Questioning - Part IX

It had been good to train Intoran in his swordsmanship that morning, despite the covering fog. His oryx squire was proving a facile student and would be quite an accomplished knight in the years to come. Egland felt pride in seeing him progress so steadily and earnestly, the same sort of pride he remembered seeing in his own teacher and in his father many years ago. He, the quiet lad who had once told his father he wished to be a minstrel, was now a knight and teaching another to be a knight, and in a form that would give his family a shock. Life had many odd turns, he mused.

And not all of them pleasant. While he occasionally wondered what his life would have been like if his father had not forced him to follow the path of knighthood, he had no regrets about his investiture. Losing Akabaieth had been a painful blow, as was what had happened to Bryonoth, but those wounds were healing; having Intoran to share his life helped immensely. But standing as he was now before the door to the rooms that the Patriarch had once used awaiting his time with the Questioners was one that he would never find solace in.

The two Yesbearn, dark-faced soldiers assigned to the Questioners because they were ruthless men who did not themselves ask questions, opened the door and bade him pass. Sir Egland had never liked the Yesbearn; their cold countenances always made him feel uncomfortable, as if they thought him nothing more than a roadside mut to be kicked out of the way. They regarded him with distant eyes, staring at his heraldry sewn within his green jerkin as if they did not believe it were true.

He stepped through the door, and the two Yesbearn on the inside closed it behind him. His short tail twitched in agitation as he heard the wood crush against the stone jamb. The room inside was decorated in bright whites and shades of sky blue and daffodil yellow. Staining that brightness were the three Questioners, seated as they were like judges ready to sentence execution. Egland scuffed his hooves upon the thick carpet beneath him as he stumbled forward a few paces.

“I am Sir Yacoub Egland of the Ecclesia,” he announced, the silence filling the room a living thing he wished to kill.

“Sit, Sir Egland,” the centre priest spoke, his words firm, doing nothing to dispel his unease. Egland crossed to the right of the empty chair and settled down within it. He had doffed the mail shirt he’d worn while out in the fields sparring, and had selected a fine jerkin of his father’s house, and the green tabard of a knight of Yesulam, the white tree upon his breast.

The Questioners were sitting with their hoods up, almost completely obscuring their faces. The middle priest spoke again, “I am Father Kehthaek, this is Father Felsah,” he gestured to the priest at his right, “and this is Father Akaleth.” The one to his left. “I would like you to begin by telling me what you remember of the night Patriarch Akabaieth was murdered.”

Egland blinked once, wishing that he could expunge the memory of that night from his mind. Now he must bring it all back. “Well, it was raining heavily, making it very hard to keep any fire going. So we could see very little in the darkness. Sir Bryonoth and I were out on patrol, keeping our eyes on the hills and forest in the distance. Two of the Yeshuel went to investigate something they saw in the forest.”

“Which two?” Felsah asked.

“Kashin and Iosef.” At their naming, their faces returned to his mind, bright warm smiles, good hearty laughs, and kind hearts all fondly remembered. Though Egland had known of many Yeshuel, he’d never grown close to any as he had those two as well as Lakaesh and Alfais on that journey northward from Yesulam to Metamor. They were travelling companions, saddle mates, friends around the fire. And now, apart from Kashin, like so many amongst that party, gone from the world into Eli’s protecting arms.

“What did they see?” Felsah asked again.

“I don’t know, but they never came back, so I believe it was our attacker who drew them away from the others. I do not know how they were killed, but Iosef was sliced in two, and Kashin lost his left arm.”

“How is it that you did not see what happened?” Akaleth asked, his voice distant, as if he had recently suffered some wound.

“It was raining heavily, and it was well after dusk, nearly midnight. The shadows were in the forest, and neither Bryonoth nor myself were on that side of the camp at the time. I only remember being told that Kashin and Iosef were investigating something they thought they had seen.”

“Why were you on the other side of the camp at that time?” By his voice, Egland could tell that the priest was about his own age.

