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There were sometimes little things about Aerb that bothered me, usually because there wasn’t any obvious reason why something should be the case. Early on, I had just rolled with most of it, more concerned with survival than asking the little questions that had popped into my head, or more focused on the big existential questions of where I was and what it meant. But as time had passed, and I’d grown more comfortable with Aerb, I’d eventually come around to paying attention to those little things and trying to make some sense of them.

The cobblestone houses in Comfort had baffled me. Cobblestone houses themselves made a lot of sense, so long as the rounded stones were available, and mortar was cheap enough that it could be used in quantity without much in the way of costs. Thatched roofs were somewhat similar, if you lived in an area where you needed something to cover your house and had a bunch of reeds or straw laying about. The problem was, those cobblestone houses with thatched roofs were sitting alongside pretty standard drywall and shingled roofs, and that raised some serious questions about the world. I had come up with a few possible explanations:

  • Technological and economic advances were in a transitional state, such that all the cobblestone buildings were a legacy and drywall with two-by-fours were what people used for new constructions.
  • Cobblestone buildings were a symbol of some kind, a social, cultural, or political statement about something. I had no idea what, but harkening back to the old days was a good guess, especially if it was an outmoded method of construction.
  • Cobblestones and thatch were local, and subject to local market forces, which had eventually reached equilibrium with the stuff that was bulk-teleported in from elsewhere. That might make sense if the cobblestone houses were made of a byproduct that no one would (or could, or economically could) intentionally make more of, meaning that the business of cobblestone house building couldn’t actually expand without getting a lot more expensive.

I eventually found the answer in the book of spells we’d taken from the tattoo parlor in Barren Jewel. As it turned out, there was a tattoo you could make with the right magical inks that would produce a cobblestone house for you, one complete with a thatched roof. Unfortunately, the cobblestone houses that it produced weren’t terribly good in the long term, and after five years or so, they would begin to break down, with the mortar crumbling, the thatch rotting, and the wooden beams shifting in place. None of these problems were magical in nature, they were simply due to the poor initial construction of the house the tattoo produced. All those problems could be corrected for, but if you were going to go through all that expense and labor, on top of the expense of the tattoo, it was better to have just built a house the normal way, with drywall and two-by-fours. Economically, it was sort of like the difference between renting and buying, a question of whether you wanted to make an investment that would take some time to pay off, or cheaper living in the short term.

And so, when we got to the region I would later learn was called the Amber Lands, I immediately noted that all the structures were made of that exact same type of cobblestone with that exact same thatched roof. This base camp, then, was a temporary place, most likely purpose-built in the last handful of years. There weren’t any roads that I could see leading out of this place, which meant that the big ship must have been one of only a few ways to get there. All that was pretty suggestive. Pallida had said that Gemma took her leave from Might and Motion a month ago, which was also suggestive. Combined with what Masters had said about things heating up again, it all painted a fairly grim picture. These people were responding to something recent, something that they’d needed or wanted a base of operations for that was far away from everything else.

The only structure that wasn’t made of cobblestone and thatch was a small fort, which had been hidden from our view inside the ship. The fort’s design was about as basic as it could possibly be, a cube shape with stone walls of the sort that I’d come to associate with steel mage designs. There were small crenellations at the top, and windows with arrow slits, but there weren’t many actual features to it. Despite that, I thought I recognized it from one of our campaigns. It was of the ‘neat practical effects with no combat applications’ school of magical bases. I’d been fond of those as gold sinks, as a DM, because players could funnel their money into something like that without unbalancing the game much.

“The building is magical,” said Grak as he stared at it.

“You may inspect it as much as you wish,” said Heshnel. “Our meeting will be conducted in there, when you’re ready. I’ve instructed Gur Dehla to remove all of the most onerous wards, leaving only those you wouldn’t likely find any objection to. There are wards against a wide variety of entads, none of which you’re likely to have on your person. If any more wards need to be removed, let us know.”

That was a trap, and not one that I thought any of us were likely to fall for. Explicitly asking for wards to be lowered would indicate something of our abilities, which meant that we would either have to argue for a change of location, argue for all the entad wards to be dropped, or show our hand.

“I will need some time,” said Grak. “A half hour.”

“As you will,” said Heshnel. “We should all refrain from saying anything sensitive until we’re inside the fort. There are a few methods of surveillance only protected against within the wards, and aside from that, two less mobile members.”

