Lineaments of Coming Night


I am now ready,” the Binoq announced brightly. From his belt he drew out a knife that was fashioned from stone and laid it on the floor at the rat’s feet. He bent over the blade, sitting on his knees as he began to trace his fingers over the knife’s edge. There was no glow and no discernable trace of the magic that the little man was conjuring. At least not to the senses of Merai. Charles however, could already feel something happening.

There was a magnetic pull between himself and the knife, and it grew in intensity with every motion of Abafouq’s fingers. They slid up across the blade, around the hilt, and then down the tang once more. It was hard to describe exactly how it made him feel. Charles was still not used to the way having his body fashioned from stone felt to determine just what was happening. But he knew that his body wanted to be near that other bit of stone, as if they were being infused with the same essence.

Charles spread his legs a little wider and leaned back, fighting that sensation. Merai looked at him sharply, obviously concerned for him. Her eyes narrowed, feline slits decidedly unsettled. The dagger began to shift on the ground under Abafouq’s hands. It swivelled back and forth like a snake wriggling through a small hole. To the rat, it looked as if it were trying to get to him as well.

“Is it supposed to do that?” Merai asked.

“Of course,” Abafouq replied, even as he wrapped his hand about the hilt of the dagger. “Charles, I’ve put the spell here into this dagger. I cannot make your stone body speak. Speech requires you to be able to breathe, and that you cannot do. Nor can I just cast the spell on you directly. I have to reach inside of you to do this. So, I am warning you now, I am going to stab you with the dagger.”

Charles blinked his one eye and stared at the dagger which the little man was having to hold very tightly to keep it from wriggling from his grasp. “Trust me, this will not hurt you. But for one moment, the stone of your body, and the stone of this dagger will be one and the same. When I take the dagger out again, you’ll be able to speak. Are you ready?”

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Merai asked. “I’m sure we can find another way.”

Charles looked to the priestess and nodded. The Binoq had given him the ability to move back. Why should he not trust him to be able to make him speak too? Turning his head back to Abafouq, he nodded his head and stood tense.

Abafouq looked down at the dagger, and then let his arm thrust forward. To Charles, it looked as if the dagger had yanked his arm forward, but soon, Charles felt a deep penetration. The dagger sunk into his chest up to the hilt. It was not painful though, merely another presence that had come into him. Yet it felt as if it was him too. There was no difference, in that one moment, between himself and the blade.

And then, the Binoq yanked his arm back, and Charles gave out a gasp.

“Are you well?” Abafouq asked.

“Yes,” Charles said, and then stopped and blinked. “It worked!” he cried out, feeling elation begin to fill him. He moved his muzzle, and sound came forth. “I can talk again! You did it!”

Abafouq smiled warmly even as he sheathed his dagger once more. “It is not quite the voice you once had, but it will do until you can be made flesh again.”

Charles nodded slowly and smiled. “Thank you.” Listening to his own voice, he could tell that it was different. There was a hollow quality to it, like the sound of a rock clattering to the floor of a dark empty cave. There was very little warmth to it, as if his voice had been stripped of all inflection. It was not pleasant for him to hear, but it was at least pleasant to be able to talk once more.

“Well,” Merai said and took a small step closer. “Charles, we need to discuss what we can do about making you flesh again.”

“Do you have the power to do that?” Charles asked her, feeling pretty sure he knew where this was going. And he did not like that thought one bit.

“No,” the feline priestess admitted. “But the gods can help you if you let them.”

He grunted, a strangely chunky sound like rocks grinding together. Sometimes, it was not always pleasant to be right.

Charles opened his mouth to decline her offer, but then his ears caught what the fox was telling Duke Thomas. It was about the man who had appeared with the cards. Misha admitted that he did not know who the man was. “Let me think about it a moment,” Charles said to Merai and then called out, “I know who the man with the cards was.”

All heads turned to the stone rat, some of them quickly and full of surprise. Habakkuk looked at him with a rather amused grin. Charles ignored him and focussed his attention on the horse lord. “I have met that man before, your grace. A long time ago, but I have met him before.”

