All across the lands of Gorokiva, people of power were making choices.
In the Wintery lands of Northwestern Fuyuno, three lords met in a summit at Kama, the city of blades, to talk of problems they had learned of. Under steel ceilings and bladed roofs, Yataro Akaboshi shared his tale of a cursed shop, a plague demon, and a disguised angel to Lady Ishibashi and Lord Tsubakimoto. The lady of rats and lord of oxen listened curiously to their longtime friend and shared tales in turn, of the odd movements of the Sollans up north and a strange letter detailing a coup.
Fuyuno was far though, separate from the land of Storms by the treacherous land of Spring, and questions were raised on just how to help, when it seemed everything was turning far too quickly. Plans were outlined, decisions made, but while they decided on a course, action was already being taken by the enemy.
In the Summery lands of Southeastern Natsuno, there was one angel on the move, flying far and fast as guided by the shadow on their back, under their wings.
Across the province, in the coastal city of sand and beaches, a lady went about her day without a hint of concern or even acknowledgement of the coup her actions wrought. She attended to the duties her position required, indulged in the sweets of the land, and enjoyed the warm embrace of her partner. She had no cause to worry, because everything was as planned. The final steps were approaching, and she looked forward to the culmination.
Elsewhere, in a city of steam and hot springs, the lord of horses sat, having tea with his hostages. His treason burned in his chest, the dishonor of coming to the Kawajiri Clan as a friend, concerned with the threats their nation faced, then turning his soldier’s blades on their people. The armored daimyo consoled himself with the thought that the nation would heal through his actions. That he had no cause to worry, that it would all be worth it. There would be no struggle, no need for death. So long as everything went right.
In the Autumn lands of Northeastern Akino, soldiers marched, openly and without hesitation. The forces of the Saruta, in the vivid pinks and greens of their lord, that so greatly stood out in the Fall landscape, sought one thing alone. The death of the Shogun.
So they marched to Fujimi, closer and closer, the product of preparations going off all at once, with siege engines and carriages of troops speeding towards war.
Yet war found them sooner than they’d expected.
The province of Autumn was shared by the Monkey, the Dog, and the Rooster. Proud and loyal, neither the dog nor the rooster hesitated when they received letters detailing the treason occurring in their country. That they received word of the coup before its occurrence, days before the siege at Shiomi began, was cause for consideration, but not questioning. They’d met, corroborated, and decided, riding out with armies astride hound and kelenken, aiming for the wretched traitor that sought to murder their rightful leader.
The clash was a violent one, bloody and brutal as three armies met in the Red Leaf Valleys. Arrows flew with the clashing of steel, horses screamed as they were brought low by massive dogs and flightless birds, and the very earth moved beneath the wills of clashing lords, long-standing grudges finally erupting into a vicious retaliation that kept all eyes focused on one another in vindictive hate.
None looked towards the sky, where a borrowed ship carried a grinning leviathan in samurai guise straight to the Shogun’s peak.
And while war erupted in the northeast, in the lands of Arashino, where the capital sat, bloodshed had found its way into the city of thunder.
Treachery and deception opened the gates for the amassed armies, but honor and duty turned what could have been a complete rout into a genuine struggle.
Samurai and shinobi worked in tandem, striking at the invading. Thunder boomed and shadows twisted, bursts of cannonfire shattering the streets and darkened knives stabbing into the unwary. It was no turnaround though, as fire was flung and arrows rained.
And in the mix of it all, a devil delighted in the devastation. No mere devil of course, no not at all. A demigod, as stated, a devilish child of a demonic deity, who twisted the winds just ever so. So fires would spread further, so shots would fly further or off course, so blades would swing just ever so slightly harder, so warriors would lose footing at just the wrong times.
The winds of fortune were capricious things, and Thrillseeker was a capricious devil.
She was being considerate to her contract though, of course, as always. She didn’t completely expect her current contractors to use the offered discount to immediately summon her onto the field, but, well, who wouldn’t in their situation? If you want to win, you stack your deck. It’s as easy as that.
And she was having such fun playing the helpful breeze~ She’d already saved Nekotani and Rokuhara both from a few unfortunate accidents–aimed shots and attempted assassinations could count as accidents, right?–though chances were, the two would have gotten far all on their own. They had an air of significance about them, and in this line of work, that kind of thing carried a person far further than a menial could ever get.
