The Three Realms The Three Realms (Book 6: The Eternal Age of Unity)

3 Realms 6-36

Roughly 82,000 years had passed since the day of Arsha’s wedding and subsequent uniting the main Three Realms. As prophesized, many more Realms appeared. In one such Realm, devoted solely to Mechanicas, an old Dauntless-class skyship rested at a port. Inside the ship, its Mechanica, an old woman, wandered the corridors, recalling when she was packed with crewmembers. Now, the occasional engineers make sure she’s kept in order. She entered the cargo bay and looked at how empty it was. She sighed, reminiscing about when a gel-pox pandemic struck, and she was filled with medical supplies and doctors. As she remembered the old days, both good and bad, a knocking snapped her out of her thoughts. A scowl crossed her face. The knocking resumed and she guessed it came from the landing ramp. “No thank you!” she barked as loudly as her throat would let her. “We don’t want any more visitors, well-wishers, or newer classes of ships!”

“And what about old commanders?” asked an old woman’s voice in reply. The old Mechanica recognized that voice, even when the years altered it. She headed to the ramp and lowered it. When it rested on the ground, she went down and saw an old, dark-skinned Human/Kitsune blender in pink.

“…Arsha?” asked the Mechanica. The elderly former Queen of the Realms chuckled happily.

“Endea, my old friend!” she replied.

“Captain Royana, it’s great to see you!” The elderly Endea, the living extension of the Endeavor went as fast as she could to hug her former Captain.

“It’s great to see you too, Endea! 97,000 years old and you’re still as fit as ever!” The two broke off the embrace as Arsha got a good look at Endea. “You Mechanicas get all the luck in that department.” Endea chuckled, then headed back up the ramp. She turned around again and saw that Arsha was still on the ground.

“Well, come on in, you old bat!” laughed the elderly Mechanica. “It’s freezing out here!” Arsha followed Endea up the ramp. “Welcome back to the Endeavor! Tea? Or maybe something stronger? I’ve got some of the old stores left! 1296 EAU, very good year! Almost a quarter of my age!” She hurried off to the room that was once Barmek’s Bar and Grill. “It was left behind when the Barmeks left the ship! What say we crack one open, eh?”

“Just tea, thank you,” replied Arsha. She unknowingly tapped a loose bit with her head. She steadied it, then felt assured it wouldn’t move again. Her head then ran into a chin-up bar straddling a door. After that incident, she ducked down and heard Endea talking in the old restaurant.

“…I mean, you were supposed to come last week! Not that it matters, you Royanas are always coming and going as you please. You caught me a bit unprepared, I’m afraid.” As Endea continued talking, Arsha looked around and recalled when everyone had a victory party after winning the Final War. “Let’s see, we got some cold chicken and there’s some cheese PHEW! Never mind! That’s gone bad! Er, we’ve got some bread, jam, apple tart, maybe some scones, unless they’re…no, they’re all right!” Arsha imagined a wall hanging of a Mid-realm beach hanging above a booth. “I could make you some eggs, if you…Arsha?” Arsha snapped out of her thoughts to realize Endea was looking at her.

“Just tea, thank you,” assured Arsha.

“Of course.” Endea put the kettle on and prepared some food for herself. “You don’t mind if I-?”

“No, of course not!” Just then, the old comms crackled to life.

“Endea! I know you’re in there!” snapped a man’s voice.

“I’m not at home!” hissed Endea. “It’s my cousin in the Black Star Fleet! He’s trying to get me stripped out of all my tech! He’s never forgiven me for living so long! I’ve got to get away from all these confounded relatives hanging on my call button all day and never giving me a moment’s peace! I already said that I will be used as a Mer-realm home once my Mechanica body’s buried there! I want to see one last Realm before I snuff it, Arsha! Just one last Realm! And Mer-realm’s the most peaceful Realm for me to finish my book!” The kettle then whistled. “Tea!” recalled Endea as she dashed to the stove. She then took out two teacups and put a teabag in each one. After that, she poured the water and handed a cup to Arsha.

“So, you mean to go through with your plan, then?” asked Arsha as she let her tea steep.

“Yep, it’s all taken care of.”

“Your great-great-grandson, Lunath, suspects something.”

“He SUSPECTED something. He’s a Realmfleet ship, not some clapped-out Trinny ship.”

“Then you told him?”

“Yep. He got the immediate family to help with the arrangements.”

“He loves you very much, you know.” Endea went quiet.

“…I know. …He’d probably come with me if I asked him. But, in the end, his heart belongs to Machine-realm.” She then looked out the window.


“I’m getting old, Arsha. Thin, weak, like I never had rust taken care of. I know I don’t look it, but I feel it in my heart. ‘Well-preserved’, indeed! I need a vacation. A very long vacation that I don’t expect I’ll return from. …In fact, I don’t mean to return.”

“You always were happier when you were exploring,” chuckled Arsha as she sipped her tea. “Well, if you need help, I’m available.”

“…Do you think you can take the Captain’s Chair during my last voyage?” asked Endea. Arsha smiled happily.

“…I think these old bones are quite ready for one more command.” Arsha finished her tea and stood up. “I’ll tell my spouses about it and we’ll make the arrangements. You get some rest for the coming voyage.”

“Aye aye, Captain!” chuckled Endea as she cleared up. Arsha left the old restaurant and looked through the corridors. She smiled as she thought back to her reign and her children’s reign.

“It was a hard-fought peace,” she muttered to herself, “but it was worth it!”

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The Mid-realm wedding ceremony was held in Largandra, at the same park where Arsha had her Tour’s End Ceremony. It was a Dwarfish wedding ceremony, with six pickaxes surrounding a massive rock. A Dwarf priest approached the rock and stood upon it. “Marriage…is like a diamond,” he began. “It takes years for it to become shiny and requires skilled hands to sculpt it to the shape the newlyweds want. Through their work, these ladies and gentlemen will accomplish many things.” Arsha and her lovers then stepped forward. “Take your axes and strike hard to free your new wealth!” The priest then jumped off the rock as the brides and grooms took up an ax and swung at the rock. It cracked, but it didn’t fall apart. They struck again. More cracks appeared, but nothing happened yet. They swung one last time and the rock collapsed, revealing precious stones of all types. Arsha and her lovers each picked a stone and held it aloft.

“Lardeth Felompha, Falnii Loftanaf, Foresna Falshenda, Malnar Emboramii, Gorfanth Steelhorn,” called Arsha, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“Lardeth Felompha, Falnii Loftanaf, Arsha Royana, Malnar Emboramii, Gorfanth Steelhorn,” replied Foresna, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“Falnii Loftanaf, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, Malnar Emboramii, Gorfanth Steelhorn,” cheered Lardeth, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“Lardeth Felompha, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, Malnar Emboramii, Gorfanth Steelhorn,” said Falnii, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“Lardeth Felompha, Falnii Loftanaf, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, Gorfanth Steelhorn,” announced Malnar, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“Lardeth Felompha, Falnii Loftanaf, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, Malnar Emboramii,” finished Gorfanth, “I promise to add my wealth to yours and make our love the most beautiful gem the Realms have seen!”

“With the vows having been proclaimed,” called the priest, “I now pronounce you married! Kiss now and begin the first step to making your love the most beauteous gem in all the Realms!” Arsha and her lovers then planted a passionate kiss on each other. They were all finally fully married.

