The measured step of nine pairs of boots marked a solemn rhythm against the smooth black stone of the hallway floor. The windows in the Blackspire were thin, high, and deep. Sunlight didn't illuminate people in here. It glinted off of their sharp edges, their wary eyes and their cold hard teeth and the gleaming barrels of their rifles.
Every day Hux made this procession down the corridor, from his office to the parade hall where he delivered his daily project updates. Every day for the past three years he had been making this exact same procession, a hundred yards from door to door, the most mundane of routines. And yet—and yet, there was part of him that was still not entirely sure what waited for him down at the shadowed end of this long, curved corridor.
It wasn't rational, this odd sense that he didn't know what he was walking into. It wasn't becoming of an Artillery officer. It certainly never foreboded anything more sinister than Captain Phasma, waiting for him with her rifle held in front of her chest and her shako brim set low over her eyes.
On the rare occasion that she had reason to smile, Captain Phasma of the 501st Artillery had a face that could power a solar walker. Otherwise, it was as cold and desolate as an iceberg (and roughly the same shape, if we were being honest). She was fair, like Hux, with yellow hair she wore cut so short she could tuck it up in her shako. She smoked cigars and rode for the regiment in tournaments with some degree of success. Rumor was she had a particular weakness for married women, but that was neither here nor there.
She and Hux exchanged “General Hux Sir” and “At Ease, Captain” at the doorway as they did every single day, and Phasma led him inside the parade hall as she did every single day. Sometimes, if she were very drunk or if she'd taken a particularly nasty shot to the head in training, she'd admit that she, too, was plagued every single day by the same feeling he had—that their routine hung by a very thin thread, that the unknown awaited them somewhere just ahead.
And yet, every single day, Hux delivered his update on the Starkiller's progress, and every day his engineers and technicians got to work and played their parts, and every day his fierce machine grew closer to completion more or less according to his design. There were delays, yes, and there were setbacks, and there were more infuriating failures than Hux wanted to admit to Her Highness, yes, but every single day the Starkiller came closer to completion. Every failed test, every futile attempt to combine traditional demonic power with solar plate technology, every humiliation in the throne room as he explained to Her Highness what he had failed to do—even these were progress.
Hux believed that. He believed that, and he made sure that his soldiers could hear that in his voice as he spoke to them each morning, delivered their daily instructions to them as they stood assembled in their black-coated ranks.
“I expect to see no fewer than three Zylikhov Reactions today,” he said with his hands held behind his back, pacing to and fro on the low dais overlooking his engineers. “Causing them is essential to creating an auto-summoning field, which, remember, we have done before.”
He cast a sharp glance at Unamo, who glanced at her toes. She could make as many excuses as she liked about the tattoos on her shoulders—she had created, for a few minutes, a field within which VX-Class demons could be summoned remotely. She could do it again. She had to. One of them had to—they had their Annual Accounting in three weeks.
“We are well on our way, my esteemed colleagues,” Hux continued, “to bringing the Empire of Caddria into a new era—an era above magic, an era where barbaric close combat and half-understood rituals are relegated to the realm of entertainment. We will better Caddria with this machine,” he said. “And even as her enemies kneel before her, they will marvel at her superiority and be inspired to better themselves, to mold themselves in our great and terrible shape.”
He swept the room with his gaze, gave a thin smile to the officers who he'd selected to work with him these past few years on this mad dream of his. “You stand to shape the world with this work, ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “And I dismiss you this morning having nothing but the utmost faith in all of you.”
He finished the little speech with a real smile and a little bow to his troops. It was Phasma who bellowed at them, “What say you to the General's orders?”
As Hux gathered his papers and prepared to make his exit, they made their customary salute with a loud, simultaneous stamping of boots on the parade hall's floor.
“We say Sir Yes Sir!” they called at once.
They did this every single day. He had handpicked them for this project. He had worked with them eight, ten, twelve hours a day. Three years. Every single day.
And still, as he walked back to his office with Mitaka and his spear guard behind him, he couldn't shake the feeling that something he'd never seen before was lying in wait for him.
Kylo Ren was a gaudy, gloomy, generally melodromatic shipwreck of a human being who never ran out of reasons to be upset. He had a half-set of demonologists' markings, which he liked to show off with a collection of revealing and outlandish robes and dresses which were even flamboyant for a Caddrian Harlot. He wrote poetry. He performed poetry, surrounded by cooing hordes of girls who wore far too much eyeliner and put contrasting laces on their corsets to be Unique.