She doubted she’d be fully manifesting here though. Not enough to keep her interest, not with dear Michael out of the picture…
That, and she wasn’t particularly interested in the other angel, wherever that one turned up.
“Hmm…” the winds hummed, before a portion turned in the air. If anyone were looking, they may, perhaps, see a vaguely humanoid figure idling in the sky, somewhat defined where floating ashes flew. They may also see said figure pull out a slate from a void and start fiddling with it, though the one samurai unlucky enough to notice that strange sight caught a suddenly veering arrow straight through the head. “Hmph, some people. Can’t a demon call someone without being perved on these days? Pft, ah, who am I kidding, I would’ve let him watch if he was perving~”
The breeze giggled, before settling back, “watching” the battle through spiraled eyes, undefined in the swirling wind, yet all too eager to watch it all unfold.
“This day feels...significant~”
Cithdrun watched the little salamander scurry through the brush, its tiny, fiery body not even enough to scorch the plants in the garden. But then the plants did belong to a dragon, so maybe they were fireproof? Hm, no, there was a bit of a burn there...or was that just dirt?
She tilted her head, thinking, then reflexively slapped a hand to her rear when she heard her slate buzz. Then she remembered she moved the slate to her...shit, which pocket was it?
She stood, fumbling through her pockets for a few seconds, before finally managing to retrieve her slate and bringing it to her face. “Ah, hi boss. How are things?”
“Mm, good, good, very fun~ There’s nothing quite like overseeing a war~ So many mortals, getting so very vicious with one other! It’s a wonder they don’t do this more often~ Though they are destroying a lot of valuable property, so I can sort of see why...anyhow, my fun aside, how’s it going with the princess?”
“It’s going well enough. I brought her out to the palace gardens to get some fresh air.”
“Now Tangi, what’ve I told you about letting prisoners roam around?”
Cithdrun sighed. “‘If they’re not confined, they’re not really prisoners.’ But she’s a hostage, not a prisoner.”
“Hm, decent point, there are differentials there. Are you at least keeping her cowed through fear?”
She paused, then looked over at Miss Yojin, who was sketching something on a pad, the tea Cithdrun brought for her still sitting on the table. Partially drunk from, so that was gratifying. “Your highness, are you intimidated by me?”
“This gal just watched you slap your ass and start talking to a rock, so...sure, pretty intimidated.”
She nodded, then turned back to the slate. “She’s sufficiently cowed.”
“Good girl~! We’ll make an Ace of you yet~! Well, maybe, if you want to, being an Eight still pays pretty well and I don’t really want to unbalance the teams...but then again, Lemon did get that offer, and really, he should take it, not just for him, it would be great to get one of our own up in Nihumda, so...ah, we’ll figure it out later! For now, just keep doing what you’re doing. Success or failure rides on our employers right now, so don’t worry if you need to drop things. Such as that pretty castle you’re staying in~”
Cithdrun nodded again, then paused. “I don’t think the castle can be dropped, your eminence. The chains are to keep it from floating away.”
“Oh, it’s that type of castle? Huh, that’s fun, I almost want it now…”
“Hm? Ah, save it, we’ll get a floating castle later, it’ll be rad. Ta ta for now~!”
And thus the call ended, letting Cithdrun get back to more important matters, like looking for small amphibians. Or lizards. Or...maybe talking with the princess? Yeah, that might be a good idea. Granted most of what the princess had said to her was a stream of profanities after she recovered from the blow to her stomach. Though she had calmed down since then, so maybe this time would be different?
"May I ask what you are sketching?"
"Hm, I suppose that's a no." Sighing, she sat down across from her. "Should have expected that. Even so, perhaps some small talk would be good to pass by the time? You and I are stuck here till your father arrives, after all."
And that got her to stop sketching.
"This gal has no intention of returning to her father's land."
"Regardless of intent, that is what will happen. A contract was made and it shall be upheld."
"And because of that you had to kill innocent people!?"
"I had no hand in that, I was only there to get you. Everything else that happened was someone else's decision."
Miss Yojin scowled. “And that absolves you of all responsibility, huh?”
