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A note from Ringo Farr

I... May or may not have posted chapter thirteen twice... Damn.

Smoke and Mirrors




There were a million things going through my mind on the road out of Coranett, but there were even more things on my mind as we crossed the border of Chorell back into the Pony lands. It had taken some time of course, but the southern reaches of the city-state were in shambles anyway, so there was little to no point in trying to make a real stop anywhere. Bast and I looted for supplies, or rather, I looted for supplies and she went hunting, leaving it up to me to cook whatever portion of her kill she thought I warranted. I often got the leg of some creature for my troubles, but whatever it was, I always had some leftovers and dried them as best I could with what I had. The Ponies didn’t keep much salt around since it was addictive to them, but I found enough in people’s houses to salt some meat and cure it on a string-bound sack. After a few pit stops in ruined towns, Bast mentioned that we could head south to Denosia and see if my music would be popular there, but all I had in my heart was a weight that I couldn’t shake. And I felt no desire to play. Bast didn’t quite understand why, but I did.

My music had perverted itself into a monster; an unholy amalgamation of magic and might that I had used for evil, though in the name of a good cause. It was beyond me to deal with the consequences of my actions, but I had to nonetheless because it was my shit sandwich and I needed to eat it. Thus, I accepted my exile from Chorell and found myself back in a place I had no business being. Bast’s reasoning that we head south and skirt Toddton to avoid any trouble from the west was wise, but I honestly wanted to head north more than anything, so we found ourselves on the fine line between two places that didn’t like me on our way to one of the most River-Person friendly places in the world. Sotanylvanniia was supposed to be a farming culture like no other with advanced medicine to boot, so I was a little excited to see what would be in store for us there. The country was told to be one of the more technologically advanced places in the world, more so than Ponydale or Gerritt. God forbid anyone name Chorell any manner of advanced with their well water system and generally backward-looking ‘tech’.

While screwing around in a library in a town formerly called Villa of Sola, I found a book on Sotan culture and history that Bast chastised me for stealing. In my defense ,it was just one of a few that I took to bide time on the road and further enrich myself through study. Altogether I’d nabbed the book on Sotans, a book on intermediate and advanced healing arca, and another book on some interesting Terruc theory that I wanted to see if I could try and understand with the help of a small dictionary. There were plenty of things for me to study, but the herbiary and bestiary were the last books I felt I needed in my pack, otherwise, I was just robbing the place and that didn’t sit well with me. Bast didn’t bring me anything to eat that night, so I assumed that she was mad at me. I didn't really care as I read by firelight and tried my new spells out one by one. I learned that Artificery was actually really fucking hard to get right, but the Arca side of Terru was something I could actually do. Runes weren’t my thing, but I did have a knack for temporary enchantments that brought my spirits a little higher.

It took four days from the border of Ponydale and Chorell to get to Sotanylvannia, but the change in the place itself was enough to show me that Sotanylvannia was… Different. Gerritt and Ponydale had mostly consisted of plains and forests while Chorell had mostly been steppes and plains, but Sotanylvannia? Rolling green hills as far as the eyes could see with lush, green grass sprouting from every inch of every acre. The sight was something to behold and the early autumn air was enough to bring a slight chill over the grasses. The wind rolled over the blades and brought forth a smell of such freshness, such homely warmth that I traded a look with Bast before we set foot in the new land. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of silver disappear under the horizon from behind us and I wondered what it could have been, so I decided to ask.

“Hey, Bast, did you see that?”

“Our pursuers?” She asked calmly, licking her paw.

“... Bast…”

“Since we left Coranett.”

Seriously!?

“I thought you knew.”

“Why didn’t you-”

“I just said why, fool.”

“... I hate you so much right now.”

“Would you care to go meet them?”

“Well, yeah. I’d kinda like to know who’s been following us for damn near three weeks.”

Bast, in all her feline glory, gave me the most bored look I’ve ever fucking seen. “Do you really need to ask?”

“Well, should I set a trap or expend extra rations?”

“That is entirely up to you, O’ Oblivious One.”