But the man had a huge cock. He had a huge cock, and a huge strapping fighter's body, and a huge, unreasonable, splendid, massive cock.
And he'd picked up very quickly that Hux was bizarrely, arousingly embarrassed by his peculiar fascination with Ren's cock. And he'd—well, he'd manipulated Hux, which was what Harlots did, and it was so very difficult to be angry with Ren for manipulating him by holding him still like this, grinding around inside him until he started moaning and pleading with him.
“Oh, for fuck's sake,” he muttered, pressing his ass back against the bigger man's hips.
Kylo was fondling his face with his enormous, gentle hands. That was another infuriating thing about this drunken magician. He was so gentle, especially when he didn't need to be, especially when Hux was specifically spending a lot of the government's money to have him not be gentle.
“What do you want?” he murmured.
“I want you to fuck me like you mean it,” Hux growled.
“Ask nicely,” said Kylo, in that peculiar way he said everything, as if he were only half paying attention.
“Please,” Hux said, pretending as hard as he could that he wasn't whining. “Please, fuck me like I'm paying you a thousand fucking pieces of government silver to destroy my skinny ass before the fucking world ends, you ridii---ihhhh---uhhhh….”
He moved thos huge, clumsy hands down to Hux's ass so he couldn't do anything as he drew his huge cock slowly out of him.
“Fuck you,” he hissed.
“Ask nicely,” Kylo said.
“Please,” Hux said. “Please fuck me harder.”
“Say it.” The smile on the Harlot's face was genuine no matter how expensive he was. He paused the motion of his cock completely, save for a little twitch every couple of moments too feeble to move it.
“Say it,” Kylo said, his voice taking on a sing-song quality as one hand traced up and down Hux's spine.
“Please fuck me harder, sir,” Hux spat into the brothel mattress. His ears turned red; his cock grew harder. Above him, Kylo Ren laughed a laugh that no money could buy as he finally got around to doing what Hux was paying him for.
That laugh explained it, really. Hux wasn't intrigued by his tattoos, wasn't swayed by his claims to supernatural powers any greater than the usual ones acquired by radio technicians. It was Kylo Ren's insistence on infuriating him that appealed to Hux—it was a bizarre, mostly sexual, thrill he got out of being in the company of such a flamboyant waste of resources.
That was it. That was why he was here—the physical rush that flooded his entire body when he came, screaming into the ostentatious red satin of the Harlot's sheets. A peculiar kind of violence. A hunger like that for raw red meat or cool clear water or air, precious air, pure and--
“Time's up, General.”
Kylo Ren withdrew from him with a heavy sigh, still hard, still smirking. He stood up and stretched, and Hux rolled his gaze up to the clock that stood watch over the bed.
He'd come a full two minutes after his half hour was done.
Behind him, the Harlot was slipping back into tonight's monstrosity of a robe, diaphenous black silk that hung off his arms in wide bells. It was trimmed with ribbons that hung like banners, painted with Yahai'i characters for potato and drunk uncle. As Hux recalled, it went with a huge heavy headdress that Kylo had not seen fit to have sewn to his hair tonight.
He paused, sitting on the bed. How long had he been coming here, that he knew which of this insufferable man's ugly headdresses went with which of his ridiculous costumes.
“Are you going to dress?” Kylo tossed him his breeches. “I have a ten-o-clock.” He looked over to the door, back at Hux. He smiled. “I'm bottoming.”
“Valuable information,” Hux replied, rolling his eyes as he stood and shook the breeches out. “I'll pass it on to my Intelligence Liaison.”
“It doesn't make you jealous.” If he wanted to be quoted with a question mark like a normal person, he could angle his voice like a normal person when he asked one.
“What is 'it,' Ren?” Hux rolled his eyes. “The job I pay you exorbitantly to--”
Both men turned their gaze to the door at the sound of a bellow and a crash of splintering wood. Kylo, who was not so familiar with that voice, straightened his back and perched forward a little on his bed. His eyes drifted for a moment to the black lacquered cabinet on the wall, just large enough for a couple shotguns and maybe a sword.
Hux, who knew exactly what it meant when Phasma yelled like that, got his breeches on so fast he scarce had a memory of doing so.
