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Friday, November 11, 2016

The Clockwork Dragon #34: The Duel


Zefir knew somehow that Rhin was speaking to him, shouting over the roar of the wind. He didn't even know where he was flying. Everything was agony. He felt as if he were blind, as if pumping his wings were a foreign concept. But he'd saved the Rider. He clutched her tighter to his chest. He'd saved one. One of thousands. His people would all die. After the duel, they would all die; there would be the final battle, people from both Clans giving their all. To the sundisk, to the eternal forge, and he could stop none of it.

And now he could barely fly.

Again came Rhin's voice, but it was no more than a distant buzz. Slowly, he became aware of a glint of silver, and when he arced his neck down, he spotted the silver coghorse galloping below him, easily keeping pace with Zefir's weakened gliding.

He lifted Rhin closer. And heard her. "Follow Daimo!"

He followed after the coghorse, and nearly lost him when Daimo galloped into the outskirts of a thick expanse of dark trees, but when there was a break in the canopy, he spotted the silver horse again. Daimo let out a shrill whinny, and surged ahead. Zefir, too exhausted and in pain, could no longer keep aloft. Slowly, he sank toward the ground, and tucking in his wings, dove through the canopy and turning, holding Rhin up, crashed into the ground. His chest scraped along the ground until his momentum stopped, and the ruined flesh there made him long to scream, but he had not the breath or energy to unleash it.

He felt the Rider wriggle from his outstretched grip and shout, "Daimo!"

Zefir closed his eyes. But he heard the sounds of mechanical hoofbeats, and the coghorse skidded to a stop very near Zefir's head.

Then there was a new voice, tight with surprise, "Oh, no."

Zefir opened his eyes and looked up into a child's face. Her wild hair puffed around her smooth face, but a face that looked oddly familiar. Out of habit, he sniffed at her, making a sight-sound-scent profile for her—

It was too familiar.

"You're another one of them," Zefir growled.

"Dear gods, what has she done to you?" The little girl leaped gracefully from the large coghorse's back, and knelt next to his head.

Zefir glared at her, this aberration. When she moved to touch him, he growled, "Don't you dare lay a hand on me, you blood-ridden mirror."

Her hand halted and she sat back on her ankles. "I swear to you, I won't touch you unless you grant me permission."

"Why are you here?" Zefir asked, still glaring. But even his disgust took too much energy. "Are you some replacement for Seren?"

"No, dear dragon—"

"Don't call me that," he snapped.

Understanding lighted in those familiar eyes. "I'm sorry, Zefir. There will be many similarities between me and the three. And I don't have the time to apologize for them all. In essence, I'm all three of them, and yet neither. If that makes sense."

Zefir forced himself from his side, and reached out with his mind, fearful on touching her virul-cogs—

"I'm not possessed of those, either," said the child softly. "I know this will be difficult, but I need you to trust me."

Zefir began laughing, and by gods it hurt worse than Mother's dagger slicing through his flesh, but he couldn't stop himself. "The Three have torn my world apart. Kirwen tried to control me, Seren almost broke me, and Mother just tried to kill me. And you want me to trust those parts of you?"

"There are other parts, Zefir. Parts that you admire. And even love." She looked deep in thought, but her eyes never strayed from his. "There are some parts of me that continue in the blood, and yet others that are of experience. But know that I'm my own person. My experiences are not theirs."    

"Then, little mirror, why should I trust you?"

She regarded him with such earnestness that he had to look away. "Because you have no one else."

His hands clenched in the dirt, his claws digging through the needles littering the forest floor. "That sounds like Kirwen manipulating me."

She shrugged, and that surprised him to see such a nonchalant gesture. "Not manipulation, Zefir. Simply the truth stately plainly. You are wounded and in need of an Inventrix. The dagger buried in your Navigator panel...you're lucky you were able to fly this far, even gliding. There are only two Inventrixes, and one of them is the one that hobbled you. The other stands before you."

How like Kirwen she sounds. Zefir wanted to close his eyes again, but kept his gaze trained on her. "Why would you help me?"

"Because you're in pain," she said with the kind of simple honesty that reminded him of Seren. "The inventor's need to repair isn't as all consuming as with the others, but it's there. Even still, I'd like to think that were you human I'd still try to heal you."

He was close to giving in to either not caring, or simply falling into a deep rest mode so like the state when he'd opened his panel. "Who do you side with?"

