The castling is over.
The moment of uncertainty passes; he reaches for the scroll Nalia gave him; Umar, bleeding copiously from her mere scratch, devoid of magic, snarls and turns around to face her third attacker; and then, halts; the kissaki, the katana’s tip, she has almost in her face.
She reaches to it, unconsciously; then, slides her wasted hands down the blade, putting it slowly to the side, walking around it. “You… with mine own brand… What irony… here… now… at the end…” she screeches and rasps as she reaches for the hilt.
Her descendant jerks the sword, involuntarily, angrily, and then turns to put the blade again between himself and the lich. “The end, Umar?! Yes. The end. This is your end. You will die today. And I, with you. And since I am your last heir, with our deaths, the Corthala will finally disappear from Amn!”
He tries the katana against Umar’s protections; fails to pierce them; a tongue of fire rises from the fiery ring around the lich’s feet and licks the palm of his hand in greeting.
“You… the last of my offspring… but why? Why?” The eyeless undead face turns inquisitively from the sword to the sword’s wielder. “Why… why do you wish for death?” the undead rasps. “You live.”
“Don’t try any tricks, Umar!” he screams. “I will not be fooled. Just let us have this sorry business over. He must have better things to do than to stand around and watch us come to our terms,” he jabs his head at Sarevok as he tries another cut at the lich’s waist.
“I do, fool. In point of fact, I believe I second the Madam Corthala’s entreaty,” that one finds himself replying; the spell, fortunately, he has cast already, silently, when he was behind Umar’s back and her attention was away from him. “You neglected to mention that this would be a suicide mission.” Once cast, the whip-spell will work by itself; they need only time. Speak. “Fentan will be disappointed.”
“Do not drag Mazzy into this!”
“Why not? I answer to her for you, you cretin, and if you die here, she will skin me— However, I would not that I imposed on the family reunion. Madam Corthala. Allow me to introduce myself: Sarevok Anchev. And the madman with the sword is Valygar. There is the small matter of a curse, I believe?”
The lich is, perhaps, quite bewildered. “Curse?” she rasps. “Is that…”
“Yes!” Valygar Corthala yells desperately, and the lich turns to him; “The curse of magic you placed over our family! You will not deny it!”
Shortly, she does.
“Amuana was dead, and my lord Amaunator ordered that… that the temple be sealed, magically… with all who were still inside… I… was one of the chosen for this task. I… watched them all from behind the curtain of magic which… I cast…”
Umar Corthala scuttles around her cave, lighting the chthonic darkness with globes of enchanted light, speaking, “Possessed. Turned into shades after death… They begged me to release them… But I… we had to stop the contagion…”
“But the Yellow God demanded more,” Umar rasps. “We… we who cast the wards… we were unworthy. Unclean. Impure… Too much shadow… too much of it entered us when we were sealing the temple from the mortal world. The others… they could die. I… the most powerful… the most affected… I… The wards had to be maintained… I was to become undead… To keep them…”
“…I left my child. My sword… But a curse… No. Never… Sorcery is a gift… never a curse. If they were so foolish… if they misused it…” She makes a quaint sound, one which one might interpret as a deep sigh.
“Tombelthen undid the temple wards when they were the weakest,” Sarevok notes. The cave, he can now see at ease, is dry, furnished like a small house and laboratory, complete with shelves of books and journals and a potion preparation table; all of it ancient and dilapidated. The aura of decay surrounding the lich is merciless; these cannot be the original items, definitely. Nevertheless, they must be priceless.
“Yes… I awoke… I… found the sacrifice…”
“Yes,” Valygar Corthala, still afoot, interrupts angrily, “Three lives a century, is it not, Umar? This was the price of your existence?!”
The red glow deep in the lich’s eyes bursts, transiently, into a nova star. “Three lives a century… to protect all… to carry on studies… To maintain the prison… to release the prisoners… Once the danger was contained… they were forgotten… by all…” she adds, with a distant anger not unlike her descendant’s.
