A Rise of the Runelords campaign journal that turned into a book

57. Discerned locations

Date: unknown

Somewhere in Musfens

When we got closer to Saffron’s home, I realized how peculiar it was. Each of its boarded side looked crooked, and I wondered how it remained upright. It had tiny round windows, like beaded eyes of an ogre. Moss and vines covered it at places. At the same time, it looked both old and new, and welcoming and repulsive, like a poisoned yet beautiful mushroom. I wasn’t the only one getting goosebumps only glancing at it, I saw Harsk and Alice both sensing the ominous weirdness it seemed to emanate. My first reaction was to look for signs of treachery and traps.

“Be careful, and stay silent”, Saffron warned us firmly and took a few steps on the marsh on her own. A few words left her mouth, spoken in a language I had never heard, and in response the cot opened its front door and the menacing aura that had lingered vanished. I could not help but feel relieved.

“Where are we”, I asked the witch. “In the Musfens”, she replied, already going to the door eagerly. Musfens was a massive swampland in the south of Varisia, hundred miles wide and several hundred miles long. “Where in the Musfens exactly?” I added the question.  She just looked at me over her shoulder and smiled, decisively yet friendly. Not going to tell you, she told me without saying. So you have your secrets too, I made the remark.

**

Saffron’s house, a single spacious room, was a chaotic mess that had a strange order to it. We stood on a simple earthen floor, surrounded by a deluge of furniture, bookcases, a few stools,  tiny tables, a little bunk in the corner, a kitchenette on one side. Books, potions, raw materials for alchemy were everywhere and it looked like the place had been ransacked, but of course it hadn’t. Saffron paced in, her small hands finding everything where it should be, making space for us to sit down, helping Mister Jenkins hop on a bookcase, babbling all the while. “You’d like some food of course. I imagine you’re starving”, she offered.

She was right. Out of the Runeforge and back in the material plane, the laws of reality were again enforcing their invisible rule over us. My stomach rumbled like it hadn’t been filled in a decade. I found myself trying to carry a lake in my bladder. Apparently I wasn’t the only one.

“Uhh, I need to take a leak”, Alfred groaned and turned to leave. I wordlessly followed him out. “Fifty strides from the house please”, I heard the red-head urge us.

**

We found places to rest and set our backpacks while Saffron began to fix us a meal. In a moment, a rabbit broth was bubbling in a pot and its spicy aromas filled the witch’s cot. I sat on the side of her bed and removed the skull mask, rubbed my eyes and the scars on my face. Weariness pulled at my shoulders, but the peace, or lack of immediate danger of getting killed, was strangely soothing. The smell of meat and vegetables was familiar, and for a second I was somewhere twenty years ago. I almost expected to hear my mother call us to dinner. Dûath went to sit next to Saffron and her stove and growled in anticipation and hunger. She seemed a bit unnerved by the big cat and its stare. “You’ve taught him to beg, have you”, Harsk chuckled at me, lounging on a dust-covered leather chair surrounded by towers of piled books and tomes. I shook my head. “He’s gotten used to being fed too well, I guess. Don’t worry Saffron, he won’t bite.”

The witch murmured something about turning him into a kitten if he did and returned to her cooking.

Alice, ever curious, was browsing Saffron’s wealth of odd literature. “How do we proceed?” She asked us between setting one book down and picking up a new one. “We sell this magnificent loot of course”, Alfred grinned and lazily pointed at our to the brim full bags and backpacks lying here and there. The scouring of Runeforge had indeed been a bountiful trip and we could expect to make thousands of platinum from selling all the different weapons and artifacts we had taken. And our weapons gleamed with newfound powers, something we needed to pierce the barrier that protected Karzoug’s lair from intruders. Maybe they even would help us defeat the Runelord himself. Gods knew we needed all the help we could get.

“Whatever we do, we need to go back to Magnimar first”, Harsk commented as he wiggled his hairy toes, having removed his boots and socks. Alice was nodding absentmindedly, her eyes darting across the pages of a new tome. I agreed, and kept silent. Magnimar was good. It gave us a chance to recuperate, restock and plan in relative safety.

A plan of my own had started to form in my head. Our time in Runeforge had given me new perspectives to the search of my brother, and as an experience increased its urgency. Stopping Karzoug was a mission I had drifted into, both involuntarily and by choice, but finding my brother was and always had been most important. I had to step back from the hunt for the runelord, and concentrate on what truly mattered. I was surprised to notice I hoped the others would not hinder my plans – only a few months ago I wouldn’t have cared less about others or their desires.

