The Souls of Cold Cannons

<< Revenant Faith and Foreign Pilgrimage

“Statement: correct is only one time of preparation for confrontation. Statement: correct only when wildly inconvenient and supposedly unnecessary is time of preparation for confrontation.”

-Rulliruglriugig, founder of the Bequastish university of Drabhammer

An oilskin bag. A Morris-weave blanket. Water thermos. Non-water thermos. Food-preservation supplies ranging from drying racks to a collapsing canning kit which worked with any conceivable container material. A (very) special knife with sides so polished they were better than most mirrors at providing reflections. One long-strung necklace with a semi-point engine at its core, for many of your interfacetary energy needs. Double-handful-sized balls of woodrubber and woodglass and woodmetal. Scales for weighing, with a bevy of alternate functions that measured molecular mass, spiritual mass, and volume. Trinkets aplenty; some sentimental, some utilitarian. All went into the knapsack.

So many things, and nearly all of them were window dressing. Props that helped establish the bona fides for several tarot decks’ worth of personalities, presented to the people of those populated facets he encountered in his trials and travels. A merchant, a farrier, an assassin, a dockworker, a wizard, a half-feral animal, a spaceport manager, a scholar, a foraging orchard-hand, a liege-sworn warrior, a cartographer, a homeless wandering wise man… once, even a baby. Looking back on the tools of his old habits, he began to wonder something he’d deliberately kept hidden from himself for quite some time.

Was it his many acting parts which he put on for native audiences that most influenced his decision to pretend to normal health, or his ostensibly alive condition which fueled his numerous little creative efforts at role-playing?

Did it really matter?

This time, he threw a lot more into his knapsack than he usually took; things which he’d not had reason to bring before. Some were bits and pieces that would have been merely identified as “unnecessary” not long ago. Others were objects which might prove comforts – or otherwise beneficial – to a certain karkshesh.

“We are going home?” she asked.

He didn’t bother to remind her that she was technically home anywhere in the city, nowadays. 

“Is it really necessary?” she pressed. Her Rhaagmini had a sophisticated mid-nasal quality to it.

“Yes,” he rejoined. “If you’ve decided that you want to come along on goofy adventures, we need to let some important individuals know.”

A tip-tap on his own cerv-mesh as he bent over the knapsack, organizing.

Her response was… melancholy.

“I have thought on it more, and I am not so sure any longer that mating is what I truly wish. This seems as productive a decision for the time being as I might find, though I reserve the right to rescind this decision at a later date.”

Eihks gave an idle up-sign with one arm.

“Of course. So before you and I head off, there are a few errands yet besides meeting back up with your people. In the spirit of honesty, you ought to inform your family that they should never, ever sell their land,” he added, finally swinging the bag onto his shoulders. A hundred and eighteen kilograms, which made it a bit awkward to maneuver around tight spaces.

“Also…” he sighed, “… it’s not impossible that you might not see them again, ever. At least some of them. If you do return, it could be after a much longer time than you expect right now; years – though it wouldn’t feel like years, in all likelihood. Maybe they won’t be around. Might have decided to go into hibernation, might have… passed away. So, at the risk of sounding pushy or overly parental myself, I’d suggest you…”

He trailed off. Her description of her personal life had made it clear that she and hers didn’t get along precisely. How imprecise that apparent imprecision actually was, and whether it grew from communication roadblocks or simple coyness, he couldn’t say.

“I believe I understand,” she replied.

For a while, she’d been planted beside the door to his function room, just inside the living room and beside his main shelf of trophies and whatsits. She was resting on her highlegs, seated in a fashion not too dissimilar to how a dog or cat might sit. The clean gleam of her new hardware glittering on the frontish underside of her neck. The sight was peculiar enough to make him double-take at it once or twice.


He had an especially grave moment where his whole world collapsed on itself for just a moment, as he heard a creaking clatter above her. A long karkshesh leg-jostle set the bottom of the shelving unit shivering, and of course that set the top shivering as well. Not too much, not for long.

It was enough, combined with the vessel’s movement, to tip the sealed urn from the uppermost heights of the furniture, and send it tumbling.

A stupefied second sufficed to fend off the focus he would have needed to react accordingly. He ought to have called forth one of several utilities, or set a gyrokinetic fulcrum, or just caught the thing. He saw Ktsn’s pelt bristling, her ears shooting out as she ever so slowly whisked around. There was ominous cessation of sound when the urn left its perch, that became a rolling disaster of broken ceramic teeth.

