Lineaments of Coming Night

Part XII

Seeing Habakkuk kill the Shrieker did not startle Misha quite so much as seeing the kangaroo pick up Whisper and use it to defend him against another Shrieker. It was rare enough that any other would even attempt to use Whisper, even rarer was when Whisper would allow another to make use of it. Misha felt a deep gravity in his heart, some clenched tightness as he saw it. The situation was indeed grave if Whisper would consent to this.

Not that Misha himself was capable of doing anything to prevent the scribe and admitted prophet from making use of the great black axe. The pain in his back where he’d been struck still stung, but it was no longer a lancing agony that shattered his mind to pieces. It was now a heavy throbbing that gripped him like some sort of leech. The palsy that had once shaken him was beginning to wear off as well. His flesh still trembled, and he found it difficult to breath in anything but ragged gasps, but the worst of it was leaving him.

Slowly, Misha pushed his paws underneath him. His frame ached, his body rebelling against the very notion of moving. Whatever blow he’d received, it was clearly meant to keep him out of this fight. But the fox was a Long Scout. He would not lay down until his last breath had been snatched from him.

His paws were not steady, but the trembling had finally subsided. His elbows shivered as he pushed down, forcing his chest up off the floor. The cool stone left him, and strangely he felt even colder than before in the unprotected air. With increasingly long breaths, Misha pushed, ignoring the pain that wracked him, pushed until he could draw his unsteady legs beneath him to help keep him form falling back down.

When his knees finally touched his chest, leaving only his foot paws protruding from his back, his bright red tail laying atop their black pads, Misha gasped for breath once more. The air that came into his rough throat seemed insufficient. Around him in the air, sparkles of light danced haphazardly, and everything for a moment began to distort, as if twisting out of alignment.

Misha closed his eyes and focussed on breathing in deeply once more. The throbbing in his backside seemed to weigh down on his lungs and prevent him from getting enough air. But he ignored the pain and forced his chest to rise and fall to their full extent. There was still so much that had to be done, and he was going to help in this fight. Yonson and the rest had to pay for their crimes.

Just thinking about that lemur filled him with a renewed rage. All this time that man had been here at Metamor he had been a traitor, subtly aiding their enemies. They had assassinated the good man Patriarch Akabaieth, not to mention the murder of Wessex. And then they had nearly turned Duke Thomas into a simple horse! And all the while, they had subtle torn friendships here at Metamor apart.

His eyes cast briefly at the huddled form of Matthias, his body twitching from an agony that must be far worse than the fox’s own. There was a black hand print scored into the right side of his face, and a great deal of the fur had blackened and burned away. His whiskers had even been melted into slag. Only in the last few days had Charles been allowed to return to the Keep, yet another legacy of their enemy. One of the Long Scouts, but exiled for trusting a friend.

How many of his friends had paid an even greater cost for trusting one they thought a friend?

Misha burned with that thought, even as he could see the flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. One of the Shrieker’s was standing at the edge of the depression, looking down at what lay within. Lindsey was rushing for its backside, his axe held high ready for its swing. The brass bell in front of the Shrieker lifted up, and then swung ponderously towards the best. Lindsey swung, and both the lip of the bell and the edge of the Northerner’s axe struck the abomination on either side of its neck.

A loud resounding note sounded, numbing his mind once more. But the Shrieker dissolved into a black cloud that was sucked back towards the censer on the far side of the room. Misha grinned a bit as the powerful note began to fade into a deep throb. That was one more of those foul things dead. There was just the one that Habakkuk was vainly trying to keep at bay with Whisper.

Misha grunted, and pulled his foot paws in underneath him as well, steadying himself with his paws. His fingers splayed, claws digging into the cold stone floor, as he slowly began to push himself up once more. He took a deep breath and held it as he rose, his knees straightening, and his joints stiffening. It took several long painful seconds, but Misha Brightleaf did finally stand.

Looking about, he saw that Rickkter and Zagrosek were so engrossed in their battle, that he doubted either was truly aware of anything else that was happening. They both moved so quickly, that in his weakened state, Misha knew he could offer his friend no assistance. Looking back around, he saw that Lindsey was helping James climb up out of the depression. Lindsey’s axe was cracked down the centre and now worthless. And to the fox’s left, he saw Habakkuk parrying the onslaught of the last Shrieker, but only barely just. In just the space of a few seconds, the loathsome sight nearly struck the kangaroo twice, but Whisper was there just in time to stop that mortal blow.

