Libraries - Part II

Yonson dangled the cheery between his thumb and one claw, eyeing his dinner guest playfully. Letting it swing freely between his blunt, dark claws, the lemur asked in an almost disbelieving tone, "Are you sure you don't want one of these delectable sweets? They are the last fresh batch of the season."

The kangaroo sitting opposite him in the lounge that the Ambassador had purchased for his guests with very large tails shook his head once, the long ears waggling back and forth as he did so. "No, it is yours to eat, I prefer my food a tad bit greener."

Yonson shrugged, and popped the cheery in his muzzle, crunching down on the sweet juices with an expression of pure satisfaction. His own tail was curled around the post of his seat like a snake, coiling its stripes all the way to the bauble at the top. "I thought you said that you could still eat fruits."

Habakkuk drew one finger down the side of his muzzle, wiping a bit of the bread out of his fur. "I can, but that doesn't mean they are my favourite things in the world anymore."

The lemur let out a throaty chuckle, and then wiped his paws on the threaded napkin in his lap. They were finishing off the last of the meal that Yonson had ordered for them; a great cavalcade of every fruit available in Metamor, as well as luscious breads drenched in sauces and creams of every colour. Yonson himself was quite fond of the béchamel sauce, as he would repeatedly dip the peaches into the buttery cream and gently suck on the pulp for several moments before chewing the treat and swallowing.

Habakkuk's eyes trailed over the food, selecting one last slice of the cheese flavoured crumpets, and then washed it down with a bit of the white wine that had been served. They then worked their way past his host, and to the decorations adorning the Ambassadorial suite. Most of it was supplied by Thalberg and his eager staff; draperies, sways, were festooned across the marble lintels, each of those being hand sculptured into florid designs, ironically including caricatures of animals frolicking in open fields. As Metamor had no had any official ambassadors living with her walls since before Nasoj's curse, the design was probably at least ten years of age.

Then there were the personal items that Yonson had brought with him. Zhypar studied the books snugly holstered within the mahogany case abutting the wall; many were titles that he recognized, a few appeared to even be some of the works that the Writer's Guild had put together for sale to the Midlands. By the binding and relatively glossy print upon their spines, he could tell that the ones he did not recognize had to be newer books that had not circulated this far north yet. Given the structure of the lettering, he could see why, they were all from the Southlands, and the western-most continent at that. Probably manufactured in Boreaux, as the engravings appeared to be rather reminiscent of the Boreaux heraldry.

Habakkuk tried to decide which craftsman had fashioned those bindings, when Yonson interrupted his pondering. "You never did answer my earlier question, you know."

Zhypar turned to face the lemur once again, who was finishing off the last of the fruits. The succulent plum disappeared beneath his mouth, though a bit of the purple juice trailed out one side of his muzzle. He wiped at the spill with his cloth napkin, and licked at his nose. The large golden embers of his eyes bore down on the kangaroo though, demanding attention.

"I'm afraid I have forgotten what you asked!" Habakkuk admitted drily, laughing at his own inattentiveness.

"How is it that you of all people ended up here at the Keep? I still remember that day when I was only a blue that you managed to cross the Algra Hook without assistance. Put the blacks of my clan in quite a tizzy. And now here you are again, like you've been following me about."

The kangaroo continued to chuckle for a moment before sipping at the wine. It tasted like grain, something he'd always despised before his change. Now it was quite one of his favourites. "Well, I came here after the curses were in place. About four years ago now I think. I'd been here several times before, I left the Southlands about eleven years ago after all. Shortly after I met you in fact."

"But why did you come to the Keep?" Yonson pressed, his tail twitching around the pole. It was sometimes even more expressive than his face could be now!

Zhypar sighed and then simply let his smile grow upon his face. "For no better reason than love."


"Yes, my lover was trapped here at the Keep at the time of the curses and, so I finally decided to join him here, in hopes that we could be together. But it was not to be."

