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Chapter 20 - Farewell

 

The sun was beginning its evening descent and clouds formed to the north. Yet another evening storm appeared to loom on the horizon casting a shadow towards the city of T'Aarn.
 

Looking about the small room that Myranda called her home, the inspectors decided to split up. Cydric and Kanth would return to the pub and Shadow and Vorn would take Myranda's body to the temple. As for Sergie and Maro, they planned to return home.


"Well then I say we'll meet at Tithion's Manor in two hours. That should be enough time for you to question the neighbors and for us to talk to the pub patrons. Don't forget to tell the undertaker to take the body to Tithion's, hopefully his priests will be able to 'talk' to her. See you guys shortly, and good luck." Cydric said as he nodded to Shadow and Vorn. Then Cydric walked outside with the spotted Phylinx and began marching back towards the Sleeping Sea with the powder covered cakes in hand.

 

Once they were a suitable distance from Myranda's home, Kanth glanced around for anyone suspicious or watching them too intently. Satisfied that her words would be heard by no eavesdropping ears, she began, "Cydrric, I think I can trrust you with my perrsonal opinion herre. I believe that Tithion knows way morre than he is giving us, that barrkeep as well, and our own fat Phineous is in on this somehow. You know morre about poisons than I, how long would you say that this type would take effect and slay its victim?"
 

The dark haired assassin thought about it for a moment. "Of course you can trust me, honestly you're about the only one that does. And I share your suspicions one hundred percent. We've exhausted every lead we had and I don't think it's a matter of bad investigation that's lead us back to the beginning. We missed something, and I think it's time we play hard this time. I brought that unfinished cake with us, let's see what reactions we'll get if we start showing that around, maybe even force a barkeep into tasting it. Unless your a complete nut case, like myself, no one would eat something they know is poisoned. As far as how lethal it is, I can only guess that it's a fast acting poison. From the two bodies we've already seen, I'd say it attacks the heart and kills in mere moments. But I might have the class of poison completely wrong."

Cydric continued to explain. "As far as I can assume, the poison is inert until mixed, or at
least not fatal. From the yellow skin of both victims, it 'devoured them from the inside'. I know that some poisons stop the heart or lungs where others tend to destroy tissue." He scratched his chin thoughtfully.

"Since neither victim passed in a state of anguish, it did not cause undue pain or discomfort. Some sedatives can kill when mixed with other sedatives, though those usually don't discolor the skin like this."

"Bottom line: it could be a combination of things. Nothing on its own seems to have the effects we're seeing."

"But the idea I have for our barkeep is basically to show him the cake and judge his reaction to it. Worst comes to worse, one of us will throw him down and hold him, while the other stuffs that cake into his mouth. If it's poisoned and he knows it, he'll sure as hell spit it out as quickly as possible. That's when we nail him, if we're wrong, well then it's just a case of brutality. Besides, we also need to inform him that he needs to post a "help wanted" sign. He's short a barmaid now." Cydric said with a wiry smile.
 

Upon opening the door to the Sleeping Sea, all eyes turned towards Kanth and Cydric as the wind ripped the door from their grasp, slamming it into the wall. The storm brewing outside promised of a powerful downpour, the dark clouds, temperature drop, the wind picking up, it was no wonder why the pub was so full on this devilish evening.

Cydric noticed two bar stools and quickly made way towards them, making a gesture towards Kanth of his intended destination. Just as he was getting to the stools, an overly fat man was just about to plop down on one; quickly Cydric reached out and snatched the stool before the man could sit. With a loud crash, the fat man fell flat on his ass, his pint of ale bounced out of his hand and spilled all over the fat man's tunic.

He blubbered and muttered incoherently as those who saw the spectacle laughed. The fat man tried to get up, but due to drink he clumsily fell back down on his face, once again muttering incoherent words. Almost the entire bar watched and was laughing so hard, some of them had their drinks spewing from their mouths. Cydric had a slight smirk and even started to laugh out loud when the fat man grabbed the stool next to him and sent the stool and its occupant crashing to the floor.

Cydric quickly regained his posture and set the stools he was holding down now that Kanth was near. Cydric sat on his stool and waved down the barkeep. "I'll have a shot of whiskey, my friend here a bowl of your finest cream and we both want a tall glass of whatever the hell it is you're not telling us." Cydric stated as he laid the cake on the bar, slowly unwrapping it, and hoping the fat man, who was still flopping like a fish, didn't see it.

