The Last Tale of Yajikali

Chapter LVI - Silence and Death

by Charles Matthias

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

North of the Inn in the midst of the forest surrounded by rocks and low hills was the graveyard for Glen Avery. Old stones crumbling from mould stood nearest the village, while the newer plots lay further out and around, some so close together that they threatened to collapse into each other. Dates stretching as far back as the 200s dotted the earliest tombstones, at least those the rain hadn’t completely effaced, but an unhappy number pronounced the year 699 when Nasoj’s forces brought about the curses that had left this town a place of animal-men.

They never feared the incursions of Lutins upon this sad ground, for the superstitious Lutins feared the ghosts that would haunt them should they desecrate the tombs. Many chose not to have their loved ones buried there, as it was not required of Lothanasi. But for Followers it was very important, for they believed that their bodies would be resurrected at the last day. And so the gravedigger Kunma Malenos worked alone with spade upon a shaded hillside, but he did not have to dig much.

And as he worked, the Glenners congregated in the commons while Father Hough gave a restrained service to a people who did not share his faith to pray little Ladero Matthias into the hereafter. The youthful priest had only once been to Glen Avery when he’d come to baptise the children, and that visit had been all too brief. If not for the seriousness of his task, he would have spent his few days there this time climbing the trees and cavorting with the other children.

Lothanasa Raven had brought him message of the boy’s death. She had offered to see to the boy’s remains, but Lady Kimberly had insisted upon an Ecclesia burial for her son. And so after tending Garigan’s wounds, the wolf priestess had returned to Metamor and informed Hough of his unpleasant duty.

Like any parish priest, Father Hough had performed many funerals. But this one would be different. After he’d first been made into a child by the Curse, Hough had been scared of even the presence of another man. The now dead Lord Loriod had raped him and every time he’d seen another man, the image of that loathsome animal had returned to haunt him. It had been Lady Kimberly who had seen to him and helped him overcome his fear. Charles had come to help once or twice, but only when Hough was ready to face him.

Now the woman who’d saved him from madness had lost a child. What words of comfort could he give her?

He hadn’t been alone in coming to Glen Avery. All six rats living at Metamor had come, as had several members of the Writer’s Guild. And of course, Misha Brightleaf and as many Longs as could be spared were there. Kimberly had seen each of them in turn and let them offer what comfort they had. The people of the Glen had already done so, and most still wore some token of black.

Angus the badger carved the boy’s name in the coffin, while the headstone was inscribed by the rats. One in particular, a rat named Hector whose paws had no thumbs, was very good at getting the others to draw out shapes from the stone. The headstone was in the shape of a simple yew with a rat perched upon the central branch. Sir Saulius chiselled Ladero’s name into the trunk.

This was all done the day they arrived. But on the next, Father Hough began his painful duty.

The Glenners and the Keepers gathered on the Commons, each of them kneeling at Hough’s direction. Behind him loomed the stone wall outside the brewery. Two Glenners had brought a stone table and placed it against the wall, where Hough and his acolytes had placed candles, a yew, the Tabernacle, and the Canticles. He’d blessed the makeshift altar with holy water, but it still felt inadequate for the task.

In a small wooden casket lay the body of the poor boy. Kneeling before it was a rat veiled in black. Next to her was an opossum also in black, with four little rats who sat with confused expressions on their faces. Though they aged faster than normal children, they still didn’t understand death. They still didn’t know they would never see their brother again this side of Heaven.

Hough turned towards the altar and knelt, staring up at the yew with the body of Yahshua contorted in agony. His voice rang hollow through the Glen, words perhaps never uttered within that temple of trees. “Requiem aeternam dona eis Domine: et lux perpetua luceat eis.”

That was all he needed to say. Behind him he heard Lady Kimberly burst into racking sobs. Hough swallowed and continued the prayer. As the words left his tongue, his heart aching on every syllable, he heard more and more begin to cry.

After completing the opening prayers, he rose and turned around, staring first at the coffin, and then at the throng assembled before him. Somehow, despite his fear, the words came to him. “It is written that when Yahshua arrived at the house of Lazar, He wept. Though Yahshua raised Lazar from the dead, He too understood and felt the sorrow of Lazar’s sisters and all his family. So too does He understand the loss we feel today. So too does He weep with us for our sorrow.”

Hough licked his lips. Kimberly still sobbed, her eyes fixed upon the coffin. Her children clustered around her, scared by her sorrow. The other rats sat nearby, Sir Saulius offering his hand to her back. Misha was next to him, looking like he wanted to sweep her into his arms and hold her tight. He’d done so already the night before and several times that morning.

