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Chapter 16 - By the Sleeping Sea

Vorn polished off some last bites from the table, stood and pat his stomach. "Ahh, nothing better than a good meal. Hey, I'll race you guys to the bar. I've got to work off this food somehow." Getting final directions from Kalis and wishing the elder and children farewell, Vorn picked up his backpack and began to sprint towards the canal district.

 

Shadow, having declined the food, bound along and overtook his human companion quite easily. He pounced from one side of the road to the other, leaping atop low buildings and took shortcuts where he could. When it came to a race, he always prided himself for being rather swift.

 

Sensing the fun of the race, although not chasing or being chased and the exertion of energy being futile, Kanth followed Shadow in the run. Running was always enjoyable to the agile and spirited Phylinx, and the race was a favorite show of skill and competition. She matched Shadow's pace, occasionally glancing over at him to see if he was having as much fun as she.
 

The two Phylinx darted through the streets gaining more than a few strange looks and a few curses from innocent bystanders who stepped in the way. "You arre fierrcely quick cousin. I think it would take a lightning strroke to catch us if we fled for-r-r our-r-r lives," Kanth said while huffing.

 

Shadow’s eyes were set with determination. He was a stiff competitor… but there was a hint of a smile in his focused features. It was not until they stopped running that Kanth could read the obvious grin on his face.

Shadow smiled as he eyed the bar and touched his tail to Kanth's, "I enjoy a good r-run every now and then." He looked over to her and said, "You are quite speedy yourrself, even with food in your-r-r stomach... be carreful you don't crramp up now, though."
 

The two smiled as they looked back into the crowded street and saw no sign of their human friends. Humans offered little competition on an open sprint against the long stride of a healthy Phylinx. Though there were legends of humans outpacing a Phylinx on the long run.

Standing in the doorway of the Sleeping Sea pub, three high-browed men in tidy linens scoffed at the two. "It's bad enough they look like animals, but please," a dark haired man jest with his comrades' giggles. The hook-nosed man had a baby smooth shaved face and his shoulder-length black hair was tied back into a tight pony-tail.

The three lingered there eyeing passer's by as they giggled and made snide comments of others as well.


Panting heavily Kanth shivered from a chill that ran through her system. It was akin to hundreds of tiny ants crawling on her skin.

 

Shadow too felt the familiar tingle of runner's skin. He enjoyed the sensation he was feeling flowing through his blood as they entered the bar. Kanth could tell that Shadow heard what the others said, but such was the way of life in this day and age. Men were prejudiced against the Phylinx in some sectors.


Both Phylinx huffed heavily as they reached the entry to the popular pub. Kanth giggled as they entered the bar, shoving past the loud-mouthed miscreants. "Animals," she said mockingly to Shadow not even giving the three so much as a glance. Being above the hatred of other races was something she found pride in. "As though humans arre much less animals," she scoffed. "You'd think people arrround these parrts would have more r-r-respect for those who serve and protect."

 

Shadow responded, ignoring all others who might be within ear shot, “Ah yes… but they fearr that which they cannot understand, and they envy the fact that we obviously exceed their physical capabilities.” He shrugged indifferently. “Per-r-rhaps we should make a zoo of such mindless beings. Oh yes, that’s r-r-right… we have a jail for that.” He considered using his new position of inspector to put the fear of the gods within these low-lives. Instead he shrugged it off, all but ignoring the snickers and commentary as he searched for an empty table. “We might as well get a drrink while we wait for the otherrs. I’m a bit thirrsty after-r-r that sprrint.”



Cydric jogged behind the Phylinx as they headed towards the pub, it was an odd sensation to be running during the day and not be worried that someone was following him opposed to slicking in the shadows and scurrying through the alleys at night. Cydric felt a stirring of pride as he ran, he had heard that Phylinx were fast runners but these two didn't seem to be moving very fast... and then they took off. He stopped and looked at the astonished people on the street as the two large felines damn near bowled over a dozen people.


He picked up his pace and went into a full blown run, sure the Phylinx would beat him to the pub, but he wanted to at least make it look like he made an effort to keep up. He and Vorn followed in the wake of the Phylinx, which fortunately made the task of finding the pub quite a bit easier.

The two humans arrived at the bar out of breath and gasping. Looking up they had just the time to see the tail of a Phylinx enter the brick building.