Kanth took her seat, trying as hard as she could to stifle the laughter bearing hard upon her breast. "I'll have a shot of what he's having in my crream if you please," she says giving the barkeep an evil watchful eye.

She eyed the cake, then the barkeep, then back to the cake, and back again. "Something tells me that this looks familiar-r-r to you. What say you?" The barkeep sputtered a bit before answering.

Looking cross, with his hands on his hips, Donnel eyed both inspectors with contempt. "What are ye' talking about? And why are you disturbing my customers?" He watched Kanth's eyes and followed her glance. "What's that supposed to be? I already told ya what I know and ye blew it all out'a proportion. I'm sure you brought poor Myranda to tears with yer line of question'n." He called over to Carla, "Take these two's orders, I ain't got time for them." With that he wiped his hands on a towel, tossed it under the counter and strutted off into the kitchen.

Cydric looked at Kanth, and noticing her acknowledgment, he leapt over the bar; grabbed the damn cake. Then as fast as his swift legs would take him, Cydric followed Donnel in the kitchen with Kanth in tow. "You apparently don't realize it, but you do have the time to talk to us. Cause it seems like your barmaid, well she didn't talk either, rather tight lipped, of course she was dead before we got there, so I guess she couldn't have said much. But what we think is funny, is that the two dead people we're investigating, both seem to have your bar as the last place they were seen alive. So if you don't start talking, maybe the priests can get you to sing after they've scrambled your mind with their magic." Cydric stated in a harsh, tired tone, while playfully tossing the cake lightly from hand to hand.
 

As Cydric was talking, Kanth silently circled the man so that her feline face was mere inches from the man's own. She gave him a toothy smile, "Boo."  The tossing of the cake caught Kanth's eye for a split-second and the action almost caused her to falter, snatching the cake out of the air playfully. But, she managed to keep her cool and forced her attention away from the quickly, playfully, moving object.

Turning to face the rogue, Donnel's hard look faded into something more somber. "What did you say? About Myranda? She's dead?" Cydric nodded. "You would not play such a cruel joke as that would you?" Donnel's broad shoulders sagged.

"Oh, the gods!" Cried Carla as she covered her mouth with her hands. "How? What happened?"

By now all movement in the pub ceased and the only sounds came from the fire in the hearth, wind whispering through the trees, and occasional clang from the cook in the kitchen, still unaware of the news. All eyes and ears were trained on the inspectors and Donnel aching for the details.

"Sorrry to brring such foul news to you at this hour-r-r," Kanth answered. "But she passed sometime in the night last night, we suspect, frrom the same manner-r-r that Slorran was slain. So, you see now our-r-r distrress: We have two murrderrs, the same manner-r-r used on both, and both individuals were seen leaving herre last. You'rre not holding something back frrom us now arre you?"

The tall Phylinx woman edged back over beside Cydric and pointed at the cake bouncing from hand to hand. "What is this and wherre did it come frrom?" Her question was stern, but yet not accusing.

"It looks like the cake Sloran brought. Same kind anyhow," Donnel replied without hesitation. "Why? You don't think that that is the reason? Do you? Is that thing..."

Carla gasped, "poisoned?" She suddenly grew pale and looked like she would collapse, but a seated patron reached up and steadied her and gave her his seat.

"I had some..." she choked, her face now red as tears welled up in her eyes. "They were very sweet... I..." her voice trailed off to a squeak and nearly hysterical sobbing.

Sounds of cooking in the kitchen ceased as the hefty chef peered around the corner. "What's going on in here?"

"I'll explain later," Donnel waived his hand and kneeled by Carla's side gently rubbing her back. "You're fine dear. Shhhhh, you're fine."

Standing again and glaring through reddened eyes, Donnel glowered. "You best get to the meaning of this. Is that thing poisoned?" He jabbed his finger towards the cake. "Cause if you're lying, may the gods save you!"
 

Cydric looked to Kanth and noticed her eyes following the cake back and forth. The thought of having her pounce on him to get the cake was running through his mind when Donnel's voice raised, and broke Cydric from his thoughts. He stopped tossing the cake and set it down. "You see that's part of our problem, it's only suspected to be poisoned." Cydric said in a softer tone, almost a whisper. Then he turned to Carla and said, "When did you eat the cakes?"

