"They will be here soon," Cyrus said while he wrung his hands and paced back and forth before Moana's cell. He had just received the thought-send from Ela stating that she was on her way, along with Azad and Barash, to witness Moana's claim. "Will you be okay?"
"I will be okay," Moana replied in his language and with a gentle smile, "if you stop this walking you are doing."
Cyrus stopped pacing and faced her. He ran his hands through his hair then pushed up the sleeves on his robes. Then he clapped his hands together and nodded his head a bit. And then he began bobbing at the knees.
"So, I'm sorry, I just can't be still right now," he said.
"I have seen," she replied with an easy laugh. "Do you know that it is me they are coming to see?"
Cyrus gave her an unamused look. "Of course! It is for you that I am nervous." He could no longer help himself and resumed pacing. "I believe you can do what you said, of course. Azad is unpredictable though, and it's no secret he does not care for any of you. Even when you succeed, I am not sure that – "
"They are here."
Cyrus stopped pacing and turned to her with a confused look on his face. "What, already? No, Ela only just sent the – "
"They are here. I can hear them."
Cyrus faced down the corridor that lead out of the Ward and on to the rest of the Crystifice. The corridor was curved and he could only see down it a short ways. After a few moments he saw Ela, Azad and Barash come around the bend at the end of the hall. Their approach was marked with a purposeful step and an aura of seriousness so heavy it was nearly palpable. Cyrus swallowed.
This was it, then.
"Head Cataloguer," Azad as the three came to a stop before him, "would you please leave us."
"What? No," Cyrus dared to say. "Besides, you will need me to translate."
"No, we will not," Azad stated firmly. "I myself witnessed the prisoner's ability to understand me when last we came down. Leave us. Now."
A feeling of helplessness threatened to overcome him, struggling against the determination and anger he had been feeling over the last few days. When he looked to Moana, who nodded slightly and mouthed, "It's okay," the determination won.
For his part, Cyrus was certainly upset about how Moana and the others were being treated. He was equally upset about being unable to witness Moana's performance. He turned to face her again, and in her tongue asked her, "What power is it that you use?"
"Drycana," she replied.
Cyrus nodded and then smiled. "Drench them with Drycana." Then he turned to Azad, saying, "I will retreat until I am as far as I can go without losing sight of you."
He did not wait for a reply, but pushed past Azad to make his way down the corridor. Upon reaching the point where the bend curved enough to block the Directors from view, he turned and waited. While he could watch them, and tell that Azad was speaking to Moana now, he was unfortunately not close enough to hear the conversation.
However, he was able to hear their startled cries as a he watched a surge of water blast from beyond the or-wall to pour over them, drenching them from all from head to toe.
Ela had fallen back against the wall in her futile attempt to retreat from the deluge, and was now bent over and breathing heavily, with her hands on her knees. Azad's hands were in the air as he looked himself over, his thin hair plastered down over his eyes and a startled expression on his face. Barash was laughing as he loudly exclaimed, "Incredible!"
The Director of Law Enforcement ran his hands over his bald head and then down his face before shaking the water off. He then proceeded to smack Azad on the chest playfully with the back of his hand. "Woo! Haha."
Unexpected as it was, the blow sent Azad stumbling back to the wall beside Ela. He fixed a cold gaze towards Barash, who only shrugged and grinned. Azad straightened, wiped his hair from his eyes and then popped his robe to shake off some of the water.
For a moment, Cyrus was more than confused – he was bewildered. He had never seen the typically reticent Barash excited about anything. And as he saw the Director of Law Enforcement standing there in his soaked robes, he realized why. Though Barash Katan wore the badge of a Law Enforcer, his robes were those of the Guild of Agriculture.
Cyrus smiled a huge smile then. The Director of Law Enforcement was from the Guild of Agriculture! Having a source of water such as Moana would indeed be incredible, and valuable, to their operation. Cyrus suspected there was now no way in which Barash would allow Azad to do anything harmful to Moana, and by extensionany of the other Dryn Mar. Azad was saying something that Cyrus could not hear, and he decided to join them once again. As he approached, it was all he could do to keep a straight face.
"Are you all okay? It happened so fast!"
Azad let out a heavy sigh, while Ela just glared at him and shook her head. She always could see through him, he reminded himself. Barash was grinning like a fool.
