Questioning - Part XIX

Bishop Vinsah tapped his claws repeatedly against the arm of his chair. The number of possessions he could claim as his own at Metamor was slowly increasing. Mostly it came in the form of gifts from other Followers at the Keep. The chair itself had been Lord Barnhardt, and so was of finer design than the wooden backed chair that the carpenter had fashioned for him. Both were comfortable, but the cushions were much softer in the newt's gift. Usually he did not leave the chair in the middle of the room though, but today, he was expecting a visitor.

His note to Father Kehthaek had certainly been delivered. He'd seen to it that it had. It was just a matter of waiting for the Questioner to arrive. The noon hour had passed a short time ago, and so his stomach was pleasantly sated upon berries and breads. The small timepiece that had been given as a gift from Fadger clocks ticked subtly upon the small mantle. It would be only a few minutes until it chimed the bottom of the hour. That was when he'd asked Kehthaek to come by.

Vinsah felt not particular loyalty to the Questioner, at least none that they had shared many decades ago when they were both companions at seminary together. Nor had he any wish to provide Kehthaek any other opportunities to ferret out further heresies to crucify him upon when they returned to Yesulam. That the Bishop would need to return to Yesulam to defend his name was not in question. Vinsah had every intent on leaving for that ancient city before another month was out. But before he started the journey, he wished and needed to know what lay before him, and what would await him at journey's end.

And so, he had asked Kehthaek to join him after the noon meal that they might share a few words and perhaps a little to drink. Kehthaek had wished to speak with him privately, of what Vinsah was uncertain. Regardless, the Bishop had every intent of discovering what he needed to know as well.

Father Hough had been gracious enough to allow Vinsah a ewer half-filled with the boy priest's lovely apple cider. It was sitting close to the fire, warming, along with two pewter goblets. It was clear to the raccoon that Hough did not like to even talk about the Questioners, and so after asking for the cider, had left the boy to his own devices. It shamed Vinsah to know that the emissaries of the Ecclesia had developed such an ill reputation that even good men like Father Hough should fear them terribly. How he wished he had truly known that years ago. Perhaps Akabaieth could have taken a stronger hand in reforming the Questioners than he had.

Vinsah shook his head then, long tail flitting back and forth behind him as he reclined in the chair. No, Akabaieth could not had done that. He'd already used as much of his influence as he had to accomplish what he had done. He'd brought several questions before the Bishop's Council, and although not all were answered to his liking, they certainly were handled as best they could. The only one that was not Akabaieth's intent was the matter of Metamor and the curses, one that Vinsah was quite familiar with now first hand. Because of Patriarch Akabaieth's stewardship and efforts, the parish at Metamor was allowed to be, and the Council had decided that the Curses were not a demon infestation, despite a few contrary opinions amongst the Bishops.

A crisp bell tone sounded, rousing him from his reverie. The half hour had been reached. Vinsah glanced green eyes towards it, and then back at his door. Not five ticks later a knocking sounded, gentle, but firm. The lithe shuffling of steps outside spoke of one used to being unnoticed. There was no doubt in his mind who it was. "I bid you enter," he said then, letting a smile form upon his muzzle. There was no reason not to be polite after all. Kehthaek was by his own word coming as a friend, and not as a Questioner.

And he was as good as his word, for the man that entered, while obviouisly Father Kehthaek, was not garbed in the black and red of the Questioners, but in a simple grey smock tied about his waist with a bit of monk's cord. He bore sandals upon his feet, crooked toes curling from too many years spent within boots. He smiled lightly as he stood upon the threshold, holding the door open in spindly hands. "I thank you, your grace, for your hospitality."

Vinsah cocked his ear to one side. "If this is a meeting of friends, then there should be no need for our titles, don't you agree?"

Kehthaek nodded, his eyes brightening slightly. Such fine control over his emotions, the Bishop marvelled. His body was simply a tool for his manipulation, so delicately crafted. The Bishop was certain that no tremble of his flesh, even at his age, would have occurred without his conscious will. "Yes," Kehthaek said, stepping inside and shutting the door quietly behind him. "It would be very nice not to worry over such matters for a time." His eyes fell upon the seat set just across from the mantle from the raccoon.

Vinsah stood from his seat then, long tail rubbing against the cushions on the back as it slipped free of the crevice made for it. "Please, sit my old friend," Vinsah said kindly, gesturing to his own chair, the one that Lord Barnhardt had given.

