MS Word decided to copy and paste all of the deleted markup text in the story 
part I posted last night, making it an incoherent bunch of trash.  Hopefully no 
one read it in that form.  Here is the corrected version.


Link 4: Influence

Lois started awake in a moment of panic.  Even with his memory in shambles as 
it was, he was unable to shake an unmistakable sense of familiarity with the 
sensation.  He rubbed the remaining sleep from his eyes with one of his paws, 
thankfully wakeful enough to turn his claws away to avoid harming himself.  
Turning to dangle his legs off the bed, he tried to determine what had woken 
him, but nothing stood out.

It was only after a few moments of sitting in silence that he was finally able 
to pick out something apart from his own breathing and the beating of his 
heart.  It was faint, even to the ears of an animal, but it did become clearer 
as he picked out the direction it was coming from and turned his ears to hear 
it better.  It was a sort of humming… no, singing, though he could only hear 
the cadence of words rather than what was being sung.  

Lois stood, adjusting the loose robe around his shoulders.  He stepped lightly 
to the door, feeling the cold chill of stone beneath his pawpads, and did his 
best to open it without causing any noticeable sound with the latch.  With the 
door now opened into the dark hallway, Lois could make out the sounds of 
singing a little more distinctly.  He took care to determine the direction that 
the sounds were coming from, but it did not take him very long to decide that 
the voice was coming from the right branch of the hallway.

He hesitated for a few brief moments, trying to decide whether following the 
mysterious voice was really in his best interests, but curiosity overruled any 
concerns that he had.

He padded quietly down the hallway after the unseen voice.  Reaching a corner, 
and his ears twitched to follow the sound in the new direction at the fork.  
Uneasiness crept into the back of his mind; it seemed almost as if the sound 
had entirely changed directions as he reached this branch in the hallway.  He 
took a breath to steady his nerves; he would not be defeated by feral instinct, 
not again.  Something assured him that this was a song that he had to pursue, a 
song meant for him in particular.  He glanced around the corner to see if he 
could see the source of the singing yet, but the hall ended at another branch.

He moved as quietly as padded paws allowed, carefully muffling the sounds of 
his claws as much as he was capable.  The words of the mysterious song were 
becoming more distinct as the voice itself grew clearer, but he could not 
recognize anything that was being said.  It was a woman’s voice, of that he was 
nearly certain, but he was almost as certain that the words of the song were in 
a foreign tongue.  That itself was no great mystery; many people from around 
the Midlands came to Metamor for just as many reasons.  Lois was drawn on not 
by the foreign words, but by how they teased at something in the back of his 
mind.  He knew this language – had known it prior to losing memory of so much 
of his past.  He still understood and spoke the Common tongue; why would this 
other language so insistently evade his grasp?

He rounded another corner at a steady pace, and was greeted by the sight of 
starlight in an open sky.  He was leaving the barracks.  Here a few plants were 
grown in a small garden, a strangely peaceful location to be built directly 
adjacent to where the Outpost’s soldiers were gathered.  Perhaps it was meant 
to distract war-weary men from the pain of times past, or perhaps the pet 
project of some of the local citizens.  Whatever the case, Lois determined that 
the voice he heard was coming from under the centerpiece of the small garden 
plot, a tree that grew solitary among the many climbing vines and low shrubs 
that grew up around it.  While the garden itself seemed to have been raised up 
in recent days, the breadth of the tree spoke of long years remaining rooted as 
it was.  It had doubtless been here since before most Keepers had been born.

The ermine stepped silently between the rows of flowers, many freshly sprouting 
with the recent arrival of spring.  The voice was very strong now, 
tantalizingly nearby.  The words continued to tumble through his mind, each one 
seeming so achingly familiar yet remaining meaningless to his consideration.  
He had to find the one who was singing, to see who was singing.  Perhaps it 
would be the spark to restore these fleeting memories…

Lois stopped as he rounded the base of the tree.  He had found the singer.  She 
sat on a stone bench that seemed itself to grow from the earth by the base of 
the tree.  Her tail, black-tipped like his own, swayed in time to the words as 
she sang, her white fur blown gently by an evening breeze.  His eyes widened as 
he spied her form, so similar to his own.  His breath caught in his throat as 
she turned slowly and glanced towards him, her eyes a pair of glowing blue orbs 
that shone even now, though lit by little more than starlight.  She moved 
slowly, deliberately, song never wavering, and offered him her paw.

Lois hesitated.  Something seemed strange; he had not known that there were 
other ermines in the Keep.  Or perhaps he had simply forgotten?  Something 
about this woman, much like her song, ached of familiarity.  Was she an enemy?  
A friend?  A lost love?

Her offered paw remained steady, waiting for him to decide, and her muzzle 
turned in an earnest smile.  He took a step forward, trying to unwrap his 
confused thoughts.  He was struck by her beauty; the way her form, though 
Cursed, fit the dress that she wore made his heart flutter.  She seemed almost 
too regal for reality, and suspicion made him pause.  Still, Lois found himself 
drawn in by a strange allure.  He crossed on silent paws and took her hand, and 
she gently guided him around from behind the bench to stand before her.

