“Waking in an unfamiliar place usually means
explanations are in order,
doubly so if a strange woman is at your side.”
In the dark, warm fog of my slumber, a hole formed. At first, it was only a single pinprick, shining like a keyhole in a dark room, white light streaming from the other side. After a moment another formed, then another and another after that, until they were arrayed like some kind of strange constellation in my mind, providing self-awareness where none had been before.
The light made me vaguely uneasy, my stomach unsettled even in this dream state. It promised pain, pain I did not want to face. I tried to twist away, to roll over and return to oblivion, but no matter how I turned, there it was. Slowly, it grew brighter, and I imagined I could hear soft, unintelligible voices drifting from the glow.
With shocking suddenness, the space between the pinpoints rent, like the fabric of a sail caught in a tempest. The constellation became a scar of light, a jagged wound in my comforting blackness. My stomach twisted anew, and my shoulder began to ache, burning as if a single coal had burrowed deep inside and had suddenly ignited. And now that coal was slowly, hair by hair, trying to tear its way free.
The light had become overwhelming now, the loving dark all but evaporated. Those whispered words seemed now a Dragon’s roar, too loud to discern any meaning. I writhed against the stinging wound, teeth clenched so hard I feared they might crack, as I strained to make out what was being shouted with enough force to rattle my bones.
“Hold still, damn you!”
My eyes slid open, the light of the sun high above almost instantly blinding me. I swung my head to the side, vision blurred with the suddenly real brightness, and saw hands upon my shoulder. Sudden pressure welled from those blood-slicked fingers, and misery followed, shearing like knives into my heart. I cursed and swung my other hand towards the source of the pain.
Fist met flesh with a wet slap, driving those probing fingers away from me. I realized I was damp, soaked in cold sweat. Whatever I had struck was moist as well, my hand coming away sticky. My flailing limb flopped into view, rebounding from the weak blow, the other dampness explained by the crimson of blood painting my knuckles. Somehow, I knew it was mine.
“You are the very soul of gratitude, Saga. The next time I attempt to aid you, please, strike me beforehand, so that I may have incentive before I begin.”
The acerbic tone, so heavy with sarcasm, delivered in the familiar, cultured tenor could only come from one person. Still dizzy, weak and cautious, though, I had to ask.
I heard that familiar, rehearsed scoff, and my colleague’s raven-toped visage came into view. His mouth had settled into its usual, smirking cast, though this time it could be said to border on an actual grin of delight, rather than a quirk of cynical humor. The circles had gone from under the invoker’s eyes since I last saw him, and all things considered, he looked a far cry better than I felt, even clad as he was in the same charred, travel stained tunic and breeches he had sported in Ward.
“Could it be any other, old friend?” His tone attempted to convey hurt, both at my lack of recognition and, I suppose, my blow. It failed to mask his relief, however. “Who else would risk both health and safety for you, and shrug off your blows with such admirable aplomb?”
It was most definitely Richter. I struggled to rise, placing weight on my uninjured arm and pushing myself upright. My abdomen moaned in protest, muscle feeling bruised and torn, as if a thousand fists had pummeled it soft. I could taste bile, dry and rusty under my tongue, and realized I must have purged myself repeatedly during my stay in the darkness. I was lucky to have not drowned.
Now closer to vertical, I took stock of my surroundings. Wherever we were, the Golga was not near. We were partially sheltered by the cavity of a rock, a scar in the side of a short, green hill. I had been moved free of that shelter, and lay beneath the late afternoon sun, the clouds that had harried our journey through the Empire having thinned this day. Based on the flattened grass, I had only been recently moved.
Inside that cavity, a small, smokeless fire popped and hissed. Above it, skewered on a makeshift spit, sizzled a pair of gutted marsh lizards, probably raths or toves by the look of them. Nearby the fire, hunched Grail, the same ruin of a coat wrapped about him as I had seen in Ward. His hands worked with surprising deftness, despite the rheumatism apparent in his swollen joints, as he cleaned and adjusted the repeater. Beside him were piled my other bits of gear, loops on my cartridge belts almost empty and leathers now heavily patched.
Farther back in the cleft was the primary object of my attention. Ialae rested in the shadows, tucked beneath several blankets and still as the grave. For a moment, something inside me twinged painfully as I thought the knight dead and my efforts for naught, fear and remorse eddying in a disquieting medley in my heart. Finally, a shallow breath stirred the crimson locks across the lady’s face, forcing a gasp of relief. She only sleeps, I thought, albeit deeply.
