This time, Zolf can’t say no to Hamid.
Or maybe he doesn’t want to. Maybe Zolf knew even before they began this conversation that Hamid would protest, and all his defences would fall. Maybe he wanted to make sure that someone still wanted him around after he’d proven himself useless. Maybe he wanted someone to fight for him, and Hamid was simply the one who rose to the challenge, who had drawn his sword to take up arms against Zolf himself.
This time, Hamid wins, so Zolf stays.
Prague is hell. Zolf won’t speak to Bertie for fear of murdering a literal tank, and Bertie seems to sense a threat, because he’s quiet, for once. Well, he’s Bertie, so he’s not quiet, but he made less than twenty jokes about Zolf’s legs over the course of the day, which is progress.
The paladin they pick up stinks of righteousness. Zolf pushed Sasha to go to an actual temple because, he claims, “a real establishment will be more comprehensive than what I can do in this hotel room.” He doesn’t say that he’s afraid to call on Poseidon, scared that he’ll grip the dolphin symbol and feel none of the comforting divinity backing him. If he doesn’t check, Poseidon can’t abandon him.
The look that Grizzop, who trusts so plainly in Artemis, shoots in his direction isn’t meant to be withering, but it cuts. Zolf wishes he had that faith, wishes he could say with confidence that he deserves to be wearing his holy driftwood. Hamid smiles at Zolf, despite everything, whenever his shoulder bumps Zolf’s side. “I’m glad you’re here,” Hamid says softly. “We’ll get to see my sister in the opera when all this is over, okay?”
“Can’t wait,” Zolf replies absently, but he’s not sure what he’s talking about.
At the hotel, Zolf requests a single room. Hamid’s expression is so devastated that he almost takes it back, and then feels worse when Hamid pays for the whole thing out of pocket. “You didn’t have to do that,” Zolf says under his breath, reaching for his coin purse, but Hamid stops him. The halfling’s eyes are shining.
“Just — let people be kind to you,” Hamid says emphatically, a bit too worked up for the situation, and then sniffles his way over to Sasha. She pats him on the head and offers a knife.
“Huh,” says Grizzop from Zolf’s shoulder. “What’s his deal?”
“I have no idea,” Zolf replies, looking after them.
The night goes as badly as expected. Zolf starts coughing in the morning when he tries to greet the party at breakfast, resulting in Sasha almost pouring water down his throat as Hamid thumps his back. “Bit of a frog in your throat there, Mr Smith? Hm?” Bertie asks as he loads his plate, grinning like the asshole he is. “I wonder, could they live in your legs? Could your body — perhaps — sustain life?” He laughs uproariously, and Zolf really wants to kill him.
“Are you okay, Zolf?” Hamid asks, his brows knit in obvious concern.
“Fine,” he rasps, waving a hand and pulling out a chair at the table. “Probably allergies or something.”
“Mm,” says Sasha, nodding. “Y’know, in Other London, we never really had pollen, so I had this mate where - y’know, the first time he came above ground he was floored! Trees everywhere! Must be somethin’ like that.”
Zolf makes a noise of agreement and reaches for his glass of water again. “Something like that.”
It’s not. His throat is raw from screaming himself awake, and Zolf had simply underestimated the damage it had done.
Every morning, now, he expends two spells: one to heal himself, and then, moments later, one to heal Sasha. A two-spell deficit would be an issue if Zolf still used magic in fights, but he’s trying to call on divinity as little as possible. His prayers begin with ‘I’m sorry,’ and he’s never sure if the magic will work.
And one morning, of course, it doesn’t. It was bound to happen. Zolf channels positive energy and Sasha winces, grabs at her back, finds that the bleeding imprint of a falcon now weeps more openly than before. “Zolf!” she cries, alarmed, spinning around and - where did that dagger come from? “Zolf, what’d you do?”
He’s staring at his treacherous hands, his breathing beginning to quicken, because this is reckoning. This is abandonment. This is what it feels like to be forsaken. “Zolf!” Sasha says again, shaking his shoulder and cringing with pain. “Did you - did you use the wrong spell? Did you really use the wrong spell on me?”
“I—” Zolf says, forcing himself to say something, to do something. “I—”
“Did you use the wrong spell?” she repeats, jerking her head over her shoulder to look at the wound. “Did you—”
Zolf can barely speak. “I— it— it was the right spell, Sasha.”
