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Chapter 38: Echo of the Innocent

“Ignore me,” Tsar said, and Eni nodded.

They had stopped for the night, and although Eni was so weary that even keeping her eyes open was a struggle, she ignored the call of her bedroll. Tsar had been as good as his word when he promised to begin training her on how to better control her hearing, and she wanted to at least try before going to sleep.

She was sitting on the ground, and Tsar sat facing her, so close that she could see herself reflected in his eyes. He began speaking, saying words in his native tongue, and Eni closed her eyes and tried to blot them out. She reached for the whisper of the wind and the merry crackling of their fire, but even without being able to understand the wolf she couldn't restrain her curiosity.

“Wahadeth fi al'ayam al-mediat 'ani al-diyib ghamar fi al-barias,” he said, each word slow and liquid, and Eni could hear nothing else.

She closed her eyes, trying to cast her hearing out beyond her companion, but it only made each foreign syllable burn into her mind. She felt almost as though she was on the verge of understanding, as though through sheer force of will alone she could pick up the meaning of what Tsar was saying. Sounds danced through her head, coming together and pulling apart as she searched her memory for anything even halfway similar, and then suddenly the words made perfect sense.

“You're listening to me,” Tsar said, and Eni felt her ears stand straight up with excitement before it occurred to her that the reason she had understood him was disappointingly mundane.

He had spoken in Circi.

Eni sighed and opened her eyes, looking into Tsar's face. “I'm sorry,” she said, “It's just… It's hard.”

He nodded, but he didn't look disappointed. His expression was mild and patient, his sharp eyes somehow softened by the light of their campfire, and he was silent a moment. “Do colors have sounds for you?” he asked suddenly, “Or flavors? Scents?”

“Synaesthesia,” Eni said, and when he cocked his head curiously to the side, she added, “That's the word for it. Experiencing one sense as another.”

“Do you?”

“Only when I'm using my magic,” she replied, remembering how vividly the world felt when everything was so alive with sound that it seemed to bleed over into everything else.

“Are you sure?” Tsar asked, and Eni bit off a no before it could leave her mouth.

“I… I'm not sure,” she said at last, and Tsar considered her.

“Listen again,” he said, “Say what comes to mind.”

Eni squeezed her eyes shut once more and took in a deep breath, turning her head so only one ear faced Tsar and letting it rise to its full height. The fabric of his cloak rustled gently as he leaned forward, and Eni was able to picture it perfectly in her mind even without being able to see him. She could imagine the nonchalant sort of grace he always had, his motions impossibly smooth and efficient no matter what he was doing.

For a moment, she could feel the tickle of his breath against the delicate skin of her ear, his soft exhalations like the dim roar of the ocean she had always heard in her youth. Siverets was much too small for her to ever escape the sound of the waves crashing against the shore, the rush of water so constant that it should have faded into the background.

Eni’s mind wandered but she did nothing to stop it, allowing herself to explore the reaches and crevasses of memory that came forth. She pictured the beach closest to her family home, where the sand was finer and whiter than sugar and the water was richly blue. She could almost feel the wet sand sticking between her toes and hear the soft crunch it made, so similar to walking through snow and yet somehow unmistakably different.

And then Tsar spoke.

“Laquad su'unt sae-daan maeak,” he said, and although his tone was unreadable, the words perfectly neutral, the image Eni saw in her head shifted in response.

“I…” Eni began, licking her lips as she tried to describe the scene, “I see where I grew up. The beach along the village. It's… warm and sunny and… The water's nice and cool, like a day in early summer. It's…”

She hesitated, willing her imagination to stand up to the scrutiny. “Content,” she said at last, and the word fit as perfectly as a key in a lock.

“Yes,” Tsar said, sounding almost pleased, and Eni opened her eyes.

“But… That wasn't really synaesthesia, was it?” she asked, “I wasn't…”

She trailed off as she looked at Tsar, her objection failing as she considered what she had been about to say. “It's more complex than I imagined,” Eni said instead, and Tsar made a sound of acknowledgement.

“You heard the truth of what I said,” he replied, “Even without understanding the words.”

Eni's eyes suddenly widened. “Is that what you did when you said you could smell that I wasn't lying?” she asked.

”Yes,” he said simply, “Not the same as your hearing, but the same result.”

“What's it like for you?” she asked, and the wolf considered the question for a long moment.