Lois tried to speak, but his voice caught and little emerged beyond a confused 
squeak.  Her eyes laughed at him, even as the words of her song continued, 
their rhythm never wavering despite her clear amusement.  Her paw pulled him 
gently down, and he knelt before her, eyes still locked questioningly on her 
face.  She gently guided him to sit on the bench beside her, and then to rest 
his head cradled in her lap.  Although he continued to resist briefly, the 
nervous tension drained from his body until he was comfortably lounged across 
the bench.  Even his eyes fluttered shut, and the quiet tones of her song 
erased concern from his mind.

He rested there several golden moments, the jumble of his thoughts quieted in 
his waking mind for the first time in many an hour.  There must have been a 
touch of the Divine in her song; no lesser power could have so easily stilled 
his mental anguish.  With no desperation, his thoughts turned to his missing 
memories. In the clarity of his calm repose, he wondered if perhaps they would 
return.  He could almost visualize the jagged edges left between the things he 
recalled and those that had been lost.  It seemed so simple.  If he could only 
find those missing pieces…

A sudden, sharp, stabbing pain interrupted the ermine’s silent contemplation.  
Opening his eyes, he glared in horror at the hilt of a stiletto, buried in his 
chest and held in the grasp of the mysterious ermine lady whose song still rang 
in his ears.  He reached up and grasped it, reaching after the lady’s hand as 
she released her grip but she easily slipped from his suddenly weak fingers.  
Lois rolled from the bench and landed on the ground, tried to scramble away 
from his assailant, gasped in astonishment even though the pain of his injury 
was still unfelt.  Even as the song continued, he heard laughter from behind 

“Vincent Lois.”  He rolled onto his back, gripping the hilt with both hands and 
crying out.  Somehow he could hear the lady speak as she continued to sing.  
“Too valuable to die, too dangerous to leave alive.  You should feel 
privileged; that dagger is worth more coin than most men will see in their 
entire lives.”

Lois coughed and gasped, looking at the dagger.  He only now noticed that no 
blood was pooling from the wound.  It had been long enough; he should have been 
seeing the results of the injury, but there was nothing.  Still, the edges of 
his vision were beginning to fade, and he could feel his grip on consciousness 
slipping.  Grunting, he tried to pull the blade from his wound; perhaps he 
could stop the blade from accomplishing its purpose if he could remove it.  
Unfortunately, removing it from his chest was like trying to lift a horse 
barehanded.  His vision faded entirely for a moment, and he was forced to halt 
his attempts.  What was the dagger doing?  His heart sank as he considered the 
words his assailant had spoken.  If he was too dangerous to live and too 
valuable to die, that didn’t leave any pleasant options.

His vision began to fade again, and he turned his head to glance towards his 
attacker.  She stood by the bench still, taking short, easy steps towards him, 
the dress about her paws still fluttering like something out of a dream even as 
she stalked him like a nightmare.  “Relax, assassin.  It will be over soon.”

Unable to remove the dagger, Lois struggled up to a kneeling position, then 
tried to stand long enough to scramble away.  He only managed to take one 
drunken step before collapsing again and rolling painfully onto his side.  The 
ermine lady was almost to him, and he could barely move.  An icy cold gripped 
his body, and he found it difficult to even think.

As his grip on consciousness faded, Lois was dimly aware that another person 
had arrived.  He tried to concentrate enough to see who it was or even track 
what was happening, but only vague impressions came to him.  A few heated 
words, a shout, a scuffle… then Lois couldn’t tell what was happening.  
Everything went black.

Lois was not sure how long he remained unconscious.  There was no pain, nor 
feeling of any kind.  There was, however, an uncomfortable consciousness of a 
passage of time.  This blackness was not the pleasant refuge of sleep.  It was 
a terrifying, empty feeling that nagged at him, continually reminding him that 
the world continued on in his absence.

Finally, something changed, and the ermine slowly began to regain awareness.  
His eyes felt dry, and the images he saw blurred into an unfocused, uncertain 
miasma.  His ears were a little clearer, and he could hear a quiet, masculine 
voice speaking to him.

 “Stay calm; you will be all right in a few moments.”

Slowly, Lois’ vision cleared, and he could see a wolf crouching over him, one 
paw grasping the hilt of the dagger which still protruded from the ermine’s 
chest.  He waved his other paw over the end of the hilt, whispering quiet 
words.  Runes along the hilt were glowing, pulsing in a silent rhythm as the 
wolf worked.  Feeling was beginning to return to Lois’ extremities, and he 
realized slowly that the paralysis in his limbs was relenting.  He twitched his 
fingers and began to raise his head, before a pointed glare from the wolf 
convinced him to stay still.

A few more moments passed before the wolf ceased his murmuring, and with a 
rapid motion withdrew the blade from where it had been buried in Lois’ chest.  
The ermine gasped and reached hastily for the area.  As he clasped the area, 
however, he became quickly aware of the fact that there was no sign of where he 
had been stabbed at all.  Not only did he have no visible injury, but even his 
clothing was unharmed.

