…THE THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE…
剧透 - :
Friend, Harlequin thought, is the word we use to describe our very
oldest enemies. He made a mental note to write that down, although
he later forgot.
He had to actually look at the commlink screen to read the text
message; the kind of anachronistic mannerism that caused onlookers
under the age of twenty to discretely point and snicker. He didn’t care.
He hated the various AR goggles and contacts he’d accumulated over
the past decade nearly as much as he hated the augmented reality they
enabled. It was hard enough, without superThcial distractions and spam
advertisements, to see every detail of everything that was really there.
What was really there, at the moment, was a sumptuously
appointed corner room on the Thffh fioor of the hotel La Tremoille, a
stone’s throw from the Champs-Élysées, in Paris, the city of lights (and
shadows) that he had once loved so dearly. Half-Thnished on the room
service tray beside him on the night stand was something expensive,
served with toast points, and a local dwarven microbrew. fte city’s
nighttime lights were muted and airy through the silk curtains, which
The text message was from noted elven politico, author, and
general blowhard Ehran the Scribe. Decrypting the message revealed
that it was written in English. fte two of them knew languages the rest
of the world had largely forgotten, which would have allowed perfectly
secure communication, but Ehran seemed to feel that those languages
should not be sullied through use in mundane correspondence, so he
relied on technology instead of esoterica to provide privacy.
“Please reconsider what you’re doing,” Ehran’s text read, conveying
some panicked urgency in spite of the mundane medium. “ftey’re not
prepared for this yet. It’s too soon. ftey’re not ready for this war.”
“War?” Harlequin said, his commlink fiawlessly transcribing it to
text. “Who said anything about starting a war?” He added a winking
smiley face, and then sent it.
A knock came at the door. Harlequin sleepily slipped out of his
body and fiew through the wall, quickly recognizing the astral signature waiting in the corridor as familiar, expected, and alone. fte black
spots, the negative space where cyberware had replaced natural fiesh,
were all in the right place. He opened his physical eyes, rolled lithely
oflof the bed, and unlatched the door.
At Thrst, looking up, he was confused at the look on the troll’s face,
and then he realized he was wearing his pajamas. fte troll’s cybereyes
were animated with a minutely detailed pattern of electric 1s and 0s,
and he wore an armored suit of heavy white fabric, specially tailored
to his enormous frame. Harlequin’s gaze shiffed from those outlandish
eyes to the large armored briefcase that hung in the troll’s meaty right
Thst. fte manacase was specially designed and outThtted to baffie astral
tracking and tampering, a nice touch.
“Is that it?” Harlequin asked, nonchalantly, in French.
“It is,” Le Chifre said. “As promised, Mr. Harlech.”
“I trust the acquisition wasn’t too difficult for the team you used?”
Le Chifre only grunted, clearly and wisely unwilling to discuss
particulars in a hotel corridor.
Harlequin went inside, leaving the door wide open, and retrieved
a paper envelope from his nightstand, and handed it to the troll, who
made it vanish, quick as any magic trick.
“ftere’s the rest of the payment for you and your operatives that
we agreed upon,” Harlequin said.
“ftank you,” Le Chifre said, and smiled broadly. ftere was an
“fte case?” Harlequin asked, raising an eyebrow.
fte troll handed it to him somewhat reluctantly. “Of course. And
if you ever are in town again …”
“I’ll keep you in mind,” Harlequin said, recognizing the euphemism. He didn’t believe that Le Chifre or any of the assets he’d tapped
were necessarily from Paris. He went into his room and shut the door,
dropping the manacase on the bed. He fiipped open the latches and
opened it, and let the darkness within wash over his features. SatisThed,
he shut it again, and went into the bathroom, the bright fiuorescents
overhead automatically fiickering on.
He turned to the vanity mirror. Without the motley on his face,
with his hair dyed and muddy brown and combed back straight, he
could almost imagine that he saw lines.
“You look like shit, old man,” he told his reflection. Odd. It
seemed to be saying the same thing to him.
