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Chapter 63: Name of the Eulogist

There were holes in the great walls that surrounded Tormurghast.

Deep fissures had cracked the ground, heaving apart entire sections of the city's defenses. There were untidy piles of enormous blocks, made tiny by the distance, but among them mammals were working busily. Some of the gaps had been patched with what appeared to be enormous amounts of dirt and gravel, hastily held in place by gaunt and shaky scaffolds of wood. In others, gigantic cranes were maneuvering boulders back into position, a crew of elephants just barely visible as grayish specks.

Overhead, Avians were wheeling in slow and stately circles. Their musical language was sharp but sweet as they cried out to each other, and when the city was less than a mile away Eni saw a winged speck descend toward them. She shot a quick glance at Zathos; in the light of day the creature was as monstrous as ever, its flayed-looking flesh glistening wetly. "Can you look less suspicious?" she hissed as the Avian approached gracefully.

Rather than respond with words, Zathos's appearance rippled and changed as though it was made of quicksilver. The spines that ran the length of the monster's head vanished as they pressed down and skin flowed over them. Its two central eyes disappeared as the eyelids that covered them simply blurred into its face, the remaining two subtly reorienting themselves. Even the shape of its body and head changed, the creature's wings wrapping around itself until it almost seemed to be wearing a cloak complete with a hood. The flesh of its head slowly faded from black to a dull gray, as did the fingers of two of its strange paws, and by the time the Avian had landed Zathos looked almost like a mammal.

But not quite.

To Eni, it was as though the creature had been sculpted by someone who had heard a description of a wolf but never actually seen one. Its proportions were unsettlingly wrong and it was as androgynous as ever; after a moment Eni realized that Zathos had modeled itself after not just Tsar but also her. The overall effect was almost worse than the monster's usual appearance, as it was off by just enough to appear even more disturbing. Eni opened her mouth to address Zathos again, but the Avian spoke before she could.

"Salutations, travelers," the magpie chirped as she hopped closer, the words in Circi polite and faultlessly accented.

The Avian spread her wings wide and bowed, her black feathers gleaming through shades of purple and green as they caught the light. "I am Gneisa," she said, "Commissionaire to Queen Marsenn of House Carva."

The magpie's voice was high and pleasant, but when she continued it utterly changed. Gneisa spoke her next words in an imitation of the queen's voice so precise that it seemed as though the giraffe was standing in front of them, the regal tones perfectly captured. "Tormurghast welcomes you in the spirit of charity and fraternity, visitor," the magpie said, and Eni could even hear a slight edge of exhaustion to Marsenn's words, "If you have arrived hungry or injured, we embrace you with open arms and wings to share what food and medicine we have. We ask only that you return our generosity in kind."

Gneisa bobbed her head, and when she continued there was a steely undercurrent to the queen's greeting. "If you cannot demonstrate appropriate behavior, there is no place for you here. Our city, and the Circle itself, shall only survive if we all pull together and sacrifice for the greater good. Come as a child of the Mother or a chick of the Phoenix or not at all," the magpie finished, and then tucked her wings neatly against her body.

To Eni's surprise Tsar answered, putting his right fist against first his brow and then his heart. "Hail and well met, Commissionaire Gneisa," the wolf said, respectfully bowing his head, "We thank you for presenting the generous terms of our gracious host and agree to abide by them."

A chill ran slowly down Eni's spine, Tsar's words both wonderful and awful. Commissionaires hadn't been used since the Scourge ended, but Tsar had given a long-obsolete response filled with all the gravity it deserved. Gneisa blinked, her beady black eyes widening slightly. "We are well met indeed, traveler," the magpie replied, lapsing back into her regular voice, "Are you a student of history? Not many remember the old forms."

"She is," Tsar said, gesturing at Eni, the careful formality of his words almost entirely evaporating.

"Professor Eni Siverets," she introduced herself hastily, repeating Tsar's gesture of greeting, "Of Terregor."

A hard lump appeared in her throat at the name of her home, and Gneisa trilled sympathetically. "You're in good company, then," the magpie said sadly, "You won't be alone."