Her little round mouth firmed in a line, an expression that looked oddly adult on such a face. "I side with peace. This conflict has taken far too much. Breeding for war isn't our Clan's purpose. Watching this all is..." Her brow wrinkled in pain, making the baby fat flesh crease. It somehow made her look truly young. Inexperienced. "I want to right the wrongs of the last four centuries. From Varess to now. And if to do that means more violence, then I...I'm not certain if I can."

Zefir was weary, and slowly he gave her the barest nod of respect. "You'll do so if necessary."

It seemed those words wounded her deeply. "The words of a child born in war."

The agony made his chest grow tight, and he was certain darkness beckoned. "Words of experience, Inventrix."

Zefir closed his eyes when he felt a gentle nudge. He opened a mountain-weighted eyelid and saw the coghorse peering at him. "You need to give Shiran permission to heal you. You told her not to touch you, and she'll respect that. So you must say the words, dragon."

"Daimo," Zefir said, opening his other eye. He took in the sight of the fellow mechanical, marveling that the coghorse's joints were far more efficient than his own, which even now felt aflame. The ripples of his silver mane—like hair-thin pseudo-metallic wire—puffed as he move to nudge Zefir again with his soft nose. "Do you trust your creator, little coghorse?"

The horse snorted, and his deep voice sounded assured, "Absolutely. The littlest Rider has given me no cause to think her untrustworthy. She sticks to what she says."

"That too," said Zefir wryly to the Inventrix, "must be in your blood."

"Perhaps," said the child Inventrix mildly. She glanced up as Rhin came toward her, and he could see the Rider had unstrapped her bow from its holster and was even now prowling about. "There's little time, Zefir. Will you allow me to help you?"

Perhaps what she said was true. The little Inventrix was her own person.

"Yes," he said.

The Inventrix rose to her feet without any of the grace of an adult, looking purely like an ungainly child. Daimo rested his chin on her shoulder, and she patted him, the look of joy on her face so like Mother's expression when Zefir awoke for the first time; he wanted to close his eyes against it.

"Daimo, my dearest," she said. "I'll need to take a few parts from you in order to help Zefir. The loss of them will be uncomfortable. Painful if you overexert yourself. Are you willing?"

"Of course," the horse said without hesitation.

Zefir blinked at that. "You barely know me."

The horse gave a toss of his head. Perhaps his equivalent of a shrug. "You need it more than me. Why would I say no?"

Zefir started weeping again, hating that he did so. In between cold breaths, he said, "You sound like I did long ago when I was just a child."

"Then you were a lot smarter long ago when you were just a child," stated Daimo with that innocent bluntness.

Laughing hurt. It hurt more than he could ever describe, but he laughed as the little Inventrix climbed up to his Navigator panel. He was laughing as she carefully took the blade from his flesh; he chuckled lowly as the darkness and the pain took him.

#

Innari descended, and Valin tapped on Ferrei's shoulder and signed: No sighting. Land. But his Second shook her head. He wasn't certain if that was her denial as Second or Innari's virul-cog refusal to Ferrei.

Sitting on Innari's back felt strange, and he could feel her mechanical muscles flex with her flight, her long wings looking even longer and more graceful from his vantage point. Ferrei had quickly cobbled together a suitable harness, which the little dragon had complained of itching until she gathered the true reason for wearing it—so all three of her kin could fly with her. Valin was certain that her speed was but half of her normal, but even that was impressive. He wished Zefir were here, for he'd certainly cajole his dragon about no longer being the fastest thing in the sky.

"He must be around here," Innari said, growling. "He can't have flown this far. He was hurt, the great blood-ridden fool."

Jarre chuckled behind Valin, and Valin was amused to hear that the moon dragon had learned a bit of cursing from his Third. Just like Zefir had. But Jarre tapped Valin on the shoulder, and when Valin turned he caught sight through his farviewer goggles of what his Third spied. A small squadron of gyphon fighters, these with beaks open but devoid of their deadly flechette guns. At the head of the V was the familiar wolf mask.

Kirwen's convoy, headed for the Burned Stone. For the duel.

"We should follow them!" Jarre bellowed over the wind.

Innari craned her head to glare at him, her ears flat against her brass head. "Not until we find Zefir-sibling."