“Are there things you can say in the meantime?” asked Amaryllis. “Background you can give? Things that someone watching would already know?”

Heshnel’s eyes flicked over to me. “Which of you is the group leader?”

“We’re a democracy,” said Fenn. I cringed at the bitterness in her voice.

“A democracy of how many?” asked Heshnel. I wasn’t sure whether he hadn’t caught her tone (which seemed unimaginable to me), or whether he was just brushing by it.

“Eight,” I said. “Two of our members had to stay home.”

“Which is where?” asked Heshnel.

All his people had gathered around for this chat while Grak took a look at the wards and the magic of the fort. It appeared that we were going to have an impromptu meeting before the meeting, one where we could establish a baseline with each other, which wasn’t a horrible idea now that we weren’t under time pressure.

“I suppose in a formal sense, we’re the Council of Arches, part of the Republic of Miunun,” said Amaryllis.

“The new place?” asked Gemma. “With the tuung?”

“I hadn’t heard of it,” said Heshnel, casting her a glance. “The tuung?”

“They only have a handful,” said Gemma. “But one of them is female, and in a decade or two, they’ll have more. Not really a nation though, unless they’re an upstart one.”

“And where is it located?” asked Heshnel.

“On the Isle of Poran,” Amaryllis answered, taking back the reins of conversation. “It’s an insignificantly small island on the Caltric Sea, not far from the lands of the Ha-lunde.”

“Your accent marks you as being from Anglecynn,” said Heshnel with a frown.

“Originally,” nodded Amaryllis.

“Can I see your face?” asked Heshnel. “Speaking through a full helm is no way to have a conversation.”

Amaryllis was in a bit of a tough spot. Obviously she wanted to keep the armor on in order to protect herself from a sudden attack, but she also wanted to keep it on because if she removed it, then Valencia would have less cover for keeping herself hidden from view.

“He thinks that he knows you,” said Valencia.

“Her voice is familiar,” said Heshnel with a slight nod.

Amaryllis slowly removed her helmet and held it to one side. Her hair was tied up in a tight, flat, bun, and she was sweating slightly from hours in full plate. For all that, she still looked pretty, which I found a bit annoying.

“Dahlia?” asked Pallida. Her eyes were wide.

The lenssi slashed its tendrils through the air a few times.

“No,” replied Heshnel. “She was never so severe. This girl is merely the spitting image.”

“Dahlia?” asked Amaryllis. She was looking between them. “Uther’s daughter?”

“There’s a resemblance,” said Heshnel with a nod. “Unless you are her?”

“No,” said Amaryllis. She was frowning. “I’m missing something.”

“Oh,” I said. “Uh, Dahlia was apparently never missing, she just became Uther’s squire in secret.”

Amaryllis stared at me. “And … when did you learn this?”

“It was something Masters said,” I replied. “Sorry, I forgot you weren’t able to hear.”

“Dahlia lived? ” asked Amaryllis. “She was Helio?”

“And later the Red Mask,” I said.

“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” said Amaryllis.

“He’s wrong, actually,” said Pallida. “She did actually go missing, it was just for the space of about a month. And then when she showed up as Helio, that deception lasted for a few weeks before Uther wised up.” She was watching Amaryllis.

“But Helio --” Amaryllis began. “No, it’s not important.” She had the look of someone who desperately wanted answers to questions but wasn’t willing to waste the time. “I’m not her.”

“There’s some relation though?” asked Heshnel.

“I’m Amaryllis Penndraig,” said Amaryllis. “The most direct living descendant of Uther Penndraig.” She stood as tall as she could, with her most regal bearing. The only reason it wasn’t more impressive was that she had good posture to start with, and drawing herself up to her full height didn’t change much.

“I thought you were dead?” asked Pallida.

“Clearly not,” said Heshnel with a frown. “We’ll have more questions, it seems.”

“We have questions too,” said Fenn. “Like, to start with, what you plan to do with Juniper.”

“That will have to wait until we’re inside,” said Heshnel. “There are things we cannot safely discuss outside the walls of our meeting room.” He looked to Grak, who was still pacing around the place with his wand out. “How much longer?”

“Not much,” said Grak with a grunt.

“I have questions you might be able to answer,” I said. “How did you know that Masters had found me?”

“I paid off his receptionist,” said Pallida with a shrug. “He sent us a message using an entad I’d given him.”

“That’s surprisingly unsophisticated,” I replied.