Misha flexed his muscles once more, turning to face that final Underworld progeny. One paw slid down to the scabbard at his side. The short sword was still there, but he did not relish the idea of using it against this thing. But he did not dare try to reclaim Whisper form that beast while it was still attacking him.

“Lindsey,” Misha called, surprised to find that his voice was weaker than he expected it to be. “Lindsey, take my sword.”

The large man had just pulled James from the depression and appeared to have been asking the donkey a question. His head snapped up at Misha’s voice and he smiled a bit. “Your sword?”

Misha did not nod, only drew out the sword and held the hilt out towards the man. “Yes. Distract that thing long enough for me to get my axe. Hurry! Habakkuk isn’t going to last much longer against it!”

The bearded man nodded and gripped the blade firmly before running off to strike at the creature’s back. The Shrieker proved adept at handling two foes, swiping at first one and then the other, never letting them circle around to opposite sides of him. Lindsey swept the sword in for several quick blows to its neck, but the beast pushed all of them aside. The metal hissed when it touched the creature’s black flesh, but it did not shatter the way that Lindsey’s axe had done.

“Habakkuk,” Misha snarled, taking a few steps towards the kangaroo. His footing wasn’t as certain as he liked, and he nearly fell right back down with his first step. But after the third, he gained more confidence in his shaky legs, and covered the distance quickly. He briefly considered taking on his taur form so that he could have more solid footing, but dismissed that as a bad idea. It just made him a bigger target, and that Shrieker did not need much of one as poor Matthias had already discovered.

The kangaroo was slow to respond, but eventually he danced back several steps so that Lindsey was now alone keeping that thing at bay. He held the axe oddly. There was a strip of what used to be his pants that he’d put over top of the haft. The kangaroo’s fingers never actually touched the axe, just the cloth that he’d wrapped about the axe.

“Give me back Whisper,” Misha said. “I can handle it from here.”

The kangaroo held out the black weapon, a weapon that had long served Misha well. “Use the cloth to insulate yourself,” Habakkuk advised in a whisper. “Don’t touch the axe itself. You want to keep the cloth between you and the metal.”

“Why?” He took back the axe and did as Habakkuk instructed. Even though his flesh did not touch the Kkartic blade, he could feel its immense power restoring some of his strength already.

“In case Yonson tries to shoot you again. This way, you can use the axe to block the blow. If you don’t use the cloth, you’ll still be struck.”

Misha narrowed his eyes. The throbbing in his back had not abated, but seemed to grow in intensity, as if it relished the idea of having another blast from the lemur. Oddly, Misha thought it wanted company. “How do you know that?”

“I’ve read a lot of books, remember?” The kangaroo replied with a half smile. His eyes went wide then. “Look out!”

Misha twisted and saw that the black thing was running once more for him. With a grunt, he thrust Whisper forward, turning the flat of the axe against the beast. It stumbled and fell to the right, but was up and moving again a second later.

The fox grunted, but could not suppress a mirthless grin. The battle had been rejoined.

“It’s starting to grow,” Sean cried out excitedly as Saroth brought them once more around the bell tower in view of the small protrusion that they had been magically feeding and supporting.

Saroth turned a critical eye on the spot that had been pointed out to him several times now. For the first time, he could actually see the hole in the wall of wind. It was small, perhaps no larger than Sean himself, but it was there. He couldn’t really see anything beyond the hole, but at the very least it was there. The air around the gap was moving erratically, forced into a patten that it did not want to possess. Though the bronze dragon was not able to help them undo this spell, he could still feel is difficulty.

“Who are they?” Sean asked in surprise. Saroth’s eye followed the thought, and he saw two Keepers attempting to scale the side of the tower. The first one had red fur and the striped tail of a raccoon, but he did not recognize them. The second was canine, and the face was one that he knew from council meetings.

{It’s George the patrolmaster. And probably a scout. Don’t disturb them, they have to be here to help!}Saroth knew his voice had probably been heard by the two climbers, but there was nothing he could do about that.

The white gryphon altered his course slightly so that he was no longer flying nearer to the tower than Saroth. After a few beat of heavy wings, the creature was before him, the flanks and tail of a white lion staring him full in the snout.

