Monday, October 13, 2008

Chapter 43 (of 43)

XLIII

The winter passed in Schloeffelonia like a storm that, though long during the experience, once it was over seemed to be only a brief moment in recollection. There were moments of insurrection: most accountably the mutiny of he who could have been his greatest rival aside from Sangwine, le Duc du Fromage. Of this Fang was disappointed, for he had assumed le Duc would have more sense, but what he didn’t realize was that his support had fractured and that the noble houses had discovered through experience that a long war was not only draining the life from their country, but affecting them personally as well. It is when the lofty are affected personally that they deign to incite change, and so le Duc had begun organizing a sort of resistance. Fortunately for Fang, he had always kept eyes upon le Duc for such a thing, and caught it before it had a chance to come to any fruition. It was serendipitous, really, because le Duc gave him the perfect excuse to dispose of him and claim his fortune, which was a boon to the empire’s efforts.

At the disposal of le Duc, la Duchesse had become a raving lunatic. It appeared to Fang, who had her detained and brought to him, that she had lost her mind. Perhaps it had happened long ago, for she seemed to have no cognizance of either of her children, or of anything that made any sense at all. She raved about le Duc on occasion in her madness, but regarding inquiries, she either didn’t hear them, or could not reply. In fact, Fang found la Duchesse du Fromage so maniacally disturbing that he let her go, and the guard watched her as she fled Schloeffelonia as one who cannot stand to be in the presence of something that brings great anxiety. Nothing more was heard of la Duchesse.

He had spared no expense in the care of Camilla, though her seclusion was continually forced. She was a prisoner, though one served by several entirely deaf attendants, and she was made to live high in the tower, watching Schloeffelonia from above.

It appeared to Fang as if all of the Fromages had proven to be entirely untrustworthy in the face of even the smallest amount of inconvenience, and of none was he more disappointed than Al’bert. It was Al’bert who he sent on the very plain, simple task of finishing his last blood relative, and Al’bert had failed so prodigiously and for such an extendedly long period of time that Fang could think nothing but that Al’bert had fallen into paths of insurrection of his own. He knew Al’bert and he knew what Al’bert was capable of. Al’bert hadn’t failed. He had refused, but in a way that pointedly avoided any sort of confrontation. Fang had never known Al’bert was a coward, but now that he did, he could hardly stand to think about him. He would have to be recalled, and Sangwine would have to be killed elsewise. What he would do with Al’bert was a matter of great anxiety for Fang.

Zedwig had distanced himself from Fang since the day in the stairwell, although he was still amicable in a working fashion, but he had clearly drawn a line between himself and Fang which Fang was simply not allowed to cross. It became more and more unclear to him and to Zedwig which of them was in control of their combined subconscious, for though Fang always retained the ability to force Zedwig to comply to his wishes, he never used it, and in fact hadn’t used it since they had attacked the City of Ena. Why he hadn’t used it, he wasn’t entirely sure. There are things he would have liked to force Zedwig to do, but then again he couldn’t stand the idea of forcing him to do anything. He believed this was a side effect of love, but having no past experience to draw from, he was entirely unsure. He wondered if, when it became absolutely necessary for him to wield Zedwig’s power through force, he would be able to do it.

In the case of the war, Fang was losing his drive. He knew this to be a direct influence from Zedwig, and in one sense it irritated him to the point of anger, and in another he wanted to embrace these newfound shadows of pacifism. His empire already stretched through half the known world, and perhaps, should he end the war after this winter, he could embroil himself in the occupation of managing all of these lands. It struck him as ironic that, after his abrasive youth, he would at last settle into a life of politics and perhaps even be quite comfortable in doing so.

He wondered if he could transform Schloeffelonia into a hub of trade; a vast, diverse metropolis through which all passed as it held the position of being the thriving, beating heart of the elven empire. No longer would it be a secluded, secretive land wherein other races fear to set foot, but it would be peopled with all types, of all walks of life, and around it the great spokes and wheel that made up the rest of the empire would revolve. Fang could envision it, and then he would discuss these things expressing great animation and delight with Zedwig.

For the mage, Fang’s concepts were bizarre and radical and he could hardly imagine such a thing to function properly, let alone exist. Zedwig did, however, always listen, and it seemed, slowly, that they had fallen into old themes once left behind: He was the mentor, and Fangline was his eager student. It was even possible from time to time to forget that Fang was the cruel force he had shown himself to be in the past, as, being in Schloeffelonia, sleeping deep in the winter snows, most of Fang’s work was administrative and slow. There were afternoons spent near the large windows that stretched from floor to ceiling, when they would sit and discuss the world in the warmth of afternoon sunlight, and every day Fang seemed to fall further and further away from war, and ever closer to peace. This hope kept Zedwig going, and also his health was failing with great rapidity and he knew he wouldn’t have very long to wait.

There were many days when Fang would lean forward in his chair, rest his elbows wearily upon his knees and passionately declare his angst over Zedwig’s state, and Zedwig would listen, all the while knowing secretly to himself that should the time come that he was capable of removing himself from Fang he would take it, and even more deeply knowing the only way he could accomplish that was through death.

But while looking at Fangline and considering his form and intellect, and his education combined with his vast abilities and intense work ethic, Zedwig very often felt a deep, searing sorrow for what he might have been. Only in recent months had he begun to observe Fang changing into something new other than the basic, primal forces that once ruled him, and he knew his suspicions were right; if things had gone differently, Fang could have been the greatest king ever to rule Schloeffelonia. His ideas were brilliant, if perhaps on the overly progressive side, and he was a wealth of energy and creativity. Instead, though, and quite tragically, he would only hold the distinction of being the most terrifying king Schloeffelonia ever had, and fathers would warn their sons throughout eons of remembrance not to be like Fangline the Terrible.

Still, the long silent winter passed, untouchable, deep in snow, and filled with quiet moments they each spent in the other’s company, even blithely at times, for they were all that they possessed of value in the world.

THE END[1]



[1] Here the timeline ends just previous to page #281 in the comic, where the story continues.

Chapter 42 (of 43)

XLII

The march back to Schloeffelonia was a rapid one, as the army was anxious to get through the canyon before snow rendered it impassable. They did make it, though just by a day or two, as heavy snows nearly kept the war wagons in the possession of the mountains, and only by luck a warm afternoon stopped the grasping, cold hands of canyon snow long enough for them to escape.