Saffron gave us bowls and spoons, each wildly different to the other, and shared the broth between us. We ate solemnly, mostly listening to Saffron’s chatter, Alice making friendly discussion about our travels thus far and playing the part of a courteous guest. We did not linger nor overextend our welcome, and after the meal, we thanked the witch and made to leave.

“Where do you wish to go?” Saffron asked us as we were standing outside her weird cot. “We’ll head to my friend Garnet Alexandros in Magnimar. From there, I don’t know”, Alice replied. “We have a place in Magnimar”, Alfred pointed out and winked.

Saffron was beaming eagerly, missing Alfred’s attempts at flirting and my scowling. “I would like to accompany you, just so that I’ll know where you stay and I’ll know where to travel.”

“Of course”, Alice responded, sounding like it was obvious the witch would continue with us. She wanted to find her precious tome, and it was in Xin-Shalast where we too were going. But first we had to find the city, hidden somewhere in the wide Kodar Mountains in northern Varisia. Still, by reflex, I narrowed my eyes and stared at Saffron. We hardly knew her, and even though her friendliness seemed genuine and she tried to be as approachable as possible, I trusted her little. But all I could do was to keep my distance as the others were more than willing to have her aboard.

Alice began to draw runes into the air with her fingers. The world around us flashed, and the damp, thick marsh was replaced by the familiar hub-bub of the markets of Dockway District. The salty afternoon air felt surprisingly warm for late Kuthona.

**

Garnet’s welcome was surprisingly warm as well when she spotted us approach her corner of the Dockway markets. “Where have you been!” The swindler princess exclaimed, somewhat anxiously, somewhat in joy as she saw us. She jumped off her seat, pushed aside some customers and hurriedly paced to Alice. Her embrace was bearlike. “I was worried”, she added, if only to Alice. “We were saving the world, as usual”, the pale-faced magus shrugged and chuckled.

I watched around, sniffed the air even. I could not push aside the thought that it really seemed like Spring. “What is the time  and date”, I asked the swindler princess. She looked at me like I had lost my mind but was generous enough to give an answer. “Second bell after midday, Moonday 25th of Calistril, 4708 Absalom Reckoning”, she told us, not believing we really didn’t know.

Alfred whistled, Harsk grunted and Alice shook her head. “We entered Runeforge on the last day of the year, and arrived back maybe three hours ago”, I said levelly. Almost two months had gone by as we had searched the Runeforge, even if the time there had felt like hours, days maybe to us. I added the fact to my lists of reasons to never return to the cursed place.

“Whatever, but I already thought you had gone missing”, Garnet complained,  “and left me in a quagmire with my clients! I’ve opened new markets and found so many new customers thanks to the artifacts you’ve brought, and they are begging for more!” So much for actually worrying about us, you know, as people rather than assets, I thought grimly. Alice frowned a bit. “What kind of customers?” She asked carefully, a good question given the nature and power of some of the weapons and equipment we had sold Garnet. Very bad people could be using them as we spoke, to do very bad things to good, innocent people, and Alice had come to the same conclusion. Garnet just patronizingly slapped her palm on the pale-faced magus’s shoulder and shook it a bit. “Little girl, have you ever known me to ask stupid questions when there’s good money to be made?” I saw Alice’s jaw clench just a bit, in irritation and anger. She held her gaze for a moment, but she didn’t say anything. Alice’s coming into her own, I realized. A small wedge had been driven between them. Her good nature does not accept her old friend’s actions. I found myself wondering how important this was to Alice.

Still, we had to unload our loot and Alexandros was there to help us turn it into gold and provide us with almost whatever kind of equipment we needed in exchange. Practicality was paramount, means less important than ends. As far as I was concerned, Alice could go after the artifacts and their potentially unworthy owners in her own time after we had defeated Karzoug. Saffron made her acquaintances with Garnet, and we spent the rest of the day estimating the worth of the items and doing business with the swindler princess, her catfolk boyfriend Adebisi and the horde of her other underlings.