The reception was held at the Royanas’ castle, specifically the gardens. It was a standard outdoor ball, and everyone was enjoying themselves. Once more, Arsha and her lovers were the center of attention. Arsha smiled, enjoying the dancing. It always put her at ease whenever dancing was involved. Once the dancing was done, Arsha and her spouses went with the photos. This time, it was Arsha’s Kitsune great-grandparents that surprised her spouses. Her mother’s paternal grandfather was the great naturalist, Sir Davena Atenbrano. “You never told us you’re his great-granddaughter!” yelped Falnii.

“I guess you guys never asked,” chuckled Arsha. Sir Atenbrano was studying some of the bugs in the garden. “Something catch your eye, Great-grandpa?” asked Arsha.

“My dear Arsha,” said Davena, “it seems the ants here have made quite the home in these hedges, complete with even the necessary natural elements to keep them in check. Look at this particular one. See how it’s moving erratically?” Arsha and her spouses peered closely at the ant and noticed that it was constantly rubbing its legs on its head and trying to bite its own abdomen. Another ant then grabbed the erratic one in its mandibles and took it to another part of the hedge. “Ah, there we go. The colony’s on a medical alert,” said Davena.

“What’s wrong with the old ant?” asked Malnar.

“That, Your Majesty,” answered Davena, “is the result of a parasite. Spores from a parasitic fungus that we usually call the Thrall’s Mushroom has invaded its body and took over its mind. Look at it now.” The ant was climbing up the hedge’s branches. “Its infected brain is directing the ant upwards. Then, once it’s high enough, it will grip the stem with its mandibles. That other worker took the infected ant away from the colony because, within two hours, the fruiting body will erupt from the infected ant’s head and spread its spores within a week.”

“So the worker ant was keeping the Thrall’s Mushroom spores away from the colony,” guessed Foresna.

“Precisely,” confirmed Davena. “If any ant within the vicinity gets caught up in the spores, it will be at serious risk of death. The Thrall’s mushroom is so virulent, it can wipe out an entire colony of ants. And it’s not just ants that fall victim to this fungus. Indeed, other bugs have their own species of Thrall’s Mushroom. Thankfully, it doesn’t affect the Fae directly, but they DO have to check their domesticated bugs constantly, otherwise trade will cease.”

“So, how can the Fae wipe it out?” asked Gorfanth.

“The simple fact is that they can’t,” replied Davena. “The fungus DOES have a positive effect on the natural world, preventing one species of arthropod from gaining the upper hand on all the others.”

“If I may have everyone’s attention!” called Elgrad. He and his fellow Royals as well as Falnii, Foresna, and Gorfanth’s parents were standing on a stage. “As we all know,” continued Elgrad, “my daughter and her lovers have finally tied the knot! As such, it is time for their royal portraits to be revealed!” Six covered portraits were then wheeled in. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the portraits Lardeth and the Shores of his Realm, Falnii and her Family’s Greatest Treasures, Arsha and the Tranquility of her Realm, Foresna and his Family’s Pastures, Malnar and the Backbone of her Realm, and Gorfanth and his Family’s Craft!” The portraits were unveiled. Lardeth’s portrait was one of him on a sandy beach with clear water behind him, Falnii’s was one of her in a library, Arsha’s was one where she was standing in a sunny, grassy field, Foresna had a portrait of him draping his arm over a fence, Malnar’s portrait was of her standing on a balcony overlooking the Belsnath Citadel, and Gorfanth’s portrait was of him at a forge. “My dearest friends,” finished Elgrad, “this is the greatest moment in all of history! Through this marriage, all three Realms have united as our children have planned! May their marriage be blessed!” Everyone cheered as Arsha and her lovers kissed one another.

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The Under-realm wedding ceremony was held in Realmgate City. They had decided on an Orc poly wedding. The Brides and Grooms were given old Orc scimitars and an Orc Priest began his speech. “By strength, over weakness,” he began, “these warriors intend to unite their houses and become one. If any wish to try and keep them separate, make your attempt now.” A male Orc wearing old armor then leapt up from the audience.

“Your fate just went from bad to worse!” he called. “You face an Orc who speaks in verse! Your desecration of marriage will not stand! You will all fall by my hand! This pseudo-harem will fall! Your bones will decorate my wall! Shall I say goodbye, when you fall and die, after I pluck out your eye?!” The Orc then roared and charged at the six. Malnar and her lovers quickly went on the defensive, blocking the Orc’s blows. Despite the odds against him, he kept up the attack. “My blows, you will feel! You will be brought to heel!” Just then, Lardeth tripped him up. Falnii then swung her scimitar and he blocked it, but Arsha landed her scimitar on his chest. He knocked her aside and picked himself up only to be met with Foresna and Gorfanth’s scimitars. Malnar then swooped in. “Wait! Wait! Let me live!” begged the Orc. “At least let me write my eulogy!” Malnar raised her sword, then swung. Just before the blade hit him, he rolled out of the way and conjured a maho-particle avatar. Malnar killed the avatar in the most brutal fashion as the real Orc ran from the stage. She then raised her hands and looked out to the audience.

“Be there others that dare interrupt my wedding?!” she called. No one replied. “Then I, Malnar Emboramii, do take Lardeth Felompha, Arsha Royana, Falnii Loftanaf, Foresna Falshenda, and Gorfanth Steelhorn as my husbands and wives!” Gorfanth then raised his scimitar.

“I, Gorfanth Steelhorn, do take Malnar Emboramii, Lardeth Felompha, Arsha Royana, Falnii Loftanaf, and Foresna Falshenda as my husbands and wives!” Arsha raised her weapon next.

“I, Arsha Royana, do take Malnar Emboramii, Lardeth Felompha, Falnii Loftanaf, Gorfanth Steelhorn, and Foresna Falshenda as my husbands and wives!” Foresna was next.

“I, Foresna Falshenda, do take Malnar Emboramii, Arsha Royana, Lardeth Felompha, Gorfanth Steelhorn, and Falnii Loftanaf as my husbands and wives!” Lardeth raised his scimitar.

“I, Lardeth Felompha, do take Malnar Emboramii, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, Gorfanth Steelhorn, and Falnii Loftanaf as my husbands and wives!” Falnii was the last to raise her scimitar.

“I, Falnii Loftanaf, do take Malnar Emboramii, Lardeth Felompha, Arsha Royana, Foresna Falshenda, and Gorfanth Steelhorn as my husbands and wives!”

“By all the power invested in me,” called the Priest, “I hereby pronounce you husbands and wives! Claim your kiss now!” Malnar planted a deep, passionate kiss on each of her lovers’ lips. The crowd cheered as the band played the Under-realm national anthem.

Like the Over-realm, the reception was held in Malnar’s castle. It was the first time Arsha met Malnar’s paternal grandparents. Malnar always called her grandpa “Steel” and her grandma “Bird”. What really shocked her lovers were that they were both Human/Orc Blenders. “So, hang on,” remarked Lardeth, “how is it that Orbak’s fully human?!”

“Don’t you know anything about genetics?” asked Malnar.

“I fell asleep during those classes. Maho-physics interested me more.” Steel and Bird rolled their eyes.

“Can’t snag ‘em all, can we?” muttered Steel.

