Stepping up to Destiny - Part IV

By: Charles Matthias & Christian O'Kane

He had not actually expected the Kankoran to arrive promptly, but he had thought that the raccoon would at least have the decency to show up before he'd have to prepare himself for his second joust. He had not seen Sir Saulius since leaving his fellow rodent standing in the stables being accosted by Thalberg, and so he had no idea when he would have to take to horse again.

However, he absolutely had to talk with Rickkter. Much as he loathed the idea of that thing disgracing his office with his presence, there was nothing that could be done about it. The raccoon was too loose with his tongue and too full of his own self-conceived invincibility to be trusted not to give vital information away unless he was warned.

But in the meantime, while the rat waited in his office, he finished up a bit of the story backlog that would be passed off to Tallis in a few days. He was planning to formally announce his resignation as Headmaster of the Writer's Guild the day after the festival. It would be effective immediately. Still, he loved the job, and if he could take this one last time to revel in it, he would.

Of course, when he heard the back door to the Guild burst open, and the sound of heavy breathing in the hallway, he knew that he had edited his last story. Setting down the quill pen, he stoppered the inkpot, and leaned back in his chair for the expected explosion.

Storming through his door, a very irate Rickkter held aloft the very same message that Charles had penned now one hour before. "Okay, what the hell is this?" The raccoon's voice was cranky, but behind it Matthias could hear the usual arrogance.

Although he knew he had to wait, he was rather irritated already at this disagreeable fellow. Not only had he made him wait, he'd also made him decline a summons from the Duke. Apparently, there had been more visitors to the Keep, though from their description, the rat had seen no use in attending. These matters were much more important. Thus, his voice was harsh when he snapped back, "Where the hell have you been? I've been waiting close to an hour for you to get here."

"I was rather busy." Rickkter crossed his arms before his chest, his eyes cold, but focused. "You wouldn't believe how long it takes to catalogue, index, and sort through seven years of material accumulated from places spanning the length and breadth of this continent." Sneering: "Besides, when I saw that the message Kee gave me was from you, I wasn't especially anxious for this meeting."

Gnashing his teeth slightly, Matthias put all of the anger he felt for this slayer of his brethren into his heart and left it there, sealing it beneath his own symbol, a sword inside a shield. When it had dawned on him last night at the Mule that he would have to confront Rickkter, he'd forgotten how violently angry the raccoon could make him. Yet, he could no longer afford to put it off any longer. "Nor I you, but this is too important. It concerns both of us."

It was clear that the Kankoran did not believe any of it. His voice dripped with sarcasm. "How so?" Charles could almost see the raccoon thinking beneath that black mask of his, "As if anything you had to say would concern me."

Glaring at the ancestral enemy of his clan, Charles tried to measure his words, and his tone. "When you came here I agreed to spare your life, and you to spare mine. We would not reveal the secrets of the pasts that we both keep." Watching the stiff muzzle and perturbed eyes, he could tell that Rick was indeed listening, albeit reluctantly. "Have you met the new ambassador?"

"I heard there was one. I try and stay out of politics as much as I can." Rickkter shrugged ever so slightly

Matthias tried not to grin, though he knew his next words would grab the raccoon's attention. "Well, I think you might want to pay attention to this one. Like us, he is a southern mage. More importantly, he's from the Chateau Marzac."

The reaction was not quite what Charles had expected, but he found it surprisingly pleasant just the same. Rickkter stood there for several seconds, totally silent, his mouth not even forming words. Suddenly, he found his voice again, his retorts lacking the earlier condescension. "You're lying. Either that, or you have the poorest sense of humor I've ever had the displeasure to see. No one goes to Marzac and comes out alive."

"Sondecki don't lie in such matters, as you well know. And this is not a joking matter."

"Yes, and that's the whole problem. You're certain he's from Marzac?" Rickkter placed an almost cataclysmic emphasis on "certain".

No longer able to take joy in the shock, Charles simply nodded. "That's what he says. He claims that it was exorcized."

Stepping to the desk in the merest moment, Charles could only see horror on his nemesis's face. "That's not possible. Mages and clerics have been trying that for ages. No one's succeeded, and few have ever returned to report the failure." Cocking his head to the side, the mage asked, "Did he say how it was done, by any chance? I've got to hear that."

"He said several priests cast an elaborate exorcism upon the Chateau."

"No Lightbringers?"