"I would not be so presumptuous as to take my host's chair," Kehthaek said, resting one hand on the back of the wooden seat.

"Nonsense," Vinsah blurted, his green eyes widening, ears lifting slightly. He could feel himself relaxing ever so slightly, the supple tones of Kehthaek's voice strangely cathartic. "Metamor has given me a youthful body. Sitting in a wooden chair will wear too heavily upon you. Besides, they are my chairs, and I am the host. I can do with them as I will. I and beg you to sit in this chair."

"You speak beyond your years," Kehthaek said, a strange glint in his eye. Was he trying to be humourous, the Bishop wondered. "How kind of you to offer the better seat to a man twice your age." Kehthaek slowly lowered himself into the seat, resting his whole body for a moment as he sunk into the thick cushions. A satisfied sigh escaped his lips, as his eyes glanced about the room, taking it in one bit at a time. "You appear to have done very well for yourself in so short a time here at Metamor."

"Gifts," Vinsah admitted, his tail curling around one of his legs. Most of these are gifts from one Follower or another. Even the chair you sit in was a gift."

"This is not as lush as your suite back in the Great Cathedral of Yesulam. Nor the one in Abaef." It felt much like a question.

"No," the raccoon replied as he shook his head, crossing in a few quick steps to the mantle where the earthen ewer sat warming. "But it has its charms." He bore a crooked smile then, turning slightly on his foot paws, as he had gone unshod that day, back to the Questioner. "Nor do I have need of such things anymore. I have been called to live a bit more humbly in my old age."

Kehthaek laughed. It was thin, but warm enough in its own way. "You look younger than that raccoon who accompanied you into our presence so many days ago."

"It was not too long ago, I think." Vinsah set his dark paw upon the ewer. The handle was hot, but not terribly so. With the pads upon his paws, he could grip it long enough to pour without any pain. "Would you care for something to drink?"

"A tender libation would be most welcome, my sterling host."

The raccoon Bishop nodded at that, his green eyes turning towards the ewer and the fire close by. It was snapping and crackling angrily, as if it had found an invader in its home threatening its precious ashes. The cider poured a lovely golden shade into the pewter goblets, rippling like the small river flowing past Metamor had when the ice had first begun to melt a couple weeks before. He placed the ewer on top of the mantle, and then handed one of the goblets to Kehthaek who took it in cradling hands. The Questioner blew his breath across the surface, watching it ripple, before he even dared to take a sip. "A lovely brew," Kehthaek said, leaning back in the warm chair. "My thanks to you."

Vinsah twirled his tail around one of the legs of the wooden chair as he sat. The wood was firm and hard, the polish smooth against his robes. "I am not the one to thank. It was Father Hough who made this brew. His parents were distillers in Ellcaran. This is one of his favourite concoctions."

"Well, give him my thanks." Kehthaek took another experimental sip, but this one lasted longer. The sweet smell of apples filled Vinsah's nostrils as he held the cup in his paws. It was a pleasing odour to him now. He found fruits far more delectable than he once had now in his procyonid form.

After taking his own sip, careful not to let any of the pleasant cider spill, he simply held it before him between his knees. "And what of you, Kehthaek? Why did you wish to speak with me privately like this?"

One of the Questioner's eyes rose at that, and he seemed to sink further into the chair. "It has been a long road for us both, Vinsah. It was nearly forty years ago that we were both in seminary together. Strange roads that we have both taken. Each of us has risen high within the ranks of the Ecclesia, very nearly to the pinnacle in our respective traditions, only to have this place, this Metamor Keep, snatch our chances away from us."

His grip upon his goblet tightened, dark claws tracing the pewter roughly. "What do you mean by that, Kehthaek?"

The Questioner sipped his cider for a moment, eyes studying the raccoon, though not probingly. He felt as if Kehthaek only saw his robes, and perhaps his fur, but nothing deeper. "Only that you were likely to become the next Patriarch. But for your near felling here you would have been when Akabaieth passed on as he was certain to do in a matter of years. And I was certain to ascend to the seat of the Grand Questioner but for my journey here."

