Knavish Canto: Lapis of Nicodem Volume 3 by Kwyn Marie | World Anvil Manuscripts | World Anvil

Chapter 34: Immortal Depravity

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Lapis rubbed at her droopy eyes and stared up at the waterfall rushing over the edge of a cliff high above, the water raining in fat droplets that cascaded to a pool two stories below her. A walkway lined with grungy gold railing wound up the side of the vertical hole, to a jutting platform with the remains of cloth waving limply from the balusters. A gold podium, gleaming in the single, overhead light, looked out of place against the wet, dark stone.

Cool wafted from the rush of water that did not quite hide the spitting of static from an unseen speaker. Had the humans piped sermons into that room as well?

Tuft had originally bypassed the falls, taking them to a cleaner, fresher room, where she and Patch collapsed and slept like the dead. She had no idea how much time had passed since their initial entry into the Cloister, but tired did not adequately explain her weariness. She could barely raise a boot to continue. While a flicker of unease about frosty mischief pricked at her, it could not overcome her want for sleep.

When they woke, Tuft was still in the room, quietly attempting to reach Sanna. He could have abandoned them, and she wondered why he had not. His promise to the other khentauree? She pondered whether to take that as a goodwill effort and ask specific questions about unhooking Kez, but could not quite bring herself to mention it. Until they reunited with their friends, she decided to not mention past, likely terrible, incidents that could anger him.

After a quick bite of dried food, they continued, but he stopped before they reached the end of the second doorless hallway to the left, backtracked, and opened a hidden passage that led to this room.

Patch leaned over the railing—good for him, being brave like that—and squinted at the vague ripples in the dim lighting. “Where does that lead?”

The khentauree swiveled his head from the far entrance. “The pool leads to a ceremonial chamber. Kez created this as a test. Those who wished to become his most trusted jumped from the platform and into the water below. It is unlit, so some leapt into shallows along the edge. Many broke. Kez claimed blind faith would buoy them. It did not.”

Lapis did not think she could hate the man any more than she did, but—

“There is a signal,” he continued.

Patch eyed him, then straightened and concentrated. “There’s a lot of interference,” he murmured, his fingers busily skimming over the exterior of his patch. “But yeah, my eye’s picking it up.”

“It is khentauree that look to Luthier. They are afraid.”

“What are they saying?”

“Only help. But they are not in the main camp. They are on this level.”

“How far are we from meeting up with the others?”

“Still far. If we encounter more trouble, maybe half a day. I still have not reached Sanna, to tell her.”

Neither she nor Patch had luck with their tech communications, either, despite Jhor’s enhancements. “So it’s not feasible to meet up and then come back to help before something bad happens to them.”

Patch glanced at her and raised a skeptical eyebrow, then shrugged. “How close are they?”

“Near, in a room the invaders conscripted for broken khentauree study.”

Not good. “We have to help them,” Lapis said.

Tuft cocked his head at her and shifted stance. “You would help.”

“I saw what these guys did to khentauree at Ambercaast. Yeah, we need to rescue them.”

“We will enter the enemy’s territory.”

Lapis looked at the platform. “We’re already there,” she whispered.

Tuft followed her gaze, then swiveled around and headed for the exit. Did the place make him uncomfortable? She did not like it, either. The more she found out about how Kez did things, the more sick she became. Why had people stayed after experiencing such abuses?

They entered a room off the walkway that held metal lockers, some open and containing folded clothing heavy with dust. Long benches ran from one end to another, some with clumpy remains of cloth on top. Cobwebs spanned the walls, with several cocoons stuck in the strands. A pathway that had sunk below the broken tiles led to a door coated in muck.

Tuft brightened, illuminating the grunge, and stepped as if he avoided something nasty. Buzzing, he grabbed the sad remnants of a towel hanging from a hook and pressed it against the wall, keeping it between his hand and the gunk.

Lapis would have done the same, though she shuddered at the thought of the glumpy threads having spiders or bugs stuck in them. She would have loaned him her scarf if he asked. Until it had a thorough washing, she wasn’t going to drape it over her neck again.

He turned his torso to them. “This hallway is parallel to the other, and they share a wall,” he said, low and fuzzy. “Make no noise.”

He need not have warned them; she could hear the muffled, frightened tones of humans, but she could not understand what they said. She assumed they spoke Meergeven, since the scientists and Bov Caardinva hailed from Meergevenis. Too bad Jhor had not uploaded that language to the khentauree as well, because knowing what they said would be helpful.

