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1
New Releases / Drive part 3 added, 5/4/22
« Last post by Daen on May 04, 2022, 09:17:30 PM »
Drive part 3 added, 5/4/22
2
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 3: Foreign Interest
« Last post by Daen on May 04, 2022, 09:16:44 PM »
It was about eighteen hours later, while Moss was working on one of his designs, that an enzyme package appeared on the soil just outside his trunk.

He wasn't even aware of it at first. It was just suddenly there! He focused on the area with what few oscilli were in position, and caught a glimpse of something flying away into the night. From its size and speed, it had to be one of the juns.

Curiously, he had Prudence retrieve the package and hook it up. A message flooded through his mind, in the same tone he'd heard earlier that day. "Greetings, belhiera'torkalm'oss. I was hoping for the chance to speak to you in private, after our brief interaction this morning. To expedite matters, I have placed a communication line from myself to the network, separate from the rest. I will reconnect myself to them after we are done, but for now it will just be you and me. Assuming you're interested, of course. I look forward to hearing from you."

Lord Prajanko had built his own communication line? That took serious effort. No doubt his juns had been at it all day. Whatever he wanted, it was important.

Moss tossed the question around in his mind for a while. He still knew so little about the trejuns, despite his rabid early research into them. This might be a valuable opportunity to understand them better. On the other hand, Prajanko was a Lord. The title itself denoted superiority and authority: both things Moss had trained himself to avoid like the blight.

Before the founding of the Continental Union, there had been ceaseless wars across Bura. Groves had conquered or exterminated each other without thought or hesitation. All communication networks were built for military use only, and any treqars who refused to donate their qars to military service were punished harshly and publicly. During those days some treqars had taken up titles like Lord, or Sovereign, or Daimyo, or Shah. They were all just different words for the same concept: people who lorded themselves over others.

The Chancellor of the Union was elected, unlike the leaders in the old days. Each Grovekeeper from each grove on Bura had a vote, and the opportunity to cast it every fifty years.

These trejuns were obviously different. They were still warlike, having firebombed four groves, for Core's sake! Even if they had been sorely provoked. They still had Lords, as evidenced by this strangely intent one reaching out to him. The Consensus that ruled over Trejuna did seem a lot like the Union, though. Maybe the titles were just hereditary, and had no real power. Hesitantly, Moss connected to the private network and waited.

Again, Prajanko's presence blasted through the thought-space like a shining light. It was muted compared to before though. Moss thought that maybe he wasn't showing off anymore, now that he had an audience of only one. "I'm gratified you chose to join me, belhiera'torkalm'oss. May I call you Moss? Your friend said that's what you're known as."

Moss realized he'd let out some frustration. Rane and his big roots. He never did know when to shut up. "Of course," he responded tightly.

"And you may call me Ter. When we're in private only, of course. I have an image to maintain, whether I enjoy that or not." His tone suggested that he didn't. "At any rate, I have something to show you."

It was a little unusual to be in a conversation with just two presences; something which Moss hadn't experienced since his seedling days. Suddenly another presence appeared, startling him. It wasn't really a person though, upon further inspection. It was a memory.

"Take a look," Ter invited.

Moss had tried assembling memories for others to inspect before. Unlike the ones sent to him about the ocean, or Nuq's detailed designs, they'd been crude by comparison. Grove Praska was small and rural, with little exposure to the outside world. He had very little to work with.

This one was much more elaborate. Moss could see a grove in a foreign land. The nearby trees were strange-looking and shorter, but thicker at the base. Even the soil was a different color. The trejuns he could see in this depiction were all much bigger than Ter, growing in concentric circles out from a specific point. "This is your home?"

Ter sent out an affirmative, and Moss gave the memory another look. The image was stationary, but he could make out thousands, or perhaps millions, of juns flying around. A colony of that size must be almost impossible to maintain! Every trejun in the grove must be dedicated to keeping its hives alive.

The memory shifted, and this time it looked like the images he'd seen back in anatomy class. "This one is from my textbooks as a seedling," Ter explained softly. "Look at the center."

It was a cross-section of a trejun. An elder trejun by the looks of it. Inside was the hive structure maintaining the juns. Sure enough the queen was linked to the taproot: melded right into the wood as if they were one. The trejun didn't just feed her like he fed Grace and the other qars. It was her! His 'cousins' from across the sea had a truly symbiotic relationship with their juns.

Moss withdrew from the memory, considering. Qars lived only a fraction of the time that treqars did. Was the same true for juns? "What.. happens to you trejuns if your queen dies?"

"Well, not every trejun has a queen. Only about one in twenty are deemed strong enough or wise enough for melding. But once it's done, the two are linked permanently. Neither can survive without the other. The queen is well fed and protected inside the bark of her trejun. In the rare event that she dies from some illness or malady, so does her protector. Before you ask," Ter put in with a burst of amusement, "melded trejuns can live over two hundred years. We pass some of our longevity on to the queen."

That had been what he was about to ask. Moss gave a start of surprise at the rest, though. "You're melded?" He asked stupidly. Then he had to restrain his own chagrin from getting out. Of course Ter was melded. How else could he have flown here?

"I am," the other responded easily.

"Why.. are you telling me all of this?" Moss wondered aloud. Granted, it would probably become public knowledge in another few years, if relations between the Consensus and the Union continued like they had so far. Still, he had no idea why he merited such information before anyone else.

"Because you're different than the others in grove Praska. I sensed it the moment we met. If you had to articulate how you're different, what would you say?"

Moss thought back to their first meeting. Ter had said he had a 'hungry mind'. Well, that was true enough. "I isolate myself from the others, on purpose. I stay disconnected from the network even at night, so that I'm alone with my thoughts."

"Because you know that if you're constantly exposed to messages from them, even those you call friends, you'll end up being just like them?"

Moss couldn't keep in all of his surprise. "Yes. That's it, exactly! If I want to be unique- if I want to be me, I have to limit the influence others have on me. I have to be careful to talk with them, but not let them talk through me."

Ter flooded the thought-space with confidence and assurance. "That's an attitude common in Trejuna. Most young trejuns only stay connected for an hour or so a day. More than you obviously, but less than anyone else here." He paused, apparently thinking. "It's also an attitude common to thinkers. Scientists, artists, builders, jun-breeders and trainers. Basically any profession that doesn't require you to be under the constant scrutiny of others. So tell me," he asked with a burst of interest. "Which are you? What do you ponder with all of that alone time you have?"

Moss felt a kinship with this person, strange though he was. Ter did seem to understand him better than anyone except perhaps Noq. And Noq lived so far away that real-time communication with him was impossible. All the same, Moss couldn't risk telling Ter the truth. Not only was he afraid of looking foolish in front of this well-educated and articulate individual, Moss wasn't sure his designs were even worth his time. Besides, Ter was a public official from a foreign state. He had to answer to the Consensus, and was no doubt sending regular reports back to them.

"Toolmaking," Moss said, thinking quickly. It was a plausible interest, given how he had designed at least a few devices for Grace and the others. "For my qars I mean. The synthetic roots used to extend our networks are hard to make and maintain. Gathering the raw materials takes time and effort for qars, and I wanted to make it easier on them." He summoned an image of one of his minor inventions. "This is a cutting tool I made for some of my stronger qars. It lets them dig into the ground more easily, so they can accomplish their tasks quicker." The metal and glass had actually been for his earlier projects, but it made for a good excuse.

Ter let out some understanding. "I knew it had to be something special. I don't mean to belittle your people, but scientific interest, even when it comes to building such tools, seems to be a low priority in grove Praska. In other Union groves I've visited as well. That's why I take special notice of people like you. You should have been planted in Trejuna, as far as I'm concerned."

"What's it like there? What kind of discoveries have you made?" He was much more curious than before, Moss realized. Perhaps that was what Ter wanted. He'd successfully engaged one of the 'locals' and gained his interest. Like any ambassador would.

"My memory showed you what it looks like, but there's much more than that. My grove, Brekos, is right next to the sea. Our juns are bred to handle much stronger winds and rain than the rest. My own queen Etheria can handle much more humid environments than the rest. That's why we were among those chosen to cross the ocean after relations with your Union started. If you thought that my landing was impressive, imagine what flying across that much poison water would take!"

Moss had already done so. Earlier he had envisioned the tens of thousands of juns necessary to keep Ter aloft in the air. The trip would have taken days even over the shortest gap of water. No doubt Ter had been forced to rotate his juns in and out of the hive, and save up a massive supply of nutrients before the trip, to keep them all fed and rested. Moss thought back to the memory he'd gotten of that coastal grove. He imagined the waves beating against each other, the water choppy and tumultuous underneath the flying Lord.

"In some ways, treqars are superior to us," Ter went on thoughtfully. "You have at least twenty times our population. You're stronger, taller, and generally healthier, even without melding with your qars. And they're tougher than the juns by a big margin."

"You can fly!" Moss put in with frustration, trying to will Ter to see how much better he had it. "That kind of mobility is the pinnacle right there, whether you see it or not."

"Maybe you're right," Ter said more seriously. "Still, there are other differences. We have an interroot like yours, but we'd never even heard of radios until we made contact with you. Like your qars, we studied those very closely after we established relations. We bought five qar queens and two radios as soon as we could."

That was a surprise. Somehow he'd imagined that they were more advanced in every way than his people. "We only developed radios because of our old wars. They were built in desperation and a fear for survival. You develop new things all the time, and it's not because you're in danger!" Then he remembered. They had also used combustion on their enemies, firebombing groves from far above. Not all trejuns were benevolent scientific gods, it seemed. "Speaking of those qars you bought, were you able to start any colonies on your side of the ocean?"