“他会单独见你，”贝尔同样以阿拉伯语回答，并未受影响。他扭了扭脖子。“他从来没单独见过任何人。”将哈勒奎恩送到此处狂奔者和掮客对他简要介绍过这个人，那时他睿智地点点头，仿佛他很清楚。事实上，他并不知道，但无伤大雅。贝尔，真实姓名未知，可能是伊拉克或伊朗人，被摩萨德，以及任何一个关注中东的间谍组织高额悬赏中。他躲藏了几十年，同时在IUM(译注：Islamic Unity Movement，伊斯兰统一运动)和NIJ（译注：New Islamic Jihad，新伊斯兰圣战组织）的眼皮底下组织了多次传奇狂奔。
从广场看向任何方向，哈勒奎恩都能见到六七个万匕（10,000 Daggers）的佣兵。他们负责君士坦丁堡自由城市的安全。即使被这些相当明显的保镖包围——大部分都是PKK（译注：Kurdistan Workers' Party，库尔德工人党），贝尔似乎也毫不在意，仿佛并未注意到他们。更有可能的是，他跟他们有私人协定，允许他如同在中东其它地区一样行事。哈勒奎恩自己的人就在公园外等着。他告诉他们自己一个人没有问题，但他们坚持围成了保护圈。保护他——不如说，他们的投资。
剧透 - :
The Arab arms dealer regarded Harlequin with the cool,
measured disdain he found comfortingly familiar, since he received it
from so many. fte Thxer, named Bel, was short, handsome, and serenely
unselfconscious in his handsomeness. He was dark skinned, and his
hair, mustache, and beard were all trimmed neat and short. His eyes
were alarmingly blue for his complexion, perhaps cosmetically altered.
He wore a tan canvas Aces High jacket—the Ace of Clubs model—
over a desert-camoufiage suit. Between the two layers, Harlequin saw
a heavily customized Remington Roomsweeper in a shoulder holster.
“You paint your face, like clown,” Bel said. “Why is this?” His
English was not terrible, but heavily accented and idiomatic. Above
the mosques and the glistening corporate skyscrapers that made up
Constantinople’s skyline, a fire-colored sunset burned in a haze.
Harlequin imagined the dust coloring the sky had been kicked up
by the border skirmish between East Turkish forces and the Kurdish
Autonomous Zone’s Peshmerga militia that he’d heard about in the
news, but he knew that it would be impossible to see anything that far north from here in Sultan Ahmet Square, formerly the Hippodrome.
It was marginally more likely that a sandstorm was on the way.
“You’re not impressed with me, are you?” Harlequin said, in fiawless Arabic.
“He’s meeting you in person,” Bel replied in kind, unfazed. He
cracked his neck. “He never meets anyone in person.” fte runners and
Thxers that had delivered Harlequin here had briefed him on this man,
and he’d nodded, sagely, as though he knew all about it. In truth, he
hadn’t, but it didn’t matter. Bel, real name unknown, probably Iraqi
or Iranian in nationality, was wanted, badly, by Mossad, and by nearly
every other spy agency with an eye on the Middle East. He’d avoided
them all for decades, while organizing legendary runs under the noses
of the IUM and the NIJ.
Looking in any direction from the center of the public square,
Harlequin could see half a dozen 10,000 Daggers mercenaries.
ftey were responsible for the free city of Constantinople’s security.
Bel—even with the quartet of rather conspicuous bodyguards that
surrounded him, all of them most likely PKK—seemed unconcerned
with them, as if he didn’t notice them at all. Most likely, he had his own
arrangements made with them, allowing him to do business as easily
in Constantinople as he did in the rest of the Middle East. Harlequin’s
own people were just outside the park, waiting. He had told them he
was Thne entering alone, but they’d insisted on setting up a perimeter.
Protective of him—or more likely, of their investment.
“He just likes me, that’s all,” Harlequin Thnally said, lamely, in
English. “Everybody likes me.”
Suddenly, a warm wind passed over them from north to south,
pushing forward, bending the palm trees and stirring his hair and the
lawn’s grass with its passage. It was accompanied by a not completely
unpleasant reptile smell. Harlequin smiled and turned to face south,
where he saw a tall Persian woman entering the square. She was not
just tall, but statuesque, voluptuously built, with long blue-black hair
that fell, pin-straight, to her mid-back. She wore a dark gray pantsuit,
velour, the cut too antiquated to qualify even as retro. Her eyes, when
she opened them, were nearly all whites.