“So why didn’t it work?” she demands, her eyes meeting his, and Zolf sits down. He’s not thinking clearly, not thinking about how he would be affected by spell failure, too, because his mind is on a single track careening towards panic. “Zolf, why didn’t it work?”
“I don’t know!” he snaps, and Sasha takes a step back, the knife disappearing again. “I don’t— I—”
Sasha drops her hands, squinting at him as if trying to sort through the haze of emotion to find Zolf again. “Are… are you alright, boss?”
“Get out, Sasha,” he says, and his whole body is numb. He can’t look at her, just has one hand clenched around the dolphin symbol and stares at the floor.
“Please.” His teeth are gritted and by the whole goddamn pantheon he’s trying to keep himself together. “I’m sorry, just — out. Please.”
Zolf barely hears the door close. He doesn’t scream or shake or smash things, no, he talks himself down from a panic attack as tears slide down his cheeks and catch in his beard. He goes to his makeshift altar of coral and bone, and prays, and prays, and prays, and apologises to the god who saved him, the god who gave him an ultimatum, the god who rewarded him for being a coward.
The Navigator was right, it seems, all this time later. Zolf isn’t good enough for his church. He has shamed himself and shamed his people; he has strayed too far, and he doesn’t even know why. Hasn’t he given up enough? Hasn’t he lost enough? What has put him out of favour yet again? What the hell is wrong with him and how does he stop being that?
Zolf prays and prays and doesn’t leave his room until Hamid knocks on the door hours later. He prays to the god who has finally given up on him and hates himself for still wanting Poseidon’s love.
So Prague is hell. Zolf’s voice grows scratchier every morning until he can barely speak, and Hamid is doing his best not to hover. Zolf can tell, and he appreciates it, but the worry in Hamid’s eyes is almost too much to bear.
Dealing with the Harlequin staff of the University is awful. Everyone seems to miss Zolf’s father, seems to have opinions about Zolf’s brother. They ask him questions the way Earhart did, inspecting the ring and looking smug, and Zolf’s jaw locks as he is poked and prodded by words, by expectations, by legacy.
Hamid wraps his fingers around Zolf’s free hand and he squeezes back almost hard enough to leave bruises. Hamid doesn’t seem to mind, though, rubbing gentle circles onto Zolf’s wrist. Zolf knows that it’s out of pity and a desire to make sure that the group’s technical leader doesn’t fall apart in the midst of diplomatic negotiations, but it still helps.
It’s not like Zolf is much of a leader these days.
Prague is hell and it’s getting worse.
Kafka goes rogue and Sasha keeps waking up in pain but she won’t let Zolf try to heal her again. That hurts more than it should. Zolf knows that Poseidon has turned his back, but part of him still wants to try to help, to see if that hellish morning was some sort of fluke or practical joke. Still, he knows better than to make her condition about his faith. Even though he’s a divine failure, he’s not quite that selfish.
Without Poseidon, Zolf dreams about drowning, and he dreams about drowning, and he dreams about drowning.
Prague is hell and it’s getting worse.
Kafka goes rogue and there are dead things alive again, roaming the streets as slave to a necromancer on a mission, and Grizzop still stinks of righteousness. They’re in the midst of a fight, Zolf standing armorless and wielding only a short sword, when the goblin yells, “Don’t just sit there! You’re a cleric, for gods’ sakes, use magic!” and Zolf realises he really isn’t much of a cleric anymore, is he?
He doesn’t heal, he doesn’t fight, and his god has turned away. Zolf’s legs are the only connection he has left to Poseidon, and every morning he fights to believe that he deserves to walk.
Zolf is just an ex-military man with a grudge and a temper, once touched by holiness like the heroes of old, chewed up and spat out by tempestuous deities. Zolf has made his Odysseys; his men have opened the bag of winds and doomed themselves, plucked off one at a time to die at sea; Zolf has already fought his way through the metropolis iteration of Ithaca, but found no Penelope. He is a halfway Ulysses without a home.
In the time that it takes Zolf to hear Grizzop, he has already been knocked unconscious by a swarm of oncoming Undead.
Zolf wakes up with his ears ringing and Hamid’s face swimming in his immediate field of vision. There’s a nasty cut running from his temple to the base of his skull, mostly likely from where he hit his head on a rock, and that’s definitely going to scar.
Hamid continues being worried. Zolf passes out again.
In other news, Zolf and Hamid dress up for the opera. They sit next to each other. Aziza sings beautifully.
