The Twilight Before the Dawn

by Christian O'Kane

The Animalia department of the Marigund mages guild was located in the northwest corner Guild hall compound. In most sections of the vast compound the floors and hallways were kept scrupulously clean. The floors swept and mopped daily. But here the floors were strewn with straw and a good sized layer of dirt. Carlisle watched carefully where he placed his feet as the departments' numerous animals had left countless surprises scattered all about. He walked through an open doorway and into a garden. The grass beneath his feet was lush and sprinkled liberally with wild flowers.

Carlisle came upon a lion and a lioness resting together under a tall oak tree. He was looking at a mage and pet. Which was the mage and which was the pet he could not tell. Perhaps both were mages or something else? But what?

"Have you seen my wife?" Carlisle asked the felines.

The lioness licked the lion on the muzzle gently. "She's in the garden Carl."

"By the bird fountain," the lion added and nuzzled the lioness tenderly

"Thank you!" The man said and walked on still unsure of who or what he had talked to.

He found Gina seated on one of the benches that