“Yes, well, all the sophisticated things I’d tried over the years turned out to be failures,” said Pallida. “I had a familiar watching the place for a few weeks once, but Masters found and killed it. I had a homunculus that was doing the same, but Masters found and killed it two days after I’d placed it. So yes, I was unsophisticated, I cornered the guy at a bar and offered him money to send me a message if anything suspicious happened. I thought it was more likely that Raven would show up than someone from Uther’s list, but here you are.”

“You said that you hadn’t seen him in decades,” I said.

“Technically true,” replied Pallida. “We weren’t sure whose side he would be on, if --”

“We’ll speak more inside,” said Heshnel.

“If Uther returned,” finished Pallida. She turned on Heshnel. “You know that I have seniority here, right? You’re not the boss of me. If anyone is watching us, they already know that’s one of the reasons we’re here, they’d have to be stupid not to.”

“Prudence,” replied Heshnel. “Perhaps you would die less often if you exercised it.”

“You can’t live if you’re not willing to die,” said Pallida. “It’s a better philosophy if you keep getting reborn though, I’ll grant you that.”

“Who is the other one in armor?” asked O’kald. He had been mostly silent over the course of the conversation.

I saw Amaryllis clench her jaw.

“I’ll be staying armored,” replied Valencia.

O’kald grumbled at that, with a sound of rocks rubbing together.

“I’m less curious what she looks like and more curious about her abilities,” said Pallida. “She supposedly has an entad that’s letting her make some pretty substantial leaps of logic. If that’s what you’re bringing to the meeting room, we’re going to have a problem.”

“We have a problem anyway,” said Grak. He’d stepped back from the fort and sheathed his wand. “There are wards that will be problematic.”

Gur Delha moved its tendrils.

“Which ones?” Valencia translated.

“Can I stop for a moment to ask how it is you know the lenssi gestural language?” asked Pallida.

“No,” said Valencia.

“The problem with the wards concerns point number nine,” said Grak. Valencia. “I’m not sure how we want to handle that.”

“Vote,” said Fenn. There was still a hard edge to her voice.

“We could bring out the infernoscope,” said Amaryllis.

“Infernoscope?” asked Pallida. “Any particular reason that you’d need one of those?”

“There’s a wrinkle,” said Valencia. “A piece of information that it would probably be better for you to know now, rather than having it be exposed later.”

“Are you sure?” I asked.

“No,” replied Valencia. “But I’ve been watching them, and I think this is probably the best path.”

“Okay,” said Fenn. “But if we have to fight, then we have to fight.”

“I don’t think anyone wants to fight, whatever you have to show us,” said Pallida.

“And the surveillance?” asked Amaryllis. “Are we about to reveal something that we’d want some unknown persons to be ignorant of?”

“Possibly,” said Valencia. She shifted slightly. “We’re already exposed on that front though. The surveillance is more hypothetical than actual. Depending on the exact mechanisms of the surveillance, and the identities of the surveilling, it’s probably best to clear up any confusion about me with them as well.”

(This was something we’d discussed in private. We wouldn’t always know when someone was watching us, and we wouldn’t always know when Valencia had been made. Doris Finch was still out there, and still in control of some kind of probability sensing entad or magic. We didn’t know what would happen if she tried to target Valencia, but there was a good chance that she would know something was up, even if she maybe wouldn’t know what. If the good guys were spying on us, they might see that Valencia didn’t show up on whatever instruments they were using and get the wrong idea. Having Valencia reveal herself, so long as it was accompanied by a demonstration, might actually have been the best course of action with regards to the people spying. Of course, the infernals were on the shortlist of people who might be spying, and having them know about Valencia wouldn’t be good … but if they were spying, they were likely to make the connection even without a reveal.)

Fenn held out her glove, and popped the infernoscope into existence.

It sat nearly five feet across, with the glass surface being roughly the height of a table. Five thick, oaken legs held it up, and the outer edge was made of the same polished wood, with polished copper sliders that controlled the mechanisms beneath the glass. It was a class of machine that had been invented during Uther’s time, and not changed all that much since then. It required no external power to use, little in the way of expertise, and wasn’t all that expensive to manufacture. Peering down into the hells was easy, it was just a question of whether people were compelled to do so.

Valencia moved forward and moved a mechanism at the bottom of the table, which caused the glass to light up with a scene from another world. We were looking at a funny angle, one which showed piss-yellow skies and blood-red clouds, and something puke-green that covered the rolling hills, more like moss than grass. Valencia moved the view around, so that it was more level and pointed in the right direction to see the trees.

