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A Sealed Heart

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"Duane!" Sette yelled at Duane as he stumbled, but it made no difference. Duane still fell forward headlong. Sette ducked under him and caught him, straining her arms upward against his chest. "Duane, get up! Attack zombies don't just fall over, and you're... Well, you're kinda light but it's still a pain in me arse to hold you up like this so stand the fuck up you..."

Duane shook and grabbed onto Sette's wrists. Sette's eyes widened, and for a moment she thought that he was going to latch onto her and take a bite out of her shoulder. Instead he pushed himself upright. He was still bent forward, hand on his forehead, but he was standing on his own two legs.

"I'm... I'm sorry. It's the pymary. It's getting to me more and more. I thought that I had hidden my organs, that I had buried them deep enough and far enough that they would never be found. Apparently I was wrong." Duane winced. His face was a greenish grey; his glamour had waned ever since the charm had begun. "I should have destroyed them. I should have burned them."

"Ya kept your spleen? In a jar or somethin'?" Sette looked up at Duane. "That's right weird."

"It..." Duane put his hand to his mouth and shuddered. "It made sense at the time. Organs have power. Even the shriveled, rotting things that were once a part of my body. So long as they existed, I could use them for spells, like pymaric triangulation."

"Ya keep yakking and all I hear is gross." Sette looked away from him. "Can ya use those spells of yers to find out where they are?"

Duane shook his head. "Their commands are interfering with me. I can't do anything right now. I can hardly think." He scowled. "I'll find out where they are soon enough, though. They're calling me. I don't think that I can resist much longer."

Sette stomped her foot on the floor, and clenched her fists at her sides. "You aren't. You're my attack zombie. You'd better fight it or I'm gonna be pissed."

Duane put his hand on Sette's shoulder, and Sette jumped a bit. "I'll fight it, believe me. I'm not sure that I have the strength to resist, though." His eyes grew hard. "Sette, if I start walking off, leave me. Go back to your father. I don't want you following me."

Sette snarled and looked off into the distance. It was such a stupid thing for him to say. As if she'd just abandon him! She was a Frummagem, and Frummagems didn't lose nothing to nobody. There was no chance she was just going to let some unimportant zombie thief take what was hers.

"Sette, I mean it. Whoever is doing this must be a powerful wright. Please, Sette," Duane begged her. It was pathetic. A zombie shouldn't beg from anyone.

Sette turned to him and practically shouted in his face. "You think I'm a coward? You think I'll let some shit-skinned wright scare me away from what's mine? You're a fucking plod! You do what I says, not the other way round!"

Duane sighed. "I won't be able to stop you. You're probably going to follow me no matter what I say." He reached up and pressed his thumb to Sette's cheek, and wiped away a drop of water that had somehow appeared there. "I'll ask you, though, please be safe."

Sette found herself looking into his face. His eyes were set back into his skull, although she could still make out the green of his irises. He had a bandage wrapped around the remnants of his nose. His skin was warped and leathery, with stitches and staples holding it together in places. Sette had never seen him this close before, not even with his glamour.

He was ugly as fuck. He was even more broken down than most of the plods that she had seen. When plods got so old that they couldn't do their job anymore, not the way that they ought to be able to, they were retired. People buried them back down under the ground, sometimes still animated, and they would just sit there, eyes still open, until they rotted away. Duane looked years past retirement. There was something cool about him, though. With all the scars and cuts and stitching, he was the most zombie zombie that Sette had ever seen. "That's my attack zombie," she whispered, under he breath, so quietly that even as close as he was, there was no way that he could hear it.

Honestly, he would have been perfect if it weren't for those stupid sad eyes. They ruined the whole image.

They spent the next two days ignoring the situation, although Sette could tell that it was draining Duane. They continued traveling, as they always did, although Sette was noticeably quieter than usual. Then, on the third night, Duane stood and started to wander off.

Sette was a light sleeper. Where she came from, you were either a light sleeper or you were dead. Even so, she almost missed Duane leaving. He was out of the little clearing before he rustled the bush that woke her up. If it weren't for the smell of alien pymary on him, she probably would have lost him then. Instead, she followed the scent of putrid farts until she caught up with him again.

