I finally finished another Metamor Keep story. Thanks to Ryx for his help with this.

Part 1 of 2


Metamor Keep: Casting Off
by Charles Matthias

May 27, 708 CR

Three long days of journey brought them a few hours from the port city Menth. The moon, a sliver shy of full, was already limning the eastern sky, while the western glowed bronze with the setting sun. Two fires brightened the roadside, and an assortment of Keepers more than two-dozen in number shared their warmth after enjoying a hot meal. Three well-laden wagons and a noble's carriage flanked the fires, offering them some privacy in a land not touched by Metamor's Curses. An evening breeze brought hints of the sea.

Charles reclined against a stone, one hand holding the chewstick between his incisors, the other rubbing the soft flesh of his tail, while he stretched his toes near the fire. He watched his children scampering and tumbling about in the grass while his wife Kimberly and the fox Misanthe looked on, intervening when their play brought them too close to the fire. Mercifully, due to their young age, they had managed to sleep part of the journey each day; but it left them full of boundless energy when they awoke and kept most of the retinue busy trying to protect them. More often than not they had bounced from one side of the wagon to the other or capered along the verge of the trail; even letting them ride with the knights or upon Pharcellus only offered a moment's respite before they wished to scamper again. Erick seemed to be the most curious and adventurous, darting from discovery to discovery when he was not chivying their escorts for stories of battle or lessons in sword. Luckily many of the horses were intelligent residents of Metamor and did not startle when rats leaped onto their backs or darted beneath them; their calm demeanor kept the normal horses from spooking.

Charles hoped there would be room aplenty for little scampering rats when they took to sea.

Malger entertained the company with a spirited tune on his flute. Egland and Intoran accompanied the marten on cookpots, wringing melodic tamber from the cast iron by deft strikes with the pommels of their knives. Larssen the giraffe and the human Maud danced to the music, Larssen taking care not to step on his wife's delicate feet with his hooves. The youth Van and the ram Dallar clapped in time. Versyd and the other horses shouted encouragement between needling each other to join the dance. The gull Quoddy watched them from his perch atop Malger's wagon and tapped a webbed foot in time to the beat.

Sir Saulius and the bison Hesgebaern were busy inspecting the real horses, though their heads turned from time to time to listen. So too it was with the other rats who checked over their wagons with as much care as a mother inspecting her children for bumps, bruises and bites. And far overhead Jessica and Weyden circled, swooped, and soared, both to keep watch and to stretch their wings.

Only the two dragons, Garigan, and Jerome relaxed with Charles. Garigan stretched in the grass, eyes searching the sky; his toes twitched with the rhythm but nothing more. Pharcellus – who had taken a human guise once they left the Valley – perused the set of maps Kayla had procured for them while surreptitiously keeping an eye on his younger brother. Lindsey and Jerome lay next to one another as the young dragon combed his claws through the wolf's black fur.

Animals most of them appeared, and yet it seemed wrong to look at the wolf and know it was his friend. Jerome startled them all when he rose on four paws in the morning looking no different than a wild beast. But Lindsey assured them it helped Jerome stay himself if he 'let the wolf out' from time to time; none of them objected further but they had all kept a respectful distance from his wagon.

Charles sighed as he gnawed.

“What are you thinking about?” Lindsey asked.

“Tomorrow we enter Menth. Tomorrow we enter a world beyond the Curses. We did so in secret before; at least for most of our journey. This time we do so openly. All the world will see beasts who walk as men. My children will be seen as vermin. They've never been treated as vermin before, Lindsey. They've been loved; never hated. Will they remember the look of disgust they will receive because they are rats? I remember the looks we received in Breckaris and in Sutthaivasse.”

Lindsey tilted his head to one side and offered him a draconic grin. “They are still young. They probably won't remember any of this except for the stories you tell.” He ran his claws between Jerome's ears and the wolf lifted his head from his forepaws. “But if any man dares threaten them, Pharcellus and I can eat them!”

Charles almost choked on wood splinters. “Eat them? You should not be using dragon humor, my friend!”

Lindsey laughed. “I doubt I could ever do such a thing! I may be a dragon but I am still a man too.” He twisted his long neck and nodded toward the red-haired young man. Pharcellus smiled over the top of the maps but said nothing.

