Lineaments of Coming Night


Phil rubbed his paws together and took a long breath. “Well, Lycias. You heard what he had to say. What do you think?”

The aged Lothanas of Whales slowly sat straighter, his face also lifting with it. “He seems sincere in his desire to do the right thing. I may not have agreed with all of his decisions, but what he says does fit. Not even the Suielman Empire was foolish enough to try to tame those cursed swamps of Marzac. And if the corruption is spreading over water now, the fleet is in peril.”

The rabbit’s ears lowered some, though his face scrunched forward towards the wiggling nose. “I do not like that thought one bit. I will speak with my father about it before I do anything like pull the fleet back. And to make the Coral Basin off limits? That is unheard of. It has never been an issue before.”

Lycias nodded. “Be careful with the news. Your father King Tenomides is still not well. I have done all I could for him, but...”

“I know,” Phil replied, sourly. “We merely will continue to wait” He lowered his face and then looked to the Great Ape that stood towards the back of the room. “Rupert!” The ape looked up and pointed to himself. “Yes, I need your thoughts on this. What do you think of the Marquis?”

Rupert lumbered up to them and then shrugged his shoulders some. He signed that he was curious, but also wary. But the ape also admitted that in the end, if there was a danger, than an unthinkable thing may have to be done after all.

“Well, how am I supposed to know if this threat is real or not?” Phil asked, tapping one foot on the seat cushion.

“Why would the Marquis lie?” Lycias asked. “What could he gain from lying about something so perilous as this?”

“That’s what I want to know,” Phil pointed out. “I was tricked by the evil of that place once. I will not let it foul my mind again. At least if what he said of Zagrosek is true. That he knows the man’s name gives me reason to believe that he is telling some of the truth. How do we know that he hasn’t been to this Marzac himself? Only his own word.”

Lycias nodded and raised one hand to his chin, rubbing it slowly. “That is true.” His eyes narrowed as he pondered. “If he is corrupted, what can he hope to gain by this meeting? There are two possibilities I see here. If there is no danger on the water, he merely wishes to keep you out of the way while he moves some of his own forces through. Something strategic. Perhaps moving one of the artifacts of Marzac. Or maybe he just wants to keep you away from Marzac because he fears you could pulverize the land with the Whalish Fire.”

Phil nodded slowly. “Yes, I can see all of that. What’s the other possibility?”

“There is a danger of corruption and he wants to trick you into sending your ships to investigate. They would then fall under his control, and he would turn our own forces against us.”

“Or,” Phil finished the thought, “if the waters are corrupted, then no matter what we do, Marzac would gain some tactical advantage. I do not like this at all. We must think this through before we do anything. I wish we knew more about Marzac. For all we know, some of our own men may be compromised already.”

Lycias blanched and crossed his arms. “That is a foul thought. I wonder if there is a way that we could test them to see?”

But Phil shook his head and hunched lower on the chair. His ears turned for the moment to listen to the groaning and creaking of the vessels docked at the wharf. The sails of one freshly arrived were still snapping in the wing that was slowly picking up from the coast, and he could feel it gently brushing through his fur as it blew in over the balcony, bringing the tang of brine with it. The sky outside was mostly clear, but he could see a few clouds sliding in from the southeast. Apart from the sound of the ships there was also the general din from the city as well, but it was to the ships that he listened.

At seeing Phil’s distraction, Lycias also allowed his own mind to ponder the possibilities that this visitor brought. There was no doubt that they had to do something with the information that the man had supplied them. He would have to confer with Raven hin’Elric at Metamor to confirm a few details, such as the existence of the Marzac ambassador Yonson, as well as the deeds he had performed. He would have to peruse the Lothanasi library to see if there were any treatises upon Marzac that could illuminate his pondering.

It was a few minutes later that Pythoreas returned from his errand, his face a mask of training and uncertainty. His training bade him keep his face still, but there was a subtle glint to his eyes that betrayed his trepidation. “I have secured Marquis Camille du Tournemire in the East state rooms. He found those to his taste.”

“Good,” Phil said with a slow nod. He waved one paw for Pythoreas to approach. The sailor did so and regarded his liege respectfully. “Now tell me, Pythoreas, you have spent the most time in this Tournemire’s company. What is your impression of him?”

Pythoreas lowered his head slightly and licked his lips. “He is not a man who is frightened by much of anything I wager. And he wants things done his way. He’s the eye of a strategist, and he seems to choose his words carefully.”

“He spoke rather quickly there,” Phil pointed out.

