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short story

This is Chronicles of Elyria fan fiction.

CoE is an exciting up-and-coming MMO currently in Kickstarter, which promises to bring in family, character death and roleplaying in new and meaningful ways.

Cold wind, dark road. The shadows under the heirloombluebridge were especially dense and unwelcoming, but Jalmar didn’t mind. Dark shadows meant refuge, unless someone larger, stronger or better armed had taken possession of them first. This particular spot was dank enough that he doubted anyone would want to fight over it. Only someone truly desperate would try to shelter here.

The wind muffled all other sound and the overcast night obscured all but the largest obstacles. He tried to find a place less damp than the rest, scuffing a toe in the dirt and trying not to think of warm beds and welcoming firesides. His traitorous eye was drawn back to the dim light that flickered from the windows of houses in the nearby village of Mirkford. He had already exhausted all possibilities there. The locals were suspicious and unfriendly and Jalmar could not blame them. The signs of recent predations by bandits had been all too common along the road.

Jalmar grudgingly found a spot that met his rapidly dwindling requirements and set down his pack. He began drawing out his possessions . A square of canvas that could serve as ground sheet or tent. A scruffy bedroll, patched to the point of being impossible to repair. He was considering whether he dared to build a fire, when a hand fastened on his shoulder.

“Holy Saint Ana!” Jalmar exclaimed, speaking in his native Bishari. He dropped the tinderbox he had been holding and it clattered to the ground, his hand darting towards the concealed knife in his jerkin.

The man holding him gave him a rough shake, throwing him off balance.

Light flared a short distance away as a second person brought out what looked to be a small glowing pinecone. By its light, Jalmar could see a pale-skinned woman wearing well-worn coin-studded leather armour, with a shortsword sheathed by her side. She looked fierce and competent.

“Don’t give trouble,” growled his captor, dragging him out of the shelter of the bridge, into the fierce blast of the wind and towards the circle of light. As they moved forward, Jalmar could see the man was large, brawny and unarmed. He was dressed more like a farmer than a soldier or a bandit. Jalmar weighed up his options. He could try to take on the pair of them. He could drop and break free of the man’s grip, roll aside and draw his dagger…

And then what? Run away without his possessions? That would be as good as death in this weather. Attack what was probably the local village militia? No. He was cold, alone and exhausted, and even if the odds had been better, he was no murderer. It was best to try to talk his way out of this.

“It’s that foreigner,” the woman said in disgust. From her expression, she would have liked to spit at him, but was restrained by her own dignity, or perhaps the fierce wind.

“You were told to get out of town and keep going,” snarled the farmer, giving Jalmar an extra hard shake.

“I apologise,” said Jalmar, trying to speak with dignity. It was difficult. His teeth were chattering with cold. “I couldn’t walk any further.”

The man glowered. The woman frowned. Her eyes ran over Jalmar, taking in his brown skin and worn clothes. They dwelled on his much-mended shoes.

“We don’t tolerate beggars here,” said the man. “There’s no room for those that don’t care to work for a living.”

“I’m happy to work,” protested Jalmar. “No one would give me any. Not here, not in the last town. Not anywhere I’ve passed through in this whole kingdom. I ran out of money.”

“Then why did you come here? Go home to your own country!” sneered the farmer. “We’ve got enough problems of our own without people like you causing trouble.”

“I am just a traveller,” Jalmar began, but the woman cut him off.

“Bring him in, Garben,” she said. “We’ll lock him in my barn for the night and he can go on his way in the morning.”

“But, Risha…”

“It’s not fit weather to be standing out here discussing this,” she said. “I want to get out of this wind.”

“Thank you,” said Jalmar. Staying in a barn would be far preferable to camping under a damp bridge.

“Don’t make me regret it,” she replied, her grey eyes meeting his own coldly.


Jalmar was woken shortly after dawn by the barn door creaking open. He stirred reluctantly. Cocooned in his bedroll amidst the warm hay in the loft, he felt warmer than he had for weeks. The thin light of morning streamed through the door, and he was glad to realise that the wind had died down to no more than a frisky breeze.

Below, someone – a young female from the voice – was tending to the cows. She was singing softly to them.

