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Chapter 22: Inglenook

Updated: Aug 24, 2023

Eni spent the walk back to Rongen's tower turning what little they knew over and over in her mind, as though she could simply will answers into being. It was a small consolation that Tsar had been as luckless as her when it came to finding any other hint of the mage they were after, but Eni would have gladly accepted him finding something she couldn't. He was, after all, the Slayer, and that was supposed to be what he was good at.

If he was the Slayer.

Perhaps it was just because her faith in Avamezin as a friend had been rattled, but Eni was finding it difficult to shake the words that the Archivist had written in his letter. If she had to accept the possibility that her best friend of a decade could treat her with such loathsome and sly cruelty it made her wonder about Tsar. He was openly snappy and cold, and despite the vast depths of knowledge he seemed to have she had yet to see him do anything supernatural himself. Maybe he really was a fraud.

But if he was, she had no idea what he was hoping to get out of her or why he would go to such elaborate lengths to fool her, and she thought the same of Avamezin. Her humiliation still stung, no matter how she tried to keep it in perspective, but she didn't want to believe that the tiger could be so callous. His sympathy after his realization of what the dress meant had felt utterly genuine, and even after giving Eni his cloak he had made sure to check in with her again and again for the rest of the party.

No one else had quite dared to proposition her after the dress had been covered by Aza's voluminous cloak; the closest anyone had come had been a slightly tipsy cougar who had asked her a question she could at least pretend had been innocently meant. But it had also occurred to Eni that if Avamezin did know the mage and didn't actually want them found, he couldn't have come up with a better way to make Eni more conspicuous and her efforts to investigate more difficult. Despite the borrowed cloak covering literally every inch of her fur below the neck and utterly hiding the shape of her body, she had felt more eyes upon her and heard more muttering after she had put it on.

"It's a cold night, my dear," an unfamiliar voice called out, "Do you need someone to keep you warm?"

Eni's head snapped up, but she didn't need to look far to see who had spoken. The streets of Tormurghast were very nearly empty, and the mammal who had called out to her was impossible to miss. He was an inky black wolf who couldn't have been more than two or three inches taller than Tsar, but he easily outweighed Eni's companion by at least forty pounds. His extra bulk looked to be entirely muscle, too; all he wore over his chest was a red vest with shining brass buttons. It flaunted the rippling muscles of his arms and gave a peek at his taut abdomen and the soft fur of his neck in a way that was obviously the intended effect. The wolf's trousers were so tight that Eni couldn't imagine how he could have possibly pulled them on, and her ears flushed as she realized exactly who he was.

His crimson top looked to have been cut down from a City Guard uniform, the same as the dress Eni had been tricked into wearing, and his trousers even had a stripe running down the right leg and an exaggerated military flare at the ankles. "Aww, don't be embarrassed," the wolf said, his voice warm and almost liquid, "A bunny like you, all alone in a big city like this... No shame in finding some company to pass the night."

He apparently hadn't noticed Tsar, who seemed almost to have been swallowed by the shadows, his dark cloak and fur blending into the night. The prostitute's yellow eyes gleamed in the streetlights before he tipped Eni a wink that he probably meant to be roguish, but instead came off as vaguely obscene. "Perhaps I can quench your thirst with the sweetest nectar," the wolf said.

"No," Eni replied, "'Perhaps I can slake your thirst with the Mother's ambrosia.'"

"If that's what you like," the wolf crooned, a slow grin splitting his handsome face as his questing fingers reached for Eni's face. Tsar had stopped a step behind Eni, but she wasn't paying any more attention to him than the other wolf was. "No, no," Eni said, brushing the stranger's paw aside, "You're getting the quote wrong. It's 'ambrosia,' not 'nectar.' That's the closest translation from the original Jarku. And besides, it's what Almara tells the Slayer, not the other way around. It doesn't make sense for you to say it."

The wolf blinked, suddenly looking uncertain of himself as he withdrew his arm. "What?" he said, his confusion evident.

"You're supposed to be playing the role of the Slayer, right?" Eni asked, as patiently as she would deal with a first-year student filled with overconfidence but not an ounce of knowledge, "You're not doing it right."

"If that's what you like," the wolf said, regaining his composure as his prior charming expression slipped back across his muzzle, "I can be whoever you desire, little bunny."