I filled my quivers with bane arrows of different sort – giant, undead, demon, dragon, monstrous humanoid, and so on – and found a pair of boots to replace my boots of elvenkind. Similar to Alice’s, they would allow me to move and fight faster than others around me for a few precious moments every day. Boots of Speed, the magus called them. In addition, I sold my magical shirt and replaced it with a shroud, bone-white, thin and fragile to the eye, but in reality as sturdy as leather. I earned some odd looks from the others when I donned the Spectral Shroud – Harsk asked me was I having it for my own burial – but I ignored them. In Runeforge, I had had enough of invisible enemies and my inability to fight them, so when one of Garnet’s subordinates had mentioned me wearing the shroud allowed me turn incorporeal at will and to see invisible and ethereal creatures, I hadn’t even asked for its price. My black armour covered most of it and I was wearing a death’s head mask anyway, so it added little to my already generally repulsive and frightening appearance.

After a long-winded day, Saffron teleported to her hideout in the Musfens, and the rest of us retreated to Kaijitsu Manor in uptown Magnimar. I took a warm bath, cleaning the dirt of the road off me and considered my options. My brother was still out there as far as I was aware. Magical means to find him were almost exhausted – and I didn’t have the nerve to bombard Harsk with requests for new attempts to scry his mind. Doing that would make the others only more suspicious and I didn’t want that. Sitting on the wooden bath basin, I eased deeper into the warm water and relaxed, letting the back of my head lay against the side. Next to my clothes and armor, a bag of cold coins sat on the master bedroom floor. Some of my share of the loot. A thousand sails, more or less. Mere change. Ten times more than I had ever had to my name only five months ago. Time to put that to use.

**
I fixed us breakfast on the next morning at the manor. Alice seemed well-rested, as did Harsk. Alfred, unsurprisingly, was suffering from an apocalyptic hangover, but according to his own words, was able of sensible thought.

“So, Xin-Shalast”, I opened, and left the matter hang, waiting for others to say something. “What do we know of the place”, Harsk queried while searching for crumbs of honeyed bread from his beard with his stubby fingers. “The ancient capital of Xhalast, domain of Karzoug. Now lost, rumoured to be somewhere in the Kodar Mountains. A mountain called Mhar-Massif stands next to the city, and its peak is covered by an occlusion field. Within is Karzoug’s lair”, Alice began, listing things from the top of her mind with apparent ease.

“Full of giants, outsiders, dragons, lamias and Karzoug”, I added – possible enemies we’d find –  facts that had any real meaning to me. “And Saffron’s book is in a library in Xin-Shalast”, Alfred pointed out and burped.

“And we have absolutely no idea how to get there?” I asked, and was met with silence. “Given time, I could come up with a solution with Saffron”, Alice noted defensively after a moment. “I have no doubt you could”, I told her frankly, “but in the mean time I think any one of us isn’t in a particular hurry to get there?” Harsk shrugged, his armour clinging in the process. “I need to go and oversee the rebuild in Sandpoint and to check on the children.” Alfred was nodding in agreement. “I want to see what kind of mess they’ve made of the Rusty Dragon.” The sellsword’s eyes lit up. “And I want to commission my new plate.”

“Indeed”, Harsk commented, “during our quest, Master Eamon has kindly delivered us the adamantium we agreed upon.” Alfred was already rubbing his hands together in anticipation. I imagined I could commission a hundred or so adamantium arrowheads to supplement my selection of bane arrows, and stored the idea for later discussion with the dwarf. “Good. So we’re staying here for a few weeks?” I concluded with the question. “It seems so”, Harsk voiced. “Every day we wait gives Karzoug time to prepare”, Alice warned us, her eyes narrowed. “He’s been hiding for ten thousand years. I think we can spare a handful of weeks”, I told her, trying to feel certain myself.

**

We left to manage our personal affairs after breaking our fast. I headed back out to the Dockway districts to find a suitable armorsmith. My panther too required better protection, so I ordered him an armor forged of mithral, like mine, metal sturdy enough to stop arrows and glancing blows from blades, but still light enough not to hinder his movements.

On my way out of the armorsmith’s shop, I almost bumped into  Garnet. “Ugly!” She called me in a way of greeting. “Alexandros”, I responded wearily. She went past me, in a hurry, but stopped after a few paces. “Oh, I almost forgot. Some folks have been asking around about you and where they could find you.” I turned my head, shot her a look. She was mischievously smiling, narrow-eyed. “Nasty looking bunch of mercenaries, armed to the teeth, bad news sort of people. I wonder why such men are after you?” She was evidently enjoying sharing me the news and trying to give me the creeps. I was unfazed. So House Horryn was still after me, after seven years, after so many failed attempts. I should’ve known that their bountyhunters would eventually find me here in Magnimar, just like the one assassin we had faced months ago had.