“Still, I have the impression that everything he said here this morning was weighed during his voyage. He told me that he had come direct from Tournemire by way of Sutthaivasse. But he then admits that he came from Metamor instead, and that he had lied about it. So we know he can lie if he feels he needs to.”

“That is a good point,” Lycias noted with an uplifted finger. “If he can lie about that, what else has he lied about?”

“Is there any way you can tell?” Phil asked the priest.

“I usually can feel a tingling in my bones when somebody lies in my presence. It is not always right, but it is more often than it is not. And with the Marquis, I have not felt that tingling. Either he is an exceptionally good liar, or he is telling the truth.” Lycias frowned. “But it seems to me that if he is a liar, he will be an exceptionally good one. Everything I felt in him seemed genuine. He is not one to do half measures.”

“Nor am I,” Phil replied with a frown. “But here is another question, are we being too clever? What if the Marquis is exactly what he says he is?”

“Then we’d best follow his advice,” the Lothanas concluded. “I suppose it depends on how much you trust him.”

Pythoreas frowned and crossed his hands before his waist. “Your highness, we have three options: first, do nothing. Second, draw back our forces. Third, we send expeditionary forces to Marzac to gauge the severity of this threat.”

“But if the waters around Marzac are tainted, then we will lose whatever forces we send.”

“So we send a ship that is not equipped with the fire,” Pythoreas suggested. “Send several ships, each with instructions to go just a bit closer to Marzac than the last one. That will help us gauge how far the corrupting influence has spread.”

Phil nodded slowly, taking a deep heavy breath. “That is a good suggestion, Commodore. I must ponder it some. Rupert, would you have lunch brought for us?”

Lycias rose from his seat. “If I may, I would like to venture to the library. I may find a tome or two that could help us make the right decisions. We still must find a way to test whether a person has been corrupted by Marzac or not.”

“Very true,” the rabbit admitted. “I will think on that as well.” He paused and rubbed his paws against the fabric of the chair, being careful of his claws. “Do you think that you can be back in two hours? I want to hear if Tournemire has anything more to say.”

“Yes,” the older man nodded and smiled warmly. “I will return then, and hopefully, more answers will await us.”

Phil watched as Lycias walked from the solar, favouring one leg. Both Rupert and Pythoreas stepped out of his way and nodded their heads respectfully as he passed. The door closed softly behind the Lothanas, but even still, Phil turned his ears away. “Pythoreas,” he called out after a moment. “I need to see maps of our navy’s routes through the Coral Basin and around the Marzac peninsula.”

“I shall have them for you in a half hour’s time,” Pythoreas announced. “Is there anything else you wish me to retrieve?”

“Not yet. Just the routes.”

The Commodore nodded and exited more quickly than the elder priest. Rupert and Phil were alone once more. Phil looked ot his old friend and shuddered visibly. Rupert stepped closer and asked him if he was all right with a quick gesture.

“I am fine, Rupert. I am just afraid. There are far too many foul memories that are coming back to me now. When he told me that man’s name – Zagrosek – it was all I could do not to cry out in rage. That picture. That picture. I can still see it you know. I destroyed it, but I can still see it.” Phil cocked his head to the side. “And you know what is strange. Until now, I had never been able to remember just what it had looked like. But now it’s clear once more. If even half of what the Marquis says is true... maybe there is a chance we will be able to stop this man after all.”

Rupert nodded his head in approval and rubbed his paws together. He mimed putting food in his mouth, and then pointed at his chest, and then to the door.

“Yes, if you would, do fetch something for me to eat. And drink.”

The great ape stepped out the door, though he had to hunch over to fit easily. Phil did not watch him leave though. His eyes had already strayed to the Southern balcony. Outside, dark seas lay in wait, as if some great beast were lurking far beneath their surface.

“Please,” Jessica pleaded one more time. “Weyden is a good man. He would never do anyone harm.”

They were all walking side by side down the central halls of Metamor that wound inexorably inwards to the Belfry spire. Of course, the Keep could make a more direct route for them if it choose, but there were just certain places that were always the same. And for the Belfry, the entrance was a small foyer that led to a tight circular stair that stretched upwards for a good five minute’s climb. From there the stairs bifurcated at a small landing and continued upwards for another minute.

The Belfry doors were usually locked, though Thomas had allowed Yonson the use of the key. Rarely did any have to climb so far. There was a pulley mechanism that allowed the bells to be rung in the foyer, but the mechanism also continued up into the Belfry and the gear chamber above the bells themselves. Once a year one of the Keep’s engineers would have to climb all the way up to the gear room to make sure that all the gears and springs were in perfect working order, but that was usually done in the Autumn.