Yonson nodded. "Strange that after all these years that we'd find each other again. Even when I left the Hook, many of those blacks were still talking about you with those same shocked expressions on their faces."

"Well, it is the testing grounds for your clan," Habakkuk intoned, still lost in his own reverie. "Did you ever walk it?"

"No, I was sent to Southern Pyralis shortly before I would have undergone the trials to ascend to black, and was never called back."

Zhypar nodded absently as he licked a bit of the sauce from his muzzle. It had been so long ago, shortly before he left the Southlands all together. His trek across the Algra Hook had been arduous, but it had also been unprecedented. The Weathermongers had taken him captive and locked him in one of their cellars. For a whole week, he waited, only seeing one other person in that entire time, the lowly rank blue Weathermonger of the name Yonson who had brought him his food.

And then they let him go, without explanation, they put him on a ship, and sailed him off to Kitch to the South. He'd never returned of course. Seeing Yonson now was quite a surprise to him, and so he had of course accepted the dinner invitation when it was offered.

"And now you are the Head of the Writer's Guild here," finished his unspoken thought. "Quite an interesting coincidence that we both end up here. There are not too many of us Southerners here at the Keep. I know of you, Rickkter, and that rat Matthias. Are there any others?"

Habakkuk shook his head once. "I do not believe so. Most of the Keepers were born here or in the Midlands."

Yonson peered out the window for a moment, his golden eyes glistening. "I can see why. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. It is unfortunate that your enemies to the North make appreciating it nearly impossible."

The kangaroo gave him a bewildered stare. "You appear to be enjoying yourself. I'd say that you love being a lemur."

The Ambassador cast his eyes towards his black palms, and then shook his head after a moment. "Not as much as I intimate. True, I am intrigued by this new shape I wear, it is not the body I am used to. I suppose in another year or so I may me more disposed towards it. And yourself? Being a kangaroo must be difficult for you."

Habakkuk waggled his ears a moment. "Not as hard as it may appear. It took a while to become acquainted with this tail and these legs, but now, it is natural for me."

The lemur's gaze returned once more to the afternoon sun just visible in his open window. The jalousie were held open by two ivory rods, letting the air flow in, but little else. "I have business with the Prime Minister shortly," he intoned absently. Finally, after a few moments of silence, his eyes settled on his dinner guest. "It was good to have you over, Zhypar. I'm glad to know that I have one friend here. I do hope to see you around more often."

Habakkuk rose from the longue, his thick tail brushing over the satin lining as he did so. "I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, Yonson. I do hope that you may let me borrow a few of your books one day. You have a few tomes that appear new to me."

Yonson barked a laugh, his pelt twitching, and his tail uncurling from the post. "You haven't read something? I remember that collection of grimoires you hauled with you across the Hook! I cannot imagine there ever being more books than that! It is little surprise they made you Head of the Writer's Guild, what with your experience." Yonson turned once to stare at the paltry selection his library could offer. "I'd certainly be willing to let you borrow some of my books, but not today, for I must be off."

"Of course," Habakkuk nodded, making his way towards the door. The lemur stood at his side, a bit shorter, but certainly the better dressed of the two, garbed in the blue finery with the Marzac heraldry embossed in the centre. Habakkuk wore a simple chartreuse doublet, his most expensive gown, and one he reserved for specific occasions. Neither had commented on their finery, as it was clear that Yonson's would only embarrass the roo.

Outside in the hallway though, stood one of the two guards who normally flanked his door. The other had one wing draped across another hawk, and was speaking to her in a low voice, though considering their avian throats, any sort of whispering would inevitably be heard by other animal morphs. Both Yonson and his guest grinned as the captain of his guard clumsily lurched back to his post.

"Ah, Jessica! What a pleasant turn of events," Yonson's tail twitched erratically as he spoke in sarcastic delight. "I can see that I am not the only one pleased to see you." Weyden's beak drooped even lower as he fussed at his already loose jerkin.