"But Zefir may be at or near the Burned Stone," Valin said at a normal tone, knowing that the dragon could hear it over the wind as she slowed to a gentle glide. "If he found his Mother—our Inventrix—then it is likely he travels with her."

Because there's no way he could convince her otherwise.

Innari's angry rumble shook Valin's bones, rattling inside him. "When I see my sibling again, I'm going to tell him what a fool he was for leaving us behind."

"We'll do so together!" Ferrei barked.

Innari descended toward the Burned Stone, and Valin saw the Cog Clan's Riders atop their gleaming brass coghorses, as weaponless as the Wheelteeth gryphons. The Inventrix rode at their head, still wearing the very same judge's regalia, and she lifted her hand to call a halt. When Innari delicately backwinged to land on the third side around the plateau, away from the forces, Valin watched Kirwen dismount from her gryphon, and the Wolf walked to the top of the plateau. Her Navs cheered behind her, lifting their hands into fists, faces creased in hopeful glee. Valin was surprised to see one of the Navs, Atsuke Xei, help a tottering Elder Lyth from a well-padded seat on one of the gryphons. Head raised proudly, the Elder moved with Atsuke at her side to stand at the edge of the Burned Stone.

The Wolf in her mourning, blood-spattered white stood, crossing her arms as if this were all unimportant to her. Mirena urged her own coghorse to bound toward her mirror, its hooves striking the obsidian, breaking it in places until glass shards fell around it. Mirena leapt from its back and the horse continued to run into the crowd of Wheelteeth.

Valin paced closer, hearing that his squad followed behind; Jarre made a harrumph noise, and Ferrei caught up to him, glaring at the two mirrors.

Kirwen held her dagger before her, the very same blade with which she'd killed Zareth. The rage contorted her expression into something inhuman. "Come my mirror. Come. Let's end this!"

Mirena's eyes held a violent luster, and for the first time, Valin was uncertain if the mirrors truly had any difference in appearance. Her expression too was warped by murderous fury. "I'll enjoy killing you, Wen. Not for taking half my Clan. But for how you warped the only one I've ever managed to love."

Kirwen blinked. "Where is the child?"

"I had to hurt him," said Mirena, and she shook, tears forming in her eyes. The hatred burned brighter in the madness of her eye. "Because you turned him against me! My child, my little one! You made him one of yours. And for that, I'll tear your flesh from your bones, I'll kill you slowly, and peel your eyes from your fucking head!" Her voice rose to a shriek, "I had to hurt my dragon child!"

Fear struck Valin, and he surged forward. Jarre wasn't quick enough to grasp at him to stop him, and Valin raced on to the obsidian plateau, glass in places tearing at his tough leather boots. "What did you do to him, Mirena? What did you do to Zefir?"

Those dark, depthless eyes turned to him. "I should kill you too, Seven."

She's killed him, dear Forge Gods, she's destroyed him.

Fury plunged through his chest, heating him until he thought he would catch fire again; his breaths rasped through his teeth, the pain of his injuries distant. Weaponless, he surged forward, his mind a blur of hatred. It seared his insides; it gave him strength. Time slowed, and her reflexes didn't seem as quick as he remembered. She plucked up her judge's dagger, and he barely saw her release it with a flick of her wrist. He knew he could dodge it—

Hands pulled him down. His chin slammed into the sharp stone, and his broken clavicle screaming in pain; but it was nothing compared to the white-hot agony of his rage. Valin scrabbled to his feet, and hands grasped at his shoulders, his arms. He wanted to destroy those hands that would dare stop him.

He tried to wrench free, but he knew his Third was far stronger than him. Ferrei too was grasping at his left arm with a grip of iron. And she was screaming at him, but he couldn't hear it over the din of his own heartbeat thudding in his head.  

"Let me go!" he roared at his Leaders.

"If he's gone," said Jarre, "then there's nothing you can do. Don't struggle against me, wing runner."

"Zefir wouldn't want you to kill yourself," Ferrei growled, and she released his arm, allowing her massive blood-cousin to keep a grip on him. She grasped at his cheeks, her hand hot against the X wound. "Listen to me, blood-kin. Just as Zefir forbade me from throwing my life away for vengeance, so too would he tell you. Just stand here. Stand here and watch these demon-spawned mirrors kill each other."