She walked quietly behind him for a bit, hands on her head, scuffing the ground with her feet. For a while, she played a game where she wandered around him in circles, examining him from different angles. She walked backwards, looking at his face, or trying to at least. It was hidden deep under his hood, so that all she could see was his chin sticking out. The rest of his body looked normal, except that he wasn't carrying a walking stick, so he was hunched forward distressingly.

She had hoped that when she had caught up to him, he would say something. She wanted him to scold her, to tell her to go back and abandon him. If he did, she would have been able to start a fight, and it would at least have kept her entertained. It was awkward, walking along in silence. She tried to think of of something to talk about, but her brain just kept coming back to Duane's organs. "The snake didn't eat your spleen, right? Then it would be gone and they couldn't hook you by it."

Duane walked a couple more steps, then he raised his head from the ground. "The snake is still a metaphor, Sette."

"Then what happened to 'em? Didn't ya say they fell out?" Sette stopped for a minute and stuck out her tongue. "Blegh! Don't tell me ya pooped 'em..."

"Not exactly. It had gotten to the point where my veins, my esophagus, all the things that connected my organs together had shriveled up and fallen apart. My organs had embalmed themselves in my own fluids. They were floating around in my abdominal cavity." Duane took a few more halting steps forward. He seemed to slow down whenever he was talking. Maybe it was because talking distracted him from the spell, or maybe it was because he felt more himself when he was yakking away. "You can't know how it feels to have your heart sloshing around inside you every time you take a step, to feel your intestines coil inside you like a dead snake. One day, I tired of it. I took a knife and sliced open my stomach. Rotting liquids poured out of me, and so did my organs. Then I sewed myself up, cleaned them off, put them in preserving fluid and hid them away."

"Oh. Gross."

Duane thought for a moment. "Yes, I suppose it is. I don't know why I told you that. This spell is clouding my judgement. It's getting harder and harder to think. All the spells I've set up to help me stay in control, all of them are fading." He grimaced, tensed his muscles. He clenched his teeth together and planted his feet on the ground. For just a moment, he stopped walking altogether. "Sette, it's getting harder for me to maintain control. Even something as simple as this takes all my effort. I don't think I'll be able to maintain control of my mind for much longer. I know that for some reason, god knows why, you've decided to see this through. Just, please, be careful. I've had to work very hard not to hurt anybody, not to hurt you. I might not be able to stop myself, once this spell has worn away my mind."

"You've never hurt me 'afore. Ya never hurt anyone 'afore, even when I ordered you to." Sette slapped him on the back. "You're a shitty attack zombie, ya wouldn't take a bite out of me if I were bleedin' all over you."

"Maybe not, but I may not be myself for much longer." Duane started walking again.

Sette didn't have anything to say to that. She followed along after him, trying to think of something else to say that would make Duane slow down, but for hours they traveled in silence.

It was like this for days. They walked during the night. During the day Duane collapsed on the ground and Sette would try to get as much sleep as she could. Then night would come and they would start walking again. They would talk for a while, and then fall silent, and then talk again. Sette noticed that his answers were shorter. His long sprawling sentences shortened until he was giving one word answers. Sette wished that he had been this terse before all this had started. On the other hand, now that he was under the influence of evil pymary, she knew that it was not a good sign.

Sette found herself filling the silence by herself. She walked along in front of him, hands on her head, walking backwards, telling stories. She had a lot of stories.

It was approaching morning, and she was just getting to the middle of one. "Then Da punched him right in the mouth, pow! He stood over the bastard and said, 'I won't have anyone being inhospitable to my guests.' And the man was all, 'Well, you was gonna kill him anyway.' Da just smiled this smile he gots, ya know, one where he's like a wolf that's gonna eat you but 's a really polite wolf so he's gonna eat ya slow, and he says, umm, he says, 'As may be, but that's no reason to be inhospitable. Now sit back in your chair, finish your dinner, and afterwards we're going to have two visitors to the dungeon.'"

Sette glanced at Duane to see if he was listening, but Duane seemed to be lost in thought, his face buried under his hood, his eyes locked on the grass at his feet. It was hard to tell, he had looked like this for most of the last day, but Sette was fairly sure that he wasn't hearing a word she said.

She punched Duane in the chest. "Stoopid zombie, listen to what I'm saying!"

"Ouch," Duane said, although his heart clearly wasn't in it. He turned to Sette. "That was unnecessary."

