Periling Hand

Issue #259

The game’s not played to win but to see how long you can last. The Wit MacMahajan taught Morholt that, after his accident, while he was in Rexhame’s hospital and she was growing him a new arm from sculptwood. Only he didn’t realize the truth of her words until much later. They played siege at night, the two of them, him having to set his cards down on the table each round to peril out the one he wanted with his remaining hand.

Catch and carry, the painted cards showed. Reach the walls. Attack. Escape. About-face. Do it again. Round after round after round.

The Wit played like a caterbeast sings before eating. Morholt played like a cracked mirror doing a poor job matching his moves to hers. She played like angle-birds swarming over the tangled blotwoods. He played like a blind bright-shelled spider, waiting, waiting, waiting, but for what he couldn’t say.

Later when he left the hospital—with the new wood arm strapped in place—the Wit gave him the small painted cards to take while Ajan and La Chanda gave him a job. They were a bonded couple from Morholt’s parents’ chosen eal, a bit like old family friends; they’d lived all their lives around the Rexhame settlement and now ran a public kitchen in its windward section. Morholt still slept at the harvester union’s hostel, but everyone needed to eat and La Chanda needed her meals delivered.

He drove their bov wagon, standing up behind the storage box and nudging the beastmind along through the sett’s covered passages, delivering La Chanda’s sporecake dishes all over the sett, from the mill tower down to the depot, his new arm itching where his flesh met the dull sculptwood, its spirit, its immanence, not woken from bloom and fully mated to his yet.

That morning, everywhere he drove he heard about the murder that wasn’t murder but business done by different name. “A dead incast in Pingree. Shot, tche.”

Grave nods all around directed towards whoever it was who had been speaking. News indeed. Pingree was the nearest large settlement to Rexhame, only two days away by ark if Lady Misery wasn’t kicking down from the clouds. Some sporefarmer, the cretesmith, even the depot hands like he had been, all of them had the identical non-news news to relay.

The news being that Pingree’s incast was dead, found that way in their cloister, and Sankaty, ever the capital, had sent a team to investigate. No one knew who’d done it, but Sankaty was on top of things, you could be sure of that. They’d sent a team of incasts out to investigate.

But who’d kill an incast, Morholt thought. Nothing like this had ever happened before. Incasts might be incasts bound to share their minds and bodies with the skein lifestructures that dwelled in the well, but dead incasts, tche? Strange days. And what about Pingree’s skein? What’d happened to it? Had the killer killed it too? No one was mentioning it, and squatting there beside the wagon, slipping dishes in and out while the bov mind dozed peaceful, Morholt didn’t even know if such a thing were possible.

“How come Rexhame’s incast isn’t there? Why they’d send all the way to the capital? We’re closer than Sankaty,” Morholt said. No one had an answer, and dissatistied, Morholt mounted behind the bov’s box, woke its beastmind, and continued on his way.

As he rode he gave a glance towards Rexhame’s center where the incaster cloister stood with its massive blot tree. Beneath that tangled mass, in the well, the skein lifestructure grew, its jagged stone spurs pushing up from the well’s soil, and the two minds, the human incast’s and the skein lifestructure’s coexisting within a single shared human body. The incast spoke for the skein, and the skein inhabited the incast via bloom the incast ingested. The two joined as one.

Two as one. It had kept the peace until now.

Late-morning his arm froze mid-reach, the fingers seizing and the elbow locking at the bend. His failing concentration made him draw breath in through his teeth. He may well have been grunting against the sett’s livecrete walls with his stump, for all the movement he got from the arm.

In his head the fingers closed, the fingers opened. As clear as if he were watching it done on the Wit’s solido display. But standing there, with the arm bent and crooked, he had to pull it to his side and position it like it were some neglected rustdevil that’s immanence had died.

He parked the bov on a side passage and crept away from all prying eyes. He kept his back to a bunch of millwits sitting nearby poring over their abstractions, glad they couldn’t see his face.

Lady Misery had arrived too, came upon him howling sudden and taken his shoulder in her grip. Morholt fumbled inside his tunic for the bloom sachet the Wit had given him. The sachet slipped out past his fingers and slapped to the ground like something obscene: a sodden mass of fibrous bloom within synthetic skin.

Bloom helped nurture immanence growth. Morholt was supposed to be applying it regularly to his sculptwood arm as per the Wit’s orders. Of course he’d been neglecting the habit. Whatever immanence the limb had possessed likely had starved by now from the neglect. If he were lucky maybe there’d be some scrap left.

