Chapter Seven,

New Faces, Same Places

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Shijou was aimlessly walking amid the Royal Courtyard's legions of flowers when he started thinking about his encounter with the priest, Niles, the previous night.

I wonder where Niles is, he thought to himself. He walked around for another little while until he saw a young, male Tashmarn priest meditating on a large rock situated in the middle of one of the Courtyard's many ponds.

Calling out to the priest, Shijou asked, "Do you know where Priest Niles Shemlar is?"

"High Priest Shemlar is in the Royal Shire," the Tashmarn answered.

"Could you possibly take me to him? I've not the slightest idea of how to make it through the maze-entrance to get there."

"I'm sorry, but only those who can make their way through the maze shall be granted entrance to the Royal Shire."

"Why would the priests have such a trial?" Shijou questioned.

"Only those who are patient enough to master the maze's ways may be given permission to visit the Royal Shire," the young priest calmly explained.

"I still don't understand."

"To be a priest means to have patience; to have patience means to be at peace; to be at peace means to be pure; to be pure means to be holy; to be holy means to be a priest. That is the way of the Holy."

"But I don't wish to become a priest; I just have to talk to High Priest Shemlar."

"Perhaps I could give him a message to meet you elsewhere later in the day?" the Tashmarn suggested.

"I am a prince, you know. I have other matters to tend to in my afternoons."

"I'm well aware of your status, Prince Shijou, but I cannot bend the rules."

"Well then I'll brave the maze. Please tell me where to start."

"As you wish." The Tashmarn then took Shijou to the maze's entrance and stood there waiting for him to begin. "Whenever you wish to begin, my prince."

"Approximately how long is this maze, priest?" the prince asked.

"That is for you to discover."

"Very well," Shijou said. But before he could step into the maze, his holo-phone buzzed. Turning it on, he saw a hologram of Dryx pop up. "What is it, brother?"

"Father has requested your presence at the Council Room," Shijou's older brother told him.

"When am I to meet him?"

"As soon as possible - the Council is being gathered to discuss the Vortec issue."

"When was this decision made, and by whom?" Shijou asked Dryx.

"This morning in the throne room, father, Daheem, and I talked it over and taking it to the Royal Planetary Council is what we decided on." Shijou nodded, and Dryx continued telling him all he knew of the matter, as his father had asked him to do.

"I'll be there shortly," Shijou stated. He then turned his holo-phone off, and turning to the Tashmarn priest, said, "It looks as though the maze must wait."

"I understand your circumstances, my prince. If you wish, I could inform High Priest Shemlar of your wanting to see him."

"Thank you. Tell him that I'll be in the Council Room for the next few hours if he wishes to contact me."

"It shall be done."

"If you don't mind my asking, what is your name?"

"It is Rubin."

"Are you a full-pledged priest as well, Rubin?"

"No. I'm only an apprentice at the moment."

"Who is your master?"

"I do not have a master; priests are all considered equals. I have learned many things from many priests, mainly High Priest Shemlar, High Priest Serag, and my father, High Priest Lor," the priest explained.

"I didn't know. Well, I must be off now, Rubin. I hope we can meet again sometime," Shijou announced, bowing to Rubin.

"As do I," the Tashmarn agreed, returning the prince's bow.

Shijou watched Rubin casually take off into the maze, and then headed back to the Palace, wondering if Niles would show up at the Council meeting.

***

Hwaginau was sitting at the far end of the conference table in the Palace's Council Room, which was the usual meeting place of the Royal Planetary Council. Sitting on his right was Daheem, and on his left was Frederick.

The Council was waiting for Dryx and Shijou to arrive, all in mixed emotions; some members were patiently sitting, while others were restlessly mumbling to themselves about having other things to do than wait around for the princes.

"Your Highness, when shall I begin recording?" Hwaginau's 'female' protocol 'droid secretary, DD-492 - or DeeDee, as 'she' was called in short - asked.

"I'll let you know when, DeeDee," the Father answered.

