Chapter 172 – Fear of the Dark

Siobhan

Month 4, Day 9, Friday

Siobhan and her duo of newly turned pseudo-allies, who she definitely did not trust but could not do without, moved quickly toward the cell holding the others. She didn’t know her way through the tunnels, didn’t know any of the passwords, and didn’t want to rely on stolen thumbs and spit to get through the doors. In addition, she harbored no illusions that she could defeat the Pendragon Operatives in battle by herself. Yes, her new companions were essential. They also led the way.

Anders began to protest against going to rescue the other captives, but Parker stopped him, leaning in to murmur, “They were praying for her help, which is the whole reason she’s here in the first place. She can’t just leave them. She has honor.”

Anders motioned for them to stop, and they peeked around a corner.

Two other guards kept watch in front of a windowed door that presumably held her people.

Without Siobhan’s prompting, Anders gave Parker a significant look. “We have no choice. If we fail now, we cannot even hope for a clean death,” he whispered, his words barely a breath on the air.

Parker hesitated. “Maybe they could join us?”

Anders looked toward the ceiling for patience. “Johnson and Brown both had no qualms about securing their own positions by spilling the beans about your gambling. Do you remember the punishment for that?”

Parker’s mouth tightened.

“And we don’t have time to try and convince them and get into a loud, flashy fight. Besides”—he glanced over his shoulder at Siobhan—“I doubt the Raven Queen would appreciate being asked for even more boons.”

Siobhan shook her head silently.

“Better death by our hand, than whatever the Raven Queen would do to them,” he added even more quietly. “As soon as we let her out of the cell, it was already too late.”

“In this situation, they would do the same to us,” Parker admitted reluctantly. He threw Siobhan a fearful glance, then nudged Anders anxiously.

The two men shared a sharp nod and then walked around the corner, approaching the other men. As the guards greeted them with confusion, her new allies attacked without fanfare or warning.

It took them about four seconds to kill their previous coworkers, using spells for distraction—as the resplendent armor protected against them—while Anders drew out a stiletto dagger and slit the throat of one and punctured the armpit of the other. Both guards collapsed almost instantly from blood loss.

Siobhan was almost as surprised by the sudden and explosive violence as the other guards. She hadn’t wanted their deaths, exactly, but it was a price she was more than willing to pay. With them out of commission, the rest was simple.

Avoiding the quickly spreading pools of blood—so much blood, it seemed like the men should have been deflating like popped balloons with its loss—they opened the door to the cell.

The captives had been returned to the sensory-deprivation spell. Siobhan sent Anders and Parker in to help retrieve them while she watched for danger. “Move quickly,” she urged, feeling the passing of every second like nails on a chalkboard.

In less than half a minute, the Verdant Stag and Nightmare Pack captives were free again, confused and relieved but willing to move as quickly as possible.

Parker stumbled, looking down at his chest. “They’ve noticed what we’re doing. The shift lead must have seen the cells unlocking.”

Anders nodded, reaching past his armor into his uniform jacket and pulling out a badge with the High Crown’s symbol, which must have been some sort of alarm or communication artifact. “Yep. Things just got a lot harder for us,” he said gravely.

The prisoners were much worse off than they had been, now marred by fresh injuries from the guards’ previous attacks. Gerard was burned and his underwear tattered enough that he might have appreciated fake clothes, like her.

Enforcer Turner had a tourniquet around his leg, over the knee. He had been blown about by the Radiant explosion, it seemed, and his previously broken leg was now snapped in half at the shin, allowing the bottom half of his limb to flop sideways. He was awake but trembling and pale. Without better treatment, he probably didn’t have long to live.

The praying woman’s hair had been burned half away, and blisters rose up over the area, white against pink skin. Her ear was half melted, and she smiled only with the unburned side of her face, eyes shining eerily bright as she looked at Siobhan. “You came back for me,” she murmured. And then, louder, “I will follow you through the darkness, my queen. Let your enemies be my enemies, and of all that I have, a portion will be for you.”

Siobhan was taken aback once again by the woman and her strange, almost prayer-like words, but she didn’t have time to worry about it. She pointed to the Verdant Stag man whose name she didn’t know. “Carry Enforcer Turner. We’re going to retrieve our belongings, and then we are leaving. Move quickly,” she repeated. “And help each other.”

None of them hesitated, though Enforcer Fring helped to carry Turner, as it turned out the Verdant Stag man had several broken ribs.