The mage was never out of the sight of the overlord, who guarded him and his health with a jealous possessiveness bordering on fury that everyone quickly learned not to arouse, and it wasn’t until they finally began the descent from the mountains into the valley of Schloeffelonia that Fang became less like a coiled spring ready to strike and more composed like his former self.

The castle came into view, lovely, comforting, and conflicting. For Fang this was home, but he hated it and loved it in a way that would never come to terms with itself. Still, after a very long campaign, being home was a distinct pleasure.

It was quiet, and Fang had sent the bulk of the army away to the barracks, removed and beyond a hill from the castle proper. Regnar stayed with him, as always, walking with a large polearm like a staff, and Zedwig, feeling better than usual today, rode beside him. As the sunlight passed through the Schloeffelonian branches above him and played across his face, and as the cool alpine breeze carried with it the scent of sage, Fang felt one of the closest things to happiness than he had for a very long time, and wondered if there was something about his homeland that he did not realize he had always taken for granted. It was at this moment that things began to go wrong.

They approached the castle, and as they did, Camilla emerged, strangely, and behind her was the palace guard. All of them, Fang realized, from the looks of it. They were in the posture of guarding her zealously, and as Fang dismounted and turned his mind in an attempt to discern what exactly was going on, she approached him, her features looking very distant and cold. He couldn’t help musing over how it suited her mysterious beauty to behave like this, even as he wondered what she was about.

“You’re certainly not behaving like a prisoner,” Fang said to her.

“That’s because I’m not one,” she replied. “Not anymore.”

“Then what are you?”

“I’m in charge, actually,” she said, and then her voice filled with silken timbre and she addressed the guards who had come with Fang. “You take orders from me, now.”

Following this, the guards shifted, and began to lose coherence. “Come along, then,” she told them, and they fell in with her. Fang watched her, watched the guards, and found it all oddly bemusing.

“What do you mean to accomplish, Camilla?” he asked her.

“I mean to end this war,” she told him. “Our country was never meant to be an empire. You’re exhausting our strength with your fancies of conquest, and we will not endure it any longer.”

“And so you’re going to take control of Schloeffelonia from me with your voice?”

“I believe I already have,” she replied.

He could feel Zedwig shift; slightly brushing his arm, and Camilla regarded the mage.

“You have not,” said Fang. “Zedwig can kill all of these men before you can voice your next order.”

Her brow furrowed and she glanced at Fang.

“Come with me,” she compelled Zedwig, whose mind, it was immediately apparent, could not be shifted from its solid attachment to Fang’s.

“No Comtesse,” he told her mildly. “It is useless to try, although you’ve made an admirable effort.”

Zedwig truly did look sympathetic towards Camilla, whose face began to reflect outrage and fear.

“Will you condemn all of these men to death, and become my prisoner again?” Fang asked her. “Or will you come quietly and let them live?”

Something snapped within Camilla, and she rushed at Fang, physically attacking him in her fury.

“Curse you, Fangline!” she cried. “For what you have done to the world, to our country!”

He subdued her, held her, grasped her wrists, and she struggled in her desire to hurt him. She turned her fury onto Zedwig.

“How can you help him!” she demanded of Zedwig. “He destroys everything! There is nothing he loves!”

At this, she began to cry, and he heard Zedwig draw a breath and turned to watch him look away.

“Release them,” Fang told her.

“I want to see Al’bert again,” she said, weeping.

“Release them, Camilla.”

She cried for a moment, and then said brokenly, “You are released.” At the sound of her voice, the guards appeared startled, and they all, regaining will, tried to surmise how they had come to be in this situation. Some glared at Camilla, and some regarded her with fear.

“Regnar,” called Fang, to which the guard, looking very ashamed, approached Fang with intense penitence. “Find a deaf man who can follow instructions.”

“Yes, your worship,” he bowed, and immediately began sending guards in every direction in a flurry of compliance.

Within Fang’s grip was still Camilla, who was weakly sobbing and occasionally muttering about her brother. He considered her, and truly didn’t like her proud beauty reduced to such incoherence.

“Camilla,” he told her quietly. “Pull yourself together.”

She caught her breath twice, in the way of sad hysteria, and said, “My father will stop you.”

“No, he will not,” replied Fang, and began to pull her with him into the castle. Zedwig followed as Fang began to lecture her. “There is no possibility that your father could do anything but kill himself challenging me, and if he is a smart man, which I have faith he is, he won’t try. You, Camilla, are a Comtesse, and are behaving like an injured schoolgirl. It doesn’t become you, and your beauty and station requires far better of you.”

“You are killing our country!”

His grip tightened on her wrist as he pulled her down the cool, shaded stone hallway. “I am not. I am making it stronger!”

“If you think what you are doing is for the good of Schloefflonia, then you are a fool, Fangline!”

He stopped and faced her at this, and her back was against the corner of the hallway and an opening that led to a great, narrow, winding stairway of stone. Her eyes were full of defiance, as if she was resigned to whatever her fate might be and had lost all hesitation in speaking freely.

“To think of all the time I knew you, I could never know that you would become this. I used to think great things of you. I even loved you, Fangline, and I have never loved anyone but Al’bert! But now… how could this have happened to you? How could you be what you are? I can not stand what you are!”

“I am the most powerful man in the world,” he informed her.

“What does that matter,” she cried, looking away from his face.

He hated her condemnation and pulled her up the stairway, down another hallway, higher and higher within the castle to the top of a vastly high spinet where there was a circular room with a window. He thrust her inside, and she allowed herself to be left there in the middle of the room while he lingered at the arched doorway.

“The only reason you aren’t dead is because I once loved you, too,” he told her, and then bolted the door.

He stayed there for a long moment, flushed, his mind racing, his back to the door, and wondering why he would have said that to her. Zedwig observed him carefully, quietly, and from a sufficient distance to keep him from feeling cornered in his emotions.

“Oh depths, did I love her?” he whispered to himself and to Zedwig and to the stairwell, which wound twistedly downwards in shadow. He saw another pathway in which his life might have gone, one where he became king in the way he had been expected, and in which Camilla was his proud, beautiful queen. It seemed compellingly simpler in the way memories of times past or fantasies always appear, without the persistent nagging details and complications that are always in the present. The thought briefly shot through him to open the door and go back inside, for her. Zedwig only watched him, still with his back against the wall, his weight balanced between two steps.

“But what does it matter, now?” he sighed, his voice lacking hope. “What difference would it make?”