“Aden,” Bel announced, rather unnecessarily.
Harlequin felt suddenly self-conscious in his torn, “Ayatollah
of Rock’n’Rolla” T-Shirt and mustard-stained jeans. He shiffed the
manacase from one hand to the other. Whatever. Shit was vintage.
“You know, if I was a hardboiled private dick, I’d have trouble
knowing which pronoun to use to refer to you in my ongoing Thrst
person narrative,” Harlequin said.
“What do you want?” Aden’s voice thundered telepathically, basso
profondo and distinctly male, in Harlequin’s mind. ftoughts took the
form of language in metahuman minds, and in this case, that language
was Aramaic, of all things. No accident. Harlequin nearly smiled—to
think he’d believed Aden had no sense of humor.
“No one has time for pleasantries these days,” Harlequin said in
Aramaic, and then tossed the briefcase contemptuously at Aden’s feet.
It landed with a loud clatter, and slid forward until it was stopped by
Aden’s boot heel. Harlequin saw with some satisfaction that Bel fiinched
out of the way from where he was standing behind him, then blinked in
surprise that Harlequin hadn’t been obliterated in a blast of killing Thre.
“What is it?” Aden asked, staring at the case.
“Elaishón,” Harlequin said. Sperethiel.
Aden rolled his (her?) eyes and picked up the case, fiipping it
open. His frown deepened when he saw what was inside. He handed
the case to one of Bel’s bodyguards, who in turn handed it to Bel.
“If this is your gifl, raé, it is a poor one indeed. You must know I
never wanted this.”
“fte humans have a saying, about power. Something to the eflect
of the one most desirous of it being the least qualiThed to wield it? Or
maybe the reverse. I forget.” English.
“ffe mortals have many sayings,” Aden said dismissively. “You are
entirely too fond of all of them. What do you expect ffiom me in exchange
for this gift?”
“Nothing,” Harlequin said, smiling innocently. Or as close to
innocent as he could manage. “I’m not bartering. I wouldn’t presume.”
His grin widened. “I just want you to give the Shroud of Shadows back
Aden paused, considering. He turned towards the walled obelisk,
and placed a hand—Thngers like graceful snakes, with long, white,
manicured nails—on the stone, closing his (her?) eyes in thought.
Torn, Harlequin thought, surprised. He’s really torn, isn’t he?
“For this I leflmy studies?” Aden said, Thnally, turning his attention
back to Harlequin. “I want no part of your plots, rinellé.“
“Really? fte Orange Queen thought you’d want every part of it.
She thought you’d be furious, actually. Affer Ghostwalker’s little stunt
at the riffleffyou comatose and helpless for the UCAS government to
extract samples of your vitals for tracking. I wouldn’t want you misdirecting that anger, Aden, at the poor little mortals.”
“The poor little mortals have forgotten their place. They need a
reminder. I will deal with Ghostwalker’s transgression in my own time
and in my own way. We are in agreement on this, and that is more important, for now. Age-old traditions must be preserved. And examples must
be made. ffere are greater conffiicts at stake here. Greater enemies. And
you are one of them.”
“Really?” Harlequin said, as words and symbols of power cascaded
through his mind at the speed of light, tumbling trippingly past his
murmuring lips. Each of Bel’s bodyguards slumped over, asleep, as
though succumbing to days and days of accumulated fatigue. Bel himself
“willingly” handed the briefcase back to Harlequin, looking completely
bewildered as to why he’d done so for a moment, before bodily calcifying
into a stone statue of himself, a new decoration added to the square.
Distantly, Harlequin registered the sound of suppressed gunThre
as a hail of stick ‘n’ shock rounds from concealed shooters dropped
the 10,000 Daggers mercenaries that had begun converging on his
position, sending innocent bystanders scattering and pigeons Thlling
the sky in mass exodus from the square. But even with all this, the bulk
of Harlequin’s attention never leffAden. “Perhaps Lofwyr will be more
appreciative of this giff, then, since you don’t want it.”