Carla could hardly contain herself. Instead Donnel cut in, "Same as everyone else. Sloran brought them in and was sharing them with everyone. I didn't have any, but Carla and Thoman in the kitchen each had at least one. Myr... Myranda had at least two here and she packed a few for later. Even used his favor you have there," he motioned to
the cloth that they found with the cakes.

 

"Verry interresting," Kanth answered. She glanced at the woman, then back to the man. "So, you parrtook of the cakes as well? Odd that you arre still alive." She turned to Cydric and spoke softly, "Do you think that Kanis has an idea of the poison type yet with what he was given? Orr, do our-r-r answerrs still lie herre?"

"Sergie told me he wouldn't have the answers we need until tomorrow, mid-day I think. If she too ate the cakes last night, then these apparently aren't poisoned either. I don't get it, what the hell else is there? The cakes were the only common factor. She ate them last night, and is obviously alive today. Unless there were different batches, or Sloran had one's that were just for Myranda and himself and those were the poisoned ones. But I think I'm grasping at straws here. I have the feeling we should probably apologize for our rudeness and leave here." Cydric said with a note of defeat in his voice.


"We'll apologize for-r-r nothing," she answered, a bit of hurt in her voice. "We arre upholding the law and simply doing our-r-r jobs. We'll bid them farrewell and come again in the near-r-r futurre."

"As you wish my lady." Cydric said and gave a low bow, the broad grin on his face was hard to miss. He straightened up and turned to Donnel, "We're sorry about Myranda's death, and I'm sure when we find who killed Sloran, we'll find her killer as well. If your bar maid here starts feeling ill in any way, I'd suggest seeing a doctor right away. Other than that, I'm assuming we're done here. Good night to you all."

Cydric looked back the bar patrons, a look of concentration on his face, "Well if the cakes were deadly, even eating one cake should kill, or at least make the person very ill. And since Carla or Thoman don't even seem to have the sniffles I'd say its a good bet that the cakes are just fine. Thank you for your time, and if you remember anything let us know, thanks."
 

Walking towards the main door of the pub Cydric stopped and said to Kanth, "I guess it's on to Tithion's place again. Hopefully we'll get there before it starts to rain, I just bought these dry pants."

"Now see here!" called Donnel as the inspectors opened the door, but his voice was drowned by the hard wind and the door closed as if on its own accord. The sky had grown black since Kanth and Cydric returned to the Sleeping Sea and a few scattered drops of rain began to fall all around them. Within short moments, the sprinkle became a
downpour.

Watching the inspectors leave, Donnel fumed. "I'll be sure to let their superiors hear about this. They can't just barge in and stop someone's business like that!" Several of the patrons nodded or called out their support.

"If you need witnesses," called an elderly finely dressed man, "you have my word."

"Aye," called three or four others in near unison.

Donnel raised his hands for quiet, "Who can we call on who would lend us his ear? And who has a powerful enough voice to undo these abuses?" The crowd grew silent. Donnel did not figure anyone actually intended to help and from the sudden quiet, it appeared no one would. Or for that matter, COULD help.

Someone called from the back corner of the pub, "what about Florantine?" It was too shadowy there for Donnel to see who it was who spoke.

"And what would Florantine care about some troubled pub?"

"He holds many resentments for the inspectors. They have long been working against the system; corrupting it from within. He has at least worked for the people's good will."

"And how would you know this?" Donnel squinted, trying to see the details of the figure who spoke. The pub was still quiet, though the air was filled with quiet whispers and hisses of shifting bodies.

"I know, because I have worked for him since I was just a boy." The figure stood and stepped forward into the light. Donnel recognized the scarcely whiskered young man's face. And his uniform and badge of office placed him as the young captain Theldin from the Crafter's district. "I can voice your grievance to the Chief, and in turn, him to the magistrates. This city is still run by its people is it not?"
 

 

 

 

Kanth and Cydric hastily darted from street to street, alley to alley, in an attempt to get to Tithion's manor before their bones must be wrung out to dry. The storm increased in power and force, and before long, strokes of lightning lit up the darkening sky.