Forcing myself to look away, I took in the strangest sight of all, a score of spans away from the slumbering Templarae. Pegged to the earth by the rope trailing to its bridle, was a snuffling grey mule. The creature, perhaps indicating fresh preparations to leave or the haste of our shelter, was still mostly loaded, with wares I didn’t recognize. Saddlebags bulging with mundane goods, decanters secured with cord netting and even a small cask surmounting the back burdened the poor beast. I was surprised, not by its existence, however, but primarily by Richter allowing it anywhere near him.
A gust of wind reminded me that I was dressed in only the lower half of my smallclothes, my chest laid bare so Richter could work on the bite that ravaged my shoulder. Crooking my neck, I cast a wary eye at that wound, expecting a still-weeping gash or even dead flesh, black with necrosis, based on the burning pain that had awoken me. Instead I only found a tangle of thick, pink scar tissue, partly describing the jaw line of the goblin-spider that had mauled me.
With a trembling finger, I prodded the slick new skin, making sure I was truly whole once more. Without Richter’s thaumaturgical efforts on my behalf, I’d have probably lost my whole arm to that corrosive bite. I shivered, both from the chill breeze on my damp back and from the disturbing thought. Life as a cripple was inconceivable, though my off hand was less vital than, say, my leg or an eye. I can still shoot one-handed, after all.
Noticing my grasping at my freshly mended shoulder, Richter chimed in. “Now, I would avoid putting undue strain upon that until given some time to fully mend. I have only just managed to draw the last of the venom from that wound, and I would rather not see my handiwork ruined and then infected. To have you laid low by something mundane after pulling you from the brink would be rather … disheartening.”
I nodded, trying to conceal a grin at the note of concern in my old friend’s tone. It was obvious that, whatever had happened while we were separated, he felt some guilt for having to leave me behind. In truth, I didn’t hold it against him. The chaos that had consumed Ward had left little time for hesitation, the pragmatic part of my mind insisted. In a reversed situation, I would have trusted in Richter’s ability to survive as he had in mine… at least, I hope that confidence is what tempered that decision.
Probably better not to ask, I admitted grimly.
“Now that you have returned to the lands of life, good Saga”, Richter continued, ignoring my expression, “I would dearly care to hear how you came to this sorry state, if you feel up to it?” A disconcerted look, alloyed with puzzlement, had clouded my companion’s face. “I must admit, I was perplexed by our attempts to find you after the disaster in Ward. My auguries at first told me you simply did not exist.” He raised one finger as if to punctuate his point, ignoring the gore still coating it. “Not dead, mind you, but not a real person to begin with. I had almost begun to doubt my own abilities when the last cast of Thoth’s bones found you; close to death not two leagues from where Grail had hidden us.”
I opened my mouth to explain what had happened, where I had been and what I had seen. I was, however, preempted, not by Richter or Grail but by the gurgle of my own stomach. The drawn out squeal brought to my attention a more pressing need than explanations. I was famished, having not eaten since before we reached Ward and fighting for my life nearly every moment since.
Richter arched an eyebrow at my involuntary outburst. “Food before words I suppose. You must be as hollow as a hide drum.” His face pinched in look of supreme distaste, “Not surprising, actually. I found you stewing in your own humors, after all, and you’ve barely been able to hold water since.” He waved me forward with a bloody hand, pausing in mid-gesture to regard the crimson digits with an appalled glance, “Come on then, break your fast.”
I needed no further invitation. I rose, dizzy and tottering on legs that felt like soft mud, but still able to walk. I made a brief detour to Richter’s bottomless satchel to retrieve a threadbare tunic of grey wool, probably my last scrap of whole clothing, having left my bag to burn in Ward. With my modesty recovered, I sat myself across the fire from Grail. Hand unsteady with my hunger, I reach out and plucked the spit from its rocky perch above the coals, and brought the first reptile to my salivating mouth.
The browned skin split beneath my jaws, hot to the point of pain, but ignored in my haste. The meat was gamy, all strings and gristle and a salty sort of aftertaste. Definitely toves then, I mused, the meat of a rath being thicker and richer, more like pork. Under normal circumstances, tove flesh would have been choked down as a last resort, too bitter and tough to be palatable. As it was, it was divine.