“Can you stand?”  The wolf offered Lois one of his large paws.  The ermine 
accepted the offer, and was pulled up to his feet quickly.  He took a few 
moments to be sure that his balance was sure, but whatever ill effects had been 
caused by the mysterious dagger seemed to have been fully removed by the wolf’s 

“It seems so,” Lois replied, feigning a bit more confidence than he felt after 
being attacked.  He glanced at the dagger, which the wolf still held in one of 
his paws.  It seemed to be radiating heat, though the wolf gave no indication 
that it was painful to him.  Images beyond the weapon seemed to warp and bend 
as though it projected invisible flame.  “What sort of magic is in that weapon?”

The wolf glanced at the dagger with a scowl.  “Soul trapping magic.  It is 
strictly forbidden by any of the major magic schools in the Midlands, but I 
imagine that the people who are trying to capture you are not particularly 
concerned with anyone else’s rules.”  He looked around for a few moments before 
turning to look Lois in the eyes.  “We should get to shelter quickly.  She may 
be back soon, and if there are any others in her group then we may have more to 
deal with than one hypnotist with a few nasty toys.”

Lois nodded, but the wolf turned and stalked away without acknowledging his 
response.  The ermine followed him, still shivering quietly to himself as his 
mind replayed recent events, giving a few glances over his shoulder to make 
sure that they were not being followed.  The dark furred wolf quickly worked 
his way through a few halls in the barracks before reaching a room and entering 
hurriedly.  He held the door for the ermine, and threw the latch behind them.  
Lois felt nervous to be locked in the room with the mysterious wolf, but 
silently reassured himself with the knowledge that he would not even be alive 
without the help of this mysterious figure.  For now, he was just trying to 
focus on settling his rattled nerves.

The room that they had entered was already lit by an oil lamp set on a table in 
the center of the room and several candles lighting the deeper shadows of the 
corners from sconces on the wall.  The room struck Lois as some sort of meeting 
room, likely for use by patrol commanders to plan their missions.  By the way 
the wax had pooled around the base of the candles, the wolf had been in this 
chamber for some time previous.  Lois tried not to think too much about why he 
had been expected.

With the initial need to escape from immediate danger gone, Lois was able to 
see his rescuer a little more clearly.  The wolf wore a light tunic that 
contrasted with his black fur, but over top of that he wore a dark coat that 
obscured most of what he carried on his belt.  Lois could see the haft of a 
weapon sitting readily available at either side of the wolf’s person, but the 
rounded design of those grips was unfamiliar to Lois, though that could as 
easily have been due to his loss of memory as to a lack of experience with this 
particular weapon.  Regardless of what they were, he meant to keep an eye on 

Laying the stiletto upon the table at the center of the room, the wolf wasted 
little time walking to a cupboard to one side and pulling out a pair of glasses 
and a bottle.  He poured a glass and offered it to the ermine, who looked at it 

“I’m sorry, someone has already tried to kill me once today.  I’d rather not 
accept a drink from you at this point.”

The wolf shrugged and set the bottle down while he took advantage of the drink 
himself.  “I do understand why you are hesitant to accept a drink at my hand.  
Still, I think both of us could use one after what just occurred.”  He took 
another sip and walked to where he had left the enchanted blade.  “You would be 
hard pressed to find a weapon of this sort, even among the servants of Nasoj.”

Lois turned his head suddenly as the sound of singing resumed in the distance.  
Even knowing what the lady intended for him, Lois found himself rising to his 
feet, meaning fully to again search out the source of the song.  He had already 
nearly reached the door when the tones of the song suddenly stopped, and he 
staggered to a stop, just a few steps short of a wolf who glared at him sharply.

“Get control of yourself,” he ordered sharply.  Lois saw now that the wolf had 
placed some sort of glyph on the door, which pulsed erratically with some 
unknown power.  “The woman who sought to trap your soul is a Siren, a very 
sinister sort of hypnotic mage.  Sirens can exert simple influence over the 
minds of men with their song, but I imagine by the strength of her power over 
you that she was given a vial of your blood.”

Lois blinked, backing away from the door warily.  “Why would she need that?”

The wolf made a few gestures about the door, and whatever he was doing seemed 
to calm the eddies of power that were causing the glyph to pulse.  “It is a 
primitive form of sanguimancy.  After drinking a small amount of a victim’s 
blood, a Siren can impose their will on a subject with very little resistance.”

The ermine stumbled to a chair and sat, feeling weak.  “I think I would like 
that drink now.”

The wolf nodded.  “Of course.  That ward should prevent her song from reaching 
you until her influence has passed.  Meanwhile, we have nothing to do but bide 
our time.”

He poured two more glasses of the drink and set the bottle between them before 
handing one glass to Lois and sitting across the table with the second.  He 
took a quick sip of the drink, and the ermine did the same.  The sharp sting of 
alcohol on his tongue assured him that whatever sort of drink it might have 
been, it would quickly leave him in a drunken stupor if he did not exercise 
restraint.  As tense as he felt knowing the control that the strange 
enchantress held over him, he did not need that sort of relaxation.