Kanth had always been intrigued by lightning and often wondered what its source was, but at this time, her main concerns revolved around the mystery at hand. Two people linked in one way or another murdered, a missing artifact, a distraught barkeep and his wife, poisoned or nonpoisoned cakes; things had been piling up, but not adding up at all.

Before long, the tall mansions and keeps of the Nobles' Row stood out before the black and gray backdrop of a starless stormy eve. "Finally," Kanth murmured as the two passed into the border into the fancier living quarters.


 


The undertaker was a bit of a shady fellow and had the gall to demand 20 T'arg to
deal with preparing Myranda's body and transporting it to Tithion's manor. It took mere moments to convince him otherwise after being threatened for extortion, he begrudgingly took the body for free.

The storm had blown in with a heavy wind. Fat drops of rain drenched the inspectors as they trudged down the cobbled path of the Nobles' Row. Though the sun had not yet set, it was dark as midnight from the cloud cover.

At the entrance to Tithion's manner and huddled under their canopy, four guards stood watch. The oil lamps on the street side of the bricked pillars glared and swung in the rain and wind, and they threatened to be extinguished by the moisture. Upon noticing the black Phylinx and darkly clad human approach, one called out, "Stand yer ground and proclaim your purpose!" The young man's hand was on his sword, still sheathed, but his comrades pulled their hooked spears from their stands and gripped them tightly.

Shadow paused a moment to count how many of them stood there watching their approach. “We’ve come to see Tithion, if you please… and to get out of this damnable rain.” He hated getting wet, and right now there wasn’t a spot left dry on his body. Something about the rain made his pelt smell funny. The Phylinx knew it and never denied it, but he never liked it either. An herbalist once offered to concoct a special body-wash that would take care of the odor, a little mixture of ground up Birch roots, the juice of a ripe kokia fruit, and various flowers all mixed in clean spring water. He almost purchased the stuff. It was guaranteed to make him smell like a summer field full of wild flowers. Shadow would rather smell like a garbage-dwelling rat than a dainty girl… there was an image to think about after all.
 

"Come hither and give your names. This is a private affair." The guard that called out with his hand still on his sword, and the other three stood firm at his side prepared to bring their spears to bear.

Shadow stepped forward, posing no threat aside from shaking his fur and splattering pelt-smelling water off his exterior. “I am Inspector Shadow. I was here earlier with my companions investigating the murder of Sloran. There has been further development we believe your master will be most interested with… and were hoping we could help each other in this time of need. I realize it is a bad time, but there is little time to waste. Now run and tell Tithion Inspector Shadow and Vorn are here, if you please. Because if he misses this opportunity, he’ll have your head.” The large black Phylinx crossed his arms and looked down his nose at the weapon-bearing guard, awaiting some reaction.

"No need for that, sir. We were instructed to expect you. Please step forward out of the rain." The canopy made for a snug fit with the six men huddled beneath. Shadow noted that his scent was not the only one affected by the damp. Despite so many humans' protests otherwise, they gave off their own musk, not too dissimilar to his own.

"We can escort you further, but you must give up your arms. No weapons will be allowed beyond the foyer." His gaze fell strongly on Vorn and the sword that hung from his hip.

Shadow had only the dagger he gained from the night prior with him. His bow still set back at his house collecting dust. He made a mental note to pick it up once they were done. Handing over the dagger, he said “No problem from me, have it.” He looked to Vorn for his reaction.

Vorn readily agreed and gave up all his visible weapons; the katana and all six visible daggers. But he resisted handing over the ones in his boots. What they did not know would not hurt them.
 

Shadow smiled at the humorous appearance of Vorn handing over weapon after weapon. He was certainly prepared for the worst. Once he had finished, Shadow crossed his arms and said a little impatiently, “So are we ready now? Our time is precious, you know.”



Security was tight. Walking the long path from the gate to the household entrance, Shadow and Vorn passed several armed guards. Most had the colors of Tithion's household, but others were dressed in other colors. Either these were hired mercenaries, personal guards of guests, or some form of reinforcements provided by Tithion's many friends.

An animal handler walked with his trogg, a spiny haired animal that resembled a large black dog, but much less cuddly. The trogg's coat consisted of sharp spines intermixed with stiff hairs. They were a popular breed with mercenaries and guards since any attempt to harm the animal with a fist or foot could injure the assailant.