Ter sent out a negative. "Something in your environment here keeps them alive much better than back home. I'm afraid our queens didn't last long. Still, it was a worthwhile experiment. At least we can use your radios. Last I heard, we're close to building some of our own."

"I'd like to visit Trejuna someday," Moss said idly, thinking about that image he'd seen of Ter's grove. "I think you're right- I'd fit in a lot better there. I'd have to learn how to tend juns instead of qars, but I'm a quick study."

He felt a trace of sadness from Ter. "I'm afraid that won't be possible."

"Why not? I'm lighter than you are, and I can even shed weight if necessary. Besides, I'm not talking about today. I mean anytime in the future." Shedding weight was a harrowing thought- leaving branches, leaves and roots behind. As long as the central cluster of roots stayed intact, he would survive, but the experience would no doubt be traumatic.

For some reason Ter hesitated. "Maybe you're right. It's something to look into, anyway."

They went on for hours, comparing details about their respective homes. Slowly, Moss realized he was feeling more and more respect for this individual. He could be open with the foreigner, at least about everything he knew was public knowledge. No doubt the ambassador had to keep things back as well, but he shared what he could quite freely.

Unlike his people, apparently. It seemed that Trejuna's inter-grove communication was strictly regulated. They could talk to each other within each grove, but messages between groves were for official or scientific business only. A very reasonable measure in Moss' opinion. He only wished the Union was smart enough to do something like that here. Maybe then, gossip and social bickering might be less important to the average treqar than actually using their gifts to make life better for everyone.

Also, those rumors about a better interroot had been thanks to the Consensus! They had apparently discovered the way to make interroot communications instant, and shared that with the Union. It figured that the Chancellor and her staff claimed the discovery had been local. Typical political thinking.

Ter offered to share some enzyme techniques for bonding metal to wood (he still believed that Moss was only a toolmaker), and Moss gratefully accepted. Even if he didn't use them for their intended purpose, Noq would be fascinated. He stored the information in his own root system for now; he'd go over it more thoroughly later on.

When he finally disconnected to get a little rest, his mind was spinning with all the ideas and novelties he'd experienced. There was one strange thing when his qars got back, though. Grace and Strength had been inspecting the connection between Moss and Ter for any signs of damage, and they'd noticed something unusual. Ter's roots hadn't expanded into the hole dug for him.

It was possible the dignitary wasn't used to the odd soil here, or didn't feel comfortable branching out until the grove was more used to him. Putting it out of his mind, Moss settled down to look at the new designs.
3
New Releases / Drive part 2 added, 4/20/22
« Last post by Daen on April 20, 2022, 05:02:28 AM »
Drive part 2 added, 4/20/22
4
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 2: Meeting the Ambassador
« Last post by Daen on April 20, 2022, 04:06:20 AM »
Corerise came slowly, as if luxuriating in the morning ritual. Warm nourishment seeped down from the Core and struck the ground, the nearby stream, and the grove. All treqars reacted the same way, Moss included. The Core was warmth, strength, and life. It didn't matter if a treqar was just a seedling or too old to even care about the process: they all felt the same rush of euphoria as their god reached down from above to touch them.

Not that Moss believed in those old tales. The Core may have created them, or maybe not, but it certainly wasn't alive. His ancestors had also believed that the Great Freeze was a punishment brought on by their faithlessness and heresy, but Moss knew better. The oldest books from that time had been compiled before the interroot, and were therefore fragmentary and unreliable. Still, most of them mentioned a large-scale earthquake that had happened a few days before the weather had turned cold. The prevailing theory among Noq and his fellow thinkers was that it had come from the Void. Something, a very large thing apparently, had fallen from the Void and struck the ground in the mountains to the far northeast. It had caused the quake, and as a result triggered the Great Freeze.

Moss had tried to figure out where this thing had hit, but given the shoddy nature of recordkeeping that long ago, hadn't had much luck. Perhaps one day, if Noq's dreams were realized and treqars finally gained real mobility, they would find it. Maybe if Moss contributed, he might be there himself.

The idea of mobility got him thinking about their guest's imminent arrival again. He and Noq were trying so hard to attain something that their visitor had known and experienced since seedhood. It seemed unfair, somehow.

Grace and the others were waking up again, and getting ready for their daily tasks. Mites had infested one of his branches again, so Moss instructed her and four others to climb up there and begin clearing them out. After they'd had breakfast, of course.

He had read studies about mammals in the wild, and how they nursed their young. In a way, Moss supposed that was what he was doing for his qars. He consciously redirected fluid to various locations in the underground chamber they called home, and they drank from his roots until they were satisfied. Older treqars could redirect more nutrients and support larger colonies, but Moss didn't see the point. More qars often meant more problems.

The Core was rising in the sky, and it was almost time. Bracing his mind, Moss ordered Strength and Solidarity to reconnect him to the network, just as he had done last night with his father. The noise immediately blasted over him: dozens of treqar minds each yammering and chattering at each other. They didn't notice him join up, but the cacophony of souls was still unending, as waves of salt water slowly eating away at a stone cliff.

Moss had never actually experienced an ocean, but one of his friends to the far west had been kind enough to send him an enzyme recording. He still remembered the regular pattern of 'waves' as his friend called them, hitting the ground.

Suddenly he was aware of a 'smaller' presence within the network. It wasn't muted like last night, but the signature was familiar and friendly. It was chor'haraneth'qil, or Rane. One of his childhood friends, Rane was timid and soft-spoken most times, which was probably why they'd gotten along so well. He didn't speak as much as they did from preference, and Rane didn't from timidity. "How have you been?" The slightly younger treqar asked.

Moss sent out a chemical signifying ambivalence through the network. "So-so. I did have some exciting news last night. My work is going to get a boost in a season or so. Looks like all my efforts are finally paying off."

Rane sent out a dash of congratulations. "Good for you. When that happens, will you finally be ready to actually tell us what you've been working on?"

"Maybe," Moss responded wryly. "If it works and I become rich and famous, I'll be sure to mention all the little people I surpassed during my journey."

"Oh, I feel honored already."

Conversation through the local network was usually like this. People paired off or went into small groups to chat privately. If another person's chemical signature wandered too close, the group would become aware. Then they would either welcome the newcomer or stop conversing until they were private again. Praska was a pretty open, small grove, so the former was more likely than the latter.

He and Rane kept up small-talk for a while, before Jora eventually spoke up. As the Grovekeeper, she was listened to universally, and all the other conversations died down immediately. "I just got a message from grove Yaath. The delegate is only minutes away!"

As one, the whole grove turned its attention upwards. All they could hear at first was the usual whistle of wind, the articulated digits of their own qars, or the slight groaning of their bark expanding or contracting. Then, eventually, they could hear buzzing.

It grew louder over time, but it was just sound waves. It didn't bother Moss nearly as much as the raucous noise inside the network. Then a shadow passed over the grove and every treqar focused on the source.

Whatever it was, the object moving above them was massive! It was easily as tall as Jora herself, and at least as wide. The massive hum of beating wings accompanied it as swarms of juns, probably several hundred thousand of them, coordinated to bring their visitor down to the ground!

To his side, Rane was in a hushed awe, which Moss noted with some amusement. Unlike his neighbors, Moss had done research on their visitor and what he represented. He wasn't just an ambassador from another grove- he was a representative of an entirely different way of life!

Trejuns had developed on an isolated island on the far side of the world. They had been spared the Freeze because of that isolation, and had only started reaching out to the world again recently. Or his definition of recently anyway. Over two hundred years ago, these jun insects had been noticed flying over the western seaboard of Bura, this world's largest continent. No one had known what they were, or whether or not they were a threat. Then the first trejun had flown in, carried by swarms of juns just like what was happening now. Her name had been Mors- unlike treqars, her people didn't have ancestry and accomplishments woven into their names.

Mors had been just a sapling really, but news of her arrival had spread like a wildfire. In a way, that news was also as devastating as said wildfire. Many groves had reacted with fear and confusion, which quickly mutated into hatred and a desire for violence. This group didn't rely on qars at all! Instead.. they could fly!

It was an unwieldy process, as evidenced by this one's landing. The ground had been dug out for weeks in preparation for their guest, but even so, the juns were a bit off in their placement. Their guest had to instruct them to alter his position a little before dismissing them. Once he had thumped to the ground, the vast majority of the swarm buzzed off in the direction they had come. The remainder flew into the body of their guest, into a hive structure similar in function to the cave underneath Moss. At least they had that much in common.

Two of Jora's own qars were waiting at the landing site. To their credit, they had only flinched a little when the trejun set down, holding their ground against the rush of dust and debris kicked up. Now they followed their orders and connected the new arrival's roots to the network.

The flare of the trejun's presence was blinding! He shone through the local network like a beacon, cowing all who looked at him for the first few seconds. Even Moss, whose curiosity and awe were tempered by research, felt a desire to show subservience to this being. He imagined qars bowing their heads in respect.

Then the surprise had worn off at least a little. Chemical consciousnesses began to flood around their visitor, but Jora ordered them all back. A little harshly, in Moss' opinion. She extended a chemical greeting. "In the name of grove Praska, I welcome you, Ambassador. I am parjo'ratt'lanka, Grovekeeper of this community. I'm called Jora."

"I'm Lord Ter Prajanko, of the Trejun Consensus. It's an honor to be in your presence, Lady Grovekeeper." The response was soft in tone, though Moss could see a slight awkwardness in the Ambassador's branches and roots. Even as they started to burrow into the ground.