He scooped up the sachet and pressed the sculptwood fingers together until they clicked. The sachet could then sit in the bowl of the palm. Morholt bit open the warm skin, the bloom strands twitching alive the instant they tasted air. With two flesh fingers he daubed the warm liquid across the sculptwood arm, the bloom strands breaking apart and bleeding a rusted gold that lingered as their life was absorbed into the wood’s grain.

He grit his teeth as the arm—his arm now once more—regained sensation in a sudden blaze of pins and needles. Like Lady Misery had started punching him with her free hand. The sensation rose and crested like a wave, but despite it he made the wooden fingers flex. Satisfied, Morholt hurried back to the bov and woke the beastmind. The needles still blazed as he gripped the controls and rolled away.

This was his life now. Two spirits in one body, his own immanence and the arm’s, not joined but at odds. Who knew how long his condition might stay this way; might be foreever and if so what then? Morholt shuddered. Should he just get used to Rexhame and his current place in it: a delivery driver with a rebellious arm he couldn’t even trust as his own.

The Rexhame sett was a single five-story ring of livecrete nurtured around a central hollow where a large blot tree sprawled and the incast kept their cloister beside the well. The sett’s windward side was a smooth-sloped tower, its long slats shielding the millwits’ wind turbines that creaked and groaned incessantly on the best of days. Opposite the tower was the long depot station where the harvesters hunkered close as beetles and the trenchline ran straight as a cut through the surrounding blotwood tangles and ragged mazeroot, connecting Rexhame to nearby Pingree and the Intervale east.

Rexhame’s population fluctuated throughout the year. Come blooming and the Quiet season, it buzzed with the harvesters newly arrived to the basin. But come Echo, the sett hunkered close, near-abandoned while Lady Misery raged across the skies, carrying the bloom down from the blotwoods stretching away to the north and west.

Morholt witnessed the shift as he cruised along the depot’s mainway. Most people had already left, going back to the coastal setts, to Sankaty and the Kettle Banks. Even Morholt’s union hostel was emptying out and the nights turning almost peaceful.

A few off-duty depot hands lounging beneath their harvesters watched his passage. They saw the scars, and the sculptwood arm; they knew him. They knew his accident. Morholt ignored their stares. A rustdevil had slipped on board the Whim Awry—coming off its guiderunner with a screech, support cables snapping, sending a containment barrel to the deck where the lid had exploded off right as Morholt was reaching for it. What parts of his arm hadn’t been burned away were too badly mangled to be fixed.

He reached the depot’s center as two harvesters finished unloading, the crews hungry after sifting bloom all night. As he emptied the bov’s steaming bin a voice called out to him. Davi Ralt approached through the depot’s crowd.

“I hear you killed the incast, tche.”

Morholt laughed. “Call a trooper and have ’em come and take me away.”

Lanky madwise Davi Ralt wore brown weatherskins over his tunic, the hood down and the veil open. They clasped hands, flesh hand to flesh, Davi moving without hesitation, and Morholt glad to see him.

They’d crewed together on the Whim Awry, veteran Davi taking himself, Jurada, Bigun Riss, and Cade under his wing and protecting them from the worst of Minvic’s raging. How that boss kept his harvester’s license alongside his union credibility was anyone’s guess. He certainly hadn’t put many aces into keeping his rustdevils maintained.

Now a new ealdom patch showed on Davi’s tunic. Behind him Morholt spied Cade, Bigun Riss, and Jurada catching up. He spied too that they all wore identical patches.

Whim Awry patches.

A development new enough to shock Morholt where he stood.

“Lucky you,” Davi said. He indicated the others with a nod. “We’re leaving tomorrow. The Whim Awry is heading to the Kettle Banks.”

“You’re crewing with Minvic? Again?”

“Haven’t you heard, tche? Minvic fled,” Bigun Riss said.

“It happened while you were in hospital,” Jurada said around a bite of sliced filter-fruit.

“Union broke his license,” Cade added. He pointed his chin towards Morholt’s arm and gave a knowing shrug.

Davi Ralt indicated the others over his shoulder. “We pooled what savings we had. Partnered up and bought the license. You’re looking at some new captains.”

The four of them scampered a quick jig, thumbs tucked to their chests and elbows crooked together, Bigun Riss looming head and shoulders above the rest.