“Well, we’re geneticists,” said Bird, “so we can fill in the gap here.” She tapped the end of her cane to a wall and made a large two by two grid. “This is called a Rodalen’s Square, the base model for determining genetic chance and named after Tonushar Rodalen, the father of genetic prediction algorithms. We’re gonna use Arsha’s parents for an example. In this instance, the father has a human skin tone. To represent that, we’ll use a large Toket.” She tapped the wall again and the Under-realm symbol Toket appeared along twice along one side of the square. “For the mother’s skin tone, we’ll use a smaller Toket along the top.” She tapped the wall once again and the smaller toket appeared twice along the top. “Now, in this instance, while traces of the mother show, the Human side is considered dominant concerning the skin’s color.” Arsha’s ears wiggled as she smiled. “So, in this instance, both genes would come together and the larger of the two Tokets will be paired with the smaller ones.” She tapped the wall again and each section of the square was filled with a large Toket and a small one. “In our line of work, the bigger letter indicates the more dominant gene. In this instance, the child has a 100% chance of being a Blender with a father dominant skin color.” She then turned to Steel and nodded to him.

“Now, what if Arsha married a Human/Kitsune Blender of her own skin tone?” he asked. He used his wand to clear the square and run a pair of Tokets along the top and side, one large and one small. “In this instance, there’s a bit more of a chance the child will be different. In this instance, with both Large Tokets so close together, the child could be a full Human when it comes to the color of their skin.” The upper left section with Large Tokets on both the top and side filled itself with both of them. “Or perhaps the child will be a full Kitsune.” The lower right section filled with both small Tokets. “Or, more likely, the child will still be a Blender.” The remaining two sections were filled with first a Large Toket and a Small one.

“So, in your instance, an Orc’s traits are dominant?” asked Lardeth.

“Exactly,” replied Bird. “And Orbak had the genetic prize of getting all the human traits from us.”

“Caused a bit of a stir when his birth was announced, let me tell you!” chuckled Steel. Bird swatted his arm.

“Come on!” called Malnar. “It’s time for the photos!” Malnar and her spouses got pictures of them and Malnar’s side of the family. Even Yunfeen got to visit. Once the reception was over and the photos were taken, the wedded group headed to the ship and it took off for the last wedding ceremony in the Mid-realm.

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The announcement for Arsha’s wedding to her lovers soon broadcasted across the Realms. There would be three wedding ceremonies, one in each Realm. The first one would be at Wysper City and would be a traditional Zephyr Poly Ceremony. Because of the multiple ceremonies, Arsha and her lovers decided on wearing multiple copies of their wedding clothes. The media was outside the Grand Zephyr Temple where the wedding would be conducted. While they would all take the Royana name, Lardeth was considered to be the one to initiate the wedding. Once everyone was inside, Malnar, Arsha, Falnii, Foresna, and Gorfanth stood in the center of a room as the audience watched from balconies. Lardeth then took the stage and glided around his lovers, causing clouds to form in the room. The clouds then surrounded his lovers and held them in a gentle embrace. Lardeth then rose into the air as the clouds holding his lovers carried them upwards and around the room. Lardeth then glided to the center of the room as his lovers orbited him. Soon, they drifted towards him. First came Arsha, then Falnii, then Gorfanth, then Malnar, and finally Foresna. They all clasped hands. “Malnar Emboramii, will you allow me to bind my soul to yours?” Lardeth asked in the traditional manner.

“Only if you allow me to bind mine to yours,” replied Malnar.

“Always,” answered Lardeth. A cloud then extended from his wrist and wrapped around hers. He then turned to Falnii. “Falnii Loftanaf, will you allow me to bind my soul yours?”

“Only if you allow me to bind mine to yours,” replied Falnii.

“Always.” The cloud on his wrist extended to Falnii’s and wrapped itself around it. Lardeth then turned to Foresna. “Foresna Falshenda, will you allow me to bind my soul to yours?”

“Only if you allow me to bind mine to yours,” said Foresna.

“Always.” The cloud on his wrist then extended and took Foresna’s wrist into its gentle embrace. He turned to Gorfanth. “Gorfanth Steelhorn, will you allow me to bind my soul to yours?”

“Only if you allow me to bind mine to yours,” answered Gorfanth.

“Always.” The wrist cloud then extended and curled itself around Gorfanth’s wrist. At last, he turned to Arsha. “Arsha Royana, will you allow me to bind my soul to yours?”

“Only if you allow me to bind mine to yours,” replied Arsha.

“Always.” The cloud took Arsha’s wrist, then it gently brought their hands to Lardeth’s and enveloped them all.

“With their souls bound,” called a Priestess, “I hereby proclaim them all married and thus the Rulers of the Over-realm!” The crowd cheered as the combined cloud floated down and dissipated.

The reception was held at the Felomphas’ castle. Though, by Lardeth’s taking up her family name, it was now under Arsha’s care. Still, Arsha insisted on calling it the Felomphas’ as it was theirs to begin with and it would be where Over-realm affairs were settled. As with the wedding ceremony, Lardeth was the center of attention as he danced with his spouses. Soon it was time for the wedding photos. The brides and grooms were having their photos with Lardeth and Falnii’s families. They started with Lardeth’s first. When it came time for Falnii’s, they started with her parents. Her five moms and one dad were a relatively small family for a Zephyr. The camera clicked once. “All right,” called the camerawoman. “A few more pictures, then we go to Queen Falnii’s sisters.” The camerawoman set the camera again and got another photo. When she set up for the next one, Falnii’s father got a gleam in his eye. Falnii saw that.

“Daddy,” she warned. By that point, her spouses looked and saw the grin on his face.

“Uh oh,” gulped Malnar. By that point, all of Falnii’s moms were looking at their husband too.

“Flenaf, don’t you dare!” scolded Falnii’s plump mom. “Not in our daughter’s wedding photos!” Too late. With an unrepentant shout of laughter, Flenaf Loftanaf dismissed the clouds making up his top and revealed a vibrant green hoodie commemorating Falnii’s one guest tour with the Three Maidens. The shutter of the camera clicked and the rest of the party burst out laughing.

“Daddy!” wailed Falnii in embarrassment as she covered her face.

“You were a guest with the Maidens?!” yelped Gorfanth. “No wonder they were so familiar with you!”

“I’m jealous, Falnii!” chuckled Arsha. Falnii simply whimpered.

When it came time for the grandparents, Arsha was surprised to see what Endram’s parents were wearing. “Er, Lardeth,” she muttered, “I have to admit, your dad’s parents aren’t what I expected.”

“I told you they travel a lot,” replied Lardeth.

“Yeah, but given your dad’s nature, I was expecting floral shirts and bingo nights. I didn’t think they’d show up to the wedding in full armor!”

“Oh, that?” asked Endram’s mom. “Got called in for a practice session, even though we had the weekend off. Didn’t have time to change before we came here.”

“Grandad,” Lardeth asked Endram’s father, “what happened to your cheek? Did you cut yourself?”

“No, I slipped getting out of the carriage. Now it’s just a little bloody. Still, rather that kind of cut than the ones I went through.”

“So you fought in the War?” asked Arsha.

“Arsha,” said Lardeth, “Grandad and Grandma are ones who led the counterattack on the Plains when Dr. Borg was trying to strip mine them.”

“That was you?!” yelped Arsha. “You commanded that army?!”

“We couldn’t let the Centaurs lose their home,” explained Grandad. “Their cavalry skills were too valuable to allow them to scatter.”

“It wasn’t that big a deal, to be honest,” muttered Grandma.

“Not that big a deal?! Your actions saved our side in the long run!” replied Arsha. “Without you, we would have lost the Over-realm! That counterattack not only saved the Centaurs but raised Elven morale across the Realms!”