"Oh, no thanks," Eni said, "But if you want to do a better job sounding like the Slayer, I can recommend some—"

"You have a good night," the wolf interrupted, his voice and face overly pleasant, and then he ambled off, resolutely ignoring Eni as he headed toward a timid ram emerging from a side street. She heard him mutter,

"Crazy rabbit," under his breath, so quietly that she doubted anyone else would have noticed, and she shook her head as she looked to Tsar.

"Sorry about that," she said as they started walking again.

"Your business who you talk to," Tsar said bluntly, shrugging his shoulders beneath his tattered cloak.

"It's interesting, though, isn't it?" Eni asked, after they had gone about another half a block, "The effect the Slayer—you, I mean—has had."

"On prostitutes?" Tsar asked dryly, his tone and face utterly devoid of emotion.

"Yes, exactly!" Eni said, "Haven't you noticed?"

"Wouldn't know," Tsar said, "Never used one."

"Neither have I, but haven't you been, you know, propositioned before?" Eni asked.

Tsar shrugged again, and Eni realized that his shabby appearance probably suggested to most mammals that he didn't have any money to spend. Either that or it was simply the aura he seemed to exude, like the heat of a fire, that warned others to stay away and leave him alone. Rongen had told her flat out that Tsar had gone to brothels with him, and Eni wondered how awkward that must have been for everyone involved if the wolf had been then as he currently was. "It was the thesis topic of one of the mammals I went to university with, actually," Eni said, "'The Impact of the Slayer on Brothel Composition During and After the Scourge.'" Tsar grunted.

"Male," he said, still looking ahead instead of at Eni.

Eni laughed; she doubted he had meant it as a joke, but his accusation was one her classmate had been rather familiar with. "No, actually," she said, "Coressa's female."

"Wolf?" Tsar asked, and Eni shook her head.

"She's a coyote," she replied, "She did a really thorough job with her research, too. Coressa went through the records of dozens of brothels, all throughout the Cradle, and you know what she found?"

Tsar didn't answer, and Eni decided to take it as an invitation to continue. "During the Scourge, there were five times as many canine prostitutes as there had been before it.

And even now, the total number is about twice what you'd expect it to be."

"Mammals want to fuck the Slayer," Tsar said, and Eni was painfully reminded of one of the first things he had ever said to her, "No surprise. That's all the stories are. A cock and a whip."

"Well, that's not how all the stories go," Eni said, although she had to admit he had a point.

Most of the tales about the Slayer could be broadly categorized as romance, action, or both, many of them variations on the same basic idea. The Slayer against a monster. The Slayer and a lonely innkeeper. The Slayer convincing a wicked noble to change their ways. And on and on; Eni had meticulously classified hundreds of legends and folktales and knew that there really wasn't much in the way of variety. It didn't matter to her, though, and she only wished she could make Tsar understand.

"Besides," Eni said, "The stories we tell say a lot about us. That's what the Archivist always said. And when mammals talk about the Slayer... Really, it's about hope. Hope that someone can stand against evil and drive it back. Hope that love is its own reward. Don't you see?"

"Hope," Tsar repeated, speaking the word as though it was utterly foreign to him, and as Eni glanced at him his eyes seemed to lose focus on the street in front of them.

He didn't say anything else as they kept walking, not even as Rongen's tower drew into sight, and Eni kept her own silence. There was still a lot she had to think about, and in the corner of her heart there was an ember of something precious and fragile. Tsar was still a closed book to her in many ways, as inscrutable and unreadable as The Lamentations of Nergora itself, but she didn't think he would always be that way. She had seen enough to think that there was more to him than he let on, to think that he might one day show her his true self.

She hoped.

They walked in silence for more than half a dozen blocks and then Eni heaved a sigh and shook her head, trying to focus her scattered thoughts. Her mind was spinning in circles, and as the gate to Rongen's estate came into view she told herself that what she needed was a good night's sleep and a fresh perspective.

Tsar cocked his head in her direction at her sigh, his blue eyes seeming ghostly pale in the dim and silvery light of the moon. "I'm just a little frustrated we didn't walk away with a better lead," she said in answer to the unasked question.

Eni admitted to herself that the wolf might not actually be interested in hearing what she had to say, but speaking sometimes helped her put her thoughts in order. "But there's always tomorrow," she added, trying to give the words some enthusiasm.

The Slayer made a low sound of acknowledgement deep in his throat before turning his head to look back at their destination. "What'd the cougar say?" he asked.

