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The Long Game

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Seasons don’t fear the reaper
Nor do the winds, or the rain
(We can be like they are)

 

Blue Oyster Cult - “Don’t Fear the Reaper”

 

A bold rap at the door finished the job of waking Rhyaz, arthritic pain having initiated the process close to an hour ago. She shuffled her thin blanket aside, muttering a curse that so gentle a thing against her fingers could infuriate the disease warping them, soft pressure causing wretched pain to blossom in her knuckles.

She sat up with difficulty, waving her irritation at the second knock, and reached for her cane.

“Not at this godsbedamned hour, no you don’t, Saiman. You stand right out there and wait for me.” The last came out in a pitiful grunt as she herself stood, reminded that the disease’s sentries had begun sending exploratory probes of itching and burning from knees to feet in their course down her thin body.

A third knock - more insistent now - accompanied a hard twinge in her spine as she shuffled to the door. Her voice quavered with it. “Heard you the first Zaros-damned time! Who knocks?”

A familiar, bone-sliding tone rose in answer, arresting her hand as she reached for the knob. “You know me well enough, Rhyaz Bahir.”

Rhyaz’s hand beat a hasty retreat to her side. She thumped the floor with her cane. “You go pound sand, Harold Death! That Mahjarrat doctor masquerading in Nardah told me just last week I’m fit as a woman half my age! You take your wheat-cleaver and go pester someone else.”

Death’s sigh was audible through the closed door. “I don’t knock when I’m performing that particular service, Rhy. Please let me in.”

Muttering, she lifted the bolt and stepped aside. “You’ll have to do the last bit yourself. Haven’t yet had a proper tea to warm my bones.”

The handle turned and the door swung outward. Death stood - hovered - there, mostly the suggestion of a lithe humanoid shape in a blue robe, hood obscuring everything above the neck save illuminated eyes and ivory-colored mask serving him in lieu of a face.

He held no scythe. No matter his promise, the lack of it eased something in Rhyaz’s mind.

She stepped aside and waved him in. “Come on. I’d offer you tea, but we both know it’d go right through you and puddle on my floor. Chair’s by the window. You sit yourself while I-”

Death waved a skeletal hand in negation. “You sit, Rhy. I can’t drink it, but I remember the routine.”

Rhyaz watched him make his way to her kitchen with a lack of hesitation borne of familiarity, then closed the door and hobbled over to the table by the window, joints whining their displeasure as she sat. “You always did make a decent cup, right enough.” She reached to the lantern on the table and plucked at the sticky tab near the bottom until the wick rose. Satisfied, and leaving her hand next to it to absorb the warmth radiating from the bottom, she watched as Death went about the old ritual. “What brings you to an old witch’s place at this hour?”

He spoke as he worked. “I do check in on those beings of note, Rhyaz. Others chosen by Guthix, too.”

So that’s what this is about. “Guthix chose you. Chose others. You know she was no more his preference than I am a fresh-faced young girl.”

The back of his hood bobbed as he poured and steeped. “She wasn’t. He was resigned in his last moments. I don’t think Razwan would’ve been his hundredth choice, but there were no others. There wasn’t time.” The sleeve of his robe moved as he whirled the leaves around in their strainer, then stopped. “Now, courtesy of both Sliske’s influence and your own, there are three gifted with that particular blessing.”

His tone held a trace of censure. She bristled. “It was three or none, Harold. That being they faced was too much for one to wrangle on her lonesome. It was almost too much for all of them.”

Death turned, moving to the table, and placed tea in front of Rhyaz before settling himself in the chair opposite her. His gas flame gaze met hers. “Sliske killed Guthix to return the gods to Gielinor. Nomad invaded the very Underworld to destroy them. Now they’re both immune to their power.”

Rhyaz shrugged, warming her fingers on the outside of her teacup. “We need more with that immunity, Harold. Like as not, what we managed was for the benefit of the world. Sliske has reason to stop pushing for an untimely end to this Oscillation, and the Quen of Souls needn’t sup from your fold to be the world’s protector.”

Death braided his fingers together in front of him. “It was one thing to have her meld more of her soul with Nomad’s. He already had one, such as it is.” He brought his hands closer to his face. “But Sliske did not. Now there’s a new soul, one that’s never seen the universe revise itself, never become anchored to a new body in that next Oscillation. All the others are part of that cycle, that balance. The Mahjarrat are new entities this time. They don’t belong.”

