Lots - Part IV

Long House was bustling as usual. The main hall was usually filled with activity, though today there was only a few of the scouts sparring while their relatives gossiped on the other side. Rickkter was known to be a friend to the Longs, and was always allowed entrance. He waved to Kershaw and Padreic as they jabbed at each other with spears, though for the most part it appeared as if the red panda was just taunting the younger rabbit. Kerhsaw would give short commands and even advice, while almost effortlessly side stepping Padreic’s thrusts.

Their wives hushed their voices as he passed them by with only a cursory nod. He knew neither of them very well, though they had been friendly enough when he’d been introduced to them. But they were the sort of women who would rather speak of men and children, and who was courting who. He had little he wished to discuss with their type.

He went to the last door on the left. It bore a banner with the crossed axe and bow on the green background. He gave the door a swift knock and heard the fox call out, “Come in!”

Inside, Rickkter saw Misha sitting behind the map table, running his claws along one edge of the valley. The fox did not look up, nor turn his ears at his entrance. “Ah, Rickkter. Good of you to come by. Come take a look at this.”

Rickkter stepped around to the map table and bent over, his tail flicking up in the air behind him. He’d grown used to that extra appendage doing that, but it still bothered him in some niggling undefinable way whenever he thought about it the way it sometimes acted without his consent.

Glancing down at the map of Metamor Valley and the surrounding lands, he looked at the small markers that Misha had lain upon the map. There was a blue marker sitting atop the Keep in the centre of the valley, and smaller ones at the major towns and fortifications that had been affected by the Curses as well. Green markers were lain at a few of the Northern towns that they had begun to make some trading with, though they were not large yet. And there were several black markers sitting in the Dragon mountains and further to the North in the Giantdowns.

“What do we have?” Rickkter asked, gesturing to the various markers with one claw. “Surely Nasoj’s men can’t be thinking of making another offensive? I haven’t heard anything of the like.”

“No, nothing of the like,” Misha agreed. “Their power in the Giantdowns has been broken. Nasoj still controls Bremen and Lik, but that is as far South as their power extends, at least according to our spies. I’m keeping an eye on them, but so far they seem to be suffering from internal power struggles”

“Good. Let them squabble,” Rickkter grunted. “If a few of Nawsoj’s lieutenants kill each other, that’s a few less that we have to dispatch.”

“I agree,” Misha said, smiling slightly. “Let them fight amongst each other. But as long as Nasoj controls the Death Mountains, he’ll be nearly impossible to dislodge. I’ve been thinking instead that we might have better luck focussing on Arabarb instead.” He tapped the map in the stretch of land west of the Dragon mountains. “Baron Calephas still holds the Arabarb Pass, but between there and the Death Mountains, the Lutin tribes are once again dominant. Without that pass, Calephas would be boxed in on three sides. A sea assault from Whales would end his power once and for all.”

Rickkter nodded at that. “Very true. But you’d have to take the fort,” he pointed at a small black marker in the midst of the mountains along the pass. “I may have been born in the South, but I have read my history. That fort has blocked invading armies ten times the size of Metamor itself.”

Misha nodded slowly, and ground his teeth. “Yes. I know. But something in my gut tells me that we can take it. And if we do, we can eliminate one of Nasoj’s most irksome Lieutenants. He’d have nowhere to run to, and I want him badly.”

The raccoon leaned forward some more to look the fox in the eyes. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with the ambush he laid for you?” After they had finally repelled Nasoj’s invaders during the Winter Solstice, Misha had led a force to harry them all the way into the Giantdowns. Garadan Calephas had been leading the retreating army, and set a trap that had nearly cost Misha and all the troops he’d brought with them their lives. Like a soft subtle susurration of the wind, they could feel a trembling in the air at the very memory of what had turned the tide of that fight. Standing in one corder was that great black axe. The memory of what had come out of that shaft lingered still.

“He may not have defeated Metamor,” Misha grumbled, the anger subtle but present in his voice, “but he nearly cost us the victory. Nasoj may be a master sorcerer, but he’s a lousy tactician. Calephas has always been one of his cleverest men. And if we can find a way to defeat him...”

“Assaulting that fortress will never give us victory,” Rickkter pointed out. “If we could trap him there, we could wait him out though. They can’t grow food there, apart from what they can gather from the mountains.”

