Astielle: Chapter Twenty

“I can teach you how to use a sword,” Lynette said.

“I don’t want to use a sword,” Vaelon said, rubbing at the star on the back of his right hand. He still wasn’t used to it. Karzarul was enjoying seeing where the crescent would end up when he didn’t have hands. Usually it was his forehead.

“You have a divine sword,” she said. “You should know how to use it.”

“Nah,” Vaelon said. “If there’s an emergency I’ll point the sharp end at the danger.”


“I’ve managed fine without a sword until now,” he said. “I’ll keep managing just fine.”

“I wouldn’t mind learning how to use a sword,” Karzarul said.

“You have a bow,” she pointed out.

“Yeah,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean I’d never need a sword.”

“You can turn into a bear,” Lynette said. “You never need a sword.”

It was hard to argue with the logic of the statement.

A few times since leaving the Faewild, little balls of moonlight had returned to Karzarul. He wasn’t sure why the Moon Goddess had taken those bits of moonlight out of him, where She had sent them or why. He didn’t know why they were coming back to him. In that, at least, he could be honest. He hadn’t told anyone what he’d asked for, what he’d done. He was sure they’d be upset when they realized. He would rather delay that conversation for as long as possible.

Except that another ball of moonlight struck, and when it did he found himself a Bullizard. He was somewhere he didn’t recognize, and a soldier was swinging a sword straight for his neck.

“Karzarul?” Vaelon asked. He and Lynette had both brought their horses to a stop. “Why did you change?”

He changed back to his usual form, whatever heart he may have had racing. He was sure that he’d been somewhere else, someone else, about to die. He thought of the balls of light leaving, returning.

“I need to check on something,” Karzarul said.

“What is it?” Vaelon asked.

“Is this related to your blessing?” Lynette asked.

“I’m not sure,” Karzarul lied. “That’s what I need to go check. Go ahead without me, and I’ll catch up.” He changed into a bird, taking flight and heading for the sky.

He needed to find more monsters if he was going to find answers.

Now he leaves,” Lynette said.

“He’ll be back,” Vaelon said.

Karzarul found the answers he was looking for, but they weren’t the ones he wanted.

The Moon Goddess was not a goddess of creation. She had not created; She had copied. She had taken Karzarul into Herself, and wound him back to his own moments of creation. From them She created duplicates, dropping them into the world in the places where She thought they’d fit, color schemes and patterns taken from other living things in the vicinity.

She also copied his memories, was the thing.

Not all of them. Not for all of them. Only up to the point where he made them, only the ones where he’d tried to be something like human. Something with a face.

Except, they weren’t their memories. They knew the memories didn’t belong to them. They weren’t palpable, tangible things. Whatever connection or sense of self it was that made him think back on who he’d been with embarrassment, they didn’t have it. To them, they were all simply things that happened to Karzarul.

It meant they knew him very well. It would not have occurred to him how much he would dislike this.

He could feel them, the faced monsters and the beast monsters alike. Only within a certain range, thankfully; he thought if he could tell when every Shimmerbat in the world was hungry, he might go a little insane. He might be going a little insane anyway. Finding all the edges of where his feelings ended and other feelings began.

His wish had never been about wanting for company, wanting anyone to feel what he felt. He’d just wanted to know they were out there. He had imagined a world where he could be one of many, where a monster was a normal thing that didn’t need explaining. That he could be a person that way Vaelon and Lynette were people, going to new places and meeting new people.

It was a little like meeting new people, at least.

These monsters She’d made of him had a distinct sense of self that he lacked. They knew what they were, and who they were, without anyone having to tell them. They gave themselves names like Indomitable Tauril, Red Bullizard, Tabby Bruteling. Explaining that words weren’t names didn’t sway them, although they were willing to accept nicknames. He was grateful now that Vaelon hadn’t let him name himself Beautiful, having to deal with Taurils who introduced themselves as Immovable.

It was the faced monsters who brought their memories of their last moments with them to share. He didn’t know why it happened, if it was something the Moon Goddess had done on purpose. Making him look at the consequences of what he’d done.

If Vaelon or Lynette ever found out, he’d never hear the end of it. From Lynette, especially. If he’d asked them about his wish beforehand, she would have been the first to point out that this might happen. Vaelon might have helped him find a better way to phrase the request, something more specific, something that wouldn’t have turned out like this. It was too late for any of that now. The best he could do was try to gather up as many as he could before they got themselves killed.

