Aton shuttered his balcony door and lay on his bed, exhausted. He had discussed plans and contingencies with his siblings for an hour or two, after which Misolfa had accompanied him and Reedl back to Grendhill. Domire had been the most interested in returning, but Reedl had suggested the notion that discretion was worth the effort, and the sight of two Farella boys might be more noticeable than a boy and a girl.
Aton and Misolfa had met with the royal council for hours after that, hashing out the details of the strategy to be employed and sending messengers to make arrangements. Nobody had any clue whatsoever who may have abducted the King and Queen, nor how to begin any concentrated search, with no information beyond the speed of their attack and what little Aton himself had glimpsed of their uniforms. Nevertheless, they had to start somewhere.
Thus, emissaries had been dispatched to all nations within two weeks’ travel of any platform of the Thallenroads, on any world. Most emissaries would have to visit multiple nations, as Grendhill did not maintain sufficient diplomats on staff to visit all known lands at once. The Guard selected a few of their best and brightest to go incognito among nations with suspected less-than-transparent tendencies, in an attempt to glean information that may not be offered freely.
The council, with Aton’s and Misolfa’s blessing, published only vague promises of rewards to individuals or favorable trade agreements to nations, for information leading to safe recovery of the sovereigns. The council officially awaited their safe return and accepted the guidance of the Farella youths in their stead. Meanwhile, all of Grendhill had nothing else to do for their King and Queen, but to wait. Reedl escorted Misolfa back to Harrval to continue awaiting her turn in the cave, and the other siblings would be apprised of any update immediately.
Meanwhile, they would continue their planned training in isolation with no change. Hopefully the King and Queen would be found very soon, but barring further developments, Valkyr would not be interrupted. She would learn of the abduction when she completed the two weeks alone with her bow.
Aton, awoken in the middle of the night, facing an unnaturally early dawn by travel to Harrval and then an inhumanely long morning by returning to Tasala, had finally collapsed into bed in an awkward position, one arm pinned beneath his torso and one calf bent underneath his other leg, extended. He didn’t care until his arm started falling asleep. He turned over to release his pinned arm and let his whole self succumb to his exhaustion.
Aton passed the next week in a haze. He did his customary time on the training fields and the library, but found himself listless during hours he would have passed observing his parents in court. He met once or twice with his parents’ council and mentally skimmed over the meetings, nothing really needing his full attention. The council was taking care of business in their rulers’ absence, and Aton gave the formality of approving their common-sense measures. It was mentioned, of course, that their messengers and emissaries had been sent, but there was no word back yet from any of them except that nobody knew anything.
Aton found himself spending some extra time in the library, reading old tomes on geography. There was so much to read. Dozens of worlds, hundreds and hundreds of countries and wildernesses were described. He dabbled in the history of some of the more interesting-sounding countries. Unsure of exactly what he was looking for, he hoped to find some clue for his parents’ disappearance. Maybe he would get extremely lucky and find an illustration matching the uniforms the kidnappers wore, identifying the nation they belonged to. Or maybe, just maybe, the abductors would kindly bring his parents back, safe and sound, and apologize. It seemed just as likely.
It seemed most of these old history books contained some mention of the mythical Diaspora, when humanity spread from a single fabled mother world across the Thallenroads to all the worlds they now inhabited. Everybody knew it was hocus—the Thallenroads had obviously been there for as long as the worlds had, since the platforms were indestructible. They could be obstructed. If you wanted to isolate your world, you built a wall around your platform. People could still come and go, but they could never step off the platform. They could be obstructed, but they could not be destroyed. There were histories of people who had tried. All failed, and none even left a scratch.
No, the Thallenroad platforms had always been there, created with the worlds. If humanity had spread from a single world, it would have happened over the passage of time immemorial, not as some event that one could read about in history books. They myths of the Diaspora were obviously hocus, yet they still existed. Reedl had once said something about people’s innate desire to explain the status quo, and to connect themselves to something greater. The Diaspora myths filled that need, tying all the worlds and all the countries in them to one fabled mother world, Arryth.
Arryth was a concept that connected all the worlds. The standard Year belonged to Arryth. Each world had its Turn to measure the seasons and the lives of people, but all Turns were of different lengths, each belonging to its world. The Year was a standard measure. If you came from a world with short Turns and needed to understand the age of someone from a world with long Turns, you converted to Years. There were other pieces to the myth. One moon as the standard, and supposedly Arryth is where many animal and plant species originated. Each world had some unique flora and fauna, and also shared some with all the other worlds.
But where was Arryth now? It was not one of the worlds found in human knowledge. Fifty-six worlds, that is all there ever was. There was no discovery of new worlds. Some people had different names for the same worlds, as Aton was reminded while reading these histories. But it was always clearly due to linguistic differences, not any confusion about the number of worlds. Arryth had been known as Arlit, Erithi, Arth, Eyart, as well as Tellan, Tern (which could be confusing when discussing the passage of large amounts of time), Telra, and so on. Ultimately, Arryth was nowhere.
And so, training and reading, the week passed slowly. Then late one night, Captain Bailen came to find Aton where he was reading in the library, curled sideways on a large armchair.
“Prince Aton, I’ve been looking for you. Normally you would be in your chambers at this hour.”
“Yes, but I can’t sleep well, since last week…”
“Yes, my lord. About that. There’s been a new development. Umm…”
Aton closed the book and sat up straight. “Yes?”
“Well, an arrow was just shot at the front gate to the palace grounds. We couldn’t tell exactly where it had flown from, but I believe that pursuit would be fruitless. Whoever loosed it is long gone.”
“An arrow at the front gate?”
“Yes, prince. There was a message attached to it. A ransom note.”