Tuft halted at a metal chunk of wall, one in as terrible a condition as the lockers. “The khentauree say the hall has humans who poke at them, but not the ones with weapons,” he said. “The guards left, and the humans are afraid.” He pointed at the stone in front of him. “The hall is just beyond. It leads to the room where they are captive,” and he swung his finger to the left. “They say the humans who remain are not doing any work. They cower and jump and wait for more attack.”

Lapis sucked in a breath. “Well, when we open the door, they’re going to freak out.”

Patch half-laughed, then raised a finger. “Do any of you know Lyddisian?” he shouted.

Lapis hit him with a thick smack as the talking ceased.

“We know Lyddisian!” a woman cried. She sounded afraid and hopeful. “Are you from above?”

“Yeah. We’re opening a door, so back away from this side of the hall.”

Tuft stared at him, then shook his head and pressed the wall before dropping the towel. He faded from view, which proved how much he trusted the tactic. Lapis did not like it either, but she did not think they had many other choices for revelation.

She strode through first. Having two dozen eyes on her raised the hair on her neck, but she donned Lady Lanth’s stoic chaser façade. A woman dressed in a white sweater and baggy pants scurried to them; she had a purpling bruise spreading across her left cheek, and a brown eye almost swelled shut.

“You’re from above!”

“Yeah. And you are?”

She did not answer before a gangly, greying man with thick black glasses and red-rimmed blue eyes hastened to them, rubbing swollen-knuckled hands together. “You heard the emergency signal?” he asked cautiously.

“Yeah.” She held up her hand as Patch filled the doorway behind her. “We’re from the farm you contacted. Ragehill. I’m Lanth.”

“I’m Bellegara,” the woman said, putting a hand to her chest. Her goldish brown bun wobbled about, feeling an excitement she could not express.

Patch jerked his chin at her. “Let me guess. They caught you contacting the outside?”

She pressed her lips together, but the man answered. “Yes,” he said, heavy with melancholy.

“And you are?”

He hesitated. “I am Doctor Navom Velensaans from the Elstaarsan Institute.”

“The lead at Ambercaast,” she said drily. His shock, and the gasps that followed, meant she maybe should have kept her mouth shut. Patch laughed, in dark but true humor.

“We heard Caardinva kidnapped you.”

“He kidnapped all of us,” Bellegara snapped. Velensaans cast her a side-eye glare, but it did not silence her. “None of us want to be here. None. Of. Us.”

“Well, you’re in luck, because we’re here to help,” Lapis said. The people in the hallway moved closer, their hope driving some of the dimness from the air. “But not just you. The khentauree, too.”

“Help the khentauree?” Velensaans asked, brittle heat infusing his tone.

“Just because you only see them as a science experiment doesn’t mean they are. And they aren’t.” She half-smiled. “Of course, I’m betting Jhor told you that and you didn’t bother to listen.”

Their shock triggered heavier laughter from Patch.

“Jhor?” Velensaans whispered. “When did you meet Jhor?”

“Met him at Ambercaast. He’s visited Jiy a few times since.”

Bellegara gaped at her. “He’s alive? Caardinva said Ghost killed him!”

“Yeah, he’s alive, and no, Ghost didn’t kill him. Can you imagine, Sanna’s reaction to that?”

Bellegara’s distress and Velensaans’ distrust intrigued her. What else had Caardinva said, to warp their understanding of what happened at Ambercaast? Of course, she had not tried to stick a blue ball in Ghost’s chest and dig around for special code in his memory banks, either, so they had more reason to fear. The khentauree had destroyed their main camp to protect his charges, and she assumed those memories would linger until they died.

Her gaze jumped from one to another. “How many of you are there?”

“There’s twenty-five of us here,” Bellegara said, though she sounded worried. “More at the camp.”

Lapis nodded. “OK. We got separated from our group, but we’re planning to meet back up. We’ll take you with us, and we’ll see what our expedition leader wants to do from there.” If they could even contact Tearlach. The interference was still strong, and Sanna might not be able to converse with Chiddle, even with Jhor’s code minimizing the effect. “By the way, we saw other groups from your camp. They had scientists and blue deer mercs. And red tridents. Know anything about them?”

“Red Tridents?” Bellegara asked, her voice trembling. Those clustered around them quieted, pressed their lips together, and eyed each other in dread.