Zedwig shifted and raised a step, closer to him. Fang closed his eyes, feeling an agony he never knew he would, and said, “She despises me.”

He opened his eyes to find Zedwig was near and he focused upon the mage. “And you despise me, as well.”

Zedwig’s amethyst eyes shifted away, then back. “No, Fangline,” he admitted. “I don’t.”

Something hung in the air, and there was silence between them for a time.

Zedwig continued almost too quietly to hear in the silent stone stairwell. “But I once did.”

Fang reached for Zedwig with one arm, pulled him and kissed his temple softly. “Why don’t you?” he whispered, holding him near.

“It’s what I always feared, from the beginning,” said Zedwig quietly. “That, should I allow myself to get too close to you, I would grow so attached I would not be able to pull away again. I suspect…” and he paused as if searching for a way to put the vague, soft concepts of the mind into strict blocks of words. “It was the same for Camilla, or even for Al’bert. You are a compelling person, Fangline, and horrible, and brilliant… and… an enigma.”

Zedwig sighed and Fang brought his other hand to the mage’s arm. “I suspect she still loves you,” said Zedwig. “Perhaps she always will. Perhaps it is drawn up in what you are: a magnifier. Maybe that is what makes those who love you, love you to the point of morbid fascination, to their own detriment, to the detriment of those around them,” and the last he whispered, “To do things they never imagined they would.”

“She tried to take Schloeffelonia from me,” Fang objected.

“Did you not see what was on her face when she saw you, Fangline?”

He looked down into Zedwig’s face, as Zedwig was a step below him and their height was no longer equal. “I saw nothing.”

“She thrilled to see you again, I saw it plainly, and, should you have relinquished control to her, she likely would have given it back if you had asked for it.” Zedwig gripped his sleeve. “She attacked you because of her frustration, partly because she hated to lose, but partly because she wanted you, and you are wholly inaccessible to her.”

Fang stared at Zedwig. “How did you perceive all of this?”

“I- I don’t know. I just did.”

“I thought that was supposed to be my forte, and yet, here I am clueless while you noticed every nuance. Are you…” and Fang paused briefly. “Are you …?”

He merely stopped, unable to consider this sort of thing, because it scared him. “No, I can’t possibly,” said Zedwig of it.

“You’re not taking my ability… are you?”

“No, it can’t be, unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless when I draw power from you, I somehow absorb it, but it would most likely be only temporary, or a lingering effect.”

“But what if…” Fang began slowly. “You were to eventually absorb all of my ability? I would no longer be able to control you, or even use this artifact. I would be entirely at your mercy, Zedwig.”

“You would,” replied Zedwig.

Fang looked into his eyes and tried to discover what would happen, and what Zedwig would do, and in a sense, he felt as if he were already at the mercy of Zedwig. This was why he had never allowed himself to belong to anyone, ever, because he knew, somehow, if he showed any level of vulnerability to anyone that this would happen. He could hardly stand it, but at the same time he longed to be able to release Zedwig if it didn’t mean that he would lose him. Zedwig perceived all of this, it seemed, because he pulled him downward and pressed Fang’s forehead against his own.

Here, held by Zedwig, Fang could not steady his breathing, regardless of the calming sound of the mage’s voice. “I have been at your mercy for some years, now, Fangline,” he said. “You have been cruel and horrible, and I have seen and done things under your control that caused me suffering beyond anything I had ever imagined previously.” He went on, his hands touching Fang’s face gently. “I hated you, I loathed you and everything you did and made me do, but above all I wondered what I had done to deserve this abject misery and horror. My students have died; I have killed my friends, and all because of you. I have used that which I love above all other things, magic, to kill, maim, and destroy. You used me, and worse yet, you seemed to get a perverse pleasure from ruining me and seeing me do what I would never have done unless compelled by your force.” The tip of Zedwig’s nose brushed his cheek and he whispered, “You have taken everything from me, everything, and in so doing, you left me with only one thing… you. And then one day, I understood you. I knew you, and, most importantly, I knew why. And now… there is only one thing in the world that I can completely understand, and that is you.”

Fang pulled away, and Zedwig only looked into his face and continued. “But how tragic it is, Fangline. Should I have left like I did, fearing you and my attachment to you when I taught you long ago? If I had stayed, and had come to understand you completely back then, would I only delay the inevitable, or could I have changed all of this?” He pulled Fang and said as if rhetorical and begging for answers at the same time, “Could I have changed you?”

“Yes, Zedwig,” replied Fang. “You have changed me.”

“But I am too late,” said Zedwig, and the sorrow on his face grew.

Fang was struck with the sudden impulsive desire to kiss his face, because it seemed everything Zedwig said or did drew him in some way he couldn’t define. He loved him; he loved him, he realized, and it changed his soul like a tightly closed fist that opens in relief, or like a curled and shrunken dormant flower whose petals unfurl and spread at daylight, drinking thirstily from the light that shines upon it. He loved him though he had never loved his father, or his brother, or any other man he had ever known and it was a vast sea of boundless and uncharted waters; it had always been there, perhaps forever, but never realized, and it possessed a depth that surpassed any love he might have felt for Camilla, and it was impossible for him to imagine anything more consuming than the despairing urgency that he now suffered with this knowledge.

Nearly as quickly as Fang realized it, Zedwig perceived it as well, as if it were a warm, spreading hue that filtered across the colors which made Fangline, and once it had spread through him, he would never be the same. He was changed forever. Zedwig’s eyes widened and he drew back, and he caught his breath. The mage said nothing, but turned and left, descending the stairs and leaving the presence of Fang for the first time in weeks.

As for Fang, he didn’t know whether despair or exuberance was in order, he didn’t know whether he wanted to die or live, but he began to realize, at last, that power wasn’t everything and that life was possibly far more multifaceted and brilliant than he had ever suspected.

Chapter 41 (of 43)

XLI

Fang woke slowly, darkly, and thickly, like a tangible fog held him close and would rather not let him return to the world. His consciousness wavered in and out between dreams and life and he lingered for a very long time on the edge of waking, hearing that which occurred around him, but not able to muster the last bit of strength required to move or to open his eyes. He heard movement, the occasional voice of a guard, and the voices of Regnar and Zedwig intermingling: one low and staccato, the other tenor and silken, and it was this latter voice that kept Fang from drifting back into the fog, but made him fight for full consciousness.