“I suppose an introduction would be welcome,” his host said after he had 
already downed another half tumbler full.  “My name is Nathan.  As to how I 
know you and why I came to your aid, that may be slightly more difficult to 
explain.  Truly the answer to the first question should have prevented me from 
ever helping you, but I am only here because I have been sent to someone’s aid, 
and as loathe as I have been to accept it, you are the one to whom I must now 
give my help.”  Lois was confused as he listened, and from the way the wolf’s 
voice changed tone and inflection throughout his speech the ermine could sense 
a clear conflict.  Again, he doubted his choice to drink, even as his savior 
leveled another sharp glare on him across the table.  “I ask you, Vincent Lois, 
what is the worth of a life?”

With adrenaline now fading and the touch of alcohol settling his nerves, Lois 
was better prepared for the sudden, unexpected shift in the wolf’s demeanor.  
The question hung in the air, and Lois left it so unanswered as he slowly drank 
from his glass again.  Setting it down, he met the wolf’s gaze as directly as 
he could.  “I sense in your question a test for me.  If there is a countersign 
you expect me to deliver, I do not remember what it might be.  If it is a 
catechism I should recite, I have no knowledge of it.  I can only offer my own 
answer to the question.”

Nathan shifted in his seat, something changing in his expression, but that 
searching gaze remained.  “And?  What is your answer?”

Lois paused, trying to determine what the wolf expected.  Then, he realized, it 
made no difference.  “A life... is a man’s first and most valuable possession.  
No other riches have value unless life itself remains.”

The wolf snorted a short laugh and stood, taking the bottle from the center of 
the table and filling his glass again.  “An amusing answer,” he said, drinking 
a quarter of his drink before immediately replacing it from the bottle.  He 
stared at the full glass again for a moment before setting it down and pushing 
it towards the center of the table, beyond an easy arm’s reach.  “I have heard 
you in your sincerity, now hear me in mine.  The answer you gave me is not the 
one I expected – and yes there was a specific phrase I expected to hear 
repeated – but it tells me what I needed to know.  You have lost your memory, 
as I had been told.”

Lois nodded, trying to determine exactly what the wolf was doing.  “I remember 
bits and snatches, people and events, but not much more than that.  There are 
only very few things I even recall from before coming here.”

The wolf nodded.  “So I have heard from at least one person I consider 
trustworthy, but I had to be sure.  Though they may think they know you, they 
do not know about you nearly as much as I do.”  He paced a few steps towards 
the door and turned back to look at the ermine contemplatively.  “Ignorant as 
you are of your own past, I suppose some degree of explanation would be helpful 
for us both.”

The ermine nodded his agreement.  “If you know anything of my past I would be 
glad to hear it.”

Nathan shook his head sharply with a bitter chuckle.  “I doubt that.  
Nevertheless, I am not here to judge whether you will enjoy learning of your 
past.  For me to be of any true help to you, it is necessary for me to explain 
those things now past.”  He clearly wished to take more of his drink to still 
his nerves before starting his explanations, but some more rational part of him 
realized he needed clarity more than calm at this moment.

“Before you came to Metamor, Lois, long before you lost your memory, you were 
an assassin.  Not some hired blade who hid behind the influence of nobility or 
royalty to work tasks without hope of reprisal, no.  You worked for whatever 
sort might have the coin to pay: nobles, yes, but also merchants, 
moneychangers, even members of the clergy.  If a man wanted blood spilled and 
could afford your fee, you would see the task done.”

Instinctively, Lois wished to deny it, but something in the back of his mind 
kept him silent.  Whether it was simply the desire to remain impartial, or some 
part of him that wished to accept the story as truth he could not tell from his 
own part, but at least he meant to hear what the wolf would say.

“That is why I know you in a way that many others here do not,” the wolf said 
quietly.  “A merchant’s family should never have to hear that he was murdered 
at the behest of a rival, yet one day I returned home from learning my trade 
and found the town guard explaining to my mother that my father’s throat had 
been slit and his body left in a gutter with the sewage.  None knew it was your 
work then; no man in such profession wishing to live past the next week would 
perform such an act where he could be identified.  Only later were you captured 
after another attempted assassination, and you coldly and calmly admitted to 
killing a merchant in addition to several other murders.  I couldn’t bear to 
watch you sit there and smugly admit what you had done.  The guards had to 
escort me from the room screaming, but as they did I knew that you would 
escape.  How could you not?  The court had denied me justice, of course fate 
would do the same.  Before the gallows had even been prepared, your cell was 
found empty, and nobles are only too quick to forgive a killer when his 
services may be useful to them later.  I swore, with or without the aid of the 
law, to bring you to justice myself.”

The story made Lois increasingly uncomfortable.  He finished his glass in an 
attempt to settle his nerves, but he could barely even taste the alcohol 
anymore and certainly could not feel its effects.  Only the fact that the wolf 
had not yet killed him kept him from trying to make a quick escape.  “So… you 
have rescued me from the Siren in order to kill me yourself?”

The wolf sighed and paced back towards the table, leaning across to take his 
tumbler and drink again.  Between the two men trying to calm themselves, the 
bottle was already very nearly empty.  “I would sorely like to.  To be honest, 
had the Curse not changed your face, I do not believe I would have been able to 
stop myself.”  He glanced over at Lois, his expression impossible to read.  “In 
my obsession with revenge, however, I began to learn more about you.

