Metaworld Chronicles



Chapter 410 - Grass Beneath the Hooves


A note from Wutosama

And a shout out to

Mosquito man - Stalker 's Dark Tower
Silver Fox and the Western Hero
by  MH Johnson


"… Here is Gwen, Great Khan." Meister Bekker stood aside for Gwen, who shuffled forward with her eyes down, then made a curtsey.

"Meekness ill-suits a razer of cities," the booming voice from above answered. "Gaze upon your Khan, Devourer of Shenyang, Most Valued Champion of the International Games!"

Gwen briefly glanced at Bekker and Taylor. Simultaneously, her eyes passed over the Şöpter with the Mithril-tipped horns, ensuring that there wasn't some hidden undercurrent waylaying freshly arrived tourists at the Steppes. After a second of hesitation and receiving no overt orders from her instructors, she elected to be herself.

Raising her eyes to face the Khan, Gwen willed Almudj's Essence to circulate, giving her the imperious air for which she was famed in Fudan and then in Cambridge. Instantly, her demeanour assumed an arrogant regality, one buoyed by Essence older than the Centaur's Totems.

"Tis no meekness, O Great Khan." Gwen gazed up at the Horse Lord. "But discretion born out of diplomacy. This Devourer is full-ready to send our enemies into the abyssal Void, no less than Meister Bekker had earlier promised. If indeed we need call upon Yog, the all-in-one and one-in-all, my Void Fiend stands ready to consume our foes."

Temir Khan's golden eyes measured her prideful figure.
With their Essences squaring off like two stallions jousting for mares, she now better understood the Khan's prowess. In terms of Essence "volume", Temir Tengri was far her superior. Compared to her lonesome self, he was the sum of nine pavilions, totalling a hundred thousand Centaurs from the Sawahi Desert to the Northern Steppes. Of the quality of their Essences, Gwen felt that the sacred purity of her serpent juice was far superior.

Still, she was impressed by the Khan of Khans, though more so for his political and physical stature than his state of being.

The Khan appeared pleased by her poise. "No need to be so guarded. We Horse Lords are a simple and crude lot compared to you Humans. Tell this Khan, is it true you art the Apprentice of Henry Kilroy?"

"That I am," Gwen affirmed the title without batting an eyelid, squaring her shoulder for effect. "Did you know of my Master, Great Khan?"

The Khan appeared to consider her answer, after which his reply set not only Gwen's brows to twitch but that of her colleagues as well.

"My father did. As for myself— know you of his wife, Elizabeth Sobel?"

Gwen once more glanced at her mentors: not to appear fazed, both wore masks of stoic neutrality.

"We've spoken precisely once," Gwen parried the unexpected question expertly. "She defenestrated me out of Sydney Tower to be consumed by her minion. I lived. Her pet died. My Master lost his life."

Her two mentors visibly relaxed.

"Your tale, though short, is pleasing to us." The Khan affirmed with solemnity. "My condolences, Magus Song. Your Master's death is a loss for us all— As for his spouse, the woman has been a thorn in our side."

"Sobel was here?" Gwen gulped, her brows furrowing in surprise.

It took her another glance at Bekker and Taylor's rapidly blinking eyes to recall that indeed, Gunther had mentioned a year ago that Sobel's "Cabal" or perhaps the woman herself had survived Sydney and was troubling the world once more. "The South of Kazahstan," her Brother-in-craft had noted with disdain, though at the time, the "Steppes" was nothing but a vague landscape in Gwen's uneducated mind.

"Milord Khan, has Sobel made her presence known?" Gwen asked carefully. If so, she might need to call Gun-Gun to bring the big guns.

"Not the Arch-Witch herself." Temir Khan's massive head shook. The Horse Lord lifted a heavy horn of velvety Airag, drank, then continued to speak. "Her Cabal— 'Spectre' is one of the reasons why the Horde has fallen into a precarious position. My scouts report that her Necromancers are working with the Efreet of the Fire Sea— the same Humans sabotaging our Clan grounds this early Spring, mercenaries serving under Zodiam, the Prince of Sulphur."