The Corthalas eye each other in distrustful silence— “So, Madam Corthala, you awoke, found the children— Are they dead, by the way?”
The lich gives him a vaguely irritated look. “They? No… I put them to sleep when… when the orcs attacked. They… they are there.” A move of a finger and the door leading to a deeper part of the cave opens; summarily, three Andersons pour out.
“Coo’! Oh, ‘ello, mister,” the eldest says, “‘ere, look, we’ve been searchin’ for you! ‘ere be arm’d men in the village, askin’ for you, ‘ere be!” He appears to be completely unfazed by the presence of a lich; Sarevok marvels at the flexibility of youth. Or, he smirks, the efficiency of his own training.
“For me?” he asks; the eldest Anderson eyes him critically. Then, he eyes him like an idiot. “Tall folk, glowin’ eyes. Can’t mistake you, mister.”
“Some rich folk, Tombelthen be the name,” the middle Anderson supplies helpfully. “Says ‘e came ‘ere in search of ‘is cousin. Idras, or Igen, or somethin’…”
“But ‘e ask’d for you, too!” the youngest finishes, “Said ‘e knows your horses… He talk’d t’ the Mayor for ‘ours an’ ‘ours!” He gives him a hopeful look. “You did somethin’ bad, mister? You a smuggler, or somethin’?”
“Or something,” Sarevok admits, despairing over the state of education in Amn, or, indeed, the sanity of these three: Dirbert, Neler and Valsben, in this precise order. “Now, leave. Do not touch anything you see outside. Go straight up the stairs. There, you will find my sister. Tell her what is happening, and that I will rejoin her shortly— Out,” he finishes, pushing the three boys lightly to propel them into motion and out of the cave— Did you hear that, Altair? he asks, privately, his eagle. Do you see them?
Make sure they follow the orders. “Excuse the interruption, Madam Corthala. You found the boys, the orcs… attacked, and…?”
The boys, to cries of surprise and protest, have disappeared outside the cave; and the lich rasps, “The presence of the wards… It weighs… It weighed heavily on my mind. I… did not feel them… But… the burden of shadow… it, too, was gone…”
“Of course it was, Umar,” Valygar Corthala mutters dispiritedly. “We did your job for you. We destroyed the Shade Lord. We did what you could not achieve with your whole filthy magic—”
“We were not unaided, Corthala,” Sarevok points out pleasantly. “We were armed by your god, Madam Corthala,” he adds, for the lich’s sake.
“By… Amaunator?” she laughs, throatily. “The Yellow God…? He… pitiless… He… forgot… He let them forget… Centuries passed… and no one came… No one… helped…” For the first time, her atheist heir looks at her with less than utter animosity.
Then, he the heavy suspicion returns. “But the Shade Lord is destroyed. What will you do now, Umar? Because, even—if—there is no curse, know that I will not let you carry on stealing human lives to feed your own existence!”
Skeletal, the lich looks up at him, weak, defenceless, misleading, “I… My friends… at peace… This is the end…”
“You want to die?” her descendant snorts. “I’ll believe that when I see that.”
Kakaru toki— We are leaving for the horses, master.
Fine. “You shared in that desire not ten minutes ago, Corthala.”
“I am not undead.”
“Your ranger of a friend, I believe, was— Corthala, the Madam’s interest coincides with yours. Why not satisfy them both without further hostility?”
There is in the air a rather perceptible feeling of a paradigm shift as the man unclasps his hands from the hilt of his sword and decides, “Yes. Well— How?” he demands of the lich. “Can you die at all? There was some discussion about that,” a frankly hostile look at Sarevok, “before we came here.”
A ripple of uncertainty through the gaunt skin. “I…” Umar halts. “I… don’t know.”
“There are still vestiges of power in it,” Sarevok shrugs as, in three, they consider Amaunator’s searing orb, now reduced to the dull, warm glow. “For you, I believe.”