“We were making rounds. Our attacker probably waited until we were well out of sight before making his move.”

“What happened after Kashin and Iosef were drawn away?” Felsah asked, speaking only moments before the youngest of the three could pose another question.

Egland rubbed at his head, feeling the nubs of velvet growing up out of his skull. He had wondered how many points his new set of antlers would bear, an odd sort of question considering his father often boasted of the number of points the deer mounted upon his walls had borne. “I think that he must have killed the soldiers still sleeping. They were all found murdered in their beds, necks snapped. Alfais and Lakaesh had ordered the rest of the men roused from sleep. All the knights were woken without incident, but when Sir Camasin went to rouse the soldiers, he was stabbed by the attacker and drug into the tent.

“One of the soldiers was dispatched to wake the Patriarch, and the rest of us readied ourselves to kill this murderer, or at least keep him busy while the Patriarch escaped.”

“That is odd, forcing a ninety year old man to run away in the middle of a dark rainy night. The chill alone could have killed him even if you had stopped his attacker,” Akaleth pointed out rather brusquely. “Why did you put him out like that?”

Egland shook his head. “It was not my decision. I do not remember who ordered it. But a few minutes more, and the Keepers would have arrived to save him. I wish he’d been able to get farther, he might still be alive if he had.”

“So the Keepers arrived just too late to save Patriarch Akabaieth?” Akaleth asked, his voice suddenly slippery. Egland felt there was something subtle about the question, but he could not grasp what, like a an eel, it wriggled from his grasp when he thought he understood.

“That is correct,” he said, knowing that he could answer only the truth, no matter how much he wished to otherwise. If he lied to these men, they would find out, and then he would be in jeopardy. They could revoke his investiture, or even order his excommunication if it came to that. There were far worse things they could do if they thought fouler deeds than lying of him, things he did not wish to think about.

A strange fluttering came from Akaleth’s robes, the rub of fabric against fabric a soft sibilant hiss as the priest shifted about in his seat. “Who was it that came from Metamor too late?”

Egland shook his head. “I do not remember.”

“And why not?” the priest’s voice was suddenly threatening, and Egland felt his body tense, as if he’d heard a sword drawn from its scabbard.

“My horse rolled over my legs, breaking them. I’d passed out from the pain. The next thing I remember is waking up here at Metamor with my legs in splints.”

“Why did your horse roll over your legs?” Felsah asked, lifting one arm to gesture to the cervine legs he now bore.

“Well,” Egland sighed, remembering once more the battle scene. “After the man emerged from the Bishop’s tent, we knights attacked him. We hoped to run him down, as he was on foot, but he killed any of us that drew near. He then flung his arms at Sir Bryonoth and myself. I felt as if he’d hit me, and I feel from my steed. Galadan in his fright rolled across my legs, crippling me. I don’t remember anything that happened after that.”

“Galadan is your steed?”


“Do you remember what the attacker looked like?” Kehthaek asked, his voice almost surprising.

Egland paused, his flesh trembling, short fur rising along his body. The whirlwind in the rain, ending the lives of his friends so swiftly, was both clear and muddled. There were moments when his face was perfectly clear, every detail standing out as if mocking him from the past. And then there were other times when he was a blur, a smear of darkness against the already dark night.

“Mostly. He was tall, with dark hair. I’m not sure where he was from, his features were foreign to me. He was wide shouldered but slim as well. I don’t remember anymore than that.”

“And why not?” Akaleth snapped.

“It was dark and raining. I only caught a few glimpses of his face.”

“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” Felsah asked.

That was an easy question to answer, as he had already recognized him again. In the trial, he could well remember that drawing, the way it stared mockingly, gloating in his guilt. It was not a face he cared to remember one bit, but it would be with him to the end of his days.

“Yes, I would.”

“Had you ever seen him before?”

“No, never.”

“Do you have any idea where he was from?”

Egland shook his head. “From no place I have lived, that is all.”