"Greetings, milord," Jessica bowed her head low, though only briefly.

Habakkuk stood back while Yonson stepped out into the hall. "I have a scheduled meeting with the Prime Minister. Weyden, would you wake up Larssen? I'll want him and Maud to be my guards, as if I really need any here at the Keep."

Weyden started to move from his post, but his talons would not lift from the stone. "What do you want me to do afterwards, milord?" His pupil kept trailing back to Jessica who was standing off to one side.

"You may have the rest of the evening to yourself, though I doubt you'll choose to spend it that way," Yonson waved one paw dismissively, at which both hawks appeared to brighten.

Taking one cautionary step forward, almost as if he were afraid that any eagerness on his behalf would cause the Ambassador to change his mind, Weyden made his way to the door across the room, and ducked inside.

Habakkuk noticed Jessica approaching him, and turned his attention to her, instead of Yonson's guard commander. "What is it? Do you have some message for me?"

She nodded once, her wings twitching. "Yes, my master wishes to speak with you. He did not tell me why, but he made it very clear that it was urgent."

The kangaroo nodded and gazed back at Yonson. "I'm afraid that I have business elsewhere too. Thank you for the delightful dinner."

Yonson nodded and inclined his head respectfully. "I do hope that we can dine again. It has been most pleasant seeing you again, Zhypar."

Habakkuk gave his own farewells, saw that Jessica was watching the door Weyden disappeared into, and so departed by himself. Walking was rather awkward, as his feet were so long. On occasion, he would allow himself the diversion of hopping from one place to another. It was amazingly quick, and immensely satisfying, but it tended to stretch the seams of his pantaloons a bit too much. These being his good clothes, he walked to Wessex's laboratory.

The Keep was as usual rather kind to him. It was a rarity when he would glimpse a staircase inside her walls. Thankfully, tonight was no different, and he strolled leisurely along the corridors and passageways until he was before the single door leading to Wessex's apartments. The door was open as it usually was. For somebody who lost their entire family because the defences were down, the boy wizard was quite trusting of his fellow Keepers.

"Wessex? Are you here?" Habakkuk called out as he stepped beneath the transom. The hallway joining his rooms was well kept, and the scent of lighted oil permeated the air.

The boy poked his head out of the first room. "Ah, I've been waiting for you. Come in, come in! Can I get you something to eat or drink?"

"No thank you, I was just dining with Ambassador Yonson."

Wessex nodded, closing the door to his apartments behind him. He then bolted the latch and motioned for the kangaroo to follow him into his study. Slightly confused, Zhypar trailed along behind the boy, taking the longue as he usually did when visiting others. On the table between the chairs was a single book, one that he recognized immediately. It was the Sudenhart Arcanum, the very book he had loaned to Wessex several months back.

"Is it about the book?"

Wessex nodded abstractly, his mind obviously very disturbed. "When I returned from Lorland, I found that my magic containment spells on my bookshelf had been tampered with. I think somebody has done something to this book, and I figured you would be more familiar with it. I haven't had the time to peruse it completely yet, or to even work out a complete translation for even one section. So, I thought you might be able to tell better if anything has happened to it."

Zhypar slid the tome into his paws, gently cradling the weathered binding and yellowed pages. He'd carried this volume for how long now? "And this book was in your shelf the entire time you were gone?"

"No, Jessica took it out so that Rickkter could read through it. She then replaced it." At the kangaroo's questioning glance the boy shook his head. "Impossible," Wessex declared. "I specifically attuned Jessica to the wards so that she could do just that very thing. She also claims to not have tried a casting upon them, so it must be something else."

"Are you sure your magic is working the same as before? I understand that things were not well for you this last week." Habakkuk's voice was low, repeating things that no Keeper had heard. Wessex did not appear to notice the incongruity of the question.

"No, I know it is not that. This has to be completely anomalous to the bookshelf."