In other news, Zolf definitely doesn’t think about reaching over to take Hamid’s chin and kissing him as the music swells.
In other news, Zolf doesn’t care more about the reverent look on Hamid’s face than the opera itself.
In other news, Zolf doesn’t lay his hand on the armrest closest to Hamid like a teenager, offering shyly the possibility of their fingers touching.
In old news, Hamid would never reciprocate an affection like that.
Prague is worse than hell. It takes Zolf almost a full minute to throw off the fear effect that holds him and Grizzop, and the paladin just seems annoyed with his inefficiency.
Grizzop makes Zolf feel old, more than anything. He knows that, had he left, Grizzop would be a perfectly suitable replacement. He wonders, had he left, if anyone would have missed him, if Bertie would’ve made a snide comment about having less people but exactly as any legs, if Hamid really would have written him. Grizzop is cutthroat and blunt and gets things done, and he’s what the group needs right now. Not Zolf.
With the fear effect washing over him, Zolf feels more useless with his head out of sorts than he did without legs.
Prague is worse than hell, and Zolf misses his trident. The short sword he’s using now doesn’t have the same heft or power, and, out of habit, Zolf keeps reaching for the holy symbol he still wears before remembering that Poseidon has decided they’re not on speaking terms. The only reason he’s able to be competent here is because the Undead are so slow, and Zolf can’t even take satisfaction in cutting them down.
He spends most of the fight worried about Hamid, anyway, after Kafka’s spell hit and the halfling disappeared. Zolf can’t bring himself to be concerned about Bertie. Bertie will be fine. Bertie’s always fine.
Zolf is reckless enough in the fight for Grizzop to yell at him, which, for some reason, feels like being scolded by a very pious toddler. Zolf is reckless enough for one of the Undead to clip him hard on the shoulder and he doesn’t realise he’s bleeding until Sasha asks if he’s feeling okay. Zolf’s nice opera clothes are stained with blood and torn in at least six places, and he just feels numb.
Kafka throws Aziza into the wings and Zolf hears her neck snap.
Prague is worse than hell, and Hamid is a tiny dragon, which - okay. Fine. Zolf can’t really think about this right now. With the adrenaline worn off, Zolf’s shoulder screams in agony, but there’s no way he can protest when Hamid jumps into his arms.
He’d arrived on the roof expecting the worst, and was met with a terrified Hamid, more dragon than halfling. The thing is, Zolf knows how to deal with this, Feeble-Minded spell and all. Instead of offering food or pinning him down with arrows (Grizzop stands behind him with a tapping foot and a readied bow), Zolf just kneels, spreads out his hands, says, “Hi, Hamid.”
The dragon doesn’t respond, just snuffles a bit and deliberates in place. “Hey,” Zolf continues, his voice impossibly soft. “Hey, Hamid, it’s — I’ve got your coat, see?” Technically this now-ruined suit jacket is Hamid's, because Hamid insisted on paying, and proceeded to Prestidigitate the faint smell of cologne on Zolf’s whole outfit.
“I’ve got your coat,” he repeats, tugging it gently off his shoulders and swallowing hard around the agony that knifes through him. “Here.” Zolf sets it on the ground and Hamid scuttles forward, sniffing at the jacket with faint recognition glimmering in his eyes. “C’mon, Hamid,” he whispers, and it’s embarrassing how reverent, how pleading, how loving Zolf sounds. “It’s — it’s just me.”
Baby-dragon-Hamid crawls into Zolf’s lap and curls up in the crook of his arm, and Zolf tilts his head back, exhaling a sigh of relief into the sky. “That’s it,” he murmurs, running a hand along Hamid’s scaly back. “That’s it.” Thank you, Poseidon.
Zolf breathes in deeply and realises that his cheeks are wet. Hamid buries his face into Zolf’s unbloodied shoulder, nuzzling into his chest, and Zolf can barely swallow around the lump in his throat. This might be hell, but Hamid’s okay. Hamid’s going to be okay.
“Are you going to bring him down or what?” Grizzop asks, and Zolf wipes hastily at his eyes.
“Yeah,” he says, grunting as he hefts Hamid to one side. “Yeah, give me a second.”
“I can do your shoulder,” Grizzop offers as they stagger back down to the main theatre, but Zolf shakes his head.
“Save your spells,” he manages. I’m not worth it, he doesn’t say, but he can’t help the thought from floating by.