“I’ll step on your tail again.”

“You’d be sorry soon enough.”

“I wouldn’t even apologize.”

“I wouldn’t make you do that, but you would surely regret it nonetheless.”

“Mhm. And you can get made into a coat.”

“Try me.”

We looked at each other and I flipped her off. “Opposable digits.”

“Fangs.”

“Thumbs.”

“Speed.”

“Dexterity.”

“Strength.”

“Intelligence.”

She snorted. “It was who that knew we were being followed?”

“A smart person would’ve said something.”

“A smart person would have noticed in the first place.”

“Shut up before I make you into cat-jerky.”

“Okay, lunch.”

We talked shit back and forth for awhile longer as I traveled to the bottom of the hill with her joining me. My magnetic charm was nothing to be sniffed at, after all. I decided to route our pursuers by doubling back a bit and rounding a different hill, making it easier to see them when they crested the one I’d just been on. As I’d partially suspected, the people were Chorets, but there were only two of them. I could only really see their skin tones and hair, but they were both Moon Women, and one had longer hair than the other. It took a sec for me to realize that it must have been the Stellaras following me all along since it made the most sense, so I turned the tables on them with Bast’s help and started following the sisters as they had done to me. Sadly, they noticed me a lot sooner than I noticed them, though they just stayed in place til Bast and I caught up. Stella looked a little worse for wear, but the time over the land had obviously done her some good. Her eyes were both looking better and she was walking pretty fine for the most part, but I was still worried about her. Concern made me want to see if something was wrong, but the pain of rejection made me wary against getting close to her again. However, as we approached I saw something about them that made me hesitate to come any closer. Bast waited with me as Stella and I stood just meters away from each other, within earshot and within range for normal conversation in a large city. The moment felt tense, so I raised the tension by coming a little closer and stopping when I felt it was worth my time to do so. I was scared of what she might say, but even with fading bruises, scabs, and pain evident on her face, there was nothing I wanted more than to have Stellara Inova come to me so I could scold her for leaving me, so I could hug her for following me, and so I could scream at her for stabbing me in the back.

A lot of things went through my mind when I stood in front of Inova and Cosma, but what I said was, “Why? You’re free.”

Stella nodded and her sister went to speak, but I prevented her words with a gesture, nodding to my former Partner. Inova took the time to speak. “... Gatian, I owe you. More than I’ve ever owed anyone anything, I owe you my life.”

“... What if I don’t want it? Stella, you left. You chose to leave at the drop of a hat when I was trying to do something for us, and that hurt. Why would I let you come back so you could stab me again?”

She straightened herself up and looked at me. “Because you’re Gatian.”

“Yeah, well I didn’t think Gatian was the kind of guy to go around starting riots or drink himself to sleep, but what do I know?” I rolled my eyes. “You’re not following me anymore. Just join the party, share what you have, and we’ll all be hunky dory, okay? Okay.”

I turned and started to go, but Cosma grabbed my arm. “Gatian, please, let us- wait, did you-”

“Yeah, I said you’re coming with me, bright one. If it was going to be easy to get rid of you, then it probably would’ve happened a good while ago.”

“Fair point.” Cosma smiled.

I rolled my eyes and got back to walking, leading my pack into the general direction of the biggest Sotan town on the border. It was still pretty small by most standards when I zoomed in a bit, but it was a real town without any churches or fire on the buildings, so I was glad to be in Sotanylvannia. The place is hard to spell and takes awhile, so I’ll just call it ‘Sotanville’ like the natives do, though I don’t think anyone is going to mistake me for being one in Sotanville. Choret was a bit of a different story if you went off of skin color alone, but otherwise my features made me pretty alien on Septural. That being said, coming into range of the town took more time than I would’ve hoped with the hills and valleys of the terrain. I was glad that it wasn’t awful, and when we came across a lake, we almost went swimming until the wind picked up a bit. We still took the time to wash up and get our traveling clothes clean since we could, and with the supplies we added to our own from the lake and its surrpundings, we were good to go for a while longer. Bast even brought back a full size deer that she let us measly, meager, pathetic Humans take care of. She still ate plenty of the beast, but she actually let me and the Stellaras get our fill before she dug in. When she was done with what we’d cooked, she went back to the raw stuff and the rest of us started talking among ourselves.