“Why did you not return to Yesulam?” Akaleth asked then, idly fingering something inside his robes.

“I couldn’t,” Egland said, gesturing to his body. “By the time my legs had fully healed, I had already been here a month, and would have been killed had I returned.”

“So, your duty to Eli is not as important to you as your own life?” The young priests asked incredulously.

Egland felt the sting a if he had been slapped in the face by it. He shook his head firmly. “Not at all! I treasure my duty to Eli and to His Ecclesia. I treasure it. I was willing to die if it would have saved the Patriarch.”

“Then why have you not returned to Yesulam?”

“Because I am now serving Eli here. I am still a knight of the Ecclesia, only I protect her parish here at Metamor. We do not have many knights of the Ecclesia here, and so I am proud to help found the order.”

“You are founding an order?” the younger priest asked, his voice doubtful. “If so, are you training new squires?”

“Yes,” Egland nodded, smiling slightly.”Yes I am.” He so hoped that the nervous fear he felt was not visible upon his muzzle.

“How many?”

“Just one. It is not proper for a knight to have more than one squire.”

“Then how can you hope to start an order?”

Egland felt marginally better at this line of questioning. “Well, once my squire is invested as a knight, he can take on a squire himself, and I can take on another. The order will grow like that.”

“Who is your squire?”

He sucked in his breath. “An oryx named Intoran, Father. He has been a Metamorian his whole life.”

“A Follower?”

“Of course. It would not be an Ecclesia order if he was not.”

The younger priest leaned forward, part of his cowl slipped backwards on his head, revealing a twisted snarl to his lips. “Do not show impertinence to the Ecclesia’s Questioners, knight.”

“How does Intoran’s training proceed?” Felsah asked, his voice soft compared to Akaleth’s.

“Very well. I took him out to practice swordsmanship this morning,” Egland let a smile of pride slip across his muzzle. He felt the sting of the younger priest’s anger, but it was not as bad as he thought it might be.

“What happened to Sir Bryonoth?” It was Father Kehthaek who spoke, his voice even more remote than Felsah’s, even though he was sitting directly in front of the elk.

“Our attacker took him after the battle. I do not know where, and Dame Bryonoth does not remember anything about it. When next we saw him, it was during the assault. He kidnapped the Duke on a mad errand for our enemy. He’d been ensorcelled by evil magic.”

“Then what is he doing serving as a knight for the Ecclesia?” Akaleth blurted in obvious disbelief.

“He was freed from whatever evil that held him by Bishop Vinsah. Duke Thomas himself forgave him.”

“And how do you know he was freed of evil?”

Egland blinked. “Bishop Vinsah performed an exorcism over him. Of course he’d be freed from evil.”

“Do you trust him?” Kehthaek asked, cutting off the younger priest who sat back in his chair, pulling his cowl up once more.

Egland nodded quickly. “With my life, Father.”

The priests were silent for a moment. Egland felt as if he were weighed in that moment, all his words and deeds placed on one side of the scale, and some other something placed upon the second. He wondered what he was being measured against, but could not even hazard a guess. He had been truthful as much as he could be. While he did have his concerns about Bryonoth, he hoped that they were just because Bryonoth was now a woman, something that had devastated the Flatlander knight.

Kehthaek rose from his seat, as did the other two Questioners. “You may go, Sir Yacoub Egland. Train Intoran to be a great knight.”

A flush of delight filled him, and he stumbled to his hooves, smiling giddily. He bowed his head low, hands shaking. “I thank you, Fathers. I shall. Eli be with you.”

“And with you, Sir Egland,” Kehthaek repeated, making the sign of the tree in slow deliberate strokes before his chest. Felsah and Akaleth did the same, though the younger priest’s motions appeared exaggerated in some subtle way.

Egland did not wish to stay and find out more about these men though, and so took the opportunity he had, and quickly crossed to the door, passing once more between the cold Yesbearn. Another moment later he was out into the hall and out of their sight. Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, he smiled once more. His greatest fear had not come to pass. Intoran and he were safe.