Zhypar nodded and began flipping through the pages, noting each rune from memory. As he quickly skimmed the pages, his fingertips intuitively reached for the grooves in each page, rubbing them softly, inviting the memories of his own studies back into his mind. And then, the grooves were in the wrong place.

Stunned, Habakkuk focussed on the two pages, trying to discover where the page between them had gone to. Running his narrowest claw down the spine, he could feel the place where the page should have been attached. It was gone, as if it had simply never been placed in the book. Flipping through several more pages, he found a second place that possessed the same effect. The rest of the book was unchanged from his memories.

Closing the tome and gently laying it back on the table he sighed. "I'd say that you were right to seek me out. Something has happened to the book, but I cannot be sure by whom yet. I have a suspicion, but I will need to confirm it."

"Who is it? And what did they do to the book?" Wessex asked eagerly. The lines of strain clearly showed on his features, despite his youth.

Habakkuk drew one of his blunt claws across the spine of the tome as it lay on the table. "There are two pages missing. It appears that they have been cleanly removed; no trace of them exists except in my memory."

"What pages?"

"Two groups of mages were taken from the book. I know because the pages were not adjacent."

"Do you have another copy of Sudenhart Arcanum?" The kangaroo shook his head, and the child's sigh was heavy. "Is there any way that you can get those pages back? They might be vital for my research."

"I can assure you that they won't be, but I can try." Zhypar rose from the chair and rubbed his palms together. "If you will excuse me, I will test my theory."

Wessex nodded and waved one small hand negligently. "I have too much on my mind right now. Do inform me of what you discover."

The kangaroo simply lowered his head once, and back out of the room, and then into the halls of the Keep once more. Given his present demeanor, he found himself hopping lightly, despite the fact that it could tear the fabric of his doublet and hose. At the moment, that was no longer important to him. But he was fortunate that Kyia smiled once more upon him, and made his trek to his own apartments a short one.

Removing the fancy dress, he slipped on something plainer, a baggy set of tan pantaloons with a small vest. Bending over, his long thick tail dangling in the air behind him, he searched through his wine cupboard, passing by several brews distilled in Metamor and the Valley for something a bit rarer. The bottle was a dun grey in colour, and the liquid inside a pale chartreuse. The label had drenched in a downpour while being shipped, and so some of the smaller words had been smeared, but the vintage was clear, "651 CR, Arabarb".

Setting that to one side, the marsupial began scouring another drawer, running a claw over various bottles of fine powder, before finally tapping one a bright yellow in colour, of an especially fine texture. Selecting two tumblers from the shelf, he ran a single finger through the base of each. Satisfied at some unseen sense, he gently unscrewed the very top of the bottle with fine yellow dust. Sprinkling a grain or two into each cup, he resealed the bottle and replaced it in the drawer. Then with his claw, he rubbed the bottoms of both cups. Habakkuk peered down into the depths of each, holding them up to the window that he might see better. The yellow sparkles of dust were not visible.

Satisfied, Zhypar took the two tumblers, and the bottle of Arabarb wine, and left his rooms, hopping along at a rapid click through the halls of Metamor. It was not often that he felt this way. Anger was not an emotion he suffered a preponderance of. He would not have used the somnolent powder if it had not struck him now.

It did not take him overly long to reach his destination once again. Doing his best to organize his thoughts cohesively, he knocked three times at the door, and waited. The face of a raccoon was soon to be seen as the wooden structure opened wide. "Habakkuk? What can I do for you?" Rickkter asked in some confusion.

Zhypar held forth the wine and two glasses. "I thought we might share a drink, and talk. We are both Southerners, and aside from a few paltry conversations during the Festival, we have never really had a chance to become acquainted."

Rickkter's eyes traced his visage, as if scanning for some duplicity. Then they glanced briefly at the bottle held in the kangaroo's paw. "What sort of wine is that?"

"It is from the villages south of Arabarb, I travelled that way about ten years ago. Have you ever had any?"