Julian climbed off the nearest wagon and wiped his hands on his breeches. He drew up his tail and snagged the tip between his fingers. “We will draw eyes. Some will be curious; some will be afraid. But this is Menth. Many of the merchants here have been traveling to Metamor for years now. They are used to seeing people like us and they know we are not beasts. They are just not used to seeing us in Menth.”

“In sooth. I shall try not to worry,” Charles added before gnawing on his stick again.

“I intend to make sure they do become used to seeing us here in Menth. After we leave you with your ship, we'll spend some time in the merchant district. I'm sure there are many things they want we from Metamor can provide!”

“And your wagons can carry.”

Julian's red eyes glimmered in the firelight. “We're going to need more wagons. I wish I could convince those horses to work for me. Ah well, there will be others.”

Charles laughed beneath his breath and relaxed. “There are plenty more still living in the Glen. And there are plenty from Bradanes who will need work.”

“We shall see.” Julian stretched and sat down next to him. He was about to lean against the rock when his eyes narrowed, staring at Charles's back. “You have a flower growing out of your tail.”

“Oh, it blossomed?” Charles set his chewstick in the grass and reached both hands to feel his tail root. The little vine, a few days ago no more than a tendril, had grown its first bud while he slept. Now he could feel delicate petals; he could not see them but he knew they would be purple like the vine clinging to his stable walls at the Glen. “I thought it would wait for the morning.”

“Why do you have a flower growing out of your tail?”

“It was a gift from the Wind Children. It saved our lives last year when a strange plant in the Marzac swamps attacked us.” He laughed at Julian's incredulous expression. “I have no idea who the Wind Children are, but we met them while journeying through Åelfwood. I was stone still and they planted a vine in my granite flesh. It grew into the massive vine you've seen I keep in my stables. Somehow it can slip in and out of my flesh without hurting me, and before we left it gave me a seed.”

“A seed?”

“A seed I planted within my flesh, and as you can see, it too is growing.”

Lindsey chuffed as he stroked the wolf's ears; Jerome panted as he leaned into the dragon's claws. “He's telling the truth. I remember the Wind Children. They shaped leaves and flower petals to appear as our faces before giving Charles his vine. Even the Åelves were surprised. Even Zhy...” Lindsey lowered his snout and thumped the end of his tail. “Even Zhypar was surprised.”

Charles leaned over to pat the dragon on his side. He glanced down at Jerome and felt his heart tighten. Sitting back up he forced a smile to his whiskers and put his hand against the rock. “And, like I said, I was rock at the time.” The pink flesh of his hand hardened and grayed before disappearing within the stone. Julian gasped and scooted away on his tail.

“I...” Julian stared for a moment before shaking his head. “Are there any more secrets you wish to share?”

“Nae,” Charles withdrew his hand and returned it to flesh. “Nae, there is nothing more. It has been a very strange year.” He touched the scar around his right eye. “It has changed all of us. Jessica's feathers are black. I have this scar, can turn to stone and have a vine growing from my tail. Lindsey is a dragon! And Jerome...” He sighed. The wolf lifted its head, golden eyes peering at the rat, waiting. “Jerome, my friend, needs our help. And so we go.”

“You forgot to mention one change,” Julian noted with a smile returning to his whiskers. “We have left the cellars behind. Forever.”

He gripped Julian on the shoulder and leaned forward until their snouts touched. “Few things have made me happier, Julian. Thank you.”

His fellow rat returned the grip. “Thank you, Charles. Now go. Dance with your wife. Don't waste such good music with moping.”

Charles gave him a firm hug. There was nothing more to say. He went and danced with his wife for a song or three.

----------

Malger searched the dreams. He did so at leisure, his pace and manner laconic. During the day the travelers acted as if they were out for nothing more than a pleasurable stroll to the next village. At night the tensions and worries were loosed and given shape. He witnessed brigands striking them down with swords, mighty waves swallowing the ship whole, slavers leading the children away in chains, and even an apprentice to Sideshow capturing them in cages for his terrifying menagerie. Malger would not add his own anxiety to the dreamers.

Instead, patient and slow, he offered a bit of joyful song or a whisper of encouragement into each unsettled dreamer. It was never enough to chase the nightmares away, but they were never as frightening again. And after each offering, Malger withdrew as quietly as he had come and continued his search.