He feels a vague pain of separation, somewhere; a feeling utterly inappropriate for its worthless object, his property. “When he armed us, Madam Corthala, your god asked us to return his faithful to him,” he adds, languidly. “He promised, in return, to deliver them peace.”
“Peace…? Take it… from him?” she looks up at him, angrily. “He… He would destroy me if… if he could… if he had not needed me… How can… I believe…”
“Why should you believe him? What for?” A snort. “Now that’s what I call a leap of faith: to believe that death changed a bastard where life could not.”
“Gods rarely make amends, Corthala. On equal terms, never.”
“The Keep… the Keep of the Eternal Sun,” Umar Corthala rasps dreamily, heedless of the private argument. “Light… walking the corridors forever bathed in the light of the face of the Yellow God… Give it to me, Valygar,” she demands of her descendant, suddenly. “And live. I… go.”
“Umar, I… I wish you luck,” says he, in the slightly stiff tone of one acutely aware that he is expected to say something, but who cannot find anything else sincere to say.
Then, a blinding flash follows as divine might meets undead flesh; and when they both recover their sense of sight, Umar Corthala, the last of Amaunator’s own, is dead. The light of Amaunator’s stone is gone.
“Now, it is between her and her god,” Valygar Corthala mutters, eyeing the body, as Sarevok summons a light to replace those which disappeared with Umar’s death. “And her victims.”
“Yes— And you, Corthala? What are you going to do with yourself now?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about this. Follow Minsc’s advice, perhaps,” the man gives out a short laugh. “Buy a dog.”
Buy a dog, find a goddess… There had been such a time in his own life, too; among the Ilmatari; when he found his Father— It was a queenside castling. “No suicide nonsense, I take it—?”
A queenside castling: that was what Imoen called it; the chess king, hidden, to buy time, until the time comes, by the queen’s rook; in the queen’s castle.
“No… Listen. You won’t tell Mazzy about that, will you?”
But the rook; the castle— This is this place. The forest. Mairyn. The queen should be Imoen. But Mairyn is Mielikki’s forest; and Mielikki is the Forest Queen, the queen here; here, Imoen is, at most, still only the pretender. Mielikki hid me. What for?
“No. Shall we? I am curious to see whether Fentan will be more pleased that you survived, or displeased that I did.”
She cannot reach him. Not yet. She needs him, but she cannot reach him, through that armour of wilful atheism which cries for a deity to follow. And she must know that in Imoen’s presence, in my presence, something would change; and I would not even know of the debt, had Mairyn not forced her to help Minsc; and I have not repaid it yet. Not in full.
“I—” Scratching his right eyebrow in the silent, mild embarrassment of the centre of the dim cave, in his leather armour, Valygar Corthala looks, suddenly, again, extremely appetising. The immortal senses scream of jealousy, and chaos, and murder, and change, a taint which must be laid on a man to balance a debt; Mazzy Fentan would be rather beside herself, Sarevok muses with amusement, as, a pawn, the player behind the pawn, aware, ignorant, he bends to kiss the man; perhaps she would even commence a counteroffensive.
The kiss is unpleasant, and, for that reason, truncated; perhaps because it is the dry, dead kiss of a man who lived the years of his life expecting to die soon, and childless, or even celibate— The dissonance dies; he is human, again. “No.” “No,” the man agrees, as they part; then, “Can you go tell Mazzy that we’re done here? I should do something with the,” a faint echo of distaste returns to his voice, “body.”
—And, of course, this place is filled with arcane knowledge accumulated over however many centuries, and you do not want any wizard around it as you destroy it. “Of course.”
With a nod, he leaves; picking up, in passing, his stone.
Outside greets him with the bitter end of another tale: Mazzy Fentan walks amidst the victims of a coincidence, a misunderstanding; a dream, a hope. “Aerie said that she will ask her gods to try and resurrect as many of them as will be possible,” she says, curtly, without revealing her private opinion on the matter.
“Yes. She would say that,” he replies, in a matching tone, across the petrified Madulf and his wilted followers. “Corthala is inside, dealing with the corpse, if you wish to talk to him.”