I striped the first lizard of flesh, greedy fingers peeling it in like an orange and dropping hot segments into my mouth. Each morsel hit the pit of my stomach with the feeling of a stone dropped in a well, reminding me only of how hungry I really was. Quickly, the lizard became nothing more than bones, hanging from the stick by its ribs, and I turned to its brother with equal fervor. With both clean, I picked over their carcasses, cracking the legs to suck out the soft marrow, tossing the remnants back into the fire. In all, the gorging took a matter of moments.
I looked up from the grizzly remains of my desperate repast, juices coating my chin and slightly singed fingers. Richter wore a queasy look, jaw slightly askew, hands frozen in midair as he scrubbed them clean with a damp rag. Grail, on the other hand, seemed to be wavering between amusement and admiration. Wiping my face with a sleeve, ignoring the new vexation crossing Richter’s face at my lack of manners, I finally replied to Richter’s original queries, not with candor, but with a question of my own.
Confusion first clouded my colleague’s grey eyes, then realization, then…something I could not define. Guilt? No, not quite, but that came close. Before he even opened his mouth, I knew my friend was keeping something from me.
“Ah, the lady Templarae and erstwhile cat’s paw. Ialae, is it?” I immediately noted the use of is, not was. Were there something wrong with the lady knight that my friend had not or could not remedy, he would already be referring to her in the past tense. “To be certain, we should have words over her and her… disposition. But please,” he said, spreading his arms wide and shifting his tone to border on an actual yell, “enlighten me on the miraculous events of you escape. It may very well shift the tone of later discourse, you understand?”
I didn’t, but there would be no arguing with Richter in his present attitude. Apparently, my poor mealtime etiquette and demands contrary to his own was enough to send him into a mood. That, and perhaps the presence of some sort of actual concern for what had happened to me. Maybe I’d been worse off than I thought, enough to actually have him worried.
I lowered my head, staring at my unshod feet, composing my thoughts. It was a difficult thing to piece together, to explain the chaos that had afflicted me. Especially being fresh from a slumber that had lasted Angels-knew how long, the remembrance was cloudy. It would take time to fully solidify, along with the light of later revelation. Still, I had to try.
Haltingly, I began my account, laying out the strange and broken path I had followed out of Ward. The flight from the Inquisitors and taking shelter in Golga was not difficult, truly the sanest part of my tale. The macabre nature of the wood and Ialae’s black history of the place was a bit more uncomfortable, the words seeming to summon the shades of that place even in the sunlight. Her kidnapping and my running battle with the spiders had to have made little sense, confused as I was when it happened.
But lastly, most vividly, and with as little flourish as possible, I described the feeling of that time. That rage: guiding, sustaining, demanding. I could hear its echoes, howling in my ears, but could no longer find it, that deep place inside me asleep once again, much as the heart of the Golga had described it. And the tree, the terror incarnate, trying to obliterate me, to snuff my sanity like the flame on a lucifer. Oh, I made sure Richter knew of it in gory detail.
Surprisingly, my companion had managed to stay silent throughout the entire process. I think if he had interrupted as I laid my soul bare, to cast doubt, to interject commentary or even ask for simple clarification, I would have been at his throat. But, I believe the nature of what had happened was apparent to all present, that the tale had to be told without disturbance, lest its spell be broken.
Having it out, having placed it in the hands of my friend was cathartic, like the purging of the spider venom from my body. It was painful to do, with weakness in its wake, but also a sense of being whole again. Perhaps, it was a purge of sorts, an expelling of mental poisons, ones that canker the soul if left inside.
I waited in silence for a time after I finished, letting my testament of that damned place hang heavy on the air, like the purple mists that had clung to the cursed ground. Somehow, the sun had sunk low in the sky during my story, shifting from yellow-white midday to hazy orange evening, and tinged crimson with twilight. I had not meant to take so long, but with each revelation had come a host of feelings and odd details that felt so vital, they had to be shared.
Finally, I looked up, eyes locking with Richter’s for the first time in my explanation. I saw therein something I had not seen since we were boys, not without layers of superiority or cynicism clouding it like cataracts. Were I not so drained I might have been taken aback.
It was compassion.
He stepped forward, around the smoldering remains of the fire, placing a hand on my shoulder, an expression of understanding. Grail, obviously as disturbed by the events of my flight as Richter, said nothing. It was understandable, after a fashion, friend of the father of a friend as he was. I doubted he thought he had the words to comfort me, or that he thought it was his place to do so.