Except … they weren’t trees, they were a parody of trees, recognizably wood, but with people stuck in them and splayed in crucifixion. Their skin was peeled back, exposing muscle, and blood endlessly dripped down to feed the roots of the trees. Small fruits grew near the fingers, pustulant and crimson. There wasn’t any sound, but from the people's mouths, I thought they were probably moaning rather than screaming, a low, dull, continuous agony rather than something sharp and hot.

“Just a moment, I need to find one,” said Valencia as she moved the controls. The picture lost focus for a moment as she rapidly panned around and zoomed in. The heart of the machine was a crystal that tuned light from another plane, and everything else was a method of either manipulating how and where the plane was tuned.

“Why are we seeing this?” asked Pallida. She looked a little bit sick.

“A demonstration,” said Valencia. “Less of a happy one than I would like. There.”

The view had changed to the interior of a building, and was clarifying by the moment as Valencia adjusted the mechanisms that were making the view possible. From what I’d seen of the outside, this was something akin to a farmhouse. The interior view we were given was that of a dining room, similar to what might have been seen on Earth, save for the color of the wood used in the walls, the taxidermied faces on the wall, and the table, which was made of bone and leather. An infernal sat at one end of the table, with twisted red horns and cracked black skin. There was a human with him, moving like a broken man, sweat slicking back thin hair. He was scarred and scabbed, bruised and beaten, but still mobile. As we watched, the demon was served a meal, most of which was sliced fruit of the same kind we’d seen growing on the trees. Mixed with that were curled bits of something rubbery, and smaller pieces of what I had little doubt was raw meat.

The infernal said something, and the man staggered slightly. He pulled a knife from his pocket though, moving without hesitation. As he did, I realized that he was missing two fingers. I barely had time to realize what he was going to do before he brought the knife down on his finger, cutting at the joint, until he was all the way through. He placed the bloody finger on the plate, then moved to the other end of the table and collapsed in his own chair. The infernal said something again, and the man leaned forward to look at his own plate, which was covered in hair, eyeballs, and what must have been fecal matter.

“Watch,” said Valencia.

The infernal shifted slightly in his seat, then fell to the side with faint smoke trailing from where his yellowed eyes had been. The human stopped in place with a handful of ‘food’ from his plate halfway to his mouth.

“What was that?” asked Heshnel, narrowing his eyes at the infernoscope.

“That was the last moment of the thirty millennia existence of Gelgroroth Drozgeg, Eater of Whimpers, Chohan of Absqueltion. He was a minor devil of the 321st hell,” said Valencia.

The man set down his food with a shaking hand and went over to the devil, moving slowly and cautiously. He looked the devil over, checking him without touching, pushing just enough to check that there was no reaction. The man stood back up, staring down at the devil for a moment, then returned to his chair and began eating the slop he’d been given, gagging and crying the whole while.

Valencia adjusted the mechanism and the view disappeared.

“What happened to that devil?” asked Heshnel with a soft voice.

“I ate him,” replied Valencia.

“What about the human?” asked Gemma. “There at the end, I don’t understand why he returned to that … meal.”

“The human’s name was Betram,” said Valencia. “He’d been owned by Gelgroroth for two decades or so. This is almost assuredly not the first time he’d seen one of his masters apparently die in front of him. He’s assuming that what he saw was a ruse intended as part of psychological torture. Most likely he’ll realize that the death was real in the next few days and find some other infernal to be his master.”

I frowned at that, but I knew enough about the hells to know why that might be the case. Being a kept human was, in some sense, the best that you could do in the hells, especially if you were kept by someone rich. Hell was an ecosystem, and every part of that ecosystem fed on mortal suffering in one way or another, usually indirectly by following incentives. All the mortal species regenerated in the hells, which made them the ecological equivalent to the sun, the source of all life and energy.

Some of this was my design. We’d done a campaign inspired by Dante’s Inferno, and I’d done my best to make justifications for why hell looked so suspiciously tailored to producing suffering. I’d had more of a flourish to my design, as I hadn’t really felt the need to be grounded and wanted big set pieces, but some of what I had made had been lifted directly, and even if it hadn’t been, I could recognize my own fingerprints, even if I was certain that my fingers hadn’t been the ones to make them. The hells were, in some sense, my sort of hells, hells that didn’t really care about you and only tortured you because there was something in it for them. Infernals made people eat gross stuff because that helped make their own food taste better. People were farmed for their blood, muscle, skin, and bone, to within the limits of their enhanced post-death bodies to withstand such things.

