Zhedthik was looking for something.

His search had sent him into the land of those others, the lands he and his former Clan had thought to conquer so easily, the lands of the weak ones. He had found little to eat and seemed unable to rest, and he felt that his strength had been steadily leaving him for many days. Perhaps this search would end in his death, he thought. That would solve many problems.

Still, he staggered on.

The Clan had left the High Chief, bent on carrying out the sentence that Zhedthik be unmanned. And Zhedthik had not intended to fight them. He was banished from the Clans of the Throk, left to wander in exile, his life forfeit if he were to encounter any of his kindred. He would never mate. What need had he of his manhood? Let them amuse themselves and be done with it.

But things had not gone the way he had expected. Even now, whenever he thought of it, he cringed. They had forced him down and tied him before approaching him with sharp knives, ready to spill his blood. He had tensed himself as he felt the pain of the first cut, for he would not add to his own humiliation. Zhedthik clamped his lips tightly shut as he felt the first of his blood spill.

And that was when the lightning began to rain down on the Clan. One by one, they were struck and seared into blackened, charred lumps. It had seemed to Zhedthik that each time his eye fell on one of them, that one was instantly struck down. The stench had been awful, and the screams still haunted his infrequent slumber.

It had occurred to him that perhaps he was justly banished, if he was no longer enough of a Throk to even enjoy the pain of they who would have maimed him. The thought had made him smile with some bitterness.

And still he searched, though he knew not what he sought. The wound, low in his belly, had been slow to heal. It burned.

He was climbing another hill. This part of the lands of those others of the south seemed to be nothing but hills, and the Throk were not comfortable in any but forested lowlands. These southern lands had little forest, Zhedthik noticed again as he had when first his clan had come this way. He wondered again why his kin had been so determined to conquer a land they would not have wanted had it been offered them freely. What was the point?

He had almost reached the top of the hill when he noticed her. She wore a garment of some white material, tied at waist with what looked to him like a simple rope. Her sun-colored hair was uncovered and her face, as she watched him approach, was calm and unafraid. That seemed odd enough to Zhedthik that he slowed his approach and finally stopped, regarding her warily.

He knew what sort she must be, of course. The females of these lands wielded magicks that gave them command of the plants of the fields. They would never have been able to stand against the Throk in combat, but they had not needed to. Instead, they had tangled roots about the feet of the warriors, trapped them in huge thickets prickly with giant thorns, captured their blades with vines of unbelievable thickness. The Clan had been forced to hack and chop their way through all the growing things, and that had exhausted every warrior among them.

Many things are not what they seem, thought Zhedthik.

“Well?” he roared at the still figure atop the hill. “Will you kill me, then?”

Of course she would not speak his tongue. She said nothing but he saw her head tilt slightly as her eyes scanned him searchingly. He could not know what she saw but, after looking at him for a few moments, her face changed from a blank mask to one of sorrowful compassion. It was a look that Zhedthik had never seen before and he wondered how he could feel so certain that he understood it.

He saw then that her lips were moving and she raised her hands in a series of odd gestures. Perhaps she was calling up the plants to thrash him or strangle him, but he did not think so. Zhedthik could not have spent so many years as a warrior without learning to know when he faced one who meant him no harm. He waited.

Suddenly, the ground at his feet began to sink and water bubbled up from the ground to fill that indentation. He stared dully at the pool forming before him, lacking even the energy to step back away from the sinking ground. He had not had food or drink for many days. How had this female known? The scent of the water reached him then and he swayed drunkenly as his gut rumbled.

Still wary, he looked back up at his companion. She still did not attempt to speak to him but merely gestured, and he understood that as well. He was to drink his fill. He looked back down at the water at his feet, which looked to him in that moment like the richest chthisck brewed by his kin. As inviting as it was, still he hesitated. Perhaps she sought to poison him with this offer to drink.

No, he thought, suddenly very calm. Banished from the Clan I may be, but I will not banish myself from all who live. I mean her no harm. She means me no harm. I know this.

In his first conscious act of trust, Zhedthik dropped to his knees and drank. And when he was done, he sank into an exhausted sleep, not even minding the strange female who silently watched him as he fell.

Zhedthik could not have known that the grass at his feet was brachia grass and he would not have understood its significance if he had. But Giseth, high priestess of Istha, did know. The water she had provided was flavored with an herb often used by the Lamantese to relieve pain and induce sleep. Now that the creature was resting, she moved toward him unhurriedly and knelt at his side.