Never before had so many Keepers thought to climb those stairs at once.

Misha and Rickkter had been joined not only by the hawk, but also by Charles who had a very unhappy look upon his muzzle, and by James who was clearly still trying to comprehend everything he had heard in the council chambers, and most likely, why he had even been summoned to hear any of it. Lindsey and Habakkuk were also there, though both remained quiet. Like Misha, the Northerner carried a heavy axe, though his was smithed from simple iron. Kayla stumbled along, still trying to grasp what was going on, casting long glances at Abafouq as if trying to decide whether he was a child or something else. Malisa made up the rear of the group, having excused herself from Thomas’s chambers just as they had left. She had rushed after them to catch up, and told them that her own magical skills might be needed.

None of them were about to argue with her.

All in all, they were ten who made their way down the long carpeted hall, passing by the usual tapestries and urns, and even the occasional statue or crenellation. But they continued moving forward, their voices all either desperate and confused, or grim and determined.

“We don’t know if Weyden has been corrupted or not,” Misha told her once more. The fox’s voice was full of sympathy, but there was no give to it. “If he does not oppose us, then he can be arrested. But if he chooses to fight, Jessica, then I’m sorry, there is nothing I can do.”

“But I love him!” Jessica cried, her wings spreading dangerously as she hopped along as fast as she could on her taloned feet. “You can’t...”

Rickkter turned and levelled a dangerous stare to her. The hawk felt the word die in her throat, and her eyes widened in fright. “We can and we will,” the raccoon declared. “If he is Zagrosek’s ally. Then he must die.”

“It is not...” Charles said bitterly, but then said no more. Jessica looked to the rat, and wondered for a moment what he might have been about to say. His exile from Metamor had finally ended, but he seemed little different. Perhaps he was fighting the same argument that had led to his exile in the first place?

“If he surrenders to us,” Misha said, giving the raccoon a meaningful stare, “then we will arrest him. Once we are sure he is not corrupted, he can be released. After today he’s going to be a full Metamorian just like the rest of us.”

“He will have to swear fealty to Duke Thomas,” Malisa put in from the rear. “As will the rest of Yonson’s guards. If we can stop whatever they are doing in the Belfry. Now quiet, we are near the entrance.”

They each put their thoughts back inside them once more. Even Jessica managed to still her fluttering agitation. She still hurt though, worrying about what may befall her beloved Weyden. He had been so kind to her ever since she had met him. She could well remember the first time they had met. He had just begun transforming into a hawk then, and he had sought her out in the Deaf Mule. His words had been pleasant, and she had taken an instant liking to him. She had shown him how to fly, and they had told each other many stories. He had told her of his own faith, and she had told him of hers. And in the end, he had come to accept her faith and ways, taking them for his own.

And they had made love.

She shuddered anew at that memory. But it all felt like ashes, like a gaping wound in her heart. Had it all been a charade? Could he possibly have been corrupted by Marzac and used as a tool to get close to both her and her master Wessex? What secrets had she told her hawk lover? She found her thoughts too distracted to come up with any, but she knew there had to be some. Even thinking of Weyden as a traitor was too horrible to imagine. She prayed to Akkala, Kammoloth, and all the other gods that his devotion was true.

Ahead, the passage had turned and widened until they were staring down at several blue-liveried guards. The two nearest, a boy of fourteen and a boar, both drew their swords and held out their hands. “Stop! You are not permitted passage,” the boar called out in a gruff commanding tone.

Jessica recognized the boy as London and the boar as Humphrey. Just beyond them were Maud and Van, the woman and the other boy, this one dark haired. At the back on either side of the doorway were Larssen the giraffe and Weyden her hawk.

Rickkter spat and drew his own blade. “You will stand back or you will die. We have come for your master and those who have joined him.”

The boar narrowed his eyes but did not back down. Weyden spread his wings, obscuring the door. “I am sorry, Rickkter,” his own voice was firm, though it was clear he knew that their men were not enough to repel a force this strong. “We have been told not to allow any through to disturb the Ambassador. He is casting a spell of some delicacy and cannot be interrupted.”

“I don’t mean to interrupt him,” Rickkter said with a snarl. “I mean to kill him.”

“I will not let you through,” Weyden replied, his chest feathers puffing out a bit, as did the ones around his neck. “Misha Brightleaf, please restrain your companion.”