I felt my stomach churn. Hell #321 wasn’t even one of the really bad ones. Deep down, the rules got harsher for mortals.

“You … ate ... a devil?” asked Heshnel. “While standing on the surface of Aerb? What are the limits of that ability?”

“Classified,” said Valencia. “I will say that I can give another demonstration, if one isn’t enough.”

“Please,” said Heshnel, but I could tell that he didn’t really care that much about more proof: he wanted to see the things destroyed.

“You can operate the infernoscope yourself, if you’d like,” said Valencia. “I wouldn’t want you to think that there was any trickery involved.”

“It’s too good to be true,” said O’kald.

“We’ll see,” replied Heshnel. He stepped up to the controls of the infernoscope and began fiddling with it, far less expertly than Valencia had. It took him some time, working in silence, while I looked away from the scenes that flashed by. It wasn’t quite slavery and harvest of mortals so far as the eye could see, but it was close enough to make me feel sick. My thought, after seeing what Valencia had done, had been to question why she hadn’t killed the devil before the man had been made to cut off his finger, but obviously in the context of the hells and the screaming insanity of a trillion people being tortured forever, that led down a rabbit hole.

“There,” said Heshnel.

I steeled myself and looked down. The image quality wasn’t as good, and while Valencia was able to improve it by fiddling with the controls, it stayed blurry enough that we couldn’t make out fine details. We were watching some kind of staged fight, with a huge demon pitted against a man in plate armor and a sword. The crowds behind them were even less clear, but it had to be thousands of infernals. It took me some time to realize that the demon was moving oddly because he was handicapped, both arms bound behind his back and a solid bar of some dark metal connecting his ankles. That left him with snapping, discolored teeth, and three long horns, two on each side and one protruding from his forehead. The demon was going to win, I was fairly sure.

The demon toppled over, slamming its face into the dirt, from no apparent cause.

“Incredible,” said Heshnel with a low voice. “More.”

Valencia adjusted the controls on the infernoscope slightly, until it was pointed toward the crowd that had been watching, which was moving around quite a bit more than it had been. I imagined them uneasy, not quite knowing what was going on, too stunned at having witnessed the death of one of their kind to make any sense of things, or maybe wondering whether this was an act. The infernoscope showed a stretch of the crowd, its view close to the front line of infernals. One of them fell over the side, into the pit with the fighter, and the crowd almost immediately erupted in a furor.

I saw more of them falling, one by one, dropping to the bleachers as the crowd began to part and run in a mad panic. More and more of their ranks were cut through with every passing second, and Valencia worked the controls to give us a broader view. They weren’t quite dying en masse, but the crowd was moving in a crushing stampede, and bodies were being left behind with every foot the crowd managed to move.

I didn’t realize that Valencia was hyperventilating until Amaryllis had pulled her away from the infernoscope’s controls. In the view that we’d been given, the deaths continued, heedless of the fact that Valencia was no longer at the controls.

“Paper bag,” said Amaryllis in Fenn’s direction.

Fenn rushed in and pulled a paper bag from her glove, which Amaryllis took and inflated with a puff of air. She slipped back Valencia’s faceplate and handed Valencia the paper bag, which Valencia took and began breathing into with deep breaths. I glanced at the infernoscope only for long enough to confirm that the killings had stopped, even as the mass panic continued.

“For years,” Valencia said, “For years,” she said again, between breaths. “I was theirs for years and I don’t, I can’t.” Tears were streaming down her face.

“Deep breaths,” said Amaryllis.

I saw the lenssi make a gesture with its tendrils that not all of the others caught at first.

“She’s non-anima,” said O’kald as he drew his weapons. “It was too good to be true.”

“Weapons down,” said Heshnel.

“It’s fakery,” said O’kald. “A display, meant for us. They did the same for Uther.”

“No,” said Valencia, still breathing hard, but with the paper bag tossed to the side. “Please.”

“Weapons down,” said Heshnel.

“There are protocols,” said O’kald.

“He’s right,” said Gemma.

“How would they have faked it though?” asked Pallida. “Hesh picked the second site.”

“I was non-anima,” said Valencia. “And then something changed, and I became something new.” I couldn’t take the desperate pleading in her voice, the way she sounded like a child in need of protection.