"And you, sir wolf?" Gneisa added, clicking her beak and turning her gaze away from Eni.

"Tsar," he said shortly.

Eni could see a spark of curiosity in the magpie's eyes, but the Avian was committed to her duty and moved on, looking to Zathos. The little magpie stared up at the monster's face under the hood it had formed out of its wings and hopped back, her feathers puffing out. "By the Phoenix’s flames!" Gneisa squawked, "What are you?"

Eni winced, but she couldn't blame the bird for her unease. The cables that made up the monster's face had unraveled into thin strands that stood out in a crude imitation of fur, but they were a little too thick to look quite right. Its two unblinking red eyes were just ever so slightly too large for its odd face, which had a blunt muzzle ending in an approximation of a nose over a mouth filled with far too many teeth. "Zathos is an Aberrant," Eni lied quickly, "Like Tsar and me."

Gneisa's beak snapped closed as she bounded forward, her expression doubtful as she considered the monster again. "My apologies…" she began, and Eni could see her beady eyes flicking up and down the monster's body before she finished, "Ma'am."

The word was ever so slightly hesitant, the Avian obviously unsure, but Eni couldn't blame her. Even obscured by its facsimile of Tsar's cloak, the monster's new form had noticeably wide hips but broad shoulders, and it was far more alien than any actual Aberrant. "No apologies are necessary, Commissionaire," Zathos replied, its voice as childishly high and neutral as ever, "My appearance can be disconcerting."

The magpie made a musical sound almost like a nervous chuckle. "I'm sure you're quite attractive for your species," she said, the words smooth and pleasant even though they were doubtlessly in service to a lie, "Now, would you mind if I asked what business you have in Tormurghast?"

Gneisa managed to sound polite and friendly, but Eni knew the magpie wasn't done evaluating them yet. She was sure there was some kind of signal the little bird could give that would bring down more of the flock in the skies over the city down onto them, and Eni chose her words carefully. "We're looking for someone," she said, "A dear friend of Tsar's. He's old and he has a bad leg, so…"

Eni trailed off, but she didn't have to fake the thickness that had come into her voice. Gneisa nodded, her features softening slightly. "If you can't find your friend where he lived, the City Guard is taking reports and accounting for everyone the work crews find," the magpie said gently, "Curfew's at sunset, so you still have a few hours today."

"Thank you," Eni said, her voice filled with gratitude, and Gneisa waved one wing airily.

"I'm only doing what any Avian ought to," she said, "My great-grandfather, may his song never be forgotten, gave his life to deliver a message during the Scourge. How could I do any less?"

"This isn't a Scourge. Not yet," Tsar said firmly, and the magpie chirped a few notes unlike anything Eni had ever heard a bird produce before.

She still knew exactly what Gneisa meant; it was doubt and hope all rolled up together in an emotion Circi didn't have a word for. "Hymns to the Phoenix that you are right, Mister Tsar," Gneisa said, "But I know what I saw."

"What did you see, Commissionaire?" Eni asked, her curiosity at last too great to deny, "What happened to the monsters?"

Tormurghast certainly didn't have the look of a city under an active siege; nothing interrupted the efforts to repair and shore up the surrounding wall, and Eni couldn't see a single Begotten. She almost expected to hear that the City Guard had fended them off, but the magpie spread her wings in a gesture that spoke volumes of her lack of understanding. "They breached the defenses at Stirpike," Gneisa said solemnly, her gaze turning toward the breach, "The foul beasts rampaged across the city, growing larger and stronger with every victim. They were unstoppable until they chose to stop."

Tsar frowned, cocking his head to the side. "Chose to stop," he repeated flatly, and Gneisa nodded.

"Three days ago, they just… left," the magpie said, "All at once."

Eni chewed on her lip thoughtfully, considering the words. She wished she knew what the Visitor was planning, but to her it sounded as though the Begotten had achieved whatever they had set out to do. The monsters seemed to have the same single-mindedness that Zathos did, every action chosen to be ruthlessly efficient. "They'll be back," Tsar said quietly, and Gneisa's expression was grim as she answered.

"That's what her majesty is planning on," she said, "We'll be ready."