He had only seen traces of the Matthias child each of the nights on their journey. Sometimes it was a flash of ears and tail disappearing into mystic underbrush, other times it was little scampering tracks left in the path darting from dream to dream. He did not blame the child for running away; here in the dreams he was without mother or father to protect him. And while there was much he could say in the waking world to help the little rat, the true teaching must take place in the dreams.

Which meant little Charles would need to stop running and hiding from him.

Malger did not have long to wander among the dreams of his traveling companions before he found the tell-tale sign of the boy. Paw prints which sparkled with moon-glow dust trailed through a nook of stone and trees. He followed at a leisured pace, listening for dangers and threats but hearing none, and watched.

The paw-prints ended inside a little hole in a tree far larger than its neighbors. It reminded him of the mighty redwood the Matthias family lived in, though the shape was distorted with a profusion of twists, branches, and whorls. The hole appeared too small to squeeze through but as he neared it swelled in size. He crouched at the entrance, peering into the dream without entering the dreamer.

The dreamer was the other Matthias boy, Erick. He could see a fantastic world of forest where everything was exaggerated with knightly banners draped from tree branches and familiar animals capering about. Erick and his brother Charles were both wearing armor and battling each other with massive swords. They laughed as they swung and squeaked as they dodged each blow.

Malger chuffed in surprise. Little Charles had entered his brother’s dream to play with him.

He watched their play for a time and then reclined against one of the gnarled roots conjuring a happy tune from his flute. A small bitterness touched his heart; there had never been any simple play between him and his family. But this was one pain among many he had taken for himself over the years; he surrounded and cornered the hurt with grace notes, captured it with a trill, and scattered it from his heart with a boisterous arpeggio. He would let little Charles have his brother.

His thoughts strayed to the stone altar, the massive crow, the scarred rat, and the child between them. What little his goddess had explained to him still left him confused. It was a riddle within an enigma lost in an archipelago of mysteries. Would he ever understand? Would any of them? And what pain would there be in understanding? A sour note touched his flute with those thoughts.

Malger blinked and stared down between the roots to find a rat child staring back up at him, little paws curled around the tip of his tail. The boy gazed at him as if he'd been waiting there for hours. The marten sucked in his breath and let the flute fall from his muzzle. “Hello, Charles.”

Whiskers twitched and dark, protruding eyes blinked while over-sized ears flicked up and down. For a moment the child appeared more alley rat than knight's son. And then he spoke, his voice anxious and interjected with little squeaks Yet it penetrated the marten more deeply than the melody he had chased his childhood regret away with. “You not dream for yourself.”

He smiled. “Nay. You and I walk the dreams of others. I will teach you how. I will teach you how to help and protect the dreams of others, and how to protect yourself from them.” The boy only stared at him and rubbed his fingers over his tail tip. “Do you know who I am?”

“Daddy says you Archduke Sutt.”

“Very good. But as I am your teacher, you may call me 'Master Sutt'. Do you understand?”

The boy blinked and nodded. “Master Sutt. Bye-bye.” Before he could react, the little rat fell to all fours and scampered into the dream brush leaving only moon-glow paw-prints behind.

Malger chuffed and shook his head. It was a start.

----------

May 28, 708 CR


A half dozen wary guards watched the caravan once it emerged from the forest; the four at the gate exchanged anxious words, while the two manning the gatehouse parapet looked down with curiosity. For many minutes traveling Keepers and resident men merely eyed each other until the distance between them had closed to a few wagon lengths.

One of the guardsmen stepped forward and held up a hand. The three behind him rested hands on sword pommels while the tower guards knocked arrows to their bows but did not draw. “What... what brings beast men to Menth and so many?” The man demanded gruffly, narrowing his gaze to stare up at Malger, who had ridden forward from the train. “You... State your business!”

From his lofty perch astride Versyd Malger offered the guards a reproving stare. “Beast men?” He scoffed with perfect aristocratic annoyance, glancing back at the wagons. “Do not caravans of Menth journey to Metamor and back? Does not your lord swear fealty to Duke Thomas of House Hassan? As a horse is he, too, a 'beast man'?” Egland and Intoran rode forward slowly to flank Malger. Charles and Saulius rode beside the first wagon with his family; four little rats peered over the side of the wagon, noses lifted to the pungent air of a port city for the first time. Jessica, Weyden, and the other soldiers stayed back along either side of the second wagon, their hands upon the plainly visible pommels of their weapons. Lindsey and Jerome hid in the final wagon beneath a stretched canvas. “Do we demand human men who come to Metamor's gates state their business?”