“I can’t say, after all I’m such a nice, innocuous person”, I told her. She snorted. “They came from Sandpoint”, she added and immediately I felt a pang of something I had hardly ever felt before – worry about others than my brother, namely Ameiko and Shayliss. Had they ran into the man-hunters? Heads would roll if anything happened to them. I looked away, clenching my jaw. Someday, I would have to stop running and do something about House Horryn. Garnet’s voice brought me back from my thoughts. “Well, just so you’d know. Don’t get hurt, sweetling”, she chuckled, being ingratiating, and slapped my arse. I tensed in surprise, turned to tell her to fuck off but she was already on her way.

**

I searched for a general store, and after finding one, purchased ten parchments of equal size. Then I replaced my skull mask and marched to the other, more shadier side of Dockway District and from a whim, walked into a tavern called Happy Sailor. It was early morning, so business was light. The innkeep was alone, going through his wares behind a counter. All in all, a very typical small inn. Perfect for my needs.

I walked up to the counter, ordered an ale and placed the empty parchments before me. Then I pulled my pencil and a bottle of ink, and began to write on the first parchment. I wrote the same text ten times.

Several bounty hunters sought
Job: Find a missing person, low risk, pays well
Interested? Come hear more at the Happy Sailor
6th bell after midday, 3rd of Pharast, Sunday

It was ironic that a group of bounty hunters was on my tail, and here I was, calling for their services. But such was life. I slid the uppermost piece of paper across the table to the innkeep. “Would you be willing to keep this where people can see it for a few days?” I asked him. He stared at me, suspicious of what a cloaked and hooded person wearing a death’s head was doing in his tavern asking him to hang a poster up his wall. “Sure”, he eventually replied, “but for a price.” It was anticipated. His jaw almost dropped to the floor when I flipped him a platinum coin. “If anyone asks about the job, tell them it really pays well”, I told him soberly and made my exit, leaving the ale untouched.

I paid less in nine other taverns, brothels and inns around the Dockways I knew were frequented by mercenaries and bounty hunters and after distributing my job advertisements, returned to Kaijitsu Manor. It was five days to 3rd of Pharast. Easily enough to attract the required amount of interest. I briefly considered warning others about the possibility that a group of hostile people could show up and attack us, but decided otherwise when I heard their plans. Harsk and Alfred were both leaving for Sandpoint during the same evening, and Alice seldomly bunked in the manor – not at all now that I was her only company. Saffron showed up to say hi, and as an act of kindness gave me and Alfred some potions. I would not have accepted them but Alfred had drank her stuff before in Runeforge, and her potions turned his skin into nigh-impenetrable iron and made his will stronger, so I decided to trust her this time and filled my bandoliers with her magical brews.

Days began to pass as I waited, spending my time training with Dûath and reading what I could about demons and giants in the Pathfinder Society, learning anything that could give me an edge in combat with them. I started to become quite the expert in identifying them and understanding their weaknesses, particularly those of giants, of which there were more texts available. My days and nights went past uninterrupted.

Finally, 3rd of Pharast arrived. As the fifth bell of the day sounded, I donned my skull’s head mask and pulled my hood over my head before walking across Magnimar to the Happy Sailor.

The place was packed with customers. I worried first if I’d find a table for myself and anyone wanting to know more of my job, but I quickly noted a group of people sitting around a corner table. None of them spoke, and they evaded each other’s eyes. One or two had drinks with them. Those must be my people, then, I realized and approached the table.

“You all came for the job”, I asked after clearing my throat. All heads, two women, four men, one of them a dwarf, other an elf, turned to me. Instinctively my hands tensed and I almost went to the pommels of my gladii, but I resisted the urge.

 “Yup”, a bearded man, a barrel for a chest, replied and spat tobacco to the floor. Next to him sat a blond woman, her hair tied to a tight bun, and she rolled her eyes discreetly at Spitter. Under my mask I smiled.

“Good”, I said and gestured a young man, a boy really, who sat closest to me, to get up and give me his chair. Luckily, I was intimidating enough so that the meeting began without a cock size comparison. “Girl, six pints”, I made my order to a passing bar maid, and sat down.