She had sensed his festering wound as he had climbed toward her and now she focused her thoughts on healing. This Throk had a long journey ahead. He would need to be hale and whole. Gingerly, she laid bare the long, shallow cut on his belly and studied it carefully.

Unconsciously, she began to pray. Istha, guide me, she thought as she looked around for the healing thria leaves that grew lavishly in the brush atop these hills. Ah, yes, there was a patch of the scrubby bushes. Within moments, she had fashioned a poultice and placed it firmly on the wound. Then she sat cross-legged by the Throk and waited.

Be tranquil, my daughter, the Voice of her Goddess spoke gently into her mind. You have done very well, as you always do. Lueg comes.

Giseth smiled. She knew little of why she had needed to meet this Throk wanderer on this hilltop on this day, or why she had been required to devise a means of keeping him here. The wind whispered through her hair, faintly stirring the golden curls. Lueg would be here soon to take charge of this strange, tortured creature. It was enough for her to know that she had served well. She needed nothing more.

* * *

Rischa trudged aimlessly along a nameless road with her faithful tabby trotting along by her side. She found the company of the cat both comforting and strangely amusing for, while she found solace in his silent companionship, she could not fathom why he persisted in following her everywhere she went. “Mayhap, it’s jus’ you got nowhere else to be neither,” she muttered.

She had embarked on her adventure as she had resolved, crossing the Straights of Akkam by the simple expedient of stealing a little skiff and sailing herself across. It was the right time of year, and she could not have spent all her life among the fishing fleets without learning one end of a seagoing craft from another. She knew she could have booked passage for herself, for Hasdar had left her well provided for and she had touched very little of his money since her only son had turned his face from her. But she also knew that as soon as one sailor found himself with a blister or a splinter, she’d get the blame and they might very well toss her overboard.

“Silly clunches, always blamin’ me fer all,” she mumbled to herself, as she often did.

The little boat had a single sail and was no more than she could handle by herself. Besides, if truth be known, she had come to the point where she no longer cared whether she lived or not. She would set sail and, if the sea claimed her as it had her mate, all to the good. There’d be none to miss nor mourn her — except, maybe, the cat.

“You’re a silly critter, too,” she told him, but the gentle affection in her voice belied her gruff words.

Of course, she might have known that everything would start to come apart almost as soon as she reached the coast. Thinking that she would feel more at home if she stayed within sight of the sea, she had settled in the first village she had come to, following her usual practice of finding an empty cottage on the edge of the settlement and moving in. She had even enjoyed the heavy work the place had needed to make it weather-tight and comfortable.

Almost as soon as she had the place done, two things had happened. She had had that terrible dream again, the one she refused to remember. It was the first time in twenty years it had come back to her and, as before, she had wakened from a sound sleep crying as she hadn’t done in years, and shivering with cold.

And when she woke up like that, the world had stopped.

Of course, she knew what had happened. It was the end of another Age, she knew as all men knew. There would be a new Phoenix rising to fight His Gaerud and banish Dark Septha once more. Maybe it was fanciful of her, but it seemed to her that He must have died His final death at that moment that she woke so cold. It was a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Because nothing changed. That first HighSun came and went, followed by the Great Dark. And, the longer people had to wait for the coming of the new Phoenix, the more they started casting those dark looks her way. As if it was all her fault that the new Phoenix was taking a mighty long time showing up!

She had moved on as soon as she could, as soon as that first Great Dark had receded and the snows had melted. She didn’t even wait for the ground to firm up, for she had seen that look in the eyes of villagers on Illdia. She figured villagers were pretty much the same on the mainland as they had been there, and she figured she’d best be gone.

“Silly clunches,” she said again. Rischa had never realized that she had fallen into the habit of muttering to herself as she moved through her life. She may not have cared even if she had realized it. After all, there was nobody else to talk to. Except the cat.

She’d hoped, once the Interval ended and day followed night like it should, that she could settle somewhere and rest awhile. She was getting so tired of moving from place to place! And that was why she was still walking. She had been walking for weeks now, looking for the one place she could go where maybe they’d let her stay. It had come to her, very suddenly, as she left that last village on the edge of the forest.

“I don’t want to die like this, cat!” she had cried to the creature as they plodded along, in such heartfelt tones as would have astounded everybody she’d come into contact with over the last twenty years. “Left by the side of a road somewhere, picked over by bandits or the animals of the forest! I just want to go somewhere where they’ll let me be!”

