49. Barracks of Xin
26th of Kuthona – Wealday – 96th day in Varisia
“Don’t tell me you let the dragon escape“, Alfred mocked me after they had returned to the bottom of the pit and I had told them what I had seen.
“I chose the wisest course of action”, I said simply between frost-torn, bleeding lips, trying not to shake too much from the cold. I ignored his playful commentary and general ruffling of feathers. He just guffawed and imitated a clucking chicken. I was not wrong in my guess I’d hear of this later, many times. It did not matter. They knew nothing of my true motives. Harsk might had guessed, and he did not say one word about my choice. Alice kept her amused smirk but did not join the banter. She was however interested to know exactly how the dragon had vanished, and I reiterated what I had witnessed – the monster had spread its wings and literally fallen through the cave floor. Hearing this, Alice frowned and concluded it had stepped through dimensions.
I did as the white dragon and scoured the pile of treasures for healing potions. What the potions did not heal, Harsk did and within moments we were again free of the bone-deep frostbites and the mortal wounds we had suffered. For a moment I trembled like a leaf in the wind as the heat of my body returned. But it felt good – like I had regained full control of my body again, or at least those parts that had went beyond numbness to near necrosis.
I was still sensing the dragon, but there were seven different tunnels leading out of the open space with the pillars. Gods knew how labyrinthine they were and how far they led. Hunting the dragon would’ve been an arduous task, wounded or not, and we had given our all in the initial, if brief fight. Our spell-casters had burned their powers considerably and needed time to rest and recoup. Despite his bluster even Alfred was hardly keen on pursuing the beast.
We did however try, and entered two tunnels in random, finding nothing of interest – empty storage rooms and barracks that looked like they had been vacant for centuries if longer. There was no sign of the dragon. It was wholly possible we had walked past it and not noticed it, if it had chosen to shroud itself with a spell of invisibility.
Tired and strung out, we decided not to go through each of the tunnels but find another solution. Turning to the peacock quill did not help, and Harsk even meditated for a moment, going as far as to ask her goddess for guidance. Even she was not forthcoming – her loyal follower would have to find his own way.
While he was having a chat with the heavens, the rest of us went through the dragon’s hoard, hoping that would attract the beast’s interest. It didn’t. We took every platinum, gold and most of the silver it had amassed, bagloads of jewels, and all the magic items. Realizing we could not carry it all and out of spite, we left it with only the coppers and some of the silver.
Our ‘afternoon adventure’ had kept us so long that night had fallen outside, and we had again missed our opportunity to activate the seven runelord statues. So instead Alice opened us a door to Magnimar and we left the mountain, again, if not empty-handed.
27th of Kuthona – Oathday – 97th day in Varisia
The next morning, we carried our loot to the Dockway District. Garnet Alexandros, as ever, was eager to help us unload our riches. We restocked our gear with the gold sails we got from selling the loot. I bought a lot of different bane arrows, especially of the dragon sort. We still had to defeat it somehow, so any advantage would be useful. I made a mental note to throw some dice and to visit the Pathfinder Society to ask around if there was anyone who would know about the “most legendary, mythic white dragon of all of Varisia” as Alfred had put it so eloquently. Probably not, but the Society, contrary to my initial beliefs, had proven not to be utterly useless and full of fat, old know-it-alls who didn’t.
After the morning in the Dockways, we withdrew to our base at Kaijitsu Manor to take stock of our situation and contemplate our next action.
We gathered to the large study/reading hall in the main floor. The room’s sides were covered in paintings and bookcases, and at its center stood a low table. Around it were six cushioned chairs. The men were seated, Duath lying at my feet, drowsing. Alice chose to stand. She was idly browsing the books, as was her way.
“You really need to clean this place up”, she said and lifter her index finger. She had swiped it on one of the bookcases and it was covered in dust. I snorted.
Harsk was more serious. “It might be courteous to organize some housekeeping and maintenance on behalf of Ameiko, since she lets us use her family’s estates.”
“We have saved her life twice”, I said, my elbows on hand-rests, my fingers clasped together before me. I might have agreed with the sentiment of the god-touched but felt it appropriate to remind the dwarf she kind of still owed us. Harsk looked at me, uncertain if I was kidding or being serious but said nothing.