“It…it did?” asked Grandma.

“Wait, you two seriously didn’t know?!” asked Lardeth. “Grandma, Grandad, Elves have been singing songs about you since that counterattack!” Grandma and Grandad were stunned.

“I mean, it wasn’t…was it?” Grandad asked Grandma.

“Apparently,” replied Grandma. She then shook her head. “Never mind, this ain’t about us, it’s about you six right now!”

“That’s right,” said Arsha, “we have a ceremony in the Under-realm to go through.”

“We’ll see you kids in the Under-realm!” called Grandma. She and Grandad headed off.

“Let’s go!” urged Lardeth. He and Arsha rejoined their spouses and entered the wedding ship. It then took off for the Over-to-Under Realmgate.

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The day of Arsha’s Coronation finally arrived. Arsha tapped her foot nervously as she looked at the doors to the Throne Room. It was set up as a themed coronation, but she didn’t know what the theme was. “Ones, I know you’re not in a position to do anything about my prayers,” she muttered, “but PLEASE give me a sign that the theme’s got nothing to do with the Final War!” The trumpets blasted. “Here we go,” she mumbled. She opened the door and was pleasantly surprised by the theme. A tank-like machine stood by one side of the aisle as a yellow creature with pincer claws stood on the other side. A monkey waved his arms and grinned.

“Had the Doc take care of the Vrelmax and Legonan before you showed up!” hooted the monkey.

“Kindly refrain from calling me ‘Doc’!” called a voice. The owner of the voice was an elderly, well-dressed gentleman with a cane, top hat, monocle, and pointed beard. “My apologies for this unannounced visit, My Lady,” said the man, “but the Vrelmax and Legonans had a frightful plan to upend your coronation and undo history as we know it! I couldn’t let this slide, you understand.”

“I understand completely, Dr. Snood,” assured Arsha. “I’m surprised the Vrelmax and Legonans went with a joint operation. They aren’t exactly friends.”

“Oh, it wasn’t a joint operation, it was a war. A temporal cold war, if you will. The two sides are trying to be masters of the Nineteen Timestreams, but we all know that the Stream Masters are the real guardians.”

“And yet you’re the only one breaking the Non-interference Oath.”

“Now, now,” chided the current Dr. Snood, “there’s no need to bring that up. Now, I must be off.” He took his hat off and pulled a silver rod out. He pointed it at the frozen Vrelmax and Legonan and they rose into the air. “Good luck, Arsha Royana!” he called.

“Hey! Wait for me!” called the monkey. The group then left and the doors shut. Once they did, the sound of an ancient engine could be heard gunning itself, then fading away. Arsha smiled as she turned to her parents.

“Very nice touch,” she said.

“We figured you could use something joyful,” replied Hanako. Elgrad then nodded his head to the priest. Arsha bowed to her parents, then she turned to the priest, placed her hand on the Codex, and raised her other hand.

“I, Arsha Royana, do solemnly swear,” began the priest.

“I, Arsha Royana, do solemnly swear,” repeated Arsha.

“That I will execute my duties as Queen of the Mid-realm faithfully.”

“That I will execute my duties as Queen of the Mid-realm faithfully.”

“I will uphold the laws and dreams of my people.”

“I will uphold the laws and dreams of my people.”

“I will care for those that are in dire straits.”

“I will care for those that are in dire straits.”

“With the help of the now Mortal Divine Ones, I will not let evil corrupt my judgement.”

“With the help of the now Mortal Divine Ones, I will not let evil corrupt my judgement.”

“If necessary, I will give my life to save my people, should disaster strike.”

“If necessary, I will give my life to save my people, should disaster strike.”

“I hereby pronounce you Queen of the Mid-realm!” The crowd cheered as Arsha sat on the throne and waved to her subjects.

“My friends and family,” she began, “it has been a long, tough road for all of us. There were moments where we nearly fell to despair when Oyed was around. But we persevered. We triumphed over despair. We’ve proven that hope is stronger than despair. We’ve proven we won’t surrender to hopelessness. Now, we can enjoy the peace that will reign, and so will our descendants. I don’t exactly have a glass in my hand, but I propose a toast! To the unity of our people!”

“To the unity of our people!” cheered the room.

Once the initial ceremony was over, the ball was in full swing. Arsha and her lovers were dancing merrily, with a noticeable smile on Foresna. “Now this is a ball I can get behind,” he said as he danced with Gorfanth.

“Come on, masquerades aren’t THAT bad,” replied Gorfanth.

“I want to see my lovers’ faces as we dance,” insisted Foresna. “I want us to gaze lovingly in one another’s eyes.”

“Well, a mask DOES tend to hide the eyes in some cases. It’s never a bother to get lost in your eyes.”

“Flatterer!” Lardeth and Malnar then came up. They all swapped partners so Foresna danced with Malnar and Lardeth danced with Gorfanth.

“Arsha and Falnii will be coming up to us in a minute,” mused Malnar. “I haven’t had a chance to dance with Fluffy and I know Foxy’s looking to dance with you.”

“Then we exchange when they come,” said Foresna. “For now, I just want to be with you, Bonfire.”

“Tell me, did Arsha propose to you yet?”

“No, she said she wanted to propose to us all at once.”

“Perfect! Now, when she’s gonna do that, I have no idea.”

“Me neither. It’s tearing me apart!”

“May we?” asked Arsha’s voice as she and Falnii twirled up to them. They exchanged partners, making Falnii and Malnar one pair and Arsha and Foresna the other.

“Have fun!” called Falnii as she and Malnar twirled away.

“This is a perfect night,” sighed Arsha as the two Mid-realmers danced.

“Any peaceful night with all of us,” replied Foresna, “is a perfect night.”

“True that.” Soon, Arsha and her lovers all had a turn with one another and the ball wound down.

As everyone was heading to the port, Arsha and Foresna stopped Malnar, Gorfanth, Lardeth, and Falnii. “Guys, hold up!” she said.

“Foxy, is something wrong?” asked Lardeth.

“There’s something I need to do first!” urged Arsha. She then arranged everyone in front of her and pulled out a long box.

“Arsha, what’s going on?” asked Malnar.

“It’s something we’ve all been waiting for since we first started dating,” replied Arsha. She then knelt down, giving them all the same idea. “King Lardeth Felompha, Ambassador Falnii Loftanaf, Farmer Foresna Falshenda, Queen Malnar Emboramii, Blacksmith Gorfanth Steelhorn,” she opened the box and revealed five rings, “will you marry me?” The stunned silence only lasted for a second.

“Queen Arsha Royana, do you even need to ask?!” replied Gorfanth.

“YES! YES! A THOUSAND TIMES, YES!” cheered Falnii. She spoke for everyone. Arsha slid the rings onto their fingers, then hugged them all.

“We better start planning,” said Arsha. “This is gonna be the Wedding of the Age!”

“We’ll plan when we all return to our castles and tell the Realms the news,” said Lardeth. “For now, we must make sure the Realms are ready.”

“I can’t wait for the day we finally say our vows!” cheered Arsha. Malnar, Gorfanth, Lardeth, and Falnii said their goodbyes and headed to their ships so they would make the announcement. It was finally time for the Realms to REALLY be united.

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Arsha and the members of her old crew that left the Endeavor stood at the port, waiting for their respective shuttles. Just then, the Welmevas’ shuttle arrived. “Well, this is it, Cap,” chuckled Denstra.