“So what the hell made you two want to follow us out of Chorell? I thought you were getting along just fine without me.”

Stella and her sister both looked at me. “... When did I ever imply that I was better without you?”

Cosma nodded slowly. “Inova hasn’t been herself. Not since coming home.”

I raised a brow. “So what? It’s not like you looked for me.”

“Yolanna said you’d left with another Partner by the time I returned,” Inova said softly. With her bowl in hand, she said, “I followed your lead to the border of Ponydale and Gerritt where I heard tell of a talented musician becoming famous from playing in taverns, which I figured you would be interested in. I followed the rumor and found a Mare named Shadesong that seemed to know you-”

“Wait, You met Shade?”

Inova nodded. “She told me that she hadn’t seen you since nearly coming for your hand in marriage…”

I nodded and sighed. “Good woman, skittish though.”

My former Partner accepted the news and took it to heart, looking worse off for it in all honesty. It was like a wind had been taken out of her sails and Cosma noticed it as well. “Sister, shouldn’t we set up our tent? It’s getting late.”

“We’re all Moon People here.” Inova said, stirring her stew.

“And we’ve been up all day.”

The longer-haired sister shrugged. “... I suppose I would like to eat.”

Cosma nodded a few times and stared at her stew while I considered ways to break the tension. “So… what do you two do for fun?”

Stella cracked a small smile. “Argue.”

“Do you ever kiss?” I asked hopefully.

“No? Why would we?”

“I dunno. To make up after arguing?”

“We make up with pranks.”

“Oh do you now?”

Cosma smiled gently as I spoke to Inova, though I didn’t know why. “Why, yes. There was once a time where I placed an itching irritant in Cosma’s shampoo and convinved her that she had mites.”

The slimmer Stellara colored in the firelight. “It wasn’t as good as the time I made you think a Cree-Hag was under your bed!”

“You can sleep outside the tent.”

“I believe that would be an honor reserved for Miss Hag, don’t you agree?”

The sisters started bickering back and forth, and amusingly enough, I learned a lot about them while they talked. I learned that Stella was definitely the warrior and pragmatist of the two with a superstitious mind-frame that let her see bogeymen in all corners while Cosma, the less religious of the two, could only be messed with physically, which I made sure to do before we all went to bed. I suggested we start doing a group hug as a way to promote group morale and whatever before bed and they agreed after a little cajoling, so I grabbed both of them by the rear, laughed my own butt off, and apologized for groping them. Stellara Inova grabbed my left arm and made me stop laughing while Cosma grabbed my right and made me start feeling worried. Then they took me down gently and both gave me serious looks of various intensities. Cosma looked like a determined older sister while Stella looked like she wanted an answer to something she hadn't asked. I decided to be proactive.

“I’m not trying to sleep with you.”

“That wasn’t the question, but I was curious,” Bast said, laying down next to my head.

“... What is this?” I asked carefully.

“You’ve been drinking from that bottle since we stopped.” Cosma said firmly.

“And for quite awhile before.” Stella added. “Gatian, are you an alcoholic?”

I looked that woman dead in the eye and said, “Yeah. It’s like, sixty-percent your fault.”

“Then I will one hundred-percent cure you of this malady.”

Stellara and I looked at each other for a long while. “Stella, I needed you and you

weren’t here.”

“I’m here now.”

“I still have A Devil’s Tongue.”

“Your heart is too pure to use it for your own gains. You haven’t so much as played a

song since, have you?

“... No.”

“Can you make your music with your other instrument?”

“Dunno.”

Stella nodded. “You don’t know because you don’t want to try. You’re afraid of yourself.

Of losing me again. Gatian, I ran because I thought you were using your power on me before I realized that you didn’t know you were using it. I apologize from the deepest depths of my heart and beg your forgiveness for leaving you, but I need you to listen to me now, my friend. Let me be here for you. Let us help you pull yourself out of [the soup].”