“No more shit. We’ll pull easy all the way,” Jurada said, licking fruit juice from her fingers.

“No peril at all. We’ll hit Pingree, Monomoy—kiss the intervale and the basin behind.” Cade slapped his own ass to demonstrate.

A look struck Davi Ralt’s brown eyes. All eager. All earnest. And it hit Morholt so sharp it made his heart ache. “Come with us, tche.”

Morholt managed to grin lopsided. He suspected if he went, he’d become part of their eal partnership before they reached the Kettle Banks. He’d have taught them siege by then. Jurada and Cade would take to it fast. He glanced past Davi along the depot’s platform. To where the Whim Awry was berthed amid the cranes and rustdevils. Her crete had regrown since the accident. The burns weren’t visible—at least not to anyone who didn’t know they were there. But that new crete showed the explosion’s edges in ragged splashes of smooth unblemishment, like the new skin around his stump. Morholt scratched his shoulder where the sculptwood met flesh.

Could the arm take the crewing work? An image of it seizing up, like it had earlier, replayed in his head. Only now he imagined that happening when Bigun Riss or Cade or Jurada or, captains protect them, Davi Ralt needed him.

Snap. Shatter. Death. The sight and sound struck him like a thunderclap.

“Come back for me next season, tche,” he managed to say.

“You sure?” Davi said.

“Sure.”

Morholt made the effort to laugh as he woke the bov’s beastmind from its slumber. He waved and powered off careful, backtracking through his pick-up routines.

Well after he’d left the depot he was still failing in his efforts not to think about leaving Rexhame crewing onboard the Whim Awry. And always the same thought, the same scene playing in his head. His arm cracking under the strain, and him too.

He suddenly decided to visit the Wit. She wanted him to come in for a quick inspection. He had the siege cards in his pocket, and if he was lucky maybe he could interest her in a game.

The Wit MacMahajan was a severe one. That’s what Davi Ralt had said on his first visit after the accident. Morholt couldn’t help but agree, although he had to admit he admired that severity. The Wit was a tall woman as crisp and lean as the pressed folds in her tunic, her stern, wrinkled face ocassionally surprising with its sudden kindnesses.

That day she played like she had learned the game in smoke-filled gambling houses amid spilled aklee stink and those foul-smelling cheroots favored by long distance ark drivers.

He played like a prisoner whose only way to mark time’s passage was the game.

When the last card lay on the table (he’d lost of course), Morholt drew a bloom sachet and anointed his sculptwood arm. The Wit watched without comment, scratching her chin and peering at him abstractly as she appraised the solido screens projected in the air before her.

“I can tell you’re neglecting it,” she said. “Its immanence has practically starved to death.” She pointed two long fingers at him. “That arm’s a living thing learning to adapt. Like you. Remember that.”

“Did you hear someone killed Pingree’s incast?” he said, uncomfortable speaking outside the game’s structure but wanting to change the subject. The Wit gave him a sour expression.

“Don’t hide behind that fake mystery.”

“Fake?” Morholt found his surprise genuine. “Sankaty incasts are there already. They’re going to sort it out.”

“That’s one way of looking at it.” The Wit waved at the solidos, shifting them about with swift gestures of chin and hand so they hovered in the corner above her desk. Morholt straightened in his chair.

“How’s that, tche?”

If the Wit was disturbed by his informal tone, she didn’t show it. She closed her eyes and sat quietly for a time. Finally she sighed. “It’s a bad time coming towards us. That’s the only way to say it.”

“You mean the Echo season? You think Lady Misery will be worse this year without Pingree’s incast. What about our own? They’re not good enough?”

“That’s the problem. The incasts.” The Wit waved her hand in the air. “They’re fighting a war all around us and we can’t even see it.”

“They? Who are they?” he said.

“Sankaty. Pingree. All the skein livestructures and incasts. They’re fighting amongst themselves, cleaning house before the season changes. This isn’t about us. It’s about the incasts and the skein.” She pointed around the room. “We just happen to be here like the table and chairs hoping Lady Misery doesn’t come crashing in.”

She might have said more, but a solido sprang open in the air before her. She swore and stood, waking solido windows so they hovered in an orbit around her shoulders. Morholt heard the immanence stirr in the livecrete walls as it woke with a faint purr.

“There’s been a fight down at the depot,” the Wit said. “Some idiot who can’t leave the sett quietly, but they have to let everyone know it. No more siege for today.”

