- January 16, 2022
Raydorn: The War in the Black (Chapter 15)
“Sight is possibly the most overrated of the senses. The sound of music, the scent of a rose, the touch of fire, and the taste of slow-cooked mermaid each more than make up for the worst their senses have to offer. There is nothing so beautiful that it makes up for the sight of a loved one’s corpse.”
– Astrid, First Disciple of Lapis, 448 A.C.A.
For the most part, the Icee Islanders had been welcoming to the new people on their isles. The added strain on food was hard, but it didn’t take long for them to bring in more. The company was nothing to complain about either, enjoying that of the Black Legion and the remnants of the Hotun tribe…
… save for the Disciples of Lapis.
The people who followed Astrid were easy to pick out from the usual Black Legion faire. While the assassins wore rather obvious garb, if there was no job for them to work they weren’t seen. Most reckoned they dressed out of their uniform so they couldn’t be singled out.
So it wasn’t clothing that made the Disciples so hard to pick out of the crowd, or even the choice most of them made to shave their heads. It was how there was never just one of them. They were always in groups of a few or more, whispering and humming unintelligible things to themselves.
More repellant was how they were the only ones who never fraternized with anyone else. The Icee and the Hotun could drag an assassin to their fire come dinner, mask and all with no issue. When the assassins had warmer hearts and hotter stares than you… well, it was easy for everyone stay clear of Astrid whenever they followed her.
Regularly, she would wake early and walk down the beach, and every morning her followers, with their mishmash of shaven heads, facial tattoos, and unnecessary glaring assured she wasn’t disturbed.
Quintus tried once, and they told him, “She speaks with Lapis, do not disturb our speaker.”
After a while, most of the isles had gotten the message to not get any closer to Astrid unless she came to them. They followed her from distance that assured they couldn’t hear her, assuming they were not supposed to hear her.
What they would think if they could hear the conversation Astrid was having with her god.
I really hate that bitch, sometimes, Astrid told the divine voice that spoke to her.
‘Lucy? Did her comment really affect you so much?’ Lapis asked the Disciple.
I’ve heard worse, it’s that she’s a fake bitch.
‘She’s misguided, she doesn’t understand.’
Lapis’s guidance made Astrid’s expression twist in rage. People do tend to hate the messenger of proper advice. Proper advice rarely validates rage.
She’s a liar.
‘You don’t know that,’ Lapis almost seemed to laugh in her head, ‘how could you know what she believes? She does not need to pray as much as you do to believe in me, or any god. You know this.’
She does if she wants to question me. I am the speaker of your gospel.
‘Eh,’ Lapis seemed to groan, ‘gospel seems like a strong word for the common sense I tell you.’
Astrid smiled in agreement at that. True, but if I just called it common sense, people wouldn’t listen to it. They listen to gospel, it makes the words feel more important than the desire of some people to deride them.
‘You just can’t take people disagreeing with you, can you?’
Well, no, but it’s not that she’s simply disagreeing with me, she’s telling me I’m wrong about something I know far more about! She claims to know your will better than me, when you’re in my head! She wants attention when she claims that your corpse lies in the Secan Sea. She wants to rile me and make herself seem special, distract from whatever she’s done.’
‘And you do not?’ Lapis posed to her.
I hide nothing of what I am.
Lapis chuckled, and Astrid found herself crossing her arms in frustration, as if her father was making fun of her.
‘Astrid, don’t pretend as if you don’t hide your intelligence behind wanton murder and excessive violence. You’re as emotionally developed as the one touched by violence, but you don’t let them see that. It’s not all that different.’
I don’t do it to hide anything, I take enjoyment in slaying people, in wielding Bujian. Despite there being some truth behind her words, she sounded as if she were pleading for her god to believe her. You know this.
Lapis assured her, ‘I do, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t know exactly what you’re doing. You cultivate your image of insanity, and use your lust for violence to hide your true nature. You could be violent without seeming simple if you wanted to.’
People underestimate me more when they do that.
‘That may be true, but you should not be a hypocrite, judging someone you think dishonest when you are dishonest as well. Having a ‘better’ reason doesn’t change that.’
Astrid stopped walking to side-eye and grimace at some empty space.
You’re starting to sound like Quintus.
‘Quintus means well.’
Quintus also gives good hugs to make up for it, you make me chase you.