“It's just there for me. Scents just always have forms and colors and textures to them,” he said, “Perhaps you'll get there with your hearing.”

Eni thought about it carefully, turning the idea over in her head. “I guess it's sort of a way for my mind to interpret what I'm hearing,” she said, “In a way that makes sense.”

“You have a very orderly mind,” Tsar said, and were it not for how gravely he said the words Eni almost would have thought he was trying for a joke.

“Thanks,” she said, offering him a smile, “Can we try again?”

He held up a single finger and nodded. “Once,” he said, “You're tired.”

Eni wanted to deny it, but a yawn forced itself from her mouth and she nodded reluctantly. “Close your eyes,” he said, and Eni did, trying to pull up the memory of the beach once more.

What came to mind instead, however, was her cozy apartment in Terregor, stuffed so full of bookcases that there was barely room for anything else. She could practically smell the faintly sweet and musky odor of old books, and Eni let her mind's eye wander her collection. Her own personal library didn't have anything the university lacked, but there was something to be said for copies she owned for herself and her own pleasure. Her very first copy of The Seven Labors was proudly on display, the binding nearly completely worn out, and she imagined touching it, taking in the faint whisper of her nails against the shabby cover.

She could hear the gentle murmur of rain against the building's roof and feel the carpet under her feet, the cheerfully geometric pattern softly covering the floorboards, which were always cold. The old wood creaked gently under her weight as she turned, taking in the little home she had made for herself yet rarely visited.

“Ana la al-heim,” Tsar said, and his words seemed to roil and echo through the room.

Eni felt as though they were a warm liquid being poured into her ears, softly tingling as they worked their way through her mind, and at first nothing looked any different. As she turned in a circle, scanning the rows of books and scrolls filling the shelves of her apartment, she suddenly realized what it was. Her beloved copy of The Seven Labors, on its neat little wooden stand, had been replaced by a far more recent acquisition.

The Lamentations of Nergora.

She picked it up, the tome feeling oddly heavy, and flipped it open. The strange symbols inside spun and contorted before her eyes, shifting constantly as they swirled about. She was sure there had to be some kind of pattern, but it danced beyond her grasp, as though the Derkomai language itself was taunting her. An unsettling buzz filled her ears, somewhere between the sound of a kicked hornet's nest and an angry crowd, and Eni snapped the cover shut so hard that the sound of it was like a crack of thunder.

“Perplexity,” Eni said, the word coming to her lips before she was even aware she was going to say it, and her vision of her apartment dissolved.

The sounds of the Circle at night were all she heard, and as she opened her eyes she saw nothing but Tsar. He was looking at her intently, and even as he nodded she went on. “But there's more than that,” she said, trying to hang on to the fading image, “It's just… Words aren't enough.”

She offered Tsar a weak smile. “I can understand why magic is so hard to teach,” Eni added.

He didn't quite smile, his muzzle remaining neutral, but somehow Eni almost got the impression that he did. “It is,” he said, and then he stood up.

“Sleep,” he said, “It'll be morning soon.”

Eni nodded as he busied himself getting ready to sleep, trying to do the same. She went as slowly as her many aches and pains demanded she did, and he had already put out the campfire and settled himself under his blanket by the time she was ready to do the same herself, feeling more and more tired. Eni undid the buttons to her jacket and attempted to pull her arms out of the sleeves, but instead she gave out a low moan of pain, her breath hissing between her teeth as she tried not to cry out.

She was instantly fully awake, and she tried easing one arm out of her jacket more slowly. Eni gasped sharply and gave up, her chest burning as if it were ablaze. “Tsar?” she called after a moment, when she had caught her breath, “Can you help me with something?”

“What?” he asked, his voice low but not at all tired.

“I need help getting off my jacket,” Eni admitted, “It hurts too much when I try.”

She could barely hear his footsteps as he crept over, his features silhouetted against the night sky as he looked down at her with his cloak wrapped around his body. ”It's my ribs,” Eni added, and she saw his head nod in understanding.

It took them a few minutes of working together to get her arms out of the sleeves, but at last it was off. “I think Fenris cracked something when he stepped on me,” Eni said, ”Or the Woemaker did, when she threw me into the wall.”

“Should have said something earlier,” Tsar said, his tone unreadable; Eni couldn't tell if he was scolding her or genuinely worried.

“It wasn’t too bad until just now,” Eni replied, and the wolf made a sound of acknowledgement.

“Happens in battle, sometimes,” he said quietly, “Where's it hurt?”