He was trembling, and all of the strength left his frame; where before Jarre was holding him back, now his Third was holding him on his feet. "She killed him...he came through all of this, and she killed him. He loved her, and she killed him. Gods, now I know there's no mercy in this world."

Kirwen picked up Mirena's fallen dagger—it must have sailed perilously close to him before Jarre took him down. And she tossed it to her mirror. "Varess was wrong. She always told me that I was the monster. If you were able to harm your own creation, your own ward, your own bedamned child, then you, my mirror, are the ultimate monster."

In a blur, Mirena moved.

And the duel began.

#

Zefir's flight was still a small agony, but Shiran had made adjustments quickly, having told him that it would take some time before Daimo's microcogs integrated fully with the ones that he possessed. But now, he wouldn't be dissuaded, no matter how the young Inventrix protested. No matter the pain.

He was flying for the duel.

#

At first the duel moved so quickly it was difficult to tell which fighter scored the most blows. But they danced on the slick glass rock, cautious, circling one another like hunting felines; then one would move in that graceful, astonishingly quick movement, and the other, as if anticipating that exact move, would dance away, or would try to disengage. Often, it seemed that the mirrors were at a stalemate. Not only were their bodies the same, their mental connection seemed yet another silent battle between them.

At first the crowds of Cog or Wheelteeth around them would cheer whenever their Leaders struck the smallest blow, but now, all had fallen eerily silent.

Valin became numb to watching them, but he couldn't look away. At this point he didn't care who won.

Mirena surged forward, but Kirwen remained still as the statues they resembled; screaming Mirena made to kick Kirwen, but halted the move and slashed with her dagger. Anticipating the move, Kirwen sidestepped, but the Wolf looked less exhausted, and catching Mirena's arm before the next blow, she struggled to pull her from her feet. Bellowing, Kirwen hooked her foot behind her mirror's knee, and Mirena began to fall. But not before Kirwen managed to stab into her mirror's side.

Mirena fell heavily to the obsidian with an audible thud. She grasped at her bleeding side, inhaling a shaky breath.

Kirwen glared down at her. "Don't playact, Mir. The blade didn't reach that deep. I won't be fooled so easily."

His Inventrix gasped in a wheezing breath, and struggled to rise, gaining her feet shakily.

Kirwen pushed at her, the way an angry sibling would during play. "Enough of this! Fight me, damn you!"

Mirena smiled, her teeth bloody. "You could never calculate like me, Wen." She grimaced, inhaling that thin wheeze again. More blood poured down her side. "You miscalculated the..." another wheeze, "depth."

Valin couldn't say if Kirwen's expression were mistrust, or dawning surprise.

"I'm not done with you!" Kirwen bellowed. "Fight me!"

 Mirena staggered forward as if her limbs didn't completely obey her. Kirwen stepped back and instead of advancing, she retreated. Mirena staggered with a pained growl, blindly slashing, but it seemed that lifting the dagger were too much. Trembling fiercely, Mirena barely gripped her weapon.

Kirwen leaped forward, and with a downward slash, caught at Mirena's blade arm. A fount of blood poured down the Inventrix's arm and dribbled from the blade she held, turning the obsidian ground crimson.

"You've won," Mirena gasped. "Finish this. Or will you worry at me like a cat with a plaything?" Another gasped breath. "Do you want true vengeance, or do you simply want to torture me?"

"A...a trick." But the Wolf seemed uncertain, and her tremors made her grip on her dagger look precarious.

Mirena's face creased in raw hatred, spitting, "You were always the weak one! You don't want to kill me. All your posturing, all this time, and all you've wanted is to vent your rage like a petulant child." Mirena began to let out wheeze-like laughter. "Now, you'll just watch me bleed to death like a coward. And your wildling Clan will see you for the weakling you are."

"I've wanted to kill you for a long time," Kirwen said, voice eerily soft. "The moment you broke us apart. The moment of your betrayal during the Trial."

The Wolf swept forward in a graceful lunge, despite her fading energy. Kirwen's blade aimed true, headed toward Mirena's heart. But the staggering Inventrix, shifted with a lithe motion, lifting her arm, even while she came from beneath with her dagger. Kirwen's blade buried in the flesh of Mirena's arm, but the Inventrix's blade buried in Kirwen's abdomen.

They staggered apart, retreating, the blades stuck in their flesh.