The brothel's third floor hallway had an undersea theme, with swirling designs of blue and green and teal painted on its walls and fairy lamps dimpling fishnets hung from the ceilings. The cast iron spiral staircase was at the very end; Hux reached it in a few panicked strides.
Mitaka was running up to meet him, his right eye swollen and his entire face ghostly pale with panic.
“General, Sir! A squad of Dragoons--”
“Where are they?” Hux hissed, leaping down the stairs three at a time.
“The front parlor, Sir,” Mitaka said. “I tried--”
Phasma bellowed again, and an empty bottle came flying out of a doorway just below them. Hux's heart was pounding in his chest as he sprinted into the front parlor. That was close enough to the front door that the Dragoons might be armed.
He had to shove his way through a cluster of Harlots and patrons to see any of the ruckus inside the parlor. Mitaka had exaggerated—this was several uneducated lunatics short of a Squad of Dragoons. Hux could see only three of the red and black tailcoats that identified His Majesty's favorite antique weapon.
Unfortunately, one of those tailcoats was buttoned up the narrow chest of Lieutenant-Colonel Jarim Medrin.
No matter where they fought or why, it was always a toss-up whether Medrin or Phasma was going to come out on top of a single combat situation. Right now, Phasma had a decent advantage of location, being the one with her back to a cluster of cheering Navy officers who stood between her and the room.
But Medrin, no matter where he was, had the distinct look of someone who was dangerous when backed into a corner.
Hux reached for shirtsleeves he wasn't wearing as he stormed across the room, Mitaka bravely following in his wake. A table and several chairs lay in disarray in between him and the Dragoon who'd come to ruin everyone's evening.
“Lieutenant-Colonel!” he barked as he leaned down to pick up a chair that had fallen on the floor. “Nice of you to join us!”
He hefted the chair in one arm and swung it like a longsword as he cut in between Medrin and Phasma.
Medrin twisted and blocked; the chair cracked against his chest and his upraised arm instead of his head.
“Son of a bitch--”
Hux swung a left jab up at his throat and jumped on him when he moved to block that. He started landing punches when the taller man went down beneath him, one right after the other.
“What the fuck,” Hux shouted, “do you want, with my officers, you piece of shit barbarian?” His voice came out in rhythm with blows to the side of Medrin's head.
“Hey, fuck you!” A woman's voice came from behind him along with what may well have been the same chair he hit Medrin with.
Hux twisted around, blind for a moment with pain, staggered to his feet—Phasma had grabbed his assailant and punched her square in the jaw. Medrin's mistress, a scandalously young anvil who matched Phasma in both size and ferocity. But not experience. Experience would have told her to fall back as soon as she got out of Phasma's grip, not go in for an all-out assault so Hux could get in behind her with an elbow around her throat.
He clung to her like a raccoon to a tree as she gasped for air, trying in vain to get him off her neck with her blunt fingernails (or alternately, smack him away with her hands).
Out of the corner of his eye, Hux could see the third Dragoon advancing on them, shouting something he wasn't quite processing. He turned to face the shorter woman—why in the Dread Sisters' name was Colonel Rackham here?--
And a gunshot made everyone go quiet.
Maz Kanata had to be getting into the second half of her second century, but 'sprightly' was still the first word one thought of when looking at her. Even when she was holding a shotgun and leading a group of heavily armed harlots down the stairs. She was tiny and dark and wore enormous spectacles, and everyone in the front parlor shrunk away from the glare she was casting around at one and all.
“Leidra Rackham!” she shouted across the room.
The third Dragoon—the Dragoon who seldom left her duties, the Dragoon who only went out with Medrin to mitigate his damage to her regiment's reputation—the third Dragoon turned to face Maz and nodded.
“You are late,” Maz said. “And your LC is paying for all of this.”
“Fair enough.” Rackham nodded, beckoned to Medrin. “General, that girl has enough nasty grown men climbing on her as it is.”
He hated getting into it with Dragoons when Rackham was involved, and this was precisely why. With her full set and her regiment of horseback brawlers and her constant business with the Ministry of Shadows, she was the very incarnation of everything Hux was trying to purge from the Caddrian military. She was a relic, a fussy and inefficient holdover from a long-gone era when swordswomen were relevant and useful—and yet, she and Hux had the kind of mutual tolerance that he found seldom even within the ranks of the Artillery.