“Ah, you have your voice back,” Thomas said as he took a step from where Misha lay, his back exposed to the air. “Who is this villain?”

“His name,” Charles could almost feel heat in his body just at the thought of the memory, “is Marquis Camille du Tournemire.”

The name did not spark any new memories amongst his companions for a moment. After several confused seconds of silence, Malisa

nodded her head and brought her fist up to her mouth thoughtfully. “Yes, that makes sense. Tournemire is the one who sent Yonson here in the first place. Of course he would be behind this. But what does he hope to gain?”

“It is not this man that is behind this,” Abafouq pointed out. “He is merely an agent for the Underworld..”

“Fair enough,” Duke Thomas said as his eyes settled on the stone rat. “But I want to know how you knew this man. You have a far too extensive past with these people who threaten us, Charles.”

The rat stood a little taller. Though he no longer had fur to bristle, the way his one eye narrowed was enough to convey his indignance at the horse lord’s suggestion. “This was ten years ago. I was still a member of the Sondeckis then. You may recall that at the time, the Sutt family was conquering the Western half of the Pyralian Kingdoms. Tournemire asked for help from the Sondeckis to stop the Sutt family.

“I was one of four Sondeckis sent to restore balance between the noble houses. For a period of several months, we destroyed the Sutt infrastructure that led to the collapse of his armies. But I got to know Marquis du Tournemire decently in that time. The man I knew back then and the one I saw in the Belfry are very different. Only the power of the Underworld can explain it.”

“Misha told me that he used a deck of cards to control you all,” Thomas asked after considering the rat’s words for a moment. “Do you know anything about that?”

“Well, when I knew him, the Marquis was an avid card player. He was pretty merciless about it too. You should never play cards with him because you will lose. I’d say he’s somehow found a way to imbue those cards with power. I do not know how though. Perhaps the Underworld again.”

“Malisa,” Thomas said, turning his head to the Prime Minister, “what do you know about the magical properties of cards?”

“Usually, they are used by diviners to understand what the future holds. One scholar said that they could be windows in time. I’d say that the Marquis has found a way to make them windows to the soul as well.”

Thomas nodded sourly, his face lost in thought. “I have but two more questions. Why did they do this, and what can we do about it?”

No one had any answers for him. Charles stood where he was, enduring the scrutiny of Merai. Abafouq looked at the floor as if it were going to swallow him whole. Raven remained near Rickkter’s battered body, her face drawn into an unpleasant moue. Misha lay upon the low table with his muzzle pressed into his fists as he considered those words without any answers. James looked back at the rest of them while the raccoon Coe felt around his injured ankle. Malisa stood of to one side, shaking her head. Habakkuk sat waiting on his own table, as if he might in fact know something, but be afraid to speak it just then.


The voice startled them all. It had a familiar metallic lilt, and an earnestness that few could ever hope to match. Sitting on his haunches at one side of the room where there had been no door or way for the automaton to enter, was Madog. The mechanical fox looked forlornly at Misha, but did not move towards him.

“Madog,” Misha called, lifting himself up form the low table and beckoning his companion forward. “What’s wrong?”

“I went to ask Kyia why all this bad stuff happened, Poppa. She said she wanted to tell us all.” Madog lowered his head in shame, as if he were to blame for it all.

Misha and the rest only had time to blink and stutter in confusion before another figure was there standing over Madog. A slender woman full of unearthly grace, with boughs of dark hair cascading down her back, dressed in gossamer white satin. Charles gazed into her face and felt a strange sense of disquiet. Though she possessed an aura of immutability, the serenity that seemed to cling to her was somehow imperfect – damaged.

“Kyia!” Raven breathed loudly, her amazement clear.

The woman nodded her head, though she did not smile. “What our enemies plan, I do not know,” Kyia said, her voice the sound of rushing waters, sombre trumpets, and crystal bells all ringing in exultant chorus. “But what has happened today I do know. The Censer of Yajakali has been kept hidden here within my own house for a years’s time. Were it any other object of evil, I could have kept it hidden. But the artifacts of Yajakali are not truly a part of this world and move back and forth through all of reality.”