“Mrrrreow,” the cat had replied.

She had not found that place yet. But she was still willing to keep looking.

“You’re being followed, you know.”

Rischa whirled, looking around wildly, for she had seen no one nearby as she walked along. Who could be speaking to her? In another instant, a rustling of leaves betrayed the stranger’s location. Rischa looked up into the branches of the willow tree beside her, and there he was, a fair, strapping fellow who should have looked out of place sitting in a tree but somehow did not.

“Followed?” she echoed in her rasping, disused voice. Looking back the way she came, she added, “By who? You?”

“Oh, no,” the lad said. “No, I have been sitting here for a few days now, waiting for you. That last village you walked through … er, what did you do there, by the bye?”

“Me? I din’ do nuthin’ but walk through!” she replied, making no effort to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

“Hmmmm … yes, I see,” and the way he looked at her made Rischa think for just an instant that maybe he did. After regarding her for another moment, he jumped down from the tree, startling her since he was up high enough that the landing should have hurt him.

The cat sidled up to her, almost protectively, its eyes glued to the fellow. Not as if it were ready to attack or defend, but merely watchful. After staring unwaveringly at him for a few minutes, it said, “Mrreowww,” a sound somewhere between a greeting and a growl.

To her utter astonishment, he smiled radiantly at the feline. “And a good day to you, my fine fellow,” he told the cat with a bow. “Is this lady a friend of yours?”


“I quite agree, old fellow, I quite agree.” And with that, he transferred his gaze to Rischa, who was staring at him, unable to make up her mind if he was quite right in the head. “Well,” he continued, speaking now to her, “it seems to me that we have two choices in this situation, ma’am. We can walk along and hope to outpace your pursuers. Or we can wait here for them and, if you will allow me, I believe I can persuade them to go back where they came from.”

The wicked sparkle in his eye appealed to Rischa. She was no more vengeful than the next person and, though she wished no harm to man nor beast, she was human enough to willingly spend a few moments enjoying the mental vision of the sort of chastisement this fellow was likely to offer this new set of silly clunches.

And besides that, the hungry loneliness in her heart made her hesitant, afraid of anything that might bring this interlude of simple human contact to an end.

Net yet, her heart said silently. Just a few more minutes …

Aloud, she said, “I don’ know as I want you t’ hurt nobody. Will we stay ahead of ’em if we keep movin’?”

“Perhaps,” he said with uncommon good cheer. “And if we don’t, you needn’t worry. I can chase them off now or later, ’tis all the same to me. But it occurs to me that I should properly introduce myself. I am called Tomasidin, of the Brethren of Luegtha.” And, to her complete astonishment, he courteously held out a hand to her.

She stared at that hand in silence for a full minute, unable to believe her eyes and half afraid that if she reached out her own hand, he would snatch his away. She looked searchingly into his light brown eyes, looking for mischief or mockery or anything that would tell her that he sought to make game of her. But the look she encountered was guileless, and he seemed prepared to wait a week for her to take that hand, almost as if he understood everything perfectly.

Slowly, she reached out and placed her hand in his, ready to retreat from this simple gesture at the first sign of repugnance or fear on his part. But, so far from shuddering away from her, his fingers closed around her hand in a warm, solid grip. In that instant of reveling in the touch of another person after all these years, a wave of something washed over her, overwhelmed her with knowing more than she should. Her eyes rolled back in her head and blackness rose to claim her.

The last thing she heard as she was losing consciousness was her new companion’s rapidly fading voice saying, “Dear me!”

She came back to herself suddenly, with a sound like the roar of a stiff wind in her ears. She had no way of knowing how much time had passed when her eyes snapped open again. She found herself propped against a large rock, where her companion must have placed her for he was still there, too. In fact, he was seated right by her, his own back against the same outcropping, with his ankles crossed before him, and the cat standing on his shins staring at him.

“Back with us again?” he asked solicitously when the cat alerted him to the fact that she was awake.

Rischa did not reply, merely grunting as she began to heave herself to her feet.

“Splendid,” he said, rushing to her assistance. Rischa was not used to such caring behavior, and she wasn’t sure she trusted it.

So when she got to her feet again, she stopped to look once more at her companion. “You said your name was … what? Tomasadin?”

