The path winds on around the mountain pass. The end is never in sight, but always obscured by the next turn in the trail. There is much to see—the valley below and the trees that hustle in the cold north winds. The snow is a sheet of diamonds, glistening in the bright light of day. So much beauty, so much distraction. But look up, seeker, look up! The sky sees everything and mocks the hemmed in life. Unfold, dear seeker, unfold.
Why Consciousness? The Eschatologies, Vol. V
Al’tis sat on the stone bridge and watched the evening descend on Eastwind. The stars were out in force tonight; the constellations of Dragonthaw and Beachers shone their lights across the valley of snowy pine trees, their nebula intermittently hidden by the flitting of clouds across the winter sky. She’d been sat here for an hour at least, nursing a flagon of ale and watching the waters of the Raven Beck tributary flow beneath her, their black ripples sending her into half sleep.
She enjoyed these rare moments of peace, when Peter withdrew his encroaching hands and let her be. After hours of collecting and selling items in the markets, completing quests and stashing their rewards in the bank, he would leave her in Eastwind before returning the next day. It was known as ghosting, this moment of reprieve from the master, and folk chose to spend it in different ways. Some slept, while others walked through the pine forests that bordered the town; some read by candlelight in their rooms, and others talked with friends whom they hadn’t seen for days at a time.
Voices across the bridge reached her as the doors to The Silly Mule tavern opened and closed. The whole town seemed to be there tonight, raucous shouts and spirited laughter floating through the evening air, accompanied by the sounds of twanging harps and accordions. In the ghosting hours, there was a bond of temporary kinship between the possessed, a communal acknowledgement that for the present at least they were free to play at cards and drink, dance and romance. Sometimes Al’tis took her place amongst the revellers, listening absent-mindedly to the latest rumours or far-fetched stories from recent exploits.
But tonight was different. She plucked a flint from the bridge and tossed it into the river below. The events of Galgothria played on her mind; like wine on wood the sensation of her impromptu rebellion lingered long in the memory. It exhilarated her to think of it: body and will in perfect union. But she was unnerved by it too. It had never happened before. Logically, it should never happen again. And yet the anger she had felt at Peter, at herself and at the world around her had been visceral. So irrepressible that Al’tis wondered whether things had not changed forever, whether she had broken something, either within herself or in the dynamic of power between herself and her user. She had no idea whether her rebellion had meaning, but a gnawing doubt was growing within her, and it undermined the happiness she might otherwise have enjoyed.
Something moved behind her, and she turned to see Braithwaite Strifeborne approach.
‘The Cailleach greets you, Al’tis,’ he said sheepishly, shuffling on the spot, seemingly unsure whether to disturb the woman’s contemplations. But he sat down next to her anyway, dangling his legs over the bridge’s side.
‘The Cailleach protects,’ she replied, and smiled at him.
‘Saw you from the tavern; thought you might want to come inside. It’s heaving tonight.’
It was early still, Al’tis thought, and users hadn’t yet reinvaded their vassals and possessed them once more. When that happened, smiles and smirks would disappear and the revellers become no longer themselves but empty shells, cored like apples, staring blankly ahead. Gradually, they would fade away, like the lines of a worn drawing, their users porting them to one of thousands of shrines scattered across Karingali, until they disappeared completely, and it was as if they had never been here at all.
‘How about it?’ Braithwaite asked hopefully. ‘It’s pretty cold outside.’
She’d barely noticed, but now that Braithwaite mentioned it, she felt the chill of the winter air. Her mammoth-skin coat warmed her arms and chest, but the felhide leather guards she wore weren’t thick enough to prevent the bridge’s cold stone from spreading across her legs.
Al’tis studied the young man closely. He was about her height but had a sickly, narrow face and his shoulders, prematurely hunched, spoke of a boy who had spent too many winters outdoors. His clothes were tattered from head to foot and malnourishment was written large on his face. She’d met him in the fields one day a couple of years ago, after Peter had moved her to new lodgings in Eastwind, and she’d found him stealing from someone’s harvest. He’d fallen on hard times through no fault of his own. A barbarian child for one day only, fierce and proud and full of ambition. But his self-assurance had lasted for only as long as it had taken his user to abandon him, deciding that the lad was unworthy of possession again. Braithwaite had been left him to fend for himself.