“As soon as my time as an apprentice was over, I spurned the life of a 
craftsman to search you out, using what coin my father’s business had provided 
us after his death to fund my ventures.  I expected to follow a trail after you 
traced in blood and death, but as I slowly picked up your trail it was from men 
and women who considered you a friend, not from widows and orphans of your 
victims desiring to help my righteous crusade.  As furious as I was about my 
father’s death at your hands, I could not shake the feeling that something was 
wrong.  I began to ask different questions, inquiring after your past instead 
of only asking where you had gone.  As I gathered new information, a strange 
picture emerged that I had not expected.

“You were, as I said before, an assassin under no banner.  I assumed that this 
meant that you worked alone, but I learned that this wasn’t the case as time 
passed.  You bore a brand on your left hand, inscribed with a simple message 
sketched in fine scars: ‘No life has value except for my own.’”  He let the 
phrase hang in the air as he watched the ermine for any reaction.  Lois was too 
frozen by anticipation to even react, though he did realize that this was the 
source of the wolf’s earlier question.  “Such a brand was entirely consistent 
with what I knew of you already, but it was something more.  I discovered in 
time that you were not the only one to bear such a mark.  I spent far too many 
crowns to purchase the cooperation of those who had seen the mark in other 
places, and what I learned in those interviews made me reconsider my quest, and 
drove me to turn my life to another purpose.”

Lois stirred.  He looked at the palm of his left paw, but found no message – 
there was only a clutter of scars with no pattern or meaning.  He sighed.  With 
what remained of his memory, the message might have been there once, now erased 
by the Curse.  As it stood, if this was the conclusion to the wolf’s tale, he 
was not sure he found it satisfactory.  “You came here, a place where the Curse 
would hold you and prevent you from completing your mission of revenge?”

Nathan chuckled with a shake of his head.  “I came to fight during the Battle 
of the Three Gates, responding to a summons from the Duke to fortify against 
the coming siege.  That the Curse kept me here was coincidence, though it did 
certainly make returning to my hunt much more difficult.  Then, after almost 
ten years of building myself a life here away from dreams of vengeance, you 
came to me.”

“And rather than kill me, you saved my life.”

The wolf shook his head and tried to drink again, only to find he had emptied 
his cup already.  Heaving a sigh, he set it on the table and placed his paws on 
the wood beside it.  “Vincent Lois, I cannot forgive you for what you did, but 
there is more at work here than one more death could possibly make right,” he 
said, speaking slowly.  “I do not know how to best explain what is going on, 
but my understanding of the evidence leads me to believe that every assassin 
with that mark upon their hands is a thrall, with no control of their own 

Lois began to protest, but he held his peace.  Even if he did deny the claim, 
he knew he would not be trusted.  The very nature of the suggestion meant that 
denial would only serve to make him seem even more suspicious.  In fact, as he 
thought about it more, he began to see a strange sense to the idea.  “If that 
is true… that could explain why I remember so little.”

“Yes.”  The wolf finally sat again, clasping his hands before him.  He was 
clearly still struggling with his own emotions, but he also seemed to have 
reached the point where he was ready to try to help Lois.  “Some of the 
assassins that I discovered bearing that brand had disappeared without a trace, 
but others had been captured.  Disturbingly, of those that were captured, most 
died in their cells with no visible wounds, faces twisted in agony.  Of the few 
that survived, most were reduced to mindless babbling before any trial could 
occur.  Only a few had survived with some degree of sanity, but each maintained 
that they could remember none of their alleged crimes.  More strikingly, the 
mark had disappeared from their hands.”

“What convinced you that they were under someone’s control?” Lois asked.

The wolf turned to meet his eyes.  “Though many times I received my information 
long after any trail had occurred, once I was able to observe one of the trials 
myself, and had the opportunity to speak to the man in question.  Like you, he 
claimed that he had some fragments of memory remaining, but that included some 
dim recollection of assassinations he had committed, and of a voice directing 
his every action.”

“You trust his testimony?”

“Not without some cause,” the wolf replied.  He sat back, running claws through 
his fur as he organized his thoughts.  “Though that was the only one of the 
assassins to whom I spoke personally, his story matched too closely with the 
others for me to simply ignore it.  He gained nothing from convincing me of his 
innocence; I had no power to free him, and his appointment with the hangman’s 
noose was mere hours away.  There was no desperation to his speech, only an 
earnest desire to be believed.  Added to the weight of evidence I had already 
collected, it was enough to confirm what I had already suspected.”

Lois glanced at the door, where the glyph still pulsed with energy, though 
visibly weaker now than when it had first been drawn.  “So the Siren…”

“Likely sent to eliminate you after your masters’ control had been thwarted,” 
the wolf finished, nodding.  “To the best of my knowledge, you would be the 
first of their assassins to have broken free of their control without them 
intentionally abandoning you.  It seems that their magic was unable to 
withstand the Curse’s power to alter your mind, and with their control broken 
before they could dispose of you on their terms it seems they had to send an 
agent to do so personally.”

The ermine looked back at where the stiletto sat.  It still pulsed with a 
strange energy that warped the light around it, causing images of impossible 
shadows to flicker around its silhouette.  “They were not trying to kill me, 
though,” he mused.