Vinsah felt the room begin to tilt. "I had not heard that the Grand Questioner had passed on?" In truth, he'd barely known Grand Questioner Nethelek even when he was at Yesulam. Nethelek had been very secretive, jealously guarding his privacy and his counsel. Akabaieth had more contact with him than Vinsah had, but that was Akabaieth's duty as Patriarch to oversee all aspects of the Ecclesia. But he did remember one evening as they were sitting in the Patriarch's private library, filled with nearly as many nautical treatises as there were theological, when Akabaieth had spoken off Nethelek. He'd described the man, barely a score of years younger than Akabaieth himself, as old, ruthless, and tenacious. Not with malice, but more indifference Akabaieth had described him, as if he were harmless, but best left to his own devices.

And now Grand Questioner Nethelek was dead. "Three months ago," Kehthaek said, nodding slowly. "Shortly before I was to leave for Metamor with Felsah and Akaleth, and after we three had been selected for this task, he passed on in his sleep." Kehthaek drank darkly of his cider. There was a gaze about him, unsettling, but what was in it was not meant for Vinsah. "They say he died from a weak heart."

Feeling a strange unease, Vinsah lifted his goblet to his mouth and drank more fully of the warm cider. It washed down his throat, filling him with a sleepy calm.

The Questioner shook his head then. "Nethelek was always good at uncovering that which wished to remain hidden. He was a good, hard mentor. The Questioners are less without him." A wistful look filled his eyes then. "He never told me he thought I had done a good job, but I knew. I knew." The gaze became forceful once more, returning with all attention to the raccoon Bishop. "I wish that if he had to die, then he would have done so before the choosing. Once the choosing was made, I was ineligible to stand to be his successor. Ill-timed was his death."

Was there something more to his words than just a lost opportunity, Vinsah had to wonder. Or was he trying to read more into a simple statement of regret than was really there? The Questioners were masters at sowing confusion and getting what they wanted from whomever they talked with. What was Kehthaek's game? Vinsah began to worry that he had made a mistake in inviting him, old friend that he may once have been.

"Who will take Nethelek's place?"

Kethaek shrugged a bit, sipping distractedly from the cider. "The choice was not yet made when we left Yesulam. Nor will I dare to speculate. Should I have been amongst the potentials, I am certain that I would now be Grand Questioner. It was known by those who were close to Nethelek that I was his chosen successor. It would have been better for him to step down and appoint me, but he ever followed his own counsel."

"He was tenacious." Vinsah nodded slightly as he spoke, green eyes having fallen into Kehthaek's lap, watching the way the old priest stroked his goblet with the tips of his fingers. They would trace around the outside of the rim, and then along the inside before he brought the cup to his lips to drink.

Yet this last appeared to catch the Questioner by surprise. "I did not know that you knew him."

"I didn't," Vinsah admitted. "At least not as well as some. We only met a few times. But all who spoke of Nethelek said that of him."

"And right they were," Kehthaek agreed, smiling as he thought on old memories. He did not share them though, just enjoyed them quietly with himself for a few moments.

His silence felt almost like an invitation, but also like something else. Vinsah felt sure that no more questions about Nethelek would be welcome, that Kehthaek had said all that he would of the man who had once held the office of Grand Questioner. It felt strange, but the Bishop felt as if he were being herded carefully by this man, as if there was something terribly important to be said, but it was something that he could not speak, only hint at in the vaguest of fashions.

"It has been five and a half months since I arrived here with Patriarch Akabaieth. So much must be changed at Yesulam in my absence."

"Much has," Kehthaek nodded. "It was not until late November that we heard word of Akabaieth's demise, and your wounding. The news sent the Bishop's Council into mourning for days. Nevertheless they quickly appointed a new Patriarch. It is my understanding that the debate was heated, but the consensus was for Cardinal Geshter of Pyralis to assume the mantle. I remember him declaring that the Ecclesia had been wounded, and that for the wound to heal, the knife first had to be taken out."

"What do you think he meant by that?" Vinsah asked, tapping the edge of his goblet. He knew Geshter mostly be reputation, though on the few times they had met, he seemed reasonable enough.

"It struck me at the time that he was referring to Patriarch Akabaieth's killer," Kehthaek said blandly as he finished off the last of the cider. "That was delicious. Is perchance there any more of this most fine concoction?"

Vinsah nodded, rising from his seat that he might pour Kehthaek another draught. He took the goblet as the Questioner offered it, but did not turn his back upon his guest. "Several of the Bishops have elected to stay at Yesulam during Patriarch Geshter's inaugural year," Kehthaek offered then, as if noting the weather. "I expect they intend to see things through for now. Rather wise of them, don't you think?"