His words seemed to awe the crowd as much as his arrival had. Some of the younger saplings approached again, and this time Jora didn't hold them back. He greeted them formally as well, referring to them as Lords and Ladies just like had before. Moss felt encouraged at that. Oftentimes it was best to see how a stranger interacted with children in order to get their true measure.

But of course this guy would put his best persona forward. Like Moss' father, he was a public figure.

"Is it true they went to war with grove Whitefoam?" Rane asked Moss anxiously, in a private conversation. "I heard the trejuns unleashed Combustors on them!"

"Not Whitefoam, but some of the others. And they didn't strike first," Moss said carefully. This was part of his research, and like his hidden work alongside Noq, had taken some effort to uncover. "Do you remember from our history lessons, how the first trejun to arrive was called Mors? When she first arrived, she established a grove on this side of the ocean. It was more of a trading post than anything else, and eventually more trejuns were flown in one after another. They said they wanted to acclimate us to their presence. I suppose I might have done the same in their place. Some of the northern groves objected though. They claimed it was a foreign invasion, and declared war on the 'interlopers'."

Rane let out a signal of disbelief. "The Union attacked them?"

"No, those groves never joined the Continental Union, so the Chancellor had no authority to stop them. They sent three thousand qars to attack the new grove, and they weren't interested in taking prisoners. Mors and fourteen other trejuns were killed, and the grove was razed to the ground. I suspect the northerners didn't really care about foreigners at all. They just wanted the resources that had been collected at that trading post."

"How do you know all this?" Rane's question was equal parts amazement and indignation. "I haven't heard anything about any sneak attack or dead trejuns."

Moss watched the Ambassador slowly greet his way through the assembled crowd. If his geniality was an act, he was keeping it up fairly well. "Because I actually paid attention in history class," he said with mild reproval at his friend. "But I also looked it up myself and asked my friend in grove Ursun. They were right next to the front line, so I trust their account more than any official statement from the Union."

He let out some resignation. "The trejuns struck back. With Combustors, like you heard in rumors. Juns flew over all four groves and dropped a flammable liquid on them. Over two hundred treqars died in fire. Nothing but ash remained."

Rane stayed in silent shock. Hearing a rumor was one thing, but hearing it confirmed was another. All treqars lived in fear of fire. It was the one force within nature that could kill a treqar instantly. Even girdling an enemy treqar, which was considered to be torture, still took seasons or years to eliminate the enemy. That was why Combustors were a most potent- and the most controversial- kind of people. If you were deviant enough to dabble in combustibles, you had to be ready to sacrifice your place in civilized life to it.

That was part of what made refined metals so rare, too. Sending qars to mine ore was one thing, but purifying it required fire! Some particularly hot fire, too. It was one of the main reasons he and Noq were keeping their communications secret.

Suddenly the Ambassador was in front of them! Metaphorically speaking anyway; Moss must have lost track of him thinking about the horrors of flame. After he greeted them, Rane responded nervously. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Lord, uh, Ambassador, sir. I- I was just wondering.. what is it like to fly? I'm sure you've got all sorts of stories you could tell-"

"And there will be time enough for all of them," Ter Prajanko responded gravely, cutting Rane off. He focused on Moss briefly, and again Moss felt that urge to show subservience. It was simply the Ambassador's force of will, he supposed. He commanded attention and obedience from sheer habit.

"You're different, aren't you?" The Ambassador asked briefly, as Moss tried to hold back any signs of nervousness and treat him with a kind of distant courtesy. He wasn't sure how successful he'd been though. "You have a hungry mind, young one. I can tell."

"I try, sir," Moss answered as diplomatically as he could. He felt like a qar under a microscope: a preserved insect being examined before vivisection.

"Oh you have no idea," Rane put in excitedly. "He's always got some idea or other he's working on. He's even got friends over in-" He cut off as Moss sent him a sharp dose of warning.

"I'm sure you don't want to hear about my insignificant life, sir," Moss filled the silence, roiling inwardly. He loved his friend, but Rane could be a true idiot at times. "Let me introduce you to my father. He's a skilled speaker, and avid admirer of your people and you in particular. This way, please."

He directed the Ambassador's attention away from Rane, and the older trejun allowed it with some noticeable amusement. "You covered that well, young man. Perhaps we'll speak again soon."

Moss sincerely hoped not, but he claimed otherwise. The old guy was making his bark crawl right now. He gave a socially appropriate introduction to his father, and then politely excused himself.

"Hey," another presence practically bumped into him as he distanced himself from the earlier conversation. It was Tressa, another of his childhood friends. "You haven't been on the network in a long time. I've been worried about you."

Trying to hide his discomfort was becoming more and more difficult. "I've been keeping busy," he evaded carefully. "I appreciate your concern, but it's unnecessary. Besides if I'm ever in trouble, it's quite easy to reconnect and ask for help."

"That only works if you know you need help, though," she said slyly, letting out more than a little interest. "What if you need help and you can't admit it even to yourself?"

"Then I have greater problems than just being insular, don't I?"

Moss spent the next half hour trying to find a diplomatic way to excuse himself. Some young treqars set for themselves the goal of not contributing to the grove so much as latching onto the most promising person they could find and holding on for dear life. Rane had been like that once, but now Tressa was the acknowledged master of fortune hunting. She'd identified him as an easy access point to his father, and now she was going in for the kill.

When he was finally able to disconnect and return to blissful silence, Moss was so tense that Fortitude started an unprompted massage session for the underground roots. Gratefully, Moss dismissed them back to their original tasks. He could relax now, at least.

An overbearing, intrusive father. An idealistic, sometimes foolish friend. A highly aggressive would-be paramour. Didn't he have enough problems already without adding an enigmatic, most likely powerhungry foreign dignitary to the mix? Moss resolved to keep away from Lord Prajanko, despite his curiosity.
5
New Releases / Audiobook issues 4/18/22
« Last post by Daen on April 18, 2022, 09:09:10 PM »
Hey, all.
So I got an email from Dropbox, saying I went over the size limit for my audiobooks. Since I'm a cheapskate and don't want to pay for the extra storage, I'll be reworking it so each audiobook has a separate link (and Dropbox account), for the future.

Unfortunately that means I only have Threads part 1 available for now. Hopefully I can make the changes quickly, and by tomorrow I'll be back in 'business'.

Hope you're all doing well,
Daen
6
Drive (ongoing story) / Part 1: Intro to Moss and his father
« Last post by Daen on April 15, 2022, 03:06:05 AM »
Grove Praska was quiet tonight. A slight breeze made its way past the assembled trees, as the night air carried the distant noise of insects chirping. The recent rains made the soil heavy, as if the ground itself was feeling a sleep-induced weight as well.

Most of his friends and family found the time after Coredown to be unnerving, but Moss didn't. They were all perfectly safe, despite the lack of reassuring heat and light coming from above. His ancestors believed that the Core had made a covenant with the Void, and that they traded places ruling over the world every day. That was just superstition, though. He might not know the exact details, but this Core/Void cycle was part of nature, and he'd come to trust it. Moss pulled his attention away from his work briefly to enjoy the chirping noise.

Moss lived a good distance away from the grove, intentionally. For as long as he could remember he'd been different than his fellow grove members. They reveled in each others' company. He'd participated in their antics as much as was required, but when left to his own devices he'd always ended up on his own.

Of course none of them were ever truly on their own. Everyone had dozens or hundreds of qars with them at all times. Moss' own nest was small- only fifty or so- but he tended to them carefully. He didn't value qars as much as his siblings did, but at least his own didn't bombard him with their own conversation at all times. The advantage to being one of those large insects was that they weren't sentient. They were just draft animals: useful as beasts of burden, communicators, and at times warriors. Even so, the ones who slept beneath him did so fitfully. One of his older qars named Grace stirred in her sleep, and he sent an enzyme down through his roots to calm her. It seeped into the air in the underground chamber, reinforcing their sleep cycle. Another repeating event that was a part of the natural world, despite ancient superstitions saying otherwise.

Moss was a treqar- the only race of intelligent creatures on Tarn. Grove Praska was home to twenty-eight treqars including him, and it was one of dozens of groves across this province, and thousands across the continent. In the distant past the groves had been isolated from one another, sessile and passive like the other trees on Tarn. They had adapted during the Great Freeze, forming a symbiotic relationship with the qars, and surviving while other species had been wiped out by the extreme cold.

That had been the big awakening for his kind. The Freeze forced treqars to send their seeds far afield, to warmer southern climates. That migration caused them to eventually meet each other. For the first time, treqars had encountered other groves. Each had its own perspective, values, religion, and goals. Moss' ancestors had been particularly acquisitive, desiring more and more territory. Thus began the wars.

He didn't like thinking about that. To this day various groves had disputes with one another, but most lived in at least tentative harmony. Qars were no longer bred for warfare so much as treekeeping duties. His own nest had slightly different training than the others, but that had been a conscious choice on his part.

A dozen or so were coming back now, he could sense. They carried sacks filled with sticks and adhesives gathered from the outside forest. Some of his kin might take issue with him harvesting from other plants, but he didn't see any problems. They were lesser lifeforms, and his to do with as he pleased. If they were sentient, they'd object.

He 'listened' to the chemical report given by Fortitude, and then dismissed him and his squad down below to get some rest. He made sure to increase the pheromonal content in the air so that they could go to sleep quickly. He woke up another squad to continue Fortitude's work.

