven said. “Sophistication. Refinement. Dignity. Those are the key concepts of the capital design. Have you familiarized yourself with Lady Wexyn Dion-Dian?”
“Yes,” I said. Lady Wexyn was one of the spouse candidates.
Resven turned to me and paused, so I would understand the full gravity of what he was about to say. “The opposite of that!”
“Lady Wexyn is a free spirit,” Miralitt said.
“She is an agent of chaos and entropy,” Resven said. “The woman has no decorum, or tact, or restraint.”
“It is my understanding that Lady Wexyn is sponsored by one of the White Rose Cluster Temples,” Sean said. “Which one?”
“Was that not in the summary?” Resven asked.
“She’s sponsored by the Temple of Desire,” Miralitt said.
Nothing changed in Sean’s face, but I knew him better than they did. The name of temple was important, and it clearly meant something to him.
“The theme must be one of elegant opulence,” Resven said. “Graceful, restrained, tasteful, never ostentatious, yet also not cheap. Nothing vivid like the Otrokar’s barbaric decorations. Nothing drab or blood-soaked like those favored by the Holy Anocracy…”
I chanced a quick glance at Miralitt. Her upper lip rose a fraction betraying a glimpse of a fang. Yep, vampire blood.
“Nothing garish. Nothing vulgar. Nothing…”
We stepped into the main ballroom. The floor was a soft cream with just a touch of sheen. The same shade tinted the walls and against that backdrop silver geometric patterns climbed and twisted in a trademark Dominion mosaic, accented with drops of gold and aquamarines in the corners, as if a ghost of luxury had floated by and brushed them with her phantom hand.
Tall windows interrupted the walls, their angles crisp, spilling sunlight into the space. Between them, at a height of ten-feet, square planters dripped vines with leaves carved from pale green chrysoberyl. The vines bore clusters of delicate golden flowers Gertrude Hunt shaped from pale amber and berries of golden pearls.
At the far end of the chamber a raised rectangular platform rose, accessible by five steps. On the platform stood the spire throne, an asymmetric, ergonomic chair, formed from the same material as the floor and the walls. Strands of gold slipped through it, with flecks of aquamarines winking here and there. The throne looked like it had grown from the chamber itself, an unmovable part of it.
Resven clicked his mouth shut.
“It’s almost as if they know what they are doing,” Miralitt said.
“Domicile of the Sun,” I said.
Sean moved his hand. The floor and walls darkened to a deeper purple blue, bringing the geometric pattern into focus. Astronomical symbols of the Dominion ignited above the throne in pale turquoise. A glowing constellation of nine stars – the replica of the Dominion itself – descended from the ceiling, illuminating the chamber in soft white glow. The massive purple moon of the Capital slipped onto the darkened sky on the left side.
“Domicile of the Moon,” Sean said.
Miralitt clapped quietly. “Respect.”
“You are too kind,” I said and turned to Resven.
The chancellor looked about for a few seconds. His gaze met mine.
“I suppose this will do,” he said.