Their temperament too made them suited for war-like duties. Troggs were fiercely loyal to their pack, and some claimed, they had a taste for raw flesh. By the looks of them there could be no doubt.

Their hard angular faces looked dog-like enough, but the pale skin showed through where the spines and hair was sparse. The patchwork of pinkish skin and dark fir gave it the look of death. Its eyes seemed to hide in the recesses of shadows under its sharp, overhanging brow. Was this the creature that inspired the tales of the fiendish hell hounds? Or could there be something more hideous? It was hard to imagine.

The handler allowed the trogg to pull him close to Vorn, but held him firmly once the trogg got close. "No need to be alarmed, he just wants your scent," the handler smiled showing his yellow teeth. The rain rolled off his strange cap to either side, but kept it out of the mercenary's face.

Moving then to Shadow, the trogg's back arched and the spines along its back rose noticeably. The handler tugged on the chain in his hand and yelled a command at the beast. Reluctantly the hellish beast pulled away from Shadow and sat back on its bony haunches. "Sorry, she's never been around many non-humans."

Shadow had his own reaction to the animal, growling lowly. Instinctively, his fur stood on end lending an extra couple inches to his normal bulk. With the animal handler’s apology Shadow nodded. “Just keep it on its leash…”

The guard that escorted the inspectors shook his head as he led them down the rest of the path to the manor house as he muttered something about the mercenary's pet.

The trek to the house seemed to take far longer than either inspector would have liked, but they were greeted with fresh robes and towels to dry themselves. The circular room that had been lined with pillows earlier that day was now converted to a weapons cache of sorts. Jax sat behind a sturdy folding table jotting notes as he looked at a blade that sat on his lap. Behind him, two household guards stood at the ready, eyeing the newcomers as two others wiped down items in the stack.

"Even'n lads. We've seen better weather for this sort of business, eh?" Jax quipped hardly looking up from his paper. The escort laid the inspectors' weapons on the table as Jax made a series of notes. "Don't worry about the blades boys. We'll take care of the moisture an' oil 'em down with care. His gaze paused on the naked dagger that Shadow now called his own. Though he did not say a word, it was evident that he found it odd that a Phylinx or a human would own a goblin made weapon.

Shadow didn’t seem too concerned over the disposition of his weapon. It was more a trinket of remembrance than anything he preferred to use in battle. “Thank you, Jax,” he said accepting the paper in his hand. “I’m sur-r-re they’ll be just fine.”

Jax handed over two receipts with a number on each. They were nowhere close to each other. Vorn's was fifty-three while Shadow's was one hundred thirty-two.

After a quick pat-down, one of the young guards, not more than sixteen by the look of him, ushered the inspectors down the steps at the end of the hall. The air in the basement was cool and thick and had an earthy smell. Light was provided by candles in plain black-iron holders spaced perfectly down the textured walls.

This part of the house was not the symbol of opulence as above. Instead it seemed to serve a wholly functional purpose. To the right, a store room for wines, grains, and other food stuffs. To the left, a room with crates of dishes, boxes, and other feasting paraphernalia.

The Phylinx’ belly started to rumble. It had been too long since the fish breakfast he had in the morning. The scent of the food floated thickly in the air and assailed him mercilessly, but he maintained control. He muttered to Vorn next to him, “We eat after-r-r we are done here, yes?”

It was like a maze. Besides the obvious store rooms with their doors wide open, several other rooms had their doors closed and many archways included barred doors and even an iron portcullis. The guide wound through the halls that were all lit with candles. Passages that were apparently off limits were completely dark. Even the Phylinx'
sensitive vision could not pierce the blackness. The candles seemed to give off just enough light to night-blind Shadow.

Walking between store rooms and black hallways, the inspectors counted no less than twenty intersections. This underground complex was huge! Occasionally, Shadow caught the sound of people talking from the dark passages and once the inspectors saw a group of guards making their rounds some hundred paces down another hall.

Perhaps the simplicity and natural environment above ground was simply a hoax, a ruse, a disguise to misguide the casual visitor.


The labyrinth of halls in the complex was bewildering. The Phylinx did what he could to memorize the path out as well as make mental notes of some paths that might be useful as detours just in case they had to run for their lives. He hoped it wouldn’t have to come to that, but this Tithion was full of mystery.