Bertie’s dead. Bertie’s dead and Aziza’s dead and Sasha is dead, sort of, and Zolf stands in a haze as the University healers cast their spells on him. All this time, he’d thought — all this time, he’d thought his inability to help Sasha stemmed from Poseidon’s abandonment, but — but now, everything’s changed, she’s — he shouldn’t feel relieved that she’s Undead, but it means he’s not totally worthless —
Zolf reaches out to the corners of his mind and sits cross-legged on the ground, praying, apologising, meditating, and he can barely breathe with the rush of realisation—
Dear Poseidon, I — dear Poseidon, thank you — dear Poseidon, I’m sorry for failing you, I’m sorry for forsaking you, I think I need some time to sort this out; dear Poseidon, I’m so sideways I can’t think —
Zolf leaves the room as the healers get started on Hamid and Grizzop. Sasha calls out after him but doesn’t follow, and Zolf can’t help but break down the moment the door has closed behind him. It’s ridiculous. He’s alone in a tiny hallway, bawling like a child because maybe he has the opportunity to trust someone again, and he can’t even summon the energy to feel ashamed.
Poseidon’s been an important part of his life for a while now, and though Zolf still isn’t entirely happy with his god, this past week has marked a new low. He’d been so completely, utterly alone, and now he’s not.
Zolf knows that this realisation won’t make the nightmares stop, but now, he can heal himself when he wakes up screaming. Zolf knows that Poseidon’s re-emergence won’t help him sleep easy but maybe it’ll help him sleep in the first place; maybe the comforting knowledge of the divine can replace the whiskey he’s been using to persuade himself into unconsciousness. Zolf knows that there is no magic fix for whatever the fuck he’s been through, but he’s found a single, winding tether back to faith, and it’s better.
Zolf pulls himself together, sends up a quick prayer, and walks back into the room. The opposite door opens and Bertie’s gnomes enter, too. Zolf remembers that Bertie’s dead, and his eyes flick to Hamid.
The fact that Zolf manages to feel nothing but fury during the reading of Bertie’s will is astonishing, but tempered by the stricken look on Hamid’s face. When Zolf sees Sasha moving to get Hamid a hot drink and a chair, his chest lurches and he takes her aside before she can break the news. “Lemme handle it,” he mutters by her shoulder, and Sasha nods emphatically, relief flooding across her face. She’s gone before Zolf can even ask if she’s okay.
The gnomes offer their condolences and Hamid’s mouth opens slightly as he looks to them, then to Zolf, then back again. Zolf kneels in front of the chair and takes Hamid’s delicate hands in his, taking a deep breath. The worst part is that he’s done this before, that the words he’s about to say have been said so many times.
“Aziza didn’t make it, Hamid,” he says, as the halfling begins to shake. Zolf squeezes his hands like the idiot he is. “She didn’t suffer, but she’s gone, and I’m sorry. I— I know it doesn’t make things better, but I’m really sorry.”
Hamid drops his mug.
Hamid drops his mug and screams and it’s the worst thing Zolf has ever heard. Hamid drops his mug and wails, the noise bouncing off every wall until it consumes him, and he collapses onto Zolf and screams, and screams and screams. The sound is muffled against Zolf’s newly healed shoulder as Hamid digs his fingers into Zolf’s back, and it hurts and he cries, and cries, and cries, and it is the worst thing Zolf has ever heard.
Long after running out of air, Hamid stops, his sobs dying down to whimpers, and he keeps his face smushed in the crevice of Zolf’s shoulder, the same way he did as a dragon. “I’m sorry,” Zolf whispers, rubbing circles onto Hamid’s back, and by the gods, he would do anything to make this stop.
Grizzop steps in and starts talking about the afterlife, and he’s so damn righteous even about this. Zolf doesn’t know how he does it, but either way, Grizzop’s unyielding faith to Artemis makes Zolf a bit jealous. Hamid holds on to Zolf for a long time, and he can’t help but think of the nearly identical hug they shared in Mr Ceiling’s lab.
He tries to convince himself that they’re going to be okay. He’s not sure if he believes it, but he tries.
They’re not okay. They get arrested. The Mars paladin cuffs Zolf to a chair in his very own private cell and demands information about the Harlequins, which is fucking ridiculous, because Zolf doesn’t know. The paladin doesn’t believe him when he says so, and Zolf responds by stonewalling the asshole for three hours.
He hopes Sasha’s okay. The Mars lot are a bit… intense about their Undead policy.
He hopes Hamid’s okay. He hopes— he really hopes Hamid’s okay.