As the two inspectors entered, the three high-blood youths snickered and made groaning sounds as a cat in heat. "I bet I could satisfy that one," one said with another deep meow. Their laughter came loud and their breath stank of ale. "Come on, I think I'd like a wench about now," said the same, "At least I won't have hair on my tongue!"

 

With that, the three turned to leave in a hail of laughter.

 

Cydric stood just inside the doorway huffing and puffing, he knew that he was a bit out of shape, but didn't realize just how much so. Since he had gotten better at his trade he hadn't been chased in a long while, so there wasn't a need to run like that. It looked like it was time to start jogging in the evenings again. Maybe try his old exercise routine... As he caught his breath he looked at Vorn who was also recovering from their run and nodded towards the Phylinx. "Sometimes it'd be nice to be something more than just a human." With that he headed to the bar.

The black clad assassin found his place at the bar and caught the barkeeps attention. He ordered a glass of water to quench his thirst, then an ale to drink more slowly. Cydric looked at the other inspectors and quietly said, "I think we should take a table and just listen to what people are saying for a little while before we start with our questions. I've found in my line of work that the more you listen, the less questions you have to ask."

"Agrreed. You two sharre one table in this arrea, a pair-r-r of drrinkin' buddies," the female Phlynx said to her companions after joining them at the bar. "Shadow and I should take the other-r-r end of the taverrn; young loverrs and all. We'll pick up differrent converrsations and have morre varriety to discuss together-r-r." She glanced around at each inspector in turn attempting to find if that sounded agreeable.

Shadow lifted his eyebrows at Kanth’s open declaration… young lovers. He cleared his throat and looked away embarrassed, then looked back, “I don’t think we’ll find two separate tables, and with the attitude we picked up from the doorway, we might fare better if we are not separated from our human friends.” He looked at Cydric and Vorn and quickly added, “It’s not that I’m afraid of a spat in a tavern, I just think it will derail us from our intentions of what we came here for.”

Kanth giggled at Shadow's obvious embarrassment and looked about realizing that the bar was quite full. "Well, maybe your-r-r rright. I just figurred we'd absorrb morre split up. No matter-r-r."

Cydric smiled and added, "no, no, I think Kanth might be right, it'd be good to get as much information as possible. Hell the young lovers act will be great. Imagine, an afternoon run, looks of longing in each others eyes, a quick meal or drink to freshen up the ol' stamina, light touches and quiet giggles. It'd be great as a front to gather information. In fact I was even gonna suggest Vorn or I take up a post on the bar, after all the barkeep is who we're here to see anyway. See what he has to say to friends and normal patrons, that he probably wouldn't say to a few inspectors."

"In fact, why don't Kanth & Shadow take the table, and Vorn and I can take up other positions." At that Cydric turned back towards the bar and took a stool, he gave a quick glance back at Kanth & Shadow, and gave them a sly, quirky, smile. For some reason, Cydric felt, great. For the first time in a long time he was actually in a good... no great mood. Smiling widely, aware he didn't give such smiles often enough, he noticed that the muscles in his face actually ached a bit. Quickly his smile faded as he stared into his drink and pretended not to notice anyone as the realization of why they were here came over him.

Shadow nodded, "As you wish..." and broke away from the conversation to grab a recently vacated table before someone else nabbed it.

"By the gods," Kanth bemoaned after hearing Cydric's piece. "That's fairrly drramatic. I thought I was the hopeless rromantic, you almost made me want to vomit my frriend." She muffled a laugh as she cast a sly glance to Cydric and he too could not conceal his smile for long.

"So, you and Vorrn arre going to be young loverrs at the barr and Shadow and I will grrab a table over-r-r therre and look nondescrript? Is this the plan?" She let out a purring giggle again as she winked at Shadow, obviously enjoying the game.

Shadow covered his smile with his large paw-like hand as he took a seat at the vacant table.

"Na, I think I'll pass on the lover's bit with Vorn, I'll take this end of the bar, and he can take the other end. Besides, I'm sorry Vorn, but you're just not my type. I hope there's no hard feelings about that. So you too have fun at your table, hell, have a little of that herb you ingest, that should make it seem all the more interesting."