“Maybe I don’t need you to help me, Stellaras.”

“You do.” Cosma said. “You helped us, so we’re going to help you whether you like it or not.”

“And we will bring your music-”

“That’s not what I want to do anymore. I want to do something a little cooler than be a rockstar now.”

Stella’s eyes widened. “... What do you want to do?”

“I want to join a Guild. You know,take jobs, do concerts somewhere from time to time for extra cash, you know; live the Guild life.”

My former partner and her sister looked at me, then at each other. “Well…” They said simultaneously.

“The only Guild you could join would be the Moon-River Regiment.” Stellara said.

“Oh, that is not good.” Cosma hissed.

“Why’s that the only one I could join?” I asked, wondering about the name.

“Because that is the only Guild that openly accepts River People. Your kind may be well liked in some places, but the world’s overall opinion of River People is varying, so Guilds don’t often allow them to join.”

“So I would have to go to the Guild I’m also nicknamed after?”

“Nickname?”

“He is a Moon Man of the River. Moon River.” Bast explained.

“Oh.”

“Oh.”

I looked at the twins. “You.”

“Hush. This is worrisome.” Stella traded a look with Cosma.

“Quite.”

They let me up, so I sat up and brushed myself off. “What’s worrisome?”

“Have you ever heard of the Minstrel’s Maladies?” Cosma asked.

“Uh… Yeah, in passing. Refresh my memory?”

“It’s the legend of a musician whose skills are so incredible that he wreaks destruction after failing to be paid…”

“Well, that doesn’t sound like me.”

I got stared at as Stella said, “You literally drove a man insane with a song.”

“Fair point.”

Cosma picked up with the story. “The Minstrel was said to have given up music in favor of becoming an adventurer or something of the sort in the story, and when he does, he finds a grisly end.”

“And you think I’m the Minstrel?”

“It would make sense.”

“I thought the Minstrel played a pipe?”

“He did, but some tales say an undlegar.”

“Ah, that sucks.” I shrugged. “Oh well. Guess that’s off the table.”

“What about becoming the best musician in Stalfisk? It’s cold there, but it’s supposed to be a very nice place to live.” Cosma said hopefully.

“We’re not going to your retirement home.” Stella said firmly.

“Oh come on, Nova!”

“It was bought with money given to you from selling me!”

“Right? It’s as much your house as it is mine!”

“I say we sell that house and don’t live in the symbol of Stella’s slavery. All in favor?”

“Wait, so we’re still going to Stalfisk?” Cosma asked.

“Yup.”

Yes!

“Damn.” Stella cursed.

“What? Don’t like it cold?” I asked interestedly.

“We’re coming to the winter season anyway.” She moaned piteously. “It’s going to be even colder!

“Oh well, at least you still have silver hair. You’ll blend in with the snow.”

She glared at me with no real intent behind it and I couldn’t help but smile back at her. “... You’re… Different, Gatian.”

“Time does that to people.” I shrugged.

“... You’re firmer than before. Meaner.” She said it as if it were just a casual observation.

“And you’re bruised. Are we making any more observations?”

“... I never stopped loving you, my friend,” Stella said softly.

I almost hit her. “Right. That’s why you left.”

“I left because I didn’t think I had a choice in whether or not to stay. When that proved false, I had no reason to stay away any longer.”

“... You just thought-”

“Devil Tongues are supposedly a breed of their own. However, I have a strange feeling that you know little of your power.”

“You wouldn’t be wrong. I know I have to be really mad or really feeling a song to use it actively.”

“So it’s triggered by emotion?” Cosma asked.

I glanced at her, a little disconcerted by just how much she and her sister favored at the

moment. It wasn’t as if either were terribly different from the other, but their voices were my main way of telling them apart. Cosma had a softer, lighter voice while Stella had a tone that she used most of the time that seemed to make her the younger of the two. Cosma appeared to be older and wiser while Stella was more free-spirited and prone to wandering off randomly. I didn’t know what to do with either sister, but I had a funny feeling that they were both important to my life and the path I was on, so keeping them close was most likely a good idea. Instead of zoning out while thinking, I answered while halfway in my head and got a weird look for what I said.