All eyes and faces were held tightly to the sight of Kyaia. None of them had the power to do otherwise. It was as if all of them had become statues like Charles in that moment. Only the automaton seemed able to move. And Madog was merely nuzzling his head against her leg.

“This day, our enemies have tied the censer into the wellspring of magic that exists here at Metamor. It cannot be moved, destroyed, or harmed in any way. It can only be left alone. I dare not turn my own efforts against it, lest it drain me of all that I am. This power cannot be defeated here. It must be stopped at its source.”

Raven opened her muzzle to speak, but Kyia, merely vanished back into the air as if she had been made from mist. The priestess stood with mouth agape for a moment, and then slowly shut her jaw. She was not alone in feeling stunned by the words of the very Keep herself.

“The source,” Zhypar Habakkuk announced, as if he had been waiting for this moment, “is beneath the Chateau Marzac.”

“You cannot possibly be suggesting we go there,” Charles barked back, his voice the sound of a stone cracking.

“That is the very thing we must do,” the kangaroo replied. “Yes, we risk the corruption of the Underworld. But if we are to have any hope of ending this threat, then we must close the tear.”

“We do not have the power here to even attempt such a thing!” Malisa said, startled at the kangaroo’s suggestion. “We folded before that man who is their agent. What makes you think we shall have any better luck against the power behind him?”

“We would fail,” Habakkuk nodded his head in agreement. “But I told you in the council chambers, I have been corresponding with allies that have been preparing for this day. Abafouq is one of them. But he is not the only one.”

“That is true,” Abafouq said with the first bit of verve he’d displayed since Madog had appeared. The mechanical fox still sat on his haunches watching, but said nothing. “I did not come here to assist you in the fight in that tower. I came here to tell Habakkuk where it is that he and those he has chosen to accompany us must go. We are to travel to the ancient city of Nafqananok in Qorfuu, and from there to the Åelf city of Ava-shavåis.”

“Nafqananok?” Thomas asked, perplexed. “Where is that?”

“Deep in what you call the Great Barrier Range. It is the city of my birth, and the centre of all life for the Binoq.”

“The Barrier Range?” Misha exclaimed. “But it is impassable!”

“I have arrived here, yes?” Abafouq asked with a wry grin. “I and my companion know the ways through those mountains. We will guide you. But the journey is long, and we must begin today.”

“Today?” Charles blurted. “Most of us are injured and will not be able to travel for weeks, let alone this evening.”

“Nevertheless,” Abafouq replied, as if he were afraid to admit some bit of knowledge. “We must depart this very evening. I do not know who Habakkuk has selected for this task, but it is too important to delay. We have a very long road ahead of us.”

Thomas turned on the kangaroo. “I am convinced that this is a necessity. If it were not, Kyia would not have appeared to tell us what has happened. You claim to be a prophet, so I do not doubt your selections for this journey. Who must go with you?”

“All together we shall be eight. Abafouq and his companion Guernef of course. I myself will be going, as will Lindsey who has spent the last few months gathering the supplies we will need for this journey. The gear we will need is already waiting in his home for us to claim. Jessica and Kayla must also both come, something they will both understand before any of us could tell them. Matthias, you also must come.”

“Me?” The rat exclaimed. While secretly, he was glad that he would not be left out, he was also shocked and dismayed. Not only had he become stone, but now he was going to be dragged away from his family for who knew how many months. “I am a newly made father. I have to be there for my wife and children. You cannot ask me to go!”

“I am not asking you, Matthias. I am telling you that you must come with us to stop this evil. We will need your skills.” There appeared to be a look of sympathy on the kangaroo’s face, but there was no arguing with him, it was clear.

Charles shook his head. “But I won’t even get a chance to say goodbye to Kimberly!! You cannot do this to me!”

“I am sorry, I truly am, but this evil will not wait for us. We must leave in the next few hours. I’m sorry.”

Duke Thomas nodded his head thoughtfully. “That will give you time to prepare a letter for your wife,” the horse lord said. “But I do not doubt that what I’ve been told here today is true. I do not know what you all hope to do against this evil, but if this is our only chance, then we must take it. You need not fear for your family, Charles. They will be protected.”