The ewer had cooled off slightly, but the handle was still warm. After pouring out another goblet full of the pleasing cider, Vinsah handed it back to his guest. "I suppose it would be. Matters in Yesulam are delicate then?"

Kehthaek took his goblet back and held it before his thin lips. "How could they not be in this situation. The Patriarch and the Grand Questioner both dead within three months of each other? It has upset many balances. And both their designated heirs stranded for the moment in Metamor? I can hardly imagine a more delicate situation. When we return to Yesulam, it will certainly not be the same when either of us left it, more so for you than me."

There was no doubt in Vinsah's mind that he had just been given either an order, or very strong advice. He had to return to Yesulam. It was something he had already decided upon of course, but having this Questioner state it so firmly, and yet, in a way that felt more as if coming from a friend than an enforcer of the Ecclesia's will, made it far more imperitive. "I hope to be in Yesulam this Summer," Vinsah said at last. "I do hope my fur gets a little thinner by then, but I will be there regardless. How are the people taking the news?"

"Well, it has been some time since I was in Yesulam myself," Kehthaek said, spreading his hands before him, the cup held tightly between two fingers. "But everyone was in mourning. I expect people will be glad to hear that at least you survived. It is some continuity at least."

"What of those in the neighbouring lands?" Vinsah asked. "Are they in mourning too?"

"I am certain that all of the Ecclesia, all Followers of the Way have been in mourning once the news reached them. I doubt there is any part of the world left that has not heard by now. Few have understood the significance of his receiving a burial from Whales like unto an officer of their fleet, but those that knew him best were glad to hear of it."

Vinsah could not help but smile at that. It was rare that Akabaieth had ever talked about himself, but it was known how dearly he loved sailing, even though he never had the opportunity himself. The Bishop could remember one time when they'd had a delegation from across the sea journey to Yesulam. The priest heading the delegation had complained about something the sailors had done during a storm that had swept down upon them, Vinsah could not now recall what that had been. But the Patriarch had corrected them every time they had mistaken some nautical term, and afterwards had assured them that their lives had been saved by the diligent crew. The chastened priest had precious little else to say after that.

And then, he finished off his own goblet of cider and set it between his legs amidst the folds of his robes. "I'm sure they will be delighted to welcome back the Patriarch's adjutant when they see that he has become a walking, talking raccoon. One of the Metamor demons."

Kehthaek's eyes went up at that. "Is that what you think? You think the Council will denounce you simply because of your appearance?"

"I wonder whether I will even be able to make it alive to Yesulam to see the Council."

The Questioner laughed then, brightly, and full of mirth. "If there is one thing I doubt you will need to worry about it is that."

Vinsah gripped his cup tighter. "Why do you say that?"

"Because," Kehthaek replied, leaning forward from his seat, the cushions lifting with him, "you are determined to return to Yesulam. I've no doubt that you will succeed." Kehthaek then stood from his seat, and finished off the cider. "I thank you for this time, my old friend. Your hospitality has been most gracious, but I must return to my brethren. There is much still we must discuss. I look forward to seeing you when you enter Yesulam."

The Bishop stood upon his paws and grimaced. He took the goblet fomr the elder priest's hands and set it back on the mantle along with his own. He then crossed to his door and held it open. The hallway beyond was empty but brightly lit with torches. "I will not be hard to find." Kehthaek smiled once at that, and then stepped out into the hall, his smock gripped between his fingers.

"Tell me one thing," Vinsah said then, just as Kehthaek turned to bid his farewell.


The raccoon paused, his claw tracing along the jamb of the door, carving at the stone, wearing off the tip. Dangerous thoughts and rumours filled his mind and heart, ones that he could not yet sort out. Somehow, he felt he could trust Kehthaek though, despite his manipulation, despite his warnings and his subtle shifting. There was a grain of something in him that Vinsah felt he could rely on. And it was in that something he had to place his last and most dire concern. With uncertain voice, the Bishop asked, "Are the wishes of Akabaieth still in favour with the Council?"

"That depends," Kehthaek said, offering a strangely melancholy smile. "Fare thee well, your grace. May Eli smile upon you."

"And upon you, Father." With a heavy sigh, Vinsah shut the door, just as the emotionless mask once more fell across the Questioner's face. Turning back toward his bedside, Vinsah knelt down beside it, lifting his prayer beads from their place at his side, and thought once more of his Lady. Her comforting smile was waiting for the troubled raccoon inside his mind.