The overland ark had arrived by the time Morholt returned to La Chanda’s kitchen. The driver sat at the polished sidecounter talking with Ajan, her hatted head bowed forward as she ate, rings in her ears showing eal and union affiliations, and her arms, neck, and chin covered in those geometric tattoos all drivers had, for Morholt knew not what purpose. La Chanda was busy behind the chrome amid bitterly fragrant clouds. Their few regular customers sat at the edges of the room, uncommonly hunched away in the shadows. The empty space haloed a single table near the room’s center.

Three incasts sat there, with those old young faces all incasts had and those weatherskins that looked like shadowy pelts draped over their shoulders. Patches on their arms showed Sankaty livery. One of the women had a smile like a cold knifepoint pressed against a neck. Another woman, the smallest of the three, sat massaging their wrist where the skin was puckered and scarred. And the third drew on a hand-rolled cheroot, exhaling blue clouds. All three sipped from tumblers brimming with pale aklee.

Ajan leaned over to Morholt and said in a reedy whisper: “They’re not talking, so don’t even bother asking who killed Pingree’s incast.”

Morholt hadn’t been going to ask a thing about the dead incast, but the urge to know now rose strong and feirce within him.

Before he could, La Chanda set plates out on the counter. Spore steamed sharp and pungent with vinegar tang amid curled shaved greens and spiced boxmeat.

Ajan gave Morholt a look and gestured toward the table with a nod. “All yours, tche.”

Morholt went. The incasts quit talking and watched him with lowered eyelids as he laid out their dishes, like predators in the blotwoods appraising the actions of their dinner. He was nearly done when the smiling woman caught hold of his arm, the sculptwood one, and tugged it close. They concentrated on it as if trying to read something writ there in the arm’s grain.

Who was looking? The human mind, or was it the Sankaty skein, the lifestructure miles distant looking out through those unblinking eyes?

“Your arm stinks,” the smiling woman finally said, releasing their grip.

The touch had been cold, but Morholt felt it like a burn through the arm’s immanence.

“It’s the bloom,” he stammered. “It’s still learning.”

“You should stay out of sight until it’s done then, tche,” said the other woman, the small one. The smoker laughed, filling the air with another sharp pungent cloud.

“Don’t be so hard on him. It’s not his fault,” the smoker said. They made a circular motion with their hand. “This whole sett stinks.”

Whatever Morholt wanted to say he let die behind his lips. He went back to the kitchen. Ajan gave him a nod as if he’d done well. The ark driver was on her feet arching her back.

“A charming bunch,” she said, leaning to the side to dig a bundle of detritus from her travelskin’s catch-all pocket. She sorted out a few aces and left them for her meal. She shrugged. “I don’t need to know them. I only need to move them.”

La Chanda waved Morholt over, a solido window glowing beside her. “One more for you, to take on your way home.”

“Where?” Morholt asked.

“The cloister. The Wit wants to meet you there.”

“The cloister? What for?”

La Chanda ignored him. Her voice pitched down to a low whisper. “You better move it, tche.”

A laugh sounded from the main room. Cruel enough to make Morholt jump. La Chanda didn’t need to tell him again.

Long windows glowed in the wall behind Morholt curving to his left. Rexhame had slowed for the night. He was out in the open here away from the covered walks and promenades, making for the blot tree, clositer, and well. Nye, the closer of the two moons, was visible as a bright disc over Rexhame’s stillward section. Pale light was shining from the blot tree’s tangle as if the twisted growth had captured the moon’s light. The air was perceptibly cooler here and tinged with ripe bloom.

The cloister loomed before him as a severe collection of peaked roofs. The Wit MacMahajan was waiting for him at the arched entryway. She wore weatherskins. No one else was in sight, not even a rustdevil. Morholt breathed deep, relaxed. Suddenly his stump itched, and he pressed it into his tunic fumbling about for a sachet with his wooden fingers.

“You should have done that before you got here,” the Wit said.

“You should be happy I’m remembering to do it all.”

Morholt set down the bundle he carried as he anointed his arm.

“You sent for me.”

The Wit MacMahajan shook her head. “Not me. The incast. They’re at the well, waiting.” She took the bundle and passed him a folded weatherskin. He draped it on, carefully thrusting his still-oily arm through the sleeve. He botched it, but if the Wit judged him she made no comment.