Rickkter shook his head, and then stood apart from the doorway, obviously curious. Habakkuk was sure that this move was a surprise for the raccoon, who was busy studying him to determine whether he represented a threat. "No, I've never had the pleasure."

"I thought as much; fine stuff, though hard to come by these days thanks to Nasoj." Habakkuk walked into the room, and scanned it briefly. What attracted his eye first and foremost was the large bookcase standing against one wall. It was a modest collection at first glance, but given the condition of quite a few of the tomes, he was sure that it was an expensive collection as well.

"So, what can I do for you?" Rickkter asked, as he gently shut the door. From the sound of his voice, he was still trying to determine the kangaroo's intent in coming here.

Zhypar saw a small writing desk with a stool, and so set the wine and glasses upon the desk, and walked over to the bookcase. "This is quite a collection you have here."

"Why thank you," there was a hint of pride in the raccoon's voice. "I've been collecting it for most of my life."

"You've done rather well for yourself then." Habakkuk turned back to the wine and with one swift motion of his claws, popped the cork. "One advantage to being an animal I suppose." He flashed a grin to the raccoon, who returned it uncertainly, watching his sudden guest pour the frothy brown liquid into the two tumblers. Rickkter took the proffered cup, but held it at first. Zhypar took a quick draught of his own, and grinned brightly at the slight maple in its flavour.

Habakkuk turned back to the collection of books, though he could hear Rickkter sniffing at the wine. Its odour was strong enough that it would be impossible for him to notice the somnolent he'd placed in the cup beforehand. "I see you have Haskell's translation of Urgundum." Habakkuk muttered as he fingered the volume.

"Ah, yes," Rickkter replied. "Quite an expensive work, but well worth it. Have you ever seen it before?"

The kangaroo nodded. "How much did you pay for it?"

"Ten gold in the market, the seller wouldn't reduce his price. This was during my travels through the Southeastern kingdoms."

"I wouldn't pay ten coppers for it, because it is not worth even that," Habakkuk remarked dismissively. He could hear the raccoon sputter behind him. Obviously, he had sampled the wine.


"Just what I said, Haskell's translation is atrocious, there are mistakes on nearly every page. You wasted your money, Rickkter." Zhypar turned back around and faced the very surprised raccoon. "I have a copy of Urgundum in the original. I can copy out a translation in a month or two for you that avoids Haskell's errors."

"You have a copy of the original?" The raccoon asked in disbelief.

Zhypar nodded once, and then gazed back at the bookcase, "Were you at Fellos?"

It was obvious that his desultory manner had completely offset Rickkter, who simply spluttered again, drinking the wine much faster than he might have otherwise. "What? Fellos?"

"You know, the city with one of the greatest libraries in all the Southlands that the Eastern wizards sacked sixteen years ago. Were you ever there?"

Rickkter shook his head once, obviously very disturbed by the change in questions. "No, I've never been to Fellos, before or after it fell. Why do you ask?" There was a dangerous glint in the raccoon's eye, one that he probably was not trying too hard to hide.

"Oh, I was merely curious." Habakkuk ran his finger down the spine of one of the books, and then levered it out for the raccoon to see. The edges of the pages were blackened in spots. "The reason I ask is because some of your books obviously were at Fellos when it was sacked."

The worry creasing Rickkter's brow lifted to some extent, and he gingerly walked over to the bookcase, joining his guest. He took the book that Habakkuk had indicated and began leafing through it. "Ah, yes I remember where I got this one." He reshelved it. "That was part of a modest collection that I acquired in Beliheim. I didn't ask where some of the tomes came from, just that they were complete."

"The spine on that volume is unique, the burns clearly showing the time it was taken from Fellos."

"It's not alone in the category of being a little singed around the edges," said Rickkter as he walked along the length of the case, running a claw along the spines of a series of book to create a series of thumping clicks. "I've found that there are no better people to buy off than soldiers who have no idea the true value of what they've taken."