The job seekers were a mixed bunch. Even though a big man, Spitter looked like a washed out, softer version of Alfred and he kept staring at me suspiciously. Blondie seemed cool and confident. The dwarf, older than Harsk I imagined, was calmly smoking a pipe and looking at me with mild interest, while the elf was handling a knife with a serrated blade, trying to look tough. The young boy was well equipped, wearing brand new leather armor, but seemed out of place. The sixth applicant, a dark-skinned Mwangi woman, looked bored, yet wore marks of experience – cuts, tattoos and badges of honor.  I decided to go straight to business.

“My employer is looking for a young half-elf in Varisia”, I began and pulled a rolled parchment from a pocket, “and requires the services of bounty hunters to explore several cities. This is not a man hunt – no violence is required – rather, my employer is looking for solid clues, and if possible, facts about the man’s immediate whereabouts. If he could be contacted and brought back to Magnimar voluntarily, that would be even better – as would be the payment to whoever brought the man back.” It was strange giving a mission brief for the first time. I had heard one a few times before of course, but sitting there, upfront payments and instructions at the ready, telling others what to do, was weird. But somehow, the words came out easily. I had never thought myself as an employer or master of any people.

“Who’s the employer”, Blondie asked, as if reading my thoughts. “You can call him Dark Moon”, I replied simply, having anticipated the question, a nickname my brother should immediately recognize. Instead of letting them continue with questions, I opened the rolled parchment and spread it to the table in front of me. It was a list of names. Riddleport, Roderic’s Cove, Palin’s Cove & Veldraine, Janderhoff, Kaer Maga, Urglin. Cities around Varisia. Most of them nasty places, places where one could lay low, disappear even.

“I know the standard fee for such work with questionable risk levels is five silver shields per day. My employer, in the hopes of attracting your interest, is willing to double that. He will pay you upfront 50 gold sails, to cover a few weeks of work and travel costs. When you return and present your findings, he will pay you another 50 gold sails. For a clue about where the man has been or where he is, that you can support with evidence, he will pay an extra 100. If you meet the man, and convince him to write a message to Dark Moon where he addresses him with his real name, or bring him back, my employer will pay you an extra of 250 gold sails.” The dwarf chuckled, and by then I had the Mwangi’s full attention. I had everyone’s attention. The money I was offering was very good.

The Mwangi woman’s voice was a damaged rasp. “What if we found him, but he’s not willing to come, or attacks us even for approaching him with your business?” A fair question. “That’s improbable”, I lied. I wasn’t sure.

“How can you know?” She asked, narrowing her eyes. “He has no reason to do so”, I told her. That’s what I hoped.

“What’s the catch”, Spitter said, and spat on the floor. I turned to him. “There’s no catch. My employer wants quick results and is willing to pay for them. I reiterate, no violence is required. Risks are low. This is a fact-finding mission. However if you accept and I see you back here within a week, demanding your latter half of the payment, or if I believe you have not actually visited the place you’ve chosen”, I explained coolly and pointed to the list of cities, “I’ll gut you myself and leave you to die.”

“That’s all nice”, Blondie commented, “but I for one would like to see that the gold you speak of really exists.” Again, I smiled. I liked Blondie. It was new, as I generally didn’t like people. “I take it you’re in?” I asked her, unable to mask the smile from my tone. “I’m interested“, she corrected and flashed a grin with perfect teeth in return. I reached to one of the pockets in my bandolier and threw her a tiny pouch with contents that clinked. She grabbed it in mid air and opened it. “About fifty gold sails”, she told the others and nodded to me.

“And with good luck you’ll make 150 or 300 more. Just by sailing or riding a bit, keeping your ears and eyes open and asking questions.” I put new papers to the table. The pictures of myself but without the scarring and with a silvery hair I had commissioned from the artist. Two names were written under each drawing. “Here is the man. He goes by the name of Macharius, or he could be using another name, Belon Greymarsh.” Saying my brother’s full, real name sent shivers down my back, and it felt the earth itself had shifted beneath me as if the name was a command for it to act. Blondie took one copy of the drawing and examined it. “Handsome”, she said off-hand, but I didn’t know if she meant it. “I’ll pick Riddleport”, she continued, and pocketed the pouch of gold I had given her.

“I’ll be here, waiting for your arrival and reports, every Sunday evening from the sixth bell to the eight”, I informed her as the ales arrived to the table. “How about you?” I asked the others. In reply there were five nods, some pleased, some wary. This is actually going somewhere, I thought, feeling relieved.