The second-best he could do was get them dressed. Most of the Brutelings had already stolen outfits, the way he once had. They proved skillful enough with needles to fashion patchwork shirts for the Taurils. Taurils quickly organized themselves into an informal hierarchy based on whose shirt had the most varieties of fabric in it.

“I bet I could jump into the lake from up there,” Reckless said, pointing to a rocky overlook.

“No way,” Tenacious said. “You’d break all your ankles and drown.”

“I could totally do it,” Rugged said.

“You should test it,” Tabby said, riding on Rugged’s back with five other Brutelings.

That was the other thing about them, these copies of himself, him but not him. He would have thought they would have personalities like his, that they would act like him.

They did not.

The thought of Vaelon or Lynette seeing monsters that looked like him and acted like this was mortifying. The thought that they had ever seen him act like this was excruciating. He felt sure he’d never been like this. Had he? Maybe he’d wanted to show off a little, the first time he’d gotten being a person anything close to correct. Deep down he supposed he had wanted it to be impressive, being the one who saved the day. But not like this. He would have known better than to be so… so…


“I’m going to kill him,” Lynette said, slamming her empty glass onto the table.

“No you’re not,” Vaelon said, gesturing for another.

“He could have fucking mentioned,” she said, “that there’d be little hims running all over the place. He knew good and well what he was asking for, I guarantee it.”

“I’m not going to blame him for that,” Vaelon said. “He isn’t like us. He never was. He was the only thing like him. I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to turn out like this.”

Giant wolves killing cattle. Enormous boars destroying crops. Clouds of bats in mineshafts. Little beasties robbing houses, building little forts in the woods. Travelers scared to use roads for fear of the giants in the way.

The thought of what might be happening off the coasts was appalling.

“You were both very sure that he’d be helpful,” Lynette said. “But the whole point of this was to get the Praetorians of the West and South to support me and provide me the armies I need to lay siege to Aekherium. How do you think it’s going to look if I show up to battle alongside the thing that’s been terrorizing their countryside? What do you think they’ll assume I asked for? What deal will they think I’ve made?”

“Empresses don’t need to worry about what other people think.”

“The fuck they don’t,” Lynette said. “Have you not heard of a guillotine?”

“Empresses wielding a tangible representation of their Goddess’ blessing don’t need to worry about what other people think,” Vaelon corrected. “Particularly not when they’re allied with a guy who can turn into a bear.” She huffed. “Besides, for all we know he’s trying to get them gathered all together. They’re scattered. He could have another army for you, when all is said and done.”

“I’m not saying you have to stay here forever,” Karzarul said, hands on the spot where his upper half met his lower. “Everyone keeps getting killed when they’re alone, and everyone’s alone. If you stay here for right now I can work on finding everyone else until we’re all together. After that we can find somewhere better, if you want. This is only—it’s out of the way. There’s fish, and birds, and berry bushes. There was at least one goat. Humans can’t get up here, so we don’t have to worry about it. It’s a good spot.”

“I don’t think you’re going to get the Howlers to stay up here,” Indomitable said.

“That’s a separate issue.” And not one he was particularly worried about. Howlers getting killed wasn’t something he had to experience firsthand every time it happened.

“Getting everyone here on foot seems like it will take a while.”

“I’m working on it.” He’d figured out that he could draw the other monsters into himself, same as when they’d been killed. It was getting them back out that was the trouble. “For now, can you keep everyone from wandering off? Keep the Brutelings busy, find them things to work with so they’re not trying to steal all the time.”

Indie nodded. “You got it, Boss.”

“Hey,” Vaelon said, tapping Lynette on the leg. She was watching her armies attack the walls of Aekherium, assembling trebuchets in the vast fields outside the city. She sat astride her new horse, one of Maggie’s sisters, another beast of a thing with long fur all around its dinnerplate hooves. “I talked to Karzarul.”

“What?” She looked down at him startled. “How? Where is he?”

“I’d tell you,” he said, “but you’ve already got this whole siege thing planned out, and you don’t want to be tempted to change anything last-minute and fuck the whole thing up.” She scowled at him, but didn’t deny it. “He says he’ll be here to help on the night of the full moon.”

“That’s in a week,” she said. “He’s a week out?”

“Kinda,” Vaelon said. “It’s complicated.”

She rubbed at her temple. “I don’t know if it’s even worth it, at this point,” she said. Though the capital city had its own armies, only the Praetorian of the North had been organized enough to bring his own men to support Wynrath. They were focused entirely on guarding the Great River, the port being the only part of the city without walls. To try and fell the walls of Aekherium was madness. They had stood strong since Emperor Aekhet the First had erected them.