“So many of us know the pain of losing a child. It is never easy, no matter how common it may seem. Ladero Matthias did not deserve to die, nor did his family deserve to lose him. You watched him grow, and then watched him slip away. But he is not gone forever. There are but two things we all have in common. We are born, and we shall die. We cannot escape this fate. But death is merely the passage into the life to come. We of the Ecclesia believe that after our death comes judgement for those who have rejected Eli, and mercy for those who have embraced His Son. I am not here to tell you this day what to believe. Only that this child is now in the loving arms of his creator, his Eli. His last days were ones of suffering, but he will never suffer in Paradise.”

Kimberly was looking at him now, her deep brown eyes brimming with more tears. Hough met her gaze and felt himself go cold. “We can offer only this consolation. He will love you and pray for you all his days in Paradise, until the hour in which you join him there. He loves you now more than he ever could have in this life.”

And with those words, Kimberly burst into fresh sobs and flung herself on the coffin. She beat at it with her fists, even as Baerle, Misha, and Saulius tried to pull her back. She shrugged them off one by one and poured her tears into the wood.

Hough turned back to the altar, made the sign of the yew, and took the chalice of holy water. He sprinkled it on the coffin, and on Kimberly who did not move. With a weary heart he said, “And now we pray.”

As Father Hough recited the remaining prayers, he could not help but wonder where her husband Charles had gone. How would he take the news of his son’s death when he returned? The child priest swallowed and continued the prayers to commend the boy’s soul to Eli.

The wreckage had long been cleared from the wharves and while the easternmost docks were still destroyed, Whales was no longer the cripple Marzac had tried to make them. Ten ships berthed in the docks, most of them being refitted and supplied before they returned to the seas to patrol the Straits of Good Fortune. Even more were out to sea or docked at other ports around the island.

For the first time since that horrible night, Prince Phil of Whales felt some hope.

The lapine toured the docks with Commodore Pythoreaus. The elder seamen had been a constant advisor during the last few months, and though he stood twice Phil’s height, he never ceased being deferential towards his liege. Under normal circumstances, Phil would have grated at it, but in a crisis such as this, it was exactly how he wanted his men to behave. He wanted them to offer their advice and question his thoughts, but also to obey the orders he gave without question or hesitation. Commodore Pythoreaus did both.

“It is hard to believe that two months ago the wharves were nearly destroyed. Two months ago the road from the castle was lined with men dying from the fire. Two months ago we were in hell, and now look at us.” Phil gestured with his paws, ears erect and posture full of righteous pride. “The docks thrive once more! Our Navy stands ready once more!”

Pythoreaus nodded, then gestured to the battlements. The barracks roof had been cleared, but the gaping hole let in all the rain. The wall itself still bore the scars of the attack, as not one stone had been relaid. “There is much more to do, but you are right. We have recovered enough that they will not be able to do that again.”

Phil grimaced but nodded. “The rest of the repairs can wait until we have taken the battle to them, Commodore. No army has ever breached the walls of Whales. Even a sneak attack with our fire and they couldn’t do it!”

“Are you sure we are prepared for a counteroffensive?”

Phil ignored the question. Instead, he hopped over to a scarred man in a Captain’s uniform. He stood on the quay and shouted orders to the men bearing replacement oars onto a ship that bore fire damage along its port stern. He turned when he saw the large rabbit hopping toward him. “Your highness,” he said, bowing at the waist. “What brings you here to the wharves?”

“Inspection, Captain,” Phil replied. He felt Pythoreaus walk in behind him. The Captain had a scar crossing over one eye and along his arms. Phil noted the man’s arms and asked, “Were you burned in the fire?”

“Years past. A bucket of sand saved my life.”

Phil recalled the terrible moment during the Battle of Three Gates when his fire cannon had backfired on him. The fire had covered his whole body, and for a few mind-searing seconds, he thought he would die from his country’s secret weapon. He’d thought then that the gods he didn’t worship had chosen for him an ironic death, but the curses were laid in that moment, as well as the counter-curse, and changing into a rabbit saved his life.

This man had been exceedingly lucky to have the fire only touch his arms. “You are most fortunate then. Tell me, Captain...”

“Ioannes, your highness.”

“Captain Ioannes, was your ship damaged in the attack?”