Warm salt air blew in off the Sea of Pyralis, rising up along the hills north of Breckaris like the waves washing up along the beach, and the drawing back down again. It was the breath of the ocean, blowing past his face first northward, and then southward. It was like a lover’s arms, gently stroking back across his flesh, and then beckoning him closer, inviting him into her warm embrace.

He was sitting out amongst the long swaying grasses in those hills, watching the walled city of Breckaris to the South. The fields for leagues were empty but for farms and animals, small homes dotting the landscape, though most clustered about the Breckarin river. The city itself was set on the western side, slowly growing southward to the nearby shoreline. Beyond the high towers and yellow stone walls of the city lay the blue-green tranquillity of the Sea of Pyralis, stretching endlessly Southward.

With one hand he rubbed at his face. He would need to shave again. If he was to ever gain an audience with the Bishop, he would need to look his best. But today would not be the day, and so his scruff could remain. He had to wait for his letter to arrive from Jothay after all. It would arrive soon he knew, but still, he hated waiting. They had been in Breckaris for a month already after all. While their room at the Inn in the city was paid for by the Marquis, the waiting was becoming intolerable.

Especially since he could do nothing but watch her recover or sit out on the grassy hills above the city. She had still not completely recover from their ordeal in Ellcaran only two months ago. Oh, she was walking about at long last, certainly, but it would still be another month or two before she was once more her old self again.

He did not often think of that night, for what he had seen still haunted him. With a shudder, he laid back in the grasses, staring upwards at the clouds, watching them slowly tumble over each other, shifting and eddying as the winds propelled them Northwards. He spread his hands through the grass, feeling their dampness. He flexed his fingers, gripping clumps in his fists. With a single tug, he could pull them free, but he did not, instead letting them go, smoothing them over gently.

The sun was safely ensconced behind several soft white clouds, pleasant sky travellers offering their land-bound companions a bit of shade and nothing more. Most of the sky was clear though, a soft blue that darkened ever so slightly as he looked heavenward. The lowing of cows could be heard in the distance, as could a general murmur from the city, the sounds of people talking, horses clattering along cobblestoned streets, sailors cursing, and the groaning of ships at dock. And something else, a faint chime far in the Northern distance, like a single knock at a door.

At first, he paid it no more heed than he did the mournfully stoic bellowing of the cattle. But after the third intonation of that chime, he noticed something amiss as he stared at the clouds over head. They rippled, like a giant wave, a single thin line streaked over them, disturbing them fora brief moment, and then leaving them as before. Slowly, he sat up, running his hand over the gras. Staring from side to side, he saw that while the wind still blew Northwards, the grass was bending South.

He blinked, and then closed his eyes, letting himself feel that chime. It came once again, and this time, he answered the knocking. As the grasses had bent oddly, and the clouds disturbed, so too was the calm within himself bent, images and concepts twisting it and deforming it for a moment. It only took a few scant seconds, as he breathed in and out, feeling the waves wash over him and through him. And then it was over.

“Oh damn,” he swore, and then stood up, brushing the grass and dirt from his black robe. His boredom was at an end, at least for the afternoon. With a sigh he started back towards Breckaris.

Few knew or understood how deeply Misha Brightleaf considered his own faith. It was a matter he seldom spoke of, and even when he did, few at Metamor could understand or even share it in its detail. For it was simply that, while he did believe in many of the tenets of the Follower faith, he was a member of a sect that had broken away from the Ecclesia, known amongst themselves proudly as the Rebuilders. Members of the Ecclesia who were not so understanding as those at Metamor often called them Destroyers instead.

Chief amongst those were the Questioners, a group that Misha and all Rebuilders had from the earliest days of their break with the Ecclesia hated and feared. When he had come to Metamor many years ago, there was only a small Follower presence at the fabled jewel of the North, not even a proper parish for the adherents to the Ecclesia tradition. Misha had never dreamed that the religious strife of his earlier days would ever return.