Even so it took him some time to manage it, and by the time he opened his eyes there was no conversation at all and the world was dark and dampened with night and snow. Within his tent there was no lamp or candle lit, but in the darkness he could see Zedwig asleep above him in a chair. There was no one else within, but he heard a guard shift outside. He stared at the ceiling of his tent for a long while, thinking.

Eventually, perhaps an hour later, moving didn’t seem quite so difficult, and he rose, sitting up and regarding Zedwig’s still form on the chair. His head was resting in his palm, his hair was in disarray, and his chest rose and fell with regular solidarity. He looked tired, even while sleeping, and his position appeared to Fang to be extraordinarily uncomfortable.

Rising to his knees, he touched the arm of the chair and moved closer to Zedwig, if for nothing else, then to take advantage of the opportunity to study him in unabashed detail. In the things he had heard while sleeping, and from where he was placed, and from the bearing of all things presently, Fang intuitively concluded that it had been Zedwig who ran the empire in his absence, and this caused the overlord to wonder at him, and why he should show such loyalty to Fang when he was finally defenseless. If nothing else, he could have simply done his own work and left whatever Fang usually did to molder. But, he did not.

Fang touched Zedwig’s hair; brushing a silver lock gone astray into place in a gesture that was more affectionate than necessary and Zedwig woke with a start, his face rising from his hand and his mind instantly cognizant of his surroundings. His eyes immediately found Fang’s and he said:

“Fangline, you’re awake.”

“How long did I sleep?”

“Two days,” Zedwig replied, and Fang’s mind immediately scattered with the possibilities of how much could go wrong in two days without his guidance. Zedwig perceived his stress and put a hand on his shoulder. “We left for the canyon two days ago, as the snows have continued, though it isn’t a heavy snow… not yet. I placed a small force in the City of Ena, though I doubt there will be any rebellion, and most likely the troops will have to help rebuild rather than enforce any sort of order.” Fang looked at him and neither one of them felt like broaching the subject yet of what they had experienced during the attack. “The first day was without incident, and today, though more snow has fallen, it hasn’t grown heavy enough to stick. We should reach the canyon tomorrow. We lost another mage.” The last was almost an afterthought, a sordid afterthought Zedwig only glossed over to say it and have it done with.

Fang replied to the last, though uncharacteristically. “I’m sorry,” he said to Zedwig regarding his past student and in a consolation that held no personal accountability. Perhaps it was that Fang only believed he was doing what he must, and thus felt no remorse when others died due to his actions, but, for some reason, Fang’s conscience was scarcely pricked when it came to the things he did. He did, however, feel empathy towards Zedwig and his loss, and as he spoke the words that had always been spoken to mourners to the mage he touched his face, then slid his palm across the smooth roundness of his cheek and then, in a rush of sudden motion, they embraced.

Zedwig clung to him, and he clung to the mage equally, in frustration and unhappiness, as they were fully aware that they were two sides of a coin that could never be reconciled.

“It can never happen again,” Fang felt Zedwig whisper against his neck. “It can’t… it can’t. What have you done to me?”

He pulled Zedwig with the need for more and more of the embrace between them, and as he struggled with this, he knew they had both, through compromise, shifted from black and white to shades of gray. Zedwig made a quiet noise, and Fang pulled back, looked into his face and saw for the first time his exhaustion and his sickness had returned with furor, and he whispered, “You’re so sick…”

“Yes, and I’m going to die,” he said to Fang as simply as discussing the falling snow outside. Fang began to reply, but Zedwig stopped him gently, speaking before he could. “I need to die, Fangline. Can’t you see that we cannot both exist in this world? Combined we are far too powerful; the balance is all wrong. You were right: together there is nothing that can stand before us. We could destroy the world if we wanted, and bend it to our will. We could make everyone and everything bow before us. Our power would be great… how great it would be, but how horrible. It is wrong… it is all … wrong… and I don’t know how much longer I can force myself to stay away from it.”

Zedwig drew a trembling breath and continued, “It’s what you wanted all along, for me to see what we are capable of and to want it, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” Fang whispered.

“That’s why I have to die.”

“I won’t let you.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“I’ll find another healer.”

“I used all we found on the other mages.”

“Curse you, Zedwig!” Fang erupted, and stood, moving away. He hated Zedwig with a blind fury at this moment, and couldn’t seem to regain his breath no matter how he tried. A guard looked in at the entrance to be certain all was well inside, but quickly ducked away as surreptitiously as possible. It didn’t matter; the only thing Fang was cognizant of was his own roiling thoughts. “I will send riders in all directions to find one! You will not die, Zedwig, no matter how badly you want death, I will not allow it!”

Zedwig merely sat silently in his chair and watched Fang’s tirade with little or no reaction upon his features. “And then, when I am healed, what will occur?” he said to Fang, a calm sadness around him. “Will I never use this power again? Could you live with that? Or will the same thing that has happened over and over happen again?” He leaned forward slightly in his chair. “Could you stand near me, day after day, and never use it?”

Fang couldn’t respond, and after a long moment Zedwig said quietly, “I don’t think I could either, not now, not since…” He trailed off as if unable to discuss it. Fang’s fury was spent, and as ardency rushed in to fill the vacuum, he moved to Zedwig, lifted the mage’s hands to his face and kissed them, again and again. Then he pulled him from the chair, laid him upon his pallet, and asked him to sleep.

“I am going to discover the state of things,” he said quietly as he knelt over him. “Surely there is work enough to do until sunrise, and I’ve no more need for sleep. You, if I can manage it, will rest until we get home, and then until we procure a healer. You will not die.” His brushed Zedwig’ hairline with his fingers, and his voice broke as he said, “You can not die.”

Zedwig looked away from Fang to the space beyond him and did not reply.

Chapter 40 (of 43)

XL

Zedwig forced himself to believe that cooperating with Fang was the right thing to do. As he did so, Fang changed, and a rather large number of lives were saved. This would have given Zedwig some gratification if he could have stopped wondering if there were some way for him to remove himself entirely from Fang’s grasp. Even worse, he began to wonder if he could ever be removed entirely from Fang’s grasp, artifact or not.

It had been two years that he had been compelled by Fang, during which time he had grown accustomed to it. He never liked it, not exactly, but he knew that he was allowed to see something in Fang that very few, if any, had ever seen. It was perhaps only through consequence that he knew Fang as he did; if he hadn’t been such a rarely intuitive mage, or if Fang hadn’t been born a magnifier, none of this would ever have happened. Fang wouldn’t have conquered half of the known world using him as a weapon, and Schloeffelonia would still be whole.