"Ya weren't listening!"

"My mind was on other things."

Sette scowled. "Nothin's more important than me stories."

Duane let out a sigh. "I was thinking about you, Sette."

"Oh. I guess that's okay, then."

"I'm going to be gone soon. I know... well, I hope that you can take care of yourself."

Sette grinned up at him. "Damn right I ca-"

She cut off as she tripped over a root and fell backward onto her ass. She went back to scowling again as she rubbed her bottom.

Duane grabbed her hand and pulled her up as he walked past. He looked down at her and held her hand tight. "I thought that I had made my peace with death. There are things that I would leave unfinished, but that is the way of the world. Now, though..." He squeezed Sette's hand. "I had forgotten what it was like to have a family. I've never had a daughter, nor a son. Sette... In a way, despite all of your insanity, I love you."

Sette gaped up at Duane. She opened and closed her mouth a couple of times. "I knew it. I knew it! You are a child lover!"

"No, Sette, you misunderstand what I'm saying."

Sette ignored him and pulled her hand out of his. Then she pulled her shirt over her head.

"Sette, what are you doing? This is-" Duane cut off as Sette grabbed his hand and placed it on what there was of her little breast. "Sette!"

Sette pressed Duane's fingers against her nipple. His fingers were cold and rough, like dried leather. "Da says that sometimes ya have to bargain to get what you need. I ain't about to lose my attack zombie, so I'll make you a deal. Since you're a child lover, I'll let you do whatever you want with me body." Sette thought for a moment. "Well, except take a bite of me, and you're no good at that anyway."

"Sette, I'm not going to... to take advantage of you."

"I'll even let you put your thing in me. Well, if it's not too rotten. And if you've still got one."

"Sette!" Duane jerked his hand away from Sette's chest, pulling her arm with it. He wrenched it free.

"Ow!" Sette pulled back her wrist and rubbed it with her other hand. "What'd you do that for?"

Duane grabbed Sette's shoulders and looked down into her eyes. "Sette, I am not going to touch you. I love you like a father loves a daughter." He paused. "An extraordinarily troublesome daughter."

"I don't need another da! I've already got one. I need my attack zombie!"

"Not like a father, then. But I'm not going to take advantage of you. And I'm going to fight as hard as I can to stay with you. Believe me."

Before Sette could answer, Duane pulled her to him and wrapped her in his arms. Sette's first instinct was to push away from him, but instead she forced herself to reach her arms around him as far as they would go. She relaxed, let him hold her. He wasn't warm; his body didn't give off any heat, and also he smelled like rotten eggs. But it was comfortable, being held in his arms.

When Sette had gotten her fill of sappy bullshit, she pulled away from Duane. At least, she tried to. Duane still held her tight. "Um, Duane? Could you let me go?"

Duane didn't move. He was as still as a statue.

Sette started pounding on his back with her fists. "Duane, let me go! That's an order! If you don't let me go I'll have ya tortured for treason!"

Duane began to move, but it wasn't to unwrap his arms from around her. Instead he toppled sidewards, taking Sette with him.

"Let me goooooooooooo-" They hit the ground, and Sette had the wind knocked out of her. "Oof!"

The dawn sun chose that moment to crest the trees, bathing them in a syrupy golden light. Sette smacked Duane in the side a couple more times, just in case, but he was already down for the day. There was nothing left to do but get comfortable and try to sleep. She squirmed in vain to move her thigh off a jagged rock. Eventually she gave up and closed her eyes, and she fell asleep in an instant.

When she awoke, Duane was already unwrapping his arms from around her. She sat up and rubbed first her eyes and then her leg. She watched petulantly as he started wandering off toward the tree line.

"What, ya couldn't wait for me?" Sette complained.

At the sound of her voice, Duane turned to face her. Her veins turned to ice and she froze there, unmoving. He stared at her, and in that stare there was no trace of Duane. There was just a hungry scavenger, impatient for something to devour.

He lost interest quickly and turned back to his path. Sette pulled on her shirt as quickly as she could. She stood to follow him, but this time she stayed back a ways, trailing him just out of his sight. She moved from bush to bush, peeking at him from between the leaves.

It took her the whole morning to make her decision. By that point she was sure that Duane wasn't coming back, that this thing had completely taken his place. As much as she berated him, Sette didn't just want an attack zombie, she wanted Duane.