"If these Mages remain in your back garden." The timbre of Gwen's voice grew low. She wasn't confident of her present etiquette, though her immediate impulses required no discernment. "I shall hunt them down with extreme prejudice."

"Hahaha—" The Khan laughed, his mighty shoulders shaking as snorts burst from his great nostrils like thunderclaps. Around Temir Tengri, his fellow Horse Lords echoed the mirth. Behind them, Gwen caught a secretive smile tracing the lips of the Şöpter Faun.

"The Horde accepts your pledge." The Khan of Khan raised his horn of Airag.

A Şöpter presented Gwen with a mug bubbling with a considerable mass of fermented milk.

"Sip it slowly, and don't you dare throw the Khan's toast back up." Taylor's Silent Message bloomed beside her. "Also, don't promise anything. The Centaurs take great care in pledges. Any horse who reneges on a promise may as well be a dishonourable Tasmüyiz."

The Şöpter servant beside her, a doe-eyed Faun with the spiked horns of a goat, gingerly allowed the drink to rest in Gwen's hand. The stein was heavier than she thought, though considering that the volume was fit for a Clysdale, the weight came as no surprise.

"Besseha! To the Shard's War Mage, to our friends from London—" With an expression that hinted at an expectation of her fouling the drink, the Khan lifted his enormous mug, then drank heartily until the entire contents of the horn drained into his vast torso.

"Cheers," Gwen returned without worry. "To your health, Great Khan."

She took a deep breath, circulated both Essence and Void to fortify herself, then lifted the horn to her mouth. The Airag was a yogurty admixture with the kick of a mule. Luckily for her concerned companions, she wasn't about to be defeated by something that couldn't even knock out an Ironborn Golem pilot.

Thirty seconds later, when she lowered the horn, the pavilion grew a little quiet. Gwen tossed the horn to the wide-eyed doe beside her and gave a little burp.

Taylor nervously approached, ready to catch her should she fall. Meister Bekker as well, as staring at her as though she had just discovered a hitherto undiscovered property of Void sorcery. From memory, Gwen recalled that Jean-Paul was a beer boy.

"I am fine." Gwen grinned, buzzed and happy.

"You have brought the pavilion a jewel, Meister Bekker." The Horse Lord turned to their superior. "What an interesting Human she is."

"She's special, Temir Khan." Bekker shot Gwen a look of wariness. "But now that our introductions are out of the way, I would like to report on something we had uncovered en route from Astrakhan."

"Indeed?" The Khan's interest strayed from Gwen, who took the opportunity to return to their assigned seating.

"Are you alright?" Jean-Paul's eyes fell upon her pancake-flat abdomen. "Are you… not full? That was a lot of milk."

"I could eat." Gwen gazed over at the far side of the pavilion, where their future lunch heaped upon enormous plates. Their breakfast had been light, and the rations were hardly filling.

Her companion shivered.

Not far from them, Bekker began to regale the tale of Gwen's defeat of the Djinns at Bautino.

"… We discovered diseased Rat-kin, Great Khan. Most of whom were too sick to escape, though I have no doubt those healthy enough are already among the Plain Folks."

"Is that true, Magus Song?" The Khan called out in her direction.

"Our Meister speaks true," Gwen assured the Khan. "The plague pit was beyond pale."

The Khan's good mood, which Gwen had earlier inspired, faded at once. "This must be the work of Sobel's Plaguemancers! The foul fiends cannot defeat our Golden Horde head-on, and so they resort to these dishonourable, underhanded ploys!"

"Great Khan, what ill might this bode?" Bekker's tone remained collected. "Our joint-operational push of the Elementals won't be affected, I hope. There's a long and hard campaign in front of us yet."

The Khan's men murmured.
The Meister upheld her demanding gaze.