“You have my apologies, my compatriot. Forcing you to relive such blasphemies was incredibly unkind of me, even cruel in hindsight.” The invoker cupped his forehead as he cast his gaze away, an expression that on anyone else would have oozed contrition. From Richter, it still seemed a pause for composing his next verbal moves.
I beat him to it. “What do think it was?” My voice was somehow smaller now, lighter than it had been moments before.
“What what was?”
“Any of it: what happened to the Golga in the time of Sammael? What that…thing in the heart of the wood was? What…what happened to me? Any of it.”
He sighed, tossing a glance Grail’s way, as if asking assistance. The Artemisian merely grunted, and replied in that swirling accent, “Dun’na’ be lookin’ ta’ me, young master. Yer tha’ one with all the learnin’ an’ world changin’ ideas. I’m jess’ a horse thief grown too auld fer’ his trade.”
Richter rolled his eyes. “I was simply hoping for a bit of moral support, kind uncle.” He frowned, “Though I suppose I have no claim on that, having spent all your goodwill just to acquire your services.”
It was Grail’s turn to scoff, “Ach. Ye’ll be spendin’ meer’ than’ goodwill fer’ me help, lad. Nay, ye’ll be passin’ off at least enough florins fer’ a new inn in a place a sight better than Ward afore I’m through with ya’.”
Richter waved his hands in the air. It was obvious they had rehashed this conversation several times before, during the time we were separated. It must have pained Richter to promise that kind of gold, gold we didn’t even have. Debts never weighted well on my friend.
“Beside the point, goodman. Saga’s questions are, for once, valid, if not pertinent.”
And there, the compassion was gone, returning to none-too-subtle disparagement.
Richter dipped back to his satchel, retrieving his gloves. Re-sheathing each hand, he continued, his cadence slipping back into that of a lecture. “As for the first of your black revelations, I have few thoughts. Places like the Golga have never held my interest, for professional reasons, you see?” He waged a finger. “An invoker too interested in the things and places of darkness usually gains the suspicion of more… holy men. And for good reason, to be perfectly honest.”
It was true. I had only studied Thanatology after proving my lack of aptitude in the arts of invocation. It would be a simple thing to apply the skills of calling on the Dragons and Daevas to the technical knowledge gleaned from studying the products of Damnation, and unlock the forbidden art of necromancy. Invokers suffered under enough suspicion, outside of the Luxor and the Council of Seers that is, without having to invite accusations of heresy. My association with Richter could even be construed as dangerous, should we ever compare notes, so to speak.
“The only thing I can add to the myth and suspicion of Illuman folklore is that it does follow certain laws, such as that of sacrifice, quite precisely. The essence of a sacrifice mirrors its effect, as well as the magnitude of its potency. Invocation, for example, demands energies of both flesh and spirit, and that which is called up in anger may take different form than that raised in the name of desire instead.”
I coughed, a bit out of my depth in this description of laws and energies. “But what could Berreck have sacrificed in Golga, to so twist it?”
Richter turned to face me again, teeth bared not in some grin of excitement, but more a grimace, as if his next revelation pained him. “You yourself called what you found in Golga a god, the tree with Berreck’s wytchknife still buried in it. A Daeva.”
A Daeva. The tree was a Daeva. Not one merely invoked, but the Daeva itself. It was small wonder then, why I was reminded of Yggdrasill and his grove at the heart of Luxor. That massive blue pine was supposedly the avatar of the Daeva of life, though I had never experienced anything in its presence like I had felt in Golga. The thing brooding in the heart of the woods must have once been something of a similar nature.
Richter sat himself beside the fire, between Grail and myself and facing the wall of our shelter. The invoker lifted my discarded spit and, shaking the last lizard remnants free, began to stir the coals, trying to breathe life back into the ashes. For a few moments, we simply sat in silence, absorbing the weight of that revelation.
“The Resurrection cost man much, before it was finally vanquished.” His tone was heavy with bitterness and regret now, his desire to see the wonders of the first kingdoms readily apparent. “Cities of now mythical splendor lie in ashes, buried in the sands of the Blackened Wastes. Daevas and Dragons bound to places and phenomena unique to the north, now languish, their names forgotten and their power made rust.”