“You know, I could kill you where you stand,” Aden said, calmly, as
if commenting on the weather.
Harlequin smiled so savagely that the corners of his rouged
mouth seemed to be on the verge of tinting his earlobes. “You could
certainly try,” he said, and rattled the swordbelt he wore slung low over
his jeans. fte belt and the rapier in its holster had been invisible and
inaudible as he wandered the streets of the city. To some degree, it was
false bravado. Harlequin was far from sure of his chances. Aden had
leveled the city of Tehran—that was the rage Harlequin had hoped to
turn against Denver, affer all. Harlequin was many things, he was no
easy kill, but he was not a city.
What seemed like an eternity passed between them, the square
seemingly emptied of all other motion and sound, as Harlequin gathered
all of his magical defenses around himself, plotted his move if worst came
to worst, and waited. But it wasn’t an eternity. Wasn’t even a minute.
Aden laughed—telepathic laughter was a strange, unsettling
sound—and Harlequin joined him. It was either laugh or kill each
other, affer all.
“You keep it,” Harlequin said, setting the briefcase slowly on the
ground. “Dunkelzahn wanted you to have it, and that’s good enough for me.”
“Giving it to Lofwyr would have been foolish,” Aden said. “He feels
the same way as I do, only more so, if possible.” He was, of course, right,
and it had been an unlikely gambit to expect Aden’s antipathy toward
Lofwyr to outweigh his ability to reason. Alamais, on the other hand,
might have been a diflerent story.
“I meant no disrespect, perritaesa,” Harlequin said. “My reputation as … hotheaded is well deserved. I hope that the next time we
meet, it’s under friendlier terms.” He doubted that would be the case;
as likely as not, the next time they met, only one of them would leave.
ftat seemed to be the way things were going, the whole world ‘round.
Hands in pockets, he turned to go. fte runners he’d hired were in
the process of falling back to a prearranged safe house, a wise move affer
Thring on Constantinople’s security forces. He would meet them there.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Aden asked, when he reached
Harlequin turned around, slapped his forehead with the heel of
his hand, and chuckled.
With a completely unnecessary snap of his Thngers, Bel turned,
staggering and gasping, back to flesh. By the time he had clawed
his Roomsweeper free of its holster, spinning and snarling in rage,
Harlequin was gone.
剧透 - :
fte old fashioned videophone on the wall rang, stirring him from
the groggy recesses of sleep. He dragged himself out of bed, the sheets
cool as they fell from his naked skin, and found his way to the phone
by memory. Dim gray predawn light that seeped in the computerpolarized windows.
“What is it?” he asked, in a Spanish dialect that hadn’t existed,
exactly, before he’d been born. He didn’t look at the screen, but at the
girl in the bed, the graceful curve of tanned leg, thigh, and hip that
rose from the silk sheets. He felt a tiny prickle of guilt; she was 19. Far
too young for him, twenty or thirty years too young, even for how he
appeared affer Léonization.
“Sorry to wake you at this hour, Mr. Chavez. ftere is someone
waiting in your office, sir,” answered the voice on the other side of the
line. It belonged to David Martinez, his personal secretary and aide, a
sleekly groomed young corporate professional.
Domingo Chavez blinked and looked at the clock on the video
phone, turning to it for the Thrst time.
“Ridiculous. I don’t have any appointments scheduled until
10:30,” Chavez said.
“He didn’t … make an appointment, exactly.”
“ften have security throw him out! Why are you calling me with
“Sir, you don’t understand. He’s in your office.”
“In my office? In the office?” Chavez was becoming quite loud.
fte girl murmured sleepily, a plea for quiet. He ignored her. “Send in
a team of Ocelomeh at once!”
“I did sir, immediately,” Martinez said.
“And they … er … they were forced to withdraw.”
Chavez was nearly stunned. He looked around him for his bathrobe, then barked at the girl to bring it to him. She rose, frightened,
and began searching for it as well, near panic. Chavez tried to plan his
next move. He did not want any of the other members of the board to
Thnd out about this embarrassment, which limited the military muscle
he could bring to bear. Unless this damn fool Martinez already had.