She snorted. “Souls belong wherever they go, Harold Death. I don’t carry the full memory of old universe incarnations you do, don’t go skipping through dimensions just to go home, but I do know enough that this Oscillation hasn’t been in keeping with the old cycle. Too many new soulless beings. Those Old Ones waking too soon. One of them dying. It’s not what it should be. Why should anything else be?”

“It’s an imbalance, Rhyaz. Souls are finite. And I do not skip.

Rhyaz shook her head. “If that were true, the souled Mahjarrat wouldn’t exist. And I’ve seen to it he gets a complete soul. No more nihilism for Sliske, not with his fate changed. He’s invested now, even if only for his own sake.”

Death’s cool blue eyes narrowed. “There’s no telling what effect an additional soul preserved in the Underworld will have on future Oscillations. What if that one soul upsets some mechanism critical to establishing the next iteration of the universe?”

She shrugged. “What if it does? So the universe changes. We live in uncertain times no matter how I or the other witches tinker with things. Our influence is its own balance to the way magic comes into the new world through runes and elements.”

He set his folded hands on the table. “I fear for everything.”

She reached one gnarled hand across the table and lay it over his two. “So do I, Harold. There’s always your careful maintenance and one witch’s obstinate meddling. Balance, right enough. It’s something we witches respect even if we harbored no love for that great green booger insisting on a perfect version of it.”

One of his hands turned, unlacing from the other, and the bony fingers held her hand gently. “You never feared me.”

Rhyaz smiled. “I took ‘dancing with Death’ a bit literally when I was younger.”

There was a pause. “Do you still dance?”

She shook her head. “Pain and stiffness are all I know, but the memories are warm.” She looked down at the phalanges cradling her still flesh-coated fingers. “How long?”

Death stilled. “Knowing is terrible burden to bear, Rhyaz. Are you certain?”

“Never about the greater machinations, but always about myself. How long, Harold?”

His eyes went strangely veiled. “Six months, give or take a few days.”

She nodded again, this time more to herself. “Time enough. Saiman’s close to being ready, and there are things he needs to know yet. I don’t trust Alice to do the thing properly and let the boy’s spirit thrive.” She squared her thin shoulders. “It’ll be enough.”

They sat together in companionable silence for some time.

Death took his leave.

Rhyaz gazed into the dawn, tear tracks glittering in the first rays of daylight.

 

……....

 

You got me looking at that heaven in your eyes
I was chasing your direction
I was telling you no lies
And I was loving you

 

Andy Gibb - “Shadow Dancing”

 

I heard the footsteps behind me as boots ground the thin coating of sand into the stone beneath it. I didn’t turn. Rhyaz’s capsule sat in my palm, its surface sticky with moisture where I’d held it too tightly.

He sat next to me as I stared into the rising sun, one leg swinging freely from my perch on a ledge just south of the marketplace, a windless morning that’d begun pouring gold into the grays and blues of desert night in the pattern of all mornings. I could see him in my peripheral vision, striated face warmed and made an almost non-color by dawn.

My hair shifted where clawed fingers slid through it as he spoke. “You’re going to go back, aren’t you? Still Zamorak’s arcana ferrum, despite everything that’s changed.”

A sliver of loathing uncoiled and wormed its way into my voice, bristling at all the unspoken assumptions I drew from his words, fair and not. “You know why.”

“Indulge me, then. Keeping my eye on you didn’t gift me access to every thought passing through your mind.” He paused. “Before Menaphos, you would have slipped me that concoction without my knowledge as Nomad did.”

He wasn’t wrong. The chittering, agitated feeling met resistance and quieted.

“You haven’t changed one fucking bit, Quen. You’re immune to the gods themselves and it still isn’t enough for you.”

“This isn’t about power! I could finally gain the things he refused me. Finally make use of what I already have, and-”

“-He didn’t give anything to me, either, you miserable fuck! It was an accident-”

“-finally quiet the roar of all these voices in my head-”

I rolled the capsule around my palm with my thumb. “What’s the most important rule of a con, Sliske?”

His voice offered the smirk I didn’t dare look at. “‘Be a good listener,’ of course. Ask only those questions that need be asked, and leave the mark to divulge the rest in their own time, so they believe themselves in control. Ingratiate yourself by being the best possible ear.”

I didn’t ask how he knew. Somehow I’d gotten tangled with one of my own despite his not being Pollnivnean, of the desert, or of humanity itself. “Right. And the first rule of an assassin?”

