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"The Shadows are the greatest danger the universe has to offer. Take great care in everything you do." She looked from Isabelle to Galen, her brows raised in an expression he recognized from Isabelle. "Now you need a plan."

* * *

They exited the tube, and Isabelle led the way through the port city to the Strauss Hotel. The back of her head was bare of stubble today. She had scoured it that morning for the first time since the initiation.

Galen had done the same, independent of her, after rising to find his eyebrows nearly fully grown back and a short stubble covering his head. His skin had finally recovered, and he'd judged he could withstand a scouring. He decided to leave his eyebrows and scour the rest of the hair on his head away. He recited the words of the Code, then envisioned the equation, calling the scouring down upon himself. The pain was startling, intense. Yet he felt clearer afterward, more focused. The fact that Isabelle had chosen to do the same added to his growing sense that they were perfect for each other.

The roads were busy with morning traffic and noise and smells. The air was dry here, and still, so that the dirt and odors seemed to hang in a pall, obscuring the pale green sky. Rather than the fresh scent of the sea, he smelled rotten food, waste. The buildings flashed one brilliant sign after the next, the messages of all lost in the chaos. Intelligent beings of several different species passed them: the native Wychad, Pak'ma'ra, Humans, Kinbotal. They avoided eye contact, looking down or into storefront windows.

Isabelle seemed invigorated by the activity, pointing out different places and hurrying ahead. Of course, this was her home, so she would have grown used to the congestion and turmoil, just as he was accustomed to
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