“Here,” Eni said, indicating the spot just about eight inches above her navel and under her right arm where the throbbing pain was originating from.

Tsar reached out and touched the offending spot so lightly that Eni couldn't even feel it through her shirt. His fingers skittered around her torso, as gentle as a butterfly. Then he pressed down ever so slightly, and stars suddenly filled her vision. Eni gasped, and Tsar pulled his paw back.

“Sorry,” he said, “You have two cracked ribs.”

Eni sighed and immediately regretted it. “At least they aren't broken,” she said, trying to find something positive.

“They'll heal,” Tsar said, “No more than a few days, I think.”

She hoped he was right, but she supposed if he wasn't there was very little she could do. As Eni settled herself into her bedroll, the throbbing in her side seemed to slowly fade, and her eyelids grew heavier and heavier. “Goodnight, Tsar,” she muttered, and if he answered she didn't hear it.

Eni awoke the next morning groggy and sore, but when they had finished packing up and left their campsite she found she could walk without limping. She had no trouble keeping up with the pace Tsar set as they continued on toward Terregor, although they were walking much faster than they had the previous night.

He was notably quiet all morning as they followed the highway, and Eni wondered if he was trying to think up other ways of teaching her to master her hearing. She did her best to practice on her own, trying to hone her awareness of her surroundings and what each sound called to mind, but there was no opportunity for Tsar to offer more instruction.

They didn't break for lunch; when the sun was directly overhead the wolf said nothing more than that they could make the afternoon ferry if they hurried. Eni couldn't fault his sense of urgency, and so they had eaten as they continued walking, Tsar pulling food out of Eni's satchel and giving it to her so she didn't have to aggravate her ribs. It was worth the sacrifice, as it wasn't long past noon when Eni could first hear the murmur of the Nazdya River, and only an hour or so later the water and the ferry itself came into view.

The ferry was somewhat shorter than the ship that had carried Eni from Siverets to the Cradle, but wider and with a flat bottom. It might have looked like nothing more than an ugly box on the river, intended only to cram as many mammals as possible aboard, but whoever had designed it had done their best to give it a sense of elegance. There was probably nothing that could have been done to make it beautiful, but to Eni's eyes it appeared purposeful and almost stately, and a small smile crept to her lips. She remembered her first trip aboard the ferry to Terregor, and the memory was so vivid that for a moment she almost saw the same name upon the vessel's prow.

But that boat, when she had not yet been a student of the university, had been the Unconditional Love, and the one she and Tsar were about to board was the Magnificent Grace. Except for the names the two ferries looked utterly identical; time didn't seem to have changed anything. Even the station, a low and sweeping brick building with forest green trim, was untouched by the passing years. The only difference Eni could see was how long the line was.

She had never before needed to take the ferry so close to the Day of Description, and there were dozens of mammals waiting their turn to buy tickets and return to Terregor from wherever they had celebrated the holiday. Despite how many pilgrims there were, the queue moved quickly enough, the agents at the windows checking paperwork and collecting money with the efficiency of long practice.

Immediately in front of Eni and Tsar were a mother goat and her daughter, who couldn't have been more than about seven or eight. Even from behind the faun was obviously an Aberrant; Eni could see a rather lion-like tail protruding from beneath the hem of her thick jacket, and atop her head she had four horns. ”Papa said each one of the ferries is named after one of the Mother's virtues,” the faun was explaining to her own mother, her tone serious and almost scholarly despite how high pitched it was.

”That's nice, dear,” the mother goat replied somewhat distractedly as she dug through her purse, searching for coins.

The young goat continued talking, cheerfully oblivious to her mother’s lack of enthusiasm. ”We took the Eternal Will from Terregor. So now we'll have been on two.”

The goat sounded delighted, as though it were a stroke of good fortune that she would get to experience two different ferries, and Eni's smile returned. She herself had never been particularly enamored with ships, but she understood being delighted by things no one thought about much. For most mammals, stories about the Slayer were nothing more than an idle amusement, the Scourge so far in the past as to merit no thought.

Eni glanced at Tsar to see if he was as entertained as she was, but his face was as stoic as ever, his mouth set in a dour line. He was staring past the two goats ahead of them, apparently deep in thought. He didn't react whatsoever when the faun gave the agent at the station a charming curtsy before accepting her ticket, and his gaze remained blank as Eni presented their papers and their money.