Apprehension took root in Al’tis Mara’s heart. Braithwaite reflected her own possible future. What if, like Braithwaite’s user, Peter did not return and abandoned her here? What if he’d already dismissed her from his service as an assassin gone rogue, an aberration that he would not tolerate? What then? She would be on the scrapheap, adding to the swelling numbers of dispossessed across Karingali, forced to eke out a living by herself. She wasn’t ready for that—at least, she didn’t feel ready. Nor was she prepared for the social ostracism that being dispossessed entailed. Shunned by locals and strangers alike, they were a spurned, maligned underclass, treated with suspicion and scorn. For all her dissatisfaction with her indentured life, it was preferable to living in a colony of lepers. With Peter she was fed, dressed, kept warm and put to use, and when he wasn’t about, she was free to ghost. Perhaps that was all life could be? Perhaps that was enough. Or needed to be.
Al’tis put an arm around Braithwaite’s shoulder, and holding him close, wrapped him in the mammoth-skin that she was wearing. They stared out at the valley, feeling their bodies warm together, two incubated souls on an empty bridge, in a winter town. Out on the horizon, they could see the grand castle of Highmaul Rock, its battlements defined against a northern sun which set behind it.
‘You eaten today?’ she asked him finally.
‘A little maybe’
She knew he was lying.
‘Here.’ And from her pocket she drew out an apple, the one she’d taken from the elf in the cathedral. Of all the riches in his bank and in her inventory, an apple would be the last thing Peter would notice missing when—or if—he possessed her once more.
The young man looked down at the apple she held in her gloved hand. He didn’t need much more convincing. He snatched it and tore into it. ‘Thanks,’ he said after he’d swallowed the core, and she allowed him to kiss her quickly on the cheek. ‘I don’t know what I’d be without you.’
‘Dead of course,’ she replied, and they both smiled.
When Al’tis spoke again she felt she were imparting advice to herself.
‘You need to leave here you know? Go north. To Holbrake, maybe, or Cutlis Moor. There are dispossessed there, whole communities. You can’t survive here, not alone. And not on bits of fruit.’ She watched as Braithwaite slowly stopped chewing.
‘But I don’t want to.’
‘You think someone’s coming back for you? After six years?’
He looked at the darkening horizon as she spoke, refusing to meet her eyes. Al’tis knew she was hurting him yet felt obliged to perform an act of painful good.
‘No-one is coming for you Braith. You’re dispossessed. You don’t belong here. No-one looks out for you. No-one speaks to you. Folk don’t trust you. You live with the constant fear of death. With other dispossessed, you’d have security. You’d be free.’
For a split second the image of the elf in Galgothria entered her mind, and Al’tis realised that he too, must have been dispossessed. No user left their property dead on the ground; they resurrected them at the local shrine and continued on their way. When she looked at Braithwaite, she saw the same death, the same abandonment waiting for him. He needed to be with others like himself to have any chance of surviving.
‘Free?’ Braithwaite turned to her, a mocking scowl on his face. ‘Free to do what Al’tis? Scratch around in the dust and dirt some place, hoping I won’t be eaten by some giant lizard or murdered by a bandit?’ His voice began to rise, its change in tone revealing the child he really was. ‘I can’t even survive on my own, in this place, without a girl helping me. How do you think I’ll get on out there?’
‘There are others. Others like you. They’ll help.’
Braithwaite removed his arm from the mammoth-skin and began sulkily to unpick loose flints from the bridge.
He had told her once how he felt, how beautiful he thought she was. How her dark eyes and features, so perfectly arranged and shaped, made his entire body ache with want. They’d been sitting under a pine tree in the forest at midday, the long summer afternoon stretching out before them like an unfulfilled promise, when he’d leaned in and kissed her on the mouth. She had allowed it at first, not wishing to hurt his feelings, but eventually she’d pulled away. He’d waxed lyrical about how in time she would come to rely on him as he did her, but they both knew the truth. As long as Braithwaite stayed in Eastwind, she would always be his benefactor. The only one prepared to take any care of him.