“.... What?” I asked innocently.

“You… You activate it by drinking?

“Oh? What? No, not quite. Drinking really helps get me in the mood, but I don’t have to, I don’t believe.”

Cosma gave me a sisterly look, and by that I mean she glared at me like I’d just broken Mom’s anniversary vase. “Can you please ween yourself off of that horrid substance? It’s an unholy elixer.”

Stella glanced at me and her sister, probably sensing a storm brewing between us. “Sister, Gatian is not Choresh. He is not beholden to our laws.”

Cosma sniffed. “Still.”

“Cozzy, I have a flask of literally infinite liquor. Get off my nads.”

“Just liquor?” Stella asked, sensing a compromise.

“It can be any form of alcohol, I guess. Want me to-”

“The Chorets drink mead and hard ciders on holidays.” She offered, hope in her eyes.

I shook my bottle and looked at Bast who’d been silent for some time. “Yo, you thirsty?”

“I still remember the last time you fed me that accursed liquid.”

“So yeah?”

“Of course.” She crawled closed and opened up, so I poured it into her mouth a couple shots at a time. Once I was done, she licked her chops. “Mmm, brown liquor is far superior to white.”

I shook my flask a few times and filled my bottle with mead this time, giving it a sip. “Eh, still has a bit of maple to it, but it’s not half bad. You want some?”

“Wait, what just happened?” Cosma asked, furrowing her brow.

“I believe his flask has an enchantment.” Stella said softly.

“Never-ending party!” I chuckled. “I’ve got enough to go around, if you’d like some as well.”

Stella picked up her cup and drained it before passing it to me to be filled. I cranked up the alcohol content on the mead and gave her some, but Cosma abstained. I got a bowl of it for Bast and sipped on my own bottle for some fun times. Cosma, the only one not drinking asked, “So why do you drink, Gatian?”

I stopped while sipping from my container. “... Because there’s a lot of things you see on the road that time don’t fix by itself.”

“Like what?” Bast asked.

I raised a brow. “The Partner I borrowed when Inova left, a man named Lucine, got himself killed to save me and a young woman I was responsible for. Then I saw an undead horde plunder the majority of the towns I managed to find in Ponydale. Even the capital got attacked, but the last I knew there was a garrison on the rise.”

“You were in Ponydale when the bloodshed began?” Cosmas eyes were wide, her hands trembling lightly.

Inova placed a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure Gatian and I can keep you safe, sister. If not he, then I myself.”

“This isn’t an enemy you can fight with conventional means. Last time I ran into them was on the way from Equinaire and they were resilient to damage both magical- er, Terruc and physical.” I elaborated. “None of my lightning or water arca had any effect, and those are my best alignments so I’m nearly useless against them.”

Cosma smiled creepily out of nowhere and Stella sighed. “You’re Arca-inclined?”

“... Kinda? I like Terru and studying it.”

“You surely jest!” Bast gasped, hiccuping since she was a lightweight. “You spend so much time with your nose in those books of yours, I never know if you can actually read or if you like the pretty symbols!”

“Hey, just because I keep a buzz doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy my reading.”

Stella rubbed her arm. “... Are you… Well, have you tested all of your affinities?”

“Well, no, but-”

“How good are you really with lightning Arca?” Cosma inquired, leaning toward me.

“... Decently?”

“What’s your highest arca class with Lightning spells?”

“C+?”

“Then your affinity is most likely Tempestian, or rather, the Arch is. Many Tempestian River People have no trouble with most lightning Arca. Would you like to try one of my namesake spells?” She asked, her blue eyes glinting in the firelight.