The mustached man in charge of the gatehouse gawped a couple of times before regaining his composure, realizing by dress and stature, even if he was some sort of furred creature, he was of a far higher station than a mere town guard. “Such caravans do journey to Metamor and we are loyal to the House Hassan. But all visitors must state their business in Menth; especially the rare visitor from Metamor.”

Malger snorted haughtily and let both hands rest upon the front of his saddle. “Sire,” He muttered flatly.

“Sire?” The guardsman blinked.

“Aye,” Malger snapped. “Do I look a passing churl? Now, I have hired a ship berthed here in Menth. My companions wish to do business of their own in your marketplace.” Leaning forward in the saddle Malger fixed the guard with a hard penetrating stare. “Unless you wish to deny us entry, which I am sure to tell his Lordship should I need to return to Metamor with my business unfulfilled, you will let us pass.”

The guard chuffed and cleared his throat, then stepped aside. “We are not accustomed to Keepers here,” he explained with a slight bow. “Even here, where the cursed of Metamor are known, you would do best not to wander freely.” The two guards on the tower lowered their bows while the four at the gate stepped aside. Malger nodded his thanks even as Versyd trotted with regal air into the city. One by one the wagons followed. Little Baerle and Bernadette waved at the guards as they passed.

Charles smiled at his children and tried to keep his smile as he gazed about the city beyond the gates. Menth was a port town and trading center for the Northern Midlands. Wide streets allowed easy passage of commerce from both northern and eastern city gates to the marketplaces and the wharves. Already he could see the tall masts of sailing vessels over the top of the clustered row houses. His nose wrinkled from the scent of refuse even the sea could not hide.

The streets were filled with vendors selling fish, fruits and vegetables as well as garlands made from flowers, townsfolk buying them, and children playing. The presence of so many Keepers, particularly beast-cursed Keepers, was noticed the moment their wagons rolled through the gates. Charles could almost sense the ripple of news radiating through the town as a palpable force. It was the children who took the keenest note of the Keepers, pointing and gawking in surprise. Brave boys rushed up to get a closer look. Charles watched a pair daring each other to touch the tip of his tail dangling off Malicon's flanks; neither could work up the courage or shame the other enough to be so foolish.

Soon all eyes were upon them and the raucous noise of the streets died down to a susurrus of curiosity. Charles could hear their whispers if not their words. Their eyes were uncertain; some were afraid, others merely curious. A few even appeared excited as if they'd always hoped to see a beast-cursed Keeper one day, without having to risk the curse itself by visiting. Some took the hands of children and kept them from coming any closer, but most of the young boys were unattended so they continued to pace the beast men of the north and their train of wagons.

Charles's four little children waved and called out happy greetings to the other children and for a time their high-pitched voices were about the only ones heard upon the streets of Menth. He scoured the crowd looking for faces filled with disgust or hands reaching for vegetables to throw; of the latter he saw none, but scowls were easy to find. Despite their disgust at the sight of animal-shaped men, he was grateful to be a rat; the shape of his head made it easy for him to watch everyone along the road without turning.

A tense half-hour followed as they maneuvered three wagons and the Sutt carriage down the wide street toward the wharves. Guardsmen watched them and the people thronging the streets to catch a glimpse of them with one hand on their weapons. Some from the crowd followed after them, while others rushed to the streets ahead of them. Merchants grumbled curses as their booths were swamped by gawkers. Charles and the other knights did their best to appear imposing but not threatening. Malger rode with snout lifted high, noble elan undisturbed by the regard of the crowd.

Charles breathed a sigh of relief when the road turned onto a broad, flat esplanade overlooking the wharves. Official looking houses loomed over the street, each bearing a sign upon its lintel and many dangled pennants from foreign lands from their windows. At least two dozen ships of various sizes were moored, most of which were crawling with roustabouts heaving cargo and supplies. Soldiers wearing the sea-green livery of Menth patrolled the esplanade and stood guard at both ends. They permitted the Keepers passage but shooed away most of the gaggle of curious townsfolk.