“Apologies, Colonel,” Hux said to her as he dropped from Captain Fenthrop's substantial shoulders. The huge girl, dark and coily-haired and freckled and doe-eyed, glared at him and swallowed as she straightened her back.
She'd just celebrated her eighteenth birthday some six or seven weeks ago. She'd been serving with the Dragoons for nearly two years now. As far as Hux had been able to discern from rumors both malignant and benign, Lieutenant-Colonel Medrin had been fucking her from the very beginning of her service.
Medrin stormed across the parlor to Maz, who lowered her shotgun to press its barrel into his chest. It was a breech-loader—this was a woman who didn't just deal in guns, but in good guns.
“You allow these people in your establishment,” he hissed, elongating his spine as much as he could to glare down at the little bespectacled woman. “And you chide me for my--”
“I don't have any business with you, Jarim Medrin,” Maz replied without batting an eye. “But I was hoping to speak with Colonel Rackham nearly an hour ago.”
“That's enough, Maz,” Rackham growled. She was a handsome, stern woman, about five foot five, dark as night with her hair braided in rows and coiled into a bun at the back of her neck. “We came here unarmed, and at one point I had a bottle of nice whiskey to compensate you for my inconsiderate behavior this evening.” She glared across the room at an Artilleryman who was soaked in brown fluid and nursing a swollen and bloody nose and cheek. “Had I known that old rivalries were about to get ugly tonight, perhaps I would have brought a spare.”
“Hmph.” Maz looked Rackham up and down, rested her shotgun's butt on the step in front of her. “Come,” she said. “Now we have even less time to waste.”
With a flick of her bangled hand behind her, Maz sent the Harlots back upstairs with their shotguns and their shortswords and their machetes. She turned to meet Hux's eyes and frowned.
“Get out,” she said.
“Yes, ma'am,” Hux replied, turning on his heels. He had another coat, another shirt, back in his apartments. The sooner he could get out of this part of the world, the happier he was going to be.
It took all of Rey's focus to keep her feet steady along the lines of the circle. This wasn't some shake-and-shimmy by the roadside trying to get a ride into town on Master Plutt's plowhorse; this was a rite and there were steps and she had to do it correctly or this little walker was going to be as useless as it had been when she'd found it.
The little machine seemed to be some type of railroad maintenance walker—it had ratchet attachments and a few drill bits and a basic optic system that the internal demon could use to assess damage on a railway or even on an engine.
Now, the skill with which such a small and weak demon could assess damage on a rail line or train engine was a topic of some debate, and one on which Master Plutt would expound for hours if given the chance. However, there was no question as to the demon's fitness for evaluating the machine which housed it. Either the demon could diagnose the machine's problems, or the machine's original shop could diagnose them. That was it.
That was why it paid to have a half-set when you lived in a place like Neema Outpost.
As she completed the steps (her feet tapping out a sentence in a grammar so ancient and spooky it could only be danced, never spoken), the ink along her arms and legs began to tingle.
Had she been given a full set by whoever had marked her and left her in a basket at the Neema Outpost train station when she was a baby, she would have felt her bones and muscles loosen their structure as she continued the dance—and from there, she would have felt them fuse with the energy of the demon Bibi'yeeat until it could guide her hands in the necessary repairs.
But she hadn't been given a full set. She'd been given a half set, so she could just sort of understand that Bibi'yeeat was complaining very loudly about having a blown-out navigation antenna in its machine. Among other things.
Bibi'yeeat, it seemed, had been left by itself for a very long time. It had acquired a long, diverse list of things to complain about, to fret about, and to chide Rey for not correcting earlier. Altogether, its complaints produced a lot of noise in Rey's head that she had to take a long time deciphering—all the while keeping her feet walking around the cells of the circle in the pattern that matched Bibi'yeeat's Idiom.
But the antenna, it seemed, was particularly vexing.
Hush, please, she said to the demon with her mind, softly, gently, always—always always—always respectfully. I can help you, she said.
Rey was a little shocked by the rush of grattitude and friendliness and compassion that seemed to fill her veins. This was—this was not how most demons were.
Unless they needed something. Unless they needed something, and needed it badly. There was nothing in the world sweeter than a demon with a mission—except Rey hadn't sensed anything about a mission.