“There were incasts at La Chanda’s, three of them, wearing Sankaty livery. Do you think—“

“I have no idea what to think,” the Wit said, cutting him off with a wave of her hand. “This whole thing’s periled terrible. Honestly, I’d rather Lady Misery came around to give us a few kicks than put up with whatever mess this is. At least then we’d all know what we’re dealing with.” She looked grave for a moment, her dark skin paling. “Morholt, whatever happens, I didn’t plan on any of this. I’m playing this game right alongside you.”

Before he could say anything she hurried him into the blotwood tangle following a path marked out by ribbons.

Within the first few steps Morholt lost sight of the sett’s inhabited wall. Its lights were gone, disappeared behind the blot tree’s “branches”. He knew the right word for them was “thalli”. Trees had branches. And the blot tree wasn’t a real tree, not like the ones you learned about in crèche, the ones existing on other worlds now lost in abstraction. But the blots served the same function as trees, so Morholt thought maybe it was right to think they had branches.

Whatever they were, the blot tree glowed with a spectral light, illuminating the dusty path under Morholt’s feet. This close it was possible to see colors through their flaky keratin, like veins under skin or darker flesh around an elbow.

“Shouldn’t there be someone here?” Morholt whispered in the stillness. “Attendants or someone?”

“The incast dismissed them, likely afraid they’d be harmed.” She answered with little emotion.

What about us then, Morholt wanted to ask but didn’t.

He was glad the Wit was there to guide him. He would never have been able to navigate the tangle with its turnings and crossing paths despite all the ribbons. In places livecrete pillars emerged, bearing sigils of sainted captains and storic individuals from history. Some Morholt knew—others were legacies of unknown people, days, and places. Crew come and crew now long gone. The ground around them was littered with devotional trinkets, islands of brighter color within the ghostly paleness.

For some time now they had been progressing downward, the trail sloping beneath them, until finally they stepped into a circular clearing: the skein’s well.

The blot-tangle made a dome above them here. A ceiling, laced with crisscrossing limbs and porous hollows. The ground and walls covered in fibrous red patches, dried pads of it crunching under their feet. Bloom. But not the wild variety Lady Misery would lift on the wind and deposit all over the basin—the kind Davi Ralt and the crew of the Whim Awry would harvest—but active, awakened bloom linked to Rexhame’s skein and immanence.

Amid the red bloom patches were the angular stonelike forms that made the skein lifestructure, scaly growths that broke through the ground in branching clusters like petrified flowering fans. A few had sigils painted on their surfaces, and some reached a height taller than the Wit. They made Morholt freeze with astonishment. These visible fragments of the skein lifestructure, as impressive as they might be, were like the peak of an iceberg drifting on the Painted Ocean—only a hint of what likely existed unseen.

“Tche,” he said.

A low laugh, half-hidden, half-given as a gift, came from a figure seated some distance away on a low spur. The incast.

Morholt sore under his breath. How could he have missed them? They were so tall and broad they could have been family to Bigun Riss, their old-young face luminously broad under the blot’s light. They stood, towering over Morholt and the Wit, their shadowskins peeling aside to show a simple if oversized tunic and pants.

“This is your friend?”

“Friend, patient. Same same.” The Wit gave Morholt a wink.

The incast made another half-concealed laugh. They appraised Morholt. Morholt scratched his flesh arm with sculptwood fingers.

It was so much easier working harvesters or delivering sporecake for La Chanda. People were only people then and not two minds sharing one body, human and skein, the human portion only reminding you of how big the other portion was residing elsewise out of sight.

“The Wit says you play siege?”

Morholt shook his head in disbelief. If the incast had opened their mouth and a baby angle-bird tumbled out, he would have been only slightly less surprised. “Siege? There are three Sankaty incasts sitting in La Chanda’s eating their dinner, come here for captains-know-what reason—and you want to play siege?”

The incast shrugged. “More or less, yes. For one, it’s apt.”

The incast invited Morholt to sit. Nearby on a skein spur was a blocked-stack of seige cards.

The soft moss gave under Morholt’s feet as he walked to the spur. He made himself as comfortable as possible seated in the crook.

“Catch and carry. Reach the walls. Attack. Escape. About-face. Do it again,” the incast recited as they set out the cards, and Morholt joined like the two were sharing some litany.  

He took up his cards in his sculptwood hand. The incast said:

“The game doesn’t care why we play. It doesn’t care how we play. Win or lose. The game’s only concern is whether we play or not. Nothing else.”