“I hurt my knee,” Theo announced, pale faced to the point of greenness. “I can’t run.” The normally knobby joint was noticeably swollen, as big around as the boy’s thigh.

The praying woman lifted Theo onto her back without hesitation. “I can run,” she informed Siobhan.

Millennium moved to Siobhan’s side, pressing a few inches into the darkness simulating a long skirt and cloak around her. “The whispers were right,” he said in a soft voice. “But I didn’t know it would be like this. I’m sorry. We don’t have much time if we want to get our things. And I think we’re going to need them, so we better hurry. I can hear blood and pain.”

Siobhan again ordered them to shoot fireballs into the cell, which she hoped would damage any blood or hair that she or any of the others may have left behind.

Jackal and Enforcer Gerard moved up to the front of the group with Anders and Parker, who led the way and explained what they were about to face. “All your belongings have been placed in the secondary armory. The one down here,” he clarified. “There are about ten more of us—of them,” he corrected quickly, looking at Siobhan, “in the tunnels right now. Some reinforcements from up above. They know what we’re doing and will be prepared. The exits are all reinforced, and the shift lead will have activated the emergency locking procedures. There’s no way we’re getting out of here without the supplies to blast our way free.” He looked at Siobhan again. “Unless you have a way, my lady?”

She shook her head. “It is lucky our supplies are in the armory, then. One trip to retrieve everything we need.”

Siobhan moved just behind their vanguard with the remainder of their group following behind her. Though she couldn’t fight directly, her shadow-familiar would be good for misdirection, and a shield of darkness might help throw off the enemy’s aim.

They heard the sounds of frantic preparation from around the corner to the armory and tiptoed closer. Borrowing a Conduit from Parker, Jackal used a strange esoteric spell that turned the flesh of his palm into a reflective surface, then snuck out his hand so that they could see around the corner, hopefully without being noticed.

As predicted, the double-doored armory was buzzing with men.

Technically, Siobhan’s group had more people, but four of them were either children or noncombatants, and most of the rest were injured in some way, as well as being unarmed and unarmored, against some of the best trained and supplied men in the country.

A whispered planning session took all of a minute, and then Anders drew a thin line across Parker’s forehead with his dagger. The wound immediately spilled a surprising amount of blood down the man’s face.

We are all little more than full-to-bursting sacks of blood mixed with a bit of meat and some bones,’ Siobhan thought idly. ‘Is there a soul, some part of the Will that escapes and remains coherent, or are we but biological artifacts dependent upon the function of our form?’ Her full attention was drawn back to reality as Parker left cover, acting out a badly injured leg that forced him to brace himself on the wall and drag the appendage behind him.

“The Raven Queen escaped!” Parker called weakly. “She’s heading toward the upper exit, the one into the palace. I don’t know how she knew—” He broke down coughing as two other men rushed out to pull him to safety. “No time, no time!” he insisted. “You have to catch her before she gets there—they’re in danger. She’ll kill them all…”

After a hurried conversation, six of the men ran off in the direction Parker had indicated.

Siobhan waited what seemed like an excruciating amount of time, but really must have been no more than two or three minutes, for Parker to give the signal. He did so in the form of a concussive blast going off from within the armory.

Jackal, Gerard, and Anders rushed forward, throwing out spells as soon as they passed through the double doorway. Siobhan followed behind them, her beaked and tattered shadow-familiar moving beside her on one side and a smaller humanoid shadow on the other, making her only one target of three.

As soon as she got to the doorway and could see to do so, she sent the shadow-familiar’s nightmarish form shooting forward into the center of the room, again wafting off cold, looming higher and higher until it had to hunch over at the ceiling.

Anders killed one of the men with a knife through the eyeball, giving them the advantage in numbers.

She was gratified to see several of the enemy turn their attention toward her shadow instead of her allies, some of the energy from their spells inadvertently absorbed as they passed through its incorporeal form, which bolstered it even more. She had a moment to wonder where all the excess energy might be going, as the shadow could only get so black before the darkness was absolute, and she wasn’t expending the absorbed energy to make it larger or more complex. If anything, its form simply seemed to become more and more detailed and real, until even she could barely tell it was little more than an illusion.

One-armed, Gerard lifted a smaller man by his waist, flipping him head-down and legs up before smashing him against the ground once, twice, and a third time, just to make sure he was totally dead.