Eni heard a series of musical calls from the air and Gneisa answered in kind, trilling a complex song in the Avian tongue. "You may enter through the main gate," the magpie said after a moment, stepping back and spreading her wings, "I hope you find your friend."

Gneisa was airborne almost the instant she stopped speaking, fluttering at first before pushing herself towards the sky in a flurry of feathers to rejoin her fellows. Eni spared a glance at the Avians, but she lost track of the magpie almost instantly, the little commissionaire indistinguishable as just one more speck.

Once Eni was sure that none of the birds overheard could hear them converse, she turned to Zathos as they continued walking toward the city. "Why did they stop?" she asked, and the monster's answer was immediate.


Eni bit back a sigh and looked to Tsar. The wolf's expression was thoughtful, his muzzle turned down in a mild grimace and his eyes faraway, but when he sensed her gaze on him he spoke. "Could have destroyed Tormurghast if she wanted," he mused slowly, "We're supposed to see."

His tail lashed irritably from side to side, his frown deepening as he glared ahead at the crumbling city wall. One of the two enormous doors that formed the main entrance had been knocked off its hinges, gleaming copper visible where the mellow verdigris had been scraped away. A small knot of mammals were milling around a hastily erected barricade as a team of engineers connected a harness to the fallen slab of metal, their orders back and forth just barely audible.

Eni felt her stomach clench as more of the damage came into view; through the gaps in Tormurghast's defenses she could see entire buildings had fallen over. The skyline looked horribly wrong, and even Titus Castle hadn't been spared. Two of the outer towers were simply gone, the great fortification sadly lopsided with its symmetry ruined. A fine haze of smoke and dust had settled over the city, giving everything a dingy, sooty look, and even the City Guards standing watch seemed drabber than usual.

Their normal gleaming uniforms were scuffed and stained, the soldiers almost slumping with exhaustion. Still, the mammals held themselves proudly to attention as Eni approached, a capybara gesturing her toward him. "This way, please," he called gruffly.

The soldier had the insignia of a lieutenant at his neck and on his shoulders, but the symbols were crookedly painted on rather than worked into the metal of his armor. Perhaps he had been forced to borrow a set or he had received a field commission, but the capybara had a faultless military air about him as he spoke. "If you're injured, there's a hospital set up on the grounds of the castle. If you're hungry, there's a relief center at Palisade Park. If you can work, you can take an assessment and be assigned to a crew right over there," he said with the air of long practice, but his gestures were still crisp as he pointed out each location with his polearm.

"Thank you," Eni said, and the capybara nodded.

"Curfew's at sunset," he added, "Make sure you're settled for the night before then."

The soldier stood aside and his fellows did the same, clearing a path into the city. As Eni began walking past a watchful javelina and a goat, the capybara spoke again. "Just one more thing," he called out, his voice firm, and Eni turned back to look at the lieutenant.

"A commissionaire ought to have warned you," he said, "Just keep what they said in mind."

"We will," Eni replied quietly, and the capybara smiled humorlessly.

"Welcome to Tormurghast, ma'am," he finished, and he said no more.

Eni could feel the eyes of the soldiers on them as they walked through what was left of the city's main gate, some of them curiously trying to see Zathos's down-turned face under its shroud, but none of them spoke. The air was still full of voices regardless, the crew trying to repair the broken door a constant flurry of activity, but as Eni stepped into the city it became far too quiet.

Some of the decorations from the Day of Description still fluttered in the breeze, the banners grimy and stained, but the streets were almost empty. A few phalanxes of soldiers were marching about, carrying heavy bundles of supplies on slings or in carriages, but the only civilians Eni saw looked dazed. A well-dressed doe, her blouse speckled down the front with brown stains, tottered along unsteadily, her eyes wide but vacant. A boar in the rough clothes of a farmer was holding an empty gunny sack and weeping silently, tears streaming down his snout and leaving clean spots as he plodded along.

All of the shops were dark, the doors and windows shuttered, and the air was thick and unpleasant. The cobblestones underfoot were gritty, their steps kicking up clouds of astringent dust, and Eni could feel it clinging to her fur as it swirled about. Piles of debris were strewn about from where buildings had collapsed, and the reek of decay made Eni's nose wrinkle.