I glanced at Stella and she nodded. “Okay…” Cosma taught me the incantation and hand signs for a star-based Arca and I gave it a shot. “Cosma inova stellaris en feller

Nothing seemed to happen other than the night growing a bit brighter, which is when I looked up and saw on the moons something I’d never noticed before. Two symbols, one of a piecemeal full moon on the blue moon and another of a pinprick-patterned cresent moon on the other. It was such an odd sight that I had to look back at the one who’d taught me the spell in complete and utter awe.

“Neat trick, isn’t it?” Cosma preened, puffing her chest out proudly.

Stella gave me an apologetic smile. “She likes to show off.”

Bast snorted. “Starborn.”

She got stared at for that, and it wasn’t by me. “What do you mean by Starborn, Faulain?” Cosma asked.

“I am no Faulain.” Bast sniffed. “I am no more a Faulain than you a monkey.”

“She is an ohsum, sister.” Stella said, grimacing.

“I am not an ohsum either. I am not red.”

Stella’s jaw dropped and Cosma covered her mouth. I was bewildered. “What? Is she really some kind of Demi-Goddess?”

“Bastet.” Stellara said numbly.

“Yes?” Bast tilted her head.

“Bastet called us Starborn.” Cosma whispered.

“She did.” I looked at the blue cat. “Bast, does that shit mean something?”

“It means they are born from the stars, you fool. Formed from the dust of creation.”

Inova huffed out a laugh, looking a little loopy while Cosma blinked, smiling. “Ah, you’re funny. We’re no more Star Children than Gatian would be of the Moon.”

“I’m a Moon Man.” I said flatly.

Cosma’s head whipped toward me. “... The Moon River shall cross with the Star’s dust…”

“Ah, now I recall.” Bast said cheerfully, like she’d just figured something out. “The Sunless Soldier rides at dawn to take from the River of Rebirth a Piece of the Moon. I wonder where that rascal is…?”

“The Sunless Soldier…?” I asked.

“Yes, if you are the Moon River, then a bitter Day Person should have crossed you in some manner.”

“... That happened. Yeah.”

“And I assume you were healed by a lusty Sotan?”

Stella cleared her throat and I furrowed my brow. “Well, not so much.”

“Gatian, that nurse flirted with you nonstop and you never flirted back.”

“What nurse?” I felt as though I’d clearly remember someone flirting with me.

“Remember Emilia?”

“With an E?”

“That one, yes. She was trying to become your wife.”

“And I got stuck with you.” I rolled my eyes.

“You could do worse.” Bast said indifferently.

“Much worse!” Cosma added.

“I was kidding anyway, but what’s the legend, Bast?”

“A piece of the moon fallen into the River shall be fetched by the Sunless Soldier and delivered unto the lusty Sotan. The Starborn Heir is to then deliver the Moon River to…” Bast licked her paw and stroked her ear.

“To…?” Was chorused by every Human present.

“I forget.”

“Cat, I’ll make a very expensive coat out of you if you don’t get your shit together.” I warned.

“Remember my lunch comment from earlier?”

“Uh-huh, dinner-blah-blah suck my assey eat my wienie, I know you want the penie.” I deadpanned.

Now I got stared at, but Bast remembered something. “Ah, yes. The Starborn deliver the Moon River to the edge of the world or something of the sort. Definitely not Denos. Too warm for the Beacon of Being, I would think.”

“The Beacon?” Cosma squeaked.

“A-Are you sure?” Stella asked.

“As Sure as the sun does set. Why, are you nervous?”

The sisters looked at each other, then Stella looked at me, her eyes holding a truth I wanted to know. “Gatian…”

Yes?

“... That legend ends in sacrifice.”

“Of me or you?”

“The Moon River shall shed its blood and be returned from whence it came.”

“Oh.”

“... I don’t think we should go north.”

“I don’t think I’m going to give either of you the choice.” Cosma said softly, a light chuckle at the end of her words.

Stella blinked. “Sister…?”

Cosma smiled. “We’re Starborn, Inova. Do you know what that means?”

“I don’t like what it means, Cosma!”

“Too bad. I love it and I think that this man is worth sacrificing to claim our birthright.” Cosma turned toward me and froze.