Alfred had a mug of ale on his hand and was lounging as comfortably as he could on his chair. “So, what’s next? We return to slay the dragon and continue our search for the Runeforge?” He asked us and took a swig.
The cleric and the magus exchanged glances. “We had a look at the flaming longsword we had picked up from the dragon’s hoard earlier today”, Harsk began, turning back to me and Alfred, “As you know I’ve already grown quite the fancy for it. We call it Flame Tongue. Such a beautiful piece of metal and magic craft, a gift from my lady if you may.” Harsk had the sword in a scabbard, and the scabbard was on the low table between us. He let his fingers sweep along its length, almost in a caress.
“But Alice believes she can improve its enchantments even further”, he said finally.
The sellsword guffawed. “Oh, so you’ve learned new things in the School, eh”, he asked the magus. She just confidently smiled at him.
I had taken a few dragon slaying arrows, even more potent than their dragon-bane counterparts, from the loot – something to help us in the eventual re-match against the guardian of the mountain, but having a powerful flame-bursting and shooting sword in Harsk’s competent hands when the battle was met anew was very intriguing.
But I knew already working magics on weapons was not easy nor quick. “I imagine you suggest us to wait until the longsword is ready to be battle-proven. How long would you need to finish the enchantments?” I voiced the question frankly, flexing my fingers.
“A full week”, Harsk replied in her stead. Alfred harrumphed. “A week of twirling our thumbs?”
Alice cleared her throat. She had an idea. “There is the mission. My mission. The one you overheard me and Garnet discuss a while back.”
This piqued Alfred’s interest and he turned to sneer at the magus. Gods, I sighed, another afternoon adventure. “What about it”, Alfred asked her.
“We could take care of that while I work.” I shot her a doubtful stare. “I mean, it’s not like I have to spend the entire day with the sword”, she hurried to elaborate, “a few hours each day is enough. We can still do other things in the mean time. Profitable, interesting things.”
With the promise of gold, the simple sellsword was sold. Harsk was nodding. I imagine as a righteous person he wanted to return the favor and help Alice in her mission. That left me. I guess they all expected me to be against the suggestion.
Instead I sighed my concession. “Well, as long as there is something for us in it too.”
As it turned out, there wasn’t.
Alice rolled out the old yet detailed map she had been given by the swindler princess Alexandros. Our destination was not far away, as Churlwood forest was located only a few days’ ride from Magnimar. We had crossed the spider-infested woods when we had pursued the giants who had attacked Sandpoint, so the place was not unfamiliar to me. It wasn’t for Alice either, which helped us immensely, since it meant we could simply teleport there. A day’s trip in total, Alfred concluded, after considering the time saved with magical transportation.
The pale-faced magus took us to Wolf’s Ear, the small town with the werewolf loon. We did not make our presence known but continued north-west immediately upon arrival. What had been a black-green woods was now covered in thick white.
I lead the way, quickly spotting the abnormal, long-legged nightmares of Churlwood staring with their all-too-many eyes at us as we walked deeper into the forest. They kept their distance for some reason, shuffling in the snowdrift, and so did we. It was impossible to say if they were afraid of us and the power we radiated, or if they simply were curious about us and interested to see where we were going. To be honest, I was not that interested.
The way was very difficult with heavy snow and thick woods making our progress a crawl but we pushed forward. With the map and my compass and skills as guides, we ultimately had little trouble finding our destination. We practically walked straight to it from Wolf’s Ear.
After five or so hours of trekking we came to an opening and found yet another stone monument – a very familiar layout with seven round stones circling an altar that slightly stood from the ground. Swiping the stones of snow revealed that each had a rune of sin carved to its side. Somehow I wasn’t surprised.
“What then”, Harsk asked the magus. She was standing at the center of the monument, reading a scroll. “I need to say a loud a spell”, she replied and gestured us closer to her. Then she read the words. “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” She used Thassilonian, which I did not understand, but Harsk translated.
Hearing Alice, the runestones stirred like digging beetles and colours shot out of them, first connecting two-three stones in a burst of light, then four, five, six and finally all seven. We evaded the rays instinctively but they were harmless. Every colour imaginable flickered in the rays, before each reached the other side of the spectrum – pure white – and then the portal opened.