Habakkuk chortled drily at that, taking another sip of his wine. Already, he felt calmer than he had been when he'd hopped over here. Though the presence of a few books in Rickkter's collection, that though he had heard of them, he had never seen them before, did fill him with an uneasy disquiet. "And how do you think I felt about this wine?" He winked at the raccoon, and then indicated that they sit upon the rug, as the chairs available were not the sort he could make use of.

Rickkter joined him on the rug, his long striped tail laying behind him. The mask of his features appeared slightly calmer than before. No longer did the racoon appear to be out of his element as he had only moments before when Zhypar's questions had come from nowhere. To further lull him, Habakkuk asked more simple questions, inquiring of his journeys, and telling about a few of his own, revealing the ins and outs of life as a travelling merchant. Soon, they were in animated friendly conversation.

After an hour or so, Habakkuk was not sure how long it had been, all he knew was that a good bit of the wine bottle was gone, the conversation turned to their first days at the Keep. "I understand you caused quite a stir when you arrived. I was busy with Writer's Guild affairs much of the time, and so had to satisfy myself with the rumours."

"I rarely do not leave an impression anywhere I go," Rickkter confirmed, appearing quite full of himself, and the small dose of the drug.

"I heard that you and Charles had a bit of a fight when you first met."

"Oh, who told you that?" The racoon looked as if he were trying to be suspicious, but the somnolent was doing its job well.

Habakkuk waggled his ears, feeling its effects course through his own blood. It was a subtle thing, the somnolent, he doubted the raccoon would realize anything untoward had happened at all if he were careful about what was said. "Very few secrets remain secrets here, Rickkter, I would have thought you knew that."

"True," the raccoon murmured softly.

"Charles is an interesting character of course. Who would have thought that a Sondeckis would ever come to the Keep." Rickkter's ears had perked high at the mention of that name, and his eyes had gone wide with surprise. "Oh, didn't you know? Surely you must have. I, being from the Southlands, and having read many books, was able to recognize him for what he was after a few simple years of observation. Knowledge is a powerful tool after all, wouldn't you agree?"

"Yes, I enjoy employing it. I always like to know more about my enemies than they know of me."

"Of course, given that you and Charles fought bitterly at your first meeting, and the nature of your unspoken feud, I could just as easily determine that you were once a member of the Kankoran."

Rickkter's brown eyes snapped up and his tumbler stopped half way to his muzzle. He regarded Zhypar for several seconds before setting down his drink. Using the tips of his claw, Rickkter made a point of pushing it away from himself. "I didn't think this was a simple social visit."


"You don't make a statement like that in casual conversation."

"So you're not going to deny the fact that you are Kankoran?"

"No point in denying what you already know as a fact."

Habakkuk regarded the raccoon for a moment, his eyes tracing across the visage of his cool host. And then he let out a short laugh, displaying an inordinate amount of sang-froid in the face of such obvious alertness. "Do drink your wine, Rickkter. I'm not here simply to discommode you as you now appear to think. Why should it surprise you that a man such as myself, from the Southlands no less, would be able to recognize your former allegiances? Especially since I just demonstrated that I knew what Charles was."

"Some things are best left as secrets," Rickkter murmured in an unpleasant grouse.

The kangaroo laughed merrily again. "My good raccoon, ever since you arrived, you have done naught but demonstrate for all to see your wide range of abilities. You do recall our little boxing match in the Mule those months back, do you not? Did it ever occur to you that I might have wished to fight you so that I could confirm my suspicions as to what you were? Why should it surprise you that when you make plain your abilities to all, that any would figure out who you are?"

The raccoon still stared sullenly at his untouched tumbler. "I have not shown much of my abilities. Not yet at any rate." Then he reached out and took the wine bottle in his paws and poured himself more of the deep chartreuse fluid. "But, I suppose that you are right. But that still makes this conversation more interesting. If you were coming here simply as a social visit, you would not flaunt your knowledge of me before my eyes. You are here for another reason. I want to know what."