“Tell me you didn’t—” Chavez began.
“He asked for you, sir,” Martinez interrupted. Timidly.
“He what?” Chavez said, as the girl tried to put the bathrobe on
him. He slapped her away dismissively, and shrugged it on himself.
ften he realized he’d been asking the wrong questions. “Who is this crazy asshole?”
剧透 - :
fte skies over Tenochtitlán were unusually clear that morning,
with a pollution index of only 3.6, as an armed and armored helicopter
brought Chavez and his escort of Ocelomeh quickly from his residence
to the helipad nearest his office. Martinez had pleaded with him to let
the Jaguar Guards take him to a previously arranged, secure safehouse
until the full level of the threat could be assessed. fte powerful elven mage that had forced his way into his office could have chemical or
biological weapons with him, a suitcase, or God-only-knows-what.
fte entire wing of the arcology was being evacuated, and wouldn’t he
please listen to reason rather than charging in headlong?
As it turned out, he wouldn’t. Chavez would never run from a Thght.
He strode purposefully down the carpeted skyway to his office,
now dressed in a jet-black, custom-tailored Synergist business suit
and slacks, white shirt, and slender black tie. fte heavily armed and
milspec-armored Jaguar Guards jogged at either side of him, keeping
pace in front and behind.
ftrough the doors to his office waiting room, it was worse than
he’d thought. Martinez approached him immediately, babbling apologies and pleading with him to turn around and leave. Chavez ignored
him, looking instead at the pair of initiated Cuacuahtin mages who had
been stationed outside the door to his office. fte Eagles were sleeping
like babies. Unlike the bruised and battered bodies of the six-man
assault team of Jaguar Guards that had attempted to breach his office,
which had been smashed back out of it with the force of a wrecking
ball, so hard that their insensate bodies had crushed the receptionist’s
desk with the weight of their armor and gear. ftough they were blackand-blue and bloodied, they too weren’t dead.
Chavez felt something he hadn’t felt in decades: actual fear.
Nothing could do this to properly trained, properly equipped
He shiffed his perception to the astral, analyzing the brightly
burning residue-signature that the spells had left behind. As he
expected, the two Eagles had been subdued with a stun spell of some
kind, while the other six had been caught in the radius of a blast of
some sort of energy, which had also shattered the expensive wood of
the door frame and knocked the doors oflof their hinges. Both spells
were alarmingly powerful.
“You alerted the board of directors,” Chavez said, running a hand
through his patchy gray beard and longish gray hair.
“Yes, sir,” Martinez said, like a dog expecting to be kicked.
“Good,” Chavez said. Aztechnology was bigger than him, and
bigger than its reputation. ftis could potentially threaten all of them.
ftey needed to know.
ften the former Corporate Court justice went into his office,
alone and unarmed, leaving his own squad of Ocelomeh behind him.
It didn’t look like they’d be able to do much good.
fte Thrst thing that he saw when he entered his office was that
behind the massive window in back of his desk, a window that
commanded an impressive view of Tenochtitlán’s skyline, six more
Ocelomeh dangled unconscious from their tangled rappelling lines.
ftey’d attempted to breach simultaneously through the windows and
the door, and been thwarted at both.
He saw the elf second and suppressed a momentary seizure of
quivering, unreasonable rage. fte intruder leaned back in his highbacked forty-thousand nuyen leather chair with the massaging liners,
and worse, he had his ridiculous anaconda-skin boots, fixed with
chrome spurs, up on the polished, real mahogany veneer of Chavez’s
desk. A screamsheet, printed on electronic paper, was folded open,
concealing the intruder’s face.
“Well, this quite a dramatic way to get my attention,” Chavez
said, loosening his tie and shrugging oflhis jacket. He draped it over
one of the two not-quite-as-comfortable chairs placed in front of his
desk, and crossed to the well-stocked bar on the east wall of the room,
pouring himself a brandy. Ordinarily, it would have been much too
early. He knocked it back in one burning gulp and poured himself
another, not oflering the stranger any as he turned around, glass in
hand. “But you have it,” he said, as nonchalantly as he could manage.
ftrough his fiesh-colored wireless cochlear implant, Martinez told
him that a full assault team of combat and magical specialists would
be on hand in Thve minutes. It might as well have been an eternity.