Mazzy Fentan, eternally polite, accepts, with a nod. “Nalia and Imoen left for your horses. They said they would create illusions to mislead that Tombelthen into thinking they are still there, and the boys promised to help them. Still…”
“Still, we had better ride out at once, Imoen and I, and ride through the night,” he agrees easily: whatever the name of the current social game, he can play it. “I need a tenday to find the troops to man the castle. Where do we meet?”
“In Arnise. There is a small inn there, The Duke’s Head. Imoen knows the details,” Mazzy Fentan pauses, unsurely.
“What happened to Minsc, Anchev? When Mairyn brought him back, he looked terrible. Feverish.”
“How is he now?”
“Asleep. Aerie and Kriemhild are with him.” Again, Mazzy Fentan very carefully does not reveal her opinion about the half-orc’s stay in Imnesvale.
He tells her an equally carefully adjusted version of how a goddess curtailed a wilful forest’s scheme to find a protector whom she might manipulate at will; by allowing it to happen, no less; Mazzy Fentan absorbs the information. “He remembered what happened to him?”
There is silence; he eyes the play of light on the stone in his fingers; the halfling bows her head—the wiry hair bounces—and, letting her gaze wander over the withered grass among the desiccated bodies, she tries, again, “It’s that eagle, Anchev, is it not? It’s your familiar, I think.”
“Yes, she is,” he replies, mildly surprised that she would care at all for that childishness.
“I wondered how you knew that about the girls— It is true, too, what you said about Minsc. He… is dear to me.”
A shrug. “It was only reasonable.” If this is about Kriemhild again—
The head rises defiantly, recalling his attention. “As a mother, I’m far from perfect, I’m afraid.”
“This is fine, as far as I am concerned. I’m still learning how not to be a perfect son.” That came out extremely… awkward. “I hope.”
“I sometimes want to,” a deep sigh, “just take their heads and smack them together until they listen to me. Or just… yell at them until it hurts.”
“Sometimes you do. Don’t flatter yourself— Fentan, I recently almost killed a man because he annoyed me with his inanity.”
The feeling: how to describe it—? Impossible; but herein follows a small, faint, terribly inaccurate attempt at a sample: blood in the eyes, and the sweet taste of blood in the mouth; and a supple, blood-filled body under one’s own and over one’s own, writhing and fighting, wrestling and brawling; grunting, panting, yelling, gasping; punching, bleeding, kicking, biting; killing one as one is killing it: hands-on, in the blaze of the hellfire which would one day devour one, in a bloodbath, oblivious to the pain, careless, uncaring, laughing— And losing the fight, as one is winning it; for all the carefully self-set boundaries, limits, barriers, hurdles and obstacles: self-set through sheer self-love— They have all fallen.
Yet the winner, bittersweet, knows that he has lost the gamble with oneself, and still loves his loss; for, even if that is the only forbidden thing for which he at all cares, and hence, it carries with it the thrill of reaching for a thing forbidden (self-forbidden!)— This only adds to, and is not the taste; for that sole is real, familiar, and divine; and worth every pain, every death, every moment of dying, of losing oneself— One loves it; that one loves it, one feels, senses and knows with every single fibre of one’s being, whether mortal or divine; for one loves it more than one has ever loved anything, or anyone.
Yes. This is how it tastes. The difference between life and murder is ten thousand times greater than that between the beginning and the end of a story.
Spell-casting; sparring; love-making: all pursuits, however intellectual or corporeal, vulgar or lofty—they are all equally fake; all mere substitutes. The killing of lifeless creatures, of dumb animals, of one’s foes in a coldly played battle? This has ever been an ersatz, a fake, just like one has never been anything but a fraud of a duke, a nobleman, or a human man. Murder, in and of itself, is real; so terribly, viscerally, fundamentally real, even if only in the memory, the pale reconstruction of the real moment; and the reconstruction, in its essence, as all else, as all he, as all life, always fake. But murder is the only true thing, the beloved thing, the yearned-for thing. Exhilarating.