"Cyrus! Did you see it? Incredible! "Barash fixed his wide, playful eyes upon Cyrus. "This is just..." the Director trailed off as he rubbed his jaw with his hands.
For once, Cyrus had no words to offer. Although he could feel the significance of this moment, he could not express it any more than Barash could. He knew with a certainty that what they had just witnessed was something unprecedented and noteworthy. Where they went from here was the question on Cyrus' mind, and he suspected the minds of the three Directors as well. It was Barash that gave an answer.
"We cannot hide this any longer. We must tell the other Directors."
"Yes," agreed Ela immediately. All turned to face Azad, who looked at each of them briefly before giving a resigned nod. Cyrus had thought he might feel some sense of satisfaction at Azad's defeat, but instead he felt pity.
"Let us go then and change clothes, and then I will send the summons to the meeting," Ela said. "Cyrus, stay a moment that I might speak with you."
Cyrus nodded. Barash slipped past him with a smile, clapping him firmly on the shoulder as he passed. Cyrus smiled back and gave the Director of Law Enforcement a friendly nod. It was still strange to see Barash so cheerful.
Azad passed him then, and the look on his face as he locked eyes with Cyrus was far less than cordial. A lump formed in Cyrus' throat, but he didn't look away. He had stood up to Azad victoriously, such as it was, and the Director's presence no longer swayed him as it once had.
Ela approached then, seemingly unaware of the silent exchange between him and Azad. "These last few days have been tense. Between us, especially." She smiled softly. "I can see now that you were right to be resistant to what was going on, and I'm sorry for how I acted towards you because of it."
"No, Ela, I'm the one who should be apologizing." He took her hands in his and continued, "I might have been right to resist, but I feel so ashamed of how I acted towards you. You've been nothing but supportive, and I am very grateful."
She nodded and gave his hands a squeeze. "Thank you."
For a moment they stood there, and then Ela said, "Well, I should be getting changed and ready for the meeting."
"Yes! Yes, yes of course," Cyrus stammered, and he released her hands as he stepped aside so she could pass.
When she had rounded the bend and was out of sight he rushed to the or-wall.
Several puddles had gathered among the recesses of the polished floor, beautifully reflecting the blue glow of the crystalline walls. In one of them Moana lay on her back, with both arms crooked above her head and fingers intertwined while one leg was half crossed over the other. Her chest rose and fell rhythmically as she breathed, and a sheen of water covered her body, amplifying the brilliance of her sapphire hued scales. Cyrus felt his blood stir and his pulse quicken at the sight of her.
Her head lolled to the side and when she saw him she smiled. "Cyrus," she said sweetly as she propped herself up on her elbows. The smile became a mischievous grin. "I drenched them in Drycana."
"So you did," he replied with a laugh. "So you did."
"Director Lorian, thank you for joining us."
"Greetings, Director Dishad. You are quite welcome," said Avona Lorian, the Director of Employment. She spoke softly but had a warm smile as she tilted her head slightly. "You look lovely as ever." She turned to the others in turn as she said, "Director Katan, Director Morlan, a pleasure to see you both, as always."
Ela, Azad and Barash watched as Avona gracefully took her place among them at the central dais. At thirty-two years old, Avona was the second youngest of the Directors. Her straight black hair was cut very short, and Ela knew the loose robes covered a fit body that was common among those whom, like Avona, had come from the Guild of Physicians.
"We await the arrival of Director Nashyne to begin."
Avona gave a slight nod, and then turned to discuss official matters with Azad. Ela knew the two worked closely together, as Azad was in charge of approving births, and Avona was in charge of filling positions. The day-to-day function of Bron Nasaal rested heavily on the shoulders of those two.
Only moments later the Director of Education, Berry Nashyne, arrived.
At sixty-one years old, Berry Nashyne was not only the oldest of the Directors, but also one of the oldest people alive on Bron Nasaal. Looking at her though, Ela thought Berry looked almost as young as herself. Berry's long hair was tied back and still as black as the darkest night, while her skin showed none of the looseness or dark spots associated with aging.
"Director Nashyne, welcome and thank you for coming," said Ela.
"Security Class Seven meetings haven't been invoked since before the Ascension. What's this all about?"
Ela really was not fond of discussion with Berry Nashyne. The Director of Education's Cerebromantic ability seemed to be a vast memory bank not unlike a personal version of the Crystifice. Berry Nashyne learned things and never forgot them, and she enjoyed displaying that vast knowledge at any opportunity.