“Aye, but we have finished the repairs. The hull could be painted, but we wear the scars as a sign of honour.”

Phil rocked his ears and stood a bit taller. “Very good! Very good! Tell me, Captain Ioannes, when will your crew be ready to put out?”

Ioannes grinned, eyes full of pride for his ship and his Dromarius. “This very hour if you wish it. Give the order and we will set sail for Marzac itself.”

“Nae, that is one order I will not give,” Phil replied. “But I may call upon you to fire on other ships of Whales, those same ships corrupted by Marzac. Can you and your crew do that? They are your brothers and your fellow countrymen.”

“And I will pray for their souls as I launch the fire myself.”

“Good man,” Pythoreaus said. “You are a credit to the Whalish Navy.”

“The Commodore speaks true,” Phil added. “Continue readying your ship. The day we strike back is close at hand.”

Ioannes grinned, the scar on his face twisting his expression into a most gruesome mask. Oh yes, he would launch the fire. Phil was sure of that.

An hour later, Phil and Pythoreaus returned to the castle. The streets of the city were clear again. Those who were still recovering had been put under the care of Lothanas Lycias. The elder priest had cleared an area of the temple for them to be tended by the acolytes. Only a few days past he assured Phil that all who still lived were beyond the danger of imminent death, though many would never sail again. All those who would die from the attack had already done so and their bodies given to the sea.

Phil invited Pythoreaus to accompany him to his study where he’d arrayed a large map of the Whales and the straits. He had placed model ships all around the island, as well as a ring framing Marzac on either side. The few reports they’d received from the blockade indicated that it was working and that no other ships had succumbed to Marzac’s corruption. Still, far too many were now under that evil influence. Several times the rogue fleet was seen near the straits, but never had they attempted to attack again.

“Commodore Pythoreaus, I have been plotting a strategy this last month as more and more of our ships arrive. I believe in the next two weeks enough ships will arrive that we can begin a counteroffensive.”

Pythoreaus frowned and tapped the Marzac peninsula. “How can we attack when any ship we send turns against us as soon as they near the Chateau?”

“We don’t attack Marzac itself,” Phil replied. “You’re right. Any such attack is foolish. I should have known better than to send in the few ships I did. I fear I have condemned every one of them to death.” He hopped into his seat and sat his paws on the map. “Marzac is beyond our reach, but the ships they stole from us are not.”

Pythoreaus rubbed his chin. “What do you have in mind?”

“We lure them away. Send in a small fleet close enough that it gets their attention, but not close enough to fall prey to the corruption. The mage’s guild has been working on this problem since the attack, and they assure me they have a few spells that should help warn us of any danger.”

“This is risky. I have not heard of any tests being performed on their spells.”

“No, they haven’t. I want to send one ship out using this magic. They will return as soon as they detect anything.”

Pythoreaus drummed his fingers on the map. “They could still be corrupted and trying to trick us.”

“Lothanas Lycias believes he can reveal the truth of that.”

“And you believe him?”

Phil lowered his ears. “I don’t know. I hope. It is all I have left. If I’m wrong, another crew will be lost. It is why I will only send one.”

“What if that one is destroyed by the rogues?”

“Then we will still know the extent of the corruption. Further, we will know they will come for us if we send a small force between the straits. We then lure them westward until our fleet from either strait can box them in and destroy them. And if the news we have from Sutthaivasse is true and this Sutt heir wishes to aid us, then they can bring their ships to bear from the north. With nowhere to run, Marzac will lose its purloined navy.”

Pythoreaus began to nod. He said something more, but Phil’s ears turned to listen to the commotion outside his door. Guards shouted in surprise, and he could hear Prime Minister Niacles crying in delight. Phil turned just as the doors to his study swung open, and a man striding forward who a month ago he hadn’t believed he would ever again see on his feet.

“Father!” Phil cried, as King Tenomides, dressed in his bed clothes with a robe over his shoulders for modesty and status, stalked into the room. “What are you doing up?”

Behind him Niacles gushed with a look of purest delight. The guards knelt, faces shaken. Tenomides looked from Pythoreaus to Phil, and then smiled. “I am out of bed because I no longer need lie there. The fever that claimed me for these last eleven months has finally broken. I feel alive again.”

It took all of Phil’s self-composure to keep himself from jumping off his chair and hugging his adoptive father’s leg in joy. “Father, I can scarcely believe it! This is wonderful! All of Whales will celebrate your return to health.”