He nodded, his expression pleasantly expectant as he waited for her to continue.

“And, if you take me to this Shae of yours, they’ll let me be?”

“Indeed, Rischa, although you have never known it, that is where your true home lies.”

There was almost nothing else he could have said to her that would have appealed to her as strongly as this. She took a deep, shuddering breath. “Then I guess we better get started.” As she turned to continued down the road, she asked, “How’d you know my name?”

She caught his grin out of the corner of her eye. “As to that, how did you know what our destination was?” he countered. “I had not mentioned it before you … er … left us.”

And that silenced her. How had she known that? Rischa had no idea. Somehow, she just knew.

They walked on together in silence, and Rischa was content to have it so. She had no questions. Every time she considered asking Tomasadin something concerning the journey they were to take together, she found she already knew the answer, which left her with nothing to say. Her escort did not seem to have any trouble keeping his trap shut, either, which made him the perfect traveling companion. And of course, the cat who trotted along between them was always welcome.

For the first time in a very long time, Rischa was almost happy.

* * *

Brandis and Brasdin, brothers in every way it is possible for men to be brothers, traveled across the desolate mountain countryside of the kingdom of Ychindacht in companionable silence. After they and their Brethren had given up trying to tease more information from Luegtha about the nature of their mission and of the people they were looking for, they had all left the tower. There, at the foot of the tower, each of them had cast forth their senses and, as Loasdin had surmised, each of them had then set forth in different directions.

Except for Brandis and Brasdin, whose senses seemed to be leading them in the same direction. They both knew they were not looking for the same person, and the possibility existed that they would still be required to separate at some point down the road but, for now, they traveled together and they were content.

In fact, they were more than content. This was the first time the twins had been alone together in decades, and they found themselves able to relax in each other’s company as they could usually only relax when each was alone. Neither Brandis nor Brasdin was inclined to mope or pine when they were required to go out into the world without the other for any reason. But this expedition, in which it seemed they were destined to work together, made the tedium of the chore worth it.

And they did expect the chore to be profoundly tedious. There was no doubt that they would easily find the persons they sought and as little question about their ability to deliver their charges unharmed to the Grand Duchy of Shae. With so little real challenge before them, they had both decided to simply endure the boredom in exchange for this rare opportunity to enjoy their singular oneness uninterrupted, for however long it lasted.

They had set out at a leisurely pace in a southwesterly direction, with the pull of their destination growing stronger with every mile. Indeed, that rapidly growing sense that those they sought were not so very far away was both encouraging and disappointing, for it seemed to indicate that it would not be long before their solitude was interrupted.

When they rose that morning and broke camp, both knew that today must be the day they would find their charges. It had not occurred to either of them that there was something odd about that. With an entire world to range, as many of their Brethren were discovering, one might have thought it could be significant that two of these chosen ones could be found in the same place. However, along with the knowledge that their quarry was very near came also a strong sense of urgency. After a hurried firstmeal, they set off at a ground-eating canter.

It was late on a grey, colorless morning when the twins rode into a grey, colorless town that seemed at first to be entirely deserted. It did not seem to be a large town, nor was it walled. The houses were made mostly of grey stone that was probably hewn from the surrounding rocky mountains, and there was very little warmth or life about the place. The twins thought perhaps the place didn’t need walls; it was probably dismal enough to ward off any unfriendly attention.

After they had ridden several streets into the village, they stopped to listen. Yes, there was the subdued roar of a crowd but neither Brasdin nor Brandis could imagine what entertainment this dreary place could offer that would command the presence of everyone in town. Still, they cast their senses forth once again and concluded that, whatever was going on, the people they sought were in attendance. As one, they turned their horses in the direction of the sounds and set off at a brisk trot.

In moments, they reached the end of one of the town’s main streets, which opened out into what must be its main square and there were at least a few hundred people there — enough, certainly, to convince them that all the townsmen could be accounted for within that crowd. In the exact center of the square, a pair of scaffolds had been erected. Two boys, obviously twins, sat, hands bound and each astride a horse, staring out at the crowd with an angry hardness in their eyes and nooses about their necks. They could not have been more than ten or twelve years old.

Off to one side on a raised dais stood a fellow of middle years speaking to the crowd. The twins did not speak the language of the people in this kingdom, so they had no idea what he was saying, but his speech seemed to be filled with uncomplimentary things about these boys. The crowd was responding enthusiastically; each time the fellow paused for breath, they filled the silence with jeers and catcalls aimed at the young captives.