But Lynette was mad enough to stare into the face of the Sun Goddess, and she remembered a time before her exile. Discussions of all the work that needed doing, all the infrastructure that needed maintaining. There were certain areas of the walls prone to erosion and weakness, some quirk of instability in the ground below. There was no glamour or majesty in the hard work of maintenance. She knew which areas would be weak now, these many years on.

Victory felt inevitable. Slow, but inevitable. Was there value in introducing another variable?

In introducing the idea that her victory was owed to anyone but herself?

“Don’t be stupid,” Vaelon said. “Shit can always go sideways. At worst you turn a victory overwhelming. He says he can bring Taurils.”


“That’s what the big boys are called.”

“According to who?”

“According to them.”

“I suppose it lends itself to a bit more dignity than ‘big boys’,” Lynette sighed.

“Yeah,” Vaelon sighed. “Too bad. Anyway, I’m letting you know because he says they can’t bring their own weapons.”

“Do they need those?”

“Or shirts.”

“Yeah, they need those.” She ran her hand over her hair, scowling at the horizon. “I’ll see what we can do on short notice.”

Things had gone a bit sideways.

Not a lot sideways. For the defenders of the wall to have descended to attack made them vulnerable. They’d made a tactical error in even trying, and another one moving too far from the walls themselves. It allowed Lynette’s soldiers to close in and cut them off, preventing retreat.

The sideways part was that Lynette was in the thick of it, using the Sunshield to protect the main trebuchet. The other sideways part was that Vaelon was with her, because the alternative was having him anywhere except behind her shield.

“Sun’s going down soon,” Vaelon shouted to be heard above the din of fighting and dying. “I should go get Karzarul.”

“How the fuck do you think you’re going to do that?” Lynette asked, jabbing her sword through the Sunshield’s protective aura to skewer someone.

“That’s the thing I didn’t tell you before,” Vaelon said, pulling the Starsword out of its scabbard. “I finally skimmed those terms and conditions.” He turned toward the trebuchet, eyes turning black as he sliced through the air. Lynette almost protested, misunderstanding what he was trying to do, but her complaint died as she saw the hole he’d cut into the world. Opaque with multicolored light, like he’d opened a wound in reality and made it bleed a rainbow. “Be right back,” he said, and he ducked through it.

“What the fuck.”

Vaelon returned in only a few minutes, pulling Karzarul through in his Bruteling form. He looked more like a princeling, his silver and white versions of the clothes Vaelon had made him those years ago. The Moonbow was on his back. “Hello!” Karzarul said.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Lynette asked.

“Sorry,” he said. “I had to take care of some stuff.” He pulled an arrow from his quiver, and stabbed it like a dagger into the slashed-open world behind him; it zipped itself shut immediately.

“Yeah, I’ve been meaning to ask you about some of that,” Lynette said. “And you could have told me you could magically transport assassins for me,” she added.

“Nah,” Vaelon said. “It only works for the three of us, and only if we have our weapons with us. Which is great for Karzarul, not so good for me if I don’t have pants on.”

“Why would you—?”

“Her brother’s in the Imperial Palace of Aekherium,” Vaelon explained to Karzarul. “He’s the one we’re deposing.”

“The big building in the middle?” Karzarul asked.

“You can’t go in there and kill him for me,” Lynette warned. “There’s a protocol, I—we need to be able to get our people inside.”

“I’m on it,” Karzarul said, changing form to a Misthawk and taking flight toward the palace.

“If he kills Wynrath, I’m blaming you,” Lynette warned.

“No you’re not,” Vaelon said. “He won’t, anyway.”

For a time, there was nothing, only the same fighting there’d been before. The sun fell behind the horizon, gave way to the moon hanging full in the sky. A great din became audible even from outside the city walls, over the existing cacophony. Vaelon saw him first, as Lynette was still absorbed in killing anyone too aggressive toward her barrier.

A dragon of legend. Except, not a dragon. Too many legs, too many eyes, wings too wide for a body too long. Karzarul looked like a great and terrible snake, white as the moon above him, shedding light like fleas. A ball of moonlight burst like a firework into a second not-dragon, shining black like a beetle’s carapace. It joined him in wrapping around the Imperial Palace; when Karzarul roared, it roared; when Karzarul spat flame into the night sky, it did the same.

“Holy shit,” Vaelon said. “Biggest boy.”