Qars in the wild had once been a much different society. They had their own queens and built colonies on their own, driven by the pursuit of food and space to grow. They didn't sleep for hours, as tame ones did, but for minutes instead. Moss had never encountered a wild qar, or heard from anyone who had. They were thought to be extinct- killed off during the Freeze or entirely absorbed into treqar society.

So much of treqar life depended on them! Even Moss, who viewed them only as tolerable pets, needed them to continue his experiments and build his designs. Their strange sensory bundles, named 'eyes' in his schooling, allowed them to see where they were going as they moved in and around his root system, and then climbed up his bark to perform maintenance. He had no eyes of his own, but hundreds of oscilli in his leaves and branches allowed him to 'see' in every direction at once. Still, he imagined it would be nice to be able to use directional sight to explore new surroundings like his pets could. He'd want a longer range than them, though. Qars would get lost very easily if they didn't leave chemical trails behind them.

He was suddenly aware of another qar approaching from the north. It carried an enzyme package. Given how late it was, the package wasn't likely from any other groves. As he watched, the qar carefully placed its burden down outside his roots before turning around and heading home. Another advantage the modern qars had over their ancient ancestors was intelligence. Problem solving was difficult for them, but they could follow moderately complicated instructions faithfully. Curiously, Moss dispatched a qar to pick it up and bring it back to him.

Once it was attached to his roots, a message flooded through his synapses. It was his father's unique tone. "I would like to speak with you, son. Now, if you please."

Each treqar had a special signature to their messages, which was almost impossible to fake. Not that anyone had any reason to forge this message anyway. Everyone in grove Praska knew that he didn't get along with his family. He was just too different, and they were just too... traditional.

Regretfully, Moss instructed two qars to connect one of his taproots to the network of artificial conduits leading back to the grove. Through that, messages could be transferred without the use of qar couriers. It had changed the very nature of treqar existence.

In the ancient past, before qars had become a part of their society, Moss' ancestors could only interact through their roots. They had grown towards each other purposefully, and eventually connected so that they could communicate. Over time, with help from the qars, they had learned how to manufacture artificial roots, allowing for communication over a greater distance.

Such a network allowed a grove as a whole to interact with other groves. Over the past three hundred years, it had become an interroot connecting all the groves on this continent. One treqar, an immense distance away, could have an idea. If they transmitted that idea through the interroot, it could be available in grove Praska in a matter of hours. It wasn't as fast as radios of course, but only a handful of treqars even had a radio. They were hard to build and maintain, and only used by some Grovekeepers and high-level officials within the Union.

Rumor had it that Union scientists had recently perfected a new kind of enzymatic conduit. From what Moss had heard, they were being installed to replace the current artificial root system, and they were much more efficient. Soon the interroot would be able to carry messages in milliseconds instead of hours. Moss was torn between giddy anticipation as to how quickly he could learn from such a system, and terror at being exposed to that many individual thoughts at once. He was introverted by nature, and the idea of sharing ideas literally at the speed of thought was a bit overwhelming.

Once his pets were done, Moss tapped into the local network. His father's signature was there of course, glowing and pulsating with its own energy. The others were all muted, resting and waiting for the Corerise. When it came, no doubt the noise would become overwhelming again.

This was how enzymatic communication always worked. It was like a virtual environment. Through it, Moss could perceive people who were physically on the other side of the grove, and interact with them as if they were physically touching.

"What do you want, father?" He transmitted the enzymes into the network hesitantly. It was a delicate balance, trying to keep his ego in check. He didn't want to offend the old codger, but it was early. He was entitled to a little attitude.

"I wanted to remind you about tomorrow morning, belhiera'torkalm'oss," he used Moss' full name stiffly. "Your entire initiate class will be witnessing the arrival of our guest. I'm sure it would mean a lot to your siblings as well if you were connected when it happens." Moss 'twitched' with surprise, various enzymes and pheromones losing containment briefly. He'd forgotten about the arrival! How many days had been working on his project anyway?

The thought of staying connected through the arrival ceremony was a root-twisting one. The whole grove would be awake, bombarding him with their messages and thoughts and fears. They didn't see it that way of course, but that was the truth of it.

Grace had woken up, and was nuzzling one of his roots curiously. Others were approaching consciousness as well. That was his fault: his loss of control had disrupted their environment. He hurriedly set things back to normal and sent a chemical instruction to Grace herself. "It's all right, little one. Go back to sleep."

He realized his father was still waiting, and let him stay that way for a few more minutes. He had always been a fast thinker by comparison to his peers, so he doubted his father would even notice. He took the time to try and phrase his response diplomatically. "I'll stay for the perception and greeting, but then I'll disconnect again," he offered in an attempt for compromise.

"Of course. You should know that some of your classmates have been asking after you though. Tressa and Daplan even felt concerned when they reached out. You should stay at least long enough to let them know you're fine."

There it was. His father's not-so-subtle attempt to entice him back into the group.

Moss had studied qar behavior over the years, and read through the assembled enzyme texts on the subject. When grove Praska had first been connected to the interroot, Moss had been just a seedling, but he'd been fascinated. He'd spent hours connected, as treqars all over the Union were interacting, sharing ideas, and making their texts available for anyone to read. It took time and effort to arrange enzymes into a set narrative fashion, but once done so, they could be simply duplicated and then examined later in private. Those stories about history (and fantasy), physics (and metaphysics), geology, tectonics, fluid dynamics, animal life, and so many more, had altered him forever. The interroot had only needed a few decades to transform the entire Union from a collection of isolated, primitive, insular communities, into the vibrant, educated, modern society it was today.

He'd read about the mammal creatures out in the forest, and how their 'societies' functioned. Unlike treqars, they placed a great deal of importance on mating and parenting. Some of the mammals even formed family units, fiercely protecting partners and offspring from even perceived threats. Treqars had no natural instincts like that, but relationships between parents and their offspring could become strained. Hence his father's request.

Moss let out an enzyme that signified mild frustration. "I told you years ago, I have no interest in bonding with anyone. Tressa and Daplan are wonderful I'm sure, but I'm not right for them, and they're definitely not right for me. I'll greet them, politely, and then I'll disconnect. That should be enough for you," he added sardonically.

"I'm only concerned for your happiness, you know. By the time I was your age I'd already bonded four people and had five seedlings in the ground! You're wasting time, Moss."

"I'm only eighty," he responded grumpily. "I've got plenty of time left. Besides, I am happy, whether you can see it or not. Just because I chose to spread my roots way out here doesn't mean I can't live a life of meaning and value!" That had been a decision he'd made very early on. Back when he was still light enough to be uprooted and moved by a collection of qars. He'd put roots down here, and he hadn't regretted it.

His father continued trying to convince him, but Moss tuned him out. Perhaps the old barker really did believe that being bonded and spreading pollen would make Moss happy, but he had other reasons to try and entice his son back into the network. His father was ambitious by nature, and was always trying to increase his standing. He had two dozen offspring spread across this province, and all of them except Moss had offspring of their own. Moss'... aberrant behavior was an embarrassment to his father. It was probably hurting his chances at being chosen Grovekeeper.

It was ridiculous, really. Leaders should be chosen based on their ability to do the job, not for any familial reasons! Moss should have been able to be a Combustor of all things and still have no effect on his father's election chances.

But people were stupid, and networked people were even worse. Ideas were an echo chamber, bounced around the interroot with such frequency that the vast majority of treqars heard the same concept again and again. So often that before long they couldn't tell the difference between that message and their own thoughts.

His father finally wound down and eventually 'let' Moss disconnect. First, he checked for other messages though. There was the usual list of candidates in there of course, along with a bunch of advertisements for qars with particular abilities. Moss perused through those with mild interest. He could use a few more to supplement Grace's adoptive brood down there.

Almost all qars were sterile: bred for strength, resilience, and intelligence. Each grove had at least one breeder though, who was prized for those same qualities. The current Grovekeeper, a gentle female nicknamed Jora, spread enzyme packages containing images of her qar's most recent brood. They were promising insects indeed, though Moss couldn't get behind the idea that they were 'cute' as his classmates often said.

There was a private message from grove Ursun as well. That must be his friend Noq. Though five times his age and half a continent away, Noq really was Moss' only confidant. He was a master inventor and the inspiration behind Moss' own projects, for the most part. Moss had followed Noq's career with great interest, reading every enzyme paper he'd ever written, and trying to understand his mobility designs even from a young age. He'd written the older inventor multiple times, but naturally a treqar like Noq probably had quite a large following.

Actually hearing from his idol for the first time years ago had been a profound experience. Moss had gotten so excited that his qars had started preparations for a celebration without even knowing why. Such was the power of subconscious glee mixed with enzymatic messages to the qars.

"To my good friend Moss," this message began simply. "I've looked over your designs and found them to be promising. I hope you will forgive me returning them with some suggestions on improvement. Your instincts are first-rate, but you lack the resources and peer review I have here in grove Ursun. I have also arranged a shipment of metal alloys to be delivered discreetly to you. They should arrive by the end of the season. It was decidedly not easy to make the arrangements invisible on the final leg to grove Praska. As such I will be unable to repeat the shipment, so please be careful with the metals once they arrive."

Moss felt a surge of excitement, but was careful not to let it wake his qars. He checked the timecode on the message. According to enzymatic decay, it had been sent four weeks ago. Enzyme packages travelled very slowly, but they were invisible and untraceable compared to the interroot. Plus it would be hard to send actual materials through the network. With that metal, he could really get his designs out of the planning stage!

Once again he was grateful to have found such a friend. Noq wasn't wealthy, but he had chit enough to make this happen. Moss certainly didn't have any valuable qars to trade or chit from his family which he could have used.