Sliske paused. “‘Kill your target before you yourself are killed?’”

He sounded uncertain, and I smiled. “No. The first rule of being an assassin is, ‘never take two where one will do.’ Soldiers rely on each other because they’re taking on an army. They learn camaraderie and dependence. Assassins learn the opposite because our targets are individual and taken unaware; there’s only one person you can rely on, and that person is yourself. Anyone else becomes bodyguard duty.”

“A funny notion for a World Guardian to continue entertaining.” My hair twitched and moved with his roving fingers. “You’ve done bodyguarding details before.”

I nodded. “I have. And I hated it every time.”

“Why?”

I cupped my hand around the capsule and held it in front of me, pointing illustratively with my free hand. “Because successful bodyguarding is, at best, half-reliant upon the ability of the bodyguard. No matter how good you are, how closely you pay attention,” I rolled the little capsule toward the edge of my cupped hand with a free finger, “there isn’t much you can do if the body you’re guarding doesn’t listen to you. They get bored. They wander around despite you telling them to stay still and get under cover.” I let the pill roll back and set my hand on my knee. “Or, worse, they get ideas that they can be helpful and throw themselves into danger.”

He plucked the capsule from my hand and held it in his. “Now you’ve a whole world to bodyguard. Guthix certainly knew how to pick them, didn’t he?”

I shook my head. “Not my damned priority. Never was.” The new feeling began slinking away and I leaned into the fingers, his hand opening and curling along the back of my neck. “Do you know the most important rule for someone who’s both a confidence artist and an assassin?”

The return of Sliske’s certainty - and his smile - was all vocal. “I have a suspicion the two don’t often pair in a single person. I would be delighted to hear what sort of credo you’ve established for just such a thing.”

He sounded mocking. He also sounded genuinely curious. I ignored the first and responded to the second. “‘Never burn your bridges unless there’s a good reason.’”

I pointed at the little capsule in his hand. “I’m about to burn a bridge, and I’m asking you to help me.”

Sliske’s silence endured until I looked up at him.

The feeling, the foreign thing that emulated my emotions so well I scarcely knew the difference, skittered back up and made itself known. I mentally swatted it away.

No.

He held the the capsule between two fingertips, angling it this way and that, watching sunlight filter through the translucent orange concoction inside. “Our Nomad has lost his artifice and asked for Charron’s soul energy, hasn’t he? Finally bowed to his nature.”

I’d levied the same accusation at Quen, but it sounded wrong coming from Sliske. “He says he wants what Oreb denied him, that’s all.”

“Is it?” He looked at me, and I could see him marking the little amber rings in my own irises. “I think we both know better than that, my heart, or you wouldn’t be here asking what you’re about to ask me.”

I opened my mouth to speak. He beat me to it. “So you’d give me what remains. It’s just the energy, you realize; you’re still left with the rest of Charron’s estate. Memories and all the other problematic bits of your inheritance.” He looked back at the capsule diffusing light between thumb and index finger. “A soul entire for me. What for you, I wonder?”

Looking back toward the sunrise, l shrugged. “Rhyaz warned me that the rest wouldn’t go. Not the hate or the memories, not the anjuman. But,” I smiled, “less the anjuman, no more capacity for soul magic. No reservoir to dip from. No more temptation.”

“I don’t mean those things, my heart. Nomad shared a bit of the soul he gained from you with me, and in return he gained shadow sight. He drew more of Guthix’s curse from you, and your soul was tinkered with just so, allowing you to take on the husk of Charron’s.”

I glared back at him. “Since when does Nomad have shadow sight?”

Sliske’s grin was broad. “You mean he hasn’t told you?”

Something shifted uncomfortably in my midsection, an unlikely sense of betrayal despite what I intended to do. All aboveboard, Quen, right?

He’d lied. Again.

I straightened. “No. Doesn’t change my mind. Will you do this with me?”

He rolled the capsule between his fingers - its contents redirecting a streak of orange-tinted light to a spot next to his nose - then popped it in his mouth, biting down.

Sliske turned and inclined himself. I met him halfway.

It was the feeling again, but different. Not the fraying, tearing, ripped-at-the-seams sensation that’d shrieked through my being when Sliske had stolen a piece of my soul, but a sense of diminishing. I felt my anjuman pause as one, all of them, before it subsided.