The taverns always began to fill around noon to one. Rickkter found it a pleasant time to catch his breath, and listen in on the doings of others. To that end, he had found himself a nice quiet spot beneath the staircase to the loft from where he could watch and listen to the other patrons. Metamorians came in all shapes and sizes, as well as a few outlanders by their dress and manner – merchants peddling there wares trying to make a few extra coins by travelling to needy Metamor. Most of the time, what they had to say was of little interest to the warrior mage, but it was pleasant to listen anyway.

From his table beneath the stairs, where only a single torch cast any light, and that was muted by Rickkter's own design, he could see almost the entire tavern floor. Small rectangular tables lined one wall, a second series flanking them in the middle of the room. The doorway was off to one side, occluded by a bundle of cloaks and furs cast aside, but still visible. The hearth was on the far end, though Rickkter felt little need to keep warm with his cloak pulled tightly bout his shoulders. Most of the patrons were occupying the tables close to the fire, while his side was rather empty and dark. He liked it that way.

There were other reasons that Rickkter found sitting alone and watching others to be a pleasant way to spend his afternoon. It gave him an opportunity to sort out difficult situations that were troubling him. In this case, there were two things clamouring for his mind's attention the Questioners, and his estranged student Murikeer. The latter had been brewing for some time already, ever since Murikeer's wounding and the death of Llyn, the skunk had become a brooding creature, more interest in the oblivion the contents of his unguent casks promised than in maters of rigorous study.

But it was the arrival of those black priests of Yesulam had only served to aggravate the situation. Murikeer in many ways, despite the terrible way he was treated at the hands of men before he came to Metamor, was still an innocent and blind to the world about him. Too blind. And stubborn. He refused to see what others showed him, but surrounded himself in an illusion as intractable as the ones he had fashioned with his magic. It had grown too much for Rickkter when that skunk had refused his advice not to see the Questioners. At least Bishop VInsah had been willing to take some of Rickkter's advice on the matter. The Bishop was indeed a strange man, one that Rickkter could respect, but that was another matter altogether.

Rickkter growled softly to himself, his eyes narrowing at the thought. He had invested too much time, too much effort, into Muri just to see him throw it all away into some infernal concoction. He was going to have to do something about that drugged heap of misery very soon.

The Questioners were a more immediate problem, though. It was true that they would be leaving on the morrow, but he wondered what sort of lasting damage they would leave in their wake. He had to laugh inwardly at what he'd heard that Raven had done to them. Forcing them to agree not to violate a certain code of conduct had been a brilliant storke of genius. And hinging it all on the notions of hospitality, something very important to a desert people, had been the coup de grace. He was still upset that Duke Thomas had not been willing to act, but what was done was done. It was just a matter of making sure it could be undone as well.

Rickkter was so preoccupied with such thoughts, that he almost did not see the new patron coming into the tavern. A stocky fellow, human, dressed in respectable winter's garb wandered in and after purchasing a drink, joined a table of revelers. Taking a moment to study him, Rickkter then ignored him as he sat down and began to join in the company of Metamorians pleasure. Either a gender cursed, or some merchant far more comfortable with his clientele the raccoon deduced after a brief observation. Yet from the way the others at his table laughed, it was clear that they did not know him either.

This interested Rickkter only slightly. His own concerns were still paramount in his mind. And so he let the conversation trickle across his ears, teasing the out edges of his conscious self for the time being. He leaned back in his chair, long tail flowing behind him. There was much that he needed to solve, but his mind was making little progress on any front. The matter of his student was not one he saw any immediate conclusion to. The drive he had once directed to magic had instead turned into a search for his own self destruction. He refused any form of guidance, determined to do things his own way, no matter the risks to himself. Rickkter grimaced ever so slightly. He had no tolerance for those who would tilt against the way things were.

And then, his fur prickled at the back of his neck. Rickkter's attention became focussed, and he listened more carefully. Somebody had mentioned the name of that rat, the Sondeckis, Charles Matthias. As he listened, he heard the Metamorians speaking about some of the impressive things the rat had done last year, and also hinting and whispering of the darker days he'd witnessed. Obviously the newcomer must have been some outlander merchant, after all, why would he ask about the rat otherwise?