Eni did her best not to appear guilty as the mammal behind the window, a dignified-looking sheep with a magnificent set of spiraling horns, scrutinized Tsar's forged visa. The sheep looked from the punch card to the wolf and back again, a frown creasing his features. “Ensign?” the sheep called out, gesturing, and Eni's heart began pounding furiously in her chest as a fresh-faced member of the Hastais stepped forward.

The opossum proudly wore the uniform of the Circle's combined military, his breastplate gleaming in the sunlight and his long tail covered with overlapping armor plates. “Thanks, Sellis,” he said, nodding to the sheep, and then he turned to face Tsar.

“I'm sorry for the trouble, Mister…” the soldier began.

“Tsar,” Sellis said, giving the ensign the visa.

“Mister Tsar,” the opossum said, reading off the card, and Eni could feel her heart in her ears.

She glanced about, desperately hoping that Tsar wasn't about to be found out, but she had no idea what she would do if his papers really hadn't passed muster. The members of the Hastais that were positioned at the ferry station had always been so unobtrusive that Eni had barely noticed them, but suddenly they were all she could see. There were at least a dozen, and although she was absolutely certain that all of them together would be no match for the wolf that didn't mean much for her.

“Now, you're not in any sort of trouble,” the opossum continued, raising one paw in a placating manner, and Eni eyed him carefully, “We've just got some questions I've got to ask. Have you heard about the mess in Ghabarahata?”

“No,” Tsar said, his face utterly unperturbed as he baldly lied.

The opossum sighed and ran his fingers through the fur atop his head. “Well, wait for an official statement instead of believing the rumors you hear,” he said, “So you didn't pass through Ghabarahata?”

His voice was friendly, even cheerful, but Eni thought that there was a dangerous hidden edge to his questions. “Did,” Tsar said, “Few days back.”

“You weren't in the city yesterday?” the ensign pressed, and Tsar nodded.

“Took your time getting here, then,” the opossum mused, “Enjoying the scenery?”

“She can't walk fast,” Tsar replied, inclining his head in Eni's direction.

“I see,” the ensign replied, and he glanced down at the travel visa again, “So you've been with Miss Siverets the entire time you've been in the Circle?”

”Yes,” Tsar replied.

Eni desperately envied the wolf's calmness. He gave absolutely no sign whatsoever of being bothered by the scrutiny, his every word spoken almost casually. “Is that true, Miss Siverets?” the opossum asked, switching his attention from Tsar to her.

“Yes!” Eni blurted, much too loudly, “Yes, he's been with me the whole time.”

“And what business does the university have to issue him a travel visa?” the opossum asked, and Eni felt as though she must have seemed horribly suspicious as he looked into her eyes.

“He's an Elrim storyteller,” Eni said, the lie she had prepared coming to her tongue with remarkable swiftness, “It's part of a project to compile their folktales.”

“An Elrim?” the opossum repeated, his eyebrows raised, “Really?”

Eni nodded, hoping that her expression wasn't betraying her. The opossum looked at her for a long moment, his features darkening into a scowl, and Eni was absolutely certain that he was about to call her a liar.

And then his expression suddenly brightened.

“You're the Professor Siverets that gives lectures at the university, aren't you?” he asked, and Eni could have hardly imagined a less likely question.

“I am,” Eni said, somewhat cautiously.

“My sister went to the one you did on peril papers from the Scourge nine or ten months ago,” the ensign replied, “She'll be jealous I met you.”

Eni's ears flushed at the compliment, and the opossum gave her an apologetic smile. “Sorry for the inconvenience, Professor,” he said, “We've just got orders to question all mammals matching a certain description.”

“Oh, no, that's fine,” Eni said, feeling light-headed as she waved one paw in a way that she hoped was airy, “Just doing your job, I'm sure.”

“That's exactly it,” the ensign replied, seeming relieved that she understood, and he offered Tsar his visa and his ticket.

“And thank you for your time and cooperation, sir,” the opossum said, “Enjoy your ride on the ferry and your stay in Terregor.”

Tsar simply nodded, accepting his paperwork and then walking toward the ferry. Eni's legs felt wobbly as she hurried after him, walking as fast as she could without making her ribs complain. It wasn't very far from the station to the ramp that led onto the ferry, but because of the delay there wasn't anyone nearby. Tsar turned to Eni and said, in a low voice, “Your power isn't spilling out.”