The moment the tinkling settled, a shape furred with stripy plumage and pinions of lightless comfort began unspooling from the urn’s remains.

“DON’T LOOK!” Eihks shouted just as his momentary hesitation fled, and strength returned.

Ktsn, sadly, did not heed his advice.

As the fat owl-of-the-mind he usually kept safely ensconced flailed its head around like a snapped humerus, its depthless gaze brushed against that of the innocent karkshesh. She made an open-ended sound like she was being strangled, and then she became quiescent.

The owl-of-the-mind gave a tooth-powderizing cry. A ruffling sound rippled through the local magical environment, as it whipped its ratty wings back behind itself, and its look at its victim became a leer. Eihks knew the leer was accompanied by the formation of a Hiek machine, a magic specifically shaped to lure forth gobbets of thought for digestion. Its “beak” snapped open, lined with an adhesive trap membrane which stuck to psionic morsels. The screech mutated into something meant to slice through mind-stuff.

Just as the little terror was about to start doing real damage, the explorer grabbed the side of his bag, slung it away, ripped his jacket back off, and expertly threw it over and past Ktsn.

Fabric curtains dropped over the owl’s whole body. Sight inhibited, the animal’s behavior moved in a screechy “I am undone and must flail as my registered form of protest” direction. The very edge of one wing slipped free, waving around in frustration, and the jacket started hopping. The racket became a skin-cleaving torment.

Ktsn, freed of her enthrallment, quavered in shock. Despite the fact that the harm to her mind was minimal, and recoverable even without external assistance, getting hit by an owl-of-the-mind jellied the senses for quite a while after the fact. She wasn’t speaking uncontrollably, or outright convulsing, though; full convalescence shouldn’t take more than half an hour, and a practical return to normal might be less than four minutes.

Eihks slid over to his hapless quarter-tamed captive, and snatched the jacket’s sleeves. He then bent at the waist, and whipped the full jacket overhand as hard as he could against the floor. A pivot, followed by the same action in the opposite direction. After five such blows, the owl-of-the-mind was in no danger of dying… but it had at least stopped struggling with quite so much fervor.

By then, his dæmon cluster had managed to rebuild the urn, a heat-haze cloud suffusing the broken ceramic with a distinctly rhythmic pattern and sealing shattered edges back together. The whole thing minus the thick lid sat ready to do its duty, and Eihks took up that particular duty by shoving the jacket over the urn’s top. A slight unwinding of the jacket’s folds, and then a push, and then the urn was occupied once more by a very annoyed owl-of-the-mind.

A click heralded his replacing the urn’s lid, before his cluster fused that back onto the vessel as well.

“Don’t…” he started to chastise Ktsn, before he suddenly lost all momentum, and did with the jar-o’-owl what he should have a long time ago.

“What WAS that?” she asked, in the velvety contained manner of a person doing their best to scream while they have no air in their lungs.

“Owl-of-the-mind. Predator that feeds purely off of the living awareness. Magical, difficult to find, and cleaner than most animals one might keep in their possession.”

“Why do you have something like that?” Ktsn eventually recovered enough to demand in a normal tone.

“For several reasons,” he responded. “Study, foremost among them. Relatedly, the interest in seeing if the little freaks can be properly domesticated under unusual conditions.”

“You…” she began, and she backed up until she hit the wall. Her fury, matchless.

Well, that was understandable. More, it deserved sober response.

Eihks frowned, closed his eyes, and dropped to the lotus position on his floor. He didn’t need to breathe any longer, no, but he filled his lungs to near-bursting, and kept his air captive for perhaps three seconds. When he spoke, it was flat and controlled.

“I swear before the assembled witnesses, upon pain of judgment by Crippled False, that – until you should relieve me of this oath – I will not allow your gestalt to become interrupted, nor suffer incurable preventable harm, unless I should fail to realize that harm is what you have suffered.”

And he knew that Crippled False heard, and bore witness.

Congratulations! You’ve just done probably the single stupidest thing that will happen in your life.

When he looked up, he saw Ktsn watching him. Angry, yes. Puzzled as well. Obviously, the ritual nature of his proclamation managed to survive the river-crossing of culture.

“Those who forfeit their word before Crippled False are to be pitied above almost all others,” he said. “You, and you alone, have the right to free me from that burden. If you don’t choose to counter-swear someday, and state that my relatively open-worded oath is no longer binding, well… hopefully, you will.”