"No, only the Ecclesia was involved." Rickkter leaned on the rat's desk, rubbing his muzzle thoughtfully with one paw. Charles ignored the affront, though secretly hoped that the raccoon was sitting in an ink stain. "You don't believe in the power of Eli, Rickkter?"

"I know something of the Lightbringer power. And I know the history of the magic at Marzac. And, quite frankly, I don't believe that any exorcism could remove that taint."

"Then you wouldn't trust someone from Marzac?"

Rickkter shook his head. "Not even as far as I could throw them."

"Good. Because that's what I wanted to talk to you about. We both know that neither you nor I will betray the other because we each have so much to loose. Yet this Yonson is very different. He is a purple Weathermonger, and I have no clue as to his history or former allegiances."

"Marzac managed to get a purple as an ambassador?" Rickkter asked, frowning slightly, his whiskers drooping as he did so. "How did they manage to steal him away from his enclave for that?"

"I haven't the slightest clue. But I felt I had to warn you about him. And I want to ask you to stay away from him. If he finds out about either of us, things could go to hell very, very quickly around here." About that, Charles made no exaggerations. If the ancient evil of Marzac was alive in Yonson, then there was no telling what that man could do to either of them.

"Don't you think you're overestimating the seriousness of his finding us out?" Unable to believe the words he just heard, Matthias peered incredulously at Rickkter with his black eyes. "Perhaps you're right."

"Good," said Charles. "Now, if you'll please leave, I have to get ready for the jousting tournament. I've wasted enough time already."

"Well, there is one more thing we need to discuss."The contempt had returned to his face and voice, and Charles found the change disquieting. "What are you doing taking on a student?"

Rising from his seat, he glared up at the slightly taller figure. He could feel the power of the Sondeck coursing in his blood, filling his arms, yearning to be unleashed. "We agreed that we wouldn't interfere with what the other is doing."

"And you think that your taking on a student isn't going to tip off Yonson? Great Maker, you have that ferret running around in uniform! And around here, yellow stands out like a sore thumb. Assuming you have his attention, Yonson will no doubt find him very fascinating. He might not be sure what kind of mage you are, but since you aren't a normal one, it is going to perk his interest. Which, if I remember correctly, is precisely what you wanted to avoid."

He bit a chunk from his chewstick in frustration. The fact that he knew Rickkter was right felt like the sting of hundreds of jellyfish. "Garigan is my student, and my concern. And speaking of him, I want you to stay away from him. He is hot headed and temperamental, and I don't need you provoking him."

"Me?" Rickkter asked, the faked innocence clearly intended to insult.

"Yes, you," Matthias retorted, jabbing a claw at Rickkter. "You are not to interfere with my training of him in any way, is that clear? You are to stay away from him. And if you don't, then you'll face my wrath."

"Is that a threat?"

"It's a promise," Charles snapped, his control of his anger barely holding together. "And don't think you can stop me either. You know what a Sondecki is capable of." The last time they had talked, each had traded ultimatum's declaring that neither could be stopped. He hoped it would not become necessary for each of their meetings, for it would quickly grow tiresome. "Now, as I said, I have to get ready for the tournament. Will you please leave?"

The Kankoran bowed mockingly, spreading his arms wide, and keeping his gaze leveled at the rat till he backed out the door and was gone. Charles breathed a sigh of relief, returning to his chair, gnawing away at his chewstick therapeutically. Though they were both Keepers now, Rickkter would have to know that his warning was more for his benefit than the raccoon's. Still, he did feel better for both of their hides now. If Rickkter wished to pursue Yonson, there was nothing anymore the rat could do.

However, he did have other obligations to attend to. The tourney would recommence before much longer. Slipping into his dress tunic, the red's and gold's bright against his fur, he left his office for what could indeed be the penultimate time, and then the Writer's Guild itself. The air was crisp, and the sky was full of bright cauliflower clouds. The sun shone brightly over the eastern ridges, warming him as any summer should.

Of course, by this time already, most of the cobblestone streets were filled with Keepers flocking to the Festival grounds. Charles had little trouble slipping through towards the pavilion and the stables nearby. It was about half full, but then again, half of the competitors had been eliminated yesterday. He found Sir Saulius brushing down Armivest's legs with a small wool blanket. The ponies black fur shined in the morning sunlight, and the barding hanging from a rafter to one side glistened from a recent polishing.