“It isn't,” Eni replied, which was a relief almost beyond measure; she wasn't sure if she would have been able to reel it back in if it tried pulling loose.

“Good,” he said, and that was all; he didn't speak again as they presented their tickets and boarded the ferry.

The main deck of the boat had clearly been designed for capacity rather than comfort; there were rows and rows of benches, all neatly ordered and facing the same direction, and nothing else. Although there was a roof overhead, it was barely warmer than it had been outside, and Eni was glad to have her jacket. She guided Tsar to their assigned seats and gingerly sat down, her chest twinging in pain at the motion. The wolf took and stowed her satchel before sitting down himself, blankly staring out the nearest window.

About three-quarters of the seats were full; they had ended up sitting right next to the goat and her daughter, although the young Aberrant wasn't next to her mother. She was, instead, pacing the cabin with an air of concentration as she carefully counted the numbers of benches and seats with a pain-staking slowness. Her mother gave Eni a polite nod but was focused on her child, keeping an eye on her as the rest of the ferry filled up.

Dozens of conversations filled the air, and Eni tried practicing what Tsar had been trying to teach the previous night before giving up. There were just too many overlapping words to easily pick out any sort of hidden meaning to each, and since almost everyone was speaking Circi she had no need to rely on subtext.

“Heard from one of the owls at the post office that Wordermund himself came out of his tomb,” a ferret behind Eni was telling his traveling companion in somber tones, “All dressed in black with one of those awful death masks.”

“What's a death mask?” his companion, a reedy badger, asked, and the ferret snorted.

“It's what they did in the old days, you ignorant git. Didn't cremate their dead, see. Buried 'em. Put on masks, first, all solemn-like,” he said, speaking with an air of superiority, “That’s why everyone in Ghabarahata has to wear them now. To mourn the emperor, I hear.”

Eni bit her tongue and resisted the urge to roll her eyes. The ferret was, at best, half-right in his discussion of imperial funeral customs and Ghabarahata’s traditions, but otherwise woefully mistaken.

“Well, I heard it was the Slayer,” the badger replied, “Ten feet tall and three across, swear on the Mother's name.”

Eni supposed that the soldiers probably had a more accurate description to go off of, but at best all they knew was how tall the wolf was and a rough idea of his tail's shape. It didn't seem like enough to actually find him, and as the conversation behind her went into increasingly outlandish details she relaxed marginally.

As the ferry was about to depart, the young goat finished her work and returned to her mother, proudly holding aloft a small notebook filled with childishly scrawled tally marks, her unusual silver eyes sparkling brilliantly and a small bell about her neck jangling. ”There are just as many seats on this ferry as the other one, Mama,” she said, sounding excited, “I counted them all.”

”That's nice, dear,” her mother replied, “Come on, sit down.”

The faun did so with obvious reluctance, at least until she caught sight of Eni. “Mama!” she cried as she pointed, “She's an Aberrant too!”

She locked eyes with Eni and began eagerly addressing her, talking so quickly that her questions almost blended together. ”What's it like being such a tall rabbit? Were you always so big? I want to be tall too so I—

“Velrisa!” her mother scolded, her voice sounding scandalized as she cut her off, “You're being very rude. Apologize to the lady.”

Velrisa's face immediately became crestfallen and apologetic. “I'm sorry,” she said, her ears drooping, “Mama says it's rude to point.”

“That's right,” her mother added, “I'm sure she just wants to travel in peace.”

“That's fine,” Eni said, trying to sound as gentle as possible as she looked at the young goat.

She wasn't sure how Tsar would have reacted if Velrisa had noticed his own Aberrant traits, but with his ragged cloak hiding his tail and his paws folded in his lap he really did just look like a normal wolf.

Velrisa had half-buried her face in her mother's arm, and was only timidly looking back at her. “I'm a hare, not a rabbit, but I've always been tall, yes,” she added, smiling, and after a moment Velrisa slowly smiled back.

“I was the same height as my father by the time I was nine,” Eni continued, and Velrisa's jaw dropped with delight as she apparently considered the possibility of towering over her own parents in only a few years.

It looked as though Velrisa was about to ask another question, but then a member of the ferry's crew announced that they were about to depart, and the faun was immediately enraptured in watching the process. The ferry departed the dock so smoothly that Eni could barely feel it, and then it was underway, heading with the current toward Terregor.