After re-seating the knapsack on his back, he gave Ktsn a little wave with one hand while lifting her back to her feet with the other.

“If you change your mind about wanting to accompany me, we’ll have plenty of time to revise that decision on the way to your farm.”

Following a few silent contemplative seconds, she signalled that she was interested in leaving.

“It is not my farm,” she said. It could have been curt and curdled. Instead, her mouth seemed to form the words of his oath, over and over.

Eihks didn’t actually hold her hand this time. Instead, he kept one eye swiveled outward in one direction for any more crazed (or merely mildly lunatic) fans, and concentrated on looking over his correspondence. Upon seeing how much digital mail he’d gotten, he immediately began debating with himself as to whether he should consider hiring an eidolon again for doing his message housekeeping. Sure, it was trivial to set up a basic expert system to take care of the necessaries, but there were so very MANY flavors of criticism and discontent one might encounter when one was an edutainer.

Ktsn’s silence gave him more than sufficient time to go through a few hundred of the curiouser missives. Some of his messages were from people who were themselves just interested in the circumstances of his condition, or who voiced their support for him in this time of trouble. Some were, alarmingly enough, people who’d specifically joined his demographic because – for one reason or another – they wanted to check out “that crazy undead guy.” Some amount of real mental deviance, some amount of people trying to get attention, some amount of distinctly not-human-like psychology, and some amount of the need to look at the latest controversial news.

As usual, though, it was the nastygrams that took the award for most morbidly interesting.

His favorite was thus:

When I started watching your productions a long long time ago, Mr. Richard, I did so because I wanted to learn more about foreign locales – the leading edge of examining the unknown – and you seemed like a nice gentleman. However, the truth has now outed; you are no nice gentleman, you are no academic, you are no “seeker-of-truth” as it has been said, and I daresay it has become questionable whether you are even a sentient man with the spark of reason. It has long been obvious that the undead curse (and whatever the so-called institutes dedicated to studying the phenomenon might say, there is only one and it is an erasure of all things good) cannot leave thought unmarked and functional in the skull of the afflicted. I can only say that you – whomever you might be, using your thaumaturgy to control the empty shell of the human creature called “Eihks Richard” – did deceive me and a great number of other innocents with this charade, that this was not a nice prank, that this is beyond forgiveness, and that I and my associates will do everything in our power to spread the word of your terrible sin far and wide. May your franchise only know failure and horrors from here until doomsday.

The signature had a cipher that belonged to one of the more notable Ganymedes to sit among the ranks of Rhaagm’s present governance. He was the sort of man who had long prided himself on taking views that he called “progressive,” but which many others considered “mad, bad, and dangerous to believe.” Well, something critical from people such as that fellow would probably net the good Mr. Richard a little bit of positive publicity in the long term. Eihks smiled inside at the byline, and the smile became a frown as he surveyed the legion of other, more reasonable protests.

One point of that particular ridiculous note was, as it happened, repeated throughout many other documents – and resonated on the same frequency as the steel arrow that skewered Mr. Richard’s heart. His fear was that any right to champion the cause of fact and information and verity would be stripped from him in the eyes of the public. He wasn’t going to claim that he deserved anything else than the kind of deprecation he was now seeing. After all, he didn’t. His resuscitation was not the problem.

He’d closed off… how many publications of his articles with something to the effect of “in the name of truth and discovery” now? He knew the number, of course, but that was a far cry from really feeling it. The fact that he’d come out and admitted to his guilt before the story managed to get substantial traction had probably softened the blow. Even so, his castigation of the state – for deception by avenue of omission – presently supported itself on shaky malformed legs.

Did he really have the right to take a stand on principle when he’d been in violation of his own principle for so long?


That accented Rhaagmini pulled him from the hole in himself into which he’d been falling.

“Ah,” he said, focusing on a familiar round form.

“Hello again, Mr. Richard,” said Llj. “What amazing fortune that we would meet again.”

“What stupendous happenstance reunites us,” the human replied; the smiling mouth on his face was a thousand kilometers from his brain.

“You are presumably here to visit once more?” asked the voice of the same auditor, directly behind him. Eihks’s self-control was sufficient that, despite his surprise, he didn’t automatically try to gyrokinetically turn her head full circle on her neck.