“You arrive on a shuttle,” sighed Arsha as she recalled, “and you leave on a shuttle. Funny how fate works like that.”

“Yeah, fate’s got a goofy sense of humor.”

“What will you do?”

“We’re thinking of applying to become Protectorate Pirates,” replied Twirja, “mostly to keep an eye on Reb.”

“Well, when you send me the application, I’ll certainly sign it!” promised Arsha. “Good luck on your Protectorate Training!”

“Goodbye, Arsha!” called Denstra as she led her family onto the shuttle. Once it took off, Dalengor’s arrived. The two old friends hugged each other.

“So much has changed since you found my hibernation egg all those years ago,” chuckled the Shadow Dragon. “I never would have made it in this new world if it weren’t for your help. Now, my people and Mordek have made peace with one another and we’re prospering!”

“What’s gonna happen now?” asked Arsha.

“I’ve accepted a position as Military Advisor for General Dotan. He picked me because of my experience with this time zone. I’m all too happy to help.”

“He made an excellent choice. You’ll still visit, won’t you?”

“Oh, of course! Just as long as our schedules line up.” The two friends hugged once more, then Dalengor boarded the shuttle. Once it left, it was Nazay’s turn.

“I’ll be back for your coronation, Arsha,” he said.

“You keep me appraised about your marriage to Merrim, you hear?” requested Arsha.

“Will do.”

“Oh, and make sure you have a map of Largandra handy when I’m crowned. Don’t want you getting lost like you did on my first day, hm?”

“How’d you know that?!” yelped Nazay.

“A certain Shadow Dragon told me.”

“I’m gonna SKIN her for that!” Nazay’s face was as red as his tail. He boarded the shuttle and it took off. Thangred and Shalvey then approached Arsha.

“Captain, we’re gonna miss you,” said Thangred.

“I understand you have a new show in the works?” asked Arsha.

“Yep, an animated show called Stone and Scales about a Merman who goes on all sorts of hijinks across the Realms with his Dwarf girlfriend and upset the machinations of the Great Evil!”

“Gee, I wonder who the inspiration is,” chuckled Arsha.

“Guilty,” replied Shalvey. “The Great Evil, however, is gonna take a more comedic role than Oyed did.”

“Then we REALLY won against him,” remarked Arsha. “What was once a terror that hung over the heads of every single denizen of every Realm has been reduced to nothing more than a monster that frightens children into behaving. Such is the fate of all evil.”

“Yeah, well, them’s the breaks for him. Good luck as Queen, Arsha!” said Shalvey. Thangred then pushed her chair onto the shuttle. Once it left, there was one last shuttle for Thengo.

“I’m gonna miss our teatime sessions,” admitted Arsha.

“My cave’s open for a visit,” assured Thengo. “I’ll always have time to listen to your woes if, for some reason, your lovers can’t help.” The two hugged and Thengo entered the shuttle. It took off and Arsha sighed.

“Well, she muttered, “that’s the end of my old bridge crew. …Now comes an upcoming portrait sitting and getting some proposal rings.”

Arsha spent the day shopping for rings for her and her lovers so they would have a wedding later. Once she got them, she found a nice dress and met with Irmalii for the Royal Portrait. They were in a grassy area outside the city walls and Arsha adjusted her new dress. Irmalii set up the canvas and Arsha took up a pose where she looked to the side and placed a hand on her dress. She could hold her main body’s pose, but her tails were another matter. “Arsha, will you hold your tails still?” asked Irmalii.

“Sorry!” gulped Arsha. Her tails went back to their original position.

“…Arsha, tails!”

“Sorry!” This kind of exchange went on for a while until the day was nearly done. “All right, come and see!” Arsha sighed in relief and her tails resumed moving again. She came over to see her portrait and smiled.

“Perfect!” she said. “And I saw what you did with Foresna’s! Now we’ve all got Royal Portraits! And there’s plenty of time for me to get used to this dress.”

“Where did you get it, anyways?” asked Irmalii.

“Same dress shop you got yours.”

“They’re really comfy, aren’t they?”

“Sweet Ones, they are! The bodice hugs you in all the right places and the skirts never tangle in your legs! But I see why you only get them on special occasions. Those are EXPENSIVE!”

“Yeah, they’re not something one can buy every day.” Irmalii then wagged a mocking finger. “So our economy better not tank because you decided retail therapy was what you needed!”

“I won’t let it go that bad! I promise!” giggled Arsha. Just then, Domesta appeared.

“Excuse me, my Lady,” she said, “but there are four important visitors requesting yours and Foresna’s presence.”

“They’re here!” cheered Arsha. “Domesta, I wish Foresna and I were where our visitors are!” Domesta snapped her fingers and Arsha and Foresna appeared right next to Malnar, Gorfanth, Arsha, and Foresna. “Welcome, my Lords and Ladies, to Castle Royana!” greeted Arsha.

“It’s great to see you again!” cheered Malnar as everyone gathered one another in an embrace. Once the hug was over, the new arrivals whistled in amazement. “Look at you!” chuckled Malnar.

“That looks great on you!” agreed Lardeth.

“Thanks, you guys!” replied Arsha. “So, you ready to see what the Crown Princess goes through to become the Mid-Queen?”

“You know it!” answered Falnii.

“I personally can’t wait to see you ascend!” said Gorfanth.

“Well, we’ve got two days left, so be ready! We’re gonna have a ball, the ceremony, and there’s a surprise once the festivities are done.”

“What is it?” asked all her lovers.

“Wait and see!” said Arsha. “Trust me, you guys will love it!”

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Arsha and Foresna woke up and got themselves dressed. It was time to disembark from the Endeavor. Arsha hoisted her bag over her shoulder, then she and Foresna first headed to the bridge. Arsha started the Ceremony and placed three fingers on the Captain’s Chair. “I am Arsha Royana,” she said. “I have served Realmfleet and have learned much. Thus now, I have proven that I can command. I wish Bashoon Barmek luck as my successor.” Once she finished speaking, she and Foresna made the long trek to the landing ramp. Once they went down the ramp, they walked towards the venue where the Ceremony would be completed. It was a nice little park in the center of the city. Once they reached the park’s entrance, they saw an aisle with the old and new Endeavor bridge crew lining it. Foresna headed off to the side of the aisle and Arsha went down it to approach her parents. She set her stuff aside and knelt in front of Elgrad and Hanako. “Arsha Royana,” began Elgrad, “you have been away from home for five years now and have fought in the Final War.” Arsha silently wished that he didn’t say that, wishing for a normal Tour’s End Ceremony like Lardeth and Malnar had. “You have served Realmfleet and expanded your knowledge. What have you learned?”

“…I have seen the darkest aspects of the Realms,” she said. “I’ve learned that not even my own crew was safe from prejudice…but I still saw good triumph over evil! I saw heroes supporting those that couldn’t defend themselves, whether they never knew a fighter’s life or were robbed of the ability to fight! I saw heroes that sprang from the enemy’s side and proved to me that no one is beyond redemption, even if their entire life is filled with nothing but blind hate! Moreover, I saw those heroes continue to build people up, even after the fighting had long ended! My journey has proven that a hero can pop up at any moment and will even fight against smaller evils. Good will always triumph and I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for those heroes.” Elgrad and Hanako grinned.