The lance that leaned against the side of the stall was not the same one that the rat had used to defeat Sir Breyden yesterday, though it had been painted in the same red and gold cylindrical pattern. Charles pointed to it and asked, "Is that a new lance?"

Saulius nodded as he folded the cloth in his paws. "Aye. The master of our liege's noble manor insisted that all lances be fashioned from wood of the ash tree."

"So that it could break instead of bend?"

"Thy mind is quick to see, my good friend, Matthias," Saulius agreed as he began to fasten the barding onto the back of the restless pony. "Prepare thy horse."

Charles found Malicon grazing lazily, his creamy white head stuffed into a feed bag. He quickly saddled him, and draped him in the pinions and colors of his master. Petting the equine upon the neck with one paw, he whispered words of encouragement to him, noting the way the animal seemed to brighten up at the rat's touch and voice.

"I think he really likes me," Charles said aloud. "Do you think that I will be allowed to keep him after the Festival is over?"

Saulius shrugged, "Thy question needs be asked of another, for I cannot tell thee yea or nay."

Nodding, he returned his attentions to his friendly steed, and watched as the other knights and squires began to stream in for this day's jousts. Try as he might though, the previous conversation with Rickkter plagued the quiet portions of his mind. While he pondered over what to do about Garigan, the time quickly went past, and soon he was sitting in the saddle and riding out onto the field.

He watched Thalberg and Wanderer commence this mornings affairs, but his eyes really weren't on them. Yonson was sitting in the shade of the balcony alongside Duke Thomas. Father Hough was there as well, draped in a green cassock, with his feet dangling from the chair, waving back and forth in the air. It warmed his heart momentarily to see the child priest, but his eyes were drawn back to the ambassador from Marzac. The bright blonde curls framed his solid face, with the almost innocently eager blue eyes watching the field. That face would begin to change in less than a week, but the rat doubted that he could hate it worse.

Before Matthias realized what had happened, he was following after Saulius towards the other end of the field to join in his second joust. As they reached the end, Charles slipped the banner into the proper stand, and turned to face down the field. Though he had a hard time making them out, he could tell that his opponents were both musteline, probably ferrets or weasels. Leaning over towards the knight, he asked in a soft voice, "Who are they?"

"The knight is Sir Molvere, and his squire is Dorl. They both hail from Lorland," was the curt response.

"Lorland?" Charles asked in some surprise. "I didn't know they had any knights!"

"Aye, but even the repugnant Loriod knew that skilled knights are a mark of honor and prestige."

Matthias shifted about in the saddle, his inner thighs wishing that he did not have to be here. Saulius rode forward, to meet Sir Molvere before the Duke to trade the customary barbs. The rat scanned the crowd quickly, while eyes were off of him, and spotted his Lady Kimberly sitting in much the same place as before. She waved to him once, and then focused on the knights themselves. Charles could hear them speaking, but did not listen to the words. His mind was too full of the things Rickkter had said to focus on anything concretely.

Before he knew it, Saulius was riding back, a certain familiar twitch to his whiskers, and he knew that the rat had once again outwitted his opponent. Charles pulled the lance free from the stand, and got the feel of it in his arms. Letting it sag a bit towards the front, he kicked Malicon over towards the run, where the poles were once again set up.

Patting the friendly pony on the neck, Charles watched the grasshopper in the center of the field, and then once the flags were down, he spurred his horse into action, running down the length of the field. Unfortunately, try as he might, he could not keep focused on what he was doing, that raccoon's face and Yonson's face floating throughout his mind. There were so many questions, and no answers for any of them.

Once again, the contest was over before Matthias could realize it. Upon his lance were five rings, two large, two medium, and one small. He flinched at his poor performance, and rode sullenly back towards his knight mentor. Glancing across midfield, he saw Dorl hefting seven rings upon his lance. He took no consolation in the fact that his loss was not as bad as the first.

Sir Saulius's face was impassive as he sat astride Armivest. The pony pawed restlessly at the ground, his breath coming in huffs, and his head and tail tossing slightly whenever the rat took his hand away from the beast's neck. Yet despite the obvious restlessness of his mount, Charles could tell that his friend was in total control, and when the time came, his steed would do as instructed.