But now, three Questioners had come to Metamor, and what was worse, they had demanded his presence before them to face their unholy questions. He snarled and beat his desk with his fist, making the ink pot and the lantern jump in dismay. The note had arrived the previous evening, but he had put off opening it for as long as he felt he could. He wished he’d put it off longer, but curiosity had gnawed at him until it could be denied no longer. And now, curiosity was gone, replaced by seething anger.

Misha was no fool. He knew exactly why they were here. They wished to find some culprit to blame for the Patriarch’s death, because they did not believe what the Duke had told them shortly after Akabaieth’s murder. If they could blame somebody at Metamor for that tragedy, they would.

But he could not help but worry that they would take advantage of their situation. Would they lay out accusation against him or any others merely because of who and what they were? Yesulam was a long way from Metamor, but the world was already teetering on the edge of insanity as it was. Even though things had calmed down for the moment in the North, it was only a relative break before the storm would arrive. He could feel the moment as if it were the very wood beneath his fingers. With Akabaieth’s death, not only did his dream for peace die, but so too peace itself was wounded, and it only seemed a matter of time before it passed into another world.

With another snarl, Misha drove his fist into the table once again, not hard enough to break the solid oak, but enough to make it jump, along with all of its adornments. He pushed out of his chair, sending it falling backwards onto the floor. His claws dug into the carpeting beneath him, as he flexed his paws. His one ear swivelled distractedly as he paced, a desultory flickering that wavered at sounds he heard only within his head. His was a dangerous mood. Not that he would kill anything mindlessly, but he would happily rough them up and smash their things.

He could not rough anything up just then, though. It galled him further, but he knew it to be true. Instead, Misha snatched at the blue gem upon his desk. Jessica would be by later in the evening to speak with his sister as she usually did, but for now, he had to see Elizabeth. While he did not expect her to have a solution to the problem, this was a time for talking to family. Family that could understand his fears – Rebuilder family.

He felt the facets underneath his claws, drawing the magic within it into his flesh. It coursed over him, swirling like a dancer draped in long blue veils. With a wash of air, the room about him began to dissolve, and Misha once more saw the familiar jagged contours of the skyline South of Marigund. Below him lay the city, sculpted and clustered, the first of the torch-lamps lit already as night grew nearer. The sky, once leaden grey with fog and clouds in Metamor, was now a russet, deepening to a sullen purple in the East.

And to one side, smiling in unexpected pleasure, was his sister Elizabeth, dressed in loose by warm blue gowns held together by a brocade around her neck. “Misha,” she said, her voice gentle but surprised. One hand was tracing across the spine of an old book, the lettering too faded for the fox to read. Her arms slipped about his chest as she held him in a warm embrace. “How are you feeling? Are the wounds healing properly?”

Misha could not bring himself to smile, and Elizabeth’s face fell quickly as she saw his agitated state. She knew her brother’s moods, knew them better than he thought. But she did not ask nor did she speak of it, instead stepping back and waiting for the fox to regain his composure. His voice, when at last he did speak, felt as if rising up from a long-dried well, distant and echoing. “Questioners have come to Metamor.”

The smile had already left her face, but what took its place now was a look of disgust and shock. Under her breath, and in several languages, she swore bitterly. After a few choice expletives, she managed to speak in strained tones, “I had heard word that one of their wagons had crossed though the hinterlands a few weeks back, but its destination was never known. I had not thought them brazen enough to enter Metamor.”

“They are here. They have been since yesterday,” Misha found it difficult to keep his voice level, so spoke as little as he could.

Elizabeth stepped away from the bookshelf and rested her hands upon the small trellis just before her wide balcony. It was open to the air, and Misha could feel warm Southern currents gently brushing across his fur. There must be a strong wind indeed for them to pass over the mountains still warm like that a part of him realized. The rest of him was still focussed upon that damnable letter the Questioners had sent.