Malger turned to beckon him forward and he nudged Malicon ahead until he was even with the marten. “Ah, Sir Matthias. Yonder is the Venture Swift.” He gestured four ships down the line. The kasshet hull was long with a wide-bottomed keel and almost two-dozen oarlocks per side. A single mast with rigging prepared dominated the center; a leaping dolphin decorated the prow. Dozens of men, sweaty from labor, moved supplies up the gangplank, checked the oars, tightened the rigging, and cleaned the deck.

“She looks seaworthy enough. Will there be enough room for everyone?”

“If we only carry supplies for the voyage,” Malger replied. “Captain Calenti knows to expect us today, and with our welcome this morning I expect he already knows we are here. You are free to see the Venture for yourself. I must find Calenti and ensure everything is satisfactory.”

Charles nodded and stroked one hand down his pony's neck. “Then I suppose it is time we said our last goodbyes and parted ways.”

Garigan, Kimberly, and Misanthe helped the four children out of the wagon, while Pharcellus lifted the canvas from the last wagon so Lindsey and Jerome could crawl out. Jerome was still a black wolf; he kept close to the wagons where he wouldn't be seen. Larssen and Dallar lifted their supplies from the second wagon and set them down on the stone esplanade. Charles watched them for a moment before dismounting.

“Erick,” he led Malicon by the reins around the first wagon to where his fellow rat knight watched. “Sir Saulius, I leave my steed in your care until I return.”

Saulius dismounted and took the offered reins. “I shalt care for thy steed as my own, Sir Matthias. May Eli speed thee and protect thee and thy family on thy way.”

They hugged, patted each other's backs, and parted. Nothing more needed to be said. Charles thanked each of his friends for their help on the journey to Menth and wished them an easy return home. They in turn wished him a safe journey as Saulius had. A few he embraced, but only a few. They had been saying farewell for almost a week; the actual parting was welcome.

Charles, Garigan, and Pharcellus carried their supplies down to the stone wharf next to the Venture while Malger disappeared to seek out the Captain. The pier was slick with sea foam; the waves sloshed against the stone and made the oars creak in the locks. Even next to the sea the sludge of the city made the air foul and he did his best not to breath in too deeply.

Lindsey and Jerome followed along behind the trio, both on all fours; they continued to the end of the pier and did their best to stay out of everyone's way. If anyone remarked upon the odd pair it was with no concern of the large black wolf for it strode alongside a dragon. A dragon! On the Menth docks! Gawkers clustered as close as the guards would allow, crowding nearby piers and the balconies of roofs of surrounding buildings to point and chatter like magpies spying a sparkling coin lying on a crowded street; alluring but unattainable.

After setting down the trunks and casks of clothing and what few personal items they dare bring on such a long voyage, Charles stretched and stared back to the esplanade at his friends. Saulius had hitched Malicon to the back of the wagons and Versyd was now on two hooves helping to rearrange what little was left between the wagons. Jessica, Weyden, and the rest of their patrol group apart from Larssen climbed aboard the wagons for the return trip. Versyd joined Hesgebaern on the carriage. One by one they turned the wagons around and started back north. Charles did not look away until they had disappeared behind the cog moored next to the Venture.

“Pharcellus!” A squawking voice called from above him. Charles lifted his head and saw three birds circled down from the mast before the midday sun blinded him. Shielding his eyes, he blinked the spots away as the sea birds landed on the wharf.

When he could see clearly again he recognized the black cormorant and puffin as Quoddy's brothers. The gull had flown ahead to find them and now their voices were filled with excitement and joy. It warmed his heart to hear it. Lubec stretched out his wings and cawed, “Pharcellus! Lindsey! Are you ready to see the sea we know and love?”

The dragon masquerading as a young red-haired man smiled and pumped his fist. “We are ready, my friends! We merely wait for yon Archduke's return with the Captain of this fine vessel. Are you ready?”

Machias bobbed his head. “We're going to do a little more fishing while you wait. Don't worry, we'll keep Venture in sight!”

Lubec folded his wings behind his back and craned his neck to the sky. “I think you'll like the fellow Calenti hired to help protect us all on the voyage. If he ever comes down...”

Pharcellus and Lindsey peered up. Charles and Garigan did too, both shielding their eyes. Jerome panted at the end of the dock, eyes lost to the sea. Far overhead a shape circled slowly. It was larger than a bird with an oblong shape. Charles frowned; he could make nothing else out; Malger had said he wanted to hire another flyer or two. Pharcellus seemed to know what it was as he clicked his tongue against his teeth. “Impressive fellow. I'm curious how he was hired given the warm reception the people of Menth offered us.”