As she sifted once more through the perceptions she was picking up from Bibi'yeeat, Rey began to get a strange sense that something wasn't adding up. This demon seemed so worried, so fussy—so unconcerned with Rey as a threat. That was unusual for the kind of minor demon that got trapped in a maintenance walker and sent to patrol a railroad in the middle of nowhere.
She stopped her analysis there. That was as far as she needed to think for the time being—much more pressing was the matter of this poor little defenseless Bibi'yeeat's broken antenna.
“All right, Major,” Hux said, rubbing the bridge of his nose between his thumb and forefinger and lowering his gaze from the crackling ball of light that hovered between the quintet of electrogenesis bulbs of the Vaskhar Device. “Let's just say we can create a vacuum large enough to--”
“But sir, it is physically impossible to generate a vacuum field outside of a Level Seven Unreality Zone,” said Unamo, whose eyes kept getting bigger as this conversation went on. “I don't see--”
“And how is the research going,” Hux replied, “on our ability to create similar conditions to a--”
“With respect, Sir,” Unamo cut in. “We are running very close to the limits of what we can do without incorporating demonological practice into the weapon's operation.” She shut her eyes, braced herself for whatever consequence she might imagine came from interrupting Hux like that.
But he was distracted. “No,” he said, looking back into the tangle of electrical energy that contained, within itself, a Level Two Unreality Zone. They had done this much, and they had done it by means of human labor. “No, Major,” he said. “There are no limits to what human ingenuity can wreak upon this world.”
“Look at what you have done, Unamo,” Hux said, stepping back and spreading his arms as he gazed upon the Vaskhar Device. “Look at what you have created.”
“General Hux, Sir--”
“No, no—look at what you have destroyed, Unamo,” said Hux. He felt a smile creeping onto his face as he surveyed the crackling electricity. “You sucked a hurricane dry, Major, and you--”
“Sir, I did what I did through the power of the demon Bo'fadiz--”
“And is he here?” Hux turned to her, his eyes wide. “Has he worked in this hall tirelessly, for three years, to create this unreality field?”
“I would not speak of Bo'fadiz with such reverence, Sir, if he needed to work at all to do the things he does.” Unamo frowned at the Vaskhar Device. “In fact, I prefer not to speak of any K-Class demons unless it's absolutely necessary.”
Hux rolled his eyes, stared back at the lightning that encased an Unreality Field which might well encase further useful wonders. “As you see fit, Major,” he said. “But know this—when Starkiller is finished, it is the Unshining who will fear to speak our names lest they anger us by accident.”
Phasma's third-best horse (she had seven or eight—Hux was never sure) had three beautiful, lumbering gaits, and three or four beautiful, lumbering speeds within those gaits. Hux, having grown up in an era and a region where civilized people rode the train or took a unicorn cab, only knew how to ride about five of those speeds. Six, if he really thought back to the part of artillery school when they had really thought he was going to go ride up a ridgeline behind a bunch of cannons.
“That's not extension!” Phasma was yelling, down at the far end of the ring where she sat with her coat open and her head bare. “You're just going faster—you need to pick him up with your calf so he's overflowing your leg into your hand.”
Hux shut his eyes for a moment and tried to make his body interpret whatever had just come out of that woman's mouth.
“Use the fucking curb rein, Hux! I don't clean this fucking thing because I have spare time!”
“I'm using the curb rein!”
“Use it better, General!” Phasma snapped.
He was dying. He was literally dying up here on this stupid horse, trying not to collapse from the pain in his sides as he tried to sit the ridiculous creature's ridiculous trot without pissing him off with his hands. How was Phasma good at this? Phasma was huge. By all means, Phasma should be bad at this. But she wasn't.
“Now put him on a thirty yard circle. Pick him up. Up, up, up, push him into the bridle and come across the ring—good—good, that's what I'm talking about! Splendid! Excellent, take a break and breathe, Sir.”
Hux was wheezing, slouching in the schooling saddle and uncomfortably aware of how sweaty and red-faced he was. He watched Mitaka trot past on Phasma's second-best horse. Mitaka had been through Artillery School far more recently and actually knew how to ride Phasma's second-best horse.
“Do they actually use any of this?” he said to Phasma as he passed her.
“Who?” said the blonde woman. “Captain, why don't you pick up a canter serpentine with six loops and narrow it down to fours.”