He supposed Schloeffelonia was still whole, per se, but it certainly wasn’t what it once was. It stood for nothing that it once did, and had become something to fear in the world, instead of the quiet enigma it used to be.

If Fang hadn’t been the madman Zedwig was convinced he was, they very likely would have been very close lifelong friends, for how rare was the gift they had with each other and how singular it is for an individual to be entirely understood by another. As well as Fang had never experienced that sort of closeness with anyone in his life, neither had Zedwig, who had been plagued by his shyness from a young age. The anomaly was very nearly thrust upon them, but was also something they both craved once they had tasted it, and whether or not they could truly tolerate being separated was questionable, indeed.

It is true that Zedwig was miserable in his suffering and had in fact suffered beyond what nearly all mortals ever had. If it hadn’t been for that which Gaffer gave him, he would have been lost. But, strangely, despite his hatred towards the madness of the overlord actions, the appalling, disgusting nature of Fang’s lust for violence, and Fang’s vice-like grip over him, he had been Zedwig’s sole companion. As is the way of mortal suffering, there was only so long before Zedwig began to make the most of the hand he held. He hated him, he needed him, he understood him, and perceived him to be a great tragedy.

Today they rode across the plains towards the City of Ena. It was at times like this Zedwig felt he could forget the heavy burdens around this moment and merely live. The grass moved and swirled around the feet of soldiers to either side, making a light, soft noise that mixed gently with the sound of armor and distant wagons. He was aware, always aware, of Fang beside him and despite himself, preferred his proximity.

He glanced at the overlord, who perceived him and caught his eye, then rode his horse closer to Zedwig’s.

“We should be there by nightfall,” Fang told him. Zedwig gripped the reins, feeling the leather straps through his gloves. It had grown colder of late, and very soon the snows would begin to fall. Judging from the look of the sky, Zedwig suspected it might happen tonight. They would have to move quickly to get through the canyon in the west before the snows prevented all passage back to Schloeffelonia. The cold had come early, this year.

“When do you plan on attacking?” Zedwig asked.

“Immediately,” replied Fang.

Zedwig considered that, and then drew a breath.

“Fangline…”

“What is it,” said Fang, who was gazing at the horizon and didn’t look as if he wanted to hear what was coming.

“What of negotiations?”

“We sent word, and they replied poorly,” said Fang in a clipped manner, hardly explaining at all. Zedwig didn’t press that particular issue, but went on to a different tactic.

“I’ve been thinking, Fangline,” he said. “That perhaps a few fireballs in warning would be enough to initiate surrender.”

“Perhaps,” said Fang, who waxed moody.

Zedwig gripped his reigns more tightly.

The City of Ena was set on the first slopes that marked the entrance to a winding canyon that passed through the eastern mountain range, and was the largest city in the east excepting Kazaad’sandish, which was sprawling where this one was compact and all laid within a white, circular stone wall. The entire city sloped along the length of one mountain and held within it a beautiful statue that was the city’s namesake. It was of an ancient witch who had wielded fire, and hardly anyone knew the legend anymore, but they did know that the word “ena” had once meant “fire” and that the statue was regarded as a fine work of art in a world where that sort of thing was unusually rare.

As the army approached night had fallen and even a light snow had begun to fall. Zedwig watched as snowflake after snowflake fell upon Fang’s burning shoulder, to immediately melt to nothing. He wondered how little he could get away with doing, tonight.

Fang turned to him.

“It’s time to begin,” said the overlord.

“How shall we do it?” Zedwig asked, pointedly ignoring the fact that “it” involved blowing things up.

Fang shifted his weight, appearing conflicted, and moved closer to Zedwig, as in the manner of private confidence.

“I wonder, Zedwig,” he said to him alone. “Will this be our last battle?”

“Perhaps,” Zedwig replied, disallowing any emotion to enter his voice. He should not feel any regret over this part of his life coming to an end and in fact he badly hoped this was his last battle, hoped for it dearly, but the destructive magic was not without its effects, and one of those was the surface pleasure he received from wielding such great power in conjunction with Fang. He knew this was prevalent on Fang’s mind as he came to stand very near him and faced the city.

“Let’s begin with a few,” he said. “Call the other mages.”

Zedwig did as he was ordered, and began drawing magic, drawing only modestly from Fang for he loathed the part of himself that enjoyed it. He could feel Fang waiting in anticipation for more, but he wouldn’t do it; not now, and partly because he didn’t want to admit to himself he wanted it. The other mages came to form a double line of wide spaces behind them, although there were not many left, and in fact there were less than ten. Zedwig ordered them in his mind and they stood ready, absorbing the magic around them, each emptying the life force of the space he occupied, and drawing from other unknowing wells, such as the soldiers, or the earth. Their absorption was wan and faint, though, compared to his mastery over the forces around him, like a group of violin students might play the scarcely melodious sound of a child compared to the master, who sounds the bow across the strings with a confident, resonant vibration.

He became one with the forces around him again, a feeling which helped him forget and which gave him serenity in a sense. All time slipped away, and so did objects and details, as he became fully focused and allowed his senses to rule him. Beside him Fang shifted, a flaming torch of force, and he could feel him brush physically against him, but only once, which caused Zedwig to desire for his return and for so much power to be closer and more immediate. The space between them became a gulf, though it was only inches, and Fang sensed his longing and, like feedback or an endless loop, it fed on itself between them until he was touching him again though neither could tell which of them had made it happen. It simply was, inevitably, and as he felt Fang beside him the raw power which coursed within him made him see differently; the white wall surrounding the city before him was laced with light and power and red which clouded his sight, threatening to surrender to the rest of his senses, the last of which being a sixth sense overwhelming all others and craving access to more and more power. He fought for coherence.

“Where shall I aim?” he asked Fang, and although his voice broke and his breath was short, he was relieved he’d managed to speak the words. He heard Fang’s staggered breath beside him and a light, cool sheen of sweat broke out on the mage’s forehead. Fang’s hand came to his shoulder; it slid across his chest until his arm was wound around his shoulders like a serpent. It was an embrace, of sorts, both one of control, and one of weakness, for though while touching him like this Zedwig grew more and more intoxicated with his power, it also held the overlord upright, because as Zedwig grew in power, Fang weakened. His physical weight bore upon him, although Zedwig could have borne three times as much at this moment.