He lay back telling himself he would get up in a moment. That he would enjoy just one more minute of being deliciously comfortable and then…

“Wake up!”

Jalmar sat up, immediately aware that far more than a minute had passed. The woman from the night before, dressed like a farmhand but still wearing the sword, stood a short distance away. Risha, he remembered her name was.

“There’s some milk churns that need loading and taking to the cheesemaker, if you want breakfast,” she said.

“Of course!” said Jalmar. His stomach gave a painful twist at the thought of a proper meal. He scrambled to his feet, brushed a few wisps of hay out of his hair and followed her down the ladder.

“Thank you again for taking me in last night,” he said, as he helped load the churns into a cart. “I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn’t.”

“Don’t make too much of it,” she replied.

He turned away, feeling rebuffed. He picked up another churn and she seemed to relent a little.

“It’s been tough times for everyone,” she said. “What with the war and the tuber-blight. A lot of folk have turned to desperate measures to feed their families. That’s why I train with the militia. Truth is, there’s plenty of work, but nothing to pay for it.” Her eyes asked the obvious question although she did not voice it – why was he here when there were doubtlessly other, brighter places? Where was he going?

He hesitated to answer. The truth was, he didn’t really know. He had been a wanderer for most of his twenty-odd years, ever since he had left Mother Calista’s Orphanage for Needy Youth back home in distant Analexis, the capital of arid Bishar. As long as he could remember, he had felt the tug of the road, an inexorable need to move on, to go somewhere else.

He had tarried in many places along the way; had spent two years working for a merchant in the Aratolian Highlands, and another as a caravan guard across the plains of Horizon. Once he had even considered settling down and getting married. Every time the call of the road had pulled him onwards, inexorably to…. he knew not what.

He did not wander for the love of it. Sometimes he liked his life. The constantly changing panorama of scenery, the new wonders that each part of the world had to offer – it all drove home how wonderful it was to be alive. But more often he hated it. He was weary of the discomfort and uncertainty of never knowing what the day would bring or where the road would lead.

He had spoken to other drifters and he knew his wanderlust was somehow different from theirs. Most wandered on forever in meandering lines and overlapping circles, driven by a need for anonymity, or merely for wandering’s sake. He had a Destination. It was firmly there, fixed in his mind, a feeling he had to be somewhere, to do something. Something that was imprinted on his very soul.

For weeks now he had felt he was drawing near. It had being growing stronger and more certain, day by day. He would arrive any moment now. Maybe it even lay in the next village. He had never felt like this before.

He didn’t know what he would do if he arrived and there was nothing there.

The last of the churns was loaded. Risha took the reins of the placid workhorse, while Jalmar rode in the back and steadied the load. A short way across the village, they unloaded the milk at the cheesemaker’s.

“You work well enough,” Risha said afterwards, while they sat in the kitchen of the farmhouse, eating a breakfast of boiled eggs, flatbread and cheese. “I have to admit we do need help. There’s fences that desperately need mending and it’s a difficult job for one person. You could stay on for the day, in exchange for food and lodgings in the barn.”

Jalmar hesitated.  His destination was so close, now. The desire to reach it burned within him like hellfire.

“Suit yourself,” said Risha, her face stiffening as she anticipated his rejection. “It’s not like we won’t get by.”

“Of course I will help,” said Jalmar.


Jalmar’s joints ached from unaccustomed activity. He had spent the first day fixing fences alongside Risha. They had achieved a great deal, although the task was still far from complete. Her hard-won admittance that he was a competent and willing worker had earned him another night’s lodging. The next day, he had been going to move on, but during breakfast they had been alerted by the cries of Kiari, Risha’s younger sister, that something was amiss.

“The cows!” Kiari cried breathlessly, running up to the farmhouse door. “They broke through the fence and are running off into the woods!”

Thus Jalmar had spent a cold, muddy morning tramping through the copse of trees that bordered the swamp, trying to help drive the cattle back into their paddock. The afternoon had been spent repairing the new break in the fence.

This morning, the start of the third day, he had awoken to an undeniable tugging. It sent a dull ache echoing right down to his bones.