As they got closer to Rongen's neighborhood, they passed what had once been a small and pleasant park. It had been turned into a pyre, piled high with the corpses of Begotten. The burning flesh of the monsters produced a noxious and oily cloud of smoke that made Eni feel light-headed, and she hurried past. None of the creatures had been nearly as large as the ones they had seen in Idrun, the largest of them no bigger than an ox, but they had been enough.

Everywhere Eni looked there were chunks of pavement or parts of walls missing where their clawed legs had dug in, and the buzzing of flies filled her ears as they passed ruined taverns and homes. The tar-like ichor of the monsters clung stubbornly to the ground where it had been spilled, killing any plants it touched, and mammals wrapped head to toe in thick layers of rags tried their best to clean up the worst puddles.

Turning the last corner, a pair of bison trudged past hauling an enormous cart that was incongruously cheery and bright, boldly colored letters proclaiming the name of the brewery it had been appropriated from. Their burden was filled with the bodies of mammals, foul-smelling and teeming with insects, and Eni's stomach heaved. Her knees felt weak but she kept walking, keeping her eyes fixed firmly forward as she searched for Rongen's tower.

When it came into sight, the building was in far better shape than Eni had dared to hope. Both of the massive laboratory wings looked completely intact, although the tower itself had a number of broken windows and an enormous crack running up from its foundation. The gardens had withered under the clouds of dust and soot, the flowers muted and dull, but the neat fence surrounding the raccoon's residence still stood.

The gates swung in the wind, their motion on the well-oiled hinges nearly silent, and Eni crept after Tsar. The wolf had slowed his pace, his head tilting back and forth as his nostrils flared. His ears pressed back against his skull as he entered the grounds, still obviously on high alert as he approached the front door and pressed against it.

Eni held her breath as the door opened with no resistance, revealing the grand foyer. Papers started blowing about as the breeze entered before Tsar could, rustling and moaning as they spiraled toward the high ceiling. The fireplace was unlit, the eyes of Rongen's self-portrait above it gazing down at them with a knowing air. Boxes and crates were stacked untidily across the floor, some of them knocked over to spill books and broken glasswork. The chair Rongen had favored was in pieces, the wreckage strewn near one of the walls. Tsar ignored the chaos, heading toward the workshop where the raccoon had been assembling his airship as though he was in a trance. The wolf's eyes were half-closed, his movements slow and precise, and when he opened the door Eni took a step back in horror.

A Begotten had gotten in.

The monster's corpse was enormous, at least fifteen feet long with its terrible limbs splayed out. In its death throes it had utterly ruined the laboratory, enormous gouges running through the floors and walls, and the damage it had done filled the vast space. Scorch marks ran up the walls, the support beams visibly bent. The ceiling had partially collapsed, leaving a gap the size of a carriage through which hazy sunlight streamed. Broken bottles and vials were scattered across the floor, their contents dried out but leaving a sour tang to the air. The machinery that had sprawled across the workshop was melted into slag, brass and copper components glittering dully among the scrap. Workstation benches were scattered about, knocked onto their sides or cracked into pieces, and there was almost nothing left of the Vivianne.

The metal rails set into the flagstones to maneuver it around the laboratory were bent and twisted, fragments of polished wood scattered to all corners of the room, and the only intact piece Eni could see was a single large lifting balloon, bobbing against the ceiling in serene defiance of the scene. Tsar walked toward the monster, paying no attention to the broken glass underfoot, and when he reached its head he sank to his knees. "Zathos?" Eni said in a low voice, looking at the creature, "Go check the rest of the tower."

Mercifully it didn't protest, wordlessly turning and heading back into the foyer as Eni went after Tsar. She knew what she would find as she picked her way around the bulk of the Begotten's corpse, but her stomach still fell and her eyes still stung when she saw what Tsar had.

Rongen's body was impossibly small, his expression so peaceful he almost looked as though he was sleeping. The raccoon was slumped on his back, his belly a grievous mess of wounds, and his left paw was curled tight around something small. His right paw was empty, but it was obvious what had been in it; the full length of his sword cane was buried in the monster's head, the hilt nearly lost in the ruins of one of its eyes.