There was another, cooler sensation accompanying it. It wasn’t issuing out, but sliding in along the same broad exit used by the superfluous, raw soul material. Liquid shade pouring in and taking up residence in the hollowed-out places. Like ice on a sunburn, it was too much relief.

He inhaled, pulling air from me. He tried to draw back and I followed him, swinging a leg over and half-climbing. Through closed eyes, I saw daylight dimming. My skin felt chilled.

Sliske’s hands went to my shoulders and pushed me back. I opened my eyes.

We were on the same ledge, but both rock and sand had changed. Sandstone had become a chalky, pitted slate that brought to mind the Crossing with sickening ease. The sand was no longer hard grit but soft, like rich - if dehydrated - soil. The buildings and stalls below were no more, replaced by sparse trees whose leaves had long ago withered.

There was no sun. The sky above us was completely obscured by undulating cloud cover as dark as the slate beneath us, carved into dark lumps by distorted netting of lighter gray, the promise of a storm that never delivered. A threat eternally in progress, marked with an equally unceasing roll of distant thunder.

I glared at Sliske. “Here? Of all places, you’d bring me here? Color me fucking romanced.”

He’d stilled beneath me. “I wasn’t the one who brought us here.”

I snorted and brushed his hands off my shoulders. “‘I’ve never lied to you, Razwan.’ Funny time to pick up-”

“Razwan.” He sounded subdued and he let his hands fall away. “I’m telling you I didn’t bring us to the Shadow Realm.”

A low breeze stirred brittle leaves in the dead trees below us and disturbed the thin sheet of dust where we sat.

“A soul entire for me. What for you, I wonder?”

I reached toward a sliver of crawling darkness whose tendril probed from a pit in the stone like a curious eel. It paused, then wormed its way toward my hand, slithering over stone and its thin veneer of powder until it rested beneath my palm. Cool air traced the underside of my hand.

Sliske laughed then, a delighted sound, and wrapped an arm around me. “I don’t know whether to rejoice or lament this development. Now where will I secret myself when I wish to spy on you?”

I felt ill. “It wasn’t me.”

Clawed fingers found my jaw and forcibly drew my attention back to him. Gold-amber rings studied my irises, and his voice held a trace of playful, disingenuous irritation. “Zamorak is going to love this.”

“Love what?”

He buried his face in my hair. His breath tickled my neck through it. “What I’m going to teach you after you unleash all that pretty hatred on me.”

I snarled, writhing, reminded of where I sat. The movement made clear that he’d noticed, too. “Don’t tempt me. I wanted to hurt you before, and Charron’s camel shit isn’t helping-”

Sliske nipped my ear. “Perfect.”

 

………

 

You keep lyin' when you oughta be truthin'
You keep losing when you oughta not bet
You keep samin' when you oughta be a-changin'
What's right is right but you ain't been right yet

 

KMFDM (originally by Nancy Sinatra) - “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”

 

Learning to pilot - and disengage from - the anjuman had been a long and arduous process even with Akthanakos’s patient guidance. Moving between the regular world and the one into which I’d been stolen away by Sliske in the past…

...wasn’t.

I’d learned, and quickly. It was intuitive, calling enough darkness to cloak myself in between the realms or to shift fully to the other, the practice strangely comforting despite the warmth-stealing nature of both the domain and the means of reaching it. It was like remembering a taste or smell with such dedication that you truly did taste or smell it, causing the nose to wrinkle in response or saliva to flood the mouth in anticipation. In this case, it was the feeling of escaping sunlight into a pool of shade, a sudden shift in temperature that - despite still being warm - was sufficient disparity to trigger gooseflesh along the arms.

I practiced in many places. Marked the difference when stepping into that realm and seeing the mostly lifeless counterpart of a normally lush location mired in gloom. The Shadow Realm was a largely bare and inhospitable place, populated only by things whose instincts and bodies were honed to the ultimate survivalist’s precision. All spare, all pitiless, mostly apex predators, all hungry.

A dark desert.

Akthanakos, looking wary and slowing his long stride to keep pace with me, glanced around as we passed from the surrounding territories into Draynor Village. “What do you know about her?”

I shrugged, glaring at a pair of eyes reflecting filmy blue light from a dark recess near us, challenging them as I spoke. “We didn’t speak much. I know she got trapped here. Don’t know how, or if Sliske was involved back then, only that he ‘found’ her at some point. Took her out of this place, gave her something to do, and now she’s… the way she is. Idolizing him. Worshipping. But I don’t think that’s all there is to her.”