Eni blinked; it was the first time he had spoken in quite some time and his question gave her the somewhat uncomfortable feeling that he could read her thoughts. "Oh, that?" Eni said, hedging for time as she tried to figure out what to say, "All he asked was, uh…"

She paused for a moment. "He asked if I wanted him to get me some food," she finished, which seemed the most tactful way to do it.

"In those words?" Tsar asked, his eyes back upon her.

Eni looked down at the ground and kicked the cobblestones of the street. "He asked if I wanted a sausage," she said, her voice barely more than a mumble.

"There weren't any sausages," Tsar replied, a frown crossing his face.

He sounded genuinely puzzled and Eni stared at him. "He… didn't mean it literally," she said slowly; she had never heard Tsar laugh or even chuckle and she was growing more certain that he really was as humorless as he seemed.

She hadn't found the crass question funny herself, but if nothing else she supposed that she preferred a version of the Slayer who wasn't as bawdy as the one in the most ribald tales told about him. If, that was, Tsar was indeed the Slayer.

Eni forced herself not to sigh again; she just couldn't seem to avoid the loops her mind was running in. "What'd you say?" he asked, interrupting her gloomy thoughts.

"Nothing," Eni replied, "I just ignored him."

"Curious," the Slayer said after a moment, and while Eni couldn't tell by his tone if he meant that it had been an odd question for the cougar to ask or if he meant that the cougar had simply been curious she was quite sure he didn't mean that he himself wanted to know the answer.

"Tiger told you the truth," he added suddenly.

"Aza, you mean?" Eni asked, puzzled by his sudden shifting of topics.

"Didn't send that dress," Tsar replied, and something inside Eni's heart grew lighter.

"Thank you," she said softly, but Tsar said nothing, silently unlocking the gate to Rongen's tower.

A dim light was seeping out of the tower's lowest floor through the windows, and when they entered Eni saw Rongen asleep in the chair closest to the fire, untidy stacks of paper sprawled across the floor. Acting as paperweights were a haphazard array of containers, from bowls and mugs to pots and vases, that held fine powders in wildly assorted colors.

Although Tsar had opened the door so carefully that it barely made any noise, when he closed it just as slowly behind them the latch made a sharp clicking sound as it engaged. "Who's there?" Rongen yelled suddenly, sitting up with a jerk.

With surprising grace for someone his age who had just woken up, he grabbed his cane and unsheathed four inches of a concealed steel blade before he seemed to realize what was going on. "Gray?" he said, fumbling for his spectacles where they had been left on a small end table to the side of his chair, "Is that you?"

Tsar simply nodded, and the old raccoon made an irritable noise. "For fuck's sake, Gray, how do you not understand I can't see you unless I'm wearing these?" he asked as he jammed his spectacles on and glared at the wolf, "All I see is a big gray blur shaking its top."

Tsar shrugged, and Rongen's scowl deepened. "Well I hope you had a good time tonight," he said, his words heavily inflected with sarcasm.

The old raccoon shuffled in his seat until he was sitting upright and re-sheathed the blade of his sword cane, which he used to lever himself to his feet with a groan. "I know I did," he added, and he actually sounded as though he meant it.

"I'm sorry we woke you up," Eni said, but Rongen waved off the apology.

"It's just as well," he said cheerfully, "My back would have killed me in the morning if I spent the entire night in that damn chair. Come on, take a look."

He beckoned them over closer to the fire, where Eni saw an incongruously beautiful etched silver chafing tray set atop a dusty wooden crate stenciled with duty stamps. Rongen caught her glance and shot her a grin. "I do have other guests sometimes, you know," he said, "Vivianne used to host parties. Unlike this one, I know how to enjoy myself."

He pointed in Tsar's direction with his cane, but the wolf only looked back at him blandly. Rongen snorted and shook his head, but rather than needling the Slayer further he simply said, "Anyway, I figured out a few possibilities."

He fumbled around the room for a moment, scooping little vials off the floor and muttering to himself the whole time as he stacked them on his chair. "This would have been easier if I didn't have to work out here," he groaned as he stooped over and something in his back audibly popped, "But I figured you'd want there to be a tower to return to."

"Why—" Eni began, but he cut her off.

"I've been getting the lifting gas together for my airship," he said, "It doesn't play nice with fire. Experimenting with explosions near the tanks sounded like a bad fucking idea."