With a sigh, my friend turned from his vacant gazing at the rock, eyes sweeping from me to Grail and back again. “Worse still, are those that are remembered, despite their lost homeland. When their names are invoked, terrible, warped powers are unleashed, as if their very natures are now twisted against themselves. The name of Kali is only of historical familiarity to me, but counted first among the lost.”
He smiled, though no more than a shadow of one, his lips barely twitching, “The Daevas have always styled themselves as gods, so dependent on our feelings and thoughts as to desire worship for sustenance. The mystery cults of recent popularity stem from this dependence on man. And of all these self-proclaimed deities, Kali was one both feared and beloved above all other such pretenders. Indeed, respect and reverence were her very nature, said to draw admiration even in the early times, when worship of something other than God was unthinkable.”
The ancient slaughter made sudden sense then. Men bound to the cause of the Light had thrown their very lives into the jaws of the Damned, safeguarding both a weapon and ally against Berreck. They had been torn to shreds, hoping to save a creature synonymous with deference and awe, to preserve the heart of that concept for the world. And they had failed, in the end, the Daeva being twisted into a creature of terror and madness instead of respect and nobility. This, then, was the true sin of Berreck’s revenge.
“So, Kali was murdered? Reduced ta’ little meer’ than a broken shade, pollutin’ everythin’ around her with her heart’s blood?”
I responded to Grail’s query before Richter could. “No, not quite. The Daeva was tortured yes…broken, mutilated, and desecrated, of course. But what I saw was closer to alive than dead; full of fear and incomprehensible pain, but aware.”
Richter gave a surprised glance, lifting an eyebrow above his spectacles at my comment. “Just so, good Saga. In verity, I do not believe killing such a thing is possible. Slaying a being of such unfathomability without its consent would take far more than simply putting it to the sword. Such power as that would take must be beyond the very bounds of mortal man and whatever weapons we can devise.” He paused, as if to give the concept consideration, and then laughed, as if deriding himself. “Such sweeping power would give a man means as to challenge God Himself. I do not say this often, but it is an utter impossibility to conceive, let alone achieve.”
We sat in silence again then, soaking in the weight of what we had just uncovered. Kali explained much, not just about the Golga, but the Illuman condition in general. Just as Yggdrasill coaxed life from the stony earth of Samarkand, Kali must sow fear in the Illumani. Perhaps the entire cycle of crusade after crusade had been a reaction, an attempt to sweep the nameless dread from under their collective bed. All this time it had been in the one place they swore never to return, never to confront their great failure.
Richter, as usual, broke my contemplation, returning to our final subject. “As for you and your sudden dichotomy, Saga…”
“Yes? Can you tell me what has happened, what’s taken possession of me?” It was hard to keep the confusion and desperation from my tone.
“Possession? Now that would be troubling, were it true. No, if something had slipped into your mind during this existential battle your soul has decided to wage on itself, I would have seen it without fail. I have seen to your spirit as well as tattered frame, friend. Aside from a few lingering… discrepancies due to your trauma, you are the same man you have ever been.”
Even as I sighed, relieved, if still confused about what had happened to me, Grail broke in once again.
“I’m passin’ glad tha’ young master has given ya the all clear, so ta’ speak. Ya were beginin’ ta’ sound like one o’ the ridden.”
“Ridden?” Fear was already back, just an icy fog at the edges of my perception, but there none the less. Richter cast daggers with a single glare at Grail, then turned to me, exasperation in his tone.
“‘A colloquialism from the Free Cities, referring to those willing seized by their gods. The aforementioned mystery cults believe that their patron Daeva will take possession of a devout follower, in effect ‘riding’ him. It is believed those so possessed gain abilities beyond normal men and invokers alike. As I said, though, you are not possessed.”
I ignored Richter’s protests and turned back to Grail, “And what sort of things are these ridden given for their devotion?”
“That depends on tha’ beastie they bow ta’ now, lad. Most become skinwalkers, though, meer comfortable in tha’ shape o’ their god than that o’ a man. Tis’ said that some go even further, blendin’ tha’ man and tha’ beast into something out o’ a black dream.”
“Enough,” Richter interrupted, throwing his hands up in frustration. “As I have said, Saga is not possessed. Engaging in this further speculation about the nature of deranged cults and their practices will bear nothing but poisonous fruit. Now, if you please, I would rather we discussed another subject.”
I wondered for a moment what had Richter so riled. Perhaps he saw it as a questioning of his talent and intellect…unforgivable sins, indeed. I was happy to oblige, however. I had another question.