Vorn smiled at the joke, and added, "You're most definitely my type Cydric. Look at that ass!" Laughing, he said, "Of course, I'm just kidding Cydric. That's not my cup of tea. Not that I drink tea. I think I'm babbling before I'm drunk. Hold up, until I get properly drunk, then you can see how loose I become." Vorn walked over to a recently vacated barstool and motioned at the bartender.

 

Kanth joined Shadow, smiling at the volley between her and Cydric. That was the first she had seen him smile and joke. He seemed a bit relieved. That alone caused her joy. As she sat, she went instantly into the act at hand and reached across the table to take Shadow's hand. She smiled and purred, "Don't trry any funny business," with another wink.

Shadow smirked, his hand in hers. “I had no intentions of telling any jokes,” he said coyly. Casually, he glanced around to flag down a waitress. A cup of milk would hit the spot. In his observance, he looked back towards the entrance to see if the three rude individuals had indeed left. “What would you car-r-re to drrink, Darrling?” he asked Kanth.

"Oh how sweet you arre," she replied listening attentively to the details of the conversations around her. "I'll have a mug of thick sweet crream please," she answered.

 

Shadow lifted a clawed finger to wave down one of the busy bar maidens of the tavern. Eventually, one came to take their order. A round of cream... or whatever was available. He reached over to take his lover's hand in his own and play the part. Speaking softly, just loud enough for Kanth to hear, he purred "We r-really need to find this Myrranda. She probably knows best what Slorran was doing r-right before he died." The look on his face, like a love-struck cat in heat, belied his words and gave the impression he whispered only sweet nothings to her.

He looked casually about the room for a woman of about Sloran's age, give or take five years, who seemed excessively depressed.

 

Kanth feigned embarrassment and placed a paw over her mouth giving out a slight giggle. Then, mimicking the same hushed tone Shadow conveyed, "I agrree, she is our-r-r best rresourrce at this point. She worrks herre. The barrkeep would be our-r-r solution to finding her-r-r."

At the bar, the crowd was filled with questions of the death. Sloran was apparently well known if not well liked in all circles. Most who had heard the news for the first time were shocked. While the pub master seemed to revel in the attention, he did seem to share some concern. "His lord said it was poison, though if you ask me, Sloran's been dealing with too many tricksters down in Dran."

"Last I knew, he was goin' south to pick up some old trinkets," said one whisker-faced young man. "I can't believe he's gone. Did they say when the rights would be performed?"

"I don't know, that son. Poor Myranda was so broken up about it I let'er have off. I'm sure she would know."

Looking about the place, Vorn noted the simple but spacious layout. Unlike most buildings of adobe mud and thatched roofs, this building was half mortared stone and half finely sanded wood planks. The high ceiling was braced by massive beams that crossed and arched. He had seen many similar constructs in his homelands, though the style up north was far more pleasing to the eye. On the main floor patrons, mostly human, though of several nationalities, sat about their tables or stood with flagons in hand. Between the fine clothes and haughty talk, it was obvious this crowd was of the higher society. They worked for nobles or were of noble blood themselves, though which was which was hard to discern.

Many smoked pipes with one more intricate or finely crafted than the next. It was an odd smell as the smoke filled the air and hovered just above the masses.

Two large fire pits seemed to brace the whole structure on either side of the building, but neither had a fire going. It was not necessary with the heat of summer and it had not rained yet. Along the center beam hung oil lanterns that added a warm glow to the otherwise hard light coming from the windows at the front and open doorway in the back. And that caught Vorn's eye.

The glare of the noon-day sun shimmering off the water was almost too much now that his eyes had adjusted to the shade, but the view was spectacular. A wood framed patio stretched out over the water way as the various canal ferries and merchant vessels passed. Across the canal stood several spires of a temple that reflected the sun off its silver capped domes that rose high into the air.
 

Shifting on his barstool it occurred to Cydric that an up scale pub such as the Sleeping Sea might just have coffee. Pushing the ale to the side, he called over the barkeep and tested his luck. Even though coffee was rare in these parts, the rich usually had it. As silly as it sounded, when Cydric would take a contract from an “up town” client, he would always include at least a pound of coffee in the deal. Usually he got the strangest looks at this request, but with his hollow, dull, blank stare the client usually dropped the matter and would mumble an agreement.