"I look forward to seeing the results of your efforts," the letter concluded in Noq's simple style. "As always I continue the work on my end. Your contemporary, Noq."

Moss tried to tamp down on his heightened emotions. Tomorrow would be a busy day with the arrival, and he wasn't looking forward to all the noise. He should try and take advantage of the calm for at least a few more hours while he could. Still, part of the thought process in his root collection couldn't stop ranking all the options of what he was going to do with all that refined metal.
7
New Releases / Major update: novels section reworked among other things
« Last post by Daen on April 12, 2022, 02:42:27 AM »
Hey, all.

Sorry it's been so long since I've done an update. I've had RL beating my door down lately, but that's not a good excuse. Most recently, I've redone parts of the Novels section, specifically Threads part 1 and 2.

Initially, I was told it was impossible to put italics into forum posts like this one. Foolishly, I assumed what I was told was true, and just posted the whole novel regardless of it. When I learned better, I decided to wipe out all of the earlier posts and replace them with the book, chapter by chapter, italics included.

I also tried to add audio files for people to download, in my silky smooth voice, but that hasn't gone too well. I assume there's a data cap in place, so the larger files simply can't be uploaded to the forums. The site's designer Sonic Web Studios is working on it. Hopefully we'll have a workaround soon.

Next is the other books, and then the Musings. Those are much shorter, so I should be able to add audio to them in a few days. Try not to fall asleep to the warm goodness of my voice. Especially since what I'm talking about in most of them is so dire and important.

The novel 'Drive' had been set back again and again, so I'm taking a new approach with it. Starting this week, I'll be posting it piece by piece for people to read as I write it. I'm hoping that knowing I have a sorta real-time audience will force me to be more diligent with it. Fingers crossed, anyway.

Either way, as usual, please comment as you want, and don't bother holding back with any criticisms. I have a thick skin, and I value opinions that are different from my own. See you around,

Daen
8
Threads Part 2 / Downloadable document file(s)
« Last post by Daen on April 11, 2022, 11:43:12 PM »
Useable in Microsoft Word, and exportable (with some risk of data loss) to other word processing programs.
9
Threads Part 2 / Chapter 38
« Last post by Daen on April 11, 2022, 11:42:46 PM »
Part 3: Wrath in Righteousness

Chapter 38

“Twins?” Ethelle looked up from her bed, astonished. “Toria, are you sure?”

“Beyond any doubt,” Toria responded with a coy smile, as her hands lingered on the sides of the Lady’s abdomen. She took the gum-rubber amplifier plugs from her bag and carefully put them in Ethelle’s ears. “Hear for yourself.” The metal lines ran from her ears down to the metal plate on her increasingly expansive belly.

It was just the three of us in my lady’s chamber. I watched with surprise as Ethelle listened to the plugs with a strange look on her face. I felt a cold chill run down my spine. We had planned for many things, but the possibility of twins hadn’t been one of them.

Ethelle didn’t seem convinced. “I don’t hear them. Or I don’t think I do.”

“I can feel two heartbeats there, as well as your own,” Toria assured her with confidence.

Ethelle stared off into space for a few moments, absorbing that. “I can scarcely believe it!”

I believed it. Toria was never wrong about these things. Despite her hereditary deafness, Toria’s instincts as a midwife were uncanny. With Ethelle’s permission, I put a hand against her swollen belly and thought I could feel a faint vibration as well. I sat down heavily, my mind spinning with other options. One after another, I dismissed them. She was having twins.

I had been a servant to House Carver my entire life. I’d grown up beside Ethelle, and had known since childhood what love felt like. I loved her, body and soul. The way she held herself, that tilt of her head. How she seemed to have a boundless capacity for optimism, and her gentle, kind way of persuading people. She was perfection to me.

Of course it could never be. I was a servant and she was nobility. Born and bred for a purpose far greater than a worm like me could aspire to. That didn’t stop me from feeling it, though. I was careful to keep it hidden at all times. Even my closest friends thought of it as nothing more than a servant’s devotion to his Lady. Ethelle… she might have had an inkling; I never knew for sure.

The noble Houses had always been vicious and devious in politics, but she had somehow kept the innocence and grace of her past, even after she’d been thrust into that world at fifteen. Her father, Lord Kozau Carver, had died suddenly of heart failure, and her oldest brother had been only eight years old at the time. That had put her in charge. Behind the scenes of course: no woman had ever publicly led any Sustained House.

Somehow, House Carver had not only survived, but had actually gained influence within the Council during that time. When Boshqur had finally been old enough to take the reins, she’d handed him a finely-tuned political powerhouse. I’d loved her all the more for that.

Then she’d been married off to the Fishers, and shipped off to this… gaudy hellhole. It had been only natural that her staff make the trip with her, and I endured our new circumstances with as much grace as I could muster. Eventually, things returned to normal, or as close to normal as could be here in the Lord Ascendant’s manor. Then she’d gotten pregnant.

I’d always known that would happen. That I would end up taking care of not only her, but her children and grandchildren as well. Children and grandchildren who weren’t mine. I admit: it hurt. A lot.

I had thought that would be the end of the story. Like my parents, and cousins, and aunts and uncles, I would be just another servant in this family. An uncommonly well versed one, but a servant nonetheless.

When she had called me in three months ago, and told me of her subversive plan, it had amazed me. I’d had no idea she could be so devious, though in retrospect it should have been obvious. She was the only daughter of a Sustained Lord after all.

I’d tried to talk her out of it at first. It was far too risky! There were so many things that could go wrong, even if she could trust her dwarven partner in this endeavor. Her mind was set though. Nothing would stop her from making sure her child lived a better life. “Stra’tchi parents have to give up their children all the time,” she’d told me patiently. “They only get to see their children a few times a year. This will be no different.” Of course she’d been right. Compared to the stra’tchi, our lives—all our lives—were filled with ease and comfort.

Now though, visions of disaster raced through my head. Such pregnancies were fraught with risk. Not two months ago, Lord Mason’s third wife had given birth to a mutation. A freak child with a grossly misshapen head and limbs. She’d died giving birth, and according to rumor Lord Mason had killed the child and threaded its body. I feared the same thing might end up happening here!

I shook my head, taking the amplifier and putting it back in Toria’s medical bag. This changes everything, my Lady, I signed. The arrangement you made with the Hauld was very specific. He’s expecting one child, not two!

“I know. We’ll just have to make do.”

But we have no way of contacting him anymore, I protested. You know how dwarves can be with details. He may view the change of plans as a breach of our contract!

“Which is why you and Toria will have to convince him otherwise. It may be easier than you think, though. He was eager enough to have one line on House Fisher; now he’ll have two.” She gave a weak smile at her own joke, and at least Toria responded in kind.

I must have still looked less than convinced, because she put a hand on my cheek. “Anath, we both knew this plan was risky, but I will not have my child raised in this backstabbing, vicious life. And I know that I can’t choose one child over the other, so we have no choice but to risk saving them both!”

She was right of course. I felt my cheeks warm in shame, and looked at the floor briefly. “Trust me, Anath. We’re going to make this work.”

As I left my Lady’s chamber, I skidded to a halt just before running into someone else, and quickly lowered my head in deference. It was Berilo Fisher. The Lord Ascendant of the city, Ethelle’s husband, and the father of her children. Next to him was his firstborn son, little Tenlor, looking bored. The Lord Ascendant speared with me a swift glance, almost as if surveying an insect crawling on the floor. “You’re Anathdur’hu, aren’t you? Ethelle’s little deaf pet?”

I nodded, looking down again as soon as I’d read his lips. The Lord Ascendant gave me no further mind and swept past me into the Lady’s chambers. The little brat, however, stayed behind. I hid a grimace. I knew what was coming next.

“Stay put, deaf-mute,” the little monster ordered up at me, and then kicked me in the shin. I didn’t wince or shift my stance at all. It was only a kid kicking at me, but he was wearing iron-tipped shoes. Shoes he’d had made especially for this purpose.

“Why don’t you say something, deaf-mute?” He asked, kicking again and again. “I’ll stop if you say something!”

Stoically, I just kept looking straight ahead as the little boy kept it going. My shins would no doubt be a mess by the time Tenlor gave up; I knew that from experience. And all of this was just because he was bored, and I was the nearest servant to abuse. I was just lucky the spoiled little prince wasn’t old enough to do any real damage. At least once the plan had been carried out, I’d be too far away for the princeling to torture me anymore.

I spent the time as still as a statue, reflecting on how Ethelle’s babies would never end up like this boy, no matter what happened when she gave birth. And reflecting on the unfortunate fact that Tenlor would likely be just as bad an adult as he was a kid. It really wasn’t his fault right now, but it sure would be when he was grown. He’d been taught that he was superior, right from day one. Not just that he was better than the stra’tchi, as all Sustained had been taught, but superior to everyone else as well. Was it any wonder he was turning out to be a bully?

-.-

Half an hour later I limped my way into Toria’s makeshift apothecary, mindful not to jostle her carefully arranged glass vials. They were everywhere, most of them full of exotic concoctions and corked shut. My cousin was the midwife and servant as well, but her alchemical knowledge was impressive.

She clucked her tongue at me, a gesture I’d come to recognize over the years, and helped me sit down on one of her taller stools. “Tenlor again?” She asked, carefully rolling up one of my pantlegs. I nodded, grimacing as she applied ointments to my injuries one after another.