Eni knelt next to the wolf, reaching out and wrapping her arm around his shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Tsar," she said, her voice quivering as her vision blurred.

The wolf's face was hard, his expression furious as he glared at the monster. He lifted Rongen’s cracked spectacles from where they had fallen at his side, gently putting them back in place. The raccoon's body shifted slightly, and an object fell out of his paw that Eni almost didn't recognize at first. Her first thought was that it was a tool of some kind, perhaps a component of his airship, but as it hit the floor she realized she knew exactly what it was.

Rongen had been holding his grandson's chew toy, the very same one that Tsar had held and inspected before the raccoon snatched it away. Eni's tears began flowing freely and she made no attempt to stop them, squeezing Tsar's shoulder as she stayed by him. Long minutes passed, and then the wolf spoke. "He fought well," Tsar said, his voice as dry as his face, "Bought his servants time to get out."

Tsar paused for a moment and then pressed on. "Always did," the wolf said quietly, "Always his best. I never…"

He trailed off, and when he didn't continue Eni spoke. "Tsar…" she said gently, but he shook his head.

"You call me that. He called me Gray," he said, "You were right; it is lonely to take a name instead of give it. I… thought I had to be alone."

"You don't have to tell me," Eni said, "I understand."

What felt like a lifetime ago, she would have given almost anything to learn the Slayer's true name, to know where he had come from, but that didn't matter anymore. She didn't expect him to keep talking, but after another long pause he did. "I should have told him," he said, "You…"

The wolf swallowed hard. "El-T'in," he said, the word barely a whisper, "My mother called me el-T'in. Elrim names… she had to say it like that. The 'el' is… you'd know the word."

"A prefix," Eni murmured, and he nodded slowly.

"Right for a parent to call a child. But… What we are… What we have…" he said, each word tentative, "T'in. My name is T'in."

He paused, and a moment later he added in a small voice, "I’d like to hear you say it."

"Tin," Eni repeated, letting the strange name flow over her tongue.

It was oddly sweet to the ear, richly regal in a way, and while she was still thinking about it he stood.

"Not right to leave him here," Tin said, looking at the lone lifting balloon that had survived the monster's attack, "I'll get him ready."

He turned to Eni, and although his expression was as far from a smile as it was possible to get, there was still a surprising gentleness to his eyes. "Alone," he added, "Need a quarter hour."

"Of course," Eni said, "Tin."

For a moment, she thought he would say more, but instead he looked back at the still body of his friend. Eni left the workshop as quietly as she could, carefully closing the door behind herself, and started up the spiraling stairs that led to the upper floors of the tower. There was no sign of Zathos in the foyer, but the same dust that had coated the city had filled the building, and Eni could clearly see the monster's steps.

When she reached the third landing Eni paused, her ears suddenly standing up. It had been faint but unmistakable, a gentle rustling coming from the corridor. "Zathos?" Eni called softly, but she knew it wasn't responsible for the noise; its footprints were still visible going further up the stairs.

When she got no response, Eni clutched her trident more firmly, holding the weapon with one paw as she crept along the hall. The sound came again, accompanied by the clinking of metal against metal, and Eni's unease grew. It didn't sound like someone looting the raccoon's residence; the noise was far too regular to be a thief stuffing a sack full of valuables. She pressed onward, straining her ears all the while, and as she came to a closed door at the end of the corridor she could make out a mammal breathing slowly and evenly, the soft metallic ringing coming in a rhythmic counterpoint. Eni steadied her grip on her trident, but before she could put a paw against the door it suddenly swung open. The Visitor was waiting for her, an Aberrant hare—

It wasn't the Visitor.

Eni had been so sure she was looking at a copy of herself that for a moment she had seen the figure nude and pregnant, but she wasn't. The hare was perhaps an inch or two taller than Eni, somewhat slimmer with muscles that her simple black clothes did little to conceal, but her short fur was the same glossy white as Eni's own. She froze, unable to stop staring at the mammal who was more like an echo than a mirror, different and yet incredibly similar.