Eni shot a look in the direction of Rongen's workshop more than a little nervously, but the raccoon didn't appear particularly concerned about their safety out in his sitting room and so she decided not to comment. "So here are your likely possibilities, as I see them," Rongen said, using tongs to grab an ember from his fireplace and lighting the chafer under the fine silver tray, "First option is this one."

Rongen emptied one of the vials into his paw, which he held aloft to show Eni and Tsar the fine white powder. "This is a lithium salt," he said, and he flung it into the flames.

They instantly flared, suddenly changing color to burn with a beautiful rosy-pink hue, before dying back down to their previous level. Tsar shook his head. "Didn't change color," he said.

The raccoon nodded. "I thought that was the case," he said, "Although someone didn't specify."

He gave Tsar a brief glare, but shrugged his shoulders cheerfully. "But I'd be lying if I said it wasn't fun to play around with elements that make fire change colors," Rongen added, a smile softening his features.

"So if the color didn't change, mmm…" Rongen said thoughtfully, running one paw along the top of his head, "That rules these out."

He swept up an assortment of vials from where he had placed them on his chair, looking at the little labels he had scrawled on each before getting rid of most of the options. "What about smell?" he asked, "Did you get a hint of brimstone?"

"No," Tsar replied.

Eni hadn't smelled anything either, but considering that the wolf was apparently capable of smelling things no normal mammal could she didn't question his certainty. Rongen made a thoughtful sound and removed more of the vials from consideration. "Well, this might work," he said, pouring a small quantity of a fine tan powder into his palm, "But perhaps you see the obvious problem."

He threw the dust into the flames of the chafer and the reaction was immediate. A fireball rose so high that in a more normal room it would have scorched the ceiling, and Eni could feel the flash of heat against her fur as the flames expanded. Brightly colored spots danced in front of her eyes and she blinked repeatedly while Rongen chuckled with apparent pleasure at how successful he had been. "That definitely looked like what we saw," Eni said, glancing at Tsar for confirmation.

He inclined his head slightly, but Eni frowned. "But…" she continued slowly.

Rongen was looking at her expectantly, and while the raccoon was much shorter and fatter than the Archivist he suddenly reminded her powerfully of her boss. Rongen had the familiar look of a teacher waiting to see if a student would figure something out for themselves, and Eni considered what he must have meant by an obvious problem. "But there wasn't anyone standing next to the chafers," Eni finished, speaking the thought as it occurred to her, "We would have seen someone if they had to throw a powder into the flames."

From how a grin split the old raccoon's face, Eni was sure she had said exactly what he hoped she would. "Exactly!" he said, thumping his cane against the floor for emphasis before turning to the Slayer, "You found a clever one, Gray. And neither of you saw anyone?"

Eni shook her head and Tsar did the same. "That rules out the lycopodium powder, then," Rongen said, but he didn't sound disappointed, "But it didn't hurt to check. Dust explosions can be pretty spectacular."

"Yes," the Slayer said simply, and Eni remembered the night they met.

"So I think this is your answer," Rongen said, "Or something like it, anyway."

Rather than pouring out yet another powder into his paw, he produced a small and roughly cube-shaped piece of wax from a small container. Through the translucent shell of the little lump Eni could see that it was filled with something dark, but before she could get a good look at it Rongen had casually tossed it into the flames of the chafer.

For a long moment nothing happened, but just as Eni was beginning to think that it had been a dud there was a sudden and brilliant explosion of flames. She leaped back in surprise and Rongen laughed. "Bit of a shock, isn't it?" he said, even as the flames had already died back down to their previous levels, "Simple trick, but damn clever. The wax seals in the powder and keeps it from reacting with air until the flames start melting the shell. You couldn't predict down to the second how long it'd take for it to go off; there are just too many variables. But giving yourself a few minutes, more or less? Yeah, that's possible."

"I think that's it, Rongen!" Eni said, unable to contain her excitement, "Right, Tsar?"

The wolf was silent for a long moment, his head slowly cocking to one side. His tail idly swept back and forth as he considered the possibilities. "Yes," he said at last, "It felt the same."

Rongen cleared off the remaining items from his chair and sat down heavily, gesturing for Tsar and Eni to do the same. "Well that's something, at least," the raccoon said, the satisfaction in his eyes visible behind his thick spectacles, "Your mage could have been on the other side of the room, laughing up his fucking sleeve."

