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They went in cloaked past the Xenomorphs ships, all sitting stiffly in their seats, gripping their harnesses in both hands. Even Venka was silent, at the controls, none of the garbled cursing that had become almost soothing to Chiela on reentry. Now they kept absolute silence in case those other ships were listening in, in case there was some chance, however slim, that they could hear. They couldn't afford to be captured now; that might very well be the end of it.

Terasu reached over and took one of Chiela's hands in her own and squeezed tightly. When Chiela looked at her and then across from her, she saw her gripping Ixchel's hand with equal force. Chiela couldn't exactly tell with Ixchel, whose body was so strange and so whose body language by extension was even stranger, but she seemed tenser than Chiela had ever seen her before. Although if she weren't at this point, Chiela'd bank money on there being something fundamentally wrong with her.

The ship coasted over what used to be a city, possibly even, judging by the expression on Nikolao's face and the frantic gestures Pipra was making, the Capitol City. All that was left of it now was rubble, colorful and muti-faceted, though it was, clays dyed deep with red and green and blue, windows melted and color-ugly in orange and red and yellow hues. Most of the buildings had been cleared down to their foundations, as if a tornado had come through and swept all signs of life away, which Chiela would bet was very close to what had actually happened. The Xenomorphs had weapons no sane creature would use on another. Chiela suspected that most of the Xenomorphs, those not like Venka and Dioscorus, involved with the resistance, really were out of their minds. And actually she wasn't 100% sure that Venka and Dioscorus themselves weren't a little warped, though not in a bad way, not like their xenocidal breathren.

The city gave way to barren planes, that looked as if they'd been scorched by wildfire, a wildfire no on had been able to stop, one that had left the planet deadened for miles in every direction, absolutely barren of life. Chiela didn't like to imagine what they'd find down there, on foot, the shorched remains of things-she-didn't-want-to-identify best left unknown. This looked like the end of the world to Chiela, the kind of things she'd hoped never to see in her dreams, war and plagues, un-natural disasters and famines. These were the kind of things she'd hoped that a power like hers could prevent, vision softening the future catastrophes. Seeing Amah bone barren and desolate was a blow she hadn’t been fully prepared for, though perhaps she should have been. She wasn’t in the Cloud, anymore. She couldn’t simply watch as the catastrophes drifted past, removed from her.

Chiela felt the mental connection with Pipra engage and with it came pictures of another world, the ridge of mountains beyond city walls washed green, the lushness of forests lively with all species of animals, birds in the trees and all shape and manner of four-legged creature below, exotic and strange, and, there, Ixchel sitting cross-legged in a clearing with Terasu crouched behind her, hands on her shoulders, and, there, Nikolao standing at Pipra’s side, hands clasped behind his back, the walls of the city standing behind him, the open marketplace square

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