My duties in the Manor were administrative: I decided which servant went where, and what they did when they got there. Since most of the house staff couldn’t understand handtalk, there were a few who translated for me, like Toria herself. In contrast, Toria was the conversationalist. She’d trained herself very carefully to sound ‘normal’ in speech. I’d never really decided if I envied her for being able to express herself, or pitied her for being stuck halfway between deafness and hearing. That very ability of hers had often set her apart among our family gatherings.

Regardless, she bore it with good grace in both cases. Wasting little motion, she finished tending to my legs where the metal tips had dug past the skin, and then gently bound them with clean cloth and tied them off. Somehow she did so without causing much further pain. She’d always had a healer’s touch.

On the bench next to her equipment was a freshly brewed tonic, poured into a small glass vial and corked shut. Is that it? I signed curiously. It didn’t look like much, but it was the key to our plans.

Toria nodded distractedly. “I already gave her some of the potion for tomorrow. I told her not to drink it until the afternoon, after the Lord Ascendant leaves. About half an hour later, perhaps an hour, she’ll go into labor.”

You’re sure it won’t hurt the babies?

She gave me a sardonic look. “I don’t tell you how to do your job. Don’t tell me how to do mine. Yes, I’m sure.”

I bowed apologetically. Yes, ma’am.

“We’ll have to be careful to time it just right,” she continued, tightening my bandages—a little too hard, I felt. “The Masons and the Tanners are still holding their initial peace talks tomorrow, and there’s no way our Lord Ascendant would miss being there himself.”

In retrospect, I had to admit the genius of my lady’s plan. With constant bickering between the Houses, her husband was always being called off here or there to put out brushfires. If she went into labor while he was enforcing delicate peace talks, word wouldn’t reach him until it was too late for him to get back.

She’d made a point of swimming in the Waters at the same time each day of her pregnancy, as a part of her routine. No one would question her heading down there with just Toria and me in tow. Toria and I had prepared a sort of… cave nearby, just east of the Waters. We made sure it had everything we would need when the time came. There, out of sight and earshot from anyone in the Manor, she would give birth, hand the babies off to us, and then swim downstream towards the threads.

There was a reason pregnant women were forbidden from entering the threads. Navigating while carrying a child within was risky: often causing the child to come forth early; possibly even killing it in the womb.

And that’s exactly what she hoped to tell everyone. She’d fainted during her daily swim, and floated downstream into the threads. She’d woken up just as she’d entered the threads, and quickly exited them again, but it had been too late. Her baby was dead and gone, and she was understandably distraught. Toria and I, as devoted servants to her House, were equally devastated at our failures, and took our own lives in a similar fashion. Fortunately for us—though not quite for our ancestors—that was a relatively common practice.

It wasn’t a foolproof plan, but it was pretty close. It had a lot of moving parts, but I was confident my lady could sell it to her husband when he got home. Two babies… shouldn’t change things that much.

-.-

As a senior steward to House Carver, I had my own quarters on the manor grounds. When my Lady had moved here to Sevvas patch my authority had been undercut a little by the Fisher servants, but not enough to deny me my own room. With a sigh, I removed my coat and kicked off my shoes. In public, I had to be neat and orderly. In private, it was my own business.

I lit a few candles and closed the door, thinking of the day. What would become of us when she came to term? My life would change drastically, that much was clear. For one thing, I would be living among the dwarves. And I would be a parent, Aquun help me!

Hanging on the wall in the small kitchen was a plaque with the words I’d written so long ago in old Patali. Words that had been a creed to my family, since almost the Threading itself. Ouna tsao qilgys. Family above all.

What did those words mean to me, after all this time? My Lady wasn’t family. And her children were certainly not. Doing this would mean betraying that creed—betraying my family! Most of them wouldn’t see it that way, if the truth ever got out. We’d been linked to House Carver, almost down to our souls, for so long that many would view my actions as heroic. But could I see it that way?

Striking a tinder twig, I lit the kitchen fireplace and filled the old pot with the Waters before situating it above the flame. The irony of this was that back before the Threading, my Lady’s ancestors hadn’t even been nobility, much less linked to the Imperial court! Her ancestors had been servants. The name, Carver, had come from her ancestor Jutos Carver, son of a cook in the old Royal Quarter of Vasiriah. A cook who happened to be in service to Inedias’hu. My great-great-something grandfather.

I’d heard the stories about my forebears. Inedias’hu had been an important man in the Empire. A general for the Imperial armies, and a shrewd tactician. What they hadn’t lauded about him was his cruelty. His… mutilation of his servants.

Even back then, my family had suffered deafness. And because of the strict policies concerning marrying outsiders, that family weakness had only become more pronounced over time. Inedias’hu had insisted on cutting out the tongues of our family’s servants, and piercing their eardrums. If he couldn’t understand what they were saying, he felt that no one should be able to.

Perhaps my ancestors had deserved to be overthrown and made into servants themselves. Aquun’s grace and justice touched all, after all. Yet that phrase kept rattling around in my head. Ouna tsao qilgys.

I stirred the soup ingredients restlessly. Toria certainly didn’t think of such things. Her service to House Carver had been just as diligent as mine, and when we talked of such things her dedication and surety were quite obvious. Was I selfish to think otherwise?

Maybe this was just jitters. I was about to be a father, after all. Or the next best thing. Two enormously important young lives would depend on me for everything. Toria would help of course, but it was my education—my knowledge that they’d need growing up. They would see their mother as well, but only in carefully timed and planned visits. My Lady would only be able to watch them grow up from a distance.

That settled it. I was being selfish. She was giving them up to make sure they had a better life! What was my small sacrifice compared to that? And yet my sleep that night was still restless.

-.-

I remember being prodded awake. Toria’s concerned face swam into focus above me. “Wake up, Anathdur’hu!”

One look out the window told me that I’d only been asleep a few hours. The New Day’s moon hadn’t even set yet, and the sun was still hours away. What is it? I asked, and then rubbed my eyes to clear them.

“One of the maids just told me! Lady Ethelle has gone into labor!”

I was on my feet in an instant. Has word gotten out?

“It’s all over the manor! That little brat Tenlor got wind of it and ran through the halls shouting about it!”

We made our way to the manor grounds, and I turned the situation over and over in my head. What could we do? The Lord Ascendant had most assuredly been told as well. There was no way we could simply pass this off as an accident by now! All I could do was just be there for her. It seemed the guards outside the manor knew as well; they waved us through without any of the usual rigmarole.

Can you give her something to delay the birth? I signed at my cousin as we hurried through the halls. Even a few hours might be enough.

She shook her head. “I have a potion back in my chambers that could do it, but I think it’s too late now. It would risk one or both of the babies.”

Apparently she was right, as we soon discovered. Even Toria seemed taken aback when she saw the state of my lady’s chambers. My lady was gripping both posts above her bed as if for dear life. Blood had already seeped its way through the bedframe itself, and my lady’s face was ashen and fearful. Before I knew it I was next to her, clasping her hand in mine. I’m here, my lady, I mouthed to her and she nodded, clenching her jaw as another contraction hit.

At least it was just the three of us—my lady insisted that only Toria and I be there for the birth. The Lord Ascendant had, if only reluctantly, allowed it. Toria got to work immediately, giving her a tonic to dull the pain a little—just about the only painkiller that could make a dent on labor pains, before peeling away the bloodstained cloth to get a better look.

I’d been witness to the birthing process once before, years earlier when Lady Ethelle’s youngest brother had been born. As a young man I’d found it… deeply disturbing. Sustained guards, House soldiers, even the Ascendants themselves often brag about what they do in battle. Chopping heads off, burying swords and axes in bodies, shooting men dead from over a hundred spans away—that sort of thing.

We men have nothing on a woman giving birth.

Granted, most births aren’t an obscenely bloody business, but each one could be. At least in battle we can hone our skills; increase our odds slightly, but a mother in childbirth has no control over her fate! What is risk in battle compared to that?

Those hours in her bedchamber seemed to last years. Not even the Lord Ascendant dared enter—I can only assume because of the screams she was making. Toria herself winced repeatedly, and she was partially deaf!

Time and again I wished it was over, if only for my Lady’s sake. Something was obviously wrong—I knew Toria’s face well enough to know that for sure, even if she did an admirable job of putting on a brave show. Perhaps the first baby had turned over. I’d heard of such things happening and forcing drastic measures to preserve both child and mother.

“Push, my lady!” Toria urged her once more. “I can see the head!”

For a slender woman, Ethelle had always had a firm grip. I felt the bones in my hand grind against each other as she crushed my fingers together. Merely seconds later though, it was over. Toria leaned back, a tiny squirming body in her hands.

We’d been over all of this many times. I had clean cloth ready and wrapped the infant up as soon as it was handed to me. Or she, rather. Toria poured boiling water on the edges of a sharp knife, and cut the baby girl’s cord with one sure stroke.

Weakly, my Lady reached up to the child. She stroked the baby’s crying face, and then pulled away, I assumed to get ready for the next. I turned away from the bed and carried the baby over to a basin to wash her. All newborns looked this way—as if dealing with some terrible internal struggle within their flesh. Skin blotchy and red, eyes clenched shut, and mouth open in angry protest.

I didn't know what it was that warned me. I just felt that something was… wrong, and turned around again. My lady had indeed relaxed, but too much. She lay back on the bed, eyes staring sightlessly up to the ceiling. Her arm dangled off the edge of the bed.

As usual, Toria didn’t waste any time. Quickly moving to my lady’s side, she leaned down over her face. “She isn’t breathing, and her heart’s stopped!”

I could only stare. Toria placed her hands together against my lady’s chest and began rhythmically pressing down, hard. Few people in the city knew how to start a heart beating again, but Toria was one. My whole world seemed to shrink down around me, and it was just us there in the room—alone in the universe. And now that universe could get even smaller.