"How difficult was that to make?" Tsar asked quietly, seeming to ignore Rongen's comment.

The raccoon scratched at his chin. "A little easier than the poison, at least for me," he said after a moment's consideration, "But not exactly what I'd call safe to make. Magnesium's tricky to work with, assuming your alchemist made more or less the same mix I did. You see these?"

Rongen held up his paws and waggled all of his fingers. "Yes?" Eni replied, a bit puzzled as to what he was getting at.

"That means I've still got all ten fingers the Mother blessed me with when I was born," he said, "And that's even without having spares like you Aberrants."

Rongen dropped his paws. "Point being, explosives are fucking dangerous," he said, "Plenty of alchemists are missing fingers or eyes. Shit, I knew one that blew both his fucking arms off. So maybe whoever made the stuff that got used in the castle is like me and takes the care things deserve. Or maybe they had a fucking painful lesson about it when they were younger. But you're definitely looking for an expert."

Tsar nodded once, but there was a far-away look in his eyes that made Eni wonder what he was thinking about. She apparently wasn't alone in her wondering, because Rongen said, "But enough about me. How'd your gala go?"

Tsar didn't reply, the wolf still seeming lost in his own thoughts, and so Eni did her best to explain everything that had happened. When she got to her explanation of the dress, Rongen visibly winced as he heard it described. Eni had changed back into her regular clothes after the party, leaving the red dress behind in the same room she had put it on in, but he obviously didn't need to see it to know what it meant. "Fucking rotten thing to do," Rongen commented, "Sorry someone did that to you."

His voice was rough but sympathetic, and Eni murmured her thanks and tried continuing. However, when she mentioned that it had been Saber-General Lieren Astrasa who had explained the dress's meaning, Rongen interrupted her. "The fucking Woemaker was there?" he demanded, his voice incredulous, "Are the Jaws out of their minds?"

"I don't think Avamezin wanted her there," Eni said, "I don't think he likes her very much."

Rongen snorted. "Big fucking surprise, that," he said, "But unless the Archduke is a half-wit, he has to know she'll cause trouble."

"She… sort of already did," Eni said, and then explained how one of the guests from Renald's delegation had confronted the leopardess.

"Can't say I blame Lord Othis, the poor bastard," Rongen said with a sigh when she was done, "He's about the only member of Karanor's royal family the Woemaker didn't kill."

"You know him?" Eni asked, surprised that the raccoon was familiar with the name; although she thought she was herself well-versed in current events she hadn't recognized Othis's name when Renald had said it.

"Sort of," Rongen replied, "And when I say he was part of the royal family, that doesn't mean he was someone who mattered. There were about two dozen mammals ahead of him in the line of succession. That's the only reason he survived, really. He married into one of the noble families in the Federation before the war started and moved there. Took his wife's surname and did whatever the fuck it is minor nobles do."

The raccoon shrugged. "The only reason I knew who he was is because I had a friend in Karanor. You remember Wesleyna, Gray?"

Tsar nodded once, but remained as silent as he had been since Eni had begun recounting the evening. "Gray and I went to Nahrstrom ages ago. Fifteen years now, I think. Anyway, I met an alchemist there while we were tracking down a…"

He trailed off and shook his head. "That doesn't really matter, I guess," Rongen finished gruffly, "Wesleyna's research was on the gases Karanor has locked up under their mountains. Sure, the Circle has plenty of the stuff everyone wants underground; just ask my daughter. All the diamonds and gold the vainest lord could want, plus the iron, coal, and copper we actually fucking need. But Karanor has stuff I've never heard of anyone finding anywhere else. Wesleyna had discovered a gas lighter than air but completely nonflammable. Won't burn, no matter what you do. She sent me some samples, too. I was planning on filling my airship with it, but…"

Rongen frowned and shook his head. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice sounding somewhat thicker than usual, "I'm rambling. It's just…"

He took off his spectacles and wiped at his face ferociously with one paw. "She was a good friend. Didn't deserve to be caught in that mess," he said.

"What happened?" Eni asked softly, reaching out and taking Rongen's paw in her own.