“I’ve got to get moving,” he told himself. If it had not been so bad, he would have liked to stay here a while, to help build the farm back up again. Maybe then Risha would smile more often.

“I should be moving on today,” he told Risha as she came downstairs to breakfast. She spared him only a brief disappointed look, before turning her attention back to the old woman leaning on her arm. She was Risha’s grandmother and Jalmar had not seen her before. He had been aware of her existence, but Kiari had told him she seldom came downstairs any more.

The old woman straightened and carefully took a seat at the table. Only then did her watery blue eyes look up at Jalmar.

Her mouth dropped open in overjoyed surprise.

“Tori!” she cried, her old voice high and warbling. “How can it be you?”

Jalmar froze in confused embarrassment. As he looked at the old woman’s crepe-skinned face, the pang of wanderlust burned through him stronger than ever before. It was consuming him from the inside out. He had to move on. He didn’t belong here. He had to go, to reach it, to find…

“It’s not grandad,” Kiari piped up, laying her small hand on the old woman’s arm. “This is Jalmar. He’s a traveller, helping with some of the work.”

The old woman shook her head stubbornly. “He’s Torren – I can see it in his eyes.” She stared at Jalmar intently.

Risha was embarrassed and worried. “I’m sorry,” she said to Jalmar, who was paralysed, caught between the old woman’s gaze and the terrible ache inside him. “I don’t know what’s come over her. She doesn’t usually do things like this. What is it, Gran?”

“He’s come back at last!” crowed the old woman. “Come to fix everything! I knew that he would!”

“Maybe I should go,” Jalmar made himself say, and then he was surging to his feet and practically running out the door, feeling the great relief of letting the wanderlust take him. He ignored Kiari’s surprised gasp, and Risha’s “No, wait!”

He took solace in just running, out the door, down the lane that led from the farm and into the road.  The pressure eased with every step he took. His thin shoes slapped on the ground, he stumbled and slid on loose gravel, but he didn’t slow down until that same low stone bridge just outside of town. He crossed to the other side and then his steps faltered. The burning desire to hurry onwards was gone.

He stood quivering for a moment, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath. He could hear someone calling his name in the distance but that seemed unimportant. No, the tug wasn’t gone, it had merely subsided. It led him down under the bridge to his would-be campsite, which looked even less appealing by the light of day. A heavy rock lay deep under the angle of the bridge. Recklessly, Jalmar tugged at it, breaking his nails and scoring his palms. Under the pressure of his whole weight it began to shift, slowly at first and then with greater momentum. The rock toppled over slowly and tumbled down the bank to plunge into the stream. Jalmar could hear a horse’s hoofs skittering over the bridge overhead, but his focus was firmly directed to the space the rock had left. Within was a small but sturdy wooden box with a sigil etched into the lid.

He picked it up.

“Jalmar?” Risha’s uncertain voice echoed under the bridge. “You forgot your things…”

Jalmar edged back and stood up, the box in his hands. She was standing just under the bridge, his pack dangling from one hand. She looked uncertainly at him and he realised how crazy he must seem. She noticed the box he held in his hands and suddenly drew in her breath. She dropped the pack to the ground.

“That’s our family mark,” she said. “How did you…?”

“I don’t know,” said Jalmar. He stepped forward to press the box into her hands. For the first time in his life he felt giddily free of any desire to go anywhere. He stood basking in the overwhelming emptiness.

“We should open this at home,” said Risha.

Jalmar said nothing, he felt so strange. He jumped when Risha laid a hand on his arm.

“Won’t you come back with me?” she asked.

“Yes,” said Jalmar. “I think I’d like that.”

They retrieved the farm workhorse and returned to the farmhouse. At the kitchen table, Kiari and Gran waited for them. Risha set the box on the table.

“What is it?” asked Kiari, her eyes wide, as Risha coaxed the lid open.

“The return of our prosperity,” said the old lady, her eyes fixed not on the box but on Jalmar.

Risha had opened the box. The inside was lined with waxed cloth, and inside, amidst a wash of heavy gold and silver coins, was a small filigree locket. The same sigil, twisted in golden wire, decorated the front.