 

After placing his order, Cydric leaned back a bit and reached into his pouch and pulled out his pipe. He held the pipe a foot or two from his face and inspected it under a scrutinizing eye, and noticed the poor condition of it compared to the beauty of some of the pipes these nobles had. His was worn and weathered, and had a few small cracks in the wooden bowl. The etchings that had once been carved into the outside of the bowl were worn smooth with barely any trace that there ever was a design carved into the wood. Even the design of the entire pipe was old compared to the newer designs these nobles sported. The pipe he held before his eyes was just a small bowl with its straight stem coming out at the bowl’s underside. Most of the pipes in the pub here had curved stems, or large bowls, or both. All were made from the finest of materials including gold, ivory, fine woods, and even a few appeared to have what looked like marble on them.

 

Cydric knew his pipe was old; it had once belonged to his late master, Darthes. But beyond that, he knew nothing more of his pipe’s history. With that he shrugged and lit his pipe, enjoying the aroma of the tobacco. The barkeep came over and with a heavy hand placed a steaming hot mug of coffee before the assassin. At first Cydric paid him no attention and even waved the flagon of ale away, but then he noticed that the man didn’t move. The inspector looked up, smoke slowly billowing up his face from his pipe, “Can I help you?” he asked, voice dripping with sarcasm.

 

The barkeep looked the dark haired inspector up and down, noting the well worn black clothing the man wore, the short greasy hair, and the dark look in this stranger’s eyes. “What’s a man of your status doing in my pub? It doesn’t look like you could afford my cheapest beer, but yet you order ale and then coffee. I swear if you can’t pay not only will I beat my money out of you, I’ll turn you in for theft.”


Cydric’s lips parted into a wickedly evil grin as his eyes narrowed into slits, the thought of quickly slashing his dagger across this bastard’s throat was entertaining enough, but he knew it was definitely not the time or place. The barkeep stepped back at the look on Cydric’s face, he was about to call for assistance when five T’arrg hit the bar’s lacquered surface.

 

The look on Cydric’s face never changed when he all but whispered in a hollow voice, “Keep the change.” Then he looked away and started to glance around the bar, noticing above all things, a back door. He looked at the patrons putting faces to the voices he heard, also noting the positions and weaponry of each as well. He listened to the general feeling of Sloran’s death, and the thoughts behind his undoing. But what caught Cydric’s interest was the conversation at a table just a few steps away. Cydric did his best to block out the background noise to pay closer attention to their conversation.
 

One table of four men spoke of their recent trip to the northern lands of Endrak and how the trade routes were finally opening. They spoke about how the Emperor had dissolved his governing council and how the once great nation was crumbling from starvation. "It's sad. So long they survived off of slave labor and its like the nation has not changed. The man I work with has twelve slaves and thinks nothing of it. I had to bite my tongue not to insult him. And he treated them worse than his dogs!"

"That's the way of their world," said an over fed gentleman in the group. "I tell you, the goblins... if there was any race that would benefit from enslavement, it's them." That comment received several odd looks and one of the men shifted uneasily in his chair and looked about to make sure no goblins were within earshot.

"I was talking to an aid and he was saying the wizards had returned." The third speaker was a dark skinned man with coal-black hair and played with a large colorful feather. "Some were saying that black rituals were taking in the weak and making them ill."

"Hog wash! If anything is making them ill, its their own conscience."

"Like an Endraki ever had a conscience!" Scoffed another.

"What of your trek, Kal?"

Not liking the attention, Kal shifted uneasily. He, like the one to his left was darkly tanned though he had a gruffness to him that the other lacked. "The ones that are disappearing are dying from a plague. They first become weak then lose their hair. Not long after, they bleed from every pore. I had not believed it at first but I saw them with my own eyes."

"And where was that?"

"On the outskirts of Lepthi. An entire village of sick. It was horrible. They had lost nearly one thousand to the plague."

"Well how come I never heard of this? I was in Lepthi not a year ago."

"It happened quickly. The first got ill no more than three moons ago."

"Three months and it wiped out one thousand?"

"No, that was the thing that struck me. It was less than one month from the first. After that, the plague seemed to cease. Even their beasts fell ill. You cannot imagine the stench. When I passed through, there were only a handful of villagers alive or well enough to aid in the burnings. We torched many homes where the entire family had perished."

"That's horrible. Now I understand your quiet of late." Their conversation then drifted to less serious matters. Mostly about the roundness of the barmaids.