“I thought of that,” Misha stood up and grimaced, shaking his head. “But Arabarb is too big. The Whalish fleet could take the city, yes, but the river is too treacherous upstream. They’d have to move by land. Neither Whales nor Metamor has a large enough army to control all of Arabarb. Calephas’s armies would be able to bog us down in the lowlands before the pass. We’d be running back to the ships before we ever set foot in that pass.”

“Yes, I see your point,” Rickkter admitted grudgingly. “There is one thing in our favour though.”

“And that is?”

“Calephas has always been too paranoid of losing Arabarb to bring his full forces to bear against Metamor. Had he done so this Winter, we might have lost.”

The fox took a deep breath and nodded. “Yes, I suppose that is something to be grateful for.” He sighed heavily then, his tail lowering between his legs in defeat. “I so wish I could do something about that bastard. But no matter which way I look at it, I just can’t see how to take that fortress. I suppose Malisa is right.”

Rickkter had put one claw upon the black marker over Arabarb and was sliding it along the river through that country. “About what?”

“That I should just leave him be for a few more years. She says that with his support from Nasoj cut off, he’ll have to look elsewhere. Rumour has it that he’s signed up with Lilith’s forces, and those Draconian beasts. If the dragons ever find out he’s supplying them with eggs, they’ll make short work of him and that fortress.”

“If the rumours are true,” Rickkter added. “That whole area is quite unstable. I’ve heard ten different stories about what has happened in Bremen, and at least eight for Caralore.”

“Which is why we are going to have to start establishing a presence in those cities. Well, at least Starven and Politzen for now.”

“The natives won’t like it. They hate us almost as much as they hate Nasoj.”

“I know. I was there too.” The fox offered him a lop-sided grin. “But if we are there protecting them from the chaos, then we’ll become the good guys. Malisa says that in time, they’ll have no choice but to swear fealty to Thomas, as long as we are protecting them. Right now we’re just sending troops to protect the merchant wagons. But Malisa says it’s time we started establishing some outposts of our own, and I agree with her.”

Rickkter had a sudden unsettling sensation in his gut. “Who do you intend to send?”

“I haven’t decided yet. I’ll have to have a Long stationed there, which makes it all the harder. I’ll ask for volunteers first. Once we are ready to begin that is.”

“You might want to use somebody who has remained human,” Rickkter pointed out. “They might accept somebody like that better.”

“I thought of that too,” Misha mused, before trialing off into contemplation. His grey eyes studied the map for several more moments, pondering all that he saw. His one ear was perked upwards, while the remnants of his other ear protruded only slightly from the red fur atop his head. There was a small darkness in the fur where the ear should have been. At first it had been plain, but the fur had grown to obscure it in the months since the assault.

Rickkter watched his friend stare at that map for a few moments before clearing his throat and standing up straight. “If you have a moment, Misha. There was something I came here to tell you.”

The fox’s ear turned and he looked up after a moment. “Yes?”

“The curse is changing Dame Bryonoth a second time.” Misha’s eyes widened, but he said nothing. “It started yesterday. Raven and I have been examining her, and we have some idea, but we are still trying to discern why it happened.”

“And you want me to ask my sister for her opinion?”

“Or at the very least an update on what she’s found.”

“So far it hasn’t been much,” Misha replied, spreading his paws a bit. “I talk with her once a week you know. The last time was just a few days ago. She didn’t have anything new then.”

“I know.”

“And you weren’t exactly happy to have her here the last time,” the fox added pointedly.

“And I’m not happy about bringing her in on this. But she knows so much already, I don’t see how this will expose us any more. Your sister has vast resources available to her. Maybe she’ll have some answers as well.”

Misha frowned then, tapping one claw on the map. Rickkter saw that he was squishing Giftum beneath his claw. “I’m not going to know what to tell her, Rickkter. Unless you explain it to me.”

“I’m afraid I don’t have the time for that,” the raccoon said with a grimace. “I have a promise I made to Kayla I need to fulfill.”

“Oh?” the fox’s grin was far more familiar than it should have been. The look of jocular amusement annoyed the raccoon.

“Yes. She’s just back from her once yearly patrol – Andwyn wouldn’t let her avoid it like Phil used to. I promised her I’d take her to some special spots in the city when she got back. She’s probably waiting for me now. But I had to talk to you. And you don’t need to tell this to your sister. You can have Jessica do it. Just tell Jessica to speak with Raven about this. Raven knows just about everything I do about the knight.”