{Keep focussed.} Geurnef advised. {That spell is our only concern.}

“He’s right,” Electra added. “Let’s keep at it!”

Saroth could only take in a deep breath and keep turning and turning around that tower.

Arla stuck her head out the window and felt a small whine escaping her jowls as she looked up at the climbers. George was already several feet above the top of the window, and Kershaw was even higher. Far above loomed the Belfry itself and its vertiginous shield of wind. Her tail tucked between her legs and her paws gripped the rope a little more protectively.

Still, the canine Long Scout let the rope slowly slip outside as the climbers progressed. So far, neither of them had slipped or cried out in alarm. Bits of stone had cascaded down over the sill, but they were small, most likely loosened by their claws.

Arla’s heart tightened. Even though she was not amongst those climbing outside the bell tower, she still felt as if her life were somehow fundamentally at risk. Her head turned and peered down the tower wall at the dizzying heights below. She closed her eyes tight and pulled her head back inside.

They’d all been eating lunch when the message reached George. Poor Skylos had been there with her, and while he was out of his element amongst the warriors, she was glad to have him there. It was true that sometimes he could be such a dog, she still could not help but smile and wag her tail some when she thought about the incorrigible beagle. She hoped that she would get to see him again.

Because in her heart she knew that if they did not succeed, they were all in a jeopardy far worse than anything they faced during Nasoj’s last assault.

Zagrosek’s hands were now moving so fast that Rickkter was dizzy just from trying to follow them. The Sondeshike whacked hard at either side, and he could only just bring up the blades to stop those vicious blows. He felt the stress and strain filing his arms, and this sudden deep sense of doom began to fill his heart as well. How could he hope to defeat this man? He could barely attack even.

But Rickkter was not known as a Battle Mage for nothing. Surely there had to be something he could do to open this man up long enough for just a single spell to have an affect. It couldn’t be a direct attack though. Those the Sondeckis would just deflect with his Sondeshike. Something that would buy him an opening and a chance to drive his blade home.

If the man knew his thoughts, he made no show of it. He pressed his attack, striking from any direction he could. Rickkter had to parry each blow as quickly as possible, or step to the side when it wasn’t possible. He could feel bruises lining his arms and legs, and even an unpleasant one on his chest when his guard had not quite held up. The raccoon knew that his balance was beginning to falter. If that went, he would quickly fall under this man’s attack.

And then, a slow smile began to etch itself onto the inside of his mind. There was a way, though it was unconventional, and had been merely something he’d learned as a way to keep himself entertained when there was no book. He’d taught himself elementary physics with them as well. Even so, a magical spell that summoned small marbles was rarely ever considered useful in battle.

Rickkter danced back several paces and struck his blades together, feeling one more rush of energy come over him. Zagrosek began to spin his Sondeshike harder in front of him, clearly expecting some spell. Rickkter slid the blades together at eye level for one moment, and then dipped his arms and drew them both apart. Sudden clatter sounded as a large handful of colourful stones scattered across the floor and underneath Zagrosek’s feet.

The Sondecki’s eyes widened in surprise, and he found himself stumbling backwards as one wound its way underneath his boot. Rickkter lunged.

Zagrosek knew it was coming. He jammed his Sondshike straight down into the masonry, crushing one of the small stones in the process, and pushed even further backwards. He leapt back in the air, the touch of those blades catching him in one leg. Blood flew into the air in a long arc as blade met flesh. Zagrosek’s face was set into a thin line, and a look of rage began to fill his eyes. Rickkter began to jump backwards as well, so that he would not set foot on any of those marbles himself, when Zagrosek once more set his feet upon the ground.

Rickkter barely saw the Sondeshike strike at him from his right. The katana flashed to the side just in time, but the impact let his wrist smarting. The Sondecki was sliding his feet across the floor in some sort of dance, scattering the small stones he’d stumbled upon just moments ago. One of Zagrosek’s hands left the Sondeshike then and swiped at the air. The raccoon felt the cuff along the side of his neck then, as if the air had become a fist. He grunted and snarled as he fell back, trying to get his wakizashi up to defend the next blow.