 

Vorn finally received his drink. Then, taking his drink with him, he walked up to the table where the merchants were talking. After all, he had no other leads to pursue.

"Hello, my name is Vorn. May I join you? I heard you talk about this disease on the outskirts of Lepthi. I'm an inspector, you see, and we've found a body not too far from here. We have not determined the cause of death. Do victims die without a mark on their body?"

"Inspector, you say?" said the plump merchant on the right, "An eavesdropper is more like it." He chuckled to himself.

"Quiet," said Kal. "If that plague is here, you'll not long be laughing." He shifted and faced Vorn. "No inspector, the plague causes many lesions and many of the survivors were blinded and disfigured."

"So inspector," said the other dark skinned merchant with the feather, "what news do you have of this man Sloran? I heard he dropped dead last eve. Some say it was a curse others a weak heart."

The fat merchant cut in, "If the inspector is here, then it is more nefarious than a broken heart. That is unless you now eavesdrop on the affairs of love." Even that got Kal to smirk. It was long rumored that the inspectors and their spies collected information on the gossip of nobles and their exploits including their sexual affairs.

Vorn winked and said, "Well, if any of you have any juicy gossip, I might just reward you. As to Sloran, the cause of his death is unknown, otherwise we inspectors wouldn't be here investigating."

 

 

With the meat of the merchant's conversation ended and Vorn having taken the initiative, Cydric turned to the barkeeper, "So, hear any good tales lately? I'm trying to be a writer, and I'm always on the look out for interesting stories and such. Mysteries, tales of valor & honor, tales of battles won or lost. You know; interesting things that people would be entertained reading about."

The barkeep looked at him with a suspicious look and was about to say something when someone at the other end of the bar called him over.

 

A young man between Cydric and the tabled Phylinx shook his head and said to no one in particular, "Damn it Sloran, I told you to be careful. Donnel," he waved to the bar keep. If you could tell me how to find Myranda. I have news that might comfort her."

The bar-master leaned in and spoke with the other in whispered tones. When their conversation ended, the man leaned back on his stool and thanked Donnel graciously as the elder moved to fill another order. But the lad did not leave straight away. After all, his flagon was still over half full.

 

 

 

Sergei had met the young human assassin several times, usually while Cydric had been chased by some force he could not handle. No matter what Eric said, he was not to be trusted.

Dressed as he was, in a drab leather workman's vest, and not mentioning his grand height, towering a full head higher than most humans, many eyes followed him across the room. There was even a noticeable quiet that fell over the crowded floor. But that shortly gave way to the regular volume once the Kanis ignored them all.

Kanth looked up to the front entrance just as the towering Kanis ducked under the door frame. A chill ran down her spine at the sight of him and though she did not understand it completely, she knew that something about the dog-man was different. The creature looked about the room and his eyes fixed on Cydric. That alone was enough to make her muscles tense, but the man-beast also carried a large axe, unsheathed, and held resting on his shoulder positioned to strike if needed. Before she could bring herself to move, the Kanis had closed the distance and stood behind Cydric.

 

"Cydrric! Behind you," she cried out as the dog-man dropped something into his lap. She had no idea what it could have been, poison maybe? But she was determined not to allow any harm to happen to her company while she was present.

Her muscles tensed as the humanoid leaned in on Cydric more closely. She stood and poised, ready to bolt across the room to leap onto the dog-man if need be.

"Kanth! It's alright, I know this Kanis" Cydric assured her when he saw her stand. Since Kanth had been so kind as to quiet the crowd, Cydric barely had to whisper for the Phylinx to hear. "Kanth, Shadow, meet Sergei. You know my friend that's a poison expert? Well this is Eric's assistant." Cydric said with a sigh of relief, he didn't know Sergei well, but he could have imagined the look on Eric's face if Sergei was attacked while coming to his aid.

The barkeep stared up at the towering Kanis and his naked axe. "I'm sorry sir, but if you have no sheath an' peace tie, I'll ask ya to hand it over to me. Just don't want one of these drunk bastards to fall on it, ya know." With an uneasy smile as he wiped ale from the smooth counter, he said, "No service until then. No disrespect meant, but its a liability."

 

The Kanis smiled a toothy grin, but due to the number of sharp teeth showing through his lips, it looked more like a snarl. "Of course," Sergie said with a puff and handed the axe over to the bar man.