She glanced over at Tsar, but the wolf was resolutely looking out the window, his face unreadable. Eni pulled out her journal and began updating it, noting out of the corner of her eye that Velrisa seemed to be copying her posture as she wrote in her own notebook, shooting furtive glances her way. Eni didn't mind, and simply set herself to updating her logs as best she could. She lost herself as she filled page after page, and she was in the middle of sketching out the interior of Wordermund's tomb, frowning as she tried to remember the detail of each carving on the inside of the great doors, when the ferry suddenly rocked.

Eni narrowly avoided making an errant mark across her drawing and peered up and out the window. It was too dark outside to see much, the lanterns strung along the side of the ferry illuminating only the river. As Eni looked more closely, she saw the lights of a village coming into view and realized that at least two or three hours must have passed.

“My papa says the current gets faster by Olkorghast,” Velrisa suddenly said, speaking for the first time since the boat had gotten underway, “That's what you feel.”

Eni blinked and then turned to look at the young goat. Her own notebook was spread across her lap, a rather crude drawing barely recognizable as a ferry spreading across the pages. At her side, Velrisa's mother was clutching the bottom of the bench, her expression rather queasy as the ferry gently rocked side to side. “Don't distract the nice lady, dear,” she said, her voice rather unsteady, and there was an unhealthy pallor to the insides of her ears.

“I don't mind. I just got lost in my work,” Eni said, smiling, “I didn't realize we were already passing Olkorghast.”

Velrisa nodded eagerly. “We're almost halfway to Terregor,” she said, and her mother gave a low groan.

“You wouldn't happen to have any belladonna, would you?” she asked, turning to face Eni, “Boats always make me seasick.”

“I'm afraid not,” Eni replied, shaking her head, “But there's a trick I know a sea captain taught me.”

She repeated the words she could still hear in Captain Jeito's voice. “Just find a fixed point on the horizon and watch it,” Eni said, and the goat gave a little shrug.

“It can't hurt to try, I suppose,” she said, but at her side Velrisa's eyes had gone as wide as saucers.

“You know a sea captain?” she asked eagerly, “You've been on a real ship? On the ocean? Where did you go? What kind of—”

“Velrisa, please,” her mother all but moaned, but Eni offered her what she hoped was a friendly smile.

“I can keep an eye on her if you want to go look out the forward window until your stomach settles,” she offered, “I don't mind.”

The older goat gave Eni a sort of appraising look, seeming to come to the conclusion that Eni was no threat to her daughter. “Thank you,” the goat said at last, “I'll just be a moment.”

She thanked Eni again and warned her daughter to behave before unsteadily getting to her feet and walking toward the front of the cabin. Velrisa shifted over, looking up at Eni. “I've only been on a ship once,” Eni said, “When I came to the Cradle from the Nihuron Peninsula.”

“That's so far!” Velrisa said, clutching at her mouth as though aghast at the distance, “And it was a real ship?”

“It was,” Eni said, “The Mikuzuyka Mairu.”

She noticed the blank look on the goat's face and added, “It means 'Crescent Moon' in Nihu.”

Wonder filled Velrisa's eyes, and Eni must have spent at least an hour describing the ship as best she could remember, from the number of sails to how the decks had been laid out. Velrisa was full of questions, and after the faun seemed satisfied with Eni's answers she had begged for more and Eni had done her best to oblige. She was in the middle of recounting one of the tamer stories Captain Jeito had told her of life on the sea, about a time the Mikuzuyka Mairu had raced across the waves with a cargo hold full of highly-perishable vegetables, when Velrisa's mother returned looking much steadier on her feet. Velrisa jumped in her seat when her mother thanked Eni for her advice, apparently so enraptured in the story she hadn't even noticed her approach. “I think I might even be able to eat something now,” Velrisa's mother added, turning to her daughter, “Why don't we go downstairs to the kitchen and see what they have, dear?”

Velrisa all but rolled her eyes. “It's called the galley, Mama,” she said, “And it's belowdecks, not downstairs.”

“Then let's go belowdecks to the galley,” the older goat replied, shooting Eni a wry look of long-suffering patience, “Thanks again for keeping an eye on her, Miss…”

“Eni Siverets,” Velrisa piped in.

“Let her answer, dear. I'm Delia Pratum,” the goat said, correcting her daughter and then offering Eni her hoof to shake.

“Can Miss Siverets finish her story when we get back?” Velrisa begged even as the two adults were shaking, “Please?”