How can anything human ever measure up to this feeling? Murder is what one was born to do; the one, and only, and true, purpose of one’s life. To say otherwise—to say; to preach; to preach that matters can be done by parts, partly, partially, coolly, coldly, from afar, picking the targets to avoid unnecessary deaths, perhaps; or, worse yet, not at all— That is wrong, and fake, and a lie. There is no doing things halfway, never— And they must be done. Will be done. Gladly.
The feeling fades. Not today. This has happened; but it will not happen today. Today is another day for the sophisticate, intellectual, hopeful self-deception that all that yearning and all that desire which can never be separate from one’s soul, for it is one’s soul, one’s heritage, one’s Father, who, which, always hides within the unconscious, trembling, expectant, waiting to break out in one mad homicidal, filicidal, suicidal rush— That it can be contained and ruled over, long enough, and diverted elsewhere, perhaps; that the taint of divinity need not be the taint of murder; that a choice, any choice, is at all possible; that life, of self, of another, at all, counts.
Mazzy Fentan must see the murder in his eyes, because she is smiling. “Almost? My drunken, prodigal son,” she laughs, voicelessly, at him. “Imoen was right. I made you a hero. But only through association; don’t flatter yourself.”
“Fentan,” he smirks, sitting down to get down to her level, “if you have ever misunderstood me, then I have not made myself clear enough— I have never been your enemy. And now, you may even rest secure that I shan’t want to be your friend, either.”
She frowns, and her serious face returns. “Why? We will meet again.”
“Briefly, yes. I will stay on Nalia’s lands, later; unless, of course, I am thrown out for being a cumbersome guest to have around— Fentan. I intend to reopen my trial. Or, in view of that it never started, open it.”
The halfling, looking down on him from the little bump on the ground where she is standing, raises her eyebrows, in passing; and her question is exactly as he anticipated. “Does Imoen know about it?”
“Factually, no. Given that she brought me here, and that we are now leaving for Athkatla together… she must, at least, suspect.” He must laugh at the halfling’s face. “Even now, you do not understand… Once upon a time, Fentan, on a soirée in Trademeet, I complained to Imoen, rather insolently, admittedly, that I cannot live my life anywhere but among those dregs of the society where I do so naturally belong— And my mercurial sister, the little thief and hermetic psychopomp, the guide of lost souls as wise and silent as a sphinx with the body of a cat and the wings of a swan… She, in her infinite wisdom, delivered me an alternative. Or delivered me to an alternative. To you.”
Mazzy Fentan gives him a politely heroic face which tells him clearly that she is still following him, but that maybe, please, he would cut on the exposition, so that they may fight— “See, Fentan, my sister understands, as I do, that I win that trial.”
He must laugh. “Fentan, I will pledge insanity, and possession, and unhappy childhood, and the indifference of society, and good conduct in Amn— There is no abuse words cannot bear. If that fails, I will buy the judges. I will fight for my life, and for that reason simply, I will win. The only question which remains, Fentan, is what I am to do later—”
“Yes,” he repeats, watching the play of light on the golden inclusions within the sunstone, “It is. This— You wanted to know what I was doing here. Consider it an essay.”
“Yes. To see if I can live like— This. Fentan, I know my trade. I wanted to see whether I could sell it for my security— Fentan. Where I go, death follows, whether I will it, or not. Even when I will not be a murderer, I will be a killer, because, even cleared in the eyes of law, I will still be—”
“You will be a target,” Mazzy Fentan finishes, offended.