Shame faced, Charles shunted the images to that back of his mind, staring down the length of his muzzle, past his nose and whiskers, he focused on the joust itself instead. The murmurings of the crowd were soft, apart from the isolated cheers as the two riders faced off , their lances held in the stirrup. A bit of sunlight glint of the chape at the end of Saulius's scabbard as his body tensed.

And then, the crowds held their breath as the two riders plunged forward, dust churning up from the sodden field. Charles tightened his grip on the pommel of his saddle, watching as the musteline and rat stood ever so slightly in their stirrups, their shields before them, and their lances sharp and held straight out. With a sudden cracking, both lances broke away, Saulius quickly discarding the remains of his, as Armivest rushed past Sir Molvere's steed.

The two combatants turned about, rushing back almost stately to the bins to retrieve a spare lance. Charles took a moment to briefly glance up at the balcony, and saw Thalberg's reptilian grin grow wider. Apparently, the Steward had received what he'd wanted.

The crowd tensed as the two knights charged again, the earth thundering beneath the ponies's hooves. Charles could see the ferret or at least what appeared to be a ferret running in the same fashion as before, but noticed something amiss in Saulius's stance. The rat was holding his shield slightly askew, almost pointing inwards. With a start, Matthias realized that he was intending to draw his opponent's lance inwards towards his very own chest!

It would be undue to raise a cry, so silently he sat upon Malicon, his knees nervously buckling inwards until the ploy that Saulius had so cleverly planted came to fruition. Molvere had seen the oddly turned shield, and had compensated, holding his lance farther out. At the last moment, Saulius reversed the direction of his shield so that it once more pointed away from him, but of course, by then Molvere was forced to swing the heavy weight back into place.

The motion unbalanced the ferret, and gave Saulius the opening he needed. Tilting his lance upwards, he unhorsed the musteline, and continued rushing past, even as the other knight crashed to the ground in a clatter. Rising unsteadily to his paws, Molvere tried to draw his sword, but fell to his knees, and the dropped his head between his fore paws, and just lay there breathing heavily, even as his own steed cantered back, nuzzling him gently in the shoulder.

Saulius dismounted and walked Armivest over to the fence line. D'Alimonte was rushing on to the field as well, even as Duke Thomas once again gave accolade to the rat knight. Charles gazed across the crowds at the applause and cheers. Unsteadily, he felt a prickling sensation rush over his back, and he turned towards one side on a whim. Staring at him, and clapping his paws together was Habakkuk. The kangaroo seemed to glance away, but Matthias knew that his fellow writer had been watching him the entire time.

Nudging Malicon's thighs, Charles urged the pony onward, joining the others at a trot, and carrying the banner of Sir Saulius overtop his shoulder. The final joust would be tonight. Unless they scored enough points in their rounds to participate in the joust of the third day, or The Joust of the Keeper. At least that is what it was being called. The two best knights from any category would compete. The rat had a vague sense of premonition that he'd be upon horseback that day.

Taking one last look at the crowds, he rode alongside Sir Saulius towards the stables outside the pavilion. Already, the faces of Yonson and Rickkter were invading his mind, and clouding his thoughts. They were joined by a third face, that of Zhypar's. Not a combination he liked in the least.

"Have you seen Charles, good sir?" Garigan asked a random stranger as he maneuvered threw the tightly packed crowds lining the corridors between booths and shops. "You know Charles, the rat, head of the Writer's Guild?" The ferret had only been living in the Keep for just over a week now. He would never grow accustomed to how many people lived here! So many faces, so many names - he could never learn them all!

The woman pointed over towards the large pavilion that was at the center of the fields. She rested a hand on his shoulder, and leaned in close, her cheek almost brushing against his whiskers. "I think he's competing right now in a joust. If you go to the far side of the bleachers and stand just outside the stables there, I think you can catch him after the fight is over."

Garigan growled loudly, his frustration with trying to navigate through the crowded streets and only getting turned about each time showing clearly. "But how do I get there? I try to walk straight towards it, but I just get lost and find myself back at the Keep!"

The lady chuckled, a small laugh that seemed vaguely humorous. "You aren't from around here, are you?"

"No, this is the first time I've ever been here," he confessed between clenched teeth. It felt like he was going to be crushed by the press of bodies. How he longed for towers made from wood, not these facsimiles of stone!

Her face brightened visibly. "Well, it is really quite easy." She licked her lips once, her finger tracing out the streets ahead. "Do you see the jewelers sign?" He nodded, and she continued, "take a left turn there, and keep going. Just follow the street and you will eventually come out on the archery fields. The pavilion entrance is right there."