“Absolving me would require that I actually did wrong. I suppose I did wrong you, but again, I am under contract, so there’s no obligation to feel guilt on my part.” Technically speaking, Cithdrun did abduct Miss Yojin in the moment to make up for the failure to kill the “paladin”, so in a sense, it could be considered outside her required duties, but Lady Kozloi Banguani did give her further instructions on the subject afterward, so, overall, she was still holding to the letter of her contract with Lady Banguani.
“...Most people aren’t ‘obligated’ to feel guilt, they just do.”
“Demons aren’t mortals, Miss Yojin. We have different standards.”
“Right…” She sighed, returning to her sketch, though she did glance at Cithdrun again. “How does that work, anyways?”
“Look, if you want to talk, talk. What’s up with the contract thing?”
“Oh. I never thought someone would have to ask about that…well, in simplest terms, a contract is an arrangement between a demon and a mortal summoner. Typically, the summoner calls on one of us specifically through a ritual. A drawn circle is the most common, but there are other methods.” Less safe methods. Circles were meant to contain, and while one of Cithdrun’s kind would at least hear out an offer, other demonic races were prone to removing careless summoners from the mortal realms. Typically through violent means. “Some are cruder, but the divine management of Opulentia have devised a far easier method, for all involved.
Cithdrun allowed herself an unseen smile as she manifested and handed over a business card for Madam Seeker’s conglomerate to Miss Yojin. “Mortal Acquisitions, Infernal Lordship Conglomerate'' stood in stark amethyst against the glossy black of demonic shadow, along with further ritual contact details in smaller print. “A prospective summoner merely needs to use the password available on that card, along with a sacrifice of a mere five gold, in order to contact a representative of our company, who will then grant them access to the packages available.”
“...” Miss Yojin stared at the card, then looked up at her. “Five gold is fifty silver.”
“...Silver is the standard coin most people use. So that’s ten times the standard.”
“A good deal, wouldn’t you say?”
“And what stops them from just summoning a demon regularly?”
“Nothing? But if they attempt to summon a demon on an Opulentian conglomerate’s payroll, they’ll receive this card instead.”
“Hmm. And how many demons are on these payrolls?”
“Approximately the entire population of Ibovei-Solum. Ah, that would be half of the Fourth Circle, in mortal terms.”
“Mmmmmm.” It was an odd noise Miss Yojin made as she slowly nodded. “...So hey, you didn’t explain the contract thing.”
“Ah, of course. Simply put, once a demon is summoned, the summoner’s request becomes the basis of a contract between the two involved. Once the terms of the arrangement are decided, the demon is thus bound to fulfill the terms of the contract to their best of their ability.” And to their own interpretation. Most mortals were deceptive and reluctant to pay properly, so it was only natural to look for ways in their wording to maximize profit and minimize risk.
“And that’s it? You shake on it, and then do whatever they want?"
“Of course. So long as they pay properly.”
“Hmph. So how much pay would it take for you to turn against–”
Cithdrun held up a hand, feeling her very being recoiling at the implication. “Please, don’t. Never suggest anything like that again, your highness. Traitors are the lowest creatures in every Hell. Those who violate a contract are...repulsive. Honorless, revolting, worthless. To betray a contract...Failure is one thing. Betrayal? Those who commit such a thing are lower than scum.”
“...huh. Guess you do have some sense of honor...so what if someone ‘betrays’ their family? Abandons them, whatever.”
“Oh, that’s fine.”
She blinked. “Wait, what? How?”
“Familial obligations aren’t binding contracts. You don’t swear loyalty by being born. If you did swear loyalty after the fact, then it’s a disgusting act, but a formal contract would need to be established.”
“...Heh. So demons form familial contracts?”
“Typically, yes. We are immortal, barring violent death, so the need for heirs is nonexistent unless you are not confident in your ability to survive, and what fool plans for their own demise? As such, actual familial units are formed through mutual understanding of familial roles and obligations therein. For example, Lemon and Lime, two individuals also working under my employer, formed a fraternal contract, thereby becoming brothers in blood.”
“Wait, is ‘Lemon and Lime’ really their names?”
Ah. Hm. While Cithdrun would never curse her employer for her choices in naming, the fruity names, in her proud opinion, sucked. “Not exactly. Speaking a devil’s name is to call upon them, so secondary names are needed.”
“Really? You know, this gal didn’t ask your name earlier. Mostly because of the hitting...so what is it?”
She wasn’t going to say Tangerine. There was that older codename, before Madam Seeker’s found her fondness for fruits… “Poppy.”