Whatever that meant, it was clearly terrifying to Mitaka, but he spurred the horse forward anyway.
“I don't know,” Hux said. “Jousters? Cavalry people?”
“Are Dragoons not cavalry?”
“No,” Phasma said. “They're mounted infantry. You should know this by--”
“Fuck the Dragoons.”
“Keep him walking if you're going to talk—Captain!” She stood up straight and looked around Hux for a moment. “Lean back and drive him forward with your seat, and ease off the outside rein when he gets under you!”
“See, that—that load of gibberish,” Hux said. He legged her horse forward, reined him in a small circle. “Does anyone actually do that in the heat of battle?”
“Oh, absolutely not,” Phasma said. “This is just how you build balance and muscle memory so you can ride in the coronation parade and not look like an asshole.”
“We've been doing this for six weeks now and I have yet to actually ride at a parade trot,” said Hux.
“That's because a parade trot, General, is what happens when you're trying to get an excited warhorse twelve times your size to walk.” Phasma laughed. “The Clockwork Princess wants to have a grand spectacle—she won't have her precious brilliant General Hux mounted on anything less than a man-eating charger seventeen hands tall.”
“Someone,” Hux said, lowering his voice more than a little, “ought to convince her to have a less grand spectacle.”
“Why?” Phasma tipped her head to one side. “She's the Clockwork Princess. It suits her.”
“It gives her a reputation for frivolity,” Hux murmured. “Which, yes, she's trying to be a Caddrian, but—our work...”
“Our work will prove itself, General,” said Phasma. “You can rest assured of that—all right, Captain!” She stepped to one side and shifted her gaze to Mitaka. “Bring him in starting with flying changes when you change rein—good lad!”
Hux couldn't hear Mitaka whimper, but he could see it on the boy's face. He felt for him. Deeply. Almost as deeply as he appreciated his own ineptitude in the equestrian arts—you wouldn't see Phasma telling him to do anything that bewildering.
“Unamo's running into a research wall,” Hux blurted.
“I don't know, she's—she's losing confidence,” Hux said. He halted Phasma's horse in front of her again. “She is, Captain. Se's starting to talk seriously about giving up and incorporating demonological practice and getting into dark research. As if—as if that's possible at this point.”
“It's not,” Phasma said. “We've—we've created an Unreality Zone, sir,” she said. “An outrageous insult to a host of demons I'd rather not antagonize without a weapon of my own in the works.”
“A superior weapon,” Hux pointed out.
“Of course.” Phasma smiled. “Are you suggesting I speak with her, Sir?”
“It might help,” Hux replied. “Friendly though she is with me, she does see her commander speaking to her, and with her disposition...”
“I don't think I intimidate her any less than you do, Sir,” said Phasma. “Our respective ranks aside, she knows how orders flow in this regiment—Captain, sit back! He is not going to give you the changes if you stab him when you are asking!”
“How am I--”
“Backtalk me again and I will remove your pelvis and show you the parts you're assaulting my horse with, Captain!” Phasma seemed to grow a couple inches taller for a moment; even Hux and the horse shrank back a little.
“Anyway,” she said, turning back to Hux. “I'll try. How long do I have?”
“Well.” Hux scrunched his face as he looked up to the high wooden rafters of the Artillery's training hall. “I have a meeting with Fyodor Rylov here in a couple of days, which I can essentially bullshit so long as I have a general idea of our next steps. I have a monthly accounting with Her Highness on the twenty-fourth--”
“The twenty-fourth?” Phasma's eyes got big and round. “Isn't that--”
“Yes,” Hux sighed. “It's exactly between her scheduled appointment for marrying the dying king of a country she didn't grow up in and her appointment for appointing herself its queen.” He frowned out at the ring, where Mitaka had entered into some very tense negotiations with his mount over whether or not they were going to move forward.
“Don't antagonize him, Captain,” Phasma warned—half a second too late, because Mitaka had already applied the spurs hard enough to send the massive beast into a goat-like tantrum that had the poor boy clutching its mane for dear life while he shrieked in terror.
Hux cringed. “I feel like this is a metaphor,” he said to Phasma, not taking his eyes off the boy on the bolting warhorse.
“I'm sure it is,” said the taller woman. “Although which one is you and which one is the Clockwork Princess—we'll have to wait until after the Coronation Parade to figure that one out.”