Lapis grew quiet in her mind, and she stood in her spot, looking up at the clouds, waiting for the Weather god’s answer.
I may be your disciple, she warned him, but I am not your slave.
‘Hmph,’ Lapis seemed to chuckle, ‘you say that, but sometimes I think I don’t believe you.’
How about now?
‘Oh, I think highly of you right now,’ Lapis assured her, causing a sly smirk to wreck havoc on Astrid’s face. The woman always made her expressions seem far more terrifying than they should be.
Does this mean you trust me with your sacred vessel?
Lapis sighed again. ‘As I have told you before, I cannot tell you where I am buried if I do not know, I will tell you if I remember if you do not find out first.’
A contest it is then.
‘A… a contest? Ugh, you remind me of my cousin.’
Astrid’s thought was interrupted by the sound of her followers making a ruckus on her account.
What are they doing now? she asked herself as she grimaced over her shoulder.
‘You’re the one who didn’t house train them,’ Lapis joked.
Astrid groaned seeing how they collectively gathered to get in Malum’s way. She assumed it was Malum being that he’s the only large and lumbering black mass who she knows wouldn’t kowtow to her followers. She stood still long enough, just waiting to see if he would break his way through them.
Instead, he caught her eye. He raised a piece of paper and ignored her fellow disciples. “Astrid, we need to speak to you.”
Immediately, one of her disciples deigned to speak for her, without even checking to see if she was paying attention. “Do not disturb the Speaker, you freakish-”
“What is it, Malum?” Astrid interrupted him,before he said something Malum would make him regret.
Malum held up a finger to her, as he stared down the disciple a foot shorter than him. “Why don’t you let your little sycophant finish his thought? I want to hear it.”
The disciple turned his eyes to Astrid, to find her smirking at his chosen fate. He in turn bowed his head to her, and then Malum. “My sincerest apologies.”
“Better,” Malum said, as he walked past him and the disciples to walk beside Astrid.
“You should train your disciples better,” Malum told her, “they’re fearless.”
“Don’t insult them like that,” Astrid snapped at him, “they fear you, they’re just more brave than they are afraid.”
“Braver,” Malum corrected.
“Okay, walking dickman, would you rather I train them like how you’ve trained your assassins?” Astrid retorted with an arch of her brow. “We must be dogs to you, are you a doggy person, Malum?”
“Love dogs, they’re very loyal creatures, as are my people.”
“Ah, the great friend of man!” Astrid practically sang with her arms outstretched to the sky. She looked over at the masked assassin, seeing no response that could be described as lively.
“Oh, just get on with it,” Astrid told him, shucking her eccentricity, foiled by his lack of personality. “What heavenly news have you brought… the Speaker of Lapis?”
“And you wonder why I don’t buy your belief in your bullshit.”
“You assume its bullshit from the start, that’s why. You want to tell me what you came here for, or do you like having pissing contests with people who have to look up at you?”
“We have a contract,” Malum told her, as he shoved the paper with Susannan words on it into her face. “I think its perfect for you.”
Astrid leaned back, reading the Susannan parchment with fascination, trying to answer one question for herself.
“The fuck is a contract?”
“Malum,” Andy asked as they all gathered around the table for the second time that day, “have I told you to go fuck yourself yet today?”
“No, and you didn’t yesterday either,” Malum assured her.
“Please go fuck yourself,” Andy said as he gave her a thumbs up.
“I did not expect such a vitriolic reaction to finding us work,” Malum admitted as just about everyone gave him an uncomfortable look.
Astrid couldn’t help but look at Malum in disbelief. He had been having his assassins offer out their services for money without consulting anyone. He decided that they were ready to start fighting as mercenaries again before they had even begun training new recruits.
Plus, he did it without telling anyone. For a group of people each with a lot of secrets, you’d be surprised at how offended they are when someone keeps a secret from them.
‘Like you?’ Lapis added.
Hey, I admit I’m a hypocrite, that counts for something.
Now who said we were going for something good?
Jack, the only one who thought bring a chair, satas he poked at his growing facial hair. “For the sake of argument, what was your intention?” The question made Quintus groan which prompted an arch of Jack’s brow, but he didn’t respond to it.
I wish I thought to bring a chair, Astrid thought as she sat her chin on the table.
‘You look like a child doing that,’ Lapis warned.
Then I must be pretty powerful because they haven’t started treating me like one.