"I assure you, I would not have called for a Class Seven meeting if I had beli – ."
"Spare us all your justifications, and get to the point," Berry urged.
"I apologize, I misspoke. We would not have called for a Class Seven meeting if we had not believed the situation warranted it."
Ela watched with a small amount of satisfaction as her words sunk in, silencing Berry Nashyne for the moment. The Director of Education looked to Avona, who shrugged to indicate she was also unaware of what was happening. Then Berry looked to Azad, who nodded towards her, and then to Barash, who did the same.
"Well somebody better start talking," an exasperated Berry Nashyne exclaimed, and Ela's moment of satisfaction passed.
"Very well," said Azad, "I will."
He told them how weeks ago, he had been at the Drop Rock when he spotted something in the sky. The object turned out to be a ship, which he enlisted Barash to assist him with securing and investigating.
Ela heard the hurt in Berry's voice when she asked, "Why you are just now telling us?"
"For reasons I will explain later," said Azad, showing no indication he was sorry.
"No, you will tell us now," commanded Berry.
"Forgive me Director Nashyne, but it will have to wait," Azad replied sternly. "There are more pressing matters at hand and I am trying to bring you up to speed."
He continued with how the ship had been occupied by fifteen unconscious alien creatures that were now prisoners in the Ward, a previously unused section of the Crystifice. Azad continued with how they had regained consciousness a couple days later, and that Cyrus had been getting to know them over the last few weeks.
"Cyrus? The Head Cataloguer? You told Cyrus, but not us?" Her eyes narrowed. "Not since Bore's Treason has something like this happened, and while I can certainly remind you how that ended, I doubt I need to. This," she said through gritted teeth, tapping the crystal table emphatically with one finger, "This is outrageous!"
"Berry, please!" Azad's face was growing red. "This was an unprecedented event. We needed his Empathic talents, and to be perfectly honest, they have proven to be invaluable."
Berry Nashyne scoffed. Avona put a comforting hand on Berry's shoulder, but the elder Director swatted it away and scowled. "Now don't you get all soft, Avona. This is unacceptable and there will be consequences!"
"What they did is hurtful," Avona agreed softly, "but I'm sure they have reasons that will come to light." Avona fixed Azad with a demure smile. "Because they know that if they did not, it would be very bad for them. Is that not right?"
"Naturally," interjected Ela, eager to avoid taking the conversation in that direction. "Director Morlan, please continue."
"Will I be permitted to finish this time?"
"I doubt it," commented Berry as she glanced about the room. She flinched at the sight of Barash grinning at her. "Whatever are you smiling at?"
"Let him finish, and you'll see."
Berry Nashyne flashed Barash an exasperated look and shook her head before she waved for Azad to continue.
Azad continued telling them about what Cyrus was able to learn from the prisoners concerning where they came from, who they were and why they were here. To Berry's credit, she remained silent throughout that. Ela considered that perhaps it was because the information was more like a history lesson. The senior Director's silence lasted right up until Azad mentioned the incident that occurred with Bryne.
"An exploding lizard-man and his kin are being kept secure and hidden within the Crystifice? Good grief, you've all got Canker Brain. I'm quite sure of it," said Berry nervously. "Avona, please tell me you're quite sane still."
"Of course, Director," she said with a kslight nod and a faint smile. "For I know Barash is grinning because of the water."
Barash's grin spread from ear to ear as he smacked the crystal table and exclaimed, "Yes I am!"
Ela suppressed a chuckle, both at Barash's exuberance and the quizzical look on Berry's face. The Director of Education knew better than to question Avona when she said she knew something. Avona occasionally had uncontrollable moments of claircognizance in which she would simply intrinsically know things, and they were always true.
Berry's attention immediately fell over Azad. "Well continue on then!"
"With pleasure," said Azad, making no effort to hide his annoyance. For her part, Berry gave no indication she was concerned with it.
"The last few days have been quite eventful. Following the fiery incident, a decision was made to Drop the prisoners. However, Cyrus came forward with new information that one of the prisoners was capable of creating water. Just this morning we went to witness the claims of this prisoner, and found them to be with merit."
Berry looked at Barash, who was still grinning broadly. He raised a hand as if he was going to clap her cheerfully on the back, but the cautionary look Berry shot him seemed make him think better of it.