“Lois, I was not able to determine exactly how long you acted as an assassin, 
but I know it was longer than ten years.  Thrall or no, I expect some measure 
of personal skill was involved in your success over that length of time, and 
that would make you an extremely valuable asset to them,” Nathan explained.  
“If they could trap your soul magically within this blade, it would allow them 
to move you to whatever location they wished.  Your body would appear as a 
corpse, and few people would stop a hearse on its way to return a fallen 
soldier to his homeland, regardless of whether the body was Curse-touched or 

“And then they could have simply taken control again,” Lois muttered.  He 
shuddered a bit. Although he had no recollection of being enthralled, the idea 
itself sent an unearthly chill through him and made the fur stand straight 
along the back of his neck.

Nathan sighed and nodded.  “Unfortunately, the threat has not passed.  We have 
thwarted their first attempt, nothing more.  I have no question that they will 
try again soon.”

The ermine looked across the table seriously.  His claws were beginning to dig 
into the tabletop.  “I have to escape before they can strike again,” he hissed.

The wolf nodded his agreement.  “As much as I have wished to kill you, Lois, I 
realized in time that it was not Vincent Lois that I wished dead, it was the 
puppet master pulling the strings.  As soon as the Siren ceases her song, we 
must leave this place.”


Nathan looked at Lois soberly.  “I cannot leave you to fend for yourself, as 
much as I might desire to do so for my father’s sake.  Throughout my quest for 
revenge, I have soothed my conscience by telling myself that killing you would 
not make me the same sort of assassin you were.  I have lived a life enviable 
by some priests, convinced that my good deeds would undo the necessary evil I 
sought to commit.”  He slowly shook his head, running a paw through the fur 
along the back of his neck.  “Jaded as I have become, I still could not 
consider myself honest in my intentions if I was not willing to extend a 
helping hand to you now that I am convinced of your innocence.”  The words he 
spoke came out from a tight jaw, and he refused to make eye contact as he 
spoke.  His continuing anger was clear, but he still made no move to harm the 
man he had rescued perhaps an hour before.

Lois watched the black wolf, trying to collect his thoughts.  On the one hand, 
he feared what would happen if Nathan’s anger were to boil over against him.  
His duels against Balrog the day before had been ample proof that he would be 
defenseless if he was ever attacked.  By the same token, however, attempting to 
flee on his own would leave him exposed, forced to fight any pursuer with what 
little skill he still possessed. The wolf was dangerous, but Lois judged that 
fleeing on his own would be even more so.

“When can we leave, then?”

The wolf looked at him briefly, then turned to look at the rune that had been 
traced on the door.  The pulses I the energy seemed to have calmed and lost 
their regular rhythm, even as the glyph itself had visibly lost much of its 
power.  The wolf crossed to the door and ran his claws through the air near the 
door, and slowly dismantled the magic.  Lois strained to hear the hypnotic 
tones of the music, but even once the spell was fully removed he heard nothing 
from beyond the door besides a light breeze and the very quiet sound of a torch 
guttering in the sconce beyond the door.

“Better sooner than later I would say,” Nathan replied.  “We have several hours 
until sunup, and that should give us time to disappear into the wild before my 
patrol realizes that I am gone.”

Lois felt a sudden chill run through his body.  Though he felt willing to do 
almost anything to avoid another encounter with the Siren or anyone allied with 
her, the thought of leaving immediately made him realize how serious the 
situation was.  He was isolated, cut off from his patrol, with only this 
stranger between him and the sinister purposes of an unknown pursuit.

“I have one friend here still,” Lois said.  “Could we try to bring him with us?”

The wolf shook his head resolutely.  “If he is sleeping in the common bunk room 
it would not be worth the risk, even as empty as it is now.  We know for 
certain that the enemy has agents within the walls, and while it may very well 
just be the Siren, we should still take precautions and avoid giving her 
opportunity to find you again.  I will escort you to your chamber so that you 
can collect your things, but that is already a significant risk.  We should 
hurry to it.”

The wolf stepped briskly towards the table as he spoke, and leaned down to take 
a black travel bag from where it had been set below the tabletop.  He slung it 
over his shoulder and looked to Lois meaningfully.  It was clear that he was 
serious about his suggestion that they leave immediately.

Nervous as he was, Lois still felt that the wolf was right.  He stood and 
joined Nathan by the door.  The wolf cracked it open and glanced beyond the 
threshold, his ears swiveling slowly to check for threats his eyes could not 
detect.  The ermine waited, straining his own ears to try to hear anything, but 
there was nothing unexpected.  After several moments of silence, the wolf 
turned and nodded towards the door.  Lois took the suggestion and passed the 
wolf into the hall, taking a moment to get his bearings before setting off in 
the direction of the room where his possessions waited.  The wolf followed him, 
keeping close with eerily silent footfalls devoid even of the clicking of claws 
the ermine made himself.