“I will not, Weyden,” Misha replied. “We are here on orders of Duke Thomas. Ambassador Yonson has been corrupted by an evil force and even now is casting spells that could mean the doom of us all.”

Weyden squawked in surprise at that. “Surely you jest! Ambassador Yonson would never do such a thing. What proof do you have of that?” The other guards had also drawn their blades and were ready to fight, but it was clear that none of them relished the thought of it. Still, Humphrey and London did not step back. Their blades were held perfectly still, ready to skewer whoever came for them.

Jessica pushed her way past Charles so that she could get closer. The rat blinked in surprise, but did not say anything. She had to speak to Weyden herself.

“You have to take our word on this,” Misha replied. “I do not want to have to kill you.” He twirled Whisper in his paws meaningfully. “But I will if I have to. As it is, those of you who surrender will be arrested and taken to the dungeons. Until we can be sure that you are not corrupted by Marzac.”

“Marzac?” Weyden asked, perplexed.

“Enough of this,” Rickkter snarled. “We are wasting time. Surrender or die.”

“Weyden!” Jessica shouted, as she forced her way between the fox and raccoon. “Please listen to me!”

“Jessica!” Weyden’s face brightened for a moment, but he was still clearly confused. “What is going on?”

“Misha spoke truly to you, Weyden.” She could not hide the screech in her voice, and both fox and raccoon winced, as did the guards. “Yonson has allied himself with evil. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Please, surrender. I don’t want to see you killed!”

Weyden blinked once, and then lifted the end of his wing to rub across the Dokorath pendant he wore. “Sweet Kammoloth, are you sure?”

Jessica nodded. “Yes. Please, we can’t wait any longer.”

The hawk took a long breath and then nodded. “I trust you as I do no other, Jessica. You know that. We will lower our blades.”

“What?” Humphrey asked in shock. “You can’t be serious?”

“I am, now put down your swords.” The air of command had returned at last to Weyden’s voice, though there was a measure of defeat in it too. Maud was the first to lower her sword, depositing it on the floor before her. She even slipped the knife she kept in her boot and tossed it on the floor. Larssen also dropped the heavy broadsword he carried, and backed himself against the wall. The boy Van seemed glad to surrender. He kicked his short-sword with the toe of his boot, but it did not slide very far.

Only London and Humphrey disobeyed, the boy and boar slowly beginning to grin. The voice that came from London was sickly and made Jessica’s hackles rise. “You bitch! With the others we could have killed at least one!” And then the boy lunged, driving his sword point at her chest.

Rickkter swept up his katana and then drove his boot into the boy’s legs, snapping the femur loudly. The boy went down with an agonized squeal. Spinning on his other heel, the raccoon brought the blade around and drove it right through the boy’s back. London spat out a gout of blood from his mouth as he quickly died at their feet.

The boar grunted and jabbed his blade towards Misha, but the fox was also ready, and he drove Whisper down its length, smashing and bending the guard backwards with his first blow. The second severed the boar’s hand at the wrist. Letting out a cry of rage, the boar grabbed the fox’s shoulders and tried to gore him with his heavy tusks. But Misha slipped aside even as the boar’s blood began to spray across the fox’s tunic. With one more swipe, the axe cleaved into Humphrey’s skull, and he fell with one last twitch to lay atop his fallen comrade.

“No!” Maud cried out in horror. She turned her eyes away and then buried her face into Larssen’s broad chest. The giraffe wrapped his arms about her shoulders and stared down the length of his muzzle in disbelief at the ruined pile that was all that remained of his fellow guards. The other boy Van bent over at the middle and retched.

Weyden’s beak worked, but no sound came out. His eyes were distant and shocked. He lifted those eyes and met Jessica’s, as if to ask why, but no sound could come from his beak.

“Well,” Habakkuk said drily from the hallway even as Misha and Rickkter stepped over the bodies and into the circular chamber, “it looks safe to say that these two had been to Marzac. Is that not so, Captain Weyden?”

Weyden blinked and looked up at the kangaroo and the others making their way into the room with grim expressions. Finally, the hawk nodded. “They returned to Tournemire a few months before we left with Yonson for Metamor.”

“Anyone else?” Rickkter asked, clutching the katana in his paw tightly.

“No.” Weyden shook his head, leaning back on his perch heavily. “No, the rest of us have never been to Marzac.”

“George will be here shortly,” Misha said, gazing at the four left standing with a baleful eye. “When he arrives, you will all surrender to him. He will kill you just as mercilessly if you resist.”