“Yes, I’ll send her a note then. I have a few things I need to attend to in town as well.” Misha looked from side to side as if he’d find some parchment there before returning his gaze to the raccoon. “Have a good day with Kayla, Rick. Oh, and if you should want to assist me with these outposts, just let me know. We could use your help on them.”

“I’ll think about it. Good day, Misha.” Rickkter smiled once to his friend, though it was a bit sardonic, and then stepped from the office.

“And yesterday morning, I was trying to get her to eat at the same time as I did. But she did not want to, saying it was not her right as a woman to eat at the same time as a man.” Sir Egland had long finished the bit of tea that Intoran had made for them both. Raven continued to nurse hers. She sat quietly, cradling the cup and saucer in her lap. Her paws seemed ill-equipped to handle them with the dignity that she easily displayed. The whole time he had talked she had merely listened to him, only stopping him from time to time to ask him to better explain some particular moment, turn of phrase, or Flatlander custom. “And that’s when the change began to take her, Lothanasa.”

“Interesting,” Raven said slowly, sipping once more at her tea. She opened her muzzle to say more, when a loud rapping came at the door. Egland turned his ears and tasted the air, but all he could smell was the oil from his armour, the tea, and their own scents.

Intoran did not need to be told to see who was at the door. He opened and exclaimed in surprise, “Sir Saulius!”

The elk could not help but smile, and he was quick to stand. “Sir Saulius?” he called out, and true enough, the rat knight stood on the other side of the doorway, dressed in his usual chain mail and brown tabard. “Welcome, do come in. You know the Lothanasa, Raven hin’Elric, do you not?”

Sir Saulius handed his helmet to Intoran and nodded as he stepped inside. Raven had also risen to greet the new guest, though her smile was merely polite. “Greetings, Lothanasa. I hath not expected thee, or I wouldst have bathed ere I arrived.”

Raven looked between the rat and the elk and nodded her head. “It is no matter, knight. I believe I have learned all that I can. Thank you for your hospitality, Sir Egland. But I have other matters I must attend to.”

“Of course. Go in peace, Lothanasa. I hope you find the answers we all seek.” Egland bowed briefly, though also in some relief. It had been strange spending so much time with the head of the Lothanasa order here in Metamor. Until he’d come to this city, he’d never spent any time at all in the company of a Lothanasi.

Sir Saulius stood out of the way in the narrow foyer until the wolf priestess had navigated her way to the door and slipped out. Intoran closed the door behind her and watched through one of the windows as she continued on down the street. But Egland quickly turned his attention upon his new guest. “Erick!” he cried, and held out his arms. The rat grinned and returned the gesture, and the two knights hugged. Of course, the elk had to lift the rat a couple feet off the ground to do it, but Saulius did not appear to mind.

“Yacoub!” Saulius shouted in delight. “‘Tis good to see thee again! Though thy letter spoke of dire tidings. Where art Bryonoth?”

“Later,” Egland replied. “First, you must come and sit with me. It is shortly past noon and you must be famished. Intoran, bring some bread and cheese, and a bit of meat for my fellow knight!”

The rat grinned, his front incisors gleaming in the lamp light. “A bit of food wouldst be pleasant welcome. I ate little ere I left this morn from the Glen.”

Egland guided the rat into the sitting room, and gestured to the chair where Raven had sat only moments before. “And how are things in the Glen? The news in your last letter was quite exciting.”

“Aye! ‘Tis not everyday that ye sees five baby rats come into the world with as much joy as my squire and his lady hath felt.” Saulius stood a little taller then, his whiskers standing on end. “Charles hath named his second son for me! Ah, a bright strong boy named Erick Matthias! I didst weep with joy when he didst tell me that eve. Ah, thou shouldst have been there, Yacoub. Ne’er have I seen such a thing in all my days.”

“That’s wonderful news. I’m truly happy for you.” Egland found he just didn’t quite know what to say. Did all who heard of such joys feel so equally tongue-tied? “How goes the training? He will be ready for the joust?”

Saulius settled back in the chair a bit and rested his paws on the arms of the chair. He looked quite dwarfed in its confines, almost like a small child. “Aye, he shalt be ready. I let him enjoy a few days with his wife and children after they wert born, but I hath not allowed him to shirk his duty, and he hath once more taken up the lance and horse. I wilt make a knight of him yet.”