Their journey was short.  Though many of the Outpost’s halls were uniform and 
utilitarian with few landmarks, Lois found himself following small signs that 
he could remember with startling clarity from his few trips through the halls 
since his transformation.  Momentarily, the nagging fear of becoming an animal 
again returned, but the spike of panic was quickly quashed.  There were far 
more immediate fears on his mind now.  Losing his mind to feral instinct now 
felt like it might be a welcome relief with the fate he had narrowly escaped 
barely an hour prior.

He realized that the door to his chamber was ajar as he rounded the corner, and 
Nathan sensed his unease quickly.  The wolf stepped forward and moved towards 
the door cautiously.  He reached under his coat and withdrew one of the weapons 
Lois had noticed earlier, revealing it to be a slender wooden rod of moderate 
length wrought with intricate designs up the half that the wolf gripped.  The 
manner in which he held it seemed odd as well: he held it almost vertically in 
his strong hand, with his other forearm braced behind it.  He reached the 
threshold and delivered a sharp kick to the center of the door, spinning to 
defend against any attack from the corner before entering the room and pinning 
the portal to the wall to prevent it from causing any more noise.

“I see no one,” he whispered, stepping back.  “I expect you left the door open 
while investigating the Siren song.”

Lois nodded, though his heart remained in his throat even as he followed the 
wolf into the room.  Nathan’s amber eyes glowed in the dark as the ermine 
stepped past him, but there was no threat in his gaze.  He turned and left the 
room to stand guard in the hall, pulling the door closed as he did.

The ermine wasted no time finding the wardrobe where his things had been 
placed.  Though he knew there was a rush, he could not help himself as he saw 
the small pile of weapons wrapped in clothing that no longer fit his strangely 
altered body.  He pulled one of the long daggers from their sheaths slowly, 
eyes falling along the silvery blade that almost glowed despite the darkness of 
the room.  His mind wandered to the claims that Nathan had made, and a chill 
ran through him.  Was he truly an assassin?  These daggers… he had no doubt 
that they were exactly the sort of weapons that such a man would use in his 
dark work. It only served to convince him even further of the wolf’s sincerity. 
 He wondered how much blood had been spilled at his hands…

No.  He drew a sharp breath as he snapped the blade back home.  Whatever evil 
had driven his actions of the past had been washed away by the enigmatic Curse. 
 He would not let it haunt him now, while his life still hung in the balance.

He examined the bundle of clothing that the weapons had been wrapped in, trying 
as quickly as possible to determine if any of the ill-fitting clothing could be 
useful.  The robe he wore gave him some degree of mobility, but it offered no 
protection.  Perhaps some of the armor could still be of use…

His contemplation was interrupted as something fell out of the bundle, landing 
on the floor with a clatter and rolling a few inches before coming to rest near 
the bed.  Clothing forgotten, Lois looked at it in confusion.  He knelt beside 
the object and took it in one of his paws.  It was a smoking pipe, ornately 
carved with designs intricate enough to convince him that no rank-and-file 
soldier would be able to afford such a thing.  Any question of its origin was 
cleared from his mind, however, by a strange ache.

The ermine knew what it was to try to remember something with no success.  It 
had become an infuriatingly common sensation to him over the past few days.  
Looking at the pipe, on the other hand, produced an entirely different 
sensation.  No, he did not recall the mysterious artifact.  It was almost the 
opposite, as though he specifically recalled that it did not exist.  It was an 
inherently illogical feeling and he knew it, but it was so intense that it made 
him feel dizzy.  What did it mean?

He turned his eyes to glance about the room, suddenly aware of a hundred tiny 
details that had escaped his notice until now.  The stones of the floor in the 
room, he realized, produced a similar feeling of impossibility.  Turning 
slowly, he set a paw atop the table beside the bed, feeling a phantom sting 
shoot through his arm.  It was wrong.  His fingertips passed over the smooth 
wood.  Too smooth; he distinctly recalled having raked his claws across the 
edge of the table the night before.  His robe, the sheets on the bed, the 
wardrobe… they were all wrong.

Lois coughed, realizing that he had not taken a breath since finding the pipe, 
the impossible pipe that still rested in the palm of his hand.  He braced 
himself against the wardrobe, his eyes quickly darting to the door, which 
remained closed before him.  The ermine silently approached it, and tried to 
peek through the crack to see what was beyond.

*       *       *

Nathan maintained his defensive posture outside the door, glancing about for 
any sign of a threat while staying close enough to the door to hear if Lois 
called to him.  He hoped that the ermine would prepare quickly.  They needed to 
leave as soon as they could, and he hated to consider the possibility that the 
assassin might reconsider their attempt to escape.

“What are you doing?”

The wolf swore and stumbled back from the source of the voice, resuming his 
defensive stance as well as he could.  He had not expected any interruption, 
and now he struggled to catch his breath as he searched the shadows for the one 
which had spoken, finding nothing despite his predator’s vision.

“Who goes there?”

“You were sent to kill the ermine, not challenge him to a game of cat and 

The wolf swore again, letting his weapon drop to his side.

“I told the grandmaster that I could bring Lois back alive!” he replied, 
speaking to the air in the absence of a visible presence.  “I was given this 
opportunity; do you seek to undo the work I have already done?”

“Vincent Lois is too dangerous to be left alive!  If he remembers anything of 
who we are – if he remembers anything about what we did to him – he could 
destroy us!”

