Two

It took two hours to get out of Assembly and out of the dress.

Asha slipped into a pair of sturdy boots and darker clothes for the climb. Once Mother and Father disappeared to their chambers, Kailyn ventured out to meet with friends. And Asha slipped through their back garden and down into the Forsoti Ravine.

There were several well cared trails along the rim. They danced between the estates on the Calmer Bluff, where the Empire Magistrates lived. In the daylight, the nearly seven hundred meter drop into the ravine was breathtaking. In either day or night, it was a treacherous climb for the inexperienced.

Asha had climbed down the steep cliffs since she was a child. There were plenty of safe paths and places for those who knew the way. Only once or twice did she have to press her back to the rock, shuffling out of reach of a perilous drop. The rest of the way was of little consequence. The climb back up took the real strength. She knew she would regret it this late at night.

But it was worth the price.

The climb down never took her more than twenty minutes. Halfway to the Ravine floor far below, a series of small caves wove through the rock face. An artifact of a waterfall long gone after the Empire diverted the river above through the city. Most of Asha's classmates never bothered with these caves. They were off the main paths that led to the floor. And they weren't deep, most pock marked with openings that let starlight in. Certainly none of her classmates ever ventured to the back of the third cave where there was a single wall terminal.

Asha approached the obsidian black screen, pressing both her hands against the glossy smooth surface. It took eight precious seconds to light up, golden threads spreading across the surface from her palms. Sometimes it amazed Asha she ever discovered it. Leaning against the strange terminal years ago by chance first sparked the dancing lights.

She stepped back, the light spreading and organizing into shapes and symbols. Most of them were in Vai-script; the ancient text modern Sephy writing descended from. Asha couldn't read most of it, but a little experimentation in years past revealed the important parts. Now she had a rough translation of those words.

/ Juncture Admittance /

Asha pressed firmly on the symbol, and the floor dropped out beneath her.

Colors and shapes blurred around her. She never could tell if she was falling or flying. The first time left her screaming the entire journey. Her senses cried out in terror as the world rushed by, blinking in shades of pale blue and silver.

Then it mystically began to slow. Asha's head felt heavy. The lights around her lost their feverish dance, winking out one by one in streaking lines. When it was all dark, a rush of air blew Asha's hair out of her face. A light opened ahead, and Juncture Grey-37 came to life.

Asha strode across a metallic floor, her boots echoing off a ceiling so far overhead it was too dark to see. On her right and left, dark gray walls braced against the floor from giant struts, bigger than any of the estates on the Calmer Bluff. And a hundred meters ahead, the Juncture stood proudly: a domed silvery white temple, barely fitting between the impossibly high walls on either side of the metallic canyon. Asha wondered how far she could wander these deeps. She had never tried.

Juncture Grey-37 bore its title with little more than a passing note on the archway in Vai-script. As though it were the servant's quarters, tucked away without a second thought. As far as Asha knew, no one ever came here—no one besides herself in the short years she visited.

Inside, the temple structure divided into three levels accessed by curved ramps. They filled the center of the domed interior, shrinking until nearly touching the apex of the ceiling. Each floor bore symmetrical design and architecture, with hundreds of black screens. Asha had tried them all, but only the base level central terminal ever responded to her touch. She couldn't fathom what purpose the others served. Or really what the temple served at all.

It waited for her as she strode to the center chamber. The screen winked to life before Asha could touch it. And this one bore the familiar Venner languages in Kynome; something Asha suspected it learned in her earliest visits. Not all of it translated, and from a list of twenty items grew lists thousands longer. But enough of it was reasonable for Asha to pursue. Especially the top four selections:

/ Admittance /

Libraries
Eyes
Charts
Sector Coordination

Asha hesitated with her finger over Eyes. She wanted to spy tonight. The temple of Juncture could show her nearly anything she wanted to see in the Kynome Empire. At first she assumed it was one of the Services that ran their country, but time showed her that no one knew of this place. And there were Magistrates in the Empire that would no doubt use Juncture Grey-37 for unsavory purposes.

Asha couldn't help but feel devious with her watching eyes. Part of her wanted to know the gossip and rumors about Dalle's unusual visit. She could find her way into Kailyn's company and listen to their guesses. But that was nonsense. And thinking about Dalle brought up other questions. Questions Asha hadn't known how to ask in her many visits before.

She selected Libraries instead. As the glossy black surface changed and rippled with new icons, Asha pressed on one that allowed her to speak her queries.

"I want to know about the Sephy called Dalle," she said. Her voice echoed hauntingly throughout the temple. It mortified her in the early days. Would someone hear her? But in all the questions she voiced, no one came looking for the girl in this secluded place.

The terminal changed again. Hundreds of new icons and words scrolled in brilliant green writing. Most of it was Vai-script Asha couldn't read. But one line printed in Venner—almost as if the temple were asking a question to her.

/ Vague Inquest: Sephy – Coord Admin? /

Coord Admin? Asha didn't recognize that word. It displayed in Venner, so she knew the temple made the effort to translate for her. But the context got lost somewhere along the way. That happened a lot of the time. There were many translations from Vai-script that Asha couldn't understand. It was time for a shot in the dark.

Asha tapped Coord Admin and the terminal dissolved to a blank slate. Once the green text vanished, amber symbols and outlines began to burn along the edges of the black surface. Asha saw the screen do this from time to time, but never like this. She had discovered something new tonight.

As amber text took shape, Asha was dismayed to see nearly all of it written in Vai-script. Her heart sank. This happened whenever she dug into new parts of the Juncture's secrets. It took time to learn and adjust to her needs. She would have to visit this topic again several times to get a rougher translation.

A few translations did crop out. Force Direction, Supply, Sector Coordination, Realm, and Admin Privileges.

Asha hovered over the newest one: Admin Privileges. It was a curious combination of phrases. If the temple struggled with her question, it could mean nothing. But if the temple saw Sephy as equivalents to Coord Admin…

Asha tapped the word. More screens and images dissolved and appeared; again, all in Vai-script. Bless the Juncture; it tried so hard to make some of it comprehensible for her. But it was all nonsense words. Blue, Egress, Ambiance, Feather, Witness.

Asha sighed. She back tracked several layers, trying to return to the beginning of her questions. Maybe it would be easier to spy around tonight, listening to the guesses and speculation of her neighbors. But she wanted to pursue this topic. The temple presented it for a reason. But was it a reason that actually mattered? Only poking around would tell her for certain.

This would take time.