“She’s under our aegis,” said Amaryllis with a hard edge to her voice. She was still crouched down next to Valencia. “We’ve had more thorough confirmation that she is what she says.”

“The protocols exist for a reason,” said O’kald. He had not, in fact, lowered his weapons. “I’m willing to get a second opinion on what she is, but we can’t trust a word she says.”

“Do you recall the things they said about Forty-Two?” asked Heshnel. “He was a changeling, the boogeyman of that era. Tell me that she would be so different, an outcast, for good reason, allied with the Chosen One and turned, completely, against their own kind.”

“The infernals were never my kind,” said Valencia. She staggered to her feet and rested a hand on the infernoscope for support. “I was possessed, deprived of my will, a slave.”

O’kald stared at her. He had a hammer in one hand and a handaxe in the other. I was pretty sure that he would be the toughest of their group to take down, if it came to that, but I was really, really hoping that it wouldn’t come to that. Bellads had internal organs, of a sort, not anything organic, but still places that could cause him some trouble if pierced. Amaryllis had her flickerblade, Fenn had void weapons in her glove, and Solace would surely be able to pull something out of her bag of tricks against a being that was largely made of rock. If it was just him, I was optimistic that we could take him down, but I wasn’t sure that he would be the only one.

The lenssi made a few gestures in the air. I looked to Valencia for translation.

“I dont, I can’t, sorry,” said Valencia. She wiped some of her tears away. “I’m too -- I overdid it.”

“Dehla was arguing for trust,” said Gemma. “Measured trust.”

“Wait, she ate them?” asked Pallida. “And gained their powers? That’s why she knew all that stuff?”

“Yes,” said Valencia with a small voice. “I just wanted to protect my friends.”

“It’s an act,” said O’kald. “Am I the only one who sees that?”

“You haven’t answered how it would be possible,” said Amaryllis.

“It’s a ploy by the devils,” said O’kald. “Fakery and lies.”

“Yes, but how?” asked Pallida. “You think that this is a fake infernoscope? Or that they arranged those scenes for us in the hells?”

“I don’t know,” said O’kald. “And now she says she can’t do more. Convenient.”

Valencia squared her shoulders. “I can,” she said. “I just killed a thousand of the infernals. How many more do you need to see die?”

“The ruling council,” said Heshnel. His eyes were piercing, full of intent.

“There are considerations,” said Amaryllis. “We’re worried about retaliation from the hells. For the hells to be unified would, I’m sure you’d agree, be problematic.” She glanced at Valencia. “This was already more than I had thought should be done without a concrete plan in place, especially given the circumstances. If they develop countermeasures --”

“Sorry,” said Valencia, hanging her head. “I just wanted to not be seen as a monster. I wanted to kill the creatures that make people see me that way.”

Pallida began laughing. “Oh, I just got it! She’s the one that the hells have been running around scared of? That’s amazing. We were so worried! She’s eating them!”

“O’kald, lower your weapons,” said Heshnel. “We don’t have to trust them, not in the slightest, but whatever the truth, they’re obviously willing to defend her. We don’t want this to come to blows any more than they do.”

O’kald slowly lowered his weapons. “I’ll watch her,” he said.

Valencia sighed, sagging down like it had been taking all her energy to stand tall.

“This ward will need to be removed,” said Grak. He took his wand out and pointed to the fort, lifting the tip of the wand out and back like he was balancing an egg on the wand’s end.

The lenssi took out its own wand out from the bandolier around its liquid form and swished it twice through the air before quickly resheathing the wand.

“I thought that you couldn’t ward against non-anima?” I asked.

“The construction is ingenious,” said Grak. I waited for him to go on, but that was what he left it at. More detail on that later, I supposed.

“But she’s not a non-anima?” asked Pallida. “You said she’s something else.”

“She doesn’t have a soul,” I said. “But there’s no risk of possession. Instead, it’s sort of the opposite.”

“That’s so cool,” said Pallida. “Wait so, she’s immune to magic?”

“This isn’t what we brought them here for,” said Heshnel. Whatever glimmering of excitement I had seen was gone. Whatever was going on in his head, he’d become more reserved. “It’s only a piece of the puzzle.”

“We should be able to go in,” said Grak. “It’s as safe as the rest of this place.” I knew Grak well enough to read the implied reservation there, even if it wasn’t readable from his tone.

“Alright,” I said. “Then let’s get this meeting started.”

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Alexander Wales

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