Enough of Wynrath’s soldiers were giving up the fight as lost that Lynette could stop bloodying her sword for a moment.

“Okay,” she admitted. “That fucking rules, actually.”

“You’ve never read Lovers of the Wild Rose?” Vaelon asked.

“When would I have read it?” Karzarul asked. “I’ve only ever read what you gave me.”

“Oh, weird,” Vaelon said, because he hadn’t actually thought about that. He forgot sometimes that Karzarul had been light instead of a person. “You’ve got to read it sometime,” he said. “I bet they have a copy in the Imperial Library, I’ll grab one before I forget.” He hopped down off of Karzarul’s back without waiting for him to kneel first. Vaelon had been getting less cautious about heights these last few years, more willing to risk injury to save time. Something about the Starsword had made him more durable than he used to be, and he was finally getting used to it. Karzarul wished he wouldn’t test the limits of it. It made him nervous. “We might as well set up a Door here, don’t you think?”

Karzarul looked around. It was a nondescript stretch of road without much going for it. “Here?” he asked for confirmation.

“There’s an intersection over there,” Vaelon said, pointing further down the road to where it split. “Could save us some trouble retracing our steps later.” He headed for a copse of trees, and Karzarul followed. When they felt isolated enough from the road, Vaelon unsheathed the Starsword, and sliced through space. “Be right back,” he said, and Karzarul nodded as he disappeared.

Karzarul could follow and help, in theory. In practice, he made the Imperial Enchanters nervous. Vaelon also made them nervous, but they found the fundamental fact of his entire existence less upsetting.

Vaelon slipped in and out, bringing back pieces of granite etched with precious metals, interlocking shapes at the top and bottom of them. Karzarul got to work on assembly, the large hands of a Tauril better suited to handle the enormous bricks. He liked the making aspect, solving the puzzle of how all the pieces fit, though he knew the enchanters had things they would rather be doing than making a steady stream of Door parts.

Lynette wasn’t thrilled by how far they had wandered since she had ascended to the throne. Empress Aekhet the Thirteenth, Chosen Heir of the Sun Goddess, Glorious and Bright. It was a lot of work, an empire. Despite that, she’d ordered the Imperial Enchanters to find a way to keep the holes Vaelon cut through reality from healing shut. There were plenty of practical applications for being able to visit every corner of her empire at a moment’s notice.

All the skill and power of the Aekhite Empire went into designing the Rainbow Doors, modular pieces of stone that could seal together into a seamless indestructible unit anywhere they wanted.

Vaelon used them to run back to the palace for things he forgot, or to visit his favorite bars, or to mark the best places to watch the sun set.

They weren’t only wandering. Vaelon was developing a reputation as a problem-solver, someone who could find the unfindable and fix the unfixable. Part of that was the growing legend of how he’d assisted in deposing the Usurper Emperor. Another part was that he could travel half the country in a matter of minutes to find rare plants and artifacts.

But, mostly, he was Vaelon. He could talk snow out of melting and fish out of swimming. There turned out to be a lot of problems that could be solved by the presence of a person everyone liked listening to.

Karzarul stayed a Howler around other people. It was easier that way, not having to explain himself, not having to talk about the other monsters people had heard of. People saw him with Vaelon, and assumed the bearer of the Starsword had tamed a monster.

They were right, which saved everyone a lot of time.

Karzarul arranged both halves of the Door to his liking before fitting the final piece between them. The edges of the opaque riot of color immediately snapped to the edges of the structure, filling it and lighting up all the etchings. All the bricks fused into a single piece of granite, the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

“Nice,” Vaelon said, patting Karzarul on the side. Karzarul tried not to enjoy the praise too much. He knew he hadn’t actually done anything. Vaelon had opened the passage, and enchanters had built the Door. “Want to test the lock?”

Karzarul pulled an arrow from his quiver, stabbed it into the panel of stone on one side of the Door. The light disappeared, leaving instead the appearance of more granite. Vaelon pushed the Starsword into the panel and turned it, and the light reappeared.

“Looks like we’re good to go!” Vaelon said. “I’ll go grab that book, how about you check on your kingdom while I’m out?”

“Sure,” Karzarul said, with no intention of doing that. He sat and waited for Vaelon to return instead.

