Enter the fray

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He'd told him everything. All that he knew, all that he believed, he'd laid out before the outsider, and Tranton Seldon had laughed in his face.

Fenris was unsurprised. The man was uncouth and a boor, even while possessing remarkable stamina and ability in his journey across the Barrier Mountains. Fenris had always been fascinated by the contradictions of humans, able to be both noble and savage, kind and cruel, honest and corrupt, all in a single lifetime. Two sides to everyone, and nobody was without compromise.

Still, as the laughter continued and a minute, then two passed by, Fenris found his patience wearing thin. The other man had stood, moved to the window, then had begun laughing again.

"Gods, magical armour, great wars, regeneration, destiny!" Seldon had held up a hand, trying to calm himself. "As an opening pitch it's dramatic, Fenris, I'll give you that. Is there anything you left out?"

"Where do you think your magical sword comes from?"

Seldon had touched a hand to the hilt in surprise, and had shook his head. "This isn't magic, Fenris. It's technology. Science. The same that keeps boats afloat and your airships floating."

Fenris had smiled. "You think that it was mere coincidence that you stumbled upon it? That you happened to take a route that passed by?"

Then he'd gone downstairs, pulling his mask up onto his face and demanding to be fed, leaving Fenris alone in the draughty room. Seldon would be a valuable ally and guide if they were to cross the Aviarette Mountains and head north, Fenris knew, though he was unsure as to whether he possessed the patience to endure the journey alongside the infuriating man. The climb, snow, ice and wild creatures he could manage - but a single man from the Headland could be the end of him.

Seldon had assured him that he couldn't have been followed, but Fenris Silt was not in the business of taking the word of other people. He stood obliquely beside the window, looking out at the darkening street, as an icy rain pattered quietly against the glass.

Still no sign of the others. The prospect of continuing without them, even if accompanied by Seldon, was one he couldn't bear to contend with - not yet. If they'd been taken from the inn there would have been evidence, or Fenris would have been seized soon after. That he was still here indicated they must have left voluntarily - the fools - though what had happened subsequently was impossible to tell.

Fenris leaned on the wall of the room, feeling the cold through the bricks, and marvelled at the world's ability to unravel in an instant. He had spoken to Seldon of fate, and destiny, of the age of gods and the departure of Aera, of how everything had built to this moment - that they were following in her footsteps and that finding her would restore the valley to what it once was.

He spoke of destiny, when he had been ousted from his position at court; when his ward was now a fugitive, missing in a hostile city; when an escaped slave from the machine rooms had trusted him with his fate, and was likely now in yet another cell; and when Tranton Seldon had been rewarded for his accomplishment with prejudice and abuse.

If fate was a player in this game, it was not on their side.

The door banged open without the customary warning knock. Seldon stood framed in the doorway, his bulk almost filling it entirely.

"They've found us," he said, his voice urgent but calm. He didn't shout.

Fenris swept up his coat and pushed past Seldon with a force and confidence that tended to surprise others, who regarded him merely as an old man. Such was one of the benefits of cultivating a somewhat hunched, entirely artificial gait.

"This way," he ordered, taking the corridor away from the stairs. He had prepared for this moment on the day of their arrival. Turning a blind corner, at the end of the corridor they came upon a small window, which he unlatched and swung out. Cold air rushed in as the building's heat escaped. Grasping the ledge, he hopped up and out onto a tiled rooftop.

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