She would settle, though, if she had to. She reached up to her neck and pulled out the pendant that hung there. The red liquid still sloshed around inside it. Then she crept up close to Duane, as close as she dared, and spoke. "Hey!"

Duane turned, and once again Sette was met with that indifferent hunger. She held up the amulet, the glass vial filled with liquid. The liquid began to glow, and Duane's eyes fixed on it. He stared at it, and something seemed to awaken within him.

It wasn't Duane. Whatever bubbled up was something dark and angry. Duane's eyes narrowed, his mouth curved into a snarl, and he began advancing toward Sette. As he moved closer, Sette's hand began to shake. She couldn't back down, though. She wasn't a coward

She stood her ground. "S-stop." She barely managed to get the word out of her mouth. It was quiet, so quiet that even she could barely hear it.

Even so, for a moment Duane stopped. It was only for a moment, though. He let out a low growl and took another step forward.

Sette took a deep breath. She was a Frummagem, and she had to act like one. You wouldn't hear her da stuttering while giving orders. "Stop. Don't come any closer."

This time, Duane stopped. He snarled in frustration, then he barked at her. It took all of her effort not to take a step back. Somehow she knew that if she wavered, he would tear her apart. She stood still, staring up into his eyes, those green eyes. Her legs were starting to get sore, and her face itched, but she just kept holding the vial out in front of her.

There was a rustling sound from the trees, and before she knew what was happening, Duane turned and sprinted toward them. It was much faster than she would have imagined that he could move. In an instant, he leapt into the bushes and dragged out a struggling deer. It kicked and fought, but Duane held onto it as easily as if it were already corpse.

When he started tearing into it, it was still alive and twitching. Sette watched in horror as he tore free muscles and organs, leaving blood and viscera splattered on the ground. She watched as he began to gnaw on its insides. She watched as he tore its intestines open with his teeth. Finally, as he swallowed torn up fragments of the deers heart, she tucked the amulet back under her shirt.

Fortunately, it seemed that Duane had completely lost interest in her. Once he finished eating everything he could, leaving it a bloody mess of bones and skin, he stood and began shambling away again. Sette collected herself as well as she could, then she followed along behind at a safe distance. She wasn't going to try using the amulet again. Now that he was under someone else's control, it had a strange effect on him. She wasn't sure she would be able to control him the next time.

She followed him for five more days, trailing behind him in the treetops and creeping along behind him in the shadows. She would sleep when he collapsed in the morning and wake up at night to trail him again. It was becoming easier and easier to trail him. He moved slower these days. The pymary that he used to keep himself together was wearing down, and he stumbled as he walked.

On that fifth day, when the sun was still high, Sette woke up and saw a column of smoke rising up beyond the trees. She went over to where Duane was laying, spread out on the ground, and spoke into his ear. "I see somethin' up ahead. I'm betting that's where we're goin' to." Duane didn't move at all, and Sette went silent for a moment. She scuffed her foot on the ground. "Look, I know you're somewhere in there Duane, and maybe you can hear me, and maybe ya can't. If you can I need you to try to slow down a little bit. I'm gonna go ahead and take a look, but I need some time. Just, wherever it is you're going, slow down a little. I promise I'll meet you there."

She hesitated for a moment, and then reached down and patted Duane on the shoulder.

"I'm gonna fix this. I'm gonna get you back. I'm a Frummagem, after all, and nobody steals from a Frummagem."

Duane didn't move at all. He was as still as death. Sette walked to the edge of the clearing. She looked back once, and then disappeared.

--------

Duane continued toward the town, his course unchanged. One would have to be very observant to notice that he had slowed his pace. He stumbled a little more than he had before. It was difficult to tell whether it was because Sette had gotten through to him, or because his spellery had further come apart.

He reached the border of the town and continued onward, navigating the streets without a pause. He didn't go far. Near the edge of town, at the end of a cul-de-sack, there was an elaborate mansion. It had spires that stretched up toward the sky and was wrapped in black iron railings that seemed meant as decoration by some demented designer. The windows were boarded, but even so they seemed to peer, like a dozen open eyes, out onto the street.