The twins of Luegtha took in this astonishing scene in a single glance. They were not in the least concerned about the speaker or the crowd. Their entire attention was focused on those boys, for they saw that they had found the two they were seeking.

Brasdin and Brandis exchanged a long look and a slow grin. As one man, they both smoothly took up the longbows slung across their backs and armed them with arrows. They had only just got themselves set when everything seemed to happen at once. They fired their arrows just as the fellow on the dais gave some kind of order. Unseen men who had been waiting behind each of those beasts stepped forward and slapped their rumps just as the arrows reached their targets.

The crowd, anticipating the path of the galloping horses, had already parted to get out of the way but they had not anticipated that the horses would gallop by with the boys still on their backs. The boys, who seemed an encouragingly quick-witted pair, each gripped the pommel of the horse he rode, that being the best available hand hold to help them keep their seats, wearing identically broad grins of mischief. Brandis allowed his mount to sidle aside enough to let them pass, aware that Brasdin had turned and raced back the way they had come. Once the boys were clear, he turned to follow and the four of them galloped off with Brasdin leading the way and Brandis covering their rear.

The boys had charged through the crowd before any of the townsmen could even react. By the time they did, the four riders had disappeared. Half an hour later, the mounted party that set off in pursuit found the two horses the boys had been riding, peacefully grazing on the scrubby mountain brush just past the last few houses of town.

And that was how Brasdin and Brandis made the acquaintance of Sheloch and Sholeck.

* * *

“A word with you, good Phoebus.”

Phoebus turned away from his contemplation of the bright spring sunshine outside his sitting room window to face her Grace, the Grand Duchess Mara of Shae. He regarded her for a moment, noting the worried frown that marred her still beautiful features as it so often did. “Yes, your Grace?” he asked with a faint sigh.

The archpriest stepped away from the window and met the Duchess as she came further into the room. “Will you … can you tell me more of what passed when Daerus was in Ormaerand?” she asked him hesitantly.

Phoebus knew that was not the question she had meant to ask, but he answered her with a question of his own. “Have you not had an account from Lord Daerus himself?” he asked her.

Her frown deepened and she considered her answer. She did not notice the sly gleam in his eye but, then, the Duchess of Shae rarely did. “I … To be truthful, good Phoebus, I have no notion of what I should do!” she finally said in some exasperation. “I have no wish to pry into his affairs, of course, but I will confess that I am concerned about him. He will not speak of the Gaerud nor of the new Phoenix or even much of his sister. That is not like him.” She laid an entreating hand on his arm, adding, “You know that is not like him, Phoebus. I know something must have occurred when he was at court to have changed him so.”

Phoebus had carefully hidden his own concern from her Grace, aware as was everyone on the estate of her inclination to fret. “Do you know, your Grace,” he suggested gently, “I suspect that you can simply ask Daerus for any information you wish.”

Even in the midst of her preoccupation, her Grace could not help smiling at this mild remonstrance. “Very well, Phoebus, I will own I am a bit nervous,” she said ruefully. “I would never have thought to say such a thing of my Daerus but he is very much altered since the day he went from home. He seems so much older and more sorrowful, it pains me to see it. Yet, he will not speak of whatever it was that happened to him.” She looked away but not before Phoebus saw her eyes fill with tears. “I will own, too, that I am hurt. I would gladly offer him any comfort a mother could, if only he would share even a few of his troubles.”

Phoebus studied her averted face for a few moments before he replied. “Very well, your Grace. Although I was only at the palace for a short period of time, I think perhaps I may be able to shed some light on what is likely to be troubling Lord Daerus,” he said, inviting her to be seated with a gesture.

With that, the archpriest launched into a detached, detailed account of all that transpired at the Imperial palace from the time he himself arrived until the time he left there to return to Shae with Lord Daerus. As she listened, Lady Mara’s face grew pale and more than once during that brief recital a small sob escaped her.

When the tale was done, her Grace sat quite immobile for several minutes, trying to compose herself. “This darkness has followed him home from the capital, has it not?” she whispered, although her tone was more in the nature of a statement than a question.

“To some degree, yes,” he replied.

“And do you know why? Is my son still in danger?”

“As to that, your Grace, I cannot say with certainty,” he said calmly, “but I do not think you need be alarmed. All I can tell you is that there are yet further tasks to be completed early in this Age. Both your children are of the Chosen. Lady Dia has already earned her reward; Lord Daerus now seeks his.”