But he missed. The ferrules struck against the side of his arm, and he felt the bone snap in two. Rickkter cried out as he fell backwards, stumbling off of his feet. Another blow struck him, but his eyes had filled with red, as if the whole world had been splattered with blood. He sliced his katana, but met only air. Frantically, he looked around for Zagrosek, but saw the man had danced off to the left only too late. Three more blows in rapid succession, and he was pretty sure one of them broke his leg.

The world swam around him, the pain in his mind a focussed explosion that dulled every thought into incoherence. He dimly realized he’d fallen to the ground. Somewhere up above him, he saw Zagrosek lifting the Sondeshike high for one last blow.

Gripping Whisper through the remnants of the kangaroo’s pants was a little disconcerting. Not because he was touching Habakkuk’s trousers, but because they slipped along the haft of the axe quite frequently. His grip was tight and firm, but even so, the fabric rubbed too freely along the metal to ever provide a secure hold.

However, Misha was very glad that he had the cloth protecting him, because no sooner had he gotten back up and started to attack the last of the Shriekers, than Yonson once more turned his ire upon them. The bolts of energy that coursed from the lemur’s paws were a snarling blue. Misha swung the axe into each blow, and the energy dissipated, though he could feel a slight tingle in his paws. His back still throbbed, and the memory of that blast was enough to make him thank the kangaroo each time he felt that tingling.

Yonson was dividing his attention between the fox and the female mages that had huddled around the Binoq and were busy deflecting the Weathermonger’s attacks. It was enough for Misha, Lindsey and Habakkuk to keep their attention on the last black mass that still swung its arms at them. Lindsey had taken James’s sword, as the donkey could not manage more than a limp on his sprained ankle. And the kangaroo had Misha’s blade, so the three of them were all doing what they could to keep the Shrieker cornered.

Misha’s chance came when Lindsey smacked the Shrieker on the side of the head with the flat of his blade. It turned to face him and threw out its arms, but the northerner had already taken a step backwards. It lurched to follow after him, and Misha saw the back of its neck unprotected. Whisper came alive in his paws and he drove the blade deep into its neck. For the first time, the blade actually bit into the flesh, a blade which could cut through anything, and it only now did damage.

His ears hurt for a moment, even though the Shrieker made no sound as it jerked on the end of the blade. There was some aural impression of sound, an agonizing one at that. He folded back his one remaining ear, but it did nothing to stop the vibrating pain. And then the axe made its way through the malignant flesh and the whole of the Shrieker collapsed into black smears that streaked their way through the air back to where the censer still throbbed with sullen power.

And then a sound did catch Misha’s ear. There was a cry of agony, and he saw that Rickkter was falling to the ground, two of his limbs badly broken. There was nothing that could stop Zagrosek’s onslaught. Misha turned to run, to save his friend, but he heard the crackle of power leaving Yonson once more. He barely had enough time to turn Whisper into the blast. To stave off most of the power. But once gain, he felt the shock of the bolt, and his body tightened from the pain.

But the worst agony was that he now knew that there was nothing the fox could do to save his friend.

The agony in his face subsided only slowly. Charles huddled against the wall, the Sondeshike tucked close under his arms. At first, after being saved by the kangaroo, the at had sought to reach his Calm, and will away the pain that way. But it was persistent, and carried with him no matter what sort of mental or spiritual exercise he tried. In his Calm, a place he could still reach, he felt that agony rage across his face, and even the cool of the desert night could not sate it.

Sensation had left him for every other part of him. But as the seconds drew past, he found that he could turn his mind to the rest of his body. He wiggled his toes, and the feeling in those extremities did some to ameliorate the pain in his scorched cheek. It took several more seconds before his pain addled mind began to comprehend what that might mean.

Whatever the Shrieker’s touch had done to him apart from burning his flesh black on the right side of his muzzle, the agony of it never wavered. It was a constant thing that would always claw at his mind. But that did not mean it would take up all of his mind. The rest of his body’s feelings and sensations began to fill up the empty cavity that the nullity of contact with the Shrieker had created. Slowly, he rubbed his paws over the Sondeshike, and he savoured the cold metal against the soft pads of his paws.

Charles opened his left eye. His right eye was still fused shut, though he could see a vague sensation of light through it. Perhaps his eyes still worked, even if the flesh above it was immobile. Hopefully, there would be a way to save it short of slicing open the charred skin.