“Sorry about that,” said the elf behind the electronic newspaper.
“You’re not an easy man to see.” Speaking English, like Chavez had
been. No discernible accent.
Chavez shiffed his perception into the astral again, and was nearly
blinded by the scintillating strength of this elf ’s aura. Hovering above
the elf on the astral plane was the most powerful air elemental that
Chavez had ever seen. fte only tiny grain of relief he felt was that the
aura had not been draconic in shape. Chavez blinked the view of the
material world back into his vision; what he was greeted with there
was far less impressive.
“Any spell you’re thinking about casting, you might as well not,”
the elf said, folding the screamsheet so his face could be seen. He wore
clown’s makeup, diamonds over both eyes, and rouge on his smiling
lips. But there was no humor in that smile. “I’ll just catch it and stuft
it back up your ass.”
Chavez swallowed, dryly, almost forgetting the glass of brandy
in his hand.
“What do you want?” Chavez asked.
“I understand you have a bit of a dragon problem,” the painted
elf said, tapping one long, slender Thnger against an animated graphic
of Sirrurg on the front page, spewing Thre down on the city of Cali.
fte headline, in Aztlaner Spanish, read “fte Destroyer Sighted In
Roswell!?” He tossed it on the desk and stood up.
“Four minutes,” Martinez subvocalized wirelessly into Chavez’s ear.
“And?” Chavez asked.
“And, it just so happens,” the painted elf said, and drew a sword—a
rapier with an ornate, gilded basket hilt—and pressed its point against
a map of North and South America that decorated the opposite wall.
Using it as a pointer, to indicate the divided city of Denver, from which
Aztlan had been ousted over a decade ago.
“So do I.”
“Martinez,” Chavez said into the subvocal microphone discretely
taped to his throat.
“Have the assault team hold ofl,” Chavez said. “I think we might
just have something to discuss affer all.”
剧透 - :
And now, the formal declaration of intent.
ftey called it the Hole. Ghostwalker sprawled, massive, relaxed,
and comfortable, in his lair; a cavernous, subterranean space that
had once been a command bunker, deep in the depths of Cheyenne
Mountain. fte walls dividing the space into rooms had all been knocked down to give him his space. A wide, structurally supported
shaffled straight up to the mountian’s surface, where a wirelessly
controlled, specially reinforced plasteel hatch had been designed
so that he could come and go easily, when he pleased (which was
seldom, of late).
fte space was kept dark, as the dragon liked it. What little light
there was came from dozens of holographic view-screens spaced
evenly throughout the chamber. fte screens displayed a wide variety
of video feeds—stock quotes for various international markets, public
and pirate newscasts, satellite imagery of Crater Lake, and picturein-picture video feed straight from the helmet cameras of a team of
shadowrunners. fte holographic light shone soffly on Ghostwalker’s
stony scales, scales that were as pale as marble and veined with blue.
Ghostwalker’s eyes—larger and brighter than headlights—were
closed, and an observer on the physical plane might have mistook him
for dozing. A dangerous mistake to make, and impossible with astral
perception. Ghostwalker’s aura burned brightly with contemplation
and calculation, his attention and his thoughts pulled in nearly as many
directions as there were screens on the walls, the emotional payload of
each line of reasoning leaving its colored stain on his astral form.
In spite of this, he noticed the intruder in his domain at once.
fte wards around his lair were immensely powerful, the spirit allies
who stood guard there were alert and mighty. fte list of beings in the
entire world who could Thnesse their way past his safeguards without
even raising a hue and cry was a short list indeed.
And this intruder’s astral form was unmistakable.
“You,” Ghostwalker rumbled, his tone pensive, thoughtful.
Letting whatever oflense he may have felt at the intrusion roll oflhis
shoulders like a massive shrug.
“Me,” Caimbuel answered. fte astral shape of the painted elf (a
single diamond, today, over one eye) was unsmiling. fte colors of his
aura shone with a deep sadness and an even deeper resignation.