“Huh. Really? This gal didn’t think it’d be that cute...Alright then, Miss Poppy. Thank you for the information.”
Having received thanks, and thus acknowledgement of Cithdrun’s relaying of information, the demon debated asking for a monetary reward as payment, before electing to satisfy her curiosity instead. “So what were you drawing?”
“...You’re gonna just keep going on with this, huh? Yeah, alright.” She turned the sketchpad over, showing…
“Oh, you know what it is. Most of the books this gal read when she was young called them ‘motor carriages’, but she supposes that’s shorter...Hm, kinda catchier too.”
“Ah, outworlder fiction?”
“Yep. You know it?”
“The Grand Library Amanue collects every type of book out there. The fact that it then shares those books with the rest of the Hells somewhat diminishes the value, but then Dolusians are fond of fiction in general. The propagation of Fraud is in their nature, and I think there’s at least one cult in the Sixth Circle dedicated to the ‘Great Trinity of Innovation’ as a result of such novellas being spread.”
“...Okay, didn’t expect all that...What’s the ‘trinity’?”
“I’m not sure on the specifics, but they worship the grand trinity of Planes, Trains, and Mobiles, so it is said. I think it may have formed a demigod? Perhaps.”
“Raising more questions that you’re answering here, Poppy.”
“Good. People are more willing to pay for answers after questions are raised. So, is this a childhood dream then? Bringing the power of the motor to the world?”
“Mm, a childish dream, maybe. If people haven’t figured it out yet, this gal doubts she’s gonna be the one to crack it...She did have one idea, kinda, with that carriage and the core Misha and her friends brought by, but–”
“THERE YOU ARE!”
Cithdrun noted how rigid the princess went, before her face contorted into a furious scowl and her fist clenched tight enough to crack the brush in her grip. “Great, here he is…”
Here he was indeed. Cithdrun watched with some curiosity as the white-haired human dressed in moon-embroidered cloth strode through the gardens, irritation burning under his skin as clearly as an Iratan’s. A wary maid of the dragon watched from a distance, unwilling to intervene, while a procession of white clothed ninja followed their master.
Teijo Kogetsu’s angry eyes turned on Cithdrun first. “Why in the name of all the gods in the sky did you have to bring her HERE?! This lord had to come all the way here, out to Rokuhara’s damned sky castle, instead of receiving his damned daughter at home, WHERE HE SHOULD HAVE!”
Not nearly as scary as an Iratan though. “My summoner requested it of me.”
“...” His scowl deepened. “Is that all you have to say, you fucking peasant?! Don’t you know how to obey your damned betters!?!”
“So the years didn’t make you any better,” Miss Yojin noted.
Kogetsu straightened, his gaze turning towards her as his lips curled into a sneer. “Daughter. This lord sees you’re the same as ever too. A wayward brat running away from her family, as always.”
But Miss Yojin did not back down, standing instead. “You’re not my family.”
His eyes widened, a snarl twisting his expression. “You dare?! You dare say such a thing to the man who raised you, who fed you, who clothed–”
“My nannies raised me, my nurses fed me, my tailors clothed me, my tutors taught me, you scorned me! You don’t think this gal noticed every sneer you had whenever you saw her?! You don’t think she remembers how the only time you talked to her was to berate her!? Not even for failing, but for somehow, someway, not meeting some bullshit standard you made up in your head–!”
“I AM A LORD! YOU THINK I CAN AFFORD TO HAVE A FUCKING LAYABOUT FOR A CHILD!? YOU THINK I WOULD EVER WASTE MY TIME PLAYING NANNY!? This lord paid for every single one of your damned–”
“YOU DIDN’T PAY FOR SHIT! You didn’t even handle your own money, much less pay anyone for anything! People just had the honor of working for you! You’ve stiffed every single person that ever worked for you!” Cithdrun took note of that.
Kogestu merely sneered though. “This lord is a lord. If he paid nothing in money, then he paid dearly in time wasted on an ignorant daughter who ran to the bed of the first man willing to take her in.”
“Oh, sure, going there then, huh? Say, daddy, why do you want me back now, exactly? What’s the big deal here, what’s the new plan, huh? Because this gal doubts you want her to make a sword.”
“As though I’d take your shoddy workmanship! No, you’re finally fulfilling your damned purpose and getting married. Properly, not to some bastard reprobate to stupid to be a real noble!”