“They wish to know what happened to Patriarch Akabaieth?” Elizabeth finally asked, her slender features still turned to stare out across the wide city of Marigund. It was a city of contrasts. Peace and love. Hate and violence. The nobility were Rebuilders. The lower class mostly Ecclesia. The middle class, including the merchants, were an even mix of just about everything else. With so many diverging faiths so close by, hardly a day could pass without a Follower and Rebuilder getting into a scuffle of some kind. It was never more than a few hotheads throwing stones or punches though, not even they would tolerate it escalating any further than that. Marigund was their home, and they would not see it torn apart as much of the countryside to the South had been at one time or another.

Religion had become a matter to be practised in one’s homes, and spoken of nowhere else. It was in fact a forbidden topic in the Court and in the Hall of the Mages Guild. The first offense earned a flogging, the second a beheading. Those who would stir up a frenzy amongst the people were not tolerated, either thrown from the city, or executed publically. Such harsh methods had kept the peace for a long time, but it was a peace that stood on a knife’s edge, teetering precariously every moment of every day towards war.

Misha remembered clearly as a child watching his father’s troops put down a riot that left a hundred dead. The image of bodies lying in the streets was one that had haunted his dreams for years afterward. They had been Followers eager to bring Yesulam and it priestly hierarchy back within the city. And that meant Questioners. No Questioner had set foot within Marigund in a hundred years and lived to speak of it. They had long cultivated the magical arts, first for knowledge, and now also in defence against the armies that Yesulam could have raised against them had they chosen to bring them under their rule once more by force. Both Elizabeth and Misha knew that with Akabaieth gone murdered into the grave, that day could be very near indeed.

“So they claim,” Misha said. A moment later he added, his words terse, bitten from his muzzle as much as spoken, “They wish to question me tomorrow.”

Her fingers wined about the delicate lacings carved from ivory into the trellis. “Why have they been allowed into the city?”

Misha grunted. “I think Duke Thomas is afraid of offending Yesulam.”

Her chuckle was humourless. “After Akabaieth’s murder on Metamor’s land, his fear is well-founded.”

“He is my liege, and so I will obey. But he has made a mistake in letting those... those... priests come to Metamor.”

Elizabeth’s face contorted with some inner turmoil. Misha waited, watching. Though his sister was far better at concealing her emotions than her brother was, he had little difficulty understanding what she was thinking. It was clear from the curl of her lips, to the slight furrowing of her eyebrows, and to the tension within her cheeks, that she would never have used the word “priests” to describe the Questioners. Even after having done so, Misha felt as if his tongue were dirty, as if he had eaten some horrid slime-covered thing and could not rid himself of the taste.

“They are at Metamor for now. Surely they do not intend to stay for long.”

It surprised him little when he let out a growl. “I will throw them out if they dare to stay.”

“But for now, what do you intend to do? You said they wish to question you tomorrow.” Still she stared out across the town. More and more of the street-lamps were lit, creating a glowing yellow web that stretched outwards. The sky grew darker, but slowly.

He took a deep breath, his heart still pounding heavily within his chest. Behind him, his tail began to wag back and forth. “I will go, and I will tell them what I think it is safe to say.”

“And that is?”

“As little as possible. I will give them no reason to suspect anyone here at Metamor.”

Elizabeth half-turned to face him, but her eyes stayed on the purpling horizon. “Do you think they will suspect a Metamorian of collusion?”

He snorted, grey eyes narrowing, slipping past his sister to stare out at the jagged skyline, noting the way the mountains glowed in the last rays of sunlight. “They already do, the whole damn lot of us.”

“There is more you are not telling me, brother.”

Misha growled, but nodded his head. “I am worried about them suspecting someone.”

Finally, his sister turned her eyes upon him. He met her gaze, but only after she had studied his both tense, but fearful countenance. “Who?”


She did not even blink. “The one who was banished to the Glen until the Summer?”