She could feel his pulse through his callused fingers, his heart quickening. "The Jaws invaded with the Woemaker at the head of the charge, that's what fucking happened," Rongen snapped, pulling his paw from her grip, "She didn't fucking care who was in the way. Total fucking war, burning down every city and village her army passed through. No prisoners. Even when Karanor surrendered, she didn't have any mercy. The Jaws say King Muldersord tried assassinating the Woemaker while he was surrendering, but I don't believe that for a second. She wanted to send a message so she killed everyone with a drop of royal blood she could lay her filthy paws on."

Rongen was breathing more rapidly, his chest heaving, and he took a moment to compose himself. Eni already knew the gory details of everything he had said about the Karanor Campaign, and she had an awful feeling about what had happened to Rongen's friend. "It was chaos after the war ended. Some Karanorians made it out as refugees, but most didn't. Lord Othis acted as a sort of… advocate, I guess. Tried to get as many of his citizens to the safety of the Federation as he could. When my letters couldn't find Wesleyna anymore, I wrote to him. That's how I learned what the Jaws did to her."

The raccoon's voice fell as he looked into Eni's eyes. "The Woemaker caused an avalanche. Buried her whole fucking village under ten feet of snow. Adults and kids alike, they didn't care. No warnings. Did it at night, too, the fucking cowards."

Rongen took a shuddering breath. "So yes," he said, "The Woemaker is fucking poison to negotiations."

He sat back and Eni offered him a sympathetic expression. "I'm sorry," she said.

"So am I," Rongen snapped, "Doesn't change a fucking thing."

His fingers clenched at the arms of his chair for a moment and then relaxed. "That… wasn't fair to you," the raccoon said at last, his voice gruff, "Keep going."

Eni swallowed and nodded, continuing on with her story. Although she kept glancing at Tsar as she awkwardly explained how her power had nearly pulled loose of her and collapsed the floor of the castle, he remained utterly silent. His eyes were half-closed, but she could feel his gaze upon her as he sat watchful and still, seeming to listen with rapt attention.

"What'd the Woemaker do after that?" Rongen interjected as Eni was about to explain Avamezin's reaction.

"She—" Eni began, and then paused.

"I didn't see her again after she spoke to me," Eni said, realizing the words were true as she spoke them, "I guess I didn't notice."

"Sounds like you had other things on your mind," Rongen said, but not unkindly.

"Tsar?" Eni asked, "Did you see where Astrasa went?"

"Left," he answered, speaking up for the first time but not moving.

The Slayer's eyes were still hooded and his face impassive. "She left the ballroom right after you made the floor shake," he added, and then fell silent again.

"Fucking peculiar, I'd say," Rongen said, absently running a paw across his chin.

"She is in charge of the League delegation's security," Eni said, "Maybe she had to check on things."

"Not doing such a great job though, is she?" Rongen asked, "She wasn't even there when someone nearly killed the Archduke. What do you think the odds are she's the one trying to kill him?"

Eni frowned. "Well… maybe," she said hesitantly, "But she's their head of security. Shouldn't that be enough for her to succeed?"

"Not if she's trying to pin it on someone else," Rongen replied.

"What about Renald?" Eni offered, "He must have chosen to bring Lord Othis. And the ibex who tried killing Avamezin was a part of his delegation."

"He's making himself pretty fucking obvious if he is behind it," Rongen said, "But maybe. He might be pulling the whole conspiracy angle—you know, saying the reason it's so obvious he's behind it is because someone is framing him. Not a bad cover."

Rongen frowned, his brow furrowing as he seemed to send his thoughts along similar lines to what Eni was thinking. "Any other obvious suspects?" the raccoon asked.

He was directing the question at Eni, but Tsar surprised her by speaking. "Signa," he said.

Rongen's face twisted in confusion; although Eni had previously mentioned the hulking polar bear he had evidently forgotten the name. "Avamezin's personal bodyguard," Eni explained, "But what makes you suspect him?"

"He's unhappy," Tsar replied, as though that should have been explanation enough.

"Most bodyguards are," Rongen said dismissively, "Particularly ones having to keep an eye on spoiled Jaws royalty."

"No," Tsar said, shaking his head, "Different than that."

"If you say so," Rongen said skeptically, "Anything else your gut is telling you? Besides wanting more honey, at least."

"The Archduke doesn't smell right," Tsar said quietly, "Someone's put something on him."

"What, like he hasn't been perfuming himself with whatever they like in the Fanglands?" Rongen asked.

Tsar shook his head, and his answer was a single word. "Magic."

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