I took my thumb off of Clockly’s hammer, the click having gotten her attention. “You really want to betray me after I save your sister’s life? I didn’t have to step in. I didn’t have to help you. I don’t have to let you walk away from this.”

Stella gave me a firm look. “Gatian, please stop this.”

Cosma started reaching for something and I didn’t want to see what it was. Just as Stellara Inova was saying ‘Stop acting like you’re going to pull the trigger’, I saw a flash of steel in Cosma’s hand and made a choice I couldn’t bring myself to regret. I shot her in the forearm and put a pretty decent hole in it, making her yank her hand and the knife she’d grabbed up. The knife was launched into the air and Stella dove at me, knocking my gun from my hand as her sister grasped at her arm. As I tumbled with Stella something unlikely happened behind her. The knife turned in the air and came down blade-first into Cosma’s shoulder, burying itself down to the handle. The night flashed red for a moment as the light from the smaller of the two moons glowed brighter, its radiance tinging everything as Stella turned back to see what I’d seen. It hit her like a ton of bricks, but then something came out of her mouth that I’d never expected to hear.

“Wait, who in Pomnett is Cosma?”

I stared at Stellara Inova as she scrambled back to her feet, staring at something I could no longer see. I sat up as fast as I could to see the last of Cosma’s hair darken to a bloody red and see her eyes go from blue to another, brighter red that spoke deeply of malevolence and malcontent. The indifference in which ‘Cosma’ pulled the knife from her collar was almost sickening, but it was most certainly frightening. Stella grabbed for her estoc and I picked Clockly back up, waiting for her or Bast to make a move. The cat seemed calm and Cosma seemed to be looking at her, speaking growls and grunts. Bast replied with one low growl and she disappeared into the air, the night returning to its previous dim luminance while a red mist hug in the air.

Me being me had to ask, “Shit the dick-fuck, what happened just?”

“What?” Bast asked calmly.

Who the fuck is Cosma!?

“A Revenant.” Stella said shakily. “I… I lived with a Revenant… I… I fell under her spell completely…”

“Stell, what the fuck?”

She looked back at me, tears streaming from her eyes. “I’m a Stellara, Gatian… There were only five of us. One Unicorn, one Sotan, one Thesuvian, one Amanese, and one Choret. All girls. No repeated races. No two hair-colors the same.”

“... So… Revenants.” I pursed my lips.

“She was still your sister, she just wasn’t a Stellara.” Bast yawned. “I thought you knew and accepted her anyway, though I suppose I should have thought less of you. No Choret is that accepting.”

“Do… Do they live among people normally or some shit?” I asked for the sake of knowing.

“Not often. Even then they generally choose to leech life from those around them.”

I went to stand next to Stella and put my arms around her shoulders. “Um…”

She curled up against me, wide-eyed. “There… Even my memories…”

“Likely falsified, if you were sold as a child, that is.”

Inova looked like she wanted to cry, so I held her head to my chest and tried not to panic. “Well, at least she’s gone now.”

“Not quite.” Bast laid down and pretty much seemed to go to sleep.

“Cat.”

“Human.”

“Gatian… The Star’s shadow shall fall over the Moon’s River… Cosma… Cosma must be the shadow,” Stella said, her voice choked. “Gatian… I’m being haunted by a Revenant that is sworn to sacrifice you…”

“Only if we go north, right?”

“Where are we to go to escape her otherwise!?”

I looked to Bast. “Cat, explain.”

“Revenants will only go so far north. If this Revenant is trying to drag you to the Beacon of Being, it is very old, very powerful, and terribly, terribly cruel.” She licked her nose. “Stellara Cosma is most likely the being known as Khroma, which is an old friend of mine. We used to hunt together from time to time, but she was always more interested in the killing than the eating. Fine molly.”

Bast.”

“Khroma will kill you. There is nothing you can do about that now that she has seen your face.”

And it’s all my fault!” Stellara wailed miserably. “I led you to your doom! I’ve killed you!

“What if we kill her first?”

“I would like to see you try.” Bast huffed out a little chuckle. “My hunting companion would not be felled so easily. She just has bad luck.”