My stomach lurched but we did not fall. Not at least physically. In a blink we relocated from a white clearing to somewhere pitch black, and my eyes took a moment to adjust. Dûath growled in irritation as he always did after magical transportation. We were in a large circular room. Above us the space opened to a dome but there were no windows. It felt like another underground dungeon, but a quick glance at my compass and the madly spinning needle hinted at the possibility that we had moved to another plane altogether.
Alice cast light unto Alfred’s shield and Harsk unto his own, their combined radiance revealing our surroundings to the pure-blood humans.
“Stairs leading down”, Alfred noted at once and started towards them, eager to earn his pay, Harsk right behind the sellsword. Alice stayed behind, gazing at our surroundings with keen interest. There were tell-tale signs of combat in the walls and on the stairs, so I unshouldered the Carmine Avenger and prepared for anything.
Stone doors lined the circling stairs, and I had a look through with my gloves of reconnaissance. Behind, a mummified dead corpse leaned back, kept upright by I don’t know what.
“Corpses”, I informed economically. “Charming”, Alice commented as briefly. “Stay sharp”, Alfred told us from the point. Then he ripped open one of the stone doors, for reasons I could not fathom. Most likely he was looking for gold and other buried treasures.
I caught a glimpse of the mummy within stirring and reanimating to undead life the second Alfred’s shield light fell upon it. Alfred snorted and slashed once with the axe, a powerful strike that shred the creature’s chest. It did not go down. This left the sellsword speechless.
“Alfred, to your left”, I commanded the fighter and he stepped sideways, leaving me with a clear line of sight. Three arrows in quick succession burrowed into the undead, burning it from within and it crashed into a heap of grey-brown tissue, bones and dirty linens.
One by one, we heard stone doors cracking open to our front and back.
“You woke them all up”, I cursed the sellsword between my teeth but he paid no heed. “To battle!” Alfred shouted in glee and lifted his black, double-bladed axe.
A minute later the circling staircase was littered with burned, arrow-filled and dismembered mummies. The ones with heads and faces still remaining howled soundlessly at us, black orbs for eyes truly dead.
“That was enjoyable”, the sellsword panted and guffawed at the same time. Alice was examining the bodies, while Harsk was lost in prayer, mumbling reverently, his eyes still glowing pure white through closed eyelids. He had expended a considerable amount of Iomedae’s energies, pummeling the evil undead creatures with his holy wrath and white-flaming smites. Harsk had his moments when he was truly scary. Like when he was summoning a pillar of holy fire that erupted undead creatures and turned them into cinder and less. Thankfully he was mindful when unleashing his powers – his party members all did not have good, lawful hearts like he did that were invulnerable to such energies.
Certain that all the undead guardians had been disposed of, we continued further into the bowels of the ancient structure. A hundred or so feet deeper we came across a rupture in the wall, a cave really. The staircase continued further down but we decided to investigate the cave first. It lead to a wide iron door that was covered in Thassilonian texts and runes. I looked through with my fingerless gloves. What I saw amused me but I merely signaled clear and let Alfred open the doors and lead us in.
“Pay day!” He yelled happily when he saw what awaited us within. The room was a small chapel of sorts, with a smooth stone altar in the middle, and on it the largest ruby I had ever seen, standing on a golden holder that seemed to grow from the altar like a plant. Alfred took a step forward, his free hand extending to grab the rock, but he paused at the last second.
“This is too easy”, he grumbled, looking around, suddenly wary. There was text on the holder, which Harsk translated. “Stop at nothing until you have everything”, he said, careful with each word, his command of the language not as fluent as Alice’s. My suspicions arose. The words urged greed and everything smelled of Karzoug. Was this another trap? For a moment I considered the smirking, deviant swindler princess, somehow an agent of the runelord, but pushed the thought away. Gullible or not, I did not believe Garnet would throw her friend, or long-time partner anyway, to the wolves like this. Risk was always involved when working with Alexandros but she did not seem malevolent.
Alfred was unwilling to touch the huge ruby, so I passed him and leaned over, examining the holder from a foot or so away. I could not see any mechanisms, nothing giving away a trap. Alice could not identify any magical traps either, and she tried to lift the rock with her mage hand powers without touching it herself. She could barely make it move, it was so heavy.
Alfred groaned, his eyes greedily gazing at the red beauty of a jewel, but his hand stayed by the possibility of mortal danger. Harsk was standing back, arms crossed. He was beyond this, I imagined.