The room swam for a moment as he drew it into focus. The swirling gusts of solid air just a few feet away from him did not help, but eventually he was able to put everything in its place. Because of the shape of his rodent head, he could see nothing of the battle, but he could hear the sound of metal on metal, and the crackle of powerful spells as well as the discordant cries of his companions.

Charles shifted, putting one paw beneath him. His body was still numbed from his wound, but he could not just sit here, not when he still had the strength to stand. He pressed his back heavily against the wall, and pushed up with his legs too. Slowly, bit by bit, he inched his way along that wall, rising upwards. He closed his eye once more, and the world fell into shadow. He breathed heavily, feeling the pain inside him become more pronounced as he lost the sense of sight.

His eye flew open once more, and the world tilted oddly. But then it righted itself as his focus left the pain upon his face. Turning the Sondeshike in his paws, he put one end on the floor and braced himself with it. A moment later he had finally managed to stand upright once more. He took a long breath then, keeping his one eye open, had making sure he remained aware of the sensations in his body everywhere but his face. The air ruffled through his soft fur, and his clothes hung heavily on him. The weight of the ring mail over his chest was comforting and familiar, but also something that he had to work against to stay upright. Every bit of it helped him conquer the Underworld abomination’s touch.

Turning, Charles surveyed the Belfry. Malisa, Jessica, Kayla, and that Binoq were all huddled in one corner. Flashes of lightning erupted from the lemur Yonson’s paws, but they seemed to strike some sort of shield that covered the women each time. James was stumbling back out of the way form the depression, limping on his right ankle. Misha, Lindsey and Habakkuk all seemed to have cornered the last of the Shriekers – the second must have been killed while he’d been curled up in pain – while fending off blows from the Weathermonger as well. And Rickkter and Zagrosek were still fighting, although as he watched them, he saw the tenor of their battle change quite suddenly.

Charles was moving towards them even before he heard the first crack of bone. Blood was streaming down Zagrosek’s leg, but he seemed to be ignoring it for now. But Rickkter had fallen back under the assault and was now off balance. The rats’ breath was ragged, and he realized that he was pushing himself. His heart skipped a beat when he saw the raccoon finally stumble, accompanied by the crack of a second bone. And then, the Kankoran lay upon the ground, filled with agony, and with no way to protect himself.

In his paw the Sondeshike darted forward, just as Zagrosek brought his own down, ready to crush in the procyonid skull.

The two staves colliding together cracked with a hollow hum, a deep throb that seemed almost as resonant as the bells themselves. There was a flash of surprise on Zagrosek’s face, and he looked up at Charles, an odd sort of smile replacing the fury that had been etched there a moment before.

“You’ve never stopped me from killing a Kankoran before, Charles.”

“We’ve never been enemies before, Krenek. Stop this madness!” His tongue worked, though it felt odd. He couldn’t really move the right side of his face too much, so his words were somewhat slurred.

For a moment, a look of regret seemed to fill those eyes. “I do not want to have to fight you, Charles. Please don’t interfere.”

“I will not let you kill him, Krenek. You stand back.” There was a strange sort of fury in his voice, but not one that he could place. What was he feeling? Betrayal? Desperation? He just wasn’t sure.

“You cannot win with only one eye,” Zagrosek pointed out almost charitably. “You know that.”

Charles was about to spit back something about not caring about that when Zagrosek’s eyes darted to the rat’s right. Charles couldn’t see it, but he certainly could smell it a moment later.

“No!” Kayla cried out when she saw Rickkter stumbling back under the black clad man’s attack. He was faltering, his strength leaving him, and soon, he’d have no strength left at all to fight back that evil warrior’s blows.

Another concussion wracked at her arms as she held up the lens that Malisa had crafted. Yonson’s blows were becoming stronger and stronger, and the lens was suffering for it, slowly disintegrating once more. Kayla knew that she was not much of a magician, even on the best of days. Hers was a latent talent she had been told, and while she had experienced more success than most casual practitioners, she was still clearly a novice. What good was she then except some sort of magical energy supply?

Then again, Kayla had often asked herself what she was good for. In the many years of her life lived at Metamor, she had found her niche as a scribe working for Phil in Intelligence. It had not been glamorous, and she could hardly even discuss what she did with those few who tolerated her odoriferous presence. Phil had confided in her from time to time and trusted her judgement. He’d even taken the time to play a few games of chess with her once he had learned that she enjoyed the game.