Velensaans set a hand on her back and shook his head. “No. Caardinva doesn’t trust me with his decisions. I’m here to make khentauree . . . more malleable.”

Malleable? “Who does he trust?”

The growl from the man surprised her. “Fraze.”

No love lost between them, apparently. “Yeah, Jhor recognized him. Wasn’t pleased to see him, either.”

“Wait, Jhor’s here?” Velensaans asked, flabbergasted.

“Lanth,” Patch warned, looking down the hallway to his right.

“We must hurry,” Tuft said. The others jumped at the monotone voice echoing from the room. “The enemy comes.”

Wondrous. Lapis hustled between Bellegara and Velensaans, who gasped as Tuft entered the hallway, a flowing, beautiful sight. The scientists’ immediate, recoiling fear annoyed her, but she understood it; they had khentauree blood on their hands. Hopefully Tuft did not extract retribution until they were in a safer place, and she could talk him out of it.

She whisked into the room, accompanied by more gasps from startled people rising from chairs and makeshift crate seats. Her attention riveted to the khentauree; they lay in three square steel cages, stuffed together so tightly they could not move. She pointed at them and looked at the nearest person, a man in a blue jacket holding a ring of keys.

“I need the keys for the locks,” she said.

“No! They’re dangerous!” he spluttered, jerking them behind him. “They tried to kill us!”

A cry went up from the mechanical beings, and all heads rotated to look behind her. “Tuft!”

“Did you all download the Lyddisian language?” Lapis asked as she triggered her blade. While simpler, she did not need the keys to free them.

“Yes,” came the chorus.

“Great. And have you all finished Ree-god’s program?”

“Yes,” came the chorus.

“You’re talking to them?” Velensaans asked, shocked, mouth sagging to his neck.

“Funny how that works,” Lapis said as she shoved the tip into the padlock’s shackle; the metal broke apart and the heavy body landed with a clang. She ripped the door open and hopped to the next one.

“What are you doing?” blue jacket yelled, panicked, rushing to her, hands out. “They’ll kill us!”

“I’m freeing them,” she said. “And since they’ve run Jhor’s fix, they aren’t going to kill us.”

“What are you talking about?” he shouted, voice trembling with stressed fear.

“I’m sure I’ll explain later.” She cracked the second lock. Tuft froze the third, which broke into small bits and fell away. She did not think it wise to show his abilities in front of Velensaans, considering what the scientists did to Ghost at Ambercaast, but she anticipated they did not have much time before the mercs arrived. “Can you all walk?” she asked the khentauree.

“Yes,” came the chorus.

“We must take the walkway down,” Tuft said, helping the khentauree nearest the doors up. As soon as they left the cage, the others unfurled and followed. “To the pool. They come from both directions.” He looked at her. “These humans—” he began, waving his hand at the scientists.

“—are coming with us,” she said. “I’ll vouch for them.”

“They betray each other. They will betray you, too.”

“Taking chances is what a chaser does,” she said. “Part of the reason we’re down here is to save the scientists from Caardinva.”

Tuft stared at her as the khentauree headed for the door, frosty wind swirling around his hooves and up his legs. “Should they be saved?”

She raised her blade, and it shinged into her gauntlet, ignoring the patter of her heart. “I believe in second chances. And if there are problems, I’ll care for them.” Or, more likely, Patch would care for them before they grew into much more than an annoyance.

 Velensaans squeaked and stumbled back as the khentauree brushed past, curling his arms to his chest and arching away as if to protect himself. “What—what are you doing?”

“Saving you all,” Lapis said. “Unless you don’t want to come. You can stay here and explain to the mercs why there’s no more khentauree in cages. I couldn’t care less.” She gave him an opportunity, nothing more. She was not about to face the mercs and their tech for his fearful pleasure.

“Lanth, go,” Patch said, raising his weapon to point at the ceiling. “I’ll bring up the end.”

“I will help.” A khentauree held back and planted their hooves next to her partner.

Tuft nodded and buzzed, then turned to Lapis. “If there are problems, I will care for them,” he said, monotone. Frost shot away from him and coated everything; electricity crackled, metal cracked, the lights burst, leaving his glow as the only illumination. The scientists in the room screeched and whirled and cowered away, shaking as lacy patterns dusted them, before he flowed after the ones already fleeing.

She glanced down at herself; no icy coat this time.

The khentauree next to Patch triggered the cyan glow in his forehead to provide more light as the people in the hallway stared in horror at the destroyed equipment. Quite the threat. Would they reassess their involvement with khentauree?