Karzarul was in charge of the monsters. Only the beasts had to do as he willed, but the faced monsters usually listened to him anyway. They did have a spot of land, though it was too high in the mountains to be practical for anyone else to use. King Karzarul still felt like a bit much. ‘King’ was a job title akin to ‘Empress’, one that involved a lot of work that Karzarul didn’t want to do. Sitting in a great big building giving orders didn’t suit him the way it did Lynette. He wanted to be with Vaelon, to see the world on its own merits and then again through his eyes. He wanted to do things with his own hands, his own teeth.

While the monsters were enthusiastic about King Karzarul’s Castle on Monster Mountain, they were only doing it for the fun of it. Brutelings liked to make things, and Bullizards liked to guard things, and Taurils liked inventing obtuse rules about fashion even more than they liked hunting impressively large animals. Black Drakonis was a little trickier to manage, but once they’d built her a castle to protect she’d been content to stay on the mountain. It had been at least a decade since she’d gone trying to claim another fortress as her own.

Monsters were always happy enough to see him, but they didn’t need him the way the Empire needed the Empress. They knew him too well to want or expect his company. Karzarul only visited the mountain on full moons. If he focused, he could force most monsters who’d been lost to reform themselves nearby. The only ones he left to their own devices were the Abysscales, content to spend their time in pods below the waves.

When he visited them, it was for very different reasons.

Karzarul used to wonder if it might be something about what he was, the way that he was made. The wanting, the way it ached. Wanting before he’d even known what it was he wanted.

With time he saw it in humans, too. Noticed the way they looked at Vaelon. The way Vaelon never looked back. The way Vaelon accepted offered kisses with less enthusiasm than he accepted strange bugs from small children.

It ached, but it made Karzarul feel better to think that he wasn’t alone. That Vaelon wasn’t uniquely disinterested in Karzarul. Being the one Vaelon would ride with, the one he would sing for, even though he didn’t feel the same—that was enough.

Except for when it wasn’t, and he had to go jump in the ocean.

Other than that, though.

“You can’t still be working,” Vaelon said. It was the time of night that was starting to edge into morning. Lynette was slouched over the table in the war room, its surface covered in maps and little models of horses.

“Nope,” Lynette said, holding up a half-empty bottle of wine.

“Ah, the glamorous life of an empress,” Vaelon said as she stood. She stayed steady as she met him by the door, an arm around his shoulders to herd him out of the room. “Aw, I don’t get to play war?” he asked.

“Nope,” Lynette said, taking a swig from her wine bottle. They made their way into another study, and she sank into a chair. Vaelon stole the bottle to take a swig before she stole it back. She picked up a pen from the side table, rolling the feather between her fingers.

“How’s things?” Vaelon asked. “Haven’t seen you in a bit.” He found excuses to visit regularly, but let her schedule determine how long he stayed. She wasn’t always available when he dropped by.

“You’ve been gone,” she reminded him.

“You’ve been busy,” he countered. “Official business. I’m a civilian, remember?” She grumbled. “You doing okay?”

“Great,” she said, not sounding great. “My first heirs are in the works.”

“Oh!” Vaelon gaze went lower, but she waved him off.

“Calae,” she said, naming one of her consorts. “He’s been working his way through the other consorts for years, now some of them finally have bellies to show for it.”

“Convenient,” Vaelon said.

“Does save me some trouble,” she sighed. “Makes new trouble.” She contemplated her pen. “We aren’t aging, Vaelon.”

“We’re well-preserved,” he said.

“Bullshit,” she said. “We’re pickled if we’re anything. You may not have noticed, spending all your time with a monster that wouldn’t age anyway.”

He sighed. “Yes, Nettles, I noticed.” It was getting hard not to. He was in his sixties, now. It was easy to lose track of time, traveling everywhere on foot with Karzarul and letting themselves get distracted by whatever caught their fancy. He’d never realized how quickly time could pass, when he let it. He wondered if time was slipping through her fingers, or if she felt every minute of it.

“Empress Immortal,” she mused, testing the sound of the words.

“You could always step down when you get bored,” he suggested, and she laughed bitterly.

“And do what?” she asked. “No. This is all I’ve ever wanted. I am fixing things, slowly but surely. Four steps forward, three steps back.”

“A vacation wouldn’t hurt,” he said, but she shook her head.

“They wonder,” she said. “When they don’t know where I am, what I’m doing. They wonder about the Sunshield, about the deals I’ve made. Monsters.”


Lynette set the pen down, and looked at the bottle of wine. “We haven’t seen any off the mountains in years,” she said, “but. During the siege. Some of the soldiers did notice. Your face. And with the rumors about those things in the ocean—” She sighed, letting her head fall against the back of the chair and staring at the ceiling. “I don’t know. It’s nothing. Treasonous whispers, and not many of them.”