Now that Andwyn was in charge of Intelligence, she found herself still needed there, but no longer was she trusted or kept in confidence the way that she once was. The bat kept his own council, and only very rarely would he speak an unmeasured word. Perhaps these traits made him an excellent spymaster, but they did little to make him somebody Kayla could count as a friend.

It was fortunate then, that she had no need of him to be a friend, as she had found someone who cared for her deeply in the previous year. He was a strange fellow, one who could be ruthless in battle, yet be gentle, sensitive, and almost boyish in his charm when he was with her. Many fled her presence at the first whiff of her malodorous scent, but not him. This man, this raccoon, had enjoyed her for her company, and had never said anything ill about the way her tail tickled his nose. To him, she was beautiful, and now for the first time since the curse, she could look in the mirror and see a beautiful person in the eyes and face of the skunk.

And now, before those same eyes, the very raccoon who had given her hope and had peeled off the veneer of pain from her heart to fill it once more with life, was having his own life beaten from him. It pained her to leave Malisa and Jessica without her help, but she would never be able to look in mirror again if she did not do something to save Rickkter.

Her heart throbbed in her chest as she watched him fall to the ground finally, his leg bending painfully in a way it should not. “I’m sorry,” Kayla murmured before running out form behind the protective lens and across the Belfry to where Rickkter lay. Her heart pounded heavily, her whole body stiffening in fright as that black clad man lifted high his staff, and then brought it down hard. She was too late. In that one moment, she felt as if her heart were going to stop completely, so intense was her horror.

And then it struck another such metallic staff, this one held by the scorched rat Matthias. The rat? She’d heard Phil talk about him and what he had done, but she knew him better from Rickkter’s unpleasant musings. He was, in Rickkter’s words, ‘a sanctimonious twit’ who even the raccoon acknowledged when he had to was a capable warrior. But the two of them had been feuding ever since Rickkter arrived. Why should Matthias save his life?

Whatever the reason, Kayla did not care. She just felt an overwhelming sense of relief that she was not too late. But she could see the strain in Matthias’s posture. The right side of his face had been charred and cooked, and he couldn’t even open his eye. He’d surely fall to this man as well if Kayla did not do something.

She had worn one of the few summer dresses that she possessed. It was not revealing, but it was certainly light. The skirt began at her waist and went down to just beneath her knees. Her original hope that day was that she and Rickkter, at the end of a long romantic day, might find themselves wanting to not have any clothes on at all. So she had saved her lover some time by not wearing anything at all under her skirt. With her thick fur, she was not worried about any voyeur getting a glimpse of anything tender, and besides, it was quite warm out, and she really didn’t want to wear too much in the way of clothes.

Kayla now blessed that foresight, even if she’d never intended it this way. Standing only a few feet from where Rickkter lay and the rat and black clad man stood with their staves blocking each other, she bent over at the middle, lifting her tail high into the air. It pulled up her skirt behind her, while she lifted the hem in front of her so she could aim properly.

As her muscles tensed, giving into the instinctual need that she felt as a skunk, the black clad man turned and stared. “Oh shit,” he said, realization dawning just as her spray launched and caught him full in the face.

“Shit!” he screamed, falling backwards. He landed on his backside, and crawled with his legs kicking over the floor, both his hands clawing madly at his face. Matthias stood there for several seconds dumbfounded, before his nose suddenly turned up and he too gagged at the aroma that had just been spread upon the air.

Kayla let her tail drop as she turned back around and rushed to Rickkter’s side. His eyes were swimming in the air, but they found her quickly enough. His breath was ragged, and he did not move much at all, even when she tried to slip her paws underneath his shoulders. “Did I tell you,” Rickkter managed to say, though his face visibly winced, “that I think you smell quite lovely today?”

The skunk could not help but let out a relieved laugh, a tear coming to her eye, even as she began to drag her lover back from the edge of the battle. Her eyes looked up and she could see the man beating his head against the far wall of the Belfry, even as the strange woman with the purple robes standing by the censer looked down on him and shook her head. Now what was she doing, Kayla wondered.

As if sensing the scrutiny, the woman look up at Kayla. The cavity of her missing eye began to simmer a baleful red. Her smile stretched the tears in her cheeks, giving her a demonic cast.

Kayla felt her heart tremble, even as the light around the woman’s feet, and around the censer, began to subtly change.

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