"How? And how much?"
"We don't know," Azad admitted, and then he looked to Avona. "We only know that food is the catalyst. Perhaps you have some insight?"
"I do apologize, Director, but it would seem I do not," she sincerely replied.
"Not to worry," said Azad. "Well then, that provides you with the big picture. No doubt you, both of you, have many questions."
"Oh yes, I have a few," said Berry. She asked questions about how they had received their food, and about how much interaction each of them had with the prisoners, what they looked like, sounded like, smelled like, and more. For each question, Azad answered honestly and to the best of his ability, Ela noted, but his lack of knowledge frustrated Berry.
"That is the fourth time you have said that Cyrus might know more," the senior Director said at one point. Then she turned to Ela and said, "Request that Cyrus join us, since he seems to be the proper expert on these prisoners."
"Perhaps that would be best," Ela agreed.
She Interfaced with the Crystifice and focused on thoughts of Cyrus as the vast colorful, geometric Pattern surrounded her. After composing the mental message in her mind, she released it to the void. A silvery filament streaked out from her point in the Pattern, disappearing in the distant blackness of the void. She left the Pattern and returned to Ruby Hall.
"It is done."
"Good," said Berry, and then almost as an afterthought she added, "thank you." Without waiting for a response from Ela, Berry turned her attention to Barash. "Now then, while we wait for Cyrus to arrive, I would see the prisoners for myself."
"Of course," Barash replied.
Ela couldn't help but be a little bit excited over what was about to happen. The only person she knew that loved Cerebromancy more than she did was Cyrus. Their shared respect and affinity for the powers of the mind was part of what had facilitated their bond over the years. Watching other talents at work was always exciting, and she knew that Cyrus would have liked to be here now to watch the combined talents of Berry and Barash.
An eidetic, boundless memory was only one of Berry's talents. She also possessed a type of clairvoyance that allowed her to share the vision of someone else, as if seeing through their eyes. When combined with Barash's ability to remotely view locations, it enabled Berry to also remotely view those locations. Thus, the two Directors closed their eyes and entered Interface, so that Barash could show Berry a view of the Dryn Mar.
Granted, in the room there wasn't much to watch. From Ela's perspective, Berry and Barash simply stood there, their minds and even some of their senses shifted elsewhere. But she knew that within the landscape of the Pattern their combined talents would create a unique impression. She was fascinated by it, and resisted the urge to Interface and watch it unfold.
She engaged in conversation with Avona to distract herself, making small talk and inquiring about updates within the Department of Employment. As with most things, Avona responded to the inquiries with a polite softness that bordered on the submissive. Azad occasionally remarked, but for the most part remained silent.
Moments later, Cyrus entered the room and stopped immediately upon seeing all five Directors there. His eyes found hers, and she smiled. "Welcome, Head Cataloguer Cyrus Ovadius. Please, join us." She motioned for him to join them at the dais in the center of the room. "Berry and Barash are viewing the prisoners and should return soon."
"We're back now actually," Barash said, as if on cue.
"What fantastic creatures," Berry remarked. "Ah. Head Cataloguer, good of you to join us. I understand you are the resident expert on these, ah… what do you call them?"
"They call themselves Dryn Mar," Cyrus replied, "and so I do as well."
"I see. Where did they come from?"
"Another skyland, called Rut Nasaal."
"Rut Nasaal? Shared nomenclature? How can that be?"
Cyrus smiled, "So it's quite interesting, really. You see, their masters are a race of creatures called Dryn, which we really know nothing about. However, it would seem our ancestors did."
All five Directors shifted their posture and quickly came to attention at that. Information on the founders and founding of Bron Nasaal was extraordinarily rare. Many had sought answers from the Crystifice over the years, only to come up empty handed. Some Educators had devoted their lives to it, and only found the most mundane facts. Surely Cyrus knew this, Ela thought, and she wondered why he had not brought up this revelation before.
"How do you know this?" Berry was leaning forward intently as she asked the question, clearly eager for an answer. Judging by the expression on Cyrus' face, he had not expected this type of reaction to the news.
"In my research I came across a very short recording that mentioned the Dryn. I take it this was previously unknown? I didn't realize, or I would have said something sooner."
Berry waved him off, asking, "Could you direct me to it? The recording?"
Cyrus nodded. "Yes, though it would take a while I expect. It was short enough that I could recite it, though."