One remaining Pendragon operative shot some sort of withering curse at Siobhan’s shadow-familiar, which of course passed right through, but managed to hit one of his allies on the other side of the room, knocking the man off his feet and completely tarnishing and cracking the resplendent chest plate.

Siobhan sent a half dozen ravens shooting out of the shadow-familiar, attached by almost invisible threads of darkness, to “attack” the remaining Pendragon operatives. Their cold touch worked admirably as a distraction, and her allies had little trouble killing the remaining men.

Parker pulled himself up from where he had been hiding in the corner under a kite shield sized for a giant. He gazed sadly at one of the men. “A shame… I liked Murphy,” he said. “He didn’t retaliate, even after I got him sent to sensory deprivation punishment for two days straight.”

Anders threw him an inscrutable look but was already moving for the metal lockers standing against one of the walls. The praying woman, meanwhile, began to loot the bodies.

Siobhan recognized her satchel atop one of the tables at the back of the room, displayed carefully along with a few dozen other items that must have belonged to the others. With a quick nod of reassurance over her shoulder, she hurried forward. Their clothes were all in a jumbled pile inside a crate to the side of the tables, and she grabbed them all and shoved as much as she could fit into her satchel. They didn’t have time to dress, yet, but she didn’t want to leave anything of theirs for the enemy.

The High Crown’s men hadn’t discovered the secret compartment in her satchel, it seemed, as everything inside was still intact and undisturbed.

The artifacts that she had rented from Liza—useful against some of the more common curses that her warding medallion might not prevent—were set inside a series of Shipp evidence boxes, one box for each piece of jewelry. Siobhan retrieved those but hesitated before putting them on again. Her warding medallion could protect against quite a lot, and she had resolved to be more cautious in the interest of avoiding regrets. There was one particular outcome of this day that would remain unacceptable even if she herself escaped safely.

She turned to the children. “Millennium, Theo,” she called. “Wear these, and stick together. If you’re close enough they should protect you both.”

The boys argued over who would get to wear which piece until Enforcer Gerard snapped at them. Theo took Siobhan’s lace parasol as a walking stick.

In addition to their own belongings, her people retrieved everything they could carry, including a few extra artifacts—the ones that couldn’t be tracked—and battle philtres meant to supply the guards.

Perhaps most critically, they liberated a dozen high-strength healing potions from a small rack. The vials glowed with the tell-tale luminescence of the Plane of Radiance, almost mesmerizing in their promise as they swirled with clean light.

At Siobhan’s encouragement, everyone with serious injuries downed one, and Enforcer Turner took two while Gerard splinted his lower leg, leaving just two healing potions for future emergencies.

The potion burned as it filled Siobhan’s mouth and shot down to her stomach. After a short delay, it shot through her veins in a rush, as if it had been injected directly into her heart. Energy from the Plane of Radiance was not gentle, but it left her scoured and cleansed from the inside, most of her injuries abraded away.

The potion had been too weak, or she’d sustained too many injuries, to fix everything. She could feel it tugging futilely at her abdomen, bone literally shifting against flesh and the resistance of her harness and corset. Even so, the pain in her muscles was now only a general stiffness, her ribs hurt in a different, slightly less severe way than before, and her ankle took her weight easily. Her right eye still burned, but the feeling of pressure had lessened, and her cheek was no longer swollen and tenderized like hammered steak.

Most importantly, her head was clearer, and the invisible bison that had been stomping on it was now only a roe deer. The magic may have simply run out before getting all the way through her head injuries, but the continued dizziness and difficulty concentrating, however slight, suggested the problem was deeper. Healing potions could not completely fix Will-strain.

Her bracelets were there at the bottom of the clothes box, every one of them carelessly broken. She stared for a moment, wondering if that was a good thing—since they wouldn’t have been able to use them to track down her allies once the magic was spent—or a bad thing, because of the panic it might cause. Even Damien had one or two ward bracelets.

Siobhan’s watch was missing, but on Parker’s embarrassed suggestion, they found it in the pocket of one of the dead guards. She must have lost more time to the sensory-deprivation spell than she expected, as it was already after five. Ennis’s sentencing would have already started, and if nothing else had gone wrong, Gera, Tanya, and Liza would have already done their parts, or be about to complete them at any minute.

With her mind clearer, an important question rose up. “Did your people take samples of blood or hair from those they kidnapped?”