Quoddy shrugged his wings and took a step toward the edge of the wharf. “You'll have to ask him when he decides to land. I think he's saving the story so he only has to tell us once.”

Pharcellus laughed and a moment later the three birds leaped into the sky to scour the waters for fish. Garigan lowered his eyes and blinked the spots away before saying, “I'm going to inspect the ship. Do... do Sondeckis ever get seasick?”

“Young ones do,” Charles admitted. “I would be very surprised if you do.”

Charles watched the ferret bound up the gangplank and disappear over the gunwale. He noted the oarlocks and pondered how many weeks he would spend rowing; he was physically fit and would do his share of the work no matter what anyone else said. After a moment he turned to the two dragons and his breath caught in his chest. Jerome had shifted into a crouch, his muzzle retracted an inch and his forehead swollen; there was no mistaking him for an ordinary wolf. Yet his golden eyes still peered across the waters lapping against the wharf, sea foam and city flotsam beating at the stones with each gentle wave. The rat wondered if his friend even knew he'd changed.

“Sir Matthias?”

Pharcellus's question snapped him from his distraction. “You may call me Charles when it is just us. No need to stand on title among friends. And I certainly would never lord a title over a dragon!”

The red-haired man laughed and shook his head. “We dragons delight in your titles. They are one of the threads binding your society and giving it shape. And yours is a title of honor, O Rat Knight!”

“If you insist then!” Charles offered him and Lindsey a smile. Lindsey kept close to Jerome, his vermilion-tipped gray scales bright where the sun struck them, but said nothing. “Have you decided how you will be traveling?”

Pharcellus smiled and patted him on the shoulder. “We will follow along on your journey; at least at first. It will be bad enough for the crew without us three on board.”

He nodded. “Of course. I know you can keep an eye on us with ease from the skies. And if we need to send you a message one of the birds will help.”

“They will. As you saw, Sir Matthias, they are as eager for this journey as we are!” The dragon's smile appeared to show fangs though his human disguise had none. “And your family?”

“My family will be fine.” He waved one hand toward them to reassure them. “I am here to protect them, as will be Garigan and our other friends. Besides, should any threat arise I daresay it will unlikely reach us before dragon fire convinces it to go elsewhere. And... a journey like this will be good for them all. If it does not bankrupt us. I wonder what deal Malger has arranged for us.”

“What of the deal?” asked a calm voice behind him. Charles turned in surprise; the sound of the ships groaning against the wharves had masked their approach. Malger approached with one arm draped over the shoulders of the slender red fox Misanthe; she had dressed in a simple servant's gown of gray and bore in her arms his youngest daughter Baerle. The young rat's cheeks were plump and dimpled with glee as her tiny fingers clutched at the claw the vixen used to tease her whiskers. Malger smiled at them with regal aplomb, his eldest boy clutched in the tall marten's other arm. Beside him walked Kimberly with his middle children clutched one in each arm; his second boy squirmed a little trying to see everything. “I believe it was a single merchant per soul per week at sea.”

“Ahh, there you are, and they! I was beginning to wonder...” His eyes lifted and he felt an anxious worry at the price. “I certainly hope the captain is not demanding a coin for each of the wee ones similarly?”

“Oh, indeed so.” Malger winked, casting an affectionate look down at the rat child held easily in the crook of one arm. “Because babes wail, or will be, once the Venture makes the water.” His gaze and then snout lifted back to the rat child's father, pausing a moment to study the hand-print scar surrounding the right eye. “But this is a price you needn't worry about, as I told you. You are my guests on this voyage, Sir Charles. You need know nothing more of the cost for it is not yours to bear.”

Charles held out his arms and took his eldest boy from the marten. Little Charles yawned and began to gnaw at the leather armor over his father's shoulder. “And I thank you again! When do we disembark?”

“Captain Calenti will be here shortly to oversee final preparations. With no cargo and the currents behind us we have only a light crew. But we will make quick time to Sutthaivasse regardless. For now, unless you have need of anything more in the city, we should board and secure all we have brought.”

Charles shook his head. “I am ready. Garigan is already aboard.”

Malger smiled and swept his now free arm up the gangplank. “Then shall we?”

----------

May He bless you and keep you in His grace and love,

Charles Matthias
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