There was a long moment before Fang replied, where the only thing that was prevalent was Zedwig’s breathing and his. The magic between them shifted, glowed, turned, and then began to oscillate as it reached a harmonious plateau; it was some sort of perfect and resonant state between them, and though Zedwig was only lost in it now, he would come to regard this single moment with wonder and curiosity for the rest of his life.

“The statue,” whispered Fang, and as he did, the harmony between them dissipated instantly, slipping into disorder and wild array.

“No, Fangline.”

“Yes, strike at the heart,” he whispered into his ear.

“Fangline!”

Fang grew in power beside him, perhaps fueled by his rebellious spirit, although Zedwig would never know just what it was that gave Fang such intensity. Zedwig was determined to make an argument of it, though.

“It is priceless, Fangline, it cannot be replaced,” he whispered quickly. “Please...”

“How powerful we are to destroy it,” whispered Fang against his ear. “To destroy something held dear by so many, it is more than taking a life, isn’t it? It is taking the past and the future, forcing what would be into what we want.”

He sensed Fang moving towards the threshold of no longer asking Zedwig to comply with his desires, but forcing him to do it, and fear began to float around him, buoyed by the power that engulfed them both.

“Don’t make me do it,” he whispered, pleading.

“But I want to,” was Fang’s ardent reply, both to himself and to Zedwig, and he lingered upon that razor’s edge between cooperation and compulsion for a long, agonizing moment in which Zedwig held his breath and the world was empty save for that one point in time and space. And then he began to slip across it, to cross it until there was no turning back and it could not be stopped, and as he did, his lips moved against Zedwig’s ear and he sighed existentially, “What are we?”

But Zedwig hardly heard the words as he began to madly suck the power from within Fangline without conscience or inhibition into himself. He wished to drain him, to take every mote of strength from him, and most of all, he wanted to destroy, beginning with the statue of Ena. Fangline moaned beside him from both weakness and joy, his pleasure only heightened by the greatness of Zedwig’s destructive power, and he wielded the power masterfully, drawing it into great passionate arcs which could take any number of lives and destroy any number of dreams at will. He drew more and more power, greater than he had ever conceived of holding at once and clutched Fangline to him with only his power and will. They became one; not harmoniously as before, but through force and like a great screaming river, and as Zedwig went further into the depths of the power, he sought an end that he began to sense was there, though he didn’t know what it could be.

He was distantly conscious of his physical body, and heard a full, shifting breath drawn by himself. The sound was compelling and soothing, like the rush of water in a cool stream, but the rest of his consciousness was elsewhere, riding upon a symphony of power he wrote entirely with his own brilliance.

He began to see it; and to describe what “it” was might be impossible, but it was that power that governs the universe, that binds matter, that turns seasons, that moves the smallest blade of grass in the wind and the greatest, swirling galaxies in a sublime, ticking clockwork of fitted gears and perfect cogs. It was sensual; but sex and sensuality were only the beginning, tiny playthings easily misunderstood and poorly used in the hands of children, but the power was bound up in it or it was bound up within the power, and with it was the power over life and death, and he realized it was outside of those things, and more, so incomprehensibly more that these mortal powers he possessed were only tiny pieces and parts of a great river. His mind strained at the seams trying to grasp it and as his power threatened to slip away from him, he drew back with a gasp, holding it, and no longer searching for more.

He felt Fangline beside him and relished the sensuality of his own mortality, then he tore the power from the universe, binding it, compelled to make it his own as Fangline and the earring he wore clutched him and his wild power within the overlord’s will. Zedwig was aware, so acutely aware of everything around him, that even the smallest noise that escaped Fangline was not outside his notice, nor the hand that grasped his coat against his side, and as he formed the great fireball that would change time and destroy the greatest treasure that lay within the City of Ena, he groaned within himself for the pleasure of life.

Not very long afterward, he and the mages had very nearly burned the city to the ground. Mostly it had been Fang’s wishes, but Fang had grown very weak by the end, and Zedwig had taken control entirely of the attack. His intoxication and compulsion had kept him going far longer than he should have, and this time he had used more power than at any time in his life, and in fact, far more than he should have been able to physically bear. At the last, Ena stood in flames, and Fang fell to the ground beside Zedwig, unconscious and spent.

“Regnar!” called Zedwig, and the guard came to him within moments. “Take him and keep him somewhere safe.”

“Is he dead?” asked Regnar, looking as dense as he usually did, and Zedwig wondered if it was his humanity that made him seem dense to the elf, or if he really was.

“No, he isn’t dead,” Zedwig replied patiently. “He needs rest; that is all.”

Regnar called to a few of the other human soldiers, and they lifted Fang from the ground and carried him away. Regnar returned to Zedwig, looking flummoxed.

“So now what do we do?” he asked Zedwig, confused over how to proceed with the occupation of the city without his overlord to command him.

“Find someone else to do it. A spokesman for Fangline,” he said. “It doesn’t matter who it is, for I’ll be right there beside him.”

As he watched Regnar go in search of a “mouth” for Fang, Zedwig knew that he could never come into full cooperation with Fang, for they were not only too powerful while combined to exist in this world, but he could no longer trust Fang to stay his hand. Somewhere deep inside himself, he also knew he couldn’t trust himself to leave it alone: not anymore. Even now his body thrilled with the lingering motes of what they had done, and how terrible had it been! He knew he would pay sorely for it later, and he feared his suffering would go far beyond the physical realm. Above all, though, Zedwig was tired, abysmally tired, but he had a job to do and once it was done, he would be free to die.

Chapter 39 (of 43)

XXXIX

It had been as if nothing happened at all. It was as if Zedwig didn’t remember, or pretended not to remember, or desired not to remember, and any of the three Fang felt like a splinter in his bones. The mage had lost consciousness at some point during the time within the mist, and hadn’t regained it for nearly two weeks, during which time Fang feared the anxiety he felt would wring him tightly as a rope towards his own death. Sometimes he thought death would be better than lingering on the edge of not knowing whether Zedwig would wake or not. At least then it would be dark, and he imagined it would be cool as a stone in the morning and vacuous: missing the harried things that had tormented him for all of his years. He did long for it at times, but there was no one to tell that to, and besides, he was helplessly addicted to the thrill and life he found in certain things.

He stood tonight with his hands resting upon a map on a small table within his tent. His posture was rigid, and his gaze was distant, as his thoughts were consuming him beyond his control. Two guards stood nearby, but in an innocuous manner that would not draw the overlord’s attention. He was clearly disturbed, and everyone with any experience knew how the mood of Fang could turn into a slicing blade on a moment’s notice. Naturally, the interior of Fang’s tent was thick with tension, and it was into this atmosphere that Zedwig entered, neat and collected.