Anders pointed to a sealed iron safe in the corner, which reminded Siobhan of the one Malcolm Gervin had kept. “We can’t open it without the captain.”

Siobhan sighed, then palmed a chunk of wax and moved to write a stone-disintegration spell on the side of the metal, slightly modified to better suit the material. “Whoever among you has the highest capacity, come drill through.”

Anders, Jackal, and surprisingly enough the praying woman all agreed to joint-cast the spell, which Anders added an entire extra ring of written explanation to. Most people didn’t have a lot of experience with minimalist spell arrays, Siobhan supposed, and it was best to mitigate risk when joint-casting.

They got through the metal in less than a minute, but the wards remained active, creating a magical barrier that began where the metal stopped.

Gerard picked up one of the Pendragon operative’s brilliant swords and stabbed into the hole, activating some sort of piercing spell over and over. The magic was powerful enough to create a high-pitched ringing sound and a puff of air with every activation, but the safe’s wards remained steadfast. When the sword ran dry without having overcome the wards, he rifled through the supplies to find a round artifact the size of a fist. He shoved that into the hole, activated it, then hurriedly poured a vial of liquid stone over the outside to seal the hole.

There was a muffled explosion, the hardened stone crumbled away, and the hole revealed hot, twisted metal and a clear opening to the contents within. The praying woman carefully reached her arm through and disengaged the locking mechanism to open the safe’s door from the inside.

The safe had multiple dividing shelves of more steel. Despite the ward absorbing a lot of the pressure, the contents of the central section—the one they’d blown a hole into—were half-destroyed. But above and below that things were mostly intact.

They found about a dozen rather nice Conduits, a tray of the rare rectangular gold bars worth one hundred gold crowns each, and a tray of berserker potions that could temporarily increase a soldier’s performance at the cost of several serious side effects and a high chance of addiction. Half of those had been shattered by the transferred effects of their explosion, but the rest were intact.

They also found a Shipp glass evidence boxes filled with small ampoules of blood and strands of hair. That, Siobhan had them open, incinerate, and then cast the shedding-disintegration spell on.

All the rest was poured into her weight-reducing satchel, though she had no intention of using a berserker potion herself, nor allowing anyone she cared about to do so. But it was best not to leave them for the enemy. Normally, she would have been giddy with the sudden influx of wealth, but minutes had already passed, and there were more pressing concerns. “Is there a map?” she asked. “We cannot come out the way we came in.”

“There’s a map in the shift lead’s office…but he’s probably barricaded in there,” Parker said.

“I am fairly certain I could find a different way out,” Anders offered distractedly. “My pa worked around here when I was a kid, at the freshwater docks that run through from the north, and as a canal runner before that. I spent a lot of time running the tunnels. I can think of three different possible paths out from here.”

“I can help too,” Millennium offered. “We should go that direction, first,” he said, pointing off to the side in almost the opposite direction that the other Pendragon operatives had run off.

Anders nodded with surprise. “Yes, that would probably be best. It will be blocked off, of course, but we can blast our way through.”

Siobhan didn’t have time to hesitate. “Let us go,” she ordered.

They moved as quickly as they could, and not a moment too soon, as the sound of running boots and angry, urgent shouting echoed down the hallways behind them.

The stone-carved corridors alternated between darkness and light for no reason that Siobhan could discern as Anders and Miles led them on a seemingly random, winding route toward their destination.

Young Enforcer Turner had more color in his cheeks and the strength to support some of his weight on his one good leg, but even two healing potions hadn’t fixed his injury. It appeared that the High Crown was not splurging sufficiently on the healthcare of his employees, if the potions they had stolen were only of this caliber.

Gerard and Fring each threw one of Turner’s arms over their shoulders, and thus carried most of the younger, smaller man’s weight between them.

As they got closer to their destination, the halls were more often dark, the stone walls carved more roughly. Finally, they stopped in front of a huge iron plug—not a door, for there was no way to open it nor pass by—blocking off a side tunnel. “That’s the way we need to go,” Anders said, panting.

“A stone disintegration spell would be quietest, but some blasting or slicing spells would be quickest,” she said. “How thick is the iron?”

“I do not know, my lady,” Anders admitted. “Surely not more than a foot thick. Perhaps less.”

As their enemy rounded a corner two hallways down, with a lensed lantern sending a bright, directed beam of light their way, the decision was made for them. “Battle spells it is,” she said, stepping forward away from the group. “Go through the stone to the side.”