Kanth visibly relaxed and squirmed down in her hard wooden seat, a bit embarrassed and perplexed. The entire bar's attention was on her, and she wasn't used to being the center of attention. She glanced at Shadow coyly, then said, "It's nice to meet you Serrgei. Glad I didn't pounce you beforre I knew your-r-r intentions. Believe me, it crrossed my mind for-r-r a split second. Sorrry, no harrd feelings?"

Shadow’s paw was in his face hiding from the crowd. So much for their extravagant plans at subterfuge.

After calming down the very alert and quite protective Phylinx, Cydric turned to Sergei and looked him over. Cydric smiled at the Kanis and said, "You know, she would have ripped you apart if I hadn't jumped in for you. The way I see it, you owe me your life." Cydric winked at Sergei and nudged his arm. "However, what are you doing here? I asked for Eric because I have a sample of a poison that I need to identify. I believe it's what killed the man in our investigation. So unless you can identify this poison, I'm afraid you came down here in vain. Unless you can use that big ol' nose of yours to track down this Miranda woman we've heard about." Cydric said.

Sergie replied, “Eric was away from the shop on business and I thought I would come in his place and see what help I can offer.”

Kanth sat quietly, sipping her cream and taking in the conversations around her. Basically, after causing a scene, she did as any wise cat would: she minded her business for a few minutes, acting as though it never happened and that she wasn't embarrassed. Although that was far from the truth.
 

Shadow stood from the table where Kanth and he occupied. Their cover blown, he elected to take another course. He headed through the crowded tavern room and up to the barkeep, lifting a finger to get the man’s attention. As the barkeep approached, he smiled and nodded in a friendly manner, one hand to his side, one hand flat on the bar table. “If I might bother-r-r you for one moment of your time, sir-r-r,” Shadow started, speaking quietly to the barkeep. “I am trrying to locate a girrl named Myrranda who worrks her-r-re. It is verry imporrtant that I speak with her-r-r. Can you tell me wher-r-re I might be able to find her-r-r?”

"Sorry lad," he said with a smile, "I don't go giv'n that information out to any stranger that asks."

Shadow revealed the leather coins from under his hair-covered hand. Wiping out another mug, the bar master seemed a bit insulted. "Now I really don't feel like talk'n. That girl's had enough grief without dealing with some stranger the likes of you."

In attempt to save face, Shadow slid the coinage back to his pouch and approached the barkeep once more, cupping something else in his hand. Palming his inspector’s badge, he asked again, “Ar-r-re you sur-r-re you can’t help me? I am verry interrested about someone who was once close to her.”

Thoroughly exhausted by the snide jibes the merchants volleyed at him, Vorn sipped some more from his mug and watched as Shadow approached the bar. "Good day gentlemen," Vorn offered cutting off yet another sharp comment about the inspectors.
 

Joining Shadow at the bar, Vorn cut in with the air of a superior, "Is there a problem here? You do realize, sir, that withholding pertinent information on a possible homicide to inspectors is against the law?" Vorn flashed his badge. "What that means, in case you didn't understand me, is that you will answer my fellow inspector's question, or you'll end up in jail." 
 

"Inspector?" The bar man looked hard at Vorn and Shadow not sure if he should believe his senses. "Lemme see that badge more closely." Vorn and Shadow obliged and though the bar-master looked quite close to both sewn emblems, he did not seem to know what he was actually looking for.

"Hrmph, I suppose yer here for that business about the dead man last night?"

"Prrrrecicely" Shadow acknowledged.

"Well, I suppose that lot is with you too then?" he pointed over to the tall Kanis, Kanth, and Cydric. "I should have expected something, but nothing like this. One moment and I can talk more openly." He called out to a maid who was making her rounds and told her to cover
the ale-tending.

The young man who had spoken to the bar tender earlier approached. "Did you say you were inspectors? Is there anything you can tell me about Sloran's death? He and I have been close friends for many years. Might I join you in your conversation?"

"Come this way through the kitchen. We can talk more out back," bellowed the keep as he hung up his apron and dried his hands on a towel.
 

Cydric, Kanth, and even Sergie noticed the bar tender's observation of their group being linked to the other two inspectors. Once they began moving out doors, they seemed to follow instinctively.

 

Chapter 17
 

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