“Gran’s locket!” breathed Risha. “It can’t be anything else!” Her startled eyes travelled to Gran for confirmation and then across to Jalmar’s face. “It was stolen years ago and we thought it was gone forever.” She carefully opened it and inside was a tiny portrait of a middle-aged man, who stared out confidently at the world. His eyes seemed to bore into Jalmar, right to the depths of his soul.

“Torren,” said Gran.

“What I want to know,” said Risha to Jalmar, “is how you knew it was there.”

“I don’t know,” replied Jalmar, but as he looked into Risha’s grandfather’s painted eyes, he was filled with certainty that he had finally found his way home.

This is not a submission for this upcoming anthology, but instead its first-ever (so far as I know) piece of fan-fiction. You should read the Prologue Story for ‘The Lane of Unusual Traders’ first.


“We don’t have any fruit anymore,” said Len. “Sorry.”

Len wasn’t short for Leonard, but for Lenrek, or Lonroo, or Lanjavian – some first name that I had never heard of anyone else having. He could have been from anywhere in Southern Europe or the Middle East, and looked to be in his early forties, with an unruly mustache and black hair shot through with streaks of silver. His shop was in the sort of suburban shopping centre that used to be everywhere in the seventies, just a row of shops with a parking lot in front, in a sort of backwater a few blocks back from the roar of Woodville Road.

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Alex is leaning forward on one elbow, Kindle held like a hand of cards close to the chest, looking concerned. Looking at you with concerned eyes: but for a moment Alex’s eyes are only globes of protein and water, glittering without meaning like stones in a river. Half-buried white stones with patches of greyish-blue.

‘You alright?’

You had just been jerked awake, arms and legs suddenly twitching in unison as some random firing of neurons dragged you from sleep. That was all. It happened often enough. But you had the feeling – you have the feeling, though it is fading fast – that you had stepped back from an abyss. Or been pulled back by an unseen hand from an abyss that you were powerless to stop yourself from stepping into.

‘I’m fine,’ you say. ‘Just jerked awake.’

A hand squeezes your arm – more protein and water, warm and only a little alien now, as meaning flows back into a world that had been drained of it when you awoke.

Alex rolls over and goes on reading, and you close your eyes, listening to the reassuring click of pages turning. You will turn over yourself in a minute – you don’t like to sleep on your back, and if you do, Alex will usually prod you awake, saying that you are snoring. Falling asleep is a strange thing. You are there, and then you aren’t. You do this every night; but you can never remember exactly what you’ve done. What do you do? Is there a you to do anything? A minute passes as you repeat these thoughts to yourself until they no longer make sense.


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Robert Prescott has dined with Princes of Hell and gone whoring along the Grand Canal with fallen Archangels, and no longer feels the slightest apprehension on introduction to a daemon whose name had been a word of power to the infant-strangling priests of Melkart; but the first sight of the Jesuit gives him a peculiar frisson of horror.  Boyhood tales of Popish plots broach dark waters in Prescott’s mind, vast and almost-formless, and the unimposing black figure seems a thing of menace beyond any glamour-dewed Throne or Power. He has a nose like a beak and the flat face and staring black eyes of a native of the Indies, and in his black robes bears a strong resemblance to a raven, blown by some mischance into Prescott’s study. He looks as out of place and wears the same expression of wary startlement. The man’s name is Alvarez, or Alvaro, something like that.  A drab and dark thing he is, with weathered features like a hammered plate attesting to a life spent under a tropical sun, the only shabby object in a room otherwise filled to bursting with the luxurious impedimenta of power.  The elegantly-bound volumes standing in the glass-fronted bookcase, as staid and sober as a morning parade of kitchen staff, had been sourced at great expense from every corner of the Continent, and any one hides secrets that it is death for any less well-connected man to know. The lead crystal decanter is one of few remaining works of a Bohemian master whose life and legacy had been consumed in the holocaust of the Twelve Years War; the topaz-coloured sweet wine it holds is from one of the last vineyards the Most Serene Republic held in the Aegean Sea, a personal estate of the house of Ruzzini, who reserve its output for bribes to high-ranking Imperial officials. Of the paintings on the wall, the one depicting Danaë and Zeus is curiously more chaste than the landscape: Prescott sees with an inward smile that even the priest’s eye has been caught by the lubricious roundness of the hills, the rubenesque creases converging into shadow where they come together, the obscene exuberance of the musky thicket in the foreground, with its plenitude of curving branches. The slim book next to Prescott’s right hand is Baron Spencer’s celebrated  treatise ‘On Sodomy’; the silver reliquary on his right, originally from a bankrupt monastery in the Levant, now contains the black flesh of a certain aquatic centipede preserved in honey and opium. The carpet is from Kachan; the writing desk is of a peculiar Brasilian wood of which only one shipment has ever crossed the Atlantic; and Prescott himself is dressed with costly efficiency, eschewing the ornament of a Venetian dandy for the severe elegance of an English diplomat.