“Your argument is with the grandmaster, now leave before you compromise this 
mission beyond repair!”

“Lois is a shell!  Bringing him back will accomplish nothing.”

The wolf paused, blinking.  That was wrong, none of them would – and then he 
growled angrily.

“Well played, Vincent,” he snarled.  Behind him, the door opened fully, 
revealing the form of the ermine standing beyond.  Lois held one of his daggers 
casually in his right hand, walking slowly towards the wolf.

“I believe the grandmaster would have been pleased with your work, at least 
with how it started,” the ermine said drily.  His general bearing and manner 
had completely changed, and he spoke with confidence and a bite of anger.  
“Tell me, do Sirens actually exist?  I am curious.”

The wolf angrily swiped towards Lois with his strange weapon, but it passed 
through the ermine as though he did not exist.  “You fool!  Do you realize what 
you have done?” Nathan barked.

“Evidently, you have failed your mission to bring me back to your masters,” the 
ermine replied casually.

“I failed to bring you back alive,” the wolf snarled.  “You have left me no 
choice but to kill you.”

“I assume we will deal with that once this dream has ended,” Lois remarked.  He 
stood muzzle to muzzle with the wolf now, staring him down despite his weaker, 
more slender build.  “When you do, what will your masters think?  You failed 
utterly to kill a vulnerable amnesiac, apparently following a plan of your own 
conception.  I expect you might be stripped of whatever rank you own, or 
perhaps they will send another agent to punish your incompetence.”

“I know you seek to learn more, Lois, and I will tell you nothing.”  The wolf 
was trying with little success to compose himself.  The anger was expected, but 
there was something else.  Frustration, regret…

“You are not fully your own either,” Lois spoke softly.  His voice held 
something new: a touch of pity.  “You never wished to kill me; you fought your 
masters for a chance to save my life.”

“Do not patronize me, you fool.”  The wolf angrily circled about the standing 
form of Lois, who merely turned to watch him.  “You are nothing more than a 
useful tool, a puppet to dance at the end of our strings.  After years of 
useful work, of course we are loathe to lose your services.”

“Yet my services are lost, perhaps irreparably.  You know as well as I do that 
I know too much to risk another attempt at subterfuge,” the ermine replied.  
“Perhaps, though, you desire another chance, an opportunity freely given.”

Nathan stopped pacing and glared at the ermine.  “Whatever you would offer, I 
suggest you do so quickly.”

Lois gave an enigmatic smile.  “When we both awake, I will waste no time in 
making my way to the common bunks. If you wish to kill me there you will have 
to contend with my allies there, along with the eyes of every soldier currently 
housed in the barracks.”  The ermine knew that his deliberate speech infuriated 
the wolf, but he meant to make his case clear.  “I will tell them who you are, 
and while you may succeed in killing me if you remain persistent, you will 
never be able to work in the North again, and so Cursed as you are you will be 
worthless to your employers, left with nothing but to live out a short life in 
the wilderness.  However, if you so desire, I will leave Outpost behind and 
meet you in whichever location you wish, alone.”

The wolf sneered.  “Why would you risk such a thing with nothing to gain?”

“As I see it, I am very likely a dead man as it is.  I do not underestimate the 
powerful motivation that revenge can be, whether you would gain anything from 
my death or not.  I wish for a chance to face you, man to man.  I have had my 
fill of running.”

“I do not believe you,” Nathan replied.  “You know you will lose a fight 
against me as you are.  I watched you fight Balrog this afternoon, and any 
farmer’s son could have seen that you lost all of your combat skill along with 
your memory.”

“What do you have to lose, then?” Lois asked.  His smile was infuriating to the 
already-frustrated wolf.  “The worst scenario is that I bring someone with me, 
and you will have to kill me in a crowd, the same as you would if you tried to 
assassinate me in Hareford.  If, however, I am honest, then you have one more 
chance to bring me to your masters alive, and save your own life at once.”

The wolf’s amber eyes narrowed.  He slowly slipped the strange wooden rod back 
into its position on his belt as he took a deep breath.  “You will take the 
West Gate and follow the road,” he explained, speaking slowly and deliberately. 
 “About an hour’s march from here, you will see a partially cleared area to the 
left of the road, and beyond that a small path leading into the woods.  At the 
end of that path you will find an abandoned lumber camp.  I will wait for you 

Lois bowed his head in exaggerated gratitude.  “I trust that we will have time 
to get to know one another better.  We may be working together again after 
tonight, after all.”

The wolf turned and stalked away, stopping where the hallway visibly faded to 
nothing in shadow.  He calmed himself, taking a few breaths before he spoke one 
more time.  “Even without your Balance, you remain in some small way the same 
assassin that once convinced the Questioners that your mark commissioned his 
own murder,” he said.  There was a touch of admiration in his voice, some 
respect leaking in past the venom he had been spitting since his ruse had been 
discovered.  “I look forward to seeing how you will try to fix this gamble in 
your favor.”

The ermine had already begun to fade from the dreamscape, but the wolf turned 
in time to see a glimpse of the mischievous smile on his target’s face.

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