The house had a gate that matched the black iron decorations. Duane pushed it open. It creaked in protest and then fell off its hinges, hitting the ground with a thud. He continued up the path to the front door, which he pushed open. The entry hall was dark; no light came through the boarded windows, and neither the lights nor the candles were lit.

Duane followed the hall to a drawing room, which he entered without hesitation. This room was bathed in flickering candlelight. The light illuminated the bottoms of bookcases, as well as three occupied chairs in the center of the room.

In each of the chairs sat a bearded man. All of their beards were similarly disheveled, although they were different shades. With that exception, in this low light especially, they could have been twins. On the floor in front of each of them were fluid filled jars, and floating in the fluid were Duane's organs.

In front of the first man was Duane's liver; the second, a lung. In front of the third man was his heart.

"By this spell I bind you, and make you mine." The first man said this in a droning voice. His hair and beard were dirty blonde, although some of the color may have been actual dirt.

"By this spell we bind you, and make you ours," the other two repeated.

From her hiding place on top of one of the bookshelves, Sette watched the proceedings.

"It is done," the blonde man said. "He is our-"

The man cut off in surprise as Sette tumbled to the ground and landed in a crouch.

"That's me attack zombie you got there." Sette stood and brushed the hair from her face. "I'm not pleased you stole him. I've come to get him back."

"Who in the fuck are you?" sputtered the middle man, the one with brown hair.

"I'm Sette Frummagem. I'm better'n anyone you've ever met, which is good, 'cause you ain't gonna meet anyone again." Her sharp incisors glinted in the candle light. "You don't steal from a Frummagem and live."

The men looked at each other and shrugged, and then the red haired one spoke. "It will make a good test for him." He looked at Duane. "Kill her."

Duane turned on Sette, and began to walk towards her. Sette watched him calmly and reached up to grip the string at her neck. When Duane was so close that she could see the green of his eyes, she pulled the amulet free of her shirt and held it out in front of Duane. It began to glow.

Duane's eyes widened, and his mouth twisted into a snarl.

Sette stared into his eyes, and Duane stopped in his tracks. The two of them stood there staring at each other. They continued for long seconds. Duane was fighting to get to her, and Sette was fighting to keep him away. She fought for her life by staying absolutely, perfectly still, even when her nerves were screaming out for her to run. She didn't even blink as she stared Duane down.

The blonde haired wright broke the silence. "What are you doing? Kill her!"

At the sound of the wright's voice, Duane's blinked, and his nostrils flared. He turned languidly. His gaze fell upon the man.

Although he had been shambling before, now he moved so quickly that Sette's eyes could hardly follow him. He took a standing leap, and was on the man within an instant. He ripped at the man's arms, throat, and stomach, shredding his flesh as if it was wrapping paper.

The man shrieked for as long as his throat could still carry air from his lungs, which wasn't long. His companions watched in horror as their comrade was pulled inside out. The red haired man fell sideways, out of his chair, and aimed a shaking hand at Duane. Sette smelled something like rotten eggs, and a burst of flame coalesced and licked out at Duane.

The magic hit Duane full on, and threw him from his victim's corpse. The redhead began to laugh a shrill, mad laugh. He turned to face Sette and raised his arm. Then the charred pile of rags that was Duane stood and dove toward the redhead. He fell on the man's neck, tearing at it with his teeth. Blood spurted from the wound as Duane bit deeply into his flesh. Duane pulled hard, and a huge chunk of the man's neck ripped free, exposing his spinal column.

One year, on Sette's birthday, a bounty hunter had brought in a jukrum dodger. Her da hadn't wanted to interrupt the birthday dinner, so he had sat the criminal down at the table and fed him. The bounty hunter took issue with this, and had tried to start something. Her da had punched him right then and there, and told the man to sit down. After the dinner, he had brought the two men down to the dungeons. He had taken Sette down with him, and had her watch while he punished them. "Don't look away, Sette," he had told her. "Part of this was because of your party. You have a responsibility."

Sette didn't look away as Duane slaughtered these spellwrights. She had come up with the plan that had caused it. She had a responsibility.

The third man, the brown haired one, crept away from Duane. As silently as he could, he moved toward one of the windows. He had nearly reached it when he felt a sharp blade against his throat.

"Where do ya think you're going?" Sette asked. "You don't get to run now, not after what you've done."