“Oh well”, I sighed and my hand flashed like a striking viper, snatching the ruby. I almost lost my grip – the damned rock weighed more than five pounds! – and grunted, making Alfred flinch and take a step back. But nothing really happened. Content, I opened my magical backpack and stuffed our well-earned reward inside.
“Do you have any idea what we’re after here”, Harsk asked Alice when we left the small chapel room. “Besides an immeasurably valuable ruby, that is”, Alfred added with a big grin. The pale-faced magus shrugged. “I don’t know really, and neither does Garnet. She just got a hold of the map and asked me to investigate. She thinks this place holds great treasures.”
“And we three are the added security”, I grunted, following the swindler princess’s trail of logic and why she had sent her here once it was clear we would travel with her. Dûath growled beside me, empathetic to my displeasure of being used so.
We returned to the circling staircase and descended further. At the bottom a dark tunnel awaited us like a yawning mouth ready to devour us. We entered with care, but found no resistance. Instead, we emerged into a large, cavern. It was clearly mined sometime in the past – there was a mound at its center, and raw veins of metals gleamed in various fissures opened by pick-axes. I leaped down to the mound and knelled to examine the metals. Another surprise.
“This is adamantium, if I’m not mistaken”, I frowned and lifted one heavy, dense chunk for others to see. Harsk walked over and nodded, his expertise on mining and metals beyond mine. “Any sense in taking this with us, can we have enough of the star metal from one stone”, I asked the dwarf. His eyes browsed the mound. “We’d need ten to a hundred times more to have enough for a suit of armor. But take one as a sample. We would be wise to show this to someone who knows more about mining.”
My eyes caught one particularly shiny and heavy rock, but Harsk urged me to take one in random, that way it would represent the mine more accurately. I selected one, and then we heard shouting.
Alfred and Alice had become bored and continued, taking some old wooden stairs to a worker’s house that had been built to the side of the cavern. Something was wrong inside. We exchanged glances with the god-touched and ran after them.
The vacant building was indeed a social space for the long-gone miners, stuffed with tables and chairs scattered all over. I rushed past them, jumping over a few fallen wooden stools. The backdoor of the house opened to another cavern, and within were two strange monstrosities waiting for us: things akin to scorpions but made of human skulls, and the size of small cows. Alfred had already engaged, and Alice was blasting away with spears of fire when I barged through the half-open door. The closest monster to Alfred got two rapid arrows through its bone hide, but it endured and seized the sellsword tightly with its clamps. His armor groaned and complained as they squeezed together, trying to crush apart the man in armor like an eggshell. Alfred had his arms free and roared defiantly through the pain before hammering once with his axe. It found a weak spot and cleaved both of the clamps off the scorpion’s torso, making it screetch hideously and perish instantly. The sellsword fell on his arse, helpless and shaken, and was losing considerable amount of his blood. The other bone scorpion, clanking its clamps and shaking its tail stinger, sensed the fighter’s plight and moved in to the kill over the writhing corpse of its brother-creature.
Alfred vainly tried to raise his shield, but the beast was lightning quick. The stinger struck him once on his arm and made the man cry out. Beside me I felt Alice drawing her powers for another go, and I too took aim, but it was the god-touched who saved the sellsword. Last to the fight, even with his increased speed, Harsk thundered to the tunnel past us. Again, he did not fail to surprise us. He had the golden relic sword in his hand as he charged, bellowing a battlecry for his goddess, and let the sword fly like it was a dagger.
I admit I was baffled enough not to shoot my bow. My eyes tracked the impromptu throwing weapon as it flew.
The sword circled in the air, gleaming, and perfectly struck the bone scorpion straight between its multiple, hideous, black eyes. A holy sword sticking from its head, it was as amazed as we were, and Harsk’s antics robbed it of all momentum. Alice became a blur, and in an instant, had crossed the tunnel. Lightning flashed and the scorpion died for good.
The bone monstrosities had been guarding the end of the tunnel and the two doors at either side. Going randomly, we opened the left one first, and walked into a chamber that held nothing but a massive active portal. A way out? A path to another dimension, or a plane? We did not know, and chose not to investigate. Instead, we turned and tried the other door. It was jammed, perhaps from non-use, or for a reason, but our combined strength forced it open. Within was an empty tunnel covered in stone tiles from ceiling to floor, and another door. If the tunnel was ascetic it is bareness and simplicity, the room beyond it was the opposite. Alfred gasped as he saw the ruby-decorated carpet, wove from threads of red silk and pure gold, covering the room. It was furnished as a lobby – something even more eloquent and stately waited beyond a doubledoor etched with gold and silver. The rune of greed covered the doors like a warning.