“But... my children,” Charles wished that he could cry, but the stone that his flesh had become was unyielding. “They... they need me.”

“There is nothing I can tell you that will make you feel any better about this,” the kangaroo said, and their was true empathy in his voice. There was some terrible pain there, something that he longed to share, but could not. “But think of what has happened this day. The forces of Marzac have tied the Censer of Yajakali into the flow of magic here at Metamor. With that sort of power, they can force the tear open wider, letting even more evil spew forth. If it is opened wide enough, not all the armies of this world could stop the foul beasts that would pour forth. No family would be safe, no matter where they fled. If you want to save your family, you must go.”

“But why me and not another?” Charles demanded.

Habakkuk shrugged his shoulders. “I can only tell you what I have seen. And I know that if you are not with us, we will fail.”

The look Charles saw on Duke Thomas’s face told him all he needed to know. If he refused to go willingly, he would be ordered to go. He would be honour bound then, and in the same situation as if he’d accepted this himself. Quite suddenly, he felt as if his Lady Kimberly, and his sweet children were all lost to him. There was an aching emptiness somewhere in his body, but he could not discern where. The stone was cold.

“Very well,” he said at last. “I will go. But I must write a latter to my wife first. Grant me at least that.”

“You will have your ink and parchment,” Duke Thomas assured him. The horse turned his massive head back on the kangaroo. “You said that there were eight to go. I count only seven so far.”

“Yes,” Misha nodded his head as he shifted to sit up on his own table. The black scorch mark was still clear on his back, and it pained him to move. “Who else must go with you?” There was a strange sort of intensity in the fox’s face and tone. Charles detected a warning there for the kangaroo. It was either ‘don’t you dare say me’ or ‘don’t you dare say somebody else’. Knowing how much the fox loathed to be left out, Charles suspected it was the latter.

Habakkuk turned his gaze upon the head of the Long Scouts and then shook his head. “It is not you, Misha. I know you wish to go, but in all my visions of this event, you have never been in them. If I were to bring you along, you might upset the one chance we have for victory.”

“What?!?” Misha shouted, grey eyes lit up in rage. “I saw that evil and I know I can help stop it!”

“You do seem a logical choice,” Habakkuk replied, once more appearing apologetic for what he had to say, “but I must trust my visions as I have the whole of my life. I have seen much sorrow in them, but I have also seen much hope. If there is to be any hope for the future, then you must trust me on this one. You are not to accompany us, Misha.”

The fox balled his paws into fists, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath. Madog trotted over to his side and nuzzled at one of his legs. “Don’t go, Poppa. Please.”

Misha let out a nasty growl and then hung his head so that his snout very nearly touched his chest. “Very well,” he said at last. “If Duke Thomas trusts you in this, I will too.” One paw lowered to gently pet the automaton’s head.

“So,” Charles asked, realizing that he had hoped it would be Misha to come as well. He did not relish the thought that the person he knew the best on this venture would be the kangaroo. “Who is going to be the eighth member of our group, Zhypar?”

The kangaroo looked past the fox to the donkey who was nodding his head agreeably to the Healer. It looked like whatever had been done to his ankle had been fixed. “Why it is James of course.”

The donkey spun his head around at that, ears raised. “Me?”

“Yes, you,” Habakkuk replied. “When I had my visions of that future time, I had always wondered who you might prove to be. I had met or known about every one else for some time. But until I saw you today, I did not know who you really were. And now my confidence is renewed.”

“But...” James argued, “I’m nobody! I can barely even fight.” His eyes were wide and Charles saw a bit of white at the edges, the first sign of equine panic.

“You killed a Shrieker,” Habakkuk pointed out. “How many men alive can make such a claim?”

James stuttered for a moment, and then looked to the stone rat for help. Charles shrugged his shoulders. “If I am to leave my family, at least I will have a friend with me. I don’t know what Habakkuk is thinking, and I for one am loathe to trust him on this. But trust him we must. We will be all right.”

James lowered his head and ears. “If you say so. I guess I don’t have a choice in this.”