Mirena was wheeze-laughing, staring at the blade sticking from her forearm. Kirwen blinked in surprise, hands trembling. Their eyes met, and they took a single step toward one another.

And a thunderous roar split through the sky.

Valin's heart raced into a gallop as he saw the familiar brass form of his dragon.

Zefir tucked his wings to his side and landed heavily in the space between the two mirrors. His claws dug into the black rock, cracking it with a sound of shattered glass; his dragon raised his face to the sky and unleashed a roar so powerful that Valin wondered if it stuttered his heartbeat, the sound rattling around in his sternum.

His friend was alive!

#


Zefir could feel their battle in his chest; the closer he came the more powerful their cracked, and jarring thoughts. He could see for brief moments their actual fight, but was entranced, consumed, by the mental battle as he flew toward them. Always drawn, stretched, controlled by the mirrors. He saw flashes of the Trial, a bludgeon Kirwen used against Mother. But Mother countered with image-feelings of Kirwen standing with the traitors to tear the Clan apart; the lightning-thin razor-edge of hatred stabbed at one another, and Zefir felt each cut like his own.

Daimo rode, barely keeping up this time, his Shiran and Rider Rhin with him. Part of Zefir knew it was right it should be so.

There. He caught sight of their Inventrix-swift movements. He watched as they came together—he felt the wounds in his belly, and in his forearm and side before remembering that these were not his wounds. Their anger cracked something inside of him, and his weariness turned into white-hot fury. He roared so loudly that it deafened even him.

He tucked his wounded, tired wings into his side, knowing it would drop him like a rock. Landing hard, his claws cracked the obsidian, the glass spearing between his fingers. But he didn't feel it. Again he lifted his face to the sky to roar out everything inside—all the pain, the weariness, the fury and fear of his horrible failures. Everything. And his roar seemed to shake the sky itself.

Silence met him.

Silence broken by Kirwen's thought-voice, Oh, child, you live. If there are gods, then this is the only time in my life that I'll thank them.

He could feel all of the pain, how the wound in her belly would cause her a slow, agonizing death. And when he turned an eye on Mother, he could feel her lungs straining, could feel the blood pooling within. Their Inventrix bodies were too decayed to try to rapidly repair any damage. They were dying.

"You..." gasped Mother. "You...came back. To me?"

He no longer wanted to curse her, to hate her. All he could see was this broken, mad creature before him grasping at what had once meant the most to her. He reached out a hand and held her in his palm, cradling her failing body. "Yes, Mother. I love you, and I will always return."

He could feel her mind splitting, his words the only memory she could hold on to. She was even forgetting why she was fighting, where she was. Her blood seeped through his fingertips, and her sole remaining thoughts streamed into him: My Zefir, my little one, my dragon child, my only love, my little little one...

Kirwen staggered toward him, and he caught her in his opposite hand. Her mind was much clearer, but it too was drained of the effort it took to remember her hatred. Zefir child, came her thought-voice, weaker now, can you do this for us?

He didn't need to ask. And he wouldn't make her plead. Kirwen was proud even at the end, but she had asked this of him.

"Zefir," came Kirwen weakly. "Don't share our end. Shield yourself."

He knew he wouldn't. Perhaps he couldn't. But Mother's thoughts ceased to stream into him, distant and empty, though she still yet breathed. Kirwen tried to retreat from him, but he still knew her weary fear.

"I promise, Kirwen," he said quietly, "I promise I'll look after them all as if they were my own."

Her eyes were beginning to glaze over. "I know you will."

Zefir moved his thumb-claws over their hearts, shuddering; he prayed that he would strike fast and strike true; he couldn't bear the idea that he would fail, only giving them more agony, and not release.

Kirwen touched his brass claw with both hands and guided it to the spot over her heart, and nodded.

He knew he was screaming. Roaring. He was cold again as his claws speared through their hearts.

He didn't want to look down at the bodies in his hands, or the blood staining his brass flesh.

#

Valin watched Zefir place the bodies carefully on the ground, sitting there and staring at them, quicksilver eyes empty. There was no disbelief, no regret creasing that dragon brow. Only a weary sadness. And Zefir released a low keen of grief, as he turned away from them.

Those assembled around the Burned Stone, shocked, began to move. One of the Cog Clan's Riders surged forward, possibly to attack the dragon, maybe to launch himself at the Wheelteeh opposite, but Zefir turned his head and stared down at the man, saying, "Enough."