Morholt nodded. The Wit had often said the same thing, so he only half-listened, more focused on the cards in his hand. He was surprised to find he had used the sculptwood one to lift them.

The incast played like a person in an empty room who made moves on a board etched in their memory. Morholt played like he was seated alone at night on a harvester’s platform, watching the moons rise up over the Kettle Banks, the rolling sound of the Painted Ocean somewhere near but hidden beneath the mist drifting on its surface.

Twice in the game he felt some satisfaction when he set down a card that made the incast pinch their lower lip. But he knew the game was lost early-on. When the last card showed he had lost, he hardly cared. The incast watched him closely. Both looked up when the Wit MacMahajan called from the well’s edge.

“They’re almost here,” she said, her face lit by a conjured solido in her hand.

The incast stood, their shadowskins falling from their shoulders in a wave sealing them dimly within.

“Why have the incasts come from Sankaty?” Morholt couldn’t hold back the question.

“Because we lost. Pingree. Rexhame. All the independent settlements and lifestructures on the basin. Sankaty has eaten us one by one, and now the Sankaty incasts will replace me with one of their own. When they’re done, I—” they pointed down at their feet— “We will no longer exist. Not as ourselves at least. Instead we’ll be some Sankaty fragment.”

“Then why sit here playing cards? Why not run away?”

“I don’t run away.” The incast straightened. Their old-young face studied him.

In anyone else Morholt would have called the look he saw one of anger, but it faded away, replaced by a resentment he believed he could recognize. The incast held out a hand. Morholt took hold of it with his sculptwood one.

The incast’s grasp was not merely strong but infused with immanence. The soul of two creatures burned there.

“They’re in the cloister,” the Wit MacMahajan said.

“I refuse to accept this as meekly as my Pingree cousin,” the incast said, their grip tightening. “Part of me might still escape. But to do so I need a vessel.”

“Almost to the blot tree.”

Morholt could barely hear the Wit’s voice; there was only the incast looming there before him.

“Let go of me,” he said, trying to pull his arm away. Its immanence flared, but the incast kept their grip and with their free hand reached into a pocket of their shadowskins.

“If you don’t want to be here,” the incast said, “then escape.” From within their skin they drew out a sodden mass of bloom twitching and flowing up past their wrist. “I will die here, but you can take some part of me away.”

“And if I don’t?”

“Then when Sankaty’s incasts show up they’ll find you standing here beside me—and we doubt they’ll let you walk away.”

The Wit was coming across the well. Morholt made a futile effort to tug himself free. The incast slapped the mass of awakened bloom onto Morholt’s sculptwood arm. The immanence seethed in it, its sudden panic matched by his own. Morholt made a final effort to free himself.

Snap. Shatter. Only the arm didn’t break as Morholt pulled free of the incast, and the Wit dragged him away.

The Wit kept telling him over and over how she hadn’t planned for this to happen as she led Morholt out of the tangle by a different path. His sculptwood arm would heal, she assured him. “I grew the damn thing—I know.”

Morholt walked numb, cradling the arm against his chest, shocked that it hadn’t broken entirely. Cracks showed along its length, jagged records of this night he’d carry with him from now on. Some other mind resided there, yet so did his own, and they were now one and the same. He flexed the fingers on the hand. The arm ached dreadful, but it was his.

The Wit left him at the main concourse, turning towards the tower. “That arm of yours,” she said by way of goodbye. “Like you. Like this whole damn sett, it’s a living thing learning to adapt. Remember that.”

Morholt said nothing. He simply walked away into the night, lost in the passages with their dim lamps balanced upon the quiet. Near the depot, a figure emerged from a café’s lit entrance, smoke and conversation spilling out onto the narrow way. Morholt froze, fearing the Sankaty incasts.

“Again you’ve got the luck, tche.”

It was Bigun Riss. Her massive frame leaned sidewise to nearly fill the vaulted doorway. Aklee fumes rose from her sweet and pleasant but fierce enough for Morholt to catch from two meters away.

“Truly he has,” Davi Ralt said, peering around from behind Riss. “Have a drink and let us convince you to leave this place.”

“Truly, tche,” Riss added. “This place is dead.”

What could he say? He had seige cards in his pocket and decided not to disagree with his crewmates, as he followed them into the café.


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Justin Howe is the product of late 20th century New England. He lives in South Korea, tweets as @justinhowe, and blogs about books at 10badhabits.com. His stories have appeared before in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Reckoning Magazine, and elsewhere.

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