“It’s settled then,” Thomas said with a curt nod. He appeared dubious as well, but had the good sense not to make it too obvious. “Whatever you need to do now to prepare, do so quickly. I must return to the Council Chambers and inform my vassals of what has happened. They are doubtless impatient.”

“And doubtless won’t believe you,” Misha put in sourly.

“Even if they don’t, they won’t be foolish enough to say it before me. Malisa, you saw it all, I need you to tell them what you saw.”

She nodded slowly and took a deep breath. “Of course.”

Even as the two left the room, Charles, Misha, James, and all the rest looked at each other, each at a loss for words. Charles lowered his head and shut his one eye. He was nothing but stone right now. There was nothing to say. Kimberly, and his five children, all stood apart from him, watching him with forlorn eyes. A part of him ached from the hollow they had left in him. How he wished he could cry.

Birds were not meant to go beneath the surface of the Earth. There was an unutterable claustrophobia that began to fill her bones as she took each new step into the dank oppressiveness of the dungeon. The walls were slick with moisture, except where they had been blackened by soot from years of flame close by. Where there were no torches, it was dark and the walls all pressed in tight. Jessica had to draw her wings as close to her back as they could be to keep from even feeling their slick, febrile touch.

The worst for her was the stairs that seemed to go down and down into the depths of the Earth. In childhood, she had always believed that the further beneath the Earth you went, the hotter and hotter it became, as you grew closer to the place of punishment. But instead, it was the opposite. With each new step into the waiting abyss, it grew colder, a chill so forlorn that she scarcely drew breath.

Nor did the illusions of her childhood cease when the dungeons did not grow in heat. She was sinking into the bones and ash of the world to find her lover, condemned to wait until the mercy of those above would free him. What could she do but visit him this one time to try and comfort him as well as herself? Would this be like the old tale? If she looked back would she be condemned to share in his fate?

The stairs of course did not go on forever, and finally, when she was on level ground once more, she was able to banish the calumnious fears of the hells. This was not the place where sinners go when they died. She was no mythological figure trekking into the afterlife to see her lover one last time. She was just a hawk, doing what hawks were not meant to do. She was going underground.

Nor did she allow herself to dwell on the reasons she was doing so. This was a necessity, that was all. The walls maintained their unpleasant state, and she kept herself from touching them. But she also kept her golden eyes ahead on the lights that led down the passage. She could see the door at the far end clearly, as well as the guard flanking it. A shrew with a helmet, mail vest and sword.

It took her only a minute of her hop-walking gait to reach the doorway. The shrew eyed her enigmatically. “I’m here to visit Weyden.”

“I’ve my orders that no one is allowed to visit him or any of his companions,” the shrew reported officiously, as if he were half afraid this was a test of his diligence to duty.

Jessica let a measure of her anger fill her golden eyes as she stared meaningfully down at the shrew. He was a good two feet shorter than her. “I do not ask you to open his cell, but merely that I may stand next to his door and speak with him. George has said that I may do so and that it will not violate your orders. Now let me pass.”

The shrew appeared to contemplate that for a while. His snout and whiskers bobbed up and down in contemplation, and his beady eyes stared down into the ground as if the answer were going to bubble up from the stone. At last, he nodded and turned to the door. “All right. You can ask the Sergeant. He might let you do it.”

Jessica nodded gratefully to him, but said nothing further. With a heave, the shrew drew open the heavy iron door. If Jessica was expecting a great swath of light to pour out, she was sorely disappointed. There was only a few lamps inside the low-ceilinged room beyond. It brought just enough illumination to show how dank and covered in mildew the walls were, but not enough to banish the resilient darkness and shadow that clung to everything.

There were four corridors leaving the main room. The gaoler was a ram morph who sat smoking a pipe held between thick hoof-like fingers. Before him was a sturdy oak table that bore black stains from candle wax. A small pile of dice sat on the table, the remnants of an interrupted game. His eyes narrowed as he saw the shrew step through. “Pardon me, Sergeant Dallar, but this lady hawk wants to speak to one of the prisoners.”