Akthanakos stopped peering around and eyed me as we walked. “You think she isn’t broken beyond repair?”

I nodded. “I was… pretty rough with her when I was looking for Nomad. She started spouting all this ‘hail Sliske the glorious and handsome’ stuff, but when I shoved her into the wall-”

“-You shoved her into a wall? Why?”

I waved my hand tiredly in front of me in a non-gesture. “Not the important part.”

He snorted.

“It isn’t.” I glanced side-eyed at him before focusing ahead again. “The important part came when she snarled back. I told her I was going to grind her into paste and re-mortar the wall behind her, and she snapped at me.” I grinned. “Rattled her cage, and there was a person peeking out between those bars. An angry little person with some steel.”

Akthanakos walked in thoughtful silence for a bit, then spoke. “You’re not a philanthropist.”

I rolled my eyes. “Obviously. But nobody should be tangled with Sliske without some defenses, and Relomia doesn’t have any. Not yet. I’m hoping you can help her find herself so she’s not… like she is now.”

He hmphed. “You’ve a heart of absolute stone.”

“That’s right, and don’t you forget it.” I kicked a pebble down the path in front of us.

“Not a trace of kindness.”

I side-eyed him again. “Don’t start assigning me qualities I don’t possess, Akthanakos. I took my shit out on her and this is just balancing the debt. I’ve conned starving families out of their last pitiful handful of gold to make my way through life. I’m not a good person, and you’d be a fool to think otherwise.”

Akthanakos smiled. “Didn’t you wind up convincing that town’s leader to reduce taxes on his populace before you left?”

I waved my hand again. “Making sure he didn’t tax them to death in case I needed to pull another grift there.”

He nodded solemnly. “Of course that was why.”

“Akthanakos-”

“I choose my friends wisely. Have a little faith, Razwan.”

I sighed, realizing there wasn’t time enough left to revive the old argument in full, and made my way to the center of the open square. We stopped roughly five feet away from Relomia’s usual haunt. “Are you ready?”

He reached out and touched my arm. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”

Though I’d heard Wahisietel pepper his language with invective, it was generally out of anger or frustration. Hearing Akthanakos do it - and in his affable tone - still left me reeling in a way even interplanar travel never managed.

I called by recollection, the skin-prickling feeling of sudden chill, and shadows enveloped us.

 

………..

 

Fight the power that chokes my speech
Fight the power that makes you bleed
Fight the power that propagates lies
To keep you weak, keep you in line

 

KMFDM - “New American Century”

 

I conned her into going with Akthanakos. She seemed reserved, but when I pointed out how fluent I was with all the recent additions to my skill set, she seemed intrigued. Letting go his arm and demonstrating the ability again sealed the deal.

She’d been trapped in the Shadow Realm before, after all. Not my fault that she assumed, “he helped me,” meant Akthanakos had been integral to learning to shift between Gielinor and the spooky wasteland version of our world. We appeared before her, both of us moving out of the umbral dimension, and she drew her own conclusions.

Apparently, she wasn’t at all thrilled when she realized she’d been duped.

I visit Akthanakos still, mostly when Relomia sleeps. He’s uncovered a great deal about her.

Firstly, she was no docile foot servant. She was employed by a Draynor manor lord of some renown, one who’d amassed a considerable library on the subject of magic. Mostly the kind with which many are at least passing familiar, but she’d discovered a few scrolls on the subject of Ancient Magic. Shadow in particular.

He tells me she spent a considerable amount of her meager savings on some runes with which to practice, duplicated the outline for a particularly promising ritual onto some loose parchment, and attempted to perform it.

Too well, as it turns out.

She’d taken to the idea of cloaking herself and going unseen, hearing tell of an old man who’d once robbed the bank there and had made away with a sudden and substantial retirement fund. Not satisfied with the pittance afforded her for her work, nor with the prospect of aging into convalescence after so much frugal living, she planned to duplicate his success with the aid of her employer’s scrolls.

Too much, too far, and entirely too novice for pure ambition to counterbalance. She wound up in the Shadow Realm, her stay a protracted study in survival even as the place began to impact her physiology. After some indefinite amount of time spent there, she knew she could travel back on her own, felt the connection and the potential, but had no guidance and little time to invest in attempts.

Cue Sliske, of course. He found her, drew her back to Gielinor, and assigned to her the inglorious duty of spreading name and murky recruitment slogans to passerby. To take samples of the people’s interest in the possibility of a new paradigm with him at the helm.