“Like you and your thorns?” I asked, trying not to be pissed.

“Yes, actually.”

Shut the fuck up.”

“You mean that as-”

“I don’t mean that literally.”

“Of course. And yes, falling objects always hit Khroma.”

“They always hit Cosma too…” Stella mumbled.

“Okay, so I have an eldritch murder-thing after. Why don’t we kill it?

“You can’t.” Bast popped an eye open. “If you could not detect her deception, you would be killed.”

“You didn’t catch it either.”

“Yet I knew she was a Revenant all the same.”

“So you say, lying ass cat.”

“Hmph!”

Stella clutched me tightly. “Gatian… We must run!

“Or what?” I asked, thunder crackling in the distance. “Please tell me that was a coincidence.”

“Probably not.” Bast sighed, getting up. “I’m not fighting a dead thing. They taste awful.”

“I wish to run.” Stella said quickly. “Let us leave now please.”

I gave her a look and grabbed my pack. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, let’s run. Where the Hell are we going?”

Stella looked to Bast, so I gave her my attention as well. “... Why are you two looking at me?”

“You know Khroma! Would you not know a place safe from her?” Inova asked.

“Of course I have safe havens, but I have no reason to go to any of them.”

“... I thought you and Gatian-”:

“We are even at the moment,” Bast answered plainly. “I have no reason to assist either of you further.”

“And you are…?” I shrugged. “The fuck are you doing for the foreseeable future? Help us and it might be interesting.”

“It might be, but you might also die.”

“You can still eat me if I get killed.”

“Then I would just kill you myself, fool.”

“You can also eat Stella.” I pointed at her.

“Second answer repeats the first.”

“Okay, Bast, how about you leave us to run and you fuck off and do your own thing?”

She looked at me. “If I wanted to do that, I would’ve-”

“Well, right now if you’re not willing to be a team player, then you’re just not a part of the team. I don’t need a fair-weather friend.”

I got a sniff for my words. “Fair-weather friend. Ha!”

“... You only help out when you want to and my life is currently in mortal danger. If you just up and decide not to help, then I kept you around to watch me die. I’d rather die alone, thank you very much.”

“You complain a lot.”

My blood boiled. “You know what? Bast, fuck off.”

“No.”

I drew Clockly on her. “I’ve shot one person today, I’ll make it two in exactly ten seconds.”

“You wouldn’t shoot me.” She huffed.

“Seven.”

Stella tugged on my free arm. “Gatian, we-

“Five.”

Bast rolled her eyes. “Fine, I’ll help. You’ll owe me for my services, naturally.”

“You have got to be the biggest shrew I’ve ever seen shaped like a cat.” I grumbled.

“At least I’m pretty.”

“You’re heavy.”

The fur on her hackles bristled. “You take that back!

“Lardassed cat. Get fuckin’ goin’ already.”

Bast glared at me. “I am not fat!

“No, you are lithe and graceful and currently our lifeline…” Inova said quickly, getting quieter.

“Thank you.” Bast started trotting away.

I looked at Stella. “Guess we’re following her.”

She just had a blank look on her face. “... You just threatened to shoot a Guardian, convinced her to lead you to safety, and insulted her weight. This is the worst night of my life.”

“How was prison?”

“It tickled very much. I am very resilient to pain, but this… this stress is unbearable…”

“Then walk it off.” I patted her ass and started following Bast.

She followed behind, the storm gathering in our wake. We’ve landed for the morning and we’re going to try to travel later in the day, but I just wanted to take the time to get this written out before I forgot any of it. Khroma… Scary. Very scary, and I’m not entirely sure on why she wants to kill me other than for some prophecy I might not even really be a part of. I mean, am I the Minstrel or the Moon River…? I don’t expect you to know, Booksy, but its nice to get my thoughts on paper. Until we meet again, Journal.

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Ringo Farr

Bio: Rewrites in progress; Pm for specifics, otherwise enjoy!

Ringtail is the Panda, I'm just the guy that translates for him. Call me Ringo.

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