“Your tour has been instrumental in your growth,” said Hanako. “We have no doubts that you will lead us well when you ascend to the throne. Rise, Arsha Royana, Crown Princess of the entire Mid-realm!” Arsha rose and addressed the crowd.

“I meant what I said,” she called. “I’ve been hailed as a hero, as have my lovers, but we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without the actions of all the heroes across the Realms, both those that are still alive to those that gave their lives for their homes and loved ones. So, please, for the love of the now mortal Divine Ones, while you praise those that gained fame, remember those nearest to you. Sing songs, thank them for their service, raise monuments, do something to acknowledge their sacrifices. That’s all I ask of you.” Once she finished, Bashoon walked up to her. She was wearing a duty uniform with purple command trim.

“Well, Ca-Your Highness, this is it,” she said.

“So much has changed since we picked you and your family up in Vorkath,” replied Arsha. “I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to change a bit of it.”

“Nor do I,” agreed Bashoon. “I’ve enjoyed my career under your command. Now I’m ready to begin the next step towards my ultimate goal.”

“Just don’t forget the goals of your crew. Theirs can align with yours.”

“Understood, My Lady.” Bashoon and Arsha shook hands, then Arsha surprised everyone by pulling Bashoon into a hug. Bashoon was startled, then smiled and reciprocated.

“You’re gonna be a great Captain in these times of peace,” said Arsha. “I just know it.”

“I’ll command the Endeavor and her crew with the respect and dignity that is due to them,” promised Bashoon. They broke off the embrace and Bashoon walked down the aisle with her new bridge crew following her.

They all entered the bridge and took their stations. “All right, everyone,” called Bashoon. “Assume your posts.” Bashoon sat in the Captain’s seat and Endea sat in the seat next to her while Anya moved her water chair to the other side of Bashoon. Laverda, Malak, and Marshii took up their old positions as Melandra and Orthena respectively assumed Thangred and Elmar’s old posts. Nazay’s replacement was a Revenant Kitsune man named Nambura, Shalvey’s successor was Temnasia, a robot that rebelled against Dr. Borg during the final battles of the War, the new Security Officer was a female Golem called Gurnak, the Engineer directly under Melandra was a male Insect-type robot called Geturak, and a Revenant human man calling himself Lurkath was the Science Officer directly under Orthena. “Ms. Temnasia,” called Bashoon once everyone assumed their posts, “any missions?”

“The Haldebor Drider Caves,” reported Temnasia, “are requesting medical supplies as a mine has collapsed. Everyone has made it out, but there are a lot of injuries.”

“All right then, let’s get underway. Mr. Nambura, set a course for the Mid-to-Under Realmgate, then plot a course from there to the Haldebor Drider Caves.”

“Course laid in,” reported Nambura.

“Let’s fly,” commanded Bashoon.

The Endeavor rose from its landing spot and went higher into the air before it flew forward towards the Realmgate. The crowd below waved goodbye as it flew off. They waved until it vanished from view. “Goodbye, Captain Barmek,” said Arsha, “and good luck.”

Once the ceremony was over, Arsha and her parents sat in Arsha’s room in the castle. “You know,” mused Arsha, “I just want to ask this; are you sure you want to step down?”

“You have the Eternal Age of Unity as the background for your rule,” replied Elgrad.

“We’ve ruled during war and peace,” supplied Hanako, “now it’s time for our daughter to rule during only peace.”

“Then I guess the next question is will the end of the month work for you guys?”

“Sounds perfect to me,” said Elgrad.

“And me,” agreed Hanako. “Plenty of time for Lardeth and Malnar to settle any affairs of state.”

“In that case,” declared Arsha, “I’m gonna send them the invites!”

“Very well, we’ll make the announcement for the Town Crier to call out tomorrow,” replied Elgrad. He then kissed Arsha on the head. Hanako kissed her as well before she spoke.

“You’re a good woman, Arsha,” she said. “I know we haven’t always done the right thing for you, but I can say, with no exaggeration, your father and I are proud of the woman and commander you have become. May your rule be blessed with happiness.” Arsha and her parents then hugged and remained together for a bit. Elgrad and Hanako then broke the embrace and left Arsha’s room while Arsha began typing out the invitations to Lardeth and Malnar. Once she finished and edited them, she sent them out. She looked out the window and sighed.

“The instant the Coronation’s over,” she said, “that’s when I do it.”

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Arsha spent the remainder of the Endeavor’s overhaul looking out to it. She felt a great pit in her stomach as the workers continued stripping the ship of wartime weapons, bringing her down to only the essentials. As she looked, she saw a reflection in the window. It was Foresna in new clothes, more regal clothes. She turned to him with an arched eyebrow. “What’s with the duds?” she asked.

“I figured I’d spend today,” explained Foresna, “with the Royal Painter. Might as well get my portrait out of the way first, hm?”

“Where will you go for that?”

“To my family’s farm. Like Falnii and Gorfanth, I can’t forget my roots.”

“…Yeah…roots.” Arsha turned back to the window. Foresna could easily guess what was on her mind.

“She’s a magnificent ship,” he muttered. “She was home for a lot of people. …I’ll miss her too.” Arsha finally sniffled, then turned to bury her face in his chest. Foresna hugged her and let his own tears fall as hers did. They just stood there, crying in each other’s arms.

The overhaul finished and Endea woke up. She yawned and stretched before leaving the bed. The doctor nearby checked her over and gave her a clean bill of health. Endea headed back to her ship and saw Arsha and Foresna walking to the landing ramp. “Captain!” she called. Arsha looked up.

“Endea!” she returned. The two hugged each other. “How do you feel?”

“Like a great weight’s been lifted from my hull!”

“That’s good!” Arsha looked at the ship proper. “…That’s very good.”

“…Ma’am?” asked Endea.

“Changes are coming,” replied Arsha. “A new crew will join you and I’ll be stepping down.”

“I just got caught up on the messages in my system. I think we’re gonna enjoy the surprise on the bridge.” Arsha arched an eyebrow.

“Surprise? What is it?”

“Can’t say. Might as well head there and find out, shall we?”

“Let’s go, then.” Arsha, Foresna, and Endea went up the ramp and into the ship. They purposefully went on a longer route, passing the crew quarters, Barmek’s Bar and Grill, Main Engineering, the science and spell lab, the teleport room, the backup bridge, all of it before they arrived on the bridge. The lights were off. “…One would think,” muttered Arsha, “that they’d test the-” the lights switched on and the bridge crew came out of hiding.

“SURPRISE!” they called.

“What in the-?!” spluttered Arsha. Foresna was just as shocked. It looked like a small party was set up. Streamers circled the ceiling and a banner hung from the balcony that read “Good luck, Arsha Royana!” Arsha then realized what Endea was talking about. “You all planned this for just me?”

“Well, you ARE the guest of honor,” replied Nazay, “but, really, it’s for those of us that are leaving the ship.”

“One last hurrah, if you will,” said Denstra.

“I’m always eager for one last gathering of the finest bridge crew Realmfleet has seen so far,” chuckled Arsha.

“Speech!” called Thengo. The crew took up the call of “Speech!” and Arsha felt put on the spot. After a few seconds, she raised her hand and called for quiet.