As Gerard snapped orders for those who couldn’t fight to press against the walls and the small alcove containing the iron blockage, Siobhan reached into her satchel with her free hand, drew out two sets of a particular potion by feel, and took the deepest possible breath against her corset, ignoring the shifting of her bones as she did so.

The operatives had gained more reinforcements again, called back from wherever they had been, but in the narrow space of the hallway their numbers made less difference.

Using her teeth to pop the cork, Siobhan downed one potion, immediately feeling a tad nauseous as her stomach began to roil. Smoke almost as black as her shadow-familiar billowed up from her stomach and out of her open mouth and nostrils, and as she exhaled, it roiled off of her breath, expanding with every second until it filled the hallway around her.

Then she threw the second philtre toward the enemy. Her shadow-familiar grew weak again in the complete darkness, pulling on the heat between her fingers for warmth. She was almost distracted from maintaining it as knowledge of her surroundings unfurled somewhere deep within her, in a part of her mind that she normally used on instinct, and only rarely acknowledged deliberately.

These were her latest iteration of a philtre of darkness mixed with the proprioception potions. As long as they lasted—only a couple minutes—she would know everything within the touch of the magical clouds, and, less importantly, within the confines of the three remaining bottles within her satchel.

Concussive blasts, piercing, and drilling spells screamed out behind her, one layered over the other in a cacophony of sound and rumbling tremors through the stone her allies were attempting to pierce.

From the front, screams and muffled grunts overlapped as the Pendragon operatives fought against the sudden disorientation, shooting spells through the clouds of darkness. Most weren’t aimed well enough to do damage, but soon enough the enemy realized the nature of her trick and used a continuous blast of wind to blow away the magical particles creating the darkness.

Smoke continued to bubble up from Siobhan’s mouth and nose, and from the floor where the philtre had broken, but the wind blew it away. She leaned into the force of the gale, snarling at the enemy. Her shadow strengthened with the return of the bright light from their lensed lantern, and she sent it up to the ceiling of the tunnel.

“Your screams will echo in the void!” she bellowed at them, the sound echoing and rippling as it left her throat, distorted by the philtre like the scream of a whale from deep in the ocean. The words meant nothing, really, just the first thing that came to her mind.

She had used a free-writing potion to create a cryptic, ominous note for the Edictum Council, another piece of the purposefully sown confusion. Here, too, she wanted to sow confusion and distract the enemy’s attention, and so she repeated some of the words in a philtre-warbled scream that scratched at her throat. “My eyes see nothing but a fortune of dust.”

Upside down, her shadow-familiar skittered along the stone like a spider under the effects of a fleet-foot potion. The enemies fired desperately at the ceiling, only adding to the deafening reverberations and making Siobhan worry that perhaps the tunnel would collapse and kill them all.

Her shadow dropped into their midst, swiping at their heads with claw-like hands trailing frozen mist and drawing almost all of their spell-fire, which again only strengthened her shadow and caused them to inadvertently harm each other. The spell-fire and light from the lensed lantern flashed and jittered, illuminating the tunnel in irregular flares and bursts. With every moment of vision, her shadow-familiar was revealed in a new pose, like an animated drawing in a flip-book missing intermittent pages.

Even she could admit that it looked quite frightening, and the sensation of cold probably created an illusion of physical touch that must have added to the enemies’ alarm. But it would be very difficult for her to directly harm someone with that mild heat absorption. Even with her improvements, the shadow-familiar was basically harmless.

“Empty bellies and sharp teeth, and payment in bone!” she shrieked before descending into a rattling coughing fit that forced extra air through her Circled hand. Despite the way her eyes watered, she forced them to remain open.

Several of the men dropped to the ground and tried to crawl away from her shadow-familiar’s attacks, their eyes devoid of coherence, hot panic spilling from their panting mouths. They displayed none of the training they had undergone for the honor of becoming one of the High Crown’s personal guard. One man lay still on the ground, very much alive but staring wide-eyed at nothing.

In the face of enough terror, people often lose all that separates them from animals.’ Grandfather had told her this, and she had seen it to be true more than once.

In the confusion, one overpowered fireball spell headed Siobhan’s way, aimed almost perfectly to crash into the children huddling in the shallow alcove behind her, hands over their ears and faces tucked into their knees. It probably wasn’t even aimed deliberately.