 

Eventually their path reached a long hall that ended in a large open room. Unlike the plain stone of the rest of the complex, these walls were smoothed and painted with an intricate mural. It took a while to digest its meaning, but Shadow recognized many of the symbols and gods. On the left through mountains shone the sun and silver birds flew to the skies. The second scene showed the sun high above with a dominating castle hovering above. Third, a blood red sunset and warriors, angels, and demons ensnared in battle. And finally blackness. But at the center of it was a bloody heart. It represented
Torn, the god of the earth, mountain, valley, and sea.

Along the other wall, darkness gave way as the eye of K'aiya shone her light upon the broken heart. The next scene faded from darkness to light and a forest scene showed a man with a woman, naked against the green backdrop clutching three babies. The three children of Zecharias, the man-god. First, and held above the others, was the human child. Second highest was the Kanis child, and third was the Phylinx babe. At their feet groveled disfigured shapes that represented the goblins, ogres, knoll, and other goblin-blooded races.

The series of scenes ended with a half completed painting of a man overlooking a grand city in a valley with pearl towers and a golden sun. Shadow had seen similar paintings before, though he could not place exactly where. Whoever the man was, he seemed to be a ruler, clutching a scepter of gold and jewels and a crown of light hovering above his head. But with his features unfinished, it was hard to imagine his final appearance.

After reaching the large hall, Shadow took a moment to fully appreciate the artwork and whistled appreciatively. “You have to give crredit to Tithion. His arrtwork displays do the gods and goddesses that he r-respects some credit. I would love to know why he chose to put these specific images on such grrand display over all otherrs.” His eyes held on the unfinished painting of the man looking over the lavish city for a moment longer as he tried to place where he had seen such an image in the past.

Pulling themselves from the images, the inspectors turned to the room. The light that flowed from the doorway was almost painful as their eyes adjusted to the brightness.

The first thing they noticed was the smell of incense, an overwhelming smoke of honey and sweet flowers. On either side of the double doorway, six priestesses stood quietly humming a ritual prayer. The room was an oval with a high arching ceiling, walls of
polished marble, and polished columns. The light emanated from rings of candles, pure white and countless, and more above in chandeliers exactly as the one in the pillowed room in the main house. But they glowed with an unnatural brightness and the air was not as hot as one would expect for that number of tiny fires.

The floor sloped down toward the far end of the room which was filled with no less than fifty and one hundred guests. The inspectors felt out of place with their common clothes for they stood out like flies on white bread.

Dressed in their finest dark garb, the nobles and friends of the household gathered in silence listening to the sermon. Some peered down with obvious interest while others shifted uneasily. One plump noble queen sat on a stool fanning himself vigorously with a gold trimmed fan. While another older woman sat atop her kneeling servant's back. These were not people who were used to hardship. The mere thought of a hard day on the field might make them fall over with exhaustion.

From their vantage, the inspectors could see well over the heads of the flock of pretty peacocks. So proud of their feathers, these nobles were.

Mastering the ceremony stood an elderly man in a tri-colored robe. Black at the feet that faded to red at the waist, and faded again to white beginning at the chest. His large puffy sleeves followed the same pattern. Despite his withering frame, the man stood tall,
speaking in a language Shadow and Vorn did not understand. It was another form of "priest-talk". One that the churches used to enthrall the crowds and to mask their true messages.

Shadow recalled one of his visits to a shrine months ago. One where a cynical old man scoffed the preacher. "He says," the old man chuckled while speaking to no one in particular, "my son is a fine boy. He deserves your respect. I don't remember reading THAT in any tome!" Not long after, the old man was escorted from the room, but it left a
doubt in Shadow's mind as to what was truly being said during those sermons.

Standing over an altar, the priest waved his hands as if to illustrate a great calamity then brought them down slowly and calmly. He raised a fist and pumped it with a slowing rhythm and rose his other hand and caressed the pumping hand. After a few more words, he bowed his head as did the crowd. It was then that the inspectors caught a glimpse of a white wrapped figure that lay on the slab. Sloran's body had been covered in white sheets and colorful flowers and lush greenery decorated the white cloth.

A renewed hush fell on the crowd as a soprano voice echoed in the oval hall. The woman's voice haunted and brought chills up the spine. Though her words were lost in the melody, a somber bit, the meaning seemed clear.

Farewell loved one. Farewell and return to the gods of your creation.

 

Chapter 21

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