Again and again, Toria tried breathing life back into her. Seconds stretched into minutes and before I knew it, we weren’t alone anymore. The Lord Ascendant had entered, along with Tenlor at his knee and a few attendants. She hadn’t screamed in a while. It made sense that they would finally come and see what was happening for themselves.

As they watched Toria leaned back again, this time because of death and not life. “She’s gone, my liege.”

One of the attendant ladies took the little girl from my arms and I barely even noticed. I just stared down at Ethelle, wishing and willing her to start moving again. The Lord Ascendant was saying something, but I didn’t care. We had failed her, both of us. I’d promised her that we would make this work, and I’d let her down.

It took a few minutes for them to file out of the room and Toria, following the baby, was the last to leave. She caught my eye—ever the practical one she was—and nodded at the body. She knew what I had to do next, and if anyone could guarantee me the privacy I needed, it was her.

I still don’t know what lies she told out there in the hall. Perhaps she told them the truth about my love for Ethelle; I don’t know for sure. But whatever she said, it worked. I had the necessary time. Brandishing the knife, I started cutting.

It took maybe five bloody minutes, but I was finally able to remove the other baby from… my beloved’s body. A boy this time. He didn’t cry much at first, but I bundled him up quickly to hide what little noise he could make. I hid what I’d done as best I could, trusting Toria to prepare the body for the ceremony.

Scooping up the baby, I left through the servant’s door into the east wing. Even now people were mostly absent—celebrating the birth of the Lord Ascendant’s daughter, and condoling the loss of his wife. I knew most of the patrol routes from memory, and avoided them easily enough.

Dawn greeted us just after I made it off the manor grounds. The baby’s tiny face looked up at the brightening sky with wonder. A miracle that itself compared to the miracle of his survival. There, at the edge of the threads, we waited for the dwarven navigator to see us… and for our new life to begin.

-Disgusted, Durhu crumpled up that last page and threw it into the fire. Little Arico (named for one of Durhu’s great-grandparents) was barely crawling, but when he was grown he’d need a better explanation than that.

Durhu scanned over his confession, and then decided to start the tale over again from the girl’s birth. Toria had made contact last week, actually. She had stayed close, in order to keep an eye on the girl. Naturally they kept a servant like her at a distance from the baby they’d named Hazra. At least she was healthy, though. Thank Aquun for small favors.

Raising Arico alone had been, well, difficult at first. Durhu had never been told just how much work caring for a baby could be! Durhu had spent the first few weeks in a near-constant state of exhaustion. The dwarves had always been on hand to ease that burden, but Durhu had been suspicious of their help so far. He couldn’t tell if their assistance was because of genuine hospitality, or a desire to keep Arico safe and happy so that they could use him later on. The Hauld had been ubiquitous in that regard.

They’d even given him a dog, specially trained to come and get him if Arico was crying. They must have trained it to work with other parents who’d been deaf. Ultimately it didn’t matter. In a few years the two of them would move again, this time to become stra’tchi. If they were both still alive, anyway. That’s why he was writing this now. If something happened to him, at least Arico would have some answers about where he came from. Answers that came from a trustworthy source and not the dwarves, at least.

Durhu wrote out the series of events again, still feeling nauseated. In the second version, Ethelle didn’t die until after Arico was born. She had time to say goodbye to both her children before her heart stopped, and viciously cutting into her flesh hadn’t been necessary at all. Durhu’s hands still shook when he thought about that. A comforting lie, but a lie all the same.

Speaking of lies, even now he was still getting used to his new name. A lie was always easier to tell if it had a grain of truth, but he’d been known as Anathdur’hu his entire life. Taking the second half had been necessary. Almost an homage, really, to the woman who’d called him Anath. And to the girl who’d sacrificed everything—even though she may never know it—for her brother to live a good, happy life.
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Threads Part 2 / Chapter 39
« Last post by Daen on April 11, 2022, 11:42:36 PM »
Chapter 39

“So you didn’t choose this life at all, then!” Jaas exclaimed as he finished his story. “You were bred and intended for this, since… before you’d even been born!”

Arico stood up to get a drink, not really knowing how to respond to that. He’d been talking for hours, explaining everything to Endu and Jaas after having brought all of them back to the Enclave. Including his sister.

Hazra was still unconscious, in a secured room several levels below them. He shivered thinking about that. If the Lord Ascendant found out that she was here, he would no doubt kill everyone in the Enclave to get her back. Arico supposed he should start thinking of the man as just Berilo instead of Lord Ascendant, now. For years the terms had been interchangeable, but now that the secret was out, he would have to get into the habit of calling him by his name. Changing how he thought was the first step.

Back to the immediate threat: Hazra herself was far too dangerous to be left on her own, and her injuries had been severe, even life-threatening. Sabra was right in wanting her dead, given the threat she posed, and Arico had to recognize that. Despite that, something primal had gripped Arico back there in Ste’hetha patch, when he’d taken off that mask. Sure, she’d been trying to kill them all, but she was still his sister. Still his blood. For a single irrational moment he’d even wanted to attack Sabra for what he’d done.

Bringing her here had been the safest option. Here she could be contained if she woke up, and treated until she did. At least Arico hoped she could be contained. If some of the stories about the assassin were to be believed, Heartbane was something of an escape artist.

Once she was safely in custody, he’d faced Endu and Jaas. Sabra had been listening in as well at first, but the giant had gotten bored and left a while back. Both women had pressed him for details. Endu because of her obvious interest in anything that could give them the advantage in this war, and Jaas because of her insatiable curiosity. Neither seemed that aware of how painful it was to tell it. Not at first anyway.

Jaas’ observation stuck in his mind, though. He had chosen this life… eventually. He could have stayed with Nouma, in their comfortable life together, but he’d decided to abandon all that and come back into the fold. Despite his unfortunate bloodline, or perhaps because of it.

Until today, it had been a secret shared only by himself, Durhu, Aunt Toria, and the Hauld as well. According to everyone else Arico had always been just a refugee from Sustained territory, and nothing more. Not even Chanul or Alzhi had known. Now that the truth was out, and it was only a matter of time before whispers reached the Lord—Berilo—he reminded himself. Only a matter of time before Berilo heard.

It was inevitable that his true bloodline would become public knowledge eventually. The Hauld had planned on it. After they’d overthrown the Council and disbanded the Ascendants, Arico was supposed to present himself as a replacement. A governor of sorts who could bridge the gap between dwarves and humans. There was even talk of him taking a dwarven wife to solidify their alliance, though that was far from certain. Dwarven women had the right to choose, just as the stra’tchi did, and Arico didn’t think much of his chances. But his true family wasn’t supposed to be revealed this early! No, the Hauld wouldn’t be happy about this.

Arico was still cursing himself for having let it slip. Between all his own exhaustion, and the sudden attack, and Jaas’ injury, he hadn’t been thinking. He would have to explain all of that and hope the Hauld understood. Another painful part had been the ambush itself. Not for him, really; all he’d suffered was a few bruises and some cuts on his sword arm and right leg.

No, he was concerned because Jaas had avoided capture back there, by little more than a hair’s breadth. They both knew what that would have meant for her. She still hadn’t told him what had happened during her missing time with her mysterious allies, but it had to be something similar, because it was obviously still affecting her. He’d heard her voice tremble more than once as she and Endu peppered him with questions about his history. Her most recent question: why had his mother wanted him to be a freedom fighter in the first place?

Arico didn’t have an answer to that one. In truth, his mother hadn’t wanted that at all. All she’d wanted was a good life for her children, and she’d been cheated out of being part of that life! The Hauld had been the one insisting on a rebellion, even if it was for good reasons, and it had been he who had wanted Arico involved—Durhu had been opposed!

That was part of why Arico had started that other life in Sustained territory with Nouma in the first place. His ‘parents’ had been fighting tooth and nail, and what child wouldn’t want to leave that behind?

When Nouma had finally confronted him about his false name and history, it had put an end to his childish fantasy of having a normal life. Even so, it did feel good to get all of this off his chest. He was a Fisher by blood. Normalcy was just about the last thing he could expect from this life.

Almost reluctantly, Arico kept on thinking back to this business with his sister. He’d kept tabs on her from a distance, trying to learn more about her. Clearly he’d missed a lot of what she was up to. He had hoped one day to introduce himself to her and her Clarion consort. To be part of her life after the fighting was done. He’d even envisioned what that meeting would look like, and where. Hardly the same as the bloody and violent scene that had really happened.

There were still so many questions! Who had trained her? Why had she become Heartbane? Berilo probably knew what she was, but did anyone else? Up until now, nearly all of Heartbane’s victims had been Sustained nobles or servants of the various Houses. Did she kill people only for her father, or for herself as well? Only Hazra could answer those questions. Arico doubted she would be very forthcoming, but he had to reach out and try anyway. It was the brotherly thing to do.

-.-

Hazra drifted between light and darkness. The threads were only the beginning, passing over her and on into eternity. Dark shapes flitted in and out of sight, accompanied by soft voices. Her mother’s voice, she imagined.

Pulling her mind free of the flow of images, she tried to focus on one. The shapes cleared, and the voices sharpened as well. A little girl, chasing an older boy through a garden. “Give her back!”

The boy laughed, holding the purloined doll above his head. Gold-colored hair made of string cascaded down on top of his head as he kept the constructed captive out of reach of her would-be rescuer. “Tenlor, give her back right now! She’s mine!”