The rat’s grin widened, and he leaned forward a bit, dark eyes sparkling with some inner mischief. “The Lady Kimberly hath said unto him that he wouldst be a great knight, and it wouldst please her if he wast. I hast assured her that he shalt be, and e’en Charles dost wishest it, methinks.”

“A man will do anything for a woman, if he loves her,” Egland mused at that, smiling. “I regret I had to call you away from his training, but matters are strange here, and I thought I might need your help.”

Saulius leaned back in the chair, his long tail curling around his legs and dangling off the end of the chair even further than his foot paws did. “I am thine to command, Yacoub. What hast happened?”

The happiness he’d felt only moments ago at greeting his fellow knight began to fade as he recounted the same tale he’d told Raven already. The rat’s expression darkened with every new word.

Alberta was beginning to stir some in her quarters. She blinked and opened her eyes, seeing nothing but grey masonry above. Turning on her side, she saw that she was lying in a strange bed, the room small with but one narrow window letting in the air, and a single lamp upon the bed stand. What was more, her body was covered only with a couple sheets.

Her muscles were sore, and she could not quite remember how she had come to be in that bed, or where that bed even was. She had to find out, and so pushed back the covers. She immediately grabbed and drew them up over her breasts, feeling suddenly terribly vulnerable. What had happened to her clothes? It would be unseemly for her not to at least have some small thing on.

But then, something else began to nag at her. Why did her legs feel so strange. Not to mention her face. There was something wrong with it all. Lifting up the covers again, she peered under them at the rest of her form. Her eyes widened as she took in the changed structure of her legs. She tried in vain to flex her toes, but they seemed as useless as mush. A trembling came over her, and she let the covers drop again, her head snapping from side to side.

She was just about to cry out for help, when she felt as if some great hand had reached out of the air and gripped her body, crushing it between those gigantic invisible fingers. She screamed in agony, as her whole body twisted and writhed under that giant’s maddening grip. Dimly, she was aware of the door bursting open and a figure rushing through, but that was the last thing she remembered before the surcease of darkness took her.

On an impulse, Misha had decided that he’d do his chores about town in his foxtaur form. It was true that he would get more stares and confused looks from those he passed by, but not nearly as many as he had the first few times he’d done any experimenting in this shape. And of course, he was growing used to the stares, as well as some of the amused laughter from some of the more gossipy Keepers.

It really was more convenient this way he thought. The fox had several large components that he needed to pick up from Will Hardy, and while he certainly could have carried them in his pack, they were still heavy. As a foxtaur, he was nearly three times stronger, and the weight would seem almost a trifling thing. And so he’d tied a saddle bag around his lower half and ventured into town.

The day was warm, and though the air was filled with the stink of cities, it never seemed as bad to him when he was treading on four paws instead of two. Misha was glad to get out into the day, refreshed even. After spending all morning poring over maps and patrol plans, he needed to get outside and see just what it was he was trying to protect in the first place.

Most of the older people gave him curious looks. Some were contemptuous, and he suspected there were some who would always be. But most were genuinely interested. In fact, there were several children who begged him to let them ride on his back. And he indulged a few whose parents were nearby. That is until the one youngster grabbed his neck fur and yanked hard trying to get him to stop. He’d yipped in surprise then, and nearly snapped at the poor frightened boy.

The parents had apologized, and Misha assured them it was all right, but he’d not be giving any more rides. He was a fox, not a horse after all. Even though he’d continued on about his chores, the children still begged. Misha could not help remembering the Equinox Festival at the Glen, where nearly a third of the entire village had taken a taur form so that they might dance during the last night’s festivities. He smiled as he remembered that dance. At times like that, he felt as if he’d been meant to be this way – six limbed and furred from nose to tail.

But Metamor was very different from the Glen, he admitted to himself. While the Glen seemed inhabited by mostly animal morphs, the town of Metamor was very different. There were a large number of feathered and furred folk moving about, but they were not the majority. The majority were still human.

Will Hardy’s shop was near the marketplace like most of the merchants. The jeweller could demand a high price for even the most trivial of his trinkets, and while age was beginning to diminish his skills, there was still no one in the entire valley that could compare to the badger’s art.

Misha stopped before the front entrance, sizing up the door with his eyes. He had not thought to consider getting in through the front door when he’d become a foxtaur. But there was no doubt that he was taller than some transoms and wider than some alleys. But Will’s doorway looked to be sufficiently large. Opening it he stepped inside the well lit interior and grinned.