Siobhan’s Will crushed down on reality, slowing her perception of time as she poured all of her remaining focus into reacting.

She stepped back and to the side, carefully gauging the angle of the medallion under her corset in relation to the center of the fireball. As the fireball approached, filling her vision with its ever-expanding, devouring light, she took a single step forward to meet it, her free hand held out to ensure her perfect balance as she smoothly pivoted toward the wall.

The medallion slowed the fireball and shunted it into that same wall, where it impacted with splashing flames and enough force to send Siobhan stumbling back. Her mind spun as she desperately gripped the shadow-familiar to ensure she didn’t lose control of it, drawing it back to its place at her feet.

Beautiful sparks floated in the vision of her right eye, the one that had been smashed against the wall from the Radiant explosive. She blinked, but they didn’t go away, calling insistently for her attention. A tear ran down her cheek, and when she instinctively wiped it away, her fingertips came away bloody. “Oh, that’s not good,” she murmured. She could barely hear herself over the screams from the enemy and the breaking stone behind her, but she thought her voice was beginning to return to normal as the philtre petered out.

I must have burst one of those little vessels in the sclera.’ Her chest burned once again with the sudden ice-cold chill of the medallion, glued to her skin by the sweat it had frozen. She could only hope that this repeated use wouldn’t leave any suspicious scars.

“We’re almost through!” Enforcer Gerard yelled behind her.

A few of the enemy were still up and fighting, and they grouped together into a tight formation, shields on either end, and began to move forward.

Siobhan shot a few spells from her battle wand, joined quickly by Turner and, surprisingly, both Martha and the praying woman with their stolen battle wands, but nothing made it past the Pendragon operatives’ shields.

Siobhan sent out her shadow-familiar once more, allowing it to rise up from the floor behind the enemies. It broke into a dozen ravens, rushing through their tight formation with wings trailing cold, and coalesced around the man in front. Her shadow-familiar lunged at his head, drawing the heat from his skin as it pretended to claw at his face.

She shrank its head down as it pressed into the man’s wide-eyed, deeply horrified face, giving the illusion of it squeezing itself impossibly into his screaming mouth.

Understandably, he panicked, flailing backward and dropping the shield to claw at her shadow.

It ignored all his attempts, squeezing and shrinking into his eyes, nose, and ears until it was gone.

Of course, it wasn’t gone, nor was it inside him, but none of the enemies noticed the small thread of darkness return to Siobhan’s side.

The man clawed bloody furrows into his skin, trying to force his entire fist into his mouth as if he could grab her shadow by the tail and drag it back out. All the while, he continued to scream himself hoarse, the sound going on and on until he ran out of breath and choked himself with his own hand down his throat. As he convulsed, gagging and spilling bile down his neck and chest, his colleagues watched in horror.

Then, one of them pointed their battle wand at him and stepped back warily. This set the tone of their response, and as Siobhan backed toward the jagged hole in the wall her people had created and climbed through quite awkwardly, she drew one more philtre of darkness from her satchel, took a small sip of it, and then dropped it just behind the hole.

She would know when the enemy followed, if they did so within the next couple minutes.

With a deep sigh of relief, she caught herself on the rough stone wall of the low, narrow tunnel. She took a few panting breaths to steady herself, taking stock of the pain in her head and the tremor in her Will.

The rest of the former captives stood huddled together in the light of a stolen lantern, all staring silently at her.

“What is it?” she said.

Several of them flinched at the sound of her voice, which was once again distorted oddly by the philtre. The praying woman was smiling at her with almost insane fervency.

Siobhan shook her head, decided to remain silent to keep from frightening anyone, and motioned for the group to hurry forward.

They complied with alacrity, and she brought up the rear.

 

I’ve been working toward this chapter for so long, and have done so many passes to make it as good as possible. I hope you guys enjoy it!

Seeing a locked chapter that should be unlocked?: https://www.azaleaellis.com/trouble-accessing-chapters/

Edit 8/3: I did another of my standard iteration passes to this chapter and some of the previous ones to better weave in an understanding of the Pendragon Corps. And in doing so, as always seems to happen I had an idea about something that I was struggling to figure out a dozen+ chapters later, and I seeded in the fix for it here.

I hate to need to update things I’ve already released, but I hope you guys will enjoy it as a sneak peek into my writing process. These plots are just too complicated for me to keep everything in my head at once despite extensive planning, so this is how the looping, iterative process works.

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