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Gods, I must have been quite the sight as I ran behind my little brother, Zera Thisse. My bangs, newly shortened, flew in my face and eyes. My recently acquired black jade staff, Havoc in the Dragon Palace, was held horizontally at my side. My torn and frayed gray overrobes fluttered behind me like broken wings. Flashes of pale flesh shown through rents in my plainest seacrest print breeches. Thank the spirits my sandals were holding together. I’ll take what small favors I can these days. Mela knows they’re certainly few and far between.

By the way, I’m Tepet Aekino. I’m a newly risen Twilight Caste Solar Exalted. Can’t you tell from the description above?

All I could think as we ran was: Where in Malfeas is the Fae Queen were supposed to be bringing back to Idrys? What has Zera done now? I’ll have to remember to ask him after we lose the, oh, two or three hundred angry Ledaal soldiers that seem to be trying to catch us; probably thinking the same two questions I was as they’re doing it. Funny, that.

I think that Fetek is that eagle flying ahead and to the left. Hopefully looking for a place us land-bound folk can hide in to evade our irate pursuers. I suppose I can’t blame them for being angry. I mean, until a few hours ago there they were just enjoying a perfectly normal Calibration. Then BAM the reason they were camped around that ugly iron tower in the first place escaped, two Anathema were fleeing and a Moon Demon was playing rough with them all of a sudden. Oh, and by playing rough I do mean goring them with a rack of towering silvery antlers.

After all, what is a seven and a half feet tall killing machine without the towering rack of silvery antlers?!? Lacking, I tell you, lacking! Gods have mercy.

This is all we need. I’m going to die, shot through with a score of arrows shot by soldiers that serve the Scarlet Realm. Soldiers I should be able to command as a scion of House Tepet. Maybe the irony will let me die smiling. Comforting.

Meanwhile, I still feel the sword-calloused hands and soft lips of the ones that were guarding Queen Cessair on my skin. It felt so good to lay down on downy cushions and enjoy the touch of avid admirers surrounding me, enveloping me, longing to consume me. It’s the only time my cares and fears melt away and I can be myself. Giving pleasure, being pleasured the way only a hungry lover…oh, sweet Mela. Control, Aekino!

I see Younger Brother (as I’m starting to think of Zera) duck into a copse of trees ahead of me and follow. Crouching next to him, struggling to catch my breath, we study the terrain and try to find the best path of escape.

I nearly jump out of my skin as Zera softly touches my shoulder, pointing at a circling eagle that I can barely make out in the sky. Brilliant! It must be Fetek, about two miles off. Just a quick jog away, Aekino, I tell myself. Really. What a grand adventure! I need to take a few moments to banish the image of myself gleefully strangling a black-faced Zera to death with my silken garrote.

Sigh. Some fantasies are just too sweet to be entertained. Reality just never compares.

I gulp down a few deep breaths of air then indicate my readiness to my Sunless Sky brother. We take off, keeping a ridge between ourselves and any pursuit. Blessed by the Graceful Crane, we seem to float over obstacles most folk would break a leg or two on. My mind somehow manages to wander as we go, reviewing the past couple of days.

Let’s see, there was the Tower of Barbs. What in the names of the Celestials is Dandra Dinesh, anyway? Wait a blessed minute! The Celestials. The Sun has its (His?) Chosen. I know this by dint of being one. The Moon has Hers (annoying though they may be). The Terrestrial Dragons have theirs. That leaves the Maidens. It would only stand to reason that they would Exalt mortals as well. Wow, that only took me about four months to reason out. I should kick myself the next time that I think I’m so damned smart. I guess I could say that I’ve had my share of things on my mind if I’m feeling charitable. Because it’s so like me to be charitable, after all.

I hope my Ledaal Martin is all right (he was at the Tower of Barbs, too). I miss him, the fool. See? There’s charity for you!

Then we went down to the Iron Tower. It was, I must admit, a bit of fun pretending to be musicians going to our doom. Zera can put on a good show when he puts his mind to it. It was also nice to see Ledaal Tanith. I am quite impressed by her mental prowess. I must speak with her about these powers of hers. Lords of Heaven, I hope she wasn’t reading my thoughts all those times we spoke before!

Mustn’t panic… mustn’t panic. Okay. Better now.

Is that a hill up ahead? Yes! Hopefully it has some shelter nearby. I have blisters on my feet and they are not improving my mood or patience with this running business.

Cessair was not as pleasant as her children tend to be. At least the God-blood ones. I’ve not dealt with many Fair Folk. Just lots and lots of Dragon Bloods. Queen Cessair was majestic, regal, magnificent and completely inhuman in breadth and scope. I was afraid of her gaze. It seemed altogether alien and very, very hungry. Poor, poor Zera. Yes, poor Zera, indeed.

She told us about her heart, which was eerie in an interesting sort of way. Fair Folk are certainly singular creatures. Each one is so unique. Anyway, off we were to Tul Tuin to fetch her heart, which, by the way, was in the form of a songbird. Of course.

Tul Tuin.

Wait… okay… not stopping… must… keep… running.

There was something definitely wrong with Tul Tuin. I don’t mean your run-of-the-mill powerbase of our mortal enemies sort of wrong, either. I mean your great-big-miasma-of-dark-magicks Void in the universe gaping to swallow you into Oblivion sort of thing.

The harbinger of a powerful demon’s presence, smarty Tepet Aekino?

Why, yes, that would be the one!

Oh, goody!

I hate this. I hate this whole past year. Oh, so very much do I hate it.

Right about then we broke into my cousin’s Tower of the Winds looking for Cessair’s songbird-y heart. I’ve found that it’s very handy when your Older Brother (which would be Thorwald to my new way of thinking) happens to be the reincarnation of the chap that designed the place, or rather had it designed for him. Then you know all sorts of helpful things…such as where to blow up the place while the current Lord of the Manse is trying to stop you from stealing his wife’s heart. See how helpful that is?

When I laugh hysterically later I hope someone understands. Just read three sentences back! Come on, people, now that’s comedy! The tragic sort, but comedy just the same.

So naturally, after all that, Thorwald and Li (my honorable Little Sister, who happens to be blazing like a bladed sun by this point of my narrative) head off to the north to draw my cousin’s attention in two directions while my current companions and I head south, back toward the Iron Tower, to rescue Cessair.

And that’s how I ended up under an overhang in the middle of the hills in the Eastern Threshold, trying to breathe and just barely succeeding.

That’s when Fetek turns to me and says “That was an interesting approach to distraction you took back at the Iron Tower, O Descending Sun.”

I turn and glare at him for a moment and respond with “I would say the same about your approach to fleeing, O Hidden Moon” in my best frosty tone as I promptly pass out.