"Very well."

Hwaginau, thinking about his assumption that some of the representatives present were more concerned with their own planets' well-being than that of the Royal Planets in whole, looked over all the different people in the Council Room.

Looking directly across from him to the other end of the table, he saw King Rhetti and his wife, Lady Daemon, of Ghretto's cousin planet Rhetti quietly talking to each other. He then looked slightly to the right at the spot of the table where Haijuta was sitting with Vargo's two other representatives, Lurth Dutz and Ran Fila; to their left were Gen. Theodore Thrukoi and Lt. Leonard Guhaut of Thruijol. On the left of the Thruijolns, Daheem's close cousin, Lopaan Ipol, sat with no expression on his dull orange Rhazlu face while talking to planet Cran's sole representative, Qua'Wahyx-Fahuqai Kwilonk, who was stationed on Lopaan's left.

Next, Hwaginau looked at the two remaining planetary reps on what was his right side of the table: Tashmar's Ashtdul Oitpa and Bajliru's Uyi Baj. The Father then turned his head to his left and gazed down to the spot where Boqur Twy from Yaujat was sitting, swinging his head from side to side as if he were nervous about getting caught for some sort of illegal act. Beside Boqur on his right, C.R. Premloct of Zabvritix was staring awkwardly at the Yaujaten, and so were Lisplarif's reps, Bilto Ghivlop and Wi Capisk. On Wi Capisk and Bilto's right, Hwaginau saw Grell Riug, the new Council member for Xilzir, twiddling his fingers in anticipation of his first Council meeting.

Finally, Hwaginau set his eyes upon the final two members of the R.P.C., Forun's joint representatives, Fejopil Wedask and Kerdo Fug, who were known by all to be the Council's most valuable members, as they both shared the ability to sense the immediate future's essences.

"I wish they'd get here soon," the Father whispered to Daheem. "The Council looks to be growing impatient."

"There wouldn't be any harm in starting without the boys, would there?" the Rhazilu asked. "After all, we already know what their arguments would be."

"True, but they're the princes of Ghretto, and with the Great Election between them coming up in the next couple years, they should have knowledge of how to go about acting in situations like these," Hwaginau explained.

"And I find it a bit unjust that you assume that Dryx and Shijou have set opinions already and that they won't be persuaded by anyone's words."

"It was a suggestion, Your Highness. But, if you insist, we shall wait for the young princes to get here."

"Sir Myshi, when are we going to start this meeting?" It was Boqur Twy, who was standing with a slight bend in his tall, slender Yaujaten torso, as his large hands were pressed down flat on the tabletop. "I have much to discuss of high importance with my fellow Yaujaten; quit dilly-dawdling around and bring this meeting to a start."

"We must wait for my sons to arrive," Hwaginau explained. "I expect them to be here shortly."

Grumbling, Boqur plopped back down into his chair and crossed his arms across his chest. His two main eyes frowned and the other three above those were all shut.

"Some people just don't have the kind of patience for this sort of thing," Daheem muttered so only Hwaginau and Frederick could hear. "It's a real shame when an entire planet has to be so poorly represented in these Council meetings."

"Daheem, I know you're not all that fond of the Yaujaten race, but please, in the Council, we are all supposed to be equal," Hwaginau quietly scolded his friend and advisor. "If we all turn on each other, what does that show the Vortecs if the rumours really are true?"

"My lord, the Vortecs are back; I just know it," Frederick insisted. "The Hrupians have never liked the Royal Planets, so becoming allies with a newly-replenished Vortec army would be the natural thing for them to do."

"That's something we'll let the Council decide," the Father said, "but it isn't something to be put in the back of one's mind."

"At least Dryx should be here by now," Daheem pointed out after a few minutes. "I wonder what could be taking him so long."

"Maybe he went to find Shijou," Frederick suggested.

"I've no idea, but I truly do hope they get here soon," Sir Myshi said more to himself than to any person in particular. "I don't like keeping the Council like this."

TO BE CONTINUED