“Yes,” he confirmed, not looking at her, and keeping his voice almost steady. His hand itched to twirl a knife. “At least, I’m here to visit; my companion here may elect to come back with me, or she might stay here.”

“I will be returning with Eihks,” Ktsn Wdondf Daephod said, the tiniest scrap of uncertainty in her posture but no give at all in her voice.

“Oh!” the spheroid official said, presumably directing organs or devices at her. “Is the set of contractual requirements for integration met?”

“No,” Eihks answered. He ran his hand over his face. “Cerv-mesh has a receipt of installation, but that’s it for right now. The current plan is to eventually have her complete a basic course on using the Monolith for self-education and living needs, and another on etiquette. Would it be acceptable to send you the certificates over the signatures of the instructors?”

Llj became quiet for an instant, probably conferring with whatever regulatory manual covered edge cases in procedure.

“That will suffice, so long as you co-sign,” it replied.

“I’ll be happy to oblige.”

He stopped, as he was about to set forth a booted foot.

“Same restrictions on possessions in the grafted area as earlier?” he asked. The number of arguably dangerous things in his bag seemed much larger all of a sudden.

“No, as a matter of fact,” replied the auditor. “You have the right to bring whatever you wish into the area; the caveat is that as an outsider, your actions will be watched with exceptional care.”

She stepped around him to stand next to Llj. Precisely why, he wasn’t sure.

Eihks blinked.

“What, like all the time?”

“No. For two hands following the last time you leave the specified area – that is, sixteen days, not the end of two calendar hands – as well as any point within the following month that is deemed necessary.”

“Month as in four hands, or month as in thirty two days, or month as in ‘until the next calendar month’s beginning,’ or what?”

The auditor, he discovered, actually possessed the ability to smile.

“Thirty two days. However, if an alternative definition would be more inconvenient, something could probably be arranged.”

He could have asked why such an arbitrarily short (or long, depending) time period. He could have demanded to know whether his medical condition meant he was now on some watchlist.

Instead, he just gave a casual up-sign, waved to the odd pair, and led the odd pair among which he counted himself back over the border. Rather than what used to be a free-orbiting planet in a far-away universe, they now crossed the surface of a sphere netted in lines of flexible n-dimensional function. Places abounded on the stolen globe where one could choose to step from the surface of a ball onto the surface of an infinite plane. The opposite was equally true in this case.

The journey to that fateful village, thanks to the miracle of folding, took a negligible amount of time. It meant there was no need to try and fill the intervening space with words.

The only discussion they had, in fact, brought them to a consensus: Ms. Daephod would do precisely all the talking, save if Mr. Richard needed to introduce himself, or he was explicitly, unambiguously, directly addressed. Unless something posed a clear and present danger to her, his actions would stick to “stand there and look tall and skinny.”

As they clipped down the distance to where Ktsn’s family waited, she grew more and more tense. It wasn’t until she flipped onto her fastlegs, not quite spidery-quick on the ground, that it became clear how much she just wanted the ordeal over. Eihks felt for her.

Then, one last clambering over a lumpy and poorly-molded meadow later, they came upon the sight of a sprawling farm. If he’d still been capable of smelling and feeling and tasting, the human was fairly confident of what he’d detect. A supersaturated miasma of rampant life: things growing as close as possible to the middle ground between competition and inefficiency, secret chemical rituals where soil agreed to give sustenance and plant agreed to give shelter, a synesthesia of growth and consumption and guidance. The hallmarks of agriculture in many civilizations.

He wouldn’t have been surprised to see the fields covered in a mat of hardworking souls, or to see them completely empty. What did surprise him, however, was eight or nine people being watched over from a distance by other Rhaagmini volunteers, those in the long row-planted plots accompanied by the draft animals they called ledhuk. The long creatures had a viscous, spurting walk; a couple of strides at a calm collected pace, then a flurry of many much smaller steps, all the while keeping the same forward momentum. That odd stuttering gait made it difficult to get an accurate count on the number of beasts and laborers.

It did not make it difficult for Ktsn to pick out one of their number, flare her nostrils, and aim herself like a living guided missile. Her gallop was beyond the rate Eihks could maintain while grounded. Without magic or other assistance, it was a few seconds after she slid up to her intended victim that he skidded along beside and behind her.