“Thank you,” Lapis told the mechanical being, then studied Bellegara. “Are you up to this?”

“I don’t have a choice.”

True. She nodded and followed Tuft, shivering despite her warm padding. They would see, how many of Velensaans’ people braved a flight with an unknown, volatile khentauree.

Another khentauree stood at the end of the locker room, their cyan beam lighting the way for them. Would it make an impression on the people, the care the mechanical beings took with them, compared to how poorly the Meergevens treated them? It felt like a betrayal to ask them to help the ones who caged them.

Then again, those cages might have saved them from a merc-y demise.

“Thank you,” Lapis said as she passed. The khentauree buzzed, and she smiled. It dwindled as a disgruntled snort echoed to her, which drowned under far more expressive icks from the scientists who came after. She smirked to herself. Priorities.

“Tuft, what do we need to do to get to the meeting room from the pool?” she asked.

“We must go through more tunnels shared by the Cloister and the mine,” he said. “There is one, a chapel that the miners prayed at. It is large enough for the invaders to use. I do not know if they have reached it yet.”

She supposed they would find out.

The lead khentauree outpaced them, which she expected, though she wished they had not taken their light with them. The faint glow from above, even coupled with Tuft’s radiance, did not illuminate much. She slipped and slid down the water-slick walkway, squeezing the railing and hoping it did not break and send her spiraling down into the pool. It shook as the others did the same, but did not collapse, and she breathed a sigh of relief as she hit the flat landing.

Gold coated everything in the room beyond, from the altar to the wide mosaic of a Star-human behind it, to the threads in the deteriorating carpets. Fake columns rose to the ceiling, old tech sconces screwed to them, dead. She noticed little else in the rush across, though the shocked gasps meant the scientists had not encountered a ritual room yet. She did not want them anywhere near the Cloister; she had a feeling too many would see opportunity and riches instead of a khentauree home.

Too late, she supposed. Those heading to the console room already had an eyeful.

Bellegara caught her step. “This is incredible,” she breathed. “Is this a church?”

“A chapel,” she said. “At the top of the waterfall is a platform, and the cultists used it to jump into the pool in blind devotion. I’m assuming this place was where they received whatever blessing they got afterwards.”

“It was,” Tuft agreed. Bellegara twitched as his head swiveled, and Lapis gloated at her lack of response. She had gotten far more accustomed to the act since Ambercaast. “They were blessed, whether they lived or not.”

“Kez was a real sweetheart, wasn’t he,” she muttered. “He didn’t make any khentauree jump, did he?”

“No. Only those who wanted his favor.”

“I’m glad you unhooked him.”

Tuft buzzed, again pleased. Bellegara looked at her, aghast. “Unhooked?”

“Kez wanted to put himself in a khentauree chassis so he could live forever as a Star. He failed.”

“How . . . do you know this?”

“Khentauree told me.” She shrugged. “And I listened.” She gave the woman a chaserly, half-lidded stare. “Don’t think, for a moment, we’re on your side when it comes to violating them.”

“It’s not the khentauree we’re as much interested in as Gedaavik’s code. What he accomplished, with Ghost and Sanna and Chiddle—”

“You know, you didn’t have to hurt them to get answers. You could have asked.”

“We didn’t hurt them,” Bellegara insisted. “We enhanced them.”

“No, you hurt them. And since you don’t really understand Gedaavik’s code, I doubt your enhancements could have done anything else.”

“How do you hurt a machine?” she asked, confused.

“They’re a bit more than just machines, or haven’t you noticed?”

“Humans notice what humans want to notice,” Tuft muttered.

Same could be said of khentauree, but Lapis decided not to voice the sentiment.

Bellegara eyed Tuft with distrust, but since he returned it, fair enough. She clenched her hands, having a multitude of questions to ask as a distraction, not knowing which might prove detrimental.

“Since we’re helping you and all, perhaps you’d be kind enough to answer something for me. Like, why are you at the Shivers during this time of year?”

“Bov Caardinva wanted to look for old documents here,” Bellegara said, glancing over her shoulder at Velensaans. Lapis did so as well, noted his keen interest in Tuft, and firmed her resolve to care for any problems that arose from this escape. If it were in her power, she would never let them lay a finger on another khentauree. “He didn’t much think about the weather.”

“Why here?”