"That doesn't sound too bad," Garigan confessed.

The woman stood back from him then, and smiled winsomely, her hands cupped behind her back. "Best of luck to you then!" Before Garigan could offer her his thanks, she had disappeared into the crowd.

He let his arms drop to his sides, sighing heavily. However, his left paw landed on a tassel of loose string. Looking down, he saw that it was the laces with which he had tied his money bag to his side. They had been cleanly cut with a knife. The moneybag was gone. Jerking his muzzle back up to peer into the crowd he shouted, "Hey! Thief!" However, it was no good. A few Keepers looked aghast, but of course, he could not remember her face, and so they returned to their own business.

Balling his paws into fists, he momentarily contemplated chasing her through the crowd. He could feel the anger of old building inside him, his whole body tense, the rage burning so hotly that it could have scorched his garments. Then, the ferret noticed the yellow stripes down both sides of his tunic, and the words that his master had taught him. Closing his eyes, he focused on the image of his heart again, with his marked paw clutched around it. Breathing deeply, he pulled himself inside again. When his eyelids came open, his whole demeanor had softened to a preternatural calm.

Sighing wistfully, he turned about on his pads and hoped that the directions the footpad had provided were worth the price she had exacted from him.

The Jeweler's shop was easy to locate, though each passing step the ferret wished he was back in his lovely Glen Avery. When he had first come to the Keep, things had been mostly calm, though the growing anticipation for the Festival had been the constant background hum of the Metamorian gossip. Still, he had been caught up in that wild anticipation, never realizing that it would be as insufferable as this!

However, as he looked about the shop, he realized that there two left turns he could make. He stared at them open-mouthed for a minute or two before finally just deciding that he was better off just waiting for Charles back at his room. Surely he would come to bed at some point!

As he was turning about, Garigan heard a familiar voice calling to him from over by the Jeweler's booth. Staring threw the mesh of bodies, he spotted the reddish-tan fur of one of the strangest appearing of any of the Keepers. His tail was long and thick, and his feet were almost as long, with thick hips that made it almost impossible for him to walk normally. His long ears wobbled to one side or the other as his dark brown eyes motioned him over invitingly. Garigan blinked, realizing that he knew this was one of Charles's friends. At least he didn't have to worry about this fellow walking off with his trousers!

"Habakkuk, right?" Garigan asked as he drew near, leaning against the wooden siding that marked the Jeweler's temporary booth.

The kangaroo nodded after a moment, his paws clutching a small stein that he took a gentle sip from. "You look like you needed some company."

"More like a guide actually," Garigan remarked sourly as he waved his paws at the crowd. "How can you stand living like this? I don't think I've ever seen this many people in my life!"

"Well, one gets used to it. I used to be a trader, so I grew up in and around big cities like this. Is this the first time you've ever left Glen Avery?"

"Yes," he nodded after a moment, his voice a bit forlorn. "I miss it terribly. Lord Avery was here for a bit yesterday, but I didn't get much chance to talk to him. Only a few minutes."

"It must be hard leaving your home," Habakkuk observed, his eyes straying to the Jeweler who was delicately working over a small bluish-green gem with a file.

"Very." Garigan patted his side. "I just got robbed, by one of you Keepers not fifteen minutes ago! Back at the Glen we shared everything we had with others. The only thing I remember ever being stolen was one of Mrs. Levins's pies, and that was by a bunch of mischievous children. Boy, did they regret that! Not a one of them sat down for a week."

Zhypar shrugged. "It doesn't happen much here, but the Festival times are bad about it. Especially to visitors." Garigan grunted sourly, while the kangaroo took a quick drink. "So, I hear that you are Charles's student."

The ferret stiffened a moment. "So?"

"Well, I was just wondering what he was teaching you," Habakkuk asked calmly. "After all, he's never done anything like this before."

The ferret actually laughed bitterly. "Why don't you ask him? All he ever has me do is clean up his room and other boring mindless chores."

Garigan could feel the kangaroo's eyes upon him. He shifted a bit uncomfortably under that scrutinizing gaze, turning his attention back to the stone that the badger was cutting. The slightly accented voice of his companion however was quick to unsettle him more. "I am curious, just how much do you know about your master?"

"What do you mean?" he asked, not taking his eyes off of the gemstone.