It would be an understatement to say Zolf was nervous once he realised that Newton’s office was a pocket dimension with several days’ worth of terrain to walk. Days of terrain meant that equivalents of night would break up their travel, and — well. Zolf doesn’t need to spell it out.
At first he tries to take watch, promising to go to bed eventually and instead staying up until the rest of the party begins to stir, but Hamid catches on. He doesn’t even have to corner Zolf to force him into talking, because there’s nowhere to go but straight across a flat desert of hard, wooden planks.
“You’re not sleeping, Zolf,” says Hamid, and he has no right to sound that worried.
Zolf’s fingers wind around the cord of his holy symbol. “I’m fine, Hamid.”
“That’s not what I said.” Hamid’s voice is sharper than Zolf expected and he looks down at the halfling, surprised. “I didn’t mention how you’re doing, I said that you’re not sleeping. Which you’re not.”
After an attempt to make sure that Grizzop and Sasha aren’t listening (they’re not— they seem to be deep in conversation about deadly weapons), Zolf sighs and turns back to Hamid. “What do you want me to do about it?”
“I want you to take care of yourself!” Hamid exclaims, his voice rising in pitch. “I mean — it’s not right, it’s not healthy. You need to sleep at some point.”
“It’s not—” Zolf starts, then huffs and looks away. “I’m — I’m not sleeping well, Hamid, and I don’t want to be dangerous.”
Pause. Breath. Zolf stares straight ahead and sets his jaw. Seeming to sense that this is the closest to an explanation he’ll get, Hamid’s face softens and he tilts his head up to meet Zolf’s eyes. “Is that why you stopped rooming with me?” he asks gently, without waiting for an answer. He knows he’s right. “I — promise me you’ll try tonight, Zolf, okay? Just that you’ll try.”
Zolf doesn’t say anything, but he doesn’t say no.
The night goes as badly as expected, but when Zolf wakes up screaming, his drowned lungs sure that he’s surrounded by water, his knee utterly crushed by the moving, groaning catacombs, Hamid is there. The look on his face is stretched somewhere between regret and apology and horror as he grabs for Zolf’s hand, saying, “I— I didn’t know it was that bad; why didn’t you say something —”
“My —where’s — did you move my bag?” Zolf asks, feeling around for it, and Hamid presses the pack into his arms.
“You, um — you kicked it; I — hey, breathe, okay?” Hamid says, squeezing hard. “At least you rested a bit. What are you looking for?”
Ordinarily, after something like this, Zolf would find his favourite Cambell, but he doesn’t read Cambells anymore. The books he picked up a few days ago don’t have the same charm but they’re alright, and even though Zolf isn’t that enthralled with the main characters, they calm him down.
The truth is that Zolf just likes romance novels. There’s nothing else to it but genuine enjoyment, and sure, part of it is the pattern of love and longing and reconciliation, of the idea of soulmates, of returning to the person one is meant to be with, but Zolf just likes the stories. He likes the idea of love. He likes the genre and the tropes and the conventions and he likes that he can fall back on them. He read Cambell in jail, and he read Cambell in between prayers during the week the party spent with Mr Ceiling, and Zolf has been using them to help himself sleep ever since.
He’s found the new book in his bag but his hand has stilled, embarrassment rising in his chest, because Zolf knows what Hamid thinks about low literature.
“Zolf?” Hamid prompts, and so he takes it out quickly, hoping maybe Hamid won’t see the cover.
“It’s fine, Hamid,” Zolf says quickly, setting the book to the side of his body that Hamid can’t view, but it’s too late. He’s caught sight of the flowing script on the title, the rose on the book jacket. The purposefully neutral look doesn’t quite hide Hamid’s disdain, and Zolf’s embarrassment curdles into outright shame.
“It’s — not Cambell,” Hamid says haltingly, and Zolf snorts.
“I thought you liked him.”
This would be the point where Zolf would gesture to Bertie and give the explanation with more than a few obscenities, but Bertie’s dead. Zolf’s mouth just flattens into a hard line as he turns away and yes, Hamid is trying, but he’s still managing to make Zolf feel like shit. Zolf knows that the judgement is unintentional, but it still stings.
“I did,” he says, and refuses to say anything else.
“Hey, boss?” Sasha comes up at Zolf’s shoulder, seemingly out of thin air, and he’s reminded - as always - how tall she is when standing directly next to him.