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When Arlon was fairly small, about the age when Humen children are all arms and legs and intervening hungry bits, an old Ruhurdh, more crumpled and twisted and decrepitly ancient than most of its stunted, hairy breed, appeared in the village.   It was obviously a beggar, an itinerant pauper with no possessions besides the greasy hide bag which it wore slung over one shoulder, a tattered artefact studded with improbable and gruesome amulets and tied with oiled bits of sinew.

The creature (for who could call it a person?) stumbled into the village with a rolling uneven gait like a peg-leg sailor’s.  The youngsters, Arlon amongst them, threw groek dung and dead locusts and bits of stick, but their missiles glanced off the stranger’s hide and fell into the dust, and the expression on the gnarled hairy face didn’t change at all.  The whitened turned eyes below the deep hood didn’t flicker, not even when a large groek-pat bounced off the ugly flattened Ruhurdh nose.  The children continued in their sport despite this lack of response.  Strangers were few and far between and any amusement was better than the endless routine of village life.  Surely, if they persisted, they would get a reaction soon.

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After Udan had shown to his legions the helmet of the elder ones, he commanded that a city be built there on the banks of the Mouy, to preserve the memory of the five holy women and to stand guard over the approaches to Mira-Thosh. He bade settle there eightscore hundred of his soldiers, the veterans of many a campaign in the east and in the west. And Udan commanded that a road be built from Ar-Sadrun’s city of Guth Arul to the new city on the Mouy, to bind the new lands together like beads on a cord.

– From the Chronicle of Udan


Murud did not share his commander’s dislike of the folk of Thoss. It could not be denied that they smelled differently, that they were differently shaped, and that their morality (as far as he could see) rested on very different foundations; but there were many things about them which he thought admirable. Their keeping to themselves, which had been styled a vice, seemed laudable – there was much to be said in favour of a race that refused so steadfastly to meddle with the affairs of others. The restrained manner in which they conducted their occasional business with the outside world; the absence of quarrelling among them; the neat rows in which they planted their fruiting trees and laid out the bones of their dead; these were things that appealed to Murud, who valued order and the absence of discord. These were the chief values of his own people, and these were the values that they had imposed on their neighbours, and then on more distant lands, and more distant lands still. At the cost of many thousands of lives they had brought those virtues here, across a great ocean and many ranges of mountains, to find them already practised. Practised without any sign of the Thudun urge to force them on other  people, it seemed; and this seemed to Murud both singular and praiseworthy.

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A young Cirilman brought Absolom his fish on the terrace.  The human nodded to show his thanks, taking the bowl.  He smiled, and the Cirilman imitated him, opening his broad lipless mouth slightly to show a hundred needle-like teeth.  Absolom could not read its monochrome eyes.  “Thank you”, he added.  “Cjir-jhai yimmikor.”

The Cirilman backed away slowly as he spoke, its mouth now closed, its head rocking from side to side with amusement.  It bowed rapidly from the waist.  “Dai yim’.”

Absolom sat cross legged near the edge of the terrace, his back to the other diners.  Balancing the bowl between his ankles, he began breaking the fish into pieces and discarding the bones.  The black skin of the fish was sticky, and his fingers were soon smeared with it , but the flesh beneath was white and firm.  Before eating any, he smelt it with care, alert for the bitter tang of ehorot or hjan.  He had told the victualler to cook his food, instead of adding the alkaloid spices customary among the Cirilmen, but did not trust his command of their language.  It was better to be cautious this far from home.