“Yes,” he agrees. “A target. And a Bhaalspawn. And since I rather doubt the Radiant Heart would let me form a company of my own—”
Valygar Corthala interrupts them now, his step springier and a shadow gone from his soul; and he smirks as he studies, with the man, a mildly jealous and possessive Mazzy Fentan. Ten days hence, the last of her children will have left the house. And half a year hence, she might even decide that she has mourned her ranger of a human husband already enough; or that she has long enough already felt guilty that she has not mourned him long enough. As for him—whatever Mielikki wants him for—
He had been walking out of Umar’s cave; and that will be Kriemhild’s cave, in the times to come: because she will move in here, of course, one can see, with that accurate conjecture which is almost prophecy, in the lay of the land and the pattern of stories; and then, one can see—more.
The pattern; it is nonlinear and chaotic and repetitive; it overlies a matrix of infinite dimensions, each one dimension a chess player, whether god, demon, angel or mortal; or a relation between each pair, or each threesome, or an infinity of them; or a relation between those relations; and so forth, ad infinitum; contained within the matrix, the next step of the iteration; or, better said, every next variant of the next step of the iteration, each with its proper probability of happening. This is, simply, life, an infinity of lives happening at once, a pattern for its vastness and complexity unwieldy, uncontrollable, impossible to master, and therefore, useless; hence, the approximations, the patterns in the pattern, stories.
This fragment of the mandala… For a time, he tried to essay, to assay, to stay separate and au fait; for a time, he was also unwanted, unasked, and excluded, and outlawed; yet, in the end, however reluctantly, he became a part of it, if only while breaking it— What of? A family; a village, running on gossip; a system of communicating vessels; the play of light, and darkness, and shadow; the play wherein he was the sought-after murderer; the tribunal wherein he was the accused; the chessboard side: he, and the seven women, Imoen, Nalia, Mazzy, Aerie, Kriemhild, Mielikki and Umar—
The pattern is Nalia, the best wizard of them all, giving, stalling; it is the pregnant, sevenfold Aerie, praying to her three gods, sympathising, growing; it is Mazzy Fentan, preaching that the end do not justify the means, lecturing that good deeds are their own reward, controlling; it is Umar, protecting and protracting, and killing, and seeking to release; it is Amaunator, releasing his servant, after centuries of service; it is Ilmater, helping the old, dead, cruel god; it is Aerie again, who would have served Ilmater’s game in his own stead, and bought a stone he would not have bought; it is Umar again, dying with the stone in hand; it is Mielikki and Mielikki’s gambit and Mielikki’s future champions and Mielikki’s prophecy; it is Minsc, and his old, hidden wound opening anew; it is Boo, and Pangur, and Altair, and the Rule of Threes; it is Mairyn, the ninth to complete the three of threes, a forest of no good will towards humans, or orcs; it is Madulf, turned into a statue because of Sarevok’s presence, his chaos-sowing curse and gift; it is Kriemhild, for whom he found the advocate he failed to find for himself; it is, again, Aerie; it is Nalia, who, as she sought freedom for herself, could not understand that one could seek freedom from, in turn, her; it is Mazzy Fentan again, granting her her freedom and her release; it is Mazzy, accusing him that he does not care, enough, for Imoen, for anyone else; it is Kriemhild yet again, feeling a feeling she could not name; it is she, growing, slowly, changing; she and Aerie, the priestesses, the bishops, with Mairyn, the reformed coven; Mazzy and Umar, the knights, servants of their gods; Imoen and Nalia, for now, both rooks, in Nalia’s castle—and the castling will continue; and Mielikki, the queen, yet again; and he, hidden in the forest, in the castle, in the pattern— The fractal swirls, complicating, spinning, eddying, whirling, repeating itself, in whole, in part, breaking and reforming, turning into its shadow; changing every instant; dazzling him with the truth of its existence.
He sees it, at last, and grabs it, and clutches it, hungrily, blindly; and because he does, it disappears; and only one, and absurd, answer, is left of it to him.
If I can contain myself, I can contain the world.