"Saran?" The Khan spoke, but not to his free riders.

"Yes, Great Khan?" The voice that answered came from the petite body of a Faun in white. "How may this meek one be of service?"

"Consult your Shamans, examine our troops for the Sickness. If there is an outbreak, snap its back."

"I shall do as you command, Great Temir." The Faun dipped her chin. "Worry not, Meister Bekker of London, the Horde's promised push shall not be stopped, just as the spread of the Sawahi waits for no—"


The solemn ears of the listening Centaurs twitched from the unexpected aural assault.

Gwen followed the noise, expecting some dire commotion. Instead, she found only the figure of a Rat-kin female, a Tasmüyiz slave, hunched over a dropped metal plate of vegetables readied for lunch. Already, the woman was a blunder of loose fur splayed on the floor, her body a quivering puddle of fear.

The Khan grunted in the manner of chortling horses. "Guards…"

Two Horse Lords, each armed to the hoof with implements of death, split from the Honour Guards lining the pavilion's flanks.

"My Khan—" the Faun called Saran interjected. "We are in the presence of esteemed guests."

"Cleanse the filth." The Khan's wrath wasn't as explosive as Gwen had anticipated, certainly not for a stallion who had sucker-punched a titan worm in the liver. Without further drama, another team of servants quickly removed the offending Rat. "— Make ready for lunch! Come, Meister Bekker, let us discuss your plans for our retaking of the Southern Steppes over a bountiful feast of wyrm flesh!"

Lunch involved Mongolian stir-fry, feat Afaa Al-Halak.

Where Gwen had wondered if the Centaurs were vegetarian or omnivorous, that query was now set aside by the mountains of Sand Wyrm meat sizzling on metal plates heated by Fire Stones repurposed from shattered Efreet cores.

The smell, Gwen's belly pronounced, was divine.

The Human Mages' party was seated to the right of the Great Khan, while the middle of the pavilion was repurposed to hold these giant disks of smouldering iron. Outside, carts laden with vegetables and still-quivering crystalline flesh arrived in rows into the backrooms, where teams of Tasmüyiz servants sliced and diced both onto enormous plates for the Şöpter chefs. These, Gwen marvelled as she watched, were a team of six Minotaurs armed with spatulas the size of shovels, tossing and turning handfuls of spice into the sizzling bed of meat and vegetables.

While she ate, other Horse Lords approached to offer toasts.
Undaunted, the Devourer of Shenyang demonstrated her namesake, delighting their hosts with her gluttony. Most of the colts were fresh-faced kids of the Tumen Captains and Mingat Generals, and all were fascinated by her booze-swilling arcanistry.

Between the Airag and the scent of Almudj's Essence she was giving off, the Demi-humans appeared awed. Comparatively, Jean-Paul fell to the wayside, both intimidated by the strapping horse-lads and feeling ill-at-ease in the company of eight-foot stallions.

After an hour, when she grew full, Gwen's sensitive hearing grew conscious of the fact that a great commotion was taking place outside the pavilion. The clamour indicated a sports game of sorts, something akin to polo.

"What's that I hear?" she asked a helpful Khan-er-dai.

"Oh? That—?" A stallion lounged by her side rose to his hoofs. "That, Miss Gwen, is the Great Game of our people, Buzkashi! Would you like to see?"

"What's Buzkashi?" Gwen rose with the herd.

"It's the greatest sport in the Steppes!" Another son of someone important answered her. "It's unfortunate that Besutei's interest is more so in impressing the fillies."

"Kepek!" The princeling grew red at the revelation from his friend. "Embarrass me again, and I'll see you on the jousting field!"

"Is that a threat or a jest?" Kepek snorted back, huffing so hard that Gwen's hair went flying. "See what I mean, sorceress? That's Besutei, always chasing tails, never practising Buzkashi."

The fraternity-like atmosphere of the colts felt strangely familiar and endearing to Gwen, who laughed off Besutei's awkwardness and put the young stallion at ease. "Alright, alright, let's see this game of yours, shall we? Can we leave the pavilion?"