Zedwig’s bearing was neither hostile, as he had just been after waking from the healing by Al’bert’s healer, nor was it overly familiar. There was a polished wall there, but also an open-ness he hadn’t allowed Fang since he had taken the mage under his control. Fang straightened as Zedwig approached, and said nothing as he acutely attempted to sense where all things stood at this particular moment. Zedwig came to the opposite side of the small table, and as he did, Fang could see he still looked tired in a lingering way that gave him a certain look that brought to mind perfect beauty driven slightly past the edge. He wondered if the healer hadn’t been strong enough to fully restore Zedwig this time, or if he simply had reached the point where full restoration was no longer possible.

Zedwig’s eyes rose to look at him very directly, amethyst… always amethyst. Fang could barely stand how he loved, hated, and feared them, and at the root of it all, he knew despairingly that he could not live without them.

“What are we to plan, Fangline?” he asked him in a way that seemed resigned but efficient.

Fang poured his attention into the map below him and concentrated on losing himself in that which he loved second-best, because it was certainly not all bad, and really quite thrilling. He placed an index finger squarely upon the canyon some miles north of Schloeffelonia.

“There is nothing above us but wasteland until we should reach some simple human cities in the far north, and so I would like to pass through this canyon instead and begin working on the east.”

“Kazaad’sandish?” asked Zedwig.

“Perhaps we’ll get that far this year,” Fang replied. “Perhaps not.” And after saying this, he regarded Zedwig thoughtfully as they both knew it mostly depended on the mage’s health. His eyes left Zedwig, and he shifted his finger across the thick paper of the map to a city in the east. “I would at least like to make it to the City of Ena before the snows come.”

Zedwig drew a breath, and Fang knew he was shifting, oscillating between and collection and disarray. He leaned onto the map, where his loose fist covered the city beneath his hand, leaned towards Zedwig, and used all of his capacity to calm him with his presence. He gazed at him, and then did something he never had before.

“Do you have any suggestions?”

Zedwig was wholly surprised to hear this question from Fang, but Fang noted that physically he hid it well as it was only apparent through a glance and a change in his brow, however hiding it was all for naught as they were both aware of the array of emotion either one of them might be experiencing at any moment. Still, lifelong habits continued regardless of their combined intuition, and even so they were capable of surprising each other.

“Yes,” said Zedwig experimentally, as if his utterance could possibly bring out a sudden backlash, but it didn’t, and Fang simply watched him as his weight shifted slightly beside the map. Seeing the way was free, Zedwig’s finger fell to the east side of the canyon, where a very small town was nestled. “It is not necessary to do anything here, as long as they are docile. This town means nothing, and at the very most we should only gather supplies from them.” He moved his finger lightly across the few towns in the plains between the mountains and the range that hosted the City of Ena. “These are likewise. Easily we can bring them into the empire without any manner of violence.”

Fang moved a little, his tolerance waning, but Zedwig continued, pretending not to notice. “Perhaps the City, well-walled as it is, will require some work, however,” and his finger moved to the City of Ena, where Fang’s heavy hand still lay. “I don’t believe burning it to the ground is in our best interest, for what is destroyed has to be rebuilt.” He glanced up at Fang in the way of testing heated waters.

Fang himself was a study in painful conflict, as he found it extremely difficult to relinquish control of even the smallest matters in the course of his campaign. It was his, entirely his, and he delighted in it, and the greatness of his power gave him the release he had craved for so many years. But if he were to give in to Zedwig, there was the possibility for something that he had never had which was so compelling and terrifying that at any given moment he might cast it away like a scalding rock or clutch it to him with desperate need. Because, if he were to give in to Zedwig, it meant only one thing; he would be giving Zedwig power, not only power within the campaign, but a power over him so great and overwhelming to consider that it caused the deepest, most inner workings of him to tremble with the possibility of being wounded. Trust was foreign to Fang, and finding the means within him to rest in that invisible net of faith seemed a nearly impossible task for the overlord.

But as he feared this from Zedwig, he feared the loss of him even more and that particular thought brought out in him a searing, red spike of anxiety that seemed to eclipse everything and anything else. He moved his hand away from the city upon the map so that Zedwig’s delicate finger could mark it and he could feel Zedwig consciously sensing his conflict and responding… with comfort. It was nearly more than Fang could bear, and he could not look at him.

“We will see,” he replied in a clipped manner that indicated the ending of discussion.

But it did change, something did, anyway, and as they marched eastward the army and those involved with the campaign from the beginning marked it with a quiet curiosity, for, though no one dared to ask Fang directly why there were changes, everyone noticed there was a distinct, although not total, lack of violence, and a greater bounty of negotiation.

It was also possible for even the most casual observer to note that Zedwig, although he had always been the constant companion of Fang, became such in a more equal way, and there was much backroom theorizing among those who watched on why or how this could be. That Zedwig was still a slave to Fang was not a question; the overlord continued to order the mage, although perhaps with less force and without the flaming temper that once possessed him, but the overlord and the mage were often in consultation with each other, and it seemed, although it was hard for nearly everyone to imagine this to be so, that the overlord listened to the mage and even obeyed his wishes from time to time.

As it was the army of the empire of Schloeffelonia marched across the plains east of the mountains like a great dark cloak, and even though they did not burn all that they came to, the spreading infamy of their past caused most to surrender without pause. The others, the larger towns, would sometimes negotiate, but all laid down before them eventually as there was no other choice, and at these meetings of negotiation, Fang, Overlord of Darkness would sweep into the room as menacing as a cruel shadow, but beside him was always the mage, whose gentle countenance brought to many who faced them a measure of hope.

It was true that Fang became tempered by Zedwig, once he allowed himself to be, and on occasion he wondered if he was losing his edge to the mage. It was directly after one of these negotiations that he stood with him and watched the relieved and sorrowful humans leave: relieved for their lives, and sorrowful for their loss of independence. As the guards around them began relaxing and moving onto the next topic with the chink of weapons and the low murmur of male voices, Fang looked over at Zedwig, who always had a sense of regret about him, even long ago when he first came to know him well at the palace, and now was no exception to the rule. He never asked the mage what could be wrong; he had always known it was him that was wrong, the confrontation of which made a certain rebellious fury rise in him that he didn’t want to pursue right now, but still, at this moment, he badly wanted to ask for the normal way it felt to simply inquire after another’s well-being. He touched Zedwig’s arm.