The man muttered under his breath, and Sette was thrown off of him in a burst of pymary. She crashed into a bookcase, which wobbled and dumped its books onto her head. In the meantime, the man had reached the window and was pounding on the boards, trying to get them to budge. They wouldn't give, though.

Sette pulled herself to her feet, and rubbed at her bleeding forehead. She smiled at him. "Ya can't get out like that. After I figured out where you lived, I made sure your windows were sealed. There's iron bars over them now."

The man shot a panicked look at Sette, then turned back to the window and began to mutter to himself. He extended his arms, and a rush of force slammed into the wall, crashing open not just the window, but a few feet around it on either side. He looked as if he were readying himself to jump.

He had just stepped up to the edge of the floor when Duane dived at him. Duane slammed into him and carried him through the hole in the wall. Sette heard a thump as they hit the ground.

Sette walked over and looked out. The man was dead, spread eagled, and Duane was already feasting on his remains. Duane seemed to have that part of the job well in hand.

Duane's organs were still sitting in jars on the ground. Sette walked over to them. One after the other she lifted them, dropped them so that the jar around them shattered, and then squished the organs beneath her feet. This wasn't her real way of dealing with the organs, but it was better to be safe than sorry. She didn't want anything like this to happen again.

She found Duane standing outside over the last wright's body. He had eaten his fill, and now had returned to complete passivity. Sette forced herself to paw through the blood for the wright's wallet. Then she pulled the body into the mansion, set a few books alight and threw them around the place. In no time the mansion was ablaze.

Sette took Duane's hand and led him away. She was going to have to get him cleaned up, and she definitely had to get him a new cloak. Even if it weren't covered in blood, much of it had been burned to charcoal and it was falling apart.

--------

Duane came back to himself slowly. There was a long time during which he observed events, but couldn't process them. He watched as Sette pulled off his cloak (why was it burned?), stripped him naked, led him to a large bath and washed him off. He watched her gather up his cloak and leave the room with it. He sat there, in the bath, unable to think, for something like a half hour. Finally Sette returned, carrying a new cloak that she placed on top of the rest of his clothes.

He watched dumbly as Sette stripped out of her own clothing and joined him in the bath. Finally, things started to register for him. He blinked very, very slowly.

When he opened his eyes, Sette was washing herself. Duane turned away.

The splashing sounds that had been coming from Sette stopped suddenly. "Duane?" she asked. "Are you awake?"

Duane concentrated, and a question bubbled up to the surface of his mind. "What happened?" His voice was strained, strange. He reached up and felt around his mouth. Some of his stitches were missing, and, more than that, there was something wrong with the spells that held him together. He was going to have to refresh them when he got the chance.

Sette shrugged, although Duane couldn't see it. "I hunted down the wrights, but when I found 'em their house'd already burned down."

"And they were caught in the fire? Impossible. They should have been powerful wrights."

"They found the bodies. Ya seem to be you again, so the organs must've burned too."

Duane looked skeptically at Sette, being very careful to only look her in the eyes. Finally he sighed. His eyes involuntarily wandered a bit. He pulled them back to her face. "Sette." He cupped his hand and raised a handful of water between them. "Why are we together in a bath?"

"You were smelling something awful. You haven't bathed since this started." Sette pinched her nose. "Ya smelled like rotten fish."

"That's not exactly what I meant."

"What? Oh, that? It's not anything I ain't seen before." Sette grinned. "Although yours was a bit strange. That part of being a zombie, or is it just how they do it where you're from?"

Duane stood, turned his back on her, and stepped out of the tub. The water sloshed around, splashing into Sette's face.

Sette sputtered. "What're you doing, ya crazy zombie?!"

"I think it's time for us to go. We've wasted enough time on this side trip." Duane was undead. There was no blood flowing through his veins, and his skin was pallid and stretched. It couldn't flush. Sette got the strong impression, though, that he would be blushing if he could.

"Okay, just lemme rinse off." Sette splashed some water over her hair and in her face. "Now on to bigger 'n better things. Onward, to Settetania!"

Duane stopped putting on his pants and glanced back at her. "Didn't we already go through Settetania? We're not going that direction."

"You're thinking too small. Everywhere's gonna be Settetania some day!" Sette stepped with one foot up on the edge of the tub and pointed forward, striking a dramatic pose. "Onward, to Settetania!"