"To watch Buzkashi?" Besutei chortled. "Of course! If it weren't for your Meister, even Father would not miss a game. It's how we elect our warriors— and prove ourselves without bloodshed!"

The sport of Khitani Buzkashi wasn't very different to another fictive game played in the Wizarding world.

There were seven riders on either side of an enormous field twice the size of an international duelling field, vying to drop the "Snitch" into a goal consisting of a leather basket, one on either side. During the game, the teams would form into individual roles, with "Beaters" on the flanks preventing the "Chasers" from scoring. The fastest Horsemen on the field, the "Seeker", would seek out an opportunity to break through the opponent's formation— while his foe was the "Keeper", a brute of a stallion whose job was to body-barge any attempts at scoring.

Unfortunately for Gwen, two minutes into the blood-boiling clamour of the thundering game, multiple horns of Airag were about ready to abandon her sweet body.

The reason for her nausea wasn't overindulgence of diary, but rather the "Great Game" of Buzkashi. Or more precisely, it was the "Golden Snitch" the Centaurs employed.

With each new roar, Gwen held down her meal with both hands over her lips, her unlearned eyes wide with disbelief.

Down on the field, the Seeker Centaur galloped at full pace down the left lane, chased by a Beater with a cracking whip. Caught between the Centaur's arm and torso was a squirming "Ball" crying out for dear life.

It was the Rat-kin female— the very one who had dropped the plate of food and disrupted the Khan's conversation with her.

At first, she had not noticed because the Tasmüyiz wore what looked to be a layer of lambskin painted yellow with flecks of gold. Even so, Gwen couldn't imagine that the token-type armour offered much protection.

"ONOO—OO—ONOO!" The colts beside her were a frenzy of galloping noise and raging pheromones screaming "Goal—Goal!". Opposite, the whinnying of the fillies watching from the stands seemed to send the players into a tizzy.

An enormous stallion approached from the goal line, first at a trot, then into a canter. As the colossal brute broke into a full gallop, the "Beater" from his team zeroed in on the opposing team's "Seeker", forcing the stallion to run a line between the boundary and himself.

The crowd rose, as did their voices.

"Nonono—" Gwen couldn't breathe. If the point of the game was to snatch the "Snitch" From the opposing team, what forces were next involved in regaining possession of the Rat-kin female?

"ONOO—OO—ONOO!!!" The chants around her grew deafening.

In the next split second, the three Centaurs met.
The "Keeper" barged toward the Seeker, while the "Beater" and his merciless implement lashed the courser.

"AZIZI! AZIZI! AZIZI!" Besides her, Besutei and Kepek had forgotten all about her presence and were shouting their lungs out. "ONOOOO—"

Impossibly, the "Seeker" called Azizi leapt into the air, forming an arch almost four meters at the apex as his body grew compact as a missile. Swinging the "Snitch" on the one hand, the wondrous rider even altered his trajectory, using his "Ball" to ward away a particular nasty whip-strike as his body contorted, narrowly missing the barging body of the "Keeper".

The crowd exploded, filling every space with the sound of cheers, hoots and howls. In between the cries, the whinnying of fillies made a distinct and unmistakable trill, pulling at the heartstrings of the colts and stallions.

With a thunderous THUNK, Azizi landed on his forelegs, buckling a little from the momentum; swinging the Rat-kin like a sack, the rider once again crushed the whimpering Tasmüyiz between his arm and torso, making a bee-line for the net basket.

"ONOO—OO—ONOO!!!" All Gwen could hear was the screams of the men around her as the "Seeker" scored with bone-crunching violence, tossing the ragdoll body of the Rat-kin into the interior of the basket with the adrenaline-fuelled force of Yaoming slam-dunking a game-changer.