**

All of the bounty hunters took the gold I offered and selected a city they’d search. The dwarf was quick to choose Janderhoff, a historic dwarven city near the Mindspin mountains. He mentioned he had acquaintences there he could use. The knife-toting elf picked Palin’s Grove and Veldraine, two small towns near Korvosa. The mwangi woman left for the anarchic city of Kaer Maga, while Spitter headed out to Roderic’s Cove. I would’ve liked the boy with the new gear to pick Roderic’s, but he was too slow. Or too foolhardy and brave. He was left with Urglin. Based on the little I knew of the town, the orcs there would eat him alive. He was the last to leave, and I pulled him aside, reminding him that this was just a fact-finding mission. He nodded, and told me he could handle himself, even though I would’ve bet he had never fought for his life. For my gold’s sake, I wished I was wrong.

Three weeks passed. I didn’t bother to visit Happy Sailor on the Sundays, as none of the bounty hunters wouldn’t been able to travel to and from their target cities and spent enough time with their ears against the ground. So I kept training, reading about the monsters I wanted to learn to kill and waited. Then, Harsk arrived from Sandpoint. I made an off-hand question about Shayliss and Ameiko, and the god-touched confirmed that they were alright which was a relief. The rebuilding of the town had progressed admirably over the winter, and Rusty Dragon was again serving customers. Harsk had even brought some of the first batch of new beers from his and Gaven Deverin’s brewery, which too was operational again. With some pride, the cleric of Iomedae explained me their future plans of expanding the business to Magnimar.

“There’s something else”, Harsk said thoughtfully. We were lounging in the manor’s library room, as was our custom, and I was scratching Dûath behind his ears. “What?”

“I consulted the clerics at the Cathedral, and I’ve possibly found a new way to search for your brother. My brows shot up in surprise and my stomach did a back flip. “What do you mean?” I asked Harsk, my voice barely a whisper.

Harsk stroke his beard in serious contemplation. “There is a spell called discern location, a very powerful spell that requires considerable will, talent and the blessing of a god to work.” My laugh was empty. “I have all those sitting in front of me. Don’t be coy, Harsk.”

“I’m not coy”, Harsk harrumphed. “The magic and willpower required is barely within my skills and abilities. But I wanted you to know a possibility to know exactly where your brother is now exists.”

“If you can, Harsk, I would ask of you to try. What would the magic need to work, platinum, diamonds?”

“Nothing like that. But I would need something that Macharius carried with him. Something he had, something that belonged to him.” I cursed my luck. “I don’t have anything of his.. wait.” An idea emerged, and I pulled up my right sleeve, showing the god-touched the back of my arm. The burned seal of House Horryn, the mark of our slavery. “My brother has this, branded by the same iron, right after mine.”

Harsk walked up to me, took my arm, turned it around. “This might work. Sit absolutely still, this might take some time. ” Still holding my arm, his thumb was on the mark, and he closed his eyes. A steady murmur of a prayer flowed from his lips. I wasn’t breathing, and I tried to calm myself. Harsk’s prayer went on and on, and I could not believe he remembered all the right words. Minutes passed. Sweat began to appear on the dwarf’s brow but he kept going, word after word, his grip of my arm never faltering. Five minutes passed. Then ten.

Harsk opened his eyes and immediately, we heard a woman’s low voice come from everywhere and nowhere, a secret whispered to one’s ear. “Belon of Greymarsh.. Xin-Shalast.. Varisia..” And then it was gone.

I jumped up, tearing my arm free in the process. Harsk wiped sweat off his face. “What the nine hells”, was all I could say. The dwarf just sighed and shook his head. “It is true, my friend.”

Why would he be there? It can’t be. At the heart of evil. Sitting on a golden throne in the empire of greed, unbound, unguarded. Dark thoughts began to materialize, even darker possibilities. Potential answers to the question why. I refused to believe any of them. He is a prisoner, and I will save him. Or I would bring him back to the fold. He was still my blood. I chose to wear that resoluteness like an armor. Or else I’d go mad.

I should’ve been distressed, but I remembered something, and let out a laugh. Harsk looked at me, puzzled. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing”, I replied, still smiling. I had just wasted at least six hundred gold sails. I didn’t give a damn.

TO NEXT CHAPTER

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