The shop was not terribly large. The front room was fairly small, just a place where Will displayed a few of his pieces. There were two windows, the shutters left open to let in the light, while lanterns hung on iron hooks about the room, providing a warm yellowish light. But if there was one thing that Misha had learned from his friend and partner in clocks, that a gem would change colours under different light. A small stone burned brilliantly in a sconce that hung from the centre of the room, turning that yellow lamp light a soft white. Many times Misha had seen a gem cut to shine with scintillating light in that room would look dim in any other. Such were the cheap pieces that the badger sold. The more expensive would glow no matter what sort of light they were under.

“Will, you old rascal!” Misha called out as he stepped inside. The badger was not in the main room, nor were any of his assistants. But from the musk in the air, the fox knew his friend to be in.

“Misha! Just wait a moment, I’ll be right out.” The voice echoed from the hallway. Will kept several workrooms in the back in addition to his own living quarters. A strident grinding noise was coming from the nearest one, and Misha knew that the jeweller was working on the cut of some gem. Misha’s one ear folded back at the painful quality of the sound, but it did not last long.

“So,” Will called as the old badger stepped out of the room, rubbing his paws off with a small rag. From his new vantage point, Misha could not help but notice how small Will appeared. Will grinned as he came closer, his eyes catching sight of Misha and widening. “So... when did you get an extra set of legs?”

“It’s my foxtaur form,” Misha declared in pride, stepping to show him his profile. “Remember when Varnal tried to push the curse farther with me?”

“Is that the mage who become a fox in body? The one you used to keep collared in a cage?”

“Yes, that’s the one,” Misha replied with a grin. Although the Varnal he’d come to know of late was far different. There was still an arrogance to him, but there was also the first blossoming of kindness as well. When he saw Varnal he no longer saw a beast to be caged, but a fellow fox. There was something indescribably powerful about that. “Well, because of him, I was for a time trapped like this. But with my brother’s help I was able to return to two paws. But one day I just decided to see if I could take four paws again, and well, I figured it out. It’s terribly exhilarating to me, and I try to do it once a week at least. Well, today’s my day.”

Will laughed then and shook his head. Streaks of grey fur were clearly visible in the black on his cheeks and over his ears. “Of all the things. So, have you finished those last few clocks I sent you the instructions for?”

“Not yet,” Misha admitted, his grin becoming sheepish. “I’ve been focussing my attention on Madog.”

“Ah, how is the automaton?”

“Better. He should be back to normal in a week or two. I’m actually here because I needed some extra parts for those clocks. And a few things for Madog. I thought I had enough already, but I cannot seem to find them anymore.”

The badger nodded at that. “You’ve got a lot on your mind, Misha. But it just so happens that I have a few extra gears lying around that I’m sure are more use to you than they are to me. Do you have a list of what you need?” Misha twisted back, opened one of the saddlebags, and retrieved the list he’d scribed earlier. “Good,” Will said as he took it, his long claws denting the page. “It’ll take me a few minutes to dig all this stuff out, but I do have it. Just wait here.”

“Thank you, Will. You’re a life saver!” Misha said with a smile, watching as the badger retreated back down the hall to his storerooms. Sighing happily, Misha let his lower half lower until it was lying across the floor like a normal fox might. He took a moment to rub his fingers across his fore paws, stretching the toes and claws. It was always so much fun to be this way he thought. Perhaps he should try it out for more than just a day’s time. He wondered what Caroline would say if he were a foxtaur for a week, or even a month. Just thinking about the otter made his smile broaden even further.

It took the badger several minutes to collect everything that Misha had put on his list. He made several trips back and forth, bringing several sets of gears, some unworked clumps of metal, as well as the bolts and springs he needed. Misha would take each item and place it carefully in his saddle bags. He’d picked a pair of saddle bags with numerous pockets inside so that he could keep the items separated, and he was very glad he did so. And once Will had managed to retrieve everything, he was awfully glad he’d decided to go as a foxtaur that day, because the laden saddle bags were quite heavy!

“Well, that’s everything,” Will said, wiping his paws together. “Now you tell Caroline for me that I would like to see her for dinner from time to time.”

“I’ll let her know. We’d love to see you at the Long House for dinner too sometime, Will.”

“Aye,” the jeweller replied with a laugh. “I’ll have to come by again sometime. Once I can get caught up on all these clocks!”