The Wheelteeth were confused, looked tense, ready to launch themselves into a brawl. But Zefir turned to them, to the Navs who had thanked him for saving their innocents, and his voice rose, "Enough."

Valin could feel the tension, that without guidance either side remained coiled, ready to fight. He didn't think anyone could stop it. Neither side was a clear victor, and so, as always, the battle would continue.

A Wheelteeth Nav barreled forward, but a familiar voice intruded, "Stop!"

Valin saw Elder Lyth tottering forward, one hand on Navigator Atsuke's arm. "We're done here. This is over. It's all over. Stand down."

The Cog Clan's Riders and Navs also looks uncertain, but another voice, this of a child, cried, "Yes, my people. This is over. Stand down."

Shiran rode forward, and leapt from Daimo's back, hitting the ground with that eerie boundless grace. The small Rider's uniform on her somehow now looked stately rather than awkwardly childish. She came to stand next to Zefir, and bowed to Elder Lyth, gesturing politely for the Elder to come forward. When the Elder came forward, her mouth in a firm line, the Inventrix bowed again.

"Honored Elder," Inventrix Shiran said. "Am I to concur that you are now Leader of the Wheelteeth?"

Elder Lyth nodded. "And what do you propose, young Inventrix? That I surrender to you?"

"Far from it." Shiran looked even smaller before the Elder. "I propose that we offer peace."

The Elder scoffed, her mouth twisting sourly. She jabbed a gnarled, bent finger at the fallen leaders. "You're like her. Like them. Just the same. I can't trust that. And neither will my people, not when your predecessor tried to annihilate us. You'll rise up again when your hunger for us grows, when you want to either exterminate us wildlings, or conquer us."

The little girl nodded in understanding. "So it would seem from the outside that I'm the same. But inside, I'm different. I'm complete as they never were. And I won't be driven by vengeance. I'm my own person."

"So you say," said the Elder, narrowing her bushy brows. "But an Inventrix never gives up power. Never stops being the ultimate and undisputed ruler. Not like our Clan with its Council, not like my grandmere Kirwen taught us."

"Then I'll give up power." Shiran gestured to those around her. "It was never the intent of the First of my line to become the ultimate ruler. If peace can only be brokered if I show you I'm no controlling despot, then I will do so. Our peoples have fought enough, Honored Elder. We can stop this with only our words. There need not be any more bloodshed."

The Elder frowned suspiciously.

The small Inventrix gestured to Zefir. "The dragon will be our ambassador. I've heard tell that he is revered among you. And so will he help broker our peace as the years go by. For he will remember, this magnificent machine, when some of our people forget." She touched the edge of Zefir's wing. "Are you willing, Zefir?"

Zefir nodded solemnly. "If I must guide peace until I fall apart, then I'll do so gladly. For both Clans."

Valin had never wanted to embrace his dragon more than he did in this moment. Ferrei next to him grasped for his hand and clutched it tightly. Jarre was smiling, a true big grin of the kind Valin hadn't seen in so long he'd thought his Third had lost it.

Shiran turned to the three of them standing together and she gestured them closer. Hesitant, Valin walked forward, Ferrei and Jarre unwaveringly at his side, Innari on their heels. The little Inventrix bowed to them. Now there was something he never thought he'd see in his life.

"Honored Elder," continued the Inventrix. "You claim I'll have no Council. But I give you my Council here, standing before you. All have proven that they will seek to protect the innocent. One among them is even of your blood."

Elder Lyth narrowed her gaze at them, critically assessing them as if she'd never before set eyes on them. "So you have your Council. But will your own people listen to them? They're marked as traitors."

Zefir swiveled his head to regard Rider Rhin standing with Daimo. "Not all believe them traitors. And we can let the people elect more to stand on the Council, to be their voice. I elect Rider Qinethi Rhin as a candidate."

The young Rider looked so astonished that Daimo nudged her with an amused whinny.

Elder Lyth took two steps forward, leaving the bracing arm of Atsuke Xei. She looked so determined to reach Valin, that he held out his hands to her and steadied her. Her wrinkled hands touched his forehead. "Do you swear to uphold this, my distant blood-kin?"

"I do, honored grandmere," Valin answered.

She patted his cheek. "Then let's begin the negotiations for peace."









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