Habakkuk let loose a grin. "What makes you think I would tell you so easily?"

As expected, the humour was lost on Rickkter. "You see, this is why I would have been a horrid politician. I detest these kinds of song and dance routines. You came to make a point, so do hurry up and make it."

Zhypar was certain that Rickkter meant that unearthly stare of his to be penetrating. He was probably used to others flinching or averting their eyes from that gaze. Habakkuk was not the sort to be daunted by a glare, no matter how much power backed it up. "In that you are also right; this was not just a social visit, though I had hoped in some small way that we could use it for such matters, as we already have. Now I think it is time to deal with the more important questions. I asked you earlier if you were at Fellos. You said you were not involved in the sacking of that city. Now you admit to me that you are a Kankoran, and that enclave played a major role in the destruction of that peaceful city. Did you lie to me?"

Rickkter shook his head. "I was not at Fellos, I can assure you of that. My involvement with the Eastern mages responsible for the sacking of Fellos was not for some time afterwards. You still haven't answered my question, why are you here?"

Nodding slowly, the kangaroo took another drink of the wine, and savoured the taste for a moment before speaking again. "Diamonds are interesting stones, are they not? While many of the more precious gems, when crushed, create powders of far more wealth and usefulness than just as part of a lady's choker, diamond powder possesses no magical properties whatsoever. It is useful only as a stone, and even then, most useful when properly cut. So I ask you, what good is the power to crush diamonds?"

The somnolent must have cooled the Kankoran's temper somewhat, as he responded calmly, though still dangerously. "Simply having that power is useful in itself. There may come a time when one needs to crush diamonds. Knowing when to do so is more important."

"Well spoken," Habakkuk nodded, and watched the raccoon sip experimentally at the wine. "You are right, whether one does so or not is the most important thing. Your posturing and games of deceit have crushed diamonds. So to has Charles in his latest travesty. You both act to protect your secret, but in the end, only make the truth plainer to all."

"I already said I wasn't one for song and dance. What do you mean?"

"Well, there is a certain book in Wessex's possession that rightfully belongs to me. I let him borrow it as he needs information contained therein in his own studies. It details the magical enclaves in the Southlands, or at least, what they were about one hundred years ago. Now, recently, two nonconsecutive pages have been removed. One of them detailed a clan that was destroyed in the purges sixteen years ago along with the Felikaush. The other, was the clan who orchestrated that purging."

Rickkter's face had gone blank, and his muscles tensed, nearly as tense as they had been when in combat or in preparation for combat. His gambit had worked. "Now, there really is only three people who know the contents of that book, Wessex, myself, and now you since he allowed you to read through it while he was away at Lorland. I find the defacing of tomes to be repugnant, and would rather treasure them than vandalize them. Wessex has no interest in destroying something that might help him unravel his current mystery. That leaves only you with any motive for removing those pages."

"What are you suggesting?" Rickkter prodded, a very unpleasant moue hiding beneath his mask.

"Well, the pages themselves were seamlessly removed, obviously by either a very delicate solvent, or through magical means well placed. In either event, you, an amateur alchemist, and an admitted Southern wizard, would have the knowledge necessary to create the effect. Also, your past is shrouded in mist, despite what you have revealed. It would only make sense to assume then that you have had an association with the Order of the Ebon Dragon at some point in the past, and do not want that secret to be revealed."

Rickkter stood on his feet, finishing the last of the wine before tossing the tumbler to the ground at Habakkuk's large feet. "I could always claim to be from Vorick, hiding that to protect myself from any untoward persons finding out. Considering what I've heard happened to the books Metamor had on the south, disproving that would be a chore."

"No, I am certain that you were a member of that order. Your vague response about Fellos hinted at it as well." Habakkuk finished his tumbler, and ignored the spilled wine soaking the fur of his feet. "And, I never mentioned what the other sect was. You have correctly named the second group that was removed from the book. Congratulations, you have incriminated yourself."