"Well, you live with him now, how much do you know about him?"

"Not much really, he can be a very nice fellow when he wants to be, but don't ever interrupt him while he's in his office." His gray fur shuddered at the memory of his faux pas. "I had no idea that a latrine could smell so bad!"

Habakkuk chuckled warmly then, taking another drink from his mazer. "Yes, he can be quite surly while he's working. But what I mean is, just how much of his past do you know?"

Garigan blinked for a moment, turning to look at the kangaroo square in the face. Those impassive brown orbs gazed back, while his ears stood erect, and his nostrils breathed slowly. The way he held the stein in one paw, and the way his whole body was angled, the ferret could tell that this was a man completely self-composed. There was nothing menacing in his demeanor, but Garigan still felt a bit put off.

"Not much really, I never asked and he has never told me." He found it surprisingly easy to lie about matters of the Sondeckis. For the truth be told, he knew a great deal of Charles's history, as the rat had told him many great tales of his order, and of their exploits, tales that had filled the ferret with wonder and excitement, and purpose.

Zhypar grinned knowingly. "He never does, unless you beat it out of him, or figure it out for yourself." He paused a moment and then chuckled. "Actually, come to think of it, I've never known any to beat anything out of him! He is a rather tight-lipped fellow, that rat."

"Why should his past matter?" Garigan asked brusquely. "After all, he is a Keeper now. The past is dead to him."

There was a brief period of silence as the kangaroo turned away, looking out towards the crowds. The turbulence waxed and waned as the moments trickled by. The stomping of paws, hooves, and boots could be heard, as well as the careful craft of the Jeweler behind them. Garigan considered the writer, noting the way he appeared to stare past all of that, the mountains, the Keep, and even the vague fog-filled horizon. The ferret fancied Habakkuk's world filled with nothing but himself and whatever it was he saw past the sky.

And then the moment was past, and Zhypar turned back to the table. "Before this year has seen its last day, somebody is going to die from a shadow without a shadow." The pronouncement came from nowhere, and seemed to lead there as well. The ferret blinked in surprise, his whole face scrutinizing the creature before him even harder. He had expected a jocular grin to accompany such a ridiculous remark, but only saw a calm seriousness that left him cold.

"Are you drunk?" Garigan asked testily.

The kangaroo chuckled mirthlessly then, sipping from his stein. "I wish I was." He then lowered his head, his face abashed. "I am sorry for saying such nonsense. I must look like a fool!"

Before the ferret had a chance to agree, Habakkuk spoke again, his voice once more inquisitive. "So, you doubt that his past matters? All of our pasts are important one way or another. The past determines the future, and the future charts the past. Who Matthias was is just as important as who he is and who he will be. More lives than just his own hang on that."

"What are you talking about?"

"All of our actions can come together to decide what we shall do next. I do not speak ill of him, just cautiously." He nodded towards the aquamarine gemstone that was nearly cut to perfection in the skilled hands of Will Hardy. "Very few of us ever have the power to shape diamonds for this world. To do so requires the greatest of dedication and skill. To know just where to cut and were to smooth is essential to the craftsman's art.

"Charles could crush those very same diamonds if he so wished."

"You are drunk!" Garigan concluded.

Habakkuk shrugged his small shoulders and took another drink. "Your master walks through this world leaving ruins in his wake, ruins that he cannot see. I ask you, what is better, to only have enough power to fashion the diamond, or to have enough to crush it?"

The ferret blinked, shrugging. "Well, what is the point of crushing a diamond?"

"Good question," the kangaroo agreed. "Very good question indeed. The world is not as simple and straight forward as it first appears. You have to observe carefully so that you know where to make the cut so that the diamond is perfect. Matthias still takes the path of least resistance and so he crushes the diamond."

"Charles is a good rat, he'd never do what you describe!"

The accusation did not seem to phase the writer, who just took another drink of the foaming yellow elixir. "I think you are right; I am drunk. Well, no sense in wasting it. You said you needed a guide?"

Garigan stepped back and shook his head, feeling very uncomfortable around this mad fellow. "No thank you. I shall find my own way." With that he turned on his paws and without another word, marched resolutely off into the crowds, trying not to think about the words that he had heard. Most were quickly forgotten, but one phrase lingered in his mind till he finally successfully made his way to the pavilion: "Before this year has seen its last day, somebody is going to die from a shadow without a shadow."

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