"GLORY TO THE THUNDERBLOOD CLAN—" the "Seeker" bellowed. Noticing her standing among the Khan's favourite colts, Azizi even turned to salute her, driving the young stallions into renewed bouts of hooting.

Half the court erupted, while the other half groaned in dejection. It wasn't a scene unfamiliar to Gwen; only she couldn't take her eyes off the mangled basket, where the Golden Snitch was no longer struggling.

While her companions left to celebrate the victory of Azizi the Seeker, Gwen found herself moving toward the goal, her breath growing heavier with every step. It took some effort to divert and push past the rush of horse-bodies blocking her way.

She looked into the basket.

There were six used "Snitches" inside. The first to six wins the match.

As Taylor had feared, Gwen lost her lunch.

With the match over, the Centaurs returned to whatever business was under hoof. As for Gwen, she had repositioned herself near a running trough of water to clean her everything.

"Here…" A horn of floral-smelling water appeared beside Gwen. "I had figured the Devourer of Shenyang would possess a stronger stomach."

Gwen drank some, then washed out her mouth, then released the horn belonging to Saran, the woman now identified as the Khan's Chief Shaman, the Clan's "Dini", and a Şöpter elder.

"Mistress Saran," she apologised for her state. "If I may be so rude, what is this game? And why?"

"A cultural relic." Saran's presence was motherly as she gave her a gentle pat on the shoulder. "These days, the Tasmüyiz are attached as a matter of survival, but in the days past, they were the object of raids. The Clan with the strongest warriors are able to bring back the largest number of Tasmüyiz to tend the fields and serve as menial labour. Is the violence strange to you?"

"Should it not be?" Gwen raised her head to regard the Şöpter Shaman. "Forgive my forwardness, Mistress Saran, but this is horrid."

"More horrid than your Districts? How you treat your powerless and the poor? The NoMs?" The Şöpter tilted her head. "We have heard many tales from your cities, Magus Song. The number of your kind that perishes from violent deaths every single day is numberless, and according to Magister Taylor, their deaths are often without purpose."

"The woman dropped a plate, for God's sake." Gwen huffed. Her eyes darted to the goal basket once more. "Whip her, beat her, exile her from the camp— but an execution via sport?"

"A skilled Rat-kin could have survived, though that's beside the point." Saran did not appear moved by her anger. "Just as we Şöpter have our place, so do the Tasmüyiz. The Rat-Clans chose this, you know— there is always an alternative. Their tribes could remain on the plains south-east of the Sawahi Desert to contend with the Afaa Al-Halak instead. Here, the bulk of their people will survive or at least persist. No one is taking that choice away from them. We're not keeping them here by through force of arms."

Gwen's lunch delivered another one-two to her gut.
To survive in the pan or the fire— what a fucked-up freedom.

The Shaman regarded her with an unreadable expression. "If Magus Song would satisfy my curiosity, tell me, if you feel so strongly about these Tasmüyiz, why did you inform the Khan of their spreading the Blood Sickness?"

Gwen's brow furrowed. "What do you mean?"

Now it was the Şöpter Shaman who appeared puzzled. "This isn't the first time we had Blood Sickness afflict the Horde. Do you know of it?"

Gwen shook her head. It would not surprise her if Draconian quarantines were the Centaur's next step. Assuming there are no field hospitals in Centaur city, the ancient epidemiological strategy was common sense.

Saran grimaced, then sighed.

Before Gwen could chase the Dini up on what she meant, a procession of junior Shamans converged upon the two. Most of the casters were bipedal Horned-folk like Saran, while a few were Centaurs. All the Shamans, Gwen noted, were female.

A gender-split magic system? Gwen's mind wandered back to the pavilion, where every warrior was a strapping stallion. Did this mean that in Khitani society, the mares were the child-bearing caretakers of home while the men hunted and fought? Likewise, was the management of the totems a uniquely feminine affair?

It was an interesting arrangement that sharply juxtaposed the gender ambiguity of the Hvítálfar and the Dwarves' genderless Protestant work ethic.