“Have it your way Richter. What, then, is happening with Ialae?” I cast an eye back at her still-slumbering form. “I doubt the lady would have slept through this whole conversation with our voices raised, unless something was wrong. You know what I went through to get her out of that place. I deserve to know what’s going on, at the very least.”
Richter clicked his tongue, looking chagrined. ‘Very well; I seem to have no other recourse. She dreams still because of me, not due to any dire ailment or fearsome wound taken in your flight from the dark.” Noting my confused expression, he swiftly continued, “I assure you, it was necessary for her to remain in the grip of Morpheus while you and I spoke, lest she cause undue…complication.”
I stood up, moving towards the Templarae. Richter intercepted me before I could rouse her, however. “Saga, wait, I beg of you. We need to discuss a few key... concerns about her presence before I can allow the lady to awaken.”
I nearly had him by the lapels before I thought better. As arrogant a bastard as Richter was, he had a reason for stringing me along like this. He had damn well better, anyway.
“The question we need to pose here is why she has decided to come with you. The logic of a devoted servant of the Illuman Church joining with a cadre of outlanders and accused heretics is severely lacking. It does, in fact, make reason stare in disbelief.”
It was, to be honest, something I had asked myself. I didn’t have a satisfactory answer. Mercer had attacked her and she had slain Inquisitors in turn. It seemed to imply some kind of schism in the ranks of the Church. Why that would give her sympathy for us remained to be seen. Perhaps Richter had a point.
“We have to face the possibility that she is a plant of some kind. Perhaps she seeks to turn us over to her own order when the time comes. Or possibly, she was sent to follow us and seize the heart when we retrieve it.”
“Seize the heart? I thought we were the only ones who even knew about the glass-blasted thing!”
Richter shook his head. “Saga, Saga, Saga…we are merely the only ones who know where it is. Churchmen and aspiring necromancers alike would do most anything to have either heart or hand, let alone both.” He leaned toward me, voice dropping to a stage whisper. “Kage is a highly connected man, as you well know. She could be another agent in his employ, like the priest who accosted me in the Imperial Library.”
“The lass could even be part o’ the cults o’ the Damned, fer’ all ya’ ken. Ye’ve given her a slew o’ reasons ta’ trust ya, but has she ever earned yers? Ya can’na believe her jess’ because the lass has a pretty face.”
Valid points all. I’d been working off of instinct, pure and simple, without time to cautiously uncoil facts. I knew next to nothing about Ialae, yet had nearly thrown away my life at least thrice to preserve hers since our fates had intertwined. But, part of me dared to insist, I can’t have misjudged her so badly as all that, even in my haste… can I?
“I understand what you are trying to say, Richter. Angels and Demons know why I’ve done what I’ve done since we entered Ward. But I also know what you’re implying we should do here. We can’t just leave her behind for the Inquisitors to scoop back up again. And I’ll be damned if we’re going to discard her as crow meat just to cover our own tracks. I know we’ve little practice extending trust, but can’t we, just this once, give someone the benefit of the doubt?”
I spread my hands, palms up, imploring him, for once, not to make this a battle over who was right and who was wrong. I didn’t have the energy to wrestle him on this, literally or figuratively, but giving the knight up felt like a mistake.
“Glass, Saga, I never dreamed of killing the girl. I was only hoping to divest us of excess baggage and a potential liability. I cannot deal with possible traitor in our midst with both a Demon and the Inquisition thirsting for my blood.”
“Fine,” I countered, “let her be my burden then. I can watch her just as well as you. Better, if you really think about it. As you say, she has an inordinate amount of trust in me. If I see the first hint of treachery, you’ll know faster than Hades does. I promise.”
My colleague bit back a retort, then another. In the end, Richter simply shrugged. “If I have your word on it then, I have no choice but to comply. She shall follow with us then.” He cast a weather eye toward the sinking sun. “You should take your rest, then Saga. You’ll need your strength if we are to strike camp tomorrow.”
I shook my head, moving towards my gear. “I’ll take the first watch tonight. I’ll need the time to explain things to Ialae, anyway.”
“As you like it my friend. I think I should make myself scarce so you might speak with the lady in peace.”
I could feel the crack from between us then. It was small thing, the kind that came when ego’s clashed, when the one who usually pushed found himself pushed back. But I knew such things could eventually tear a friendship asunder as well.
Time alone would tell.