“My fellow crewmates,” she began, “we’ve all been through all sorts of trials and tribulations, ranging from mere corrupted politicians to the worst that Dr. Borg and Oyed threw at us. We’ve all lost at least one family member, but we still fought against the Realm Trinity Empire. Through it all, we learned that not all of Dr. Borg’s forces were loyal. In fact, there are now Robots, Golems, and Revenants at Realmfleet Academy, some of them being assigned to the Endeavor and having reached full officer ranks! As you are all aware, I will be stepping down once I file my last report on this mission to Rokalla. With that, I am pleased to announce that, of the ones staying aboard the Endeavor, I have picked my replacement. That person already knows and has picked their First Officer, so now will be the perfect time to announce their promotions. The one taking up the mantle of Captain is…Bashoon Barmek!” Everyone cheered and congratulated Bashoon. “Now, Bashoon, I trust you’ve mulled over your choice of First Officer?”

“It’s still the same as when you told me about my upcoming position, Your Highness,” replied Bashoon. “I still choose Endea as my First Officer, if she’s willing to accept the position.”

“I’d be honored, Bashoon!” answered Endea.

“Then there we have it! The first two people of the Chain of Command have been chosen!” cheered Arsha. “With that, I would like to make a toast!” Everyone raised a glass. “To Denstra, Twirja, Jaltor, Jweltu, and Twansa Welmeva, to Dalengor Mardem, to Nazay Rotium, to Thangred Stonebreaker, to Shalvey Lunafin, and to Thengo Lortora; I wish you the best of luck in your futures as civilians. To Bashoon Barmek and Delselii Vorsholstein, to Malak Bokooru and Anya Pastella, to Marshii Borontho, to Melandra Skarenta and Falnimam Lundalii, to Endea, to Laverda Lancelor, and to Orthena Strongaxe; I wish you calm breezes and smooth travels. To the crew of the Endeavor, both old and new!”

“To the crew of the Endeavor, both old and new!” cheered the crew.

The party wound down and Arsha and Foresna returned to the Captain’s Quarters for one last night. The next day, everything would change. Almost all of Arsha’s stuff had been moved out of the room, all that was left was an empty travel case for her clothes. Arsha smiled sadly as she looked around. “Gonna miss this room,” she mumbled.

“I have to be honest,” replied Foresna, “it felt a little cramped, even when it was just one person in it.”

“Really? The Captain’s Quarters are the most spacious on any ship.”

“I don’t know, I guess I never got used to a ship’s quarters.”

“Your old room back in Rokanth was half the size of a crewman’s usual quarters, though.”

“…Yeah, it was, I forgot. Though, then again, I spent most of my childhood out in the fields. I didn’t have much room for inactivity. My room was just something I used to snooze in.”

“There wasn’t any inactivity during the War, though, and you hated the activity going on.”

“Because my life was on the line. I guess I prefer being busy when I’m ninety-five percent certain I’m gonna see the next day. The only reason I didn’t complain then was because I saw you and the others daily.”

“Fair point. Well, you won’t be seeing this room after tonight.” Arsha began packing the clothes she wouldn’t be wearing in the morning. “After tonight, we’re gonna have a bit of castle life ahead of us!”

“First the Tour’s End Ceremony, then the coronation, and finally the wedding!” Arsha chuckled at Foresna’s eagerness.

“Easy! I gotta propose to you all first! And I want to do it with everyone there at the same time.” After she finished, Arsha and Foresna changed into their nightclothes and went to bed.

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The engines had managed to play up Charluth’s lies by acting like he told them directly. When Charluth tried to defend himself, first by saying that he didn’t say a word to them, only to the workers, the workers said that they heard the insults from Crysna. When pressed for details, he lied about the date. “I swear, I heard it from Crysna only two days before I told them!” he urged Tophan as he spoke with him and the engines. “She was at the transfer yards!”

“Was not!” replied Dulna. “She was at the Quarry! The manager there can confirm it!”

“I already checked with the quarry on my inspection tour,” assured Tophan. “The workers were singing Crysna’s praises on the day my grandson said she was absent. So, Charluth, tell me, why would they compliment a supposedly absent engine? Answer: she WASN’T! So, is there another lie you wish to spin or will you finally fess up?”

“Y…You don’t believe me?! Your own grandson?!”

“Considering that your father has warned me about your habit of lying, no, I don’t.”

“JUST A MINUTE!” shouted Charluth. “My dad would never dare say that! He believes I never lie!”

“If that were true,” snarled a voice as a man stepped out from behind Gornula, “then you’re dangerously deluded!”

“D-Dad?!” yelped Charluth. “W-What’s that supposed to mean?!”

“I always triple-checked your stories,” explained Charluth’s father. “I must say, I’m appalled! You lied worse than I did when I was your age!” Charluth dropped the façade.

“Who gives a rip about truth?!” he snapped. “I lied to keep our family afloat! I lied to keep those beneath us in their place! We are surrounded by people who would stab us at any given moment because of the incomprehensible decision of abandoning our benefactor when her stronghold was taken over by Dr. Borg! A benefactor that made us rich beyond belief when we were loyal! Mid-realm rules, Under-realm nobility, Over-realm compassion?! Meaningless! Do you understand?! If we kept to our arrangements before Dr. Borg took over Plunder Island Stronghold, we wouldn’t have suffered through the Final War! Now, with people riding on a severe victory high, we must forge alliances to make sure that they only benefit us! We need to make friends to replace Reb, now that she’s lost her nerve!”

“She was a better leader when she was a Protectorate Pirate!” urged Tophan.

“She was financially weak when she became one! Building power is all that matters in life! …You’re a fool, Grandfather!” He then turned to his dad. “And you’re a fool for following him! …Now I understand why Mom, Mother, Mama, and Dad left you!”

“Whatever you feel about me,” hissed Charluth’s father, “is now irrelevant. Our alliance with Reb made us her vassals and our becoming a family of controllers for a small railway has saved us in numerous ways! …But you insist on the weakness of a nomadic existence. Your pining for a dull existence has proved that you haven’t learned what it means to be civilized yet, so you will remain in my house until you learn sense. You are, effectively, grounded!”

“You can’t be serious!”

“I’m deadly so. Go on and say that you hate me. I’ve heard it before.” He then grabbed his son’s arm and dragged him off the railway. Tophan sighed once they disappeared from view.

“…I must apologize for dragging you into my family’s drama,” he said to his engines. “I must also praise you all for looking out for one another, especially for Crysna.”

“Well, it just wouldn’t do to leave the new engine in the lurch now, would it?” asked Dulna. “It’s simply not the-”

“Not the Great Varshenta Way,” interrupted her coworkers and Tophan.

“…I don’t say it that much, do I?” asked Dulna.

Reb heard the news of what had happened and mulled over the events for a week before she approached Elgrad again. “Rebarisal Rojam,” he boomed, “my colleagues and I have granted you clemency during the Final War and you rejected it when it was over. Tell me, why should you be given it again?”

“Because I now see the folly in a nomadic existence,” replied Reb. Elgrad arched an eyebrow.

“Could you be more specific?”

“I lived as an old pillaging Orc, raiding places for trinkets and other items for me to sell. I never fully internalized what settling down means until an old associate, Tophan, showed me what having a place to call your own can bring. I never made the association that Plunder Island Stronghold was a home for me and my crew. As a Protectorate Pirate, I can make sure that those that are lost can have a home. …They can and will be stronger with a place to call their own.”

“Then will you swear once more to protect the people of the Realms from your old business associates that have yet to see the light?”

“I will.”

“Then let me warn you that this is your last chance. There will be no more chances if you waste this one. Your Protectorate Pirate status is restored.” Elgrad handed her a commission letter.