Rickkter blinked in disbelief, his mouth opening to say something, but then closed again in silence.

"I would not be overly concerned about others knowing this fact though. I am not in any rush to reveal that secret. I am simply warning you that your actions then and now have led me to realize this truth. Your attempt to hide in the shadows have only made you plain as day to one as knowledgeable as myself."

Rickkter stared for a moment, and then collapsed back down on the rug with a huff. "At least you are no better off than I." The roo cocked an ear. "Before I could not have cared less about you. You were a scribe – albeit one who favoured a good fight – and not a concern. But you have come here and said what you said, revealing that you are far more than you appear. Like so many of us are. Using your own analogy, it is easier to see what is in the light while standing in the darkness. Yet you still have me at a disadvantage, Zhypar. You could easily take this bit of news to your friend Matthias, giving him yet another reason to hate me. Yet you have told me you will stay silent. Why?"

"Like I said, I simply wished to warn you to be more cautious, and not to try to hide yourself quite so energetically. After all, ‘A quick motion in the shadow is more visible than standing still in daylight.' I trust you will try to remember this in the future?"

The grimace on the raccoon's face told Habakkuk plainly that he would, and that he was mad at himself for failing one of the Ebon Dragon's own maxims. "And just who are you?" he asked in his native tongue. "Why are you so concerned about Fellos?"

"I am, or was, a merchant of rare books. I have read many things, many things that came from Fellos. Do you know that they prophesied their own destruction a thousand years ago, and that it would signal the beginning of the end?"

Rickkter raised one eye ridge. "I had not heard of that. What makes you think that they were telling the truth?"

"Well, your little collection here is one indication. You are aware that the Leqquan Twelve have never been successfully collected? Wizards have tried for ages, and have only ever found eleven of the books. Another one of the prophecies of this doom comes from the reuniting of all twelve volumes. Why are you collecting them? I see seven of them here already." And what he did not say, was that one of them happened to be the volume that no other wizard had ever procured.

The raccoon followed his gaze, favouring Zhypar with a light snort. "Bah. It's more of a hobby, I don't seriously expect to find all the Twelve. No one has managed that feat in twenty-eight hundred years. Though Ginzberg of Rodney, Lestrade the IX, and your own precious Fellos did manage to collect eleven of them."

"And they were all missing the one critical piece that would make the whole thing work," said Zhypar.

"You appear to be awfully knowledgeable for a simple merchant. I believe there is more to you than you are willing to admit."

"Quite possibly." Habakkuk favoured him with a waggle of his ears, and then finished the last of the wine in his tumbler. "I do have one last warning for you though. Do not attempt to retrieve the Sondeshike from Charles. He has used the altar in the Sondeckis Shrine as a reliquary for it. You will not be able to take it from him as long as it remains on that altar."

Rickkter appeared distant. "I will have it back."

"Yes, you will, but not right now. I will have a little conversation with Charles, and point out just how much he has dishonoured himself by keeping it."

"He won't give it back. He'll kill you first," Rickkter growled sullenly, plans obviously forming behind his eyes.

"If the rat ever threatens me, I'll break his arm," Zhypar added forcefully, before gathering up the bottle of wine; the coon raised his eye ridge yet again at that declaration. Habakkuk fitted the cork into the nozzle, and retrieved the other tumbler. "I ought to be going now, I do believe I have left you with several things to consider."

"Just one thing," Rickkter held out his paw, motioning for the kangaroo to stay. "You are not the convivial sort, that much I know. Yet how is it that you are able to remain friends with all those whose secrets you expose?"

"Who says I have?" Habakkuk flashed him a quick grin, and then made his way out the door. The raccoon just sat in silence, unsure of what to say to his departing guest. Once outside and in the hall, he breathed a sigh of relief. He set off at a brisk hop, knowing that Wessex would be most delighted to hear that he would not have to worry about vandals again.

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