Her eyes were as iridescent as drops of oil, shimmering through all the colors of the spectrum as the light caught her irises at different angles, and they were bright and welcoming as she regarded Eni with a smile. The hare was standing behind a small anvil, a beautiful hammer in her left paw and something golden in the right, but she set both down as she stepped forward and beckoned at Eni with her arms outstretched.

"Who are you?" Eni blurted, but the hare gestured up at her neck.

She almost seemed to have gills, the flesh parted in clean and bloodless slashes that fluttered slightly with each breath. "You can't speak," Eni said as she came to the realization, and the hare nodded, her paws flying through a complex series of gestures Eni didn't understand.

The other Aberrant appeared unbothered by Eni's lack of comprehension, and as she stepped closer Eni got a sense entirely unlike the dark potential that radiated off the Visitor. There was power to the hare, but it wasn't raw strength wrapped in disdainful callousness. There was a pure and unalloyed kindness to her, and Eni was struck with a sudden sense of understanding she couldn't explain. Eni had never seen another Aberrant hare before, but everything about the hare felt achingly familiar, from the way she walked to the way she casually brushed one long and scalloped ear back as she stopped in front of Eni. Calmness filled her, the tension she carried leaving her entirely, and she was unafraid as the hare extended one arm.

She took Eni's paw in her own, squeezing it gently, and—

The sky stretched out around Eni; she was so high that the clouds looked miles below, and the sun ahead was warm and gentle against her face. The light should have been blinding but she didn't even have to squint, her body strange and powerful as she was buoyed forward swifter than any bird. The wind rustled through her fur, making the nerves in her belly sing in an impossible way, and the weapon she held in her paw felt utterly and irrefutably right. Eni could see glimpses of the ground, but no recognizable landmarks met her oddly sharp eyes. The rivers and lakes were peculiar and unfamiliar, and the mountain at the center of a vast plain that broke through the cover of clouds was just as alien, its top churning and bubbling with great gouts of smoke.

Something dark and enormous suddenly eclipsed the sun, its wingspan as vast as the mountain below was tall, and as it soared for Eni—

"Archivist?" Zathos's voice came, mild and flat as ever, and Eni almost jumped.

The ground lurched beneath her feet as her perspective flopped; she was no longer airborne but instead standing in a small and crowded smithy in Rongen's tower. Gleaming tools and shelves stacked with metal ingots covered the walls, and Eni turned in a slow circle as she took in her surroundings. "Did you see her?" Eni asked desperately, and the monster blinked at her in its unsettling manner; it had taken on its usual appearance once more.

"Specify," the monster said, and Eni grabbed the simplest explanation.

"The hare," Eni said, and Zathos tilted its head to the side.

"You are a hare," it replied, and Eni gestured vaguely toward the anvil.

"She was a smith," she said, "A… A…"

Eni trailed off. There was no sign of where the hare had been; the only footprints on the floor were her own, and neither the other Aberrant nor her hammer were anywhere in the room. But on the anvil was a small statue made out of the same gleaming metal as the doors to Wordermund's tomb, as brilliant as gold. Eni picked it up with numb paws, turning it over to inspect it; it was beautifully worked and almost too exquisitely detailed to be believed. "A wright," Eni whispered, and she clutched the figurine as she whirled back to Zathos, "Was your master here?"

"The Wright is not a hare," the monster said, and although its voice was as affectless as ever Eni almost felt as though there was something more to the creature's words.

Eni frowned, the metal in her paws cold against her gloves. "You were alone in this room before I entered," Zathos continued, but Eni shook her head.

"She left me this," she said, brandishing the statue; it was a rendering of a male hare, but Eni didn't recognize his features.

Zathos cocked its head to the side. "There is no sign that anyone entered this room until you did," the monster said flatly, "The logical conclusion is that the artifact was already here. Perhaps the Tinkerer was studying the material it was forged from."

The monster waited for Eni's answer with its usual patience, and she slowly curled her fingers around the little hare before nodding. "Perhaps," Eni agreed, but she made no attempt to keep the skepticism out of her voice.