“What is it?” he whispered to Zedwig, whose attention immediately shifted to Fang, although the regret on his features lingered. Zedwig looked at him wearily and did not deign to respond, although it wasn’t haughtiness that caused his silence, but conflict over how much to say. “Do you need another healer?” he asked him, but regretted it instantly, for Zedwig began to withdraw, looking pained.

“Zedwig,” he said to him as he stepped away, and then, feeling very conscientious of an eavesdropping guard nearby, he drew himself up and began again. “Mage Zedwig,” he said, forcefully. Zedwig stopped immediately, although Fang hadn’t compelled him to do it, at least not with the artifact he possessed.

“Could we speak elsewhere, Overlord?” replied Zedwig, giving all respect and behaving perfectly distant for the subject of an overlord. Fang replied in kind, ordering the eavesdropping guard to escort Zedwig to his tents as he finished his lingering business. The guard’s eyebrows only rose slightly, but it was enough to cause Fang to sigh with exasperation as he turned away. He made a mental note to have that one put on the front lines.

It was later, far too much later, that he came at last to his own quarters, for much of Fang’s time was occupied by others who needed his words on a myriad of small details, all of which seemed to compound on each other and multiply unless immediately tended to. He thrived on it, in a way, and was certain this was what he was meant to do, and there was something within him that prevented him from relinquishing even the smallest parts of the campaign to anyone else. He worked tirelessly, and this was because he loved what he did.

Within, Zedwig had several of his students around him, and it appeared that he was instructing them, although in what sort of field, Fang couldn’t fathom. They looked weary, some more than others, and Fang made a mental note to form a committee to research the best way to heal this particular ailment brought on by destructive magic.

Zedwig noticed his presence immediately and sent his students away. They loathed him, Fang was aware, but he saw them as weak, and began to form the idea of Zedwig training a legion of mages as powerful as himself. Well, not quite as powerful, but close, and faithful to him and the empire. Within Fang’s mind the possibility occurred to him that perhaps it was better for the old mages to die, so they could be replaced with ones who did not remember what once was.

“What are you teaching them?” asked Fang as the last of the students glowered by and left via the slit that marked the tent entrance.

“We are working on ways to use destructive magic without killing ourselves,” the mage replied.

“How is that coming along?”

“Poorly.”

Fang made a quiet, noncommittal noise and sat on a chair near Zedwig’s own.

“And you thought you would simply have class in the middle of my tents?” Fang asked Zedwig, not actually reprimanding him, but finding humor in it. There was no humor in Zedwig, though, because he had just been faced with his dying students that he could not help, and there were few things in the world that made him more depressed. In fact, Fang’s humor came off wildly tasteless, and the overlord coughed uncomfortably.

Fang stood, and Zedwig followed suit.

“I have to teach them when I can,” said Zedwig from behind Fang as the overlord removed his cloak and began folding it in his singularly compulsive manner.

“Of course.”

There was a pause.

“What did you want to talk to me about?” Fang asked finally, placing his cloak on a small table and turning to face Zedwig.

“The war,” was the immediate reply.

“What of the war?” rejoined Fang, making what he hoped would appear to be a patient face.

“I would like for you to end it.”

This wasn’t altogether what Fang wanted to hear, nor what he had expected from Zedwig, although he knew the mage had never liked the war at all, and in fact loathed it. Still, one simply doesn’t walk into an overlord’s tent and tell him to stop conquering things. It even made him laugh a little.

“End it? But it is going so well, Zedwig. At this rate we’ll own the world in a few years. Do you think the world would be better off under one government, or separated into tiny groups, struggling for existence?”

“We both know the reason you are doing this is not to bring happiness to the world, Fangline.”

Fang paused, and then admitted, “I enjoy conquest.”

“I believe that would be putting it mildly.”

“Why would I end it?”

“Because it is wrong.”

Wrong?” asked Fang incredulously, and his temper began to bother him. “And who are you to define what is right and wrong?”

“I am nothing, but I do know it is wrong,” said Zedwig, too mildly. It irritated Fang and he turned aside as Zedwig approached him further. “It is not the case of my standard elven upbringing that I am averse to what you are doing. It isn’t cultural. It is the result of my conscience, and within it I know that the taking of lives and livelihoods at will is entirely, if not damnably, wrong.”

“What are you trying to imply about me, Zedwig?”

“I don’t know,” he replied.

“That I am damned?” he demanded further, pressing the mage.

“I … don’t know what you are.”

“If I am, wasn’t I from the beginning?”

“No, of course not…”

“I was born who I was, wasn’t I?” Fang asked of Zedwig, feeling a familiar flash of anger and frustration. “You knew me; I was never right. I was always the vine that, somehow, grew twisted and in the wrong direction. That’s because this is what I am, Zedwig. I excel at it. I am brilliant at what I do, and you know this. Why would I have been made like this if I wasn’t meant to do it?”

Zedwig only stood and allowed his brow to darken as he gave Fang a look of intense consternation. It forced Fang’s mind to begin to work, which irritated Fang further, but he let it go on. It was true, and they both knew it; Fang was a brilliant conqueror, and one who seemed to never lack for energy or intellect. If there were anyone in the world who could be meant for this, it would have been him. However, even standing before him was a force within Zedwig that seemed to be coaxing him into realizing that this was perhaps not the only fate he could pursue. Perhaps temperance had its merits. Perhaps wanton destruction, though wholly and addictively cathartic, could be milder and rounded into a more intricate and compromising tool. Perhaps the world he had always hated and sought to escape and the one he wanted to mold with his own will could come to terms.

He stood, meeting Zedwig’s gaze and wondering how much of this was his own thoughts, and how much Zedwig was putting into his mind. He wanted to be angry, furious about it, if only he didn’t like Zedwig’s attention focused so intently upon him. His breath grew short with compromise.

“Perhaps,” he began slowly, and watched Zedwig’s countenance begin to change as the mage sensed the words Fang would say as they were being formed in his mind. He looked grateful, relieved, and exhausted, and Fang said the words aloud anyway, but very quietly and only for Zedwig, and though the words themselves were distant and efficient, they were laced with a deeper meaning indicating parley and even surrender. “We will continue to the City of Ena, then adjourn for a season.” After a pause, he continued softly. “And then we will re-evaluate.”