“I think my intention is pretty obvious,” Malum retorted.
“Well, let’s pretend I’m an idiot,” Jack said, “not something you haven’t done before.”
Malum stared at Jack for a while before pointing at the ex-Stormguard. “Is no one going to jump on that? Really? I’m surprised at the restraint.”
“We’re all rather pissed at you,” Lucy reminded him.
“How about you all explain to me why rather than leaving me guessing?” Malum suggested. “I’m sure you must all think highly of me but reading minds is far above my abilities.”
They jumped at the chance, one by one.
Andy started. “You could have revealed our location.”
Jack continued, “You might still.”
“Not to mention no one here knew prepare for a mission,” Lucy made a point of adding as she pointed to herself.
Then they got to Astrid who looked up between Lucy and Quintus, wondering why they stopped. “Oh, we were doing a thing?” she asked. “Sorry, I wasn’t ready, um, I don’t know, it was rude? Like… really rude to do without asking?”
“Well, I’m sorry for being rude,” Malum apologized to her.
“Okay, I forgive you.”
There was a group of collective groans and facepalms before Quintus took his turn.
“Expanding on your rudeness, and what Lucy said about preparations, who were you to decide we were even ready to begin such missions? What if we’re not ready and you’ve just soured our reputation?”
“Oh, I already have some choices in mind for the mission,” Malum was quick to retort, and slowly stood back with his arms crossed, as if he was wiping his hands of it, “but I’ll let you decide since the options are rather obvious.”
Quintus turned his head as he wasn’t sure what to make of Malum’s words, “Which among us have…” but it dawned on him and others quickly enough. “Tell him again, Andy.”
“Go fuck yourself,” Andy told Malum again before winking at Quintus.
“Alright,” Malum grunted, cracking his neck in a way that made the others trade looks. The assassin placed his hands on the table and laid it out for them. “You may all be willing to spend as much time as you can living in ignorant bliss until the food and money runs out, but I like to do this little thing I learned in my travels… called ‘taking initiative.’”
“Oh brother,” Astrid groaned.
“Not you, Astrid, you’re fine,” Malum told him.
“Oh!” she chimed instead. The others were rather justified in how confused they were at that.
‘I think he just said that because you agreed with him at best, or because he doesn’t expect you to do anything at worst.’
At worst? That’s great, even less expectations to live up to.
“I’m not waiting around for Jack to get over himself, Andy to sober up, or Quintus to stop playing group therapist,” Malum said, making sure to point at each person he took a bite out of of.
Lucy looked nervous as Malum’s mask turned towards her. “I’m pretty sure you’re just lazy.”
Lucy shrugged at that. “Honestly, he could have said something worse.”
“I had my agents act as soon as we landed here a month ago so we can get back to doing what we do best,” and with a finger jabbing into the table, “fighting.”
Astrid told Lapis, Can’t you see how they hate it when he’s right?
‘Nobody likes it when the asshole says something right.’
“If we don’t, at best we’ll be living off mermaid meat and desalinated sea water. At worst, the people we’ve promised to train and protect will starve. Odds were small that we’d receive a mission so soon because I gave them strict instructions to cover our tracks and find missions with little to no eyes on them, but here we are. Easy money for a group of our talents.”
The group of them are pretty silent as they take it all in. The past few weeks on the Isles have been peaceful, save for Jack and his trip. It’s hard to admit that they may have been slipping in their duties as they quickly learned to enjoy living here. But there was a point to be made on how long it was going to last, and it’s easy to resent the one who acknowledges this first.
“Mermaid is… pretty sour,” Lucy admitted.
“That’s putting it lightly,” Jack agreed.
Andy snorted. “Still no excuse to go behind our backs.”
Malum’s mask turned towards her, and for a mere moment, the light let Astrid just how unsympathetic he felt. “I didn’t go behind your backs, I just don’t run to you to inform you of everything I do, because I don’t need to.”
When Quintus straightened his back and cast his his shadow over Malum, the assassin’s stiff posture softened.
“You do if you’re selling our services,” Quintus reminded him before crossing his arms, making his biceps look even larger.
‘Oh he’s definitely doing that on purpose,’ Lapis snickered in Astrid’s head.
‘Wasn’t incredibly muscular actually.’
Really? Here I thought all gods had six-packs.