“They will,” Tenomides replied with a sure strength. “But I would rather them celebrate our victory over Marzac. Niacles tells me that you and Commodore Pythoreaus have been planning something. Tell me what it is you wish to do.”

“Of course,” Phil motioned him closer and pointed excitedly at the map. Now more than ever, he knew that this would work. Phil would make sure that Marzac had corrupted its last soul!

On the first day after escaping the Whalish blockade, everyone kept a close eye on the sea and on the land. Not a single one of them relaxed, apart from Qan-af-årael who seemed entirely too blasé for his companions’ taste. Andares kept watch from the bow, while Jessica remained in the crow’s nest. The hawk spared not a moment to preen her feathers as she watched the horizon for the return of either ship of Whales.

But as the day wore on into the afternoon, Captain Tilly relaxed and his confidence spread to the sailors, and by nightfall to the Keepers and their friends. Where the day had dawned with the ship silent but for the creaking of the wood and the ropes, by dusk it brimmed with laughter and bravado. Rarely could sailors of any principality or nation make the boast that they had bested the Whalish Navy. If they ever returned home to Breckaris, these sailors would tell this tale for the rest of their days in every tavern they could find and to any crowd that would listen.

Charles and Jerome spent much of that day in the hold meditating and seeking out their calm. After knowingly using their gift to bring harm to those who had not acted unjustly, neither of them felt the connection that kept their power in check. They paused only to take a brief dinner, but were otherwise lost in their internal world soothing the wounds they’d inflicted upon themselves.

Kayla resumed her game with the ancient Åelf who mystified her when he explained that the phase of the moon had changed and that the rules had followed suit. Lindsey watched the poor skunk for a while, but eventually returned to the deck to watch the sailors and keep abreast of anything Captain Tilly had to say. Abafouq and Guernef returned to making their pendants, while Habakkuk returned to his letters. James kept a watch on the Rheh.

When the sun set, Jessica left the crow’s nest to sleep, finally satisfied that they’d left the Whalish fleet behind. His crew exhausted, Tilly found a small cove and dropped anchor for the night. Charles and Jerome helped keep watch in turns with a handful of Tilly’s men. But the coastline remained empty despite signs that a number of men had passed through recently. All through the sand they saw small piles of ashes. A few days past, a score or more men had made camp there, but there was no sign of where they’d gone.

The second day after they’d escaped, they saw more and more signs of man. The coast road was visible for long stretches, but the towns that flanked its sides seemed deserted. Three of them they passed showed signs of attack. Homes had been burned to the ground, while others had only a door left standing, or a rare metal post would remain where once a house had been. And in those villages that had not been destroyed they still saw no sign of anyone. Occasionally they would catch a glimpse of a face peering out from a window that gaped like a shark’s maw, but then they would look again and see nothing.

After passing the third such village, Lindsey could stand it no longer and asked, “What’s happened here? The ashes are still fresh.”

Tilly grunted and kept his hands on the wheel. “War. The Marquis du Tournemire once controlled all of Western Pyralis. Rumour has it that the Sutt heir has returned to claim his demesnes.”

“Who is the Sutt heir?” Lindsey asked.

But Tilly only shrugged. “Nobody’s claimed to see him. That whole line was thought dead years ago. The old Sutt ruler tried to take control of everything with his armies. Almost did too. The Marquis brought in foreign allies and was able to defeat old Lord Sutt.”

“I know of that,” Lindsey replied. He didn’t mention that two of those allies were on board. Charles had already told them the tale of how he’d first met the Marquis du Tournemire long before coming to Metamor. “But how can there be a Sutt heir if the line was destroyed?”

“Apparently this one left Sutthaivasse before the tide turned against old Lord Sutt. Some say he fled into Sathmore and became a heathen.”

“A Lothanasi?”

“Yeah, one of them.”

“Isn’t Sutthaivasse on the western shore of Pyralis?”

Tilly nodded. “The land of Pyralis is a land of many peoples. They swear loyalty to the Lord nearest them, and have no desire to have any loyalty to any other. Handil Sutt learned this, and it looks as if the Marquis’s hold on the land has finally been broken.”

Lindsey didn’t mention the other thought that came to him. It might not be that the Marquis had lost control. He might not need it anymore.

As the second day drew on toward evening, the air became noticeably warmer. Despite the lateness of the season, the sailors removed their shirts when they could, and even Tilly doffed his surcoat. Lindsey found the heat an interesting novelty after living his entire life far to the north, but by the evening grumbled about it. Tilly assured him that when they journeyed through the swamp it would be much worse.