“I know who she is, Adam” the ram replied, taking the pipe from between his supple lips. He hooked it between the curling horn at the side of his head, where it rested comfortably. “Return to your post.”

The shrew nodded dutifully, looked uncertainly at the hawk one last time, and then pushed the iron door shut behind her. It shuddered closed with a hollow ringing. Jessica shuddered at the sound, and was thankful that there was no lock to click into place.

She found herself under the ram’s scrutiny. He was tapping his fingers together while the end of his pipe continued to smoke. Seeing the pipe hanging in his horns was such a ludicrous image that it put her off balance. She felt suddenly weak, and spread her wings a bit to support herself better. The room was so tight and confining.

“So, I assume you want to see the other hawk? Weyden I think his name was?” Dallar asked without disguising what he thought of the notion of anyone wanting to see the prisoners.

“Yes, I do.” Jessica could not help but glare at the ram in equal measure. “No matter what you may have heard, he is innocent.”

The ram took the pipe back from his horns and slipped it between his teeth once more. “Until I hear otherwise from George, they’re guilty. And he gave me orders not to let anybody in to see them.”

“I just spoke with George,” she replied, spreading her wings again. “And he said that I would be allowed to speak with Weyden, just not enter the cell with him.”

Dallar rolled his fingers around the pipe and stared past the end of his snout at the hawk as if considering whether it was worth his effort to send a message to George to see if this was true. In his free hand he picked up the dice and dropped them on the table. They came quickly to a stop, but seemed to offer him as few answers as the floor did for the shrew.

“I will show you his cell,” Dallar announced, though without any enthusiasm. Slowly, he rose to his hooves and took a long draught from his pipe. His chest sank as he blew out a cloud of smoke that hung forlornly in the air. “Follow me.”

Dallar turned down the corridor behind him. He did not bother to take the candle from the table, but proceeded into the dim hallway with the confidence brought on from memory. Tentatively, Jessica followed after him, making sure she kept a good distance between herself and the unhappy gaoler. She tucked her wings close to her back as she stepped into the close confines of the passage.

Flambeaux lit the hallway sparsely. They were separated every thirty feet or so, but their light seemed only to stretch out for a few feet before they became just a floating sentinel amidst a tapestry of black. The door to which Dallar the ram led her was an iron door only faintly limned by that orange glow. Sergeant Dallar drew open the small plate at eye level and called into the emptiness beyond, “Weyden, you have a visitor.”

He looked back to Jessica one last time, and then shambled back towards the more brightly lit main room and his game of dice. His hooves clopped haggardly, as if were holding up the weight of the stone above him. Jessica watched him go for a moment before turning to that small window into the cell of her lover.

She could not see anything beyond. Her eyesight was excellent during the day, but without much light it was poor. But she could hear the rustling of feathers and the familiar scraping of talons against stone. “Weyden?” she called, her voice trembling.

“Jessica!” he called back, and she could hear him rushing forward. Another hue passed in front of the small opening. The light caught and reflected the gold of one of his bright eyes. She cracked her beak in an avian smile at that little part of him that she could see. “Thank Kammoloth that you are alive.”

She could not help but feel her spirits lift some at hearing him say that. “And I thank him to see that you are alive. I will thank him again when you are freed from this cell.”

Weyden grew quiet for a moment then. His eye looked downcast, and he seemed to step back from the door. “I cannot believe that Humphrey and London would... would betray us like that. They were my friends. Only last night, we were drinking together. Last night!” He choked back a sob, and it was all Jessica could do not to sob for him. “What happened?”

“That place Yonson went,” Jessica said, trying to find the strength she needed. “It was what did this. You are innocent, Weyden. You had nothing to do with it. They will all see that.”

“My home...” he was no longer even looking out the portal, though she could still see his eye. The pupil had slid down, and did not appear to see anything at all. “I’ll never see it again.”

Though he had from time to time spoke of going back there and seeing it again, he had also recognized that he could never truly call the Pyralian Kingdoms his home again. As a hawk, the best he could do would to be somebody’s trained animal. He had joked that he would win many contests with a properly disposed knight, but he had said all that in jest. So to hear him say this now was confusing.