“Thank you, My Lord.” Reb stood up and took the letter, then she, Melgem, and Rikuna left the throne room.

Arsha and Denstra saw them off at the port. “So,” said Arsha, “what happens now?”

“Probably the usual Protectorate Pirate Business,” replied Rikuna.

“Though, we’re going to stay on the straight and narrow,” assured Melgem.

“And we must SIMPLY thank you,” said Reb. She handed Arsha a small box in gift wrapping. Arsha tentatively took it and looked it over with Denstra.

“Doesn’t look half bad,” remarked Denstra. “In fact, the wrapping’s pretty immaculate.”

“That’s how I wrap presents for my DEAREST friends,” chuckled Reb. Arsha pulled on the bow and the lid flew off as a pop-up snake jumped out. Arsha yelped and dropped the box. She then regained her composure and looked at Reb.

“And what’s that?” she asked, a little annoyed.

“I rigged it up myself,” replied Reb. Arsha picked the box up and looked at the snake’s face.

“Looks almost real,” she said, “but I’ve never seen one with baby-blue eyes.” The snake then squirted water in Arsha’s face. Reb and Melgem laughed as Rikuna hurried them onto their ship.

“That’s for that DREADFUL stunt you pulled on me once I left you!” called Reb. “Now we’re even!” Once everything was ready, Reb’s ship took off and headed for the Mid-to-Under Realmgate.

“…I hate her,” grunted Arsha as her face dripped.

“You, me, and the rest of the Realms,” agreed Denstra as she handed Arsha a cloth.

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Crysna DID take the older Steam Engines’ advice. Yes, she had her accidents, but she learned from them and took steps not to repeat those mistakes again. She made friends with the Steam Engines and was Dulna’s best friend on the Railway. Reb never understood it. “Why, in all the Realms,” she grumbled, “are they becoming friends?! Crysna’s CLEARLY a more efficient engine! She’s stronger, faster, more maneuverable, and she doesn’t produce as much crystal waste! Her type of engine’s going to replace those steam engines you DEARLY love!”

“Non-Mechanica Steam Engines, yes,” replied Rikuna, “and there WILL be Mechanica Crystal Engines that will be so puffed up that they think themselves superior to Steam Engines, but they’re gonna be dealt with.”

“My dear Rikuna, conflict between the old and the new is the DREADFUL name of survival. That is what kept my crew going.”

“It KEPT your crew going. These days, that needs to exist only among non-Sentina animals.”

“If you say so,” grunted Reb, not fully believing it.

There was another person who took Reb’s views to heart, Tophan’s grandson, Charluth. For some odd reason, he took a dislike to Crysna. He was a known troublemaker. The reason for this was because he tried to haul freight cars that were going to be scrapped and tried using Henurya to pull them and add them to Jarnathu’s train. Henurya tried to tell Charluth, but he wouldn’t listen. When Jarnathu collected the cars already arranged and got through to Charluth, the young man became the laughingstock of the railway. Tophan didn’t like that his own grandson was disobedient and fired him for it. Ever since, he tried to cause trouble while his grandfather wasn’t looking. His attempts failed in the past, but he had a feeling his new plan would work. One day, he spoke to the railway workers at the shunting yards. When he approached them, the workers started laughing at him. “Hey, look!” said a Centaur woman. “It’s the driver that can’t tell old freight cars from new!”

“Let’s sing him his favorite song!” called an Elf man.

“One! Two! One, two, three, four!” counted a Slime man. The song echoed through the yard.

Charluth is no help at all!

Thinks he’s very clever!

Says that he’s the greatest of us!

That’s the best joke ever!

When he tries to haul freight cars

Ready to be cut up

Just stand aside and watch him flop

The goofy little Charluth!” Everyone laughed and laughed. Their laughter died when they realized Charluth was laughing with them.

“I see you’re still a merry band!” he said. “That joke will NEVER get old. I laughed and laughed when I heard it! Crysna told me one about Dulna! I’ll whisper it!” He leaned in and imparted a secret.

“…No, you’re lying!” accused the Centaur woman. “Crysna would never say something so crass!”

“…Oh,” Charluth looked pained. “You mean…you DON’T find it funny?”

“No!” said the Elf man. “And she’s right, Crysna’s too much of a good worker to say something like that!”

“Oh dear,” gulped Charluth. “That explains why she whispered it to me.”

“You mean…she told you this?!” asked the Slime man. “That can’t be true! …Can it?” Doubt invaded the workers’ minds and Charluth grinned as he left them to discuss whether it was true or not. His plan was running like clockwork. Unbeknownst to him, however, Gornula was nearby, giving Arsha and her group a tour of the yards. They heard everything.

“What did I tell you, my BELOVED darling?” Reb said to Rikuna. “Old against new.”

“Not on this railway!” snarled Gornula.

Gornula met her fellow big engines at the sheds and told them about what she and Arsha and her group overheard. “It’s unimaginable!” she fumed.

“Unthinkable!” agreed Jarnathu.

“Unbelievable!” confirmed Henurya. “We have to stop his nonsense!”

“And we gotta tell Crysna about this!” suggested Jarnathu.

“Well, here she is!” called Crysna as she parked herself on the turntable. “What can I do for you?”

“Crysna, a known troublemaker is spreading rumors about you that you said something rather insulting to the railway workers,” explained Henurya.

“What?!” protested Crysna. “Why would I do that?! They’re just as important as us!”

“We figured those rumors are unfounded,” said Jarnathu. “But we need to get the villain caught.”

“Well, I’m open to suggestions,” offered Crysna.

While they were talking, Melgem saw the whole thing. He told Reb what he saw and stunned his wife. Rikuna, on the other hand, had a triumphant smirk on her face. “Told ya!” she said.

“But that can’t be true!” protested Reb. “That is not normal behavior!”

“Reb, why are you so adamant that it’s a Dog-Eat-Dog world here?!” snapped Rikuna. Reb sighed.

“Because that’s how the Rojam family survived,” she explained. “The strongest of the children survived while the others were absorbed into other families. We ALL had to fight to make sure we carried the family legacy. It was rare for someone like my mother to give birth to just one child.”

“Forgive me for saying this,” remarked Rikuna, “but that doesn’t sound like a mother to me.”

“Then tell me, what DOES it sound like?”

“Old Orc training.” Reb snarled at that remark. “What you’re telling me is that your family saw how the Orcs raised their young back in the Savage and First Ages and thought that was the best way to ensure the survival of the Rojam family. But the Orcs abandoned that kind of thinking for a reason. It was actually killing the race as a whole, keeping them stuck in a nomadic existence and forever making them jealous of races that settled areas. Once they abandoned the nomadic existence, they became stronger.”

“Oh, so the Forsorna Family is jealous of Civilized people?” snarked Reb.

“Well, they DID say they want a place to settle. Right now, the Realmgate people are trying to-”

“I was being facetious!” interrupted Reb. “Are you telling me the Forsornas ARE looking for a place to settle?!”

“An entire Realm they can call their own, if you can believe it,” confirmed Rikuna.

“So, what, wandering the Realms weakens a person?!”

“Tell me, don’t you have a place you call home? A certain STRONGHOLD?” Reb was stunned at Rikuna’s counterargument. “I thought so. And you fought to get it back. By the Rojam Family’s logic, you ARE weak. But you don’t feel weak, do you? Reb, I’d suggest you examine yourself for a little bit and THEN decide what to do.” Reb couldn’t come up with anything to say in response.