Ghostwalker was the Thrst person in quite some time not to ask
the elf what he wanted. Because he thought he already knew.
“I am sorry about Aina.”
“Are you now?” the elf asked, trying to sound casual as the Thrst
crimson threads of rage spun through his aura. “You’re sorry.”
“She knew the risks. You all did, and you agreed.”
“You closing the riffwas never part of the deal!”
“Deal?” Ghostwalker—astral form and physical body one,
moving in perfect unity—stood, drawing himself to his full height,
wings still furled. “fte ephemerals you so lovingly coddle—I saved this
world from the intrusion of the shedim, and worse.”
“Am I meant to be impressed with your philanthropy? Your
arrival was what let them in.”
“And I put it right. I closed the riff. I balanced the scales.”
“Except you didn’t, did you?” Caimbuel asked. For a moment,
his aura was nearly black with hatred—a darker and deeper color than
Ghostwalker had ever seen—and then it faded to cloudy, then cleared,
changing faster than any other in Ghostwalker’s not-inconsiderable
experience. Only the sadness, pervasive and ancient, remained, both
in his aura and his voice. “You owe a debt. To this world. To us. To me.
I will see it paid.”
His anger blinds him, Ghostwalker thought. He doesn’t realize
that she isn’t really gone. He won’t listen to reason, any more than I
“Is that how you see it?”
“ften I know better than to think I could ever change your mind.
No one ever could.”
“Many have tried.”
ftere was a heavy silence.
“For what it’s worth,” the elf added, breaking it, “whatever you
may have heard, I’m not the one who killed Mountainshadow. I was
sad to hear of his passing.”
“If I had ever thought it had been you, do you think we would
even be having this conversation?” Ghostwalker snorted, unfurling his
wings, which spanned the chamber from wall to wall.
“Don’t you mean we would have had this conversation much
“Is this a Chal’han? Is that what you’re talking about?”
fte elf narrowed his eyes. “No. A Chal’han is a contest of equals.”
“And that is something we are not, and will never be.”
Ghostwalker looked around the chamber, wondering if the matter
would be decided here and now. If so, he knew, it would be two of their
kind dead in one year affer none of them dying for thousands. On this
ground, the dragon’s victory was all but certain. And yet, he did not
strike. He did not really understand, in that moment, what held him
back. He had learned and remembered much and more in the thirteen
years since clawing his way back into this world, since taking control of
his city again, but still his own heart was sometimes unknown to him.
“What then? You’re going to try and hurt me?”
Caimbuel smiled his terrible, mad, broken smile. You wretched
thing, Ghostwalker thought, how awful for you to have survived this
long, to have endured your own company for millennia.
“Try to hurt you?” Caimbuel asked. “I am the Last Knight of the
Crying Spire. I am coming for you. ftis is no Chal’han. No rite of
succession. No sport, no comedy of manners. I’m coming for everything. I don’t want your money. I don’t want your crown. I’ve come to
burn your kingdom down.”
Ghostwalker felt the response rising like Thre in his ancient lungs,
but by the time his breath was ready to answer the challenge, the elf ’s
aura was gone. It had begun.
“ften come,” Ghostwalker said, settling down onto his haunches
again. “You mad fool.”
Before he could begin to prepare for war, the dragon felt a
comforting presence all around him, a spirit descending on his dualnatured body like mist. He sighed. fte fieeting touch of what he’d
regained helped him understand the value of what Caimbuel had
lost. fte elf believed he knew what had happened. He saw that the
dragon had traded Aina for his own Mate. ftat wasn’t what really
had happened, though it could have. Ghostwalker would have made
that trade without a second thought, a thousand times over. Knowing
that, he understood that Caimbuel’s vendetta would not end until his
kingdom was in fiaming ruins around him, and his body broken. fte
peace between their kinds was never going to be permanent, but it was
painful to see it shattered by a misunderstanding so utterly … human.
“I don’t know what is the worst part of us,” he sighed, into the
comforting presence, newly regained, that cloaked him, “if not the
things we do for love.”