They made a strange pairing, a young, raggedly dressed dispossessed and a skilled assassin. Her acquaintances teased her for the way she indulged the stray but in truth what condemned him in the eyes of others was his chief attraction for her. She quizzed him constantly about what dispossession—true dispossession—felt like. Not that fleeting, transient sensation she’d experienced in Galgothria, but dispossession that lasted years, if not forever, and the ever-present finality of death waiting in the wings. The irony wasn’t lost on her that by interrogating him so she lived vicariously through him in much the same way Peter experienced Karingali through her, and yet she couldn’t help herself. No matter how prosaic, she listened eagerly to the young man’s daily trials and tribulations, for the simple reason that in discharging them Braithwaite had been his own agent, rather than a hollow vessel executing the demands of a faceless other. Al’tis took what she wanted from his accounts, selecting those aspects of his day which romanticised dispossession. She chose to focus on the places he had visited or the activities he had freely chosen to engage in, and ignored the more inconvenient realities which plagued his life—what he’d managed to eat, how he’d procured it, and where he planned on sleeping that night.
It was only to Braithwaite that she spoke of Peter and her desire to be free of him, only to Braithwaite that she revealed the discontented selfhood growing within. On occasion she had broached the matter with other possessed, but they had either changed the conversation quickly or else looked at her as one would a madman. Al’tis was convinced that by the sheer law of averages there had to be others who, like her, suffered a bifurcated life in which the mind was free and the body enslaved. It was possible that such folk were happy—and if not happy then at least reconciled—to trading a life of indenture for a few breadcrumbs of liberty, when they sat a while in the tavern or walked in the forests by themselves. One could at least pretend to be free. And who in their right mind would risk a life of comfort and security for one of risk and uncertainty? Who would exchange slavery for the lot of the dispossessed?
Increasingly, she feared she might be one such candidate.
But if there were self-aware folk, they were a minority. The vast majority of possessed were happy, if only because they knew no better. When they spoke of their exploits and mishaps, they did so as protagonists of their stories, rather than receptacles of another’s will. They were bantlings, conflating the spirit that moved within them with their own selves, just as Al’tis had before the first seeds of selfhood had been planted, before the light had grown within. Gradually, she found herself avoiding them, preferring the sanctuary of her room or Braithwaite’s company, with whom she felt a growing affinity, a solidarity. At least he was under no illusion regarding the limitations of his life. He was an outcast, yes, and utterly at the mercy of conditions he could not control, but he had the honesty to accept it.
It was getting cold now, too cold to be sat on a bridge tossing stones into the tributary, and yet they remained. Al’tis threw her coat over him again, pulled him close and passed him her ale. His hands were frozen, but he took the flagon reluctantly and drank deeply. He was still upset with her; he always was whenever she told him to leave Eastwind.
‘Well now.’ A voice, deep and mocking, came from behind them. ‘It’s the assassin and her mutt. No-one ever told you the night is for devils?’
‘Shit,’ muttered Braithwaite, and jumped up from the bridge to face their visitor.
Al’tis, too, got to her feet, but said nothing. In another life, Sir Alder Drak might have been an attractive fellow. His broken nose gave him a roguish but not unpleasant aspect, and his brown eyes, though narrow and cruel, were bright and lively. The stubble around his mouth and chin suited him too, as did the tattoo on his glabella, a sort of tear-dropped symbol which members of the Brawlers guild wore. That was about as much as Al’tis was willing to concede him—generally speaking, Drak was the nastiest piece of work she’d ever met.
It was clear he was drunk, his grin somewhere between menace and arrogance, and his broad frame decked out for battle in rare Vidith armour, green steel plating covering his sizeable arms and chest. His legs were hidden beneath a leather cingulum, and on his feet he wore a pair of goatskin boots. A red rune burned deep within him, like the embers of a smouldering fire, illuminating the textured patterns of his chest piece and pauldrons. His gauntlets, as intricately designed as his cuirass, were embellished with green agate gemstones set into bands of black sapphire. In all, he was a picture of frivolous wealth.
‘The homeless pup,’ Drak sneered, and took a step closer to Braithwaite, his heavy armour clattering loudly in the freezing night air. ‘Still trying to fuck her, are you boy?’
Drak smelt of beer and pickles, and when he leant in close, he blew in the young man’s face, making Braithwaite wince. Drak laughed and struck him on the shoulder. Not an act of camaraderie but a threat.
‘Lady Mara and I have a spot of business to discuss. Fuck off.’
Braithwaite turned red, squaring up to the man, before Al’tis stepped in front.
‘It’s all right. Off you go Braith. I’ll catch up with you when I’m done here.’
The young man made no word of protest but looked defeated. He skulked off, kicking the ground, looking back at the assassin a couple of times before disappearing around the corner of the Silly Mule.
Drak scoffed as he watched Braithwaite’s receding figure. ‘That lad should drown himself and get it over with,’ he said, perfectly seriously. ‘Makes me depressed just looking at him.’