“It bothers you, though.”

“No,” she said. “It’s better if you come here, that’s all. So everyone can see who you are.”

“Not a consort?” he teased.

“You could be,” Lynette said.

Vaelon laughed. “Bit of a problem with the job description,” he pointed out.

“You wouldn’t actually —I wouldn’t make you. It’s only a title. It would give you an official legal designation. To stay here, with me. We’d be partners. The way we were partners. Before.”

“I’ve gotten used to wandering,” he said.

“I’ve noticed.”

“I would have thought…” He hesitated. “I thought it was frustrating for you,” he said. “Being with me.”

“You’re a frustrating person,” she said.

“Sex-wise,” he clarified.

Once, early in her exile and not long after they’d met, there had been a single abortive attempt at a makeout session. He’d already loved her dearly. It wasn’t as if he was opposed to sex, even if he didn’t see the appeal. If he could do it over again, he might have figured out in advance what role she wanted him to play, made a game of it. He hadn’t realized at the time that she would find passivity upsetting when what she wanted was enthusiasm.

She had a lot of consorts, now. Big ones, little ones, pretty ones. He didn’t understand why she’d want one she wouldn’t consort with.

“Is that how I made you feel?” she asked. “Like you were frustrating me?”

“No,” he said. “But you always do that.” He leaned against the wall on his elbow, propping his head against his hand. “Wanting to fuck me is not an act of aggression.”

She scowled.

“It’s flattering,” he shrugged. “I don’t offer to give it a try because I feel guilty. I offer because I like making you happy. Except that it wouldn’t make you happy, because what you actually want is for me to feel something I don’t. Which seems like it would be frustrating.”

“I’m not a child,” she said, “to dwell on dreams and hypotheticals. I would rather have the reality of you, if I have you at all.”

“You say that,” he said, “right up until you see other people looking at me the way you look at me.”

She drummed her fingers on the bottle. “I’m not other people.”

“Can you see how the fact that you think it takes great strength of will to handle being kinda horny for me might raise some concerns?”

She sputtered, picking up the pen and trying to throw it at his head. “Fuck off.” The feather fluttered to the floor. “That isn’t—that’s not what I meant.” She took a swig of wine. “Go back to your pet monster, if he handles it so well.”

“You were right, you know. About how he feels.”

“Of course I was.”

“He’s a lot like you,” Vaelon said. “He never asks for anything.”

“Of course he doesn’t,” she spat. “We’ll add it to the fucking list of things he’s better at than me.”

“It isn’t like that,” Vaelon said, coming closer to her. “You know it isn’t.” He reached down to take her face in his hands, turning it toward him. “Nettles,” he said, “if the choice was between losing you, and staying in this palace until I die, I’d stay.” She pressed her hand over his, bare skin knotted with callouses and scar tissue. “I’d be your consort, your prisoner, mop the floors. Whatever it takes not to lose you. You’ll always be the one that saved me.”

“You weren’t the one dying.”

He brought her hand up in his to kiss the backs of her fingers. “Anything you want from me, all you have to do is ask.”

“I would never put you in that position.”

“I know,” he said. “That’s the problem.”

Something was wrong in Gaigon.

Karzarul wouldn’t have known, except he’d gone to visit the pod of Abysscales that lived there. He still had a soft spot for the port city of Rison. The sailors there had always been friendly, even when all the ones he’d known from his first visit had retired. They were always helpful when someone got caught in a net. It was the only place he knew of where monsters were considered lucky.

New ships had been off the coast. Golden ships, carrying sun-painted banners.

Karzarul still remembered what Lynette had said, before she’d been Sunlight Empress Immortal. It didn’t seem right that she’d be sending out the Imperial Navy to attack Gaigon vessels. He was sure Vaelon would have mentioned it, if there were a war or a rebellion of some kind. Karzarul could have asked Vaelon, except, well.

What if they weren’t rogue ships? What if they were following Lynette’s orders, and Vaelon didn’t know?

Or, worse: what if Vaelon knew?

What if there were good reasons why Gaigon sailors needed to die?

Karzarul decided he would rather not ask than risk knowing. Abysscales could tear the boards off of ships without ever needing to come up from under the water. As long as they tried not to kill Imperial sailors, it was fine. As long as they left the lifeboats alone, that was barely any harm done.

He’d add it to the list of things not to mention around humans.