“Surely you will see it again one day.”

Weyden let out a bitter laugh. “No, my sweet, I will not.” His eye rose once more to meet her. “I will never leave this cell until I have sworn fealty to Duke Thomas. I entered this cell a Pyralian. I will only leave it a Metamorian.”

“Is that so bad?” Jessica asked. “I’m a Metamorian.”

Weyden appeared to shake his head. “No, I suppose not. But this... this has all come so suddenly. I don’t know what to think.”

“Neither do I.”

Neither said anything for some moments. Weyden’s eye continued to stray from her, while her own never left what little of him she could see. He stood close enough to the door that all she could see was his eye and the brown feathers that framed it. As she stared into that orb, she could not help but realize that it had almost been a year since they had met. How had she fallen so completely in love with him in that time? He was both strong and gentle. He enjoyed her independence of spirit, and supported her unconditionally. In faith he had joined her, but he also drew her into his own circle of companions, and there was both pride and love in his eyes when he did so.

Now, there was only a defeated emptiness.

“Yonson was trying to do something very evil,” Jessica said, knowing that he would have to accept this. “Whatever evil had corrupted him must have corrupted both Humphrey and London as well. I’m sorry they died. I cared for them both too.”

“I know,” he acknowledged with a nod. “But I saw something come over them there at the end. I saw something evil there. I had never seen it before. How could it have happened?”

“Did they go to Marzac?” Jessica needed to hear it from his own beak, though she knew in her heart that it was true.

“Marzac? Yes. They were sent there originally with Yonson a few years ago. Why?”

“Did you or Maud, Larssen, or Van ever go to Marzac?”

Weyden remained quiet, his one eye closed in thought. “No, we never did. Is that what this is all about? Marzac? You said it had corrupted Yonson before my friends died.”

Jessica nodded slowly, shifting her wings slightly at the subtle rebuke. “Yes. Marzac corrupted them and put something evil inside them. Marzac is also responsible for my master’s death. I’m so sorry. I wish I could bring them both back. I know they were your friends.”

“They are gone. There is nothing you can do. I suppose I should pray that Kammoloth will accept their souls...” his voice trailed off and he turned away from the portal. She could hear his talons scrape on the floor.

“They were good people. They are not responsible for what Marzac did to them.”

“And Yonson? What has happened to him?”

“He died.” Weyden seemed to deflate further, and she thought she saw his shoulders slump. “He fell off the Belfry. He and his companions very nearly destroyed us all.”

“Did you kill his companions too?”

Jessica shook her head. “No. I wish I could say that they were dead as well, but they are still very much alive. It’s they who are at fault for all of this, my love. They are the ones who did this to us. They killed my master, and they destroyed the good men that were Yonson, Humphrey and London. And it’s they who have put you and the rest of your friends in the dungeons.”

He remained quiet for some time, but it was clear that he was thinking of what she said at least. At long last, he nodded his head and seemed to sag against the door. “Then you need to stop them too before they can do any more harm. We will be fine here. When they seek my fealty, I will give it. I have no more home than Metamor now anyway. Besides, I would rather live with you than anywhere else in the world.”

“And I with you, my love.”

“I love you, Jessica. I will wait for you.”

“Wait for me?” Now she was perplexed.

Weyden turned his face more fully to her, though she could still only see one of his golden eyes. “You will be pursuing Yonson’s allies will you not? You must. Whatever they intend, you cannot let them succeed. Not just for Metamor, but for your master’s sake, as well as that of my friends’.”

Slowly, Jessica began to nod. She pulled her wings tightly against herself. “I do not know what will be decided, but I will be a part of it. And when it is all over, you will be free once more.”

There was a measure of hesitancy in his voice and manner just then. “When you return from wherever it is that you may go, there is something I want us to do, Jessica.”

“What is that?”

“I had hoped for a better time for this but...” Weyden stepped back and pushed the feathers at the end of his wing through the portal. “Will you marry me, my sweet hawk?”

Jessica leaned her face into those comforting feathers. It was all she could do to stay standing as she gladly and with a sob choking her voice told him yes.

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