The intended victim was a karkshesh who had river-rock musculature, and an aged sort of scarring which suggested the river in which he’d been formed was home to a school of undecidedly carnivorous fish. One hand in particular was clearly still useful, and just as clearly less capable than it had been prior to receiving a nearly bisecting gash. His pelt had a highly pronounced asymmetry in its patterns and textures. He stood next to a fruit tree, snipping branches with nimble assessment of what was healthy and what needed pruning. Nearby, a pohostinlat and a hudenot were chatting and occasionally cutting glances at the gardener and another nearby karkshesh – presumably their charges.

“Hello again, Father.” The sound from Ktsn was a half-rasped nailing shut of a loose coffin lid.

The gardener paused, his ears cocked back, then lowered the pruning shears. With a stiff flourish he diverted his attention to the woman for whom Eihks had become nanny-teacher.

“Ktsn,” came the ambivalent response. Rumbly-low voice, well into the bottom quarter of human register depth. Rather than contemplating her, or the explorer, the near-facing eye threaded the gap between them. Ears went almost flush with the man’s head and neck. His inner teeth appeared as his lips pulled back a bit. They were chipped and gouged in places.

“I hope that you have been doing well of late,” she said.

“I and your mother have not,” came the slow response. “We have had to reconcile ourselves to a great number of changes. The rest of our family, and our village, can say the same.”

An imperious digit pointed at Eihks with a practiced, casual sort of resentment.

“Creatures just like this one are to blame for our present ordeal.”

Not untrue.

“We would have been able to live our lives in peace without their interference.”

Significantly false, unless one went back to before the Weeper’s people had ever heard of their facet.

“They aim to subdue us and employ us as slaves in the name of their personal gain, in due time.”

In the literal sense, as fictitious a reality as one could conjure; in a figurative sense, not necessarily total delusion. However, this wasn’t a man whose current state of mind came across as interested in operating on the basis of objective fact.

“Father, I must say that that does not agree with my understanding of the situation. But let us put that aside for now.”

The other nearby native came galumphing over, obviously interested to see Ktsn. Unless Eihks was mistaken, this one was also male, and the moderate happiness her father showed at her last statement paled into insignificance beside the newer individual’s relief. One of his eyes had a little bit of an involuntary wink to it.

Two plus two equals this guy could only be Cursog.

“I was so worried for you,” he said. “We had no news of your departure – as you said, though, let us put that aside for now!”

The voice’s tone sine-waved between Ktsn’s and her father’s in frequency, and his gaze similarly circled from the subject of his affections up to the human and back down. Fortunately, and accurately, Ktsn’s sort-of-arranged-husband didn’t view Eihks as competition material. Less so on both counts, he obviously considered the lanky alien to be a potential danger to his beloved’s good health.

Well, maybe not quite inaccurate, if one cast back to a certain jar-related mishap. Two jar-related mishaps, actually.

“I cannot say how things will turn out next season,” her father pronounced, still looking off into the distance. “I can barely speculate with real confidence as to what will happen tomorrow. Nevertheless, daughter, it is more important than ever that we maintain a common thread between events of then and events now.”

He stepped toward Ktsn just as Cursog came within caressing distance of his paramour.

A thick if not condemnatory brow rose on the explorer’s countenance, as he beheld the openly hopeful glint in Cursog’s eye, but no more.

“That is part of the concern,” Ktsn announced. “Our present is completely and utterly severed from the past. I cannot say for certain at this time whether bonding as a mate is desirable at all, let alone doing so at this juncture.”

It took a moment for the statement to sink in – but when it did, it was like someone had tied every insulting turn of phrase, every ill word imaginable, around Ktsn’s throat. Daddy was staring at her neck with rock-melting intensity. After several minutes, it became clear that he was watching the cerv-mesh block embedded in her flesh. Obviously he wasn’t in favor of whatever she had been doing that put that ornament on her person.

“I do not believe that is something we have the luxury of debating,” said Wdondf. When he looked at Eihks this time, the stare dripped hostility.


“It is more important than ever that we preserve the continuity of our community in these times,” the man added, overriding his daughter. “In fact, it is far more important than our comfort.”

Judging from the stock of information in the lingustic-behavioral section of the kernel he’d been given, Eihks thought Wdondf’s next change in body language indicated either a reluctance to do spiritual harm to his daughter or a desire to avoid making her any more despondent and miserable than necessary. He scored it to the elder farmer’s credit, assuming that he was parsing the correct meaning.