Weyden and Larssen both nodded dumbly at that. If either Maud or Van heard the fox, they did not show it.

“Let’s hurry,” Rickkter said, stepping past the others into the stairwell. Misha and Charles followed him closely, and the rest a moment later.

Jessica paused a moment in the doorway, resting her wing against Weyden’s side. “Thank you,” she said at last. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Jessica,” Weyden said. “Whatever you know, please tell me someday, that way I can understand what just happened. I do not think I will sleep well ever again until I do.”

It was Malisa who turned back and guided Jessica up the stairs after the others. Weyden was only dimly aware that she had actually left, as he continued to babble incoherently to himself for several minutes more.

The chambers that Prince Phil had provided them were overlooking the eastern shore. There was a wide balcony that opened out onto the rocky crags of the hillside that blocked any view to the North. However, there was a lovely view to the East along jagged shoreline and to the South. Fishermen lined the banks, boats tethered amongst the shoals and pools. A few were drawing in their nets with great success. Pelicans walked along the beach, attempting to scoop up the fish that escaped the nets, until they were shoed away by a fishermen’s crook.

Of that view, the Marquis Camille du Tournemire did not bother to once look. Instead, he had retired immediately to the opulent bedroom with his mahogany case. Both Autrefois and Vigoureux were left to watch over the main room and alert him if any came to call. The bedroom had a large four poster bed with a silken canopy the reddish golden colour of a vineyard in early fall. Dressers and a large mirror occupied the wall opposite the massive terraced window, but he paid none of it any heed.

Instead, the Marquis set the case upon the soft quilt and proceeded to remove his toilet with delicate touch. He deposited first his doublet, and then his hose upon the floor. His boots and stockings were tossed next to the pile a moment later. They were joined by his linens then, and the small assortment of rings he bore upon his fingers. His codpiece and garters rested atop the pile like basalt marker stones at the top of a high hill.

Utterly naked, the Marquis climbed atop the bed and rubbed his flesh against the smooth velvet. He smiled briefly, and then drew his fingers through his hair, working out its coiffured curls until it was an unkempt mess. His body, while by no means weak, was nevertheless lanky and unremarkable except that it was relatively free of blemishes. Only a few scars from a childhood pox remained, and even they were faint and hard to notice.

Camille sat up and took the mahogany case. His smile was wide as he opened it and drew forth the deck of cards. He could feel their potential crackling between his fingers. Just even touching them he felt as if he were rising up above the bedsheet into the air, and beyond. The air was no more tangible than the bed sheet, it was merely one more thing for him to disconnect and transcend.

Slowly, he began to lay back against the bed, pulling the cards to his chest. He gasped as the material reached his flesh. There was a moment of rapturous connection, the closest he ever felt to sexual stimulation though his own organic equipment remained as placid as ever. Deliberately, he began to spread those cards over his chest, sliding then down over his navel and thighs, letting them cover more and more of his body. He knew which cards were going where, and what each of them meant. There were no secrets that could hide inside them.

While a few of the cards did stick together, he could feel changes already growing within them. Two of the cards had become darkened and stained with death since that morning. He felt for a moment, and then understood. Two other cards had blood upon them. So it had begun. Already, he could feel the cards upon his chest trying to climb higher, to reach the three that he had slid up to his neck.

The Marquis picked those three up and placed them on his face, two covering his eyes and one his mouth. The cards on his chest wiggled against the hairless skin, trying to gain some purchase. His heart beat faster.

Closing his eyes, the Maquis began to reach out to the cards and what lay inside them. His mind stretched and stretched. At first it was just a subtle pressure in his forehead, but soon his essence became a long line, beginning behind his eyes, but forever reaching outwards through the cards. To achieve each new length, he thinned.

And thinned.

In moments all that was left on the bed was a pile of cards and a man’s broad smile upon a rather stony body.

The messenger had found George in the garrison going over patrol assignments with his captains. So it had not taken long for George once he understood the message, to gather up a dozen men and race towards the Belfry tower. He did not understand why the need was so pressing, but it was a command from Duke Thomas, and he would obey it immediately and without question.

The circular room at the base of the Belfry tower stairs was the sight of a frightful mess, but nothing that George hadn’t seen many times before. The two mangled bodies lay in a puddle of their own blood, their bodies hacked in several places. The four guards who had surrendered were backed up against the far wall. Apart from the ones that the curse had given them, they possessed no weapons.

Nevertheless, George stepped over the bodies cautiously, his sword upraised. “Do you surrender?” he called out in steely tones.