In front of Saran, her huddle of Shamans collectively wore embroidered white cotton, signifying their status and position within the Horse Lord's hierarchy. Most possessed the youth of younger women, though Gwen could see from their eyes and mannerisms that there were many a matron.

"We bring dire winds, Dini," a deer-horned woman announced. "The Human Mages were correct. The Plaguemancers' creations are among us. There's two dozens sick from the Ironhoof Clan, as well as scattered cases in the outer pavilions. I've distilled their festered blood through the iron gourde and confirmed the affliction to be Blood Sickness, albeit a kind we haven't seen before."

"How did they contract the disease?"

"From the Tasmüyiz—" The Faun's voice grew low. "Rat-kin grain collectors. Lord Yesunege says he was out hunting when a crazed Tasmüyiz bit him out of the blue. He executed the insolent slave where it stood, then returned to camp thinking nothing of it. Now his entire Arbanu is ill."

"How long ago was this?" The "Dini" Saran's expression grew dark.

"About five days. I've soothed Yesunege's fever, but his blood will burn for some time yet."

"An incubation period of five days…" Saran said aloud. "Well-timed. That's right in the middle of Temir Khan's southern campaign and beyond."

"You can't use Cure Disease?" Gwen raised a hand, showing her rings. "I brought potions if you need it."

"I've tried both the Rite of Sanguine Cleansing and the Human's potion injectors," the same Shaman replied. "The disease can be weakened but not entirely removed. A Plaguemancer's phage is not easily thwarted..."

"If Magus Song's recollection holds, the Elementals must have plotted this for some time..."

"I've called for Master Litvak," the Shaman informed their leader. "Whatever happens, we will need his wisdom."

While they waited, Saran turned to Gwen once more. "Forgive me for being dismissive, Magus Song. If you have Potions of Resist or Cure Disease, we are happy to receive your aid or trade for HDMs or Cores. That said, this is a dire matter— if indeed the Blood Sickness has come again— magically this time— there will be thousands, if not tens of thousands of ill Nokud in a matter of weeks. How many potions did you prepare for your expedition?"

"Forty?" Gwen reserved eight just in case.

"An impressive and generous number." Saran nodded. "But what good would a hundred potions do? A thousand? A sorcerous phage tailored for the Khitani will infect and infect again. Given ten-thousand doses, we can prevent deaths, but as for the southward expedition your Masters have urged..."

"So isolate the sick—" Gwen said as a matter of fact. "Quarantine them and use the potions. Is there a way to detect the disease—?"

"There is— and here he comes."

Before Gwen could finish, her eyes fell upon the visage of an ash-blonde man wearing the robes of a monk, strolling toward them with the casual ease of a bloke in his backyard. From his stave— an implement forged from melded bones, she recognised the mana signature at once.

A Necromancer!

Her breath caught in her chest. THE GALL OF THE BASTARD!

The man looked up, noting her burning eyes. As with all of his kind, the man's face was gaunt and his figure stick-like and wiry. His eyes may have at one point been blue, but now they were milky and cloudy.

"Dini Saran." The Necromancer bowed. "I've heard— and my arts are at your service."

"Thank you, Master Lazarus." The Shaman bowed in turn. "I fear the matter might be already out of control. The Shard is unrelenting in its demand, meaning we must take immediate countermeasures."

"Of course, Dini— may I ask who this is?"

From their expressions, both Saran and "Lazarus" clearly felt the murderous mana screaming inside the body of the lithe-figured sorceress in black.

"This must be our august guest from the Shard," the Necromancer said, unfazed by her hostility. "Lazarus Litvak, Free Soul, at your service."

Gwen stared at the outstretched hand, wondering if she should void the appendage. Or that if she took it, someone from the Shard would void her hand that touched the man's appendage.