Miss Yojin’s scowl deepened, her hands clenching into fists, before a maddened smile crept up her face. “Really? So did you actually tell her new ‘fiance’ that this gal’s infertile this time?”
He backhanded her full across the face. “SHUT UP! You and your damned–You ruined everything, you know that?! Even if you were worthless, even if your useless mind and weak body could never be the heir I wanted, you could have given me something back if your fucking womb worked right! But no, no, of course you couldn’t even bear a child, of course that bastard Himuro would deny the union, of course the brat that bitch produced COULDN’T DO ONE THING RIGHT!”
Yojin hadn’t faltered. She merely turned her head back, gazing coldly at the seething man. “That’s what this is all about, huh? Not me. It’s never been me. It’s that my mother left you the instant she found out what a piece of shit you are.”
His hand reared back and she turned her head, showing the other, unblemished cheek. He snarled, dropping his hand. “It’s about more than that! You think this lord is some petty idiot!? That wretch dishonored him! He took her to his bed, he lavished her with gifts, he did everything to bring that damned wench from the Frost Lands into his castle and what did she do!? She complained he was cold! That he was cruel! So what?! A lord has to be a lord, he can’t let something as pithy as emotions get in the way of ruling! And that bastard, that absolute bastard Kawajiri let her go! He took her damn side! HE LET HER DIVORCE ME!”
“He let you keep me.”
“AND WHAT DID I GET FROM THAT!? A useless, worthless, pathetic–!”
There was nothing as loud or as grand as a boom as the angel made their presence known. There was no grand conflagration, no heralding music, and certainly no fanfare. There was a pressure though.
A pressure as those burning feet touched down onto the grass, and harmed none of it.
Iratans were loud. The devils of wrath were flame and storm personified in their most destructive qualities. They were unfettered fury, raging against all that raised their ire.
The fury the Cardinal carried was tight and controlled, in comparison. Cithdrun wasn’t sure when they’d landed. She didn’t even notice their presence.
Shiho smiled, a relieved laugh slipping out that earned a scowl from Kogetsu, whose attention turned towards the Cardinal with another sneer.
“So this is the angel then? This lord can’t say he’s impressed–”
“Daimyo Teijo Kogetsu.”
He stiffened, then sneered. “Oh, so then you can recognize your better then, messenger. This lord knows the limits of your kind. You can do no harm to mortals–”
“You are charged with the following. Consorting with demons.”
“Wh–Consorting?! You–How dare you! You have no proof!”
Their eyes flicked ever so slightly towards Cithdrun. And the devil decided it was best for her to stay very, very still. “Treason towards your liege.”
“And by what right do you charge me!? You’re no representative of the empress, messenger, and you have no power here! This lord is a daimyo, a lord of Spring!” He flicked his hand and his entourage moved in front him, guarding him with their bodies. “Now, back away, and maybe he won’t have the great shinobi of the Hidden Moon demonstrate much damage a poisoned blade can do to an angel’s body–”
There was a spray of blood and the man at the front fell back, the cloth over his mouth staining red as he dropped, the woman in black gazing with dispassionate eyes at his open chest. Cithdrun hadn’t seen her appear either, and neither had the ninja.
And then they fell too, as the angel moved. The angel stood in front of Kogetsu now, and he stumbled back, blinking in shock.
“Conspiracy to commit murder, smuggling of illegal weaponry, aiding and abetting the murder of Gorokivan citizens.”
“W-W-Wait, wait, wait–” He held up his hands, as though he could ward them off. “Y-You–No, no, ah, you don’t understand! I-I didn’t, I’ve–I’ve always been loyal, I merely did what was needed for the nation–”
He flinched at the pop of knuckles, his eyes darting to the angel’s hand, clenching into a fist.
“Nnh-N-No, fine, fine, th-this lord is selfish, he–He was merely a pawn though, he did not, he didn’t, he–There was no crime he committed, he didn’t hurt anyone–”
The heat increased and Kogetsu followed the angel’s gaze to his daughter.
“A-Ah-Sh-Shiho! Shiho, t-tell them! W-We’ve had our differences, b-but you’re this lord’s–th-this man’s daughter, this humble man’s daughter!”