Taking it all in, my blood froze like a stream during first chills of winter.
There is a red carpet on the floor, and rubies are sewn to it.
That was how Harsk had described the throne room in which my brother had sat like a bored royal. I pushed past Alfred, each step harder than the last, but I willed myself to the doubledoors and touched them with my palms.
I’m seeing a man, lounging on a extravagantly decorated golden throne.. surrounded by riches, gold, gems, rubies. He is in a throne room. I can’t make out any windows. Gods, I have not seen so rich decoration in my life.
I shivered in a mixture of emotions. Within was a room made of solid gold. The red-gold carpet made a path to the other side, where stood a lone throne. There was someone sitting on the throne but I could not see who.
I gasped and let go of the door. Panic, excitement, anticipation, sheer terror all engulfed me, vying for supremacy. Could this be the place where my brother awaits? Was it Macharius behind this door? I could not move, nor think straight. “What’s in there that’s so shocking”, behind me the moustached sellsword asked me bluntly, quite understandably wondering what the nine hells was wrong with me.
“A throne room made of gold. With someone sitting on the throne”, I forced the words out, my voice coarse, not turning to face them.
Harsk immediately put together the same pieces I had. “Don’t you want this?” He asked softly. I imagine Alice and Alfred exchanged curious glances.
“I’m.. I’m not sure. I have a bad feeling about this..” I whispered. I didn’t know what I wanted. Month ago I would have rushed the door to see if my brother was within. But now, after hearing what the god-touched had seen, the peculiarities, the strangeness of him.. they had seeded a doubt that threatened to drown my singular desire to find my lost brother. After all these years, was it this moment I would be reunited with my twin? Would he welcome me with open arms and love, or was he changed, and would he cast me aside, deny me for some unseen, mad reason?
He is already lost, something weak said in the back of my head.
Alfred paced to me and being the impatient thrillseeker he is, pushed the doors open. I tried to say something but the words died before they could leave my lips. His shield-light blanketed the room, but the man – it was a man – sitting on the throne had a hood on and I could not see his face.
I realized he could not see mine either, and lifted the death’s head mask off, revealing my face in full. Then I uttered a name I had not spoken aloud in seven years. A true name, one of two when used would prove the unbreakable link between two brothers who had nothing but each other in the world.
Time seemed to stop. But it didn’t. It felt so thanks to the silence that was not broken. The man on the throne did not respond. It didn’t even move an inch.
Alfred slowly turned to me. “What are you talking about?” He asked with a frown, my strange behaviour having an unnerving effect on him too.
Something was wrong, I realized. The figure’s lack of response was telling. My dread began to recede like a wave crashing back to the ocean, and was replaced with cold calculation and my normal suspicion. I didn’t even notice it as I slid the metal mask back on. Alfred took this as his cue and carefully walked twenty feet to the throne.
“It’s a skeleton. A dead man”, he said aloud and poked the figure gently with his axe. The head of the skeleton stirred and came loose, rolling over the red-gold carpet all the way to my feet. Then the rest of the skeleton crashed into a heap.
There is no golden two-handed sword here, I told myself as I knelled to examine the skull, and this is a pure-blooded man’s skull, I concluded. This was not my brother. With that thought the rest of my anxiety was drained out. Harsk paced next to me, keeping his eyes on the surroundings. He seemed to read my thoughts. “There is not as much decoration and valuables here as in my vision”, he said silently so only I could hear. I rose to my feet. “Still”, I whispered, “a very strange coincidence.” That made him nod and stroke his beard in contemplation.
Harsk wanted answers, like we all, and took the skull to his hand and connected the jawbone. Then he cast a simple if powerful spell, drawing the power of Iomedae to discourse with the dead. Using Common at first, but to no reply, he tried Thassilonian. The skull clacked and spoke in a whisper of dust in the wind.
We learned the man had been called Ornitier and he had been the commander of this place – Barracks of Xin. There had been, or still were, others like these, each with similar throne rooms – fact that made my skin crawl – and they had all been under the authority of the Runelord of Greed himself. The portal we had come across was a way back to the Material Plane. And finally, before returning to the land of the dead, the spirit uttered the reason why he had perished here. He had lost contact with his Master.