By dawn on the third day after their escape from the Whalish fleet, the Sondeckis ceased their meditation and assured their friends that they had healed themselves as much as they could. Jerome replaced Lindsey on deck, while Jessica resumed her place in the crow’s nest. The expanse of Western Pyralis stretched from north to south to the starboard, a wide swath of green pastures interspersed with small forests, farms, and villages. In the distance they could see the spires of a city, but of the swamp itself, only the warmth in the air gave hint to its presence.

Tilly took the Tserclaes away from shore as they neared the city. The waters were calm and the sky clear, but every one of them began to feel unsettled. The dolphins no longer followed them, nor could they see any other sign of marine life. The laughter died away, and all eyes kept to their tasks. Even Tilly appeared disturbed. He gave the wheel to his first mate and paced back and forth on the aft deck.

Jerome grew tired of watching him move back and forth and so gestured to the city on the horizon. “If I remember my geography of Pyralis correctly, that will be Old Tourne. Am I right?”

Tilly glanced at the city and nodded. “Aye. Old Tourne, the old seat of the house of Tournemire. At least a century past the family moved their household to the city that now bears their name. Have you been there?”

“Briefly,” Jerome replied. “I remember it being a city armed for war, filled with old monuments and statues whose faces had worn away.”

“It has not much changed,” Tilly replied. He stopped pacing and kicked the railing with one foot, shoulders hunched forward. “There is something in the air here. Can you feel it?”

“Aye.” Jerome tugged at his collar and gazed at the southern horizon. For a moment, he felt as if something down there gazed back at him. Uneasily, he averted his eyes. “I think we should land soon. If we go much farther we risk exposing your crew to Marzac’s corruption.”

“Isn’t that what yon fellow is supposed to be doing?” Tilly waved one arm at Andares who stood motionless in the bow. “He just stands there and lets the wind move through his hair. If any of my sailors did such a thing, they would soon learn better!”

Jerome wrapped his arms over his chest and stared at the Åelf. Andares appeared lost in thought. Did he sense anything at all? “I’m going to speak with him. But I think we should make land south of Old Tourne. Can we do so without being seen?”

Tilly nodded. “If no one is using the road, we can land aabout two hours south. That will put you midway between Old Tourne and Tournemire. Are you sure you want to land there? If any land is under the Marquis’s thumb, it is that.”

“We won’t risk you to Marzac. We must go, but you should not. We’ll land wherever we must.” Tilly said nothing else, so Jerome left him and crossed the main deck. Andares stood at the tip of the bow, pearl-grey hands resting on the railing with his eyes set to the south. He did not turn as Jerome approached.

“Andares,” the Sondecki called. “Andares! Everyone is feeling something in the air. Have we reached the corruption?”

“No,” Andares replied, his lips barely moving to speak. “No, we have not reached the corruption.”

“Then what are we feeling?”

“The Marquis.” Andares finally turned and met his gaze. “His power has touched this sea. He wants us to come to him.”

Jerome tapped his knuckles together. “Then why send an army to capture us?”

“A good question. But he left us where we would be sure to escape, with a woman who herself sought to escape. I think he meant for us to kill her.”

“Is the Marquis at Tournemire?”

Andares stared for a moment more and then shook his head. “I do not think so. This feels old, as if he’d laid it down a long time past.”

“Are we arriving before him?”

“I do not sense him behind us,” Andares replied and gestured to the north. “I fear he has used Zagrosek’s ability to pass through shadow to reach Marzac ahead of us.”

Jerome remembered well what Charles had told him of what had become of their old friend, and of the power he had gained since going to Marzac. Why only he had been gifted with shadow-walking, Jerome couldn’t say, but it had been enough. How much anguish had Zagrosek caused with that one ability? He couldn’t begin to imagine.

“I told Captain Tilly we should land south of Old Tourne. I don’t like the way the air feels, and neither does he nor his crew. Do you think it wise?”

Andares nodded. “The Rheh will make better time than the Tserclaes. I do not sense an ambuscade. I genuinely think the path is clear.”

“I’ll tell Tilly, and then tell the rest.”

“I will remain here until we land.”

Jerome left the Åelf, unsure whether he felt any better knowing that it was not the corruption but the Marquis’s power bringing them closer that they all sensed.