“...” Yojin was remarkably capable of mimicking her father’s contemptful sneer. Though, then again, Kogetsu truly wasn’t family to her, so perhaps it was a contempt all her own.
His options vanishing, Kogetsu turned back to the Cardinal, sweating and shaking. “H-He...h-h-h-he c-c-can help! H-He can, he can–R-Rokuhara! A-At the c-capital, t-trying–o-or, no, y-y-you know that, o-of course y-you do, o-oh honored angel! Th-Then–then–ah! F-Fujimi! H-His bitch, the samurai, she’s going there, she’s going to kill the Shogun! It’s true, he swears, he swears on his life, he–!”
“And familial abuse.”
Their fist crashed into his face in a boom of sound.
Cithdrun turned, first looking at the scorched patch of grass, then at the lightly scorched flower petals floating lazily through the air, and finally at the utterly shattered pagoda the daimyo had flown through.
Her gaze continued upward, noting the gap in the cloud overhead, and for a brief moment, wondered if Kogetsu would’ve been luckier to hit one of the enormous stone pillars surrounding the castle instead. Though, if he had...he probably would have broken straight through the stone.
Then she froze, a whimper slipping out without any chance of covering it as she turned and looked up at the Cardinal. “...may I help you?”
“Was what he said true? About the shogun.”
Traitors, those who broke their contracts, were lower than scum. But also Lady Banguani’s contract hadn’t said anything about staying quiet under duress and self-preservation was a virtue for demons. “Yep. Completely true. It’s happening right now.”
“Right.” They turned to Yojin, nodding to her. “Katsuro’s fine. He would have come himself, but his doctor’s being stubborn.”
Yojin’s legs gave out completely. “Oh. Oh thank the gods…” She let out a laugh, relief audible in it, before she smiled brightly. “Really...thank you, so much.”
“So is Kogetsu dead now?” the woman smelling of darkness asked.
“No. I hit him with the Life Punch.” For some reason, Cithdrun felt the name there deserved a ™...
“...And that is?”
“I’m not a healer, but all angels can channel life magic. I just channeled a ton into my fist before punching him. Any wounds he experiences will be healed, leaving him alive but completely drained and exhausted wherever he lands.” They paused, thinking for a moment. “Though he might drown if he lands in water. Ah, and he’ll probably break bones. The healing works slower on those, but he shouldn’t die, assuming he doesn’t drown.”
“Well, he better hope he lands lucky then. So, onto Fujimi?”
The Cardinal shook their head and lifted up Yojin, earning a surprised noise from her. “We have one stop to make, then we go right there, double time.”
“You got it.” And the woman shifted into the shadows on the Cardinal’s back, before the angel spread their wings and took off again.
Leaving Cithdrun to watch, amidst a garden of crumpled, groaning ninjas. “...”
She took her slate out from her pocket and very calmly tapped in an emergency code to connect straight to her employer.
“Hi again, boss. So...um…” She considered how to explain their situation. “...This operation might be fucked.”
Seeker raised an eyebrow at her cute little employee’s sudden crassness. And at the noticeable lack of presence in her voice. “Oh ho~? And how do you figure that, my cute Tangi–The fuck is that?”
The demigod stared in some confusion at the rapidly approaching object in the sky, then turned and watched as an unconscious man soared through the air, over the battlefield, and crashed straight into the wall of the empress’s castle, smashing into and embedding inside the stone like a meteor in a crater.
"A certain Cardinal appeared and…’Life Punched’ that Kogetsu guy into the sky," Tangerine continued, not noticing Seeker’s lapse in attention.
“Oh ho? My my my, so Michael is on the move...hm hm, well, that’s no issue. Responsibility lies with our employers, as I said, and whether they win or lose is all up to them...the fact that one’s down already is fun though~”
She giggled, then laughed, then outright cackled, unheard as fires spread and battles raged. Koegtsu being smashed like a bug wasn’t a problem, not in the slightest. Investments were funny things; the rebellious daimyo were deeply invested in a successful coup, but the heralds of the deep shared no such stake. They wanted a crippled nation, easy to drag down into the metaphorical waters, up until they could make it literal.
And as for what Seeker wanted...
The sensibilities of the Opulentian were focused on profit above all. Secured wealth mattered more than personal desires or grudges. In theory.
In practice, Vengeance was a truly hellish virtue. And the third child of Mordant had a very old grudge to satisfy.