Berry seemed displeased, but consented. "That will have to do for now then, as long as you believe your retelling to be accurate."
"I believe so, yes."
The senior Director motioned for him to continue.
"I heard a man's powerful voice say, 'Bron Nasaal! In the Dryn's own tongue we will tell them this is our home, our fortress, our bastion – and it will keep us safe.' That was followed by applause, and that was it."
"That was it?"
Cyrus nodded again, and silence descended over the six of them as each considered this new information. Berry interrupted the silence by asking Cyrus more questions about the Dryn Mar, and he was able to answer them each to her satisfaction. For a couple hours she quizzed him, and Ela could tell Cyrus was enjoying both the attention and the opportunity to show off just how much he had learned. Indeed, it was more than she herself had realized. At last they came to the subject of what their next steps would be
"They are dangerous," remarked Azad, "and despite the boon that may be available, I still feel it would be best to rid ourselves of them for good. Furthermore, the fact that our ancestors thought the same is worth noting."
"They are dangerous," agreed Barash. "There is no doubt about it. But these are not Dryn themselves. And the benefits of water that Moana alone provides is invaluable. I say it's worth the risk."
"Well if the Director of Law Enforcement believes it's worth the risk, then count me in," echoed Berry. "Besides, the knowledge we might be able to gain from them is also quite valuable."
"You can't just keep them in cells for the rest of their lives," said Cyrus.
"No, I suppose not," agreed Ela. "Keeping them inside the Crystifice is dangerous, though. What if we turned them loose on the surface outside the Crystifice?"
"There's an idea," said Berry.
Ela jumped, startled by Azad's sudden, loud outburst. She had been facing Barash and saw that Barash had also started as well. Berry had her hands over her chest as if her heart my leap from it. Avona seemed utterly unfazed, and in fact even slightly amused.
"No," he repeated with less exuberance. "If we must keep them, then we need to be able to access them and watch them closely, and we can't do that if they are outside the Crystifice. They might even locate their ship and leave!" He paused for a moment to regain his composure. "No. Instead, we create a new set-up in the Ward. An Inner Ward, and an Outer Ward. Eliminate the individual or-walls so that they can move freely, and create a new one near the current entrance. That area will become the Inner Ward. Then from that or-wall, down the hall a ways to include a couple large rooms and then another or-wall. That section will be the Outer Ward. We can then access the Outer Ward to place food and supplies, then leave and open the wall between the Wards for them to have access while still keeping them apart from the rest of the Crystifice."
"It's a great idea," said Barash, nodding his head and looking to each of them.
The others agreed, and so it was decided.
"I suggest we do not yet tell the public," offered Barash.
"I agree," said Azad.
"Well I disagree," said Berry, and truly none were surprised. Berry likely disagreed with herself on a regular basis, Ela half suspected. "We should get in front of this, instead of trying to hide it."
"I'm afraid I must agree with Barash and Azad on this," said Ela. "At least until we have a plan of how to communicate this extraordinary event."
"I also agree with Director Katan and Director Morlan," Avona said.
"So it shall be," said Berry, making no effort to conceal her frustration. "But I insist we at least handle it with the significance and merit it deserves."
"What do you mean?"
"Our intent is to keep these people here," continued Berry. "Permanently, and as guests."
"Prisoners," Azad corrected, but Berry simply waved a hand at him dismissively.
"Now, because they have proven to be potentially dangerous, we are keeping them quarantined, and that is well and good for now. However, we will ultimately desire improved relations and a greater sense of community between us."
"Yes, Director Morlan, we will." Berry's tone suggested there was no other choice in the matter. Azad let out a defeated sigh.
"Go on," said Ela, and at the same time that Barash said, "What are you suggesting?"
"No Department is currently in place to handle something like this, and this isn't a role a Guild would be suited for. As such, I propose a new Department be formed. One that will be tasked solely with all aspects handling these creatures."
"I know that would go a long way to building trust with them, and encouraging them to assist us," said Cyrus.
"I'm glad you think so, Head Cataloguer," Berry said with a smile, "because I nominate you as Director of this new department."
"I apologize, but umm…" Cyrus pointed a fat finger at Berry and moved it in circles. "You do what?"
"Propose a new Department to oversee these Dryn Mar, with you as Director."
"Seconded," said Ela firmly.