Zolf shakes off his surprise and huffs. “Sasha, you’ve got to stop doing that,” he scolds without any real malice.
“I cleared my throat!” she protests, folding her arms. “Thought that meant I was good. But if you don’t—”
“No, it’s —it’s on me,” Zolf sighs, running a hand through his hair and feeling like an idiot. “I didn’t notice. Sorry, Sasha. What do you need?”
Sasha squints at him for a minute, then reaches into her satchell. “Well, I—” She shuffles a bit, looking down. “Listen, you can’t be mad about this—”
“What’s going on?” Zolf asks sternly, now giving her his full attention and reaching for his dolphin symbol. “Sasha, what did you—”
“It’s not bad, it’s just a little bit illegal!” Sasha protests, and her free hand has now gone to one of the many knives hidden in her trousers.
“Sasha,” says Zolf, completely flat.
She makes a little huffy noise, like a cat. “Well, here,” she says, and dumps a heavy stack of something into his arms before he can blink. “I just — I don’t wanna carry them around anymore, and you looked sad, so — here.”
“What?” Zolf asks, but Sasha’s already gone.
He looks down and realises that she has stolen him all the rest of the books in the series he’s just started. Zolf had bought the first two (Sun and Moon by Helena Prescott) and somehow, Sasha has nicked the other six (Sky, Stars, Comet, Meteor, Orbit, and Supernova, respectively). He has no idea how or why she did so, but it’s nice.
“Were the — the books in a bag of holding?” Zolf asks later, clearing his throat and staring at the ground.
Sasha shrugs. “When I stole them, yeah.”
“But bags of holding don’t work here.”
She gives him a look. “No, they don’t — boss, are you feeling okay?”
I’m just trying to figure out why you would inconvenience yourself like that, Zolf doesn’t say. “I just — can’t think of where you could’ve been hiding them,” he tells her instead, and Sasha preens a little bit.
“Yeah, well,” she says smugly. “You won’t.”
Grizzop and Zolf don’t talk that much. Every time they look at each other, Zolf has the sinking feeling that he’s not needed anymore, and Grizzop seems to have taken the near ridiculous amount of emotional debris Zolf is sorting through as animosity, which is — fine. It’s fine. Zolf is barely surprised when, on their way back from Newton’s lab, with Liliana in tow, Grizzop appears at his shoulder and says, “Listen, I know you don’t like me, but you need to get over it if we’re going to work together, alright?”
Actually, Zolf is surprised to hear this. “What?”
“What?” snaps Grizzop, thrown in turn. “I’m just telling it like it is.”
Zolf fiddles with his dolphin symbol and clears his throat, looking away. “I don’t have anything against you, Grizzop—”
“No, no, no, don’t lie to me,” Grizzop cuts him off, folding his arms over his breastplate. “We almost died together, Zolf. We got stuck in that — that fear effect Kafka thing — we got stuck in that together. We fought our way out together. We killed things for one another. And you still don’t trust me to have your back.”
“I don’t care if you trust me,” Grizzop continues, so Zolf just shuts up and keeps walking. “But you’ve got to work with me. Alright?” He gestures to Zolf’s legs and Zolf tenses, squeezing the driftwood a bit. “Because that says I can trust you. And this —” He taps the moon on his chest. “Means you can trust me. Got it?”
“Grizzop—” Zolf starts, and his exhale is embarrassingly unsteady. Grizzop, for his part, doesn’t seem to notice or care.
And Zolf is ready to say something, to say I’m not the faithful you think I am , to say, you haven’t done anything, to say, none of my fuck ups are your fault, to say, I’m sorry, but he can’t. Not yet.
“Nevermind,” he mumbles, tucking the dolphin into his shirt. “Thanks.”
Immediately after entering Cairo, they pick up yet another paladin. It’s fine. Zolf is fine. The orcish woman is idealistic and bright and tall and it’s fine. It’s fine.
Everyone in the temple of Aphrodite looks at Zolf with a combination of reverence and pity, which is by far the worst facial expression that has ever been directed towards him. Fairhands, who is supposed to be healing Sasha, keeps accidentally glancing over to Zolf, physically restraining himself from speaking. A high priest of Aphrodite wouldn’t say anything against a gift of Poseidon - it would be blasphemous and disrespectful - but the look on Fairhands’ face says that he sees Zolf as something to be healed. Something to be saved. Which is fine. It’s fine, really. It’s fine.
Fairhands mentions the Heart, and Zolf freezes.