A Necromancer? Here? In broad daylight? A thousand enigmas clouded her brain. Was he a guest of the Khan like she was? Did that mean they now fought shoulder to shoulder with Necromancers? Is that why no one batted an eye at Henry's dabbles into Necromancy? Was "the only Necro is a voided Necro" a Chinese thing?

The two Human Mages stood frozen in time until Gwen recalled from her earlier conversations with her instructors that "indeed" there may be Necromancers in the Khan's employ— along with human slaves— along with any number of things she was known to despise.

Her business, they had implied— was to be "Jean-Paul".

But would Jean-Paul void Lazarus Livtak with one look?

"Magus Song," Saran's voice rang beside her. "Is anything the matter?"

Gwen forced a smile to her face. "Not at all. I was merely surprised. G'day, Master Litvak."

She shook the hand the Necromancer presented. The man's fingers were bony, and to her genuine surprise, warm.

"I recall who you are now, Magus Song. How could any man forget a face like yours?" Lazarus' smile was full of caution. "You're the Devourer of Shenyang."

"I am." Gwen straightened her body. "Though the moniker's a bit too much. What is it that you do, Master Livtak?"

"Myself? I am but a humble Enchanter." The Necromancer laughed with forced humour. "I ensure the deaths here don't go to waste. I produce fodder troops to soften the Khan's foes. By extension, I ensure that the Necromancers on the Elementals' side don't take advantage of the materials the Golden Pavilion leaves behind. It is very risky, as you know, to leave source matter littering a battlefield. Imagine if some rogue Necromancer raised a family member or a friend and held their soul hostage? Terrible stuff."

Gwen understood only a few words of what the Necromancer said. "There are Necromancers on the side of the Elementals?"

"Sure— Spectres, or so I am told." Litvak shrugged. "You know how it is. Necromancers are natural mercenaries. Your talking heads at London know of my presence here, by the way. Better the Necromancer the Shard knows and all that. My servile state shouldn't come as a surprise, I'd hope. You Tower Mages are the reason we scurry like Rat-kin, after all."

While Gwen contemplated the Necromancer's words, Livtak walked beside the Buzkashi goal net and peeked inside. "Six—"

"Three on the other side," Saran reminded him.

"Not nearly enough, even for low-level Shards." Litvak shook his head. "I'll wait. Senchen said you needed me to run diagnostics on the slaves?"

Saran nodded.

"The Khan's will be done."

Before Gwen could ask the man to clarify his intentions, a burst of horn blow and fanfare from the Golden Pavilion signalled the emergence of her fellow Tower Mages standing shoulder to rump besides the Khan. Beginning from the pavilion and spreading down hills like a cascade, Orkoks barked at Tumens, who then barked orders at the lower ranks, injecting order into the equestrian chaos.

In no time at all, the colts and stallions formed into neat rows fit for a military parade. Adjacent and on either side of the golden tent, teams of prancing fillies returned to their private pavilions under the watchful count of their mare mothers.

Gwen's superiors noticed her beside the Necromancer and the Shaman at once. Seeing that she had yet to commit an atrocity, the group exhaled sighs of relief. Jean-Paul gave her a wave— she waved back, indicating that she did her best.

"Speaking of the Tasmüyiz—" Saran redirected Gwen's gaze from the Buzkashi ball pit toward the row-upon-rows of Rat-kin and other Plain Folk now gathering far from the row of Centaurs. Unlike the horses, these columns lacked both discipline and haste.

Gwen's eyes swept over the neurotic estuaries of Tasmüyiz, each streaming from the camp to form square lakes of muttering flesh, their meek and mousy bodies smouldering with the dank fetor of grilled Wyrm meat, onions, goat cheese and boiled cabbage.

"At least they had a full meal," Saran remarked beside her.

Gwen turned to look at the Great Khan's Dini.

"Magus Song, for the 'meekness' to come," the Shaman said seriously. "Out of discretion and diplomacy… the Devourer may wish to... turn a blind eye."


A note from Wutosama

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Bio: I write on the phone and edit at home. Times are tough!

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