Drak was new to these parts and his arrival in Eastwind had been a nasty surprise to most decent folk who had had dealings with him. His user seemed to have infinite resources, purchasing the castle of Highmaul Rock for him and kitting him out with expensive attire. And yet, despite the luxury showered on Drak, his user rarely possessed him. More often than not, Drak’s time was his own, and he put it to use by tyrannising the folk of Eastwind for his own financial ends. For large stretches of the day and most evenings, he let himself loose on the town, intimidating residents and extorting them out of their coin, drinking too much and ambushing any female who came close.
The arrogant smirk written on his face spoke of a man used to getting his own way, one whose brazenness and boldness grew in direct proportion to the absence of his user. The more time he spent ghosting, the more he believed he was his own man and belonged to no-one other than himself.
Checking that there was no one around, he stepped towards Al’tis, eyeing her like a meal. ‘Word in town is you bested that bat and nicked his sword? The Night Duke? That true?’
‘I have a talent for these things,’ she replied, watching his hands twitch restlessly by his side.
‘Wouldn’t mind one of them myself.’ He grinned at her. ‘Any advice?’
‘An exchange then,’ Drak persisted, meeting the assassin’s stony silence with a conciliatory gesture of the hands. ‘Tell me how you did it and I’ll trade you this.’ He pulled one of the agate rings from a finger and held it out to her. ‘Worth more than that shithole you call a house.’
Al’tis ignored the ring but kept her eyes on Drak’s hands. The face could lie, but the hands always revealed their owner’s intentions. Every time.
Drak exhaled loudly through his nose and bit his lips; remaining reasonable was clearly an effort. ‘I’m not used to being ignored, girl. See this?’ He pointed under his cuirass where the ember burnt. ‘Know what this is?’ The assassin continued her stony silence. ‘Mark of the Grimoire,’ he said. ‘Claimed it for my alliance a few days ago. You know anyone else who’s done that? No? Me neither.’
Al’tis had heard of the Grimoire in passing. It was a book unlike any other in Karingali. She didn’t know the details, but it had something to do with Edgefrost, a new region that had suddenly appeared in the north of the continent. The Grimoire was a trinket of sorts, and one aggressively pursued by users looking to give themselves and those in their alliance a temporary boost in combat. And it wasn’t easy to get. Anyone looking to lay claim to it needed to fight their way through the citadel of Eleutheria, and then down through an enormous tower full of traps and hostile enemies. That was about all Al’tis knew or cared to know about it.
‘What? Not impressed?’ Drak said, the tone of his voice suggesting his patience was waning. He reached behind his head and pulled a large axe from a sheathe that was strapped to his back. ‘And what about this?’ It was a majestic looking weapon, its throat and belly made of dusty bronze, with engravings that looked like snake scales running from grip to shoulder. It seemed dwarven, but the green glass blade, a sweeping convex of emerald coloured shards, suggested something more unusual. It must have taken months to forge such a weapon, and more coin than sense to purchase it.
Al’tis couldn’t help herself. ‘Where did you get that from?’
Drak smiled. ‘Took it from the strong room in Highmaul.’
Her attempt at indifference was finally broken. She stared at him in amazement, trying to fathom whether he was serious.
Drak was stealing from his own user, taking what he wanted, when he wanted. She’d never heard of anything so crazy.
‘Cat got your tongue?’ he mocked, the axe catching the dying light and glinting. Seeing her stunned silence, he continued. ‘What? Thought you were the only one?’ he asked mysteriously. ‘Typical tart. Always thinking you’re better than everyone else. Here’s some news. You’re not. We’re the same, you and me. Only difference is I’m not scared to take my freedom. I take what’s due me.’
A quick sickness rose inside her, and she felt that someone had stripped her naked; that she should share something so intimate and vital with a man like Drak made her feel complicit in an appalling crime. Selfhood, the instinct for freedom that had grown as a natural impulse towards liberty suddenly felt grubby and immoral. An unspoken recognition of their mutual conditions had just taken place and an alliance established between them which she had never sought.
‘And I’ll be taking that Duke’s sword too.’ He stepped towards her, the axe still resting in his hands and glinting in the dying light. ‘So tell me what I need to know, and I’ll let you get back to the slave ship,’ and with a nod of his head he motioned towards the tavern behind them.