Whether another mammal had actually been in the room or not, Eni was sure the small sculpture in her paw was a message meant specifically for her. The strange hare had been too vivid to be entirely unreal, as sharply distinct as the Visitor and yet unmistakably not a part of her. "We should get back to Tin," Eni added when she noticed that Zathos was still staring patiently at her, and the monster let the change in name go utterly unremarked as it followed her back down the stairs.

As she walked, Eni examined the figurine, which felt just as familiar as her unusual guest. It was roughly six inches tall, but there were no obvious tool marks on it. The material the buck had been formed from suggested it had been made no more than a decade or two after the collapse of the empire, when the secret of Wordermund’s metallurgy had been lost, and the style was similarly imperial. The clothes the little hare wore would have been antiquated even during the lion's reign, however, and his head was turned down and to the right with an air of steely interest.

Eni had the nagging sense she had seen the statue before, but nothing she could remember matched the detail or the subject and she tucked it away into a pocket. She wondered what Tin would make of her encounter, setting the thought aside as she reentered the remains of Rongen's workshop.

Tin had scrounged a fine cloth from somewhere and wrapped the raccoon in it, neatly swaddling him in brilliant crimson fabric tied together with great care. The entire bundle had been suspended beneath the one surviving lifting balloon with several lengths of rope, balanced so perfectly that it remained completely horizontal. Tin had positioned it beneath the hole that had opened in the ceiling, anchoring it down with a rope tied to a fused lump of machinery, and as Eni entered he looked at her. His pale eyes were brilliant and clear, and Eni took a place at his side as she respectfully lowered her head and considered Rongen's remains.

Zathos remained near the door, observing with dull and silent curiosity, and Tin spoke. "He deserved better," he said simply, and his voice wasn't quite even.

He tilted his head back, raising his voice as he sang something slow and liquid in his native tongue, the music strangely atonal and yet not without a terrible sort of beauty. Eni felt simultaneously warmed and chilled, and although the only word she recognized was the name of the goddess Ul-Sayida she appreciated the dirge's power. When he had finished, the last syllables seeming to reverberate and fill the room, Tin pulled out his whip-sword and ignited it. The wolf held his weapon for a moment, studying the flames, and then in one smooth stroke he cleaved the rope that tethered Rongen's mortal remains.

The raccoon's body rose with the great balloon, drifting out of the laboratory and up into the murky haze above. The cut end of the rope kept burning, and before the balloon vanished from sight Eni saw that Rongen's shroud had caught fire in a spectacular blaze, the brightest object in all the sky.

"I'm glad he got to fly," she said softly, "I… I wish I had gotten to know him more."

Eni felt a pang of guilt as she remembered the book the raccoon had given her, which was still nestled unopened in her satchel. There had never been enough time to read it while he had been alive, something else always calling for her attention, and now she'd never have the chance to discuss its contents with him. The opportunity was gone forever, and Eni's eyes felt heavy and raw as she stood at Tin's side.

"He liked you," Tin said, his voice just as quiet, "He… Rongen could have helped us."

Eni felt as though she had the Visitor's dagger pressing through her chest once more. Tin hadn't just wanted to visit Rongen for the use of his airship; he had wanted the raccoon's counsel. Perhaps even for him to go along with them, as dangerous as their journey would be, and the lost chance ached. They were both silent for a long moment, Eni struggling to find anything to tell him. She wished he could have seen the strange hare that had appeared to her; she was sure his own grief could have used the calming balm of her presence. Eni didn't know if it was a memory or a fantasy she had been shown, but it was no less wonderful either way to have the wind keeping her aloft.

She thought she fully understood how delightful Rongen's own dream had been, how deeply he had cherished the vision that had driven him to labor over the Vivianne for so long. The raccoon had wanted the same gift she had been given, to have Aerodan stretched out below like a marvelous miniature while speeding effortlessly along. Something seemed to shift in Eni's mind, some dim idea forming that she slowly felt for, and Eni let the words leave her mouth without considering them.

"I think…" Eni said slowly as she pulled the little statue from her pocket and showed it to Tin, "I think he did."

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