Hazra looked down at them, and could almost remember the indignation in her own voice. Then she was the little girl once more, jumping up and trying to get her precious… Itral. Yes, that was the name. It was the doll she had slept with every night, who was as real to her as anyone made of flesh and blood.

Tenlor darted away, with Hazra in hot pursuit. Her face reddening, she snatched up a small stone from the garden’s edge. When her brother came to a stop again, she threw it straight and true. The rounded pebble skipped right off Tenlor’s forehead, bounced off a nearby tree, and fell into the bushes. Stunned, Tenlor dropped the doll and put his hands to his head. A slight trickle of blood flowed between his fingers as he dashed away back to the manor.

In an instant Hazra had retrieved her doll, cradling it in her arms. Itral seemed unharmed, despite having been waved around like a butterfly net. Odjes knelt next to her in the garden and embraced her in turn, lifting her off the ground. “There, there. Everything will be all right now.”

Hazra pushed him away roughly, and was herself again, tall enough to look him in the eye. “Why did you bring me here?” She demanded harshly.

The garden wavered, plants becoming blurry again, and the sunlight flickered as she lost concentration on it. Odjes laughed lightly. “You brought me here. I’m just along for the ride, remember? Still, I haven’t seen this particular memory of yours in a very long time. Hazra the little lady,” he knelt at the garden path where the child Hazra was running up to the manor after her brother.

Her surprise faded quickly, replaced by embarrassment. “I’m sorry, Odjes. I just… well, you know I don’t like these trips into my past.”

Odjes nodded understandingly. “There must be some reason you came here, though. This was what? Twenty-seven years ago? The day you found out you had perfect aim?”

“I’d never tried to hit anyone or anything like that before. It came so naturally to me.” Hazra felt a little more at peace, now that she was remembering. Odjes hadn’t been there to embrace her in real life, but he had been there in her dreams that night. Just as unreal as her doll, perhaps, but even more comforting in his own way. She must be dreaming again, in the sha’haln. Or Odjes wouldn’t be here too.

“It wasn’t exactly ladylike of me,” she admitted, picking up the bloodstained rock, “but Tenlor never stole from me again, did he? I remember thinking later on about joining an Ona team. But then, that wouldn’t be ladylike either.”

“You would have been spectacular, I’m sure,” Odjes agreed.

Their surroundings shifted again, this time to her first Ona match. Or rather, the first one she’d observed, given that she could never play. Odjes was still there, sitting in the stands next to her. “There’s Tenlor,” he pointed, singling out her now-teenaged brother as he maneuvered his way down the field. “Come on, let’s give him a real challenge!” He pulled her hand, and after a brief tug-of-war she allowed herself to be coaxed down onto the field as well.

The match was close, as all such competitions were in her dreams. Odjes had told her that this was because she craved competition and risk, and she could hardly disagree. In the final moments she was barely able to slip the ball past her brother, and into the scoring zone. The crowd cheered loudly, jumping up and down, but Tenlor just vanished. Of course he did. Hazra had never seen Tenlor as a graceful loser in the real world, so she couldn’t picture it here, either.

Suddenly she and Odjes were back in the viewing room, with her father and Tenlor’s body. She showed her father who she really was, and barely got anything in response. That was when Heartbane had stepped up. The killer who’d been a part of her for years. The killer who demanded to be named heir, and promised her father revenge if he did so.

Heartbane.

Here, in dreams, she could face the reality of her life. Here she knew that she was a killer as well as a princess. Here, she and Heartbane were one in the same. Both impulses were present within her, but here… they weren’t at war with each other.

When she woke up though, she knew she wouldn’t remember any of this. Any clue as to her identity as a world-class assassin would be gone, and Hazra would be just ordinary, barren, useless Hazra again. Only Heartbane was aware of the full game, and she kept it secret, claiming to be protecting her weaker half. Even the Clarion had gone along with that, Hazra had eventually realized in dreams. He did love her. But why did that love have to be blended in with lies and hurt?

Things had changed between Hazra and her father in the days since her revelation, but not much. He’d given her all the information he’d promised, and had questioned her in detail about her training and skills. But still it was as if Heartbane was just another Ascendant soldier to him, and nothing more. Everything she’d done for him—everything she’d promised to do, and he still hardly noticed her at all! At least she could still rely on her other mentor.

Odjes had been her teacher, right from the start. In dream after dream, Hazra had found herself part of a unit. A group of similar soldiers; some of them women as well. He’d drilled them all in basic endurance at first, and then moved on to tactics and stealth in combat.

Even though her squadmates weren’t real, somehow they helped. They suffered alongside her, night after night. Odjes’ advice had echoed through her even while she’d been awake, teaching her muscles what her mind already knew. At her request, he’d taught her how to kill, and she was very good at it.

Through all this time, though, Hazra had known that Odjes was unhappy. In the waking world he was a soldier himself—or so she surmised—but he taught her reluctantly. His lessons often came with warnings about what it was like to kill, and to live with that. Eventually though, he had realized she wouldn’t be deterred, and stopped holding back. Not that any of that had brought her any closer to her father. Blinking back tears at that, Hazra shook her head and tried to shift again. Not to another memory, but to the waking world itself.

-.-

Her heart beat faster, and her breathing quickened. Awareness flooded Heartbane’s mind, filling her perceptions with information. She could feel sunshine on her face, and see red through her eyelids.

There was pain too, shooting through her side. She moved minutely, trying to gauge the extent of her injuries. Odjes had taught her how to block pain as well, but in situations like this it was better to feel it all. She had three, or maybe four ribs cracked, she determined after a moment. They had been expertly bandaged. Heartbane’s lips tightened as she realized what that meant.

After Tenlor’s assassination, her father had been driven to identify his killer. The heretic was the obvious target, but his female companion was the one her father really wanted. The surviving guard had given a full report, saying that she blamed Tenlor for murdering her daughter. After Tellek patch had been destroyed, another woman named Endu had apparently never been found among the bodies. Neither had her children. It was likely she knew the heretic personally.

For some reason, Heartbane’s father was convinced that this Endu was the assassin. Perhaps he knew more about this murdered kid than he was willing to share. It was most likely a dwarf who had bandaged Heartbane’s ribs, which was a repellent thought, but Endu had been a noted healer in Tellek. She was a possibility, too. If so, she might still be in the area.

Heartbane kept her eyes closed during all this rumination, listening intently. She thought she could hear breathing to her left. A brief glimpse showed a man sitting in a chair a few spans away. He wasn’t facing her, so she quietly sat up, hoping fervently that the floorboards didn’t squeak.

She was in some kind of cottage, which looked old but well-maintained. The cot underneath her was new: probably brought in here recently. His chair was in front of what looked like the only door, and he was reading an old leather-bound tome while he faced the sun-kissed hills outside.

It was Arico. The heretic and traitor.

Memories swirled through her head in a confused haze. The heretic and the Harbinger, vanishing into the threads together, against all odds. The giant had been there, too. She remembered the Harbinger fleeing up the hill, and she remembered killing the giant. But after that… she’d just woken up here. Wherever here was.

It was midmorning out the window. She’d been unconscious for several hours at least. There was no sign of anyone else out there as well. She could escape easily, if the heretic was alone. However, this was also the chance to finish what she’d started. Her daggers were nowhere in sight, but her armor had been draped over a chair nearby. Along with her mask. The mask’s improvised dagger was gone as well, but Heartbane had more than one trick up her sleeve. Literally, as it turned out.

She reached for her armor’s left sleeve. There was no way she’d be able to put on her armor without alerting the heretic, but she could at least arm herself. Sure enough they hadn’t found it; as it was sewn right into the sleeve. A thin metal wire, pliable enough to not interfere with movement while wearing the armor. Less effective than her daggers maybe, but still deadly.

Heartbane doubted she’d be quick enough to kill him before he could disappear into the threads again, but at least this time she’d be touching him when he did it. She liked her chances in a fight for control over where they went. Who knew? Maybe she could even bring him to her father alive!

With a grim smile, Heartbane wrapped the long wire’s ends around both her hands and approached her captor from behind. She had almost reached striking range when he suddenly said, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Heartbane paused, and the heretic turned slightly in his chair to look back at her with a smile. “I’ll just disappear again, and this time you won’t be able to track me.” She slowly lowered the garrote with a grimace, as he stood to face her. Behind him, she saw a glinting mirror in place on the ground. So that was how he’d seen her moving. Sneaky.

“I’m Arico,” he said unnecessarily. He started to extend a hand, and then dropped it with a sheepish look on his face. “Of course you know that, don’t you? Hazra Fisher probably knows a great deal about me.”

With effort, Heartbane was able to keep her expression from changing. How in the Many did he know who she was? She’d certainly never seen him before, not without her mask on, anyway. She would remember any stra’tchi vividly. Although, his shoulder mark looked new. Maybe he’d decided the time for disguises was over.

“Why am I here?” She demanded, as much to cover her surprise as to get the answer.

He only sighed. “I brought you here to watch over you, to make sure you recovered. You took quite a hit.” He glanced out the window. “Besides, I think you and I have a lot to talk about.” The heretic gestured to the nearby dining room table, and then took a seat there. He didn’t look afraid at all, but then he could just vanish if he wanted to.

“Sit, please. You have nothing to fear from me, and you can leave whenever you want. We’re the only two people in this entire patch.” He poured a glass of water for each of them and gestured again, a patient look on his face. “A friend once told me that in order to get someone’s trust, I need to give it first. There are some things I need to tell you, before you go home.”

Still suspicious, Heartbane let Hazra slowly take a seat opposite him.
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