How this thug knew something so intimate about her Al’tis had no idea, but it was as though he’d trampled through the most secretive pools of her being, leaving them muddy and troubled.
‘It’s a three-day trek to Galgothria from here,’ she said as neutrally as she could, hoping to steer the conversation away from herself. ‘What happens if your user returns and finds you not where you’re supposed to be, tucked up in that castle of yours?’
‘Heard of the shrines I take it? I’ll use them to get there. In and out job. Back before anyone knows anything.’
It took her a moment to understand what Drak was saying, and when she thought she had heard correctly, her mouth opened a little in astonishment. He wasn’t joking. He meant to take the shrines to reach Galgothria quickly. At some perverse, twisted level it made sense. If Al’tis was planning a ridiculous suicide mission to the other side of Karingali without her user, then the shrines would be the way to go. They were quick and simple to operate and could take a person almost anywhere on the continent in the blink of an eye. She’d used them herself countless times, but only when she’d been possessed.
And that was the major distinction. To use them whilst ghosting, as Drak was proposing, was as close to insanity as she could imagine. Ghosts were strictly forbidden from using the shrine network that spanned Karingali, and punishment for doing so was extreme. Between the time of one’s arrest and repossession by one’s user a world of pain greeted the transgressor—by the cross, by the noose, sometimes by fire. A pain that continued unabated until the user returned to claim his errant slave.
‘So,’ Drak said, turning the great axe over in his hand theatrically, ‘you going to spill the beans or what?’
‘You’re even madder than I thought,’ was all she said, turning to leave the bridge. Immediately, Drak thrust a gauntlet out to grab her by the shoulder. But even as he tried, she was already behind him, kicking twice behind both his knees, and he collapsed on all fours, an inglorious image of subjugation.
‘It would be better for you,’ the assassin said, leaning down to whisper in his ear, ‘if you returned to Highmaul. Put a hand on me again and they’ll be picking the blade out of your bones for days.’ Drak put his hands up, palms outstretched, as the glint of a dagger flashed before him. She wanted to cut him there and then, not because he’d tried to touch her, but because he’d violated something far deeper within her, something sacrosanct. Anger rose within her, as it had in Galgothria. Before she walked away, Al’tis took a breath to compose herself, then gave Drak a quick jab in the small of his back with her knee and sent him crashing to the ground.
It was as much as Drak could do to roll over onto his front, his heavy armour clattering in the night silence. ‘Tell that mutt I’ll be seeing him,’ he called out in the thickening dark.
A moment later, a shadowy face loomed over him and a leg raised above him.
But for his agonised screams, the night was perfectly still.
That evening Al’tis Mara couldn’t sleep. She looked up at the ceiling of her small room, examining its plentiful cracks, tracing their point of origin with eyes that would not close. Braithwaite lay beside her. It had been too cold to allow him to wander outside, so she’d let him rest here. A small gasp and an outlet of breath told her the boy was sleeping, and she turned on her side to face him. She watched him breathe, slowly but erratically, and heard how he wheezed, the cold having entered his lungs long ago and taken up residence within them. His soft black hair came down over his eyes, and his young, pale lips twitched as he dreamt. Looking at his sickly complexion, she was reminded suddenly of the dead elf, lying on the marble slabs of Galgothria.
Al’tis sat up in bed and remembered. She thumbed her pockets quickly and realised it was still there: the marble carving of a horse she’d found on the elf’s body. Either Peter had forgotten to take it out of her inventory and place it in the bank, or he’d left it there, to be disposed of the next time he inhabited her.
What in the Cailleach’s shadow had the elf been doing with this thing? She examined it closely by the light of a half-burnt candle flickering on her bedside dresser. It was an unremarkable toy horse, diminutive and sweet, blackened with grime and age. She turned it over in her palm, but there was nothing: no writing, no symbols, nothing that told her where it had come from, and to whom it had belonged.
She put it back in her pocket, but as she did a speck of dirt came away in her hand, revealing a dot of rich ruby red on the horse’s ear. She began to rub, going slowly so that she didn’t damage the carving. Gradually, the filth came off in her hand, and after a few minutes of picking, shaking, and blowing, she had restored the toy to its original, true form: it was made of an entirely red stone, and cut by the same carving knife.
Metamorph she uttered to herself, and sat there, turning the object over, beneath the candlelight, again and again. A wind had picked up outside, and she felt its draught through the wooden window frame beside her bed, tree branches tapping inquisitively on the glass. The fire in the grate burnt low, the logs crackling in the hearth and spitting sap from the dead wood.