"I also agree," Azad said, to which Ela replied, "Really?"
The question had come out quicker than she would have liked, and her surprise was not well hidden.
"Oh don't be misled, Director Dishad. I dislike the notion of keeping these monstrosities here altogether, but seeing as how I am overruled in that matter, I do feel that Cyrus is best suited for the position. I'm certainly not fit for it, nor willing I might add, and I am convinced that the situation warrants dedicated oversight. If another among you is interested, then I am willing to hear your case."
Ela was briefly distracted by the thought that she had never heard Azad speak so much without pausing, but quickly moved past it. Azad looked from each to another, but no one spoke up. "Very well. Does the Employment Department approve of this appointment?"
Avona smiled while tilting her head to the side slightly. "Yes," she replied.
"Then it is agreed," said Azad. "What do we call this new Department?"
There was some shrugging and murmuring. A few suggestions were offered, but turned down for one reason or another. Eventually, they settled on the Department of Research and Exploration. Ela felt the name wouldn't raise any flags among the populace, but still could encompass the Dryn Mar.
"Very well," said Azad. "Please catalogue in the Pattern that on this day, the Third Thirdsday of the Fourth Month of the year 1042 PA there was created a Department of Research and Exploration." Azad paused before continuing. "Additionally, Head Cataloguer Cyrus Ovadious is to be promoted to Director of Research and Exploration based upon the nomination of Education Director Berry Nashyne, and agreed on by Law Enforcement Director Barash Katan, Employment Director Avona Lorian, Cerebromancy Director Ela Dishad and Resource Management Director Azad Morlan. Confirm."
"Confirmed," replied each of the others, as had been the custom for as long as any knew.
"Now then," Azad said, and he turned to face Ela. "You will need to fill the position of Head Cataloguer."
"If I may, I would suggest First Assessor Etash Po," Cyrus said to Ela.
Ela replied, "Yes, I know him and agree he would be a fine choice. We will inform him as soon as we are done here."
"Very well," said Azad. "First Assessor Etash Po will be given the title and duties of Head Cataloguer as decided by Cerebromancy Director Ela Dishad." He paused and turned to Avona. "Does the Employment Department approve of this appointment?"
Avona once again smiled and tilted her head slightly. "Yes, and approval for any subsequent appointments required by it as well."
"Very well," Azad said with a nod. He then turned towards Cyrus. "Director Ovadious, I ask that you say nothing of this to the prisoners until such time as the details have been worked out. We will all meet tomorrow morning to discuss exactly that."
"I agree, that would be best," said Ela as she too turned to face Cyrus. "Also, I would speak with you briefly following this meeting, before we speak to Etash."
"Alright," agreed Cyrus.
"Then if no one else has anything pressing to discuss, let us adjourn," said Azad.
The others agreed and began to file out quietly. Moments later, only Ela and Cyrus remained in the room. With a wide smile, she all but screamed, "Ah! Congratulations!" Then she embraced him in a tight hug.
Cyrus laughed nervously. "I don't… how did this happen?"
Ela kept her hands on Cyrus shoulders as she retreated to arm's length, shaking her head. "I have no idea! After dinner, we need to spend some time discussing your new role. There are some protocols and rules, some official and some not, that you would do well to know. For now though, Director Ovadius," she said with an excited grin, "let's go find Etash so you can tell him the good news!"
They left Ruby Hall side-by-side and made their way to the Catalogue. Etash was not in at that time however, so they resolved to speak with him in the morning and headed towards the Hall of Scribes for dinner with the Guild. Following that they made their way back to Ruby Hall to discuss Cyrus' new role.
Later, as Ela made her way back to her quarters, she contemplated how rapidly things had changed just recently. Instead of being sentenced to death, the prisoners were about to be allowed to mingle with each other. Just days ago, she and Cyrus had been on the worst terms they had ever been on, but he had managed to pull off something incredible and she was amazed at the tenacity and resolve he had shown. Indeed, she had seen a side of him she hadn't known existed.
There was a flutter in her chest, and it made her uneasy.
But it also made her smile.
A/N: Shattered Fortress II is out!
Many thanks to everyone who R&Red - with special thanks to LorrahBear, Victoria Best, alltheeagles, AngryFerrets, pumadelic, Jaya Avendel, Inala and The Warrior Poet for their support and insights.
v 1.21 12/18/17 - Updated the Author's Note