He nodded, the sting of that sentence still fresh. Though he had taken it upon himself to visit his fellow Long often, his absence from the Keep was an open wound that would not heal. In a week’s time, he’d be heading back to the Glen for the Equinox celebration. He’d hoped to spend this week making sure that all was in order here at Metamor, and the Longs would not be missed for a few days of revelry. Now that would have to wait.

“If anyone so much as mentions him, they will find out about the trial, Zagrosek, and they will be convinced Matthias is guilty. I will not stand for him being accused again, especially not by them!”

Balling his paws once more into fists, he stood there, wishing the answers to all of his questions would be laid before him. Elizabeth certainly did not have them, but by the bearing of her chin, he could tell that she would try. “Do you think that you can avoid mentioning him?”

Misha shrugged. “I know I can. I worry that another may let his name slip.”

“Ah,” Elizabeth frowned then. “I do not know what we can do if that happens.”

“I won’t let them take him,” Misha declared.

“But you cannot very well ask them if they have heard of him. That would defeat your purpose. How will you know if they know?”

He paused then, for the first time genuinely uncertain. With a grunt he shrugged once more. “They will ask me about him. Then I will know.” He grimaced, his tail still wagging in frustration. “I just wish I knew what things were like at Yesulam. These three are the first we have heard from them in some time.”

Elizabeth’s expression grew clouded. “That is not a good sign.”

That was something that Misha had thought of himself, but he did not say so. His anger was still filling him, but it had been tempered somewhat. He still wished to break something, but he was content to wait a few more minutes before he did. “What have you heard, Sis? You are closer to Yesulam than we are. What news do you have of that city?”

His heart tightened when she shook her head, eyes lowering. “Little more than you have, I am afraid. They have grown secretive in their deliberations, and boldly denouncing in their proclamations, which have been few and far between. They are still smarting from Akabaieth’s murder I think.”

“That alone has a lot of people worried. Even the Ecclesia here haven’t heard anything.”

“Nothing new there. The church hasn’t been talking to Metamor for decades.”

“I mean they’ve heard nothing,” Misha drew out the word, making sure that his sister understood how severe he felt the situation to be. “Not a single message or order.”

“You think they’re planning to attack?”

Misha shrugged. “I don’t know, Sis. I don’t know what they plan. Before they arrived, I had not thought they could plan anything. Now...”

Elizabeth strummed her fingers over the trellis once more, eyes narrowing as she thought. “Is there any at Metamor who might be able to shed some light on this quandary?”

The fox considered that, trying to abate his anger for the moment. It would do him no good now. With almost sardonic surprise, one name did come to mind. “Bishop Vinsah, Patriarch Akabaieth’s aide, is here at Metamor still.”

“Had he spent his years at the Bishop’s Council?”

“I believe so yes.”

“Good. H will know enough about the people making these plans to tell us what they might be. Damn I am tired of war.”

Elizabeth smiled understandingly to him, and draped one hand behind his head, fingers brushing across his good ear. “And you say they call you an axe-wielding maniac at Metamor?”

He let out a quick laugh, even as one of his arms returned the hug. “They do! They do! But in a nice way.”

His sister’s smile was forced, but still warm. Her eyes trailed once more to the darkening city, the mountain peaks full of shadows in the distance, the yellow web of city lights shining brighter than the first stars beginning to show overhead. “It is now past sunset here, and I must end this. There are Guild matters to be debated shortly.”

Misha nodded his head, stepping back. “I understand. Thank you, Sis.”

“And I thank you for bringing me this news, Misha. I only wish it were better.”

“As do I.” And after they’d said their farewells, Misha felt the power in the gem travel about him once more, the scene of his home city disappearing once more, replaced by the pearl grey masonry that was Metamor. The sun was still shining here, though he could not see it. It had been a dreary day from its very inception. He wondered if the Questioners themselves brought the fog.

Dropping the gem back upon his desk, the fox stretched. He had no wish to spend his remaining hours that day cooped up in the Long House dwelling on matters he could not attend to that moment. He would find the other Longs, or as many as wished to come with him, and go have a drink somewhere. Many drinks somewhere.

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