Fallwood. That was the only place known to have metamorph, a tiny, nondescript village on the west coast of Karingali—about as far away from here as one could get. It had been abandoned years ago, ever since the bigger commercial towns had been established further to the south. Besides the ocean there was nothing of interest in Fallwood. Why had the elf gone all that way, especially if he was dispossessed? The journey would have been full of dangers. Why risk it? And if he hadn’t, then someone else had, and the same question applied. Why would someone travel all that way just to carve a toy horse from a piece of metamorph? Were they, too, dispossessed? Maybe they hadn’t visited at all but lived there. But who would choose to live in such a derelict place? Had the elf gone to visit them? And why?
She lay back on the bed and resumed her inspection of the cracks in the ceiling. But the longer she lay there, the more perplexing the situation felt. Questions became itches, itches became obsessions. And as the wind howled in the night, and the candle began to die, Al’tis rose from her bed and put on her boots. She knew what she had to do.
Except for the skittering leaves which twitched and twirled across the cobblestones, the town square was deserted. A lone warden, lamp light outstretched in front of him, wandered across the square, stopping to examine something on the ground, something in the air, and then moved on. Al’tis stood in shadow and waited. The cold was making her nose run, and periodically she wiped it, narrowing her eyes to avoid the sting of the frozen air. The shrine stood exposed in the middle of the square, its soft blue flame fluttering and bending to the wind that bullied it.
As a host, the warden was neither possessed nor dispossessed, and as such was particularly dangerous. He was tasked with enforcing the laws of the town, upholding with inflexible certitude the integrity of acceptable social behaviour. With steely discipline, wardens would arrest and imprison anyone caught stealing or pickpocketing, regardless of whether they were possessed or ghosting. The outcome was the same—a date with the prison cell. Even worse was the punishment for anyone caught dabbling in necromancy within the town boundaries. The wardens would kill them and would have no hesitation in torturing Al’tis for attempting to use the shrine that glowed blue before her. And they would continue to do so until Peter came back to claim her.
The warden’s lamp faded from view, his footsteps distant echoes. She waited, scanning the square for movement. Life would be a lot easier if she were a host. Not a warden necessarily, but a tavern keeper or storeowner, a blacksmith or a tailor, a simple, peaceful auxiliary whose life revolved around the execution of the same task, over and over, for the satisfaction of users. She would know neither possession nor dispossession, performing the same simple function unthinkingly: pouring ale, smelting ore, or stitching lining. Al’tis stood up and readied herself, unable to hear anything now but the beating of her own heart. Then again, she thought, if she were a host, she would never know what feeling alive meant, as much as she did this very moment.
Al’tis had calculated the time it would take for the warden to return to the square, and when she started sprinting towards the shrine, she believed herself undetected. From the corner of her vision, she saw a pair of green orbs low to the ground flicker and vanish, strange malachite lights which she hadn’t spotted earlier. In silence she threw herself down into shadow, keeping her body out of the glow of wall torches that bathed the place in a dark orange hue. The orbs flashed again, but this time it was more like a blink. They weren’t orbs at all. They were a pair of green eyes.
They belonged to koda, an attack dog that the warden sometimes took with him when doing his rounds. In her excitement, she had completely forgotten that detail. She lay down on the freezing ground, watching as the koda’s eyes dart here and there, its nose sniffing for scents in the freezing air. The warden would be back any moment. She had to move. Shuffling backwards, returning to the safety of more generous shadow, she felt something pull, and knew one of the daggers that dangled from her belt had become locked between the cobblestones. She cursed to herself, but reaching to disengage the weapon, she realised it was useless—the dagger was jammed. She’d have to lose the belt.
When she looked back at the koda, the pair of green eyes were on her, burning wildly and staring at her for what seemed like minutes. Through the wind and scattering leaves she heard the warden’s footfall, the stones heralding his whereabouts. She held the gaze of the koda until, at last, it turned its attention to the far end of the square, from where the warden appeared.
By the time the warden found her belt, the koda sniffing and whining by his side, Al’tis was already half-way home. She’d never performed the chameleon without Peter before and, recalling her ludicrous antics, stranded in the middle of a square which she had no right to be visiting at this time of night, attempting to reach a shrine she had no right to be using, that same feeling of exhilarated terror which had washed over her in Galgothria pumped through her now. It was a feeling she could get used to.