“Continuity?” Ktsn almost shouted. “What continuity? What community? Father, unless you have missed the announcement earlier today…”

A gesture skyward indicated the absence of any cloud-decorated heads of announcers.

“… then I cannot imagine what sort of continuity you might still believe tenable. We have become part of a different, very strange, much larger society! It is not going away! Not continuity, but confrontation and acclimatization are what we need to devote ourselves to.”

“An interesting opinion, but not one that was asked. I must insist on your cooperation in this moment of need. The people of Goskec Tktl have long known our farmstead as a mainstay of the village and its surroundings. Letting it fall to pieces, or become the property of another, is among the worst outcomes imaginable at this time.”

“And if I refuse to cooperate?”

The question, Eihks was curious to note, wasn’t barbed or venomous. Instead, his companion aimed it at Cursog, with an almost apologetic bent to it. It was the way one might phrase the question, “Do you love me?” when one knew the subject of the inquiry did not return the object’s affection.

Oh, it’s as bad as when Tanny ran off, but with even more sense of guilty obligation being thrown around. At least we got over that in a couple years; who knows when the fallout from this is going to blow over?

“Please, Ktsn.”

The human had heard enough snippets about Wdondf to form a shaky mental picture of his character. However, he wasn’t confident that such contrition, or debasement, was something Ktsn had heard from her sire in a long long time. Obviously Cursog wasn’t used to displays like the one unfolding, either; Ktsn’s father had the attention of one cocked eye.

“If you do not comply,” Wdondf continued, when she made no sign of any sort, “then I will be forced to cast you out of the community entirely. We are in the middle of a crisis unlike any we have ever faced.”

Amen to that, sadly.

Ktsn’s words were like soapy knives.

“That is precisely why we must prepare ourselves for integration. Not further self-cohesion, but the inclusion in the much larger community of Rhaagm! It is not a prospect that will get easier with time. It will become harder, if anything.”

She gave a little, almost cute, sigh.

“Father. This human here has told me a tremendous number of things that we need to keep at the forefront of our planning for the future. We do need to ensure that our kind remain adhered to ourselves, in at least one sense. He claims that some of his countrymen will quite probably try to wrest our holdings from our control.”

At the wrenching of her father’s posture into cringing triumph, she huffed and took a step back.

“Not in that fashion. No, they will try and bargain with our leadership to lease, or even outright purchase, the very earth and air of our home.”

Eihks caught a few looks of consternation from the other volunteers, aimed in his direction. He met them evenly. Evenly, rather, until he noticed one fellow far back from the proceedings. The fellow, unless he was mistaken, wasn’t assigned to any of his companion’s family members.

He recognized the winter elf called Bjill as a compatriot of a certain Unseelie Court. For that matter, the thoughts he’d just had of Taniwen echoed back through his head with the metallic sound of fate, as though he’d been sealed into the cup of a church bell the size of an automobile.

Bjill, as arrogant as he was, hadn’t bothered to watch from afar, or to separate himself from Mr. Richard by proxy. No, he’d come in person, either too confident in his ability to avoid detection for his own good or vastly unconcerned if he were recognized. Probably the latter, because – as the saying had it – he was too stupid to be stupid. After all, it wasn’t like he was getting caught red-handed in the process of committing some offense.

Perhaps Eihks’s immediately devised worst-case scenario was going too far, but he couldn’t deny that pugnacious and abrasive people like the winter elf would only have the explorer’s worst interests at heart. If the man was here, it wasn’t out of some kind of deep-seated love for his fellow entity.

“But that is not my greatest reason for my visit,” continued Ktsn, ignorant of the roiling thoughts going on just behind her. “I have come to wish you farewell for the time being.” Before anyone else could puncture the bubble of tension, she continued, “I am going on a journey with this man, to see the world outside this village, this planet, and this life. I – we – need to adapt. ‘We shall learn about this new dawn we have inherited, and none better as a guide than a person who has lived this day in whole.’ Hopefully it will not be long before I return, Cursog, but I cannot promise anything at all.”

The human sniffed, and paid attention. After Ktsn, the most interesting reaction he saw was not the half-shattered upset of Wdondf, or Cursog’s confusion, or the way the others slowly converged on the strong daughter and enfrailed father.

No, he watched that man named Bjill, and bared the teeth of his spirit when he saw the winter elf deliberately failing to take notice of their little display.

He rejoiced in the peace of knowing with certainty that one has earned a foe, by merit or by chance.

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