“I see,” Lady Mara said, producing a handkerchief to wipe her cheeks and nodding rapidly. She took a deep breath, expelled it explosively and visibly shook herself. “Forgive me for my vapors, dear Phoebus,” she said finally, with a brave smile.

“Of course, your Grace,” he responded with a deep bow. “I understand completely.”

Phoebus watched her fondly as she turned and left him. Lady Mara was a curious mixture, her manner combining a timorous youthfulness with a very great dignity that fairly begged for respectful guidance. That she was mother to the Shae twins seemed, at first glance, something of a marvel, for she had none of Dia’s moral boldness nor Daerus’ mental daring. Yet Phoebus could see the gentle touch of their dam in the daughter’s exquisite politeness and in the son’s unfailing gallantry.

He had spoken of Lord Daerus’ tasks with all his usual placid certainty, and yet Phoebus knew little of what those tasks were or even what was to come of them. There was a great deal about those last passages in the First Prophesy that had yet to be unraveled. Phoeday was fully employed in his study of them but Phoebus was not, for the Master had been adamant that Phoebus was to leave such work to his brother and concern himself with matters at Shae.

He did not doubt that Daerus would be needing help, even if he did not know what Daerus would be needing help with. It had been a very long time since Phoebus had had to work with so little information, and he smiled as he thought briefly of Lady Dia’s railing during the late Interval against a fate that she could not see. Yet, as uncomfortable as it was, the archpriest had no need of feigning the placid faith that let him walk this path without instruction. Phoebus was content, as always, in the service of the Phoenix.

* * *

The huge rolling voice had finally fallen silent, and Kera of Ormaer sat still and thoughtful. There were many things she might have said to Lord Septha about the tale He had just told her, and many questions she could have asked. As might have been expected, it was a story that portrayed events of such an enormity that she was having some trouble absorbing it all and, as often happens in such a case, she had focused on what might have seemed to be a minor point in the story she had heard.

“Might I ask a question, my Lord?” she said tentatively.

“What troubles thee?” He prompted her.

“Why is it that You hold the men of my world in such contempt?” It was a bold question but, again, she had come to the conclusion that there was little He could do to her to make her situation any worse than it was.

Her query was greeted with a snort of bitter laughter. “Why should I not hold thy kind in contempt?” he returned. “Puny beings without sense and without strength, to be company for such as We?”

“And why do You think You cannot seem to win back Your place in our world?” she challenged Him with the question. “It certainly cannot be because You are outmatched, Age after Age, by One who is only a demigod.”

“Speak thy meaning plainly, mortal,” said the Dark God in ominous accents.

“Why, for that matter,” she went on, growing bolder, “do you sit in this House of darkness and Chaos, Age after Age, sorrowing and lonely?”

“Did I not instruct thee to speak plainly?” He said. “I grow weary of thy philosophy and shall presently grow wroth.”

“Very well, my Lord,” she said, taking the plunge. “How do You imagine that You will earn a place in my world, if you disdain the love of the men who live there?”

She is right, you know, Septha.

Kera, startled by another Voice that was even richer and more powerful than that of her host, looked around in some confusion.

“What dost Thou want with Me, Luegtha?” said her Host in a tone of voice that was very much like a snarl. “I did not invite Thee to visit Me here.”

No, Thou didst not, the Voice cordially agreed. I but thought to seek Thee out, to discover if Thou hast had enough of this foolishness. Ten thousand years is a very long time for a temper tantrum to last.

“Temper tantrum?” repeated Septha, showing temper. “Thou wouldst dare to demean Me in Mine own House and before this mortal woman?”

Demean Thee? A God? Come, now, my brother, not even Our Father truly has the power to do such a thing.

“Very pretty talking, and yet Thou dost mock Me still.”

Nonsense, Luegtha said bracingly. I neither mock nor demean Thee, in Thine own House or elsewhere. Thou hast chosen to lessen Thyself and it is only that Thou art too proud to admit of Thine error that keeps Thee from retrieving it.

Septha’s bestial features grew bored during this speech and, when it was done, He said in a tone that matched His expression, “Hast Thou done?”

For now, Luegtha replied with unabated cheer. Take heed of Thy companion, Septha. She is far wiser than Thou may wish to credit. And then, the Presence was gone.

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