Asshole.

I’d been right, however. She was a survivor of that nightmarish landscape for… years? Who knew how long. She’d discovered both the lord with whom she’d been employed had passed some time ago, and that none had come to lay claim to his property. The manor stood empty and dust-coated. She used it to store her pitiful amount of worldly possessions.

She’s crafty, and hasn’t entirely lost her desire for ill-gotten riches.

I’ll be fucked if she isn’t an Ali through and through.

She’s made some peace with being conned, frustrated though she was at first. Akthanakos’s influence has been good for her. He tells me she reminds him of me in some ways, although she seems more a sensitive soul than I am. She also seems less enamored with Sliske.

Good.

 

……….

 

Relomia and I have begun practicing shifting to and from the Shadow Realm. She picked up on it faster than I did, though that isn’t surprising. That place spent… decades, maybe? Many years infusing her with its own strange nature. She didn’t start out the gray-skinned, blue-striped girl she is now, but she is of the Shadow Realm more than I will probably ever be.

We spoke of Sliske. At first she seemed mildly interested in joining Zaros’s lot just to spite him, but Akthanakos’s advice on the matter - particularly how similar the two positions were in terms of being used and discarded - swayed her thoroughly off the idea.

She says she’s remaining somewhat in Sliske’s camp, but largely intends to pursue the career in theft she’d aspired to in her youth. There is new verve and determination in her eyes, in her posture. She swears she’s going to draw a few boundaries where Sliske’s concerned.

I believe her.

 

……….

 

Her stay with Akthanakos ended a week ago. She’s returned to the old manor, I’m told, and has lain claim to it, posing as the old lord’s long-lost daughter. She came to me before making her way back, and to the good - I suggested she take a chisel and make a few tasteful edits to some of the gravestones surrounding the place, and that she finagle the “deed” to suggest a Morytanian background to help account for parts of her physique less easily obscured by a hood, notably her complexion.

I’ve never been so proud.

 

…….

 

The Draynor Bank has been robbed. None have been arrested, nor has anyone been charged with the crime. Their authorities are absolutely mystified, and the direction of the investigation has turned inward, seeing as nothing of a break-in is evidenced or recorded.

In other news, an old manor in the same town has begun undergoing repair and refurbishing.

 

……....

 

Relomia has begun sending me letters.

She’s hired on a maid to keep the place tidy, but has insisted her employee take schooling at Relomia’s own expense.

“She’s incredible! Talented with languages. This place won’t ever see another servant doomed to a life of mediocrity, not while I’m alive. When she goes off to pursue her career, I’ll hire another and do the same for whatever field they find interesting. No more hopelessness. Not here. I won’t stand for it.

“Oh, and by the by, Razwan - how stringent is the security in Al Kharid bank? Asking for a friend.”

I told her about Sliske’s and my… involvement.

“I… you took me to Akthanakos to get away from Sliske’s influence and you…? WHY?”

I don’t have a good answer for that.

 

……….

 

Zamorak seemed oddly disquieted by my ability to traverse the veil between this world and the Shadow Realm. Less so since I took it upon myself to retrieve Palkeera’s body and bring it to him and to Khazard. Perhaps the reminder of family helped settle whatever worried him about my change. I don’t know if that alone managed to assuage his worries, but he did what he always does. Adapted.

My eyes are mostly like Sliske’s now, save for the dark brown ring around the outside of the iris and white sclerae. They’re odd, uncomfortable to see in the mirror. They luminesce slightly in darkness, but they don’t interfere with my sight, rather affording me a better-lit impression of dark places. It’s as though other things are illuminated by them, although I can see the faint glow against my cheeks and the sides of my nose if I’m reminded.

I wonder if Quen’s eyes work like this. He’s never demonstrated trouble in seeing or complained to that effect.

Sliske has made something resembling peace with Relomia’s newfound agency.

He’s also resumed the place he took during Quen’s first absence, greeting the mornings with me and inhabiting the other half of the bed by nightfall, sometimes with me, sometimes waiting for me if my training of Zamorak’s assassins runs late.

Quen has returned to Soul Wars and remains there. He doesn’t turn me away when I visit the underground place where his throne resides, but he doesn’t speak to me, either.

He looks betrayed.

Maybe he was betrayed.

Or maybe he was running the long con. I hope he was.

If he wasn’t… no, he was.

Definitely was.