For now, though, they part, the little woman, and the man, bursting with heroine worship—for now; and the halfling returns as the man ascends the stone staircase. “I now think, Anchev, that you are an utterly amoral creature,” she decides, dryly. “You admitted that you don’t even care for most people—”
“No,” he must admit, again, remembering: he told Imoen this on the roof of Amaunator’s temple, and he was not lying, then, “I don’t. I find most of them insipid. A wizard—” No: there is no abuse words cannot bear, but what Irenicus told him is such blasphemy as must be reserved only for a court of law. “I tried. It did not work. I meant to be useful, instead.”
“However, Fentan,” he must smile, now, lest the halfling misunderstand his words for a defendant’s final plea, “As I said, you need not fear that I will press it upon your sense of paladin duty to let me become your lifelong obligation.”
He needn’t have feared. “You will talk to Nalia,” Mazzy Fentan replies without missing a beat. “And I— I cannot even say what Nalia will reply to you—” She sighs. “Anchev, justice is not a game. Morality is not a marketplace. And a sentence is not a hobby, not something you pick yourself, to do in your free time! Have you even thought about what I told you? Are you still going to try to kill your…” She shakes her head. “The Bhaalspawn? Your family?”
He had considered that, once, too, he remembers; a contingency plan, formed even before the party entered Amaunator’s temple: to use Nalia d’Arnise as his front in Amn, while, quietly, he destroyed his family; as, quietly, he would make Aran Linvail the offer Aran Linvail would not refuse: to avoid the war, the chaos and the bloodshed that is so bad for Aran’s business, through Aran’s favoured means of efficient murder: finely remunerated assassination—
He must smile at the halfling. “Mazzy, you are a wonderful human being—”
“You, Anchev, on the other hand—”
“—and my question stands: knowing that you are faced with a horde of latent murderers, what right have you to try to preserve the purity of your soul waiting until after they begin to kill? Even Umar— No. Corthala will tell you about Umar. However, no.”
Mazzy, still angry, fumes about a sudden change of heart; and, in all fairness, even as she asked the question to match the answer, she is right.
Fighting a prophecy is, as all know, a futile, heroic endeavour; that is why he must search for a loophole which will let live the both of them, both Imoen and him, her mortal, him not; or, if Amaunator be believed, them both, divine— For that, he will need time. And so, just as he contains himself, day after day, waiting for the inevitable failure, gambling— He will contain the world, for as long as he must, gambling to find his answer before the inevitable outbreak of the frenetic, homicidal plague; and do nothing to prevent it; for to prevent it, is, perhaps, to engender it. The siblings must stay alive as, between priests and prophets, Cowled Wizards and, yes: eventually, as late as possible, Irenicus—he will search for the answer he cannot find alone. The world be damned. Mazzy Fentan protect it, if she wants.
It is time to speak to Imoen. Imoen, and Nalia—
Nalia; Nalia d’Arnise, with a healthy instinct for politics and his sister for a consort; Nalia, whose fiancé he would kill, Nalia, the duchess, with her plans to reform Amn; he will have to make sure that Nalia keeps her word to him, and gives him his asylum. And that will be, perhaps, not as trivial an issue as he had initially expected; and, perhaps, he is looking forward to that, too—
That does not take away from the fact that Aran Linvail has his dealings with Isaea Roenall.
Nalia and Imoen emerge from the forest, now, talking quietly, leading by the reins the horses; on top of the horses, riding, are Altair and Pangur. An elf, a half-orc, and two men descend a stone staircase; the larger of the men, helped by the others, and with a hamster on his shoulder, walks rather unsurely. There will be changes, one feels in the grasshoppers’ insane song soaring through the vespertine air, as the company all gather for their farewells: changes, in Imnesvale and elsewhere, for good and for ill— “And so, the last ride of the Fentan Knights is over. It may even make for a decent chapter of my saga,” he muses, laughing, “once the less remarkable parts are removed.”
Mazzy Fentan frowns, and strikes. “Your saga, Anchev? You think anyone will write a saga about you?”
He looks at Amaunator’s stone once last time, before he hides it. “Fentan,” rising to his feet, he looks down on her, amused, “I will be a god. Of course they will.”
End of Part V: Queenside Castling.