“Yes,” the hawk said, his voice weary and strained. “Yes, we surrender.”

George nodded, but he still held out his sword. “Malcolm, you and Arnold get those bodies cleaned up. Stuart, you and the rest take these four to the dungeons. Kill them if they resist.”

“Where are you going?” Stuart the gender-morph asked. Sometimes Stuart still acted like a woman. His most annoying habit was his tendency to always ask nagging questions.

“I’m going after Misha,” George replied, looking over the four guards one last time. The boy of ten or so was wearing clothes for a child of a few years his senior. It looked like he had vomited recently too. The woman had her face pressed against the giraffe’s chest, and he had his arms drawn about her protectively.

But it was the hawk who met his gaze. He looked lost and unsure, but there seemed to be some brief moment of communion there too. George narrowed his eyes for a moment, and then started up the stairs. He could smell the trail of his friends in the air, though it already felt stale. The jackal inhaled deeply, and then began taking the steps two at a time.

There were few things more delightful to Malqure the Keep’s Archivist than a well-apportioned hall decorated with bright lamps, pleasant urns and chalices, as well as the dramatic tapestries that kept the warmth in on those long cold winter nights. The ibis’s heart was always brimming with joy when the carpets were all brushed properly, and the sunlight glinting through the windows would land in just the right spot to accent the broad array of colours he had designed. With so many halls in the Keep, and some that only existed long enough for the occupant to travel through it, his work was never truly done, but he did not want it any other way.

Of course, what was sure to horrify the ibis was the wanton and careless destruction of those halls. Seeing the carpets torn up, the tapestries stained, the urns shattered, or the suits of armour knocked to the ground, not to mention the defacing of the statuaries that dated back before the fall of the Sueilman Empire, was enough to make him quite irate.

But what he saw now before him as the massive white gryphon trod purposefully along the narrow corridor out towards the large balcony overlooking the western walls, filled him with apoplexy. Not only was the gryphon’s talon digging large holes in the carpeting, but his wings were knocking the pottery from their pedestals, as well as dislodging some of the lamps. Oil dribbled down and pooled on the floor, further staining the rich red carpets.

“What are you doing?” Malqure squawked in horror. He lifted his wingtips to his head and danced back and forth on his spindly legs. “You are ruining everything!”

But the gryphon continue don its way, paying him no heed at all. In fact, he did not see the gryphon as something antagonistic. He resembled a huge lump of indifference far more closely. Even so, Malqure beat at his head and tore at his feathers. “No, no, no! That was a priceless vase from Salinon! It was two hundred years old!” The shards of the vase were still spinning on the floor, but the gryphon did not turn to regard it or the one mourning over its sudden end.

“No!” Malqure gaped in horror. “That’s a depiction of the battle of Giftum which settled the boundaries of the Northern Midlands! No!” Too late. The tapestry, caught upon the edge of the gryphon’s wing, was torn loose from the wall. It dragged along behind the beast for a moment before falling behind in a crumpled heap.

Malqure bounced back and forth on his legs and his eyes spotted the one valuable that was left in the hallway before the entrance to the balcony. The ibis was actually standing on the balcony as he always did once a week. The urn was not terribly expensive, having been fashioned by Metamorian potters only ten year ago. It was not the usual way in which the dead were kept, but it had been all that was left of his father after he’d been trapped inside the burning house underneath the collapsed remnants of his parent’s dresser. It may be only precious to Malqure, who kept the urn here at his favourite balcony from which to look out at the valley, but it was still precious.

“No!” He shouted, jumping in front of the urn, shielding it with his wings. The gryphon did not even look at him. “My father’s ashes are in this urn! Please do not destroy it!” He could barely stand still, the heartbreak of seeing so many other treasures carelessly ruined was horrid, but this was one moment for which he could be strong.

And then the gryphon drew his wings in tighter, and squeezed right past him as if he were not there. The white feathered and furred being climbed out onto the balcony, tensed his muscles, and then launched himself into the air. Malqure blinked at that, his long beak bouncing up and down as he followed his tormentor’s path into the air.

He was still so tense, he could not even breath a sigh of relief that his father’s urn had remained untouched. Of course, nothing else in the hallway was in good shape. He had saved one thing, but it was the right one at least. Even so, he still stamped his talon in frustration. “Oh foolish, foolish people! They never learn.”

In fact, he had half a mind to lecture that gryphon, but for some reason, he thought better of it. Even so, Duke Thomas would certainly hear about this offence! He was not Metamor Keep’s Chief Archivist because of his looks after all.

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