Velensaans cleared his throat and drew his gaze away with effort. “We discovered notes at Ambercaast that said Ree Helvasica traveled here after a failed partnership with Gedaavik. The owners of the mine were not pleased and threatened Gedaavik over it.”

“Failed partnership?” Her tummy twisted, her gorge rose, as Tuft buzzed with dark displeasure. She supposed the modder’s hatred of Ree counted as a failure, though she found partnership an interesting term. From what Sanna and Chiddle imparted, from what the Cloister and Shivers khentauree said, he never saw her as anyone other than an enemy.

“Helvasica’s research came up in academic searches I did for khentauree-relevant papers,” Velensaans continued. “Unlike Gedaavik, she published her results in prominent journals and gained acclaim for her intriguing code. News articles said she traveled to Ambercaast to work with Gedaavik, so it seemed the right place to begin our endeavors.”

“We expected the khentauree to have ceased working long ago,” Bellegara breathed. “But so many were still extant! We could study what they did with beings they personally programmed.”

“Ree didn’t program Ambercaast khentauree,” Lapis said, dread climbing up her backbone. She suspected she knew why Caardinva visited the Shivers, and khentauree were only a small bit of it.

“No, Gedaavik refused to work with her,” the scientist agreed. “And really, that’s what Markweza Eldekaarsen wanted, Gedaavik-coded khentauree. That’s why he hired us. He wished for us to study Gedaavik’s work. Caardinva had . . . other goals. We didn’t know until he kidnapped us and brought us here.”

“Do tell,” she said drily. Tuft’s head remained focused on them, and she could not blame him. Did their suspicions align? “And what might those other goals be?”

Velensaans pressed his lips together so hard, wrinkles outlined his mouth, before he relaxed. Funny, how he attempted to protect a man who did not care whether he lived or died. “He . . .”

“He and Lady Mesaalle want immortality,” Bellegara stated, plainly and with enough hate that Lapis wondered if Caardinva had triggered a religious-oriented animosity in her.

“Awesome. Who’s Mesaalle?”

Velensaans’ hiss did not dissuade her. “She’s the Taangin who bankrolled Markweza Eldekaarsen’s dig.”

“I see.” Lapis glanced at Tuft, to make certain he still listened. He gave a short nod; good enough. He wanted to know, too. “She must have quite a bit of money, to pay for scientists from far-away Siindernorth to conduct an extended expedition in Theyndora, while she sits comfy in Taangis.”

“She’s from a wealthy noble family with ties to the Taangin royal family. You mentioned them. Kez.”

Lapis hated when her darkest suspicions turned out right. “Wondrous. Let me guess, a Stars-blessed descendant who thinks she can gain immortality by dumping herself into a khentauree chassis. Well, I bear witness that Ree Helvasica failed and Maphezet Kez failed, and that ass on the fallen platform failed. But sure, hook her up to a blank and stuff Ree’s code into a tech machine and hit the power button. We could use one less asshole in the world.”

Patch’s laughter drifted to her; did their voices carry that far back? Tuft buzzed, and she detected humor in his tone as well.

“I see why Sanna likes you,” the khentauree said.

“She has impeccable taste,” Lapis answered.

“You mentioned Sanna before,” Velensaans said, frowning. “She’s here, too?”

“Yeah. She and Chiddle came with us as ambassadors to the Shivers khentauree.” She raised an eyebrow. “We’re here to help them. We may have taken up your plight, but the khentauree come first.” She quirked a half-grin. “But don’t worry. I’m sure, if she takes exception, Jhor can hold her back.”

Apparently the man now wished he had remained in the frosty-dark room, waiting for Caardinva’s mercs. The terror behind his widening eyes . . . what had he done to Sanna, that he now regretted?

By the time Lapis and the others reached the larger chapel Tuft had worries about, the lead khentauree had escaped its confines and headed to the meetup, no mercs or enemies in sight. Tuft remained close, and she wondered about it, but his attention focused on Velensaans. Distrust drove him, and she could not fault him for it. Other than Caardinva, the man posed the greatest threat to those under his care.

The chapel reflected what she had already seen in the Cloister; tall paintings of Kez, Ree, and various other people of note, all surrounded by gold and more gold. The altar, bathed in artificial light hidden in the rafters, gleamed like fire. Juxtaposed against the stark black of the surrounding panels, it took on the feel of a Star. Stone benches spanned to the back of the room, the remains of purple and gold cloth dangling from the seats.