“Good luck to you, Will!” Misha laughed as he got to all fours once more. “And I’ll get those insides done for you soon, I promise!”

“You’d better,” Will said, the smile infectious, “or I might get grumpy.”

“Caroline would never let me live it down! Good day, Will!” With a final laugh and a wave, Misha turned about and negotiated his way out the front door once more. The grin and chuckle were still upon his muzzle as he set out through the marketplace, letting the cries of merchants trickle off his one good ear.

But as he was just about to leave the marketplace itself, something made him pause and turn his head. He did not often have reason to purchase items from foreign merchants, though every now and then he would come to peruse their wares to see if there were some trinket he might give to Caroline. Today there was too much on his mind to waste looking over baubles and exotic fruits. But there was something about this one merchant that made him want to come take a look at what was being sold.

Their booth looked to have once been their wagon, the way the wheels had been folded up along the side, and the top converted into an overhang. Three men stood behind that booth, all of them very different in size and shape. The one to the left was an older man with a definite paunch. There was no mistaking him as a the money counter for the merchant. The one on the right was a bulky man whose nose appeared to have been broken years before. His face was tanned from many days in the sun, while his hands were toughened and callused from holding a blade. Clearly he was the hired guard.

But it was the figure in the centre that most intrigued Misha. The clothes he bore spoke of modest wealth, a fine blue brocade with silver trim along the cuffs and neck with a small necklace that hung down nearly the length of his breastbone. His face was friendly enough, though there was a distance to it that Misha could not fathom. The nose was long, aquiline, and his cheeks were flush with the sun. If not for the fact that the man were standing here as a merchant in the marketplace of Metamor, Misha would have sworn that he was of noble birth.

“Ah,” the man said, betraying a bit of an accent, though Misha could not immediately place where, “I have seen your people come in many shapes in sizes, but this is certainly a new one for me. Come, take a look at what I craft, for it too can come in many shapes and sizes.”

Curious, and slightly amused by the way the merchant was able to make his foxtaur form a reason to show greater interest in his wares, Misha began to trot over to the booth. The two men at the merchant’s sides watched him, but said nothing. “What are you selling?” Misha asked, glancing down at the table. There was nothing there but a rather finely wrought deck of cards that the merchant was busy playing a small game with.

“What you see here, is what I have to sell,” the merchant replied. “I make and sell decks of cards for the enjoyment of others. A deck of cards can make the passage of those quiet evenings keeping your home safe more tolerable.”

Misha smiled but shook his head. “Thank you, but no. Your cards are quite handsome, but I don’t need a deck.”

“Perhaps you simply haven’t seen the right deck.” The man smiled once, and Misha shrugged his shoulders a bit, motioning for him to continue. The cards did look very well crafted. If the merchant had something even more finely wrought, it was worth a few moments at least to take a look.

The man had reached below the countertop and produced a mahogany case of such exquisite beauty and craftsmanship that Misha had to gasp at the sight of it. Though he himself was wealthy, he doubted that he had enough to afford something so extravagant as this. It must have been a life’s labour to create any deck that could possibly be so valuable as to belong in such a case. His eyes caught sight of the heraldry on the front, of a unicorn grazing, and for a second, he thought he knew whose house that heraldry belonged to, but the moment was fleeting.

The merchant seemed to hold the case with a queer sort of reverence. “Just turn the top card over,” he advised, opening the case, revealing a set of cards which bore that same heraldry upon their backs. This time, the colours were so vivid, that Misha felt sure he could reach out and draw his claws through the unicorn’s mane or feel the grass between his fingers.

But he did as the man suggested, and blinked for a moment.

And blinked again, feeling an enormous weight filling his mind. Misha shook his head, stopping where he stood, trying to get his eyes to realign. Glancing about, he saw that he was on the main thoroughfare heading back towards the Keep. He put both paws to his head and pressed against his temples. What had just happened? He turned about to look behind him, but he only saw the marketplace beyond the rest of his body. Looking down at the saddle bags, he felt an idiot. He’d just come from Will’s shop with his supplies. He needed to get back to the Long House.

Grunting, though still wondering about that bit of malaise that had come over him, he continued on his way.

The merchant smiled as the foxtaur walked away. The card, the Three of Hearts, still lay face up on the countertop. In it was pictured that very individual, standing on four paws still and brandishing a large black axe. Satisfied, he turned the card back over, shut the mahogany case, and returned it back under the counter, waiting for the next to come along.

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