Unlike Andy, Astrid managed to appear like she was paying attention when she was talking inside her head. Though, it was easy to miss catching her muttering to herself when Quintus was using his stern voice to give Malum his first warning. “You don’t get to take jobs for us before we can say no, never again.”
Malum took his hands off the table to slide them back under his cloak. “I’m shocked this is an issue.”
“No you’re not, not in the slightest.” Quintus continued to stare Malum even after he was finished, even as the assassin’s mask never turned to face him.
“So… are we not doing it?” Lucy sighed, crossing her arms and resting her chin in her hand. The boring grunt work had her name written all over it, and someone else had written it for her.
“Oh, we are,” Andy assured her, “it’s a simple case of finding a kidnapped girl in the Pantherlands of Susanna. It’s just a matter of whether we let Malum keep collecting our jobs for us.”
Malum offered, “If someone else has the chops to do it, I’m happy to let them.”
Jack raised his hand, as he looked around the table. “You’re in the presence of the uninformed here, anyone want to tell me what the Pantherlands are?”
“The Pantherlands are our living proof that the gods exist.”
Everyone turned their gaze towards Astrid. She had been rather quiet during the meeting, but the Pantherlands had her standing on her feet.
She spoke with a clarity that most of them had not witnessed in a long time. “The Pantherlands, little lord, is where the Panther God of Destruction fought the Sun itself!” The hyperbolic reaching towards the sky did make this scene familiar. “In fact, Efuni fought not only Solicki but all the gods of the Empyrean, threatening to burn the world and Susanna with every step! It was Aris who calmed him, who stopped his advance.”
She acted out the growls of a cat with every mention of the panther god, and made drolling sounds to simulate the white noise of the sun. They watched and listened to her with baited breath as she spoke of gods who weren’t named Lapis.
“Since then, the very land he walked upon remains laden with ash and heat… volcanic lava pouring down the mountain peaks, with barely any spots of life throughout!” She even let out an evil laugh as she expounded on the landscape fit for the underworld of Hedone.
But as she finished she lowered her hands and curled her fingers around each other. She wiggled them as they tented just below her eyes, and muttered, “It’s an excellent place to live, hahaha!”
Everyone stood and stared, wide-eyed, in shock. It was only Jack and Quintus who needed the lesson, but none of them had heard the old legend told like that.
Lucy broke the silence. “Somehow I doubt that.”
Astrid glared at her for a moment.
It’s my head!
‘Yes, but I live in here!’
Astrid continued with a hint of resentment in her voice. “You can still find Efuni’s paw prints in the ground in some places.”
“Sure, not the craziest legend I’ve heard,” Andy said, “my mother talks about Almulan giving birth to griffins and direwolves all the time, a panther god burning a forest to the ground, no biggie.”
“More like a state than a forest,” Astrid corrected her.
Malum was still staring at Astrid, as if she hadn’t finished her story. “You speak as if you know the land yourself,” he muttered, to which Astrid looked away.
“What was that?” Quintus asked the assassin.
“Well, we know one person who will be going,” Jack said, which immediately garnered a large smile a big thumbs up from Astrid.
“Couldn’t stop me if the world depended on it!”
“Little extreme,” Quintus muttered.
Jack raised his hand again, “Just so I don’t look like an idiot later, I gotta ask, should we really be sending our best?”
“For our first mission? Fuck yeah,” Andy said, “it shows that we’re still kicking.”
Playing devil’s advocate, Jack suggested, “It could also show how lacking we are in numbers.”
Andy had a counter for that though. “They don’t need to know we’re the best, we send the best to make sure it gets done.”
“You want us to lie?” Quintus asked.
“Should probably get used to that, Quint.”
“They make a fairpoint, Quintus,” the assassin suggested, raising his hand to him, “we prove that the Black Legion is worth hiring, while acting as if we aren’t showing our hand.”
“Showing our hand at what?”
Malum’s head tilted, not sure what Quintus was asking. “What do you…?”
Quintus opened his palm towards Malum, showing him his hand. “You said, ‘showing our hand’ but never finished your sentence.”
Sometimes it was forgotten just how many different places this group came from.
Andy let out a nervous giggle as she told Quintus, “It’s an expression, based on card games.”
“Oh, I see…” Quintus said, his voice getting lower at the waste of time. “Nevermind, who else should go with Astrid then?”