Four large pots sat in the corners, holding dead trees, the scent of damp soil wafting from them, the only things Lapis thought received care. It appeared the Shivers khentauree did not share the meticulous cleaning schedule of their Cloister peers.

“This is incredible,” Bellegara said, staring in awe at the portraits. Lapis snarled and pointed at Kez, far past any awe at the extravagance.

“That’s Maphezet Kez, and the woman next to him is Ree Helvasica,” she said. “The khentauree call her Ree-god because she programmed that into them. They were both a blight on humanity.”

“Is that Stars’ symbolism on their clothes?” someone behind her asked.

“Yeah.” Her gaze scraped over the stitched stars at elbows, shoulders and chest. “Maphezet Kez was a devout Stars follower, so much so, that he even had his people program the khentauree to pray to them.”

Bellegara winced, which Lapis appreciated. Velensaans wrinkled his nose, as if it slowly dawned on him that the local khentauree had more of a reason to despise humans than he ever guessed.

“That’s the reason they went berserk. We interrupted their listening to Ree, and the program that was supposed to end when she ascended to the Stars didn’t.”

“Listening to Ree?” Bellegara asked. “There are recordings?”

“Nope, just her corpse. Her head was hooked up to a speaker, and all they got was static. They had to pretend it was heaven-inspired words.” She smiled in warm hate. “And that’s Ree’s code. A failure, on every level. Guess she and Kez weren’t Star’s blessed after all.” She turned and walked backwards a few steps, eyeing the people behind her. “Make no mistake. This is a cult worship center, and what you’re doing by researching Ree’s code is trying to bring that depravity forward into our time.”

Velensaans’s eyes hardened at the assessment; she pivoted and realized Tuft waited for her, his unwavering attention on the scientist. He kept her pace, his head facing the man; it did not take long before, uneasy, Velensaans fell back from them, rubbing his hands together and hunching his shoulders. Others stared at them in distrust. Why? Did they expect their past deeds to haunt them?

She hoped the guilt ate them.

Twisting hallways and corridors later, they reached their destination—yet another grand room with portraits and gold and a stifling sense of desperation. She did not know if the beings clustered within caused it, or the strange things she noted; the overturned benches near the altar, the lumps she assumed were corpses, all fallen against three tall photographs of Kez, Ree and Juni Lepaa. Incense sticks lined the wall on either side, unlit. A black smudge on the stage, from a torch still resting where it had fallen, proved the military made it to this room, too, and interrupted the ceremony.

The other khentauree crowded around Sanna, Spring and Vision, buzzing and flipping their hands about. Lapis waltzed in, throwing her arms wide.

“We brought a surprise!” she called. Everyone turned towards her as Bellegara cautiously entered, Velensaans behind her.

“The shit,” Jhor said with teeth-clenched venom.

“Oh, but they did provide some useful tidbits,” she said, raising a hand and wagging her finger as Tia moved to the fore, her attention on the scientists. Scand planted himself at her side, wary and tense. He should not worry; Patch and the two khentauree companions who brought up the rear were pushing everyone inside. If they held so much fear they wanted to remain in the hallway, she doubted they would strike out in any meaningful way and succeed. “Guess who’s bankrolling Bov Caardinva? Maphezet Kez’s descendant! Mesaalle Kez.”

Jhor's fingers popped from the pressure he put on his fists. “And that’s why Caardinva came here.”

Linz sucked in a large breath. “So khentauree aren’t the sole reason.”

“Nope. Everlasting life plays a significant role. He wants Ree-god’s immortality code.”

What Jhor said in response to that raised her eyebrows and made Bellegara swallow convulsively while Patch’s dark laughter rang around them, amplified by the acoustics. Sanna stepped away from the locals, her head swiveled to Tuft. They buzzed, then both focused on Velensaans.

Lapis was eternally grateful she had done nothing to piss either of them off.

Jhor joined them, placing his hand on Sanna’s chassis, a silent command to remain civil. “Anything else you’d like to say, to convince Sanna and Tuft you don’t mean them harm? The more info, the better.”

Patch shook his head as he came abreast, his eyepatch swirling fast and fierce. “You can ask later,” he said. “We need to go.”

“Follow me,” Vision said. “We will find your friends now, and the way will clear.” She clucked and headed for the door opposite the platform.

Spring and the mines khentauree hustled after her. Lapis glanced at Patch, noted deep distrust in his eye, then proceeded. Clear the way? Did she want to know what the fortune teller meant by that?

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