Yet still Rickkter's hackles were raised. There was something else amiss that he did not yet see. He took a closer look at the man, noting his rough features. He could only see the man's profile, but there was definitely something vaguely familiar about it. The man's head turned slightly, eyes narrowing as they glanced in the direction of the stairs, where Rickkter had secluded himself. The raccoon had been seen, and strangely enough, recognized. He was known by many about town, but his reputation was far more shadowed and obscure than the rat's was. Who would have recognized him merely by his appearance, unless they had seen him before.

Of course! Rickkter realized now who it was that sat with the group of Keepers asking delicate but friendly questions about the rat. His cheerfulness and friendly demeanour were but a veneer that he wore, a veneer so thin that if one looked at it from just the right angle they would see the hollow emptiness that lay beneath it. Yes, he could see it in the eyes. The rest of him projected an image of joviality, but the eyes were too cold.

This was one of the Yesbearn, the guardians of the Questioners. Somehow, they must have learned of the rat's existence, and some portion of his involvement with the events surrounding the Patriarch's murder. As the rat was thankfully tucked away at Glen Avery where he would not be able to work his sanctimonious mischief on Metamor, the black priests could not question him. So they must have sent one of their guards to find out what was known amongst the populace about him.

A clever move, one that Rickkter found deliciously underhanded. It would have been greeted with rank amusement by the elders of Ebon to see the vaunted Church stoop to such tactics, and perhaps grudging respect from some for its simplicity. From the sound of things, it seemed as if the Questioners had heard of Matthias's involvement with the Shrieker, but little else. The Metamorians were talking mostly about the rat's exploits the previous year, one of them hinting morosely about the rat's betrayal, but saying little of it. Rickkter idly tapped his claws on the table, wondering if he should join the Questioners, provide some of the answers to their questions. He had no doubt they’d find some of what he had to say of great interest.

After several moments of thinking and tapping, he arrived at a decision; he would content himself to sit and watch, letting the Yesbearn find what he would. Given what he had heard of the rat's trial, turning the Questioners onto Charles would turn the entire component of the Longs onto him, and worse yet, Yesulam against Metamor. With Yesulam set against Metamor, so too would Pyralis and much of the Midlands be. Even without their precarious situation resulting from the Yule attack, he had grown too fond of this place to see it destroyed. Not to mention the people he knew here. No, ruining Charles was not worth that much to him.

So he decided to sit and watch, letting the Questioners make this play by themselves. Whatever they learned, it couldn't help but hurt the rat. Raising his almost untouched mug to his lips, he considered that such was enough to brighten his afternoon.

Thalberg paced back and forth in his chambers. He was not normally within them at this hour of the day. Normally, he’d be surveying his many cares from the kitchens to the storehouses. But at that moment, his mind was too preoccupied. The Steward could not have remained focussed upon his tasks even had he tried.

And he had tried. Tried all that morning and early afternoon long in fact. He’d one to the kitchens early in the morning, overseeing the baking of muffins and pies for that day’s meals. He’d been so careless when inspecting one of the souffles that he’d ruined it in the process, something he had not done in many years. He had not been thinking of the souffle when he’d picked it up though. And when he’d checked to see how the wares were holding out, he’d knocked over a box of grain from last years harvest. One of the sacks inside had ruptured, spilling the granules across the masonry floor. It had taken the better part of an hour to right the mess he’d created, but there had only been a few moments in which he’d been dwelling on the spilt grain.

Steward Thalberg’s mind was busy elsewhere, just as it was at that moment while he paced back and forth. His hands were held behind him above the root of his thick crocodilian tail. It swayed back and forth, threatening to sweep aside his table and chairs, but he stayed on the other side of the room to keep his own furnishings safe from his clumsiness. There were still any responsibilities that he needed to attend to, but they could wait until his present predicament had been solved, or at least come to a passable conclusion.

He had sent a missive to Andwyn, the head of Metamor’s Intelligence, only an hour before. It had discussed matters that over the course of the week had preyed and gnawed at his mind like a dog upon a bone, until him mind had cracked and the dog began to lick the marrow. Now, Thalberg needed to have this matter settled conclusively. He hoped that the bat would be willing to entertain the dangerous notions that were swimming about in the alligator’s head, but the reply he’d received only a few moments before had not answered that question.

The reply had simply stated that Andwyn would not meet with Thalberg to discuss this matter until after the Questioners had left Metamor. They were to leave on the morrow it was true, but it was still one day too many before the Steward could begin to get his answers. And so he kept on pacing, a surliness clouding his mood unlike any he’d felt in a long time.

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