“If she doesn't mind,” Delia told her daughter, and then looked at Eni and added, “As long as we're not imposing on you.”

“Not at all,” Eni said, “I'd be happy to. She said she wants to be a sea captain herself one day.”

Velrisa nodded eagerly. “Or a wizard,” she said, “Like Wordermund.”

Delia laughed dryly. “We'll see, dear. Now come along,” she said, and marshaled her daughter toward the stairs that led down to the bowels of the ferry.

Eni turned to look at Tsar, a smile still on her face. “Is that what I'm like?” she asked, her tone lightly teasing.

The wolf hadn't made so much as a sound while she had been talking to the young goat; he had been as immobile as though carved out of stone, his head turned away. “No,” he said, his face still neutral.

“I'm glad to hear that,” Eni replied with a laugh, and Tsar didn't answer.

She opened her journal to the latest page and began writing in it once more, her heart light as she steadily filled more pages. The Archivist had always said the most rewarding part of being a teacher was coming across a truly enthusiastic student, and Eni had to agree with him. While Velrisa's desire to be a sea captain was far more likely to be possible than becoming a warrior-mage like the long-dead emperor, Eni supposed there was no telling what might happen. She hadn't felt so much as a glimmer of magic off the faun, but that might have just been a reflection of Eni's own need to refine her power than the goat's potential.

As Eni kept writing, though, her pen suddenly came to a stop as a thought struck her. “Tsar?” she said, her voice quiet, “Athel's student… Yeltas… It wasn't medicine she was learning.”

She glanced about, but no one seated nearby looked to be paying any attention to them; a fair number of mammals had descended to the warmer part of the ship belowdecks, and of those remaining at least half were asleep. “She was teaching her magic,” Eni hissed in a low voice.

Tsar looked back at her, and there was no surprise in his expression. “Yes,” he said, and Eni's mind reeled.

“You knew?” she demanded, and he didn't have to answer.

She could tell he had, but it wasn't from reading his inscrutable face. Eni could hear the truth of it in the beat of his heart and even in his breathing, the sounds suddenly conveying so much more than they ever had. “Is that why Astrasa killed her?” she asked, and although her voice trembled it was little more than a whisper.

“She had more power than Athel did. The otter was more than she could handle,” Tsar replied, and Eni's vision throbbed at the edges.

She was hearing beyond his words, and what he hadn't said was far uglier than she could have imagined. “That doesn't bother you,” Eni said, “You think she was dangerous and… And needed to be put down. Is that why you didn't tell me?”

Her breath was coming faster and her heart had quickened in her chest. Everything had taken on a dreamlike sharpness, the air alive and thick. The blue of Tsar's eyes seemed to shimmer and dance, as though it was shifting to something else, and Eni could pick out the sound of every strand of his fur moving against the others. “I didn't want you to lose control,” Tsar said, “Like you're doing now.”

Eni could feel her power straining to be free but she didn't care. It whispered in her ears, and she couldn't find it within herself to disagree with the voice.

Make him tell the truth…

“This isn't about me,” Eni said, jabbing a finger at his chest, “Have you done what the Woemaker did? Have you killed children just because they're mages?”

Tsar caught her paw in his, and she could feel the potential inside him like a dam holding back a lake. There was raw strength in him beyond anything normal, raw power the likes of which no one else could match.

You could, Eni's own voice seemed to say inside her head, You're his match.

The world was twisting and pulling apart, and Eni's sense of it expanded. She could see through the hull of the ferry as though it wasn't there, and out into the inky depths of the Nazdya River as though the sun was directly overhead. The water seemed to churn and boil as though it was alive, and at any other time Eni might have found it fascinating.

But all she cared about was Tsar.

The wolf looked to be both more and less than he had ever been, his shabbiness especially pronounced as she could somehow hear how tattered his cloak was. But there was something lurking beneath his placid surface that was vivid beyond words, something as powerful as a thunderstorm and just as fierce. He didn't say a word, his eyes locked onto hers, and her heart sank.

“Why didn't you just kill me when we met?” she asked, and she wasn't sure if she was whispering or not.

It didn't matter. Everyone else on the ferry was dim and colorless compared to Tsar; they might as well have been alone. The power inside of Eni called for release, sending tingling waves of sensation through her body like the boiling heat of a furnace overloaded with coal. She felt as though she would melt, and there was nothing she could do to pull it back. Her senses broke down entirely, sounds dissolving into nothing more than noise, and—

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