Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

It’s a bright morning across Ixaroz, the heart of the Consortium. Beings go about their purposes with a spring in their ambulations, buoyed up by decades of peace, and the traditions that accompany it, like traversing the long span of the Great Way to enter the Glorious Citadel. Nothing is allowed to fly in. Every being, regardless of rank, station or opinion, walks in alongside common petitioners. It’s supposed to remind everyone of humility, walking the ancient flagstones past the ever-watchful eyes of the portal guards, and the less forgiving lenses of the sentry forts that float effortlessly over the abyss that yawns to either side.
“Hail citizen!”
A grandette wearing clothing made entirely of stasis-suspended diamonds stops dead.
“Do I look like something as common as a citizen to you?”
“Before these portals, we’re all citizens. That’s why you’ve walked this old bridge before you present your purpose: to be briefly reminded that we’re all equal in the eyes of the Pax Consortia.”
“The Pax is an ancient document, and like all such, is blind to the nuances of life in modern times. There are those who walk because they have to, those who walk by choice, and beings like me, whose purposes are so pressing that walking is an unconscionable waste of our time.”
The guard cuts a short, formal bow.
“Duly noted, citizen. Please enter and be about your pressing purposes. No doubt the King awaits with baited breath.”
The guard opposite interrupts their silent regard with a fit of coughing. The grandette flushes in anger.
“I, Desalonde Cremtian of House Ylsej, am engaged on matters beyond your comprehension. But, since you mention it, I would not be out of place in the High Court. You are impudent, guard. Such a lack of propriety is sad in one with a position that reflects upon the repute of the Glorious Citadel.”
The guard nods.
“It has been pointed out to me that my dislike for incompetents hiding behind etiquette is a weakness.”
“I would rather be honest than condemned for the actions of arrogant fools I tolerated, citizen.”
The exchange is starting to attract a crowd.
“Are you insinuating I am a fool, guard?”
“Couldn’t say. I am sure you’re arrogant, but your intelligence is beyond my ability to test right now.”
Cremtian blanches in fury. All conversation in hearing range ceases.
“You’ve overstepped, citizen guard. I’ll have you tag number so I may report it. My recorder is ready. Speak.”
The guard chuckles.
Someone in the crowd gasps.
Cremtian frowns.
“Followed by?”
“Did you know the Pax Consortia states that all members of the High Court must spend at least a month of every year doing common duties? I’d guess it’s so they don’t turn out like you, which is probably why there are no exceptions, either. My tag number is just that: eight.”
The guard opposite comes crashing to rigid attention, then drops to one knee facing the one who spoke. Every uniformed member of the crowd follows suit within moments.
Cremtian looks puzzled.
“What bearing has that on this?”
The guard opposite sighs loudly, then speaks.
“The rulers of Ixaroz have had the privilege of single digit tags since they founded the peace we have dwelt in for seven previous reigns. Tag number eight belongs to Tarlan Ipsalis Grue. Hopefully you know of him as King Grue the Fourth?”
The king doffs his helm and grins.
“But when I’m on guard duty, they call me Tarl. Now, what were you saying about fitting in with my court?”
Cremtian faints.