“People who won’t draw attention,” Malum said, a logical idea when they wanted to keep from being recognized and followed between meeting with the client. Less logical seemed his recommendation of himself, “So me.”
Andy snorted at him, looking up his attire up and down before reminding him, “You think you won’t draw attention?”
Like most, she made the wrong assumption based on his uniform. Astrid rolled her eyes at Andy’s comment, understanding that the large cloak draws attention until it’s gone. By entering the port or any general location without letting anyone see his face or uniform, you can become anyone.
And that’s even if you need to become anyone. It may not work on people who’ve been around Malum and his assassin ilk, but most did not see the black cloaks in the dark.
Of course, rather than explain, Malum matched her snort for snort.
“I am factually the stealthiest one here, I would never even need to take down my mask,” he said as if it were a fact. It was, but he had hardly proved it to any of them. One’s reputation tends to repel off people who know your first and last name.
Quintus sighed over the constant bickering, before asking, “Alright, who else? Any thoughts on who you want, Astrid?”
Astrid looked up at him and shrugged, garnering a look that screamed for help.
‘Surely, you can give the poor man a better answer than that.’
I could give a rat’s ass about who comes along as long as I’m not alone with Malum.
What’s extreme is his first and last name. Who names their kid the same word in two different languages?
‘If you’re so uncomfortable, then ask Quintus.’
Not gonna lie, that’s a good idea, and I resent you for thinking of it first.
“Honestly you, Quint,” Astrid told him, which made him purse his brow.
“Actually, it’s makes decent sense,” Andy agreed, “natives of Seca are neutral in the war, and while I can speak Susannan… it’s of the more noble dialect. I would be suspicious outside of a major trade port or city, which this is not. No one’s going to expect a trader to go behind their country’s back in a place like this.”
“Yeah, what she said!” Astrid said with a point, drawing a exhausted look from Andy and Quintus both.
“That kind of nixes me too,” Jack added, “plus, I just got back from causing trouble, so…”
He shrugged and looked to Lucy who threw up her hands, mocking grief.
“Oh wait, I’ll dry up in a place that’s half as hot as this sounds, I guess I can’t go.”
They all turned to her, wondering the same thing.
“Really?” Astrid actually said out loud.
“Then just guard the boat,” Malum told her, “you should be fine going into any port, I doubt most people know Krone has Endicans among its numbers. I don’t think most people in Susanna and Raydorn know where Endica even is.”
Lucy’s shoulders slumped, the idea of going on another sailing trip where she barely sails disgusting her. “Uh, fuck, this is going to be so boring for me!”
With the mission basically all but planned out, Astrid found herself sitting around, resting her chin in her palm. “Boo hoo,” she mocked Lucy. What did it matter if the pirate caused a fit now when everything was done.
While Lucy didn’t snap, her mouth twisted like she was about to snarl, hints of her beast form popping up as she stared Astrid down. Astrid watched the blotches of octopus skin pop-up across Lucy’s skin, on her forearms and across her chest. She thought to herself, I wonder if she’d taste like octopus too?
‘She would not.’
Interesting that you would know, or perhaps you don’t.
‘More like I don’t want to find out. Fish live in my mother’s seas, they’re kind of my friends.’
The sound of snapping fingers drew their attention. “Can you two act like adults for five minutes?” Jack asked them.
Both of them stuck their tongues out at him.
“I… I don’t like this,” Quintus thought out loud, “what if we’re not ready, this sounds simple, but if we fail it’s an innocent life. It’s not just a bunch of soldiers who fight and die to get paid like us.”
Hmm, I guess getting paid by your local town is still being a mercenary.
“Too bad,” Malum told him, being the first take his leave, patting Quintus on the back as he moved behind him.
As he walked towards the exit past Andy, he said, “Best we leave in the morning.”
Andy placed two fingers in his way, dead center of his chest. “Malum?”
He turned towards her and asked, “Go fuck myself?”
“Preferably before the sun comes up when you leave.”
Malum gave her a thumbs up.
Boarding the S.S. Lappy was uneventful, and so was the short sail to Taiyang-Cheng. If Astrid hadn’t been there before, she’s sure Lucy and her sailing master would have missed it. The small town was nearly impossible to see from the water. The ginkgo trees, as beautiful as the mammoth flora were, cast the small port and path to the town in shadow. Even the handful of ships there were barely visible. Astrid had to force the spyglass in front of the pirate’s eye to make her see.