We took any valuables Ornitier had been carrying in his life. Particularly interesting were a eight foot long Maul of Titans which Harsk identified, and a burnished, extraordinary piece of armor Alice recognized as Celestial Armor – a powerful chainmail so light one could wear it under one’s shirt. She was of course awfully keen on using it, and as I, Alfred or Harsk all were happy with our current pieces of armor, we let her.
The Barracks of Xin had been fully explored, and new questions, both regarding our mission and my personal agenda, had arisen. With matters concluded, we returned to the portal chamber, and through it, to Golarion and the snow-covered Churlwood. From the circle of stones, Alice teleported us straight to Magnimar and the Dockways.
It was late afternoon and the market was all hustle and bustle, but we spotted the swindler princess quickly enough. Alice had informed Garnet of our trip but she was still mildly surprised to see us so returning so quickly. She handed some silver coins to a pair of poor street orphans and told them to come back later before turning to us fully.
“So, back already? What did you find?” She asked, smirking confidently like she always did. I pushed aside the feeling of irritation. There was something in the young woman that got under my skin in the wrong way. I was about to get another handful of that effect.
“This”, Alice said, showing off her new piece of armor in a surprisingly womanly way, clearly very pleased and proud. Garnet ooh-ed. Women, I thought.
Alice’s unnaturally feminine behaviour made me consider the way Alice looked at her charismatic mentor. There was admiration in there, even a hint of idolization perhaps. Something more even, an old infatuation? A shadow of a longing crushed by the fact that it-could-never-be? I didn’t know whether the pale-faced magus preferred women or men. It was something we never discussed, not unsurprisingly to the least.
“And this”, Alfred showed her the Maul of Titans and brought me back from my thoughts.
“Nothing else?” The swindler princess continued after a moment of silence, a slight frown appearing. Alice turned to me, urged me to show what we had found and I sighed before pulling out the huge ruby from my backpack. With that I could hear gold sails starting to ching behind Garnet’s eyes like a child’s plaything.
The ruby was in my hand and I made a clear gesture by gripping it tighter when Garnet pulled closer to examine it. Finally, she sighed, trying to look uninterested. “Disappointed?” Alfred asked from the back. “No no”, she muttered. “It will do. I paid a good price for this.”
I narrowed my eyes. “You haven’t paid anything for it yet“, I said coldly. She met my hard gaze with her own, but added the confident smirk. “I paid for the maps you used to find that ruby.”
“And we took the risk to retrieve it. I say you pay the normal price for it, half of what you’d sell it for to your dimwit clients.”
She just laughed. “What?” I asked, the wildfire inside me blazing momentarily through my cold exterior, and the Carmine Avenger on my back reacting similarly. “This is fair. You’ll earn thousands, if not tens of thousands, for the few gold sails you paid for the maps.”
She shook her head, still smiling. “Tell you what. Alice, you can keep the armor you found as your finder’s fee. I’ll take the rest. I consider them mine as the map is mine.”
I was struck wordless by her insolence. With my mouth agape, I turned to Harsk and Alfred. “You are fine with this”, I asked, lacing every word with as much bafflement and contained anger as I could manage. Alfred shrugged, unsure. Harsk was acting meek. Perhaps he didn’t want to anger the swindler princess for the fear she’d close the markets to us with her prestige and connections. Then I turned to Alice. “And you consider this fair to us all?” She suddenly found something very interesting at the tip of her boots. I growled.
I came very, very close to pulling my gladii and stabbing Garnet Alexandros to death, despite the consequences. The only thing staying my hand was the cold calculation and examination of the effort we had made to retrieve the ruby and the equipment, which was limited. There had been nothing truly life-threatening. Still, the unfairness ached me like a hot iron against bare skin. And Garnet knew nothing what had happened in the Barracks of Xin. But again, I was alone in my fight, surrounded by sheep who submitted to anything the bastard Garnet said.
I clenched my teeth and threw the ruby to the swindler princess, who narrowly caught it, looking at me venomously, but said nothing.
Then I turned on my heels and started to pace away, shouldering Alfred off my way and only stopping at Alice’s side. “You owe us”, I sternly told her, stabbing her chest with my finger and left the gullible fools before I exploded completely.