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You have heard that it was said. Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. (Matthew 5:38-42)


This happened up near the Macintyre river two days walk southwest of Boggabilla. It is good country there with water and pasture in all but the worst years. There isn’t any good describing the scenery because either you know what it looks like there or you don’t. If you don’t there is no way to write it so you can see it as it really is so it will all be made-up in your head any way so you may as well make it up as you like. Writing scenery is a dull game. As dull as an axe that has been used to cut down a tree with ant-hill made under the bark like they have away up north on the other side of the Empire. The trouble is you don’t know where to stop. You can write that there was a creek about so wide flowing from this direction to that direction, and one tree of such a kind on the bank about so many paces from the man who speaks first, and another tree of a different kind so many paces away from him in another direction, and then another, and you can go on describing the scenery forever and never get to any point. Whatever. But if you have been there you will know what it looks like.

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When the stars were brighter and the stones were blacker than they are today, when fire was more hot and water was more wet, there lived a little girl named Kaadh who was the swiftest and cleverest of her tribe, just as Kaadh is the swiftest and cleverest of all the stars and you are swiftest and cleverest among the I-Many, O my darling. Her hair was the colour of amber, and her eyes were as red as jasper. Her teeth were straight and strong, and so were her limbs, above and below, but there would be nothing to tell you about her if she had not once suffered a misfortune, and begun to have adventures.

One day, the amulet of Kaadh’s grandmother was stolen by an old witch-woman. And the cruel thing of it was that this witch-woman could change herself into any shape she chose, and to steal this amulet she had chosen to change herself into the shape of Kaadh.

‘O my grandmother,’ said the witch-woman, in the amber hair and jasper eyes of Kaadh. ‘May I borrow your amulet of red stone and keruganth bone until the dawn, for one of the stars of the sky is looking greedily at me, and I wish it to look at someone else.’

‘What star is it that looks at you greedily?’ said Kaadh’s grandmother. ‘O my grandmother,’ said the witch woman, ‘it is the bright yellow one which sits near to Raaght, eldest daughter of the mother of all the stars. Then the wise old woman said, ‘O my child, that star is named Hadar, and it is good that you have come to me, for its ways are crooked. Take my amulet of red stone and keruganth bone, but be sure to bring it back by dawn, for it holds all the magic of our people, and if it is too long away from me the magic will fade away, like colours fade in the sun.’ Then Kaadh’s grandmother handed her amulet to the witch woman in the shape of Kaadh, her magic amulet of red stone and keruganth bone. Continue reading

Once the hradar were no different from the Soulless Ones or the beasts, and had no souls.  But the First-Souled One, who we call the father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand, journeyed to the place of Tshuraq, keeper of the secrets of Tsai, and bargained with him the secret of making souls. And the tale of the First-Souled One is very long, but told briefly it is this:


The father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand heard the wind blowing across the stones, and it seemed to him that he heard a voice, saying, ‘your life is as water pissed out onto the sand.’ And the father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand was troubled, knowing then that each night lived was a lost forever, and that when the sum of nights had been counted there would be no more eating or drinking, loving or telling of tales; for the flesh goes back to Tsai, and the life goes where the flame goes when the fire is put out.

The father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand went to the west, to the abode of Khashai amid the black mountains. He made sacrifices there, and told the goddess he sought a way to hold his life and the lives of his people, that they might not be as water pissed out on the sand. And Khashai smiled upon the father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand with her great black eyes like dnari pearls, and when she spoke her voice was as ninehundred nines of rustling spears. ‘I will make this bargain with you, little hradar; bring to me a certain prince of the fish-men, who I will make known to you, and in return you may dwell in my palace forever, and busy yourself always in worship of me. I will make you imperishable, like the stone that is in the hearts of the mountains, so that you will never die.’   The father of the fathers of Rukhmar Hand thanked Khashai, and fled her presence, for he did not wish to be a flame held in a jar of glass, which may be broken at any moment by a wanton god.

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