The embarrassed look on the pirate’s face gave Quintus a good laugh.
As they sailed towards it, Astrid tried to look at what people called the Golden Coast. The ginkgo trees had these beautiful yellow leaves that hid the forest floor from onlookers sailing the sea.
It was fun to listeneto the ship’s crew, along with Lucy and Quintus as they basked in its beauty. Even Malum had quieted to see the gold rise up the western side of the Soday Mountains.
If only I could see it too, she complained to herself. To her, it was nothing but blurry yellow mountains. She knew where to look for the port because she knew Taiyang-Cheng lied where the silhouettes of mountains met.
‘You need glasses,’ Lapis told her.
Glasses are for losers.
‘What? A lot people wear glasses.’
A lot of people are losers.
‘Are you really looking down on people’s desire to see?’
As she squinted and struggled to focus on more than a few feet in front of her, she told Lapis, Sight is possibly the most overrated of the senses. The sound of music, the scent of a rose, the touch of fire, and the taste of slow-cooked mermaid each more than make up for the worst their senses have to offer.
There is nothing so beautiful that it makes up for the sight of a loved one’s corpse.
Lapis did not speak anymore after that, leaving Astrid alone in her struggle to see, the consequence of wielding the sun.
Astrid rolled her eyes at the sound of Lucy’s boots settling by her side.
“What do you think he looks like under that mask?” Lucy asked Astrid, prompting the ax woman to look around, until Lucy pointed up.
There, Astrid saw Malum’s cloak billowing in the wind like a cape, or at least what she thought was considered a cape.
“You mean Malum?” Astrid asked for sure.
“No, my great aunt Edna, who else?”
As usual when speaking to Lucy, Astrid’s frown deepened. “I don’t know,” she shrugged, “I guess he’s Susannan, because of the sword, like me.”
“Well yeah,” Lucy said, as if she had figured that already herself, “but do you think he’s ugly under there, like, horribly scarred?”
“No,” Astrid said as she finally turned towards Lucy, perturbed by the pirate’s assumption. “Why would he be?”
“Why else would he wear a mask? Why else would anybody?”
“If you were famous you’d wear a mask to hide it.”
Lucy gave Astrid that condescending tilt of the head. If Astrid were holding her ax in her hands rather than on her back, it might have just blinded the pirate then and there. Then they could both squint.
“No one’s face is that well known,” Lucy told her, her tone and her expressions working in tandem to set Astrid off. Surely the pirate had no idea. “The only reason to wear a mask all the time, is because you don’t want people to remember it.”
“Makes sense for an assassin,” Astrid said as she turned her back to Lucy, to look up at Malum.
What the view must be like from up there?
“Even around friends?” Lucy continued, as Astrid failed to feign attention. “That’s insecurity if I’ve ever seen it.”
Without hesitation, Astrid told Lucy, “You would know about insecurity.”
Lucy’s eyes snapped to the side of Astrid’s head. “What?”
Astrid repeated herself, “I said you would know about insecurity, sorry, I’ll try to be louder next time.” She didn’t bother to see Lucy’s face as she walked away, walking towards the ship’s center mast.
She left Lucilla in a state of exacerbation, one which nearly had Quintus in stitches.
At the same time, Malum held steady to the top of the ship’s mast rather than sit in the crow’s nest. His foot held him up, balancing on a single nail that sat well within the ship’s wood. Yet, his balanced never faltered.
Malum ignored the heavy breathing at first, assuming that it had to be the wind. What else would be up there?
But as it got closer and louder, Malum turned to find the Disciple of Lapis climbing her way to the top. He didn’t question her, he let her struggle to slide herself up on her.
When her hand slipped, his grabbed it, and helped her get a grip on the crow’s nest. After that, she pulled herself up and over with her mad strength.
That was harder than I thought it would be.
Astrid let herself breath for a few moments as she sat on her head, legs in the air in the crow’s nest. After gaining back her breath, she turned herself around, and sat up, looking forward at the coast that was getting closer and closer by the minute, yet…
Astrid could not see the gold.
“Is it beautiful?” she asked Malum.
“Yes,” he answered quick enough.
She waited longer before she asked, “Is it beautiful enough?”
Malum turned his head to where her head was, resting on the edge, chin on the wood.
He looked away, answering with a question of his own. “Is anything?”
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