As Tilly promised, it was another few hours before he brought the Tserclaes to the shoreline. There were no wharves, but the cove was deep enough that they could lower the gangplanks and unload without having to jump into the water. The cove stood at the edge of a low promontory covered in grass. Remnants of an old farmer’s shack clung to the hillside, but the elements were quickly bringing it down. Wild grasses and thistles infested what remained of the long dead farmer’s fields. A mile inland amidst rolling hills and marshes they could see the coast road following a small ridge. Not a soul travelled along it, and no birds flew in the sky.

Charles, James and Lindsey led the Rheh onto grassy hillside, while Guernef simply leaped from the deck and flew across. The others carried their things out, with Habakkuk helping Abafouq carry the pendants the Binoq had prepared. The sailors helped them unload their cargo. Within ten minutes, all of their gear was stacked in the grass or already positioned in saddlebags.

Captain Tilly stood with his first mate at the end of the gangplank and surveyed them one last time. Hie rubbed his pointed beard with one hand and a smile graced his lips. “I will say that I have never enjoyed a voyage more than I think I have this one. You’ve been obstinate in a way I do not like, but you never stopped helping. For that I thank you. May Eli give speed to your quest.”

“And what of you and your crew?” Kayla asked. “Where will you go? We can’t help you evade the blockade a second time.”

“There is that,” Tilly admitted with a laugh. “But you forget. I know this coastline better than any. I can find safe harbour until the first of the year.”

“Will you have supplies enough until then?”

“Oh, aye.” Tilly gestured to the ship and his grin broadened. “If we must, we’ll put in at Old Tourne. I have friends in the city who owe me favours.”

Qan-af-årael stepped forward and inclined his head towards the Captain. He held out a small bit of folded cloth. “In return for your services on our behalf, I offer you this token. It is taken from the city of Ava-shavåis. You will never meet another man alive with one.”

Tilly’s eyes widened, but he did accept the cloth. He turned it over several times, frowning. “What is it?”

“When you lay down to sleep this night, it will open.” Qan-af-årael favoured him with his enigmatic smile and said, “Thank you for your aid. We must take our leave now. Our road is very long still.”

Tilly slipped the bit of cloth into his tunic and gestured for his first mate to board the ship. “Then I wish you all the luck in the world. Elis’ blessing be with you.”

“And with you,” Charles said softly as the Captain turned and climbed the gangplank. Behind them, the Rheh snorted and pawed at the earth. The Keepers stood watching as the Tserclaes drew in the gangplank and turned their sails. Slowly, the ship turned back into the sea.

“And it is time for us to depart,” Andares said. He mounted his Rheh, and his whole body seemed to glow. One by one they each mounted, and as they sat astride the golden horses again, they felt a renewed energy fill them. The Rheh drew into a close circle so that all could see each other, allowing Guernef the space to squeeze in next to them.

“Are those pendants ready yet?” Jessica asked in a raspy voice. She perched unsteadily in a smaller, more beastly form, but as her talons sunk into the saddle she managed to right herself.

Abafouq shook his head. “I have but one casting left. I cannot do so while riding. I think I will finish after we make camp.”

Jessica nodded her head. “Good. It shouldn’t take us long to reach the swamp. How much further do we have?”

“What I know of this land, and what I remember of our trip across the Steppe, I would say two days,” Kayla replied.

“That sounds right to me,” Charles added. “We’ll need to head inland first to avoid Tournemire. Everything north may be ghostly, but that city will still have the Marquis’s troops.”

“Then let us waste no more time,” Jessica said. She nodded towards the west. “Let’s ride!”

The Rheh spread out and began to gallop, and each heard the familiar pounding crack the ground. The air rushed past them, crisp and clear, as the sound of a thousand hooves reverberated in their ears. Their hearts beat with that rhythm, the chant cascading off their tongues willing or not. “Rheh! Rheh! Rheh!” And as one, the golden steeds of Talaras leapt into the air. Everything fell behind them, the grass, the road, the ramshackle hut, and even the Tserclaes, disappeared from sight within minutes.

Cover | Contents | Prologue | Book I | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | Interlude I
Book II | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29 | 30 | Interlude II
Book III | 31 | 32 | 33 | 34 | 35 | 36 | 37 | 38 | 39 | 40 | 41 | 42 | 43 | 44 | 45 | 46 | 47 | 48 | Interlude III
Book IV | 49 | 50 | 51 | 52 | 53 | 54 | 55 | 56 | 57 | 58 | 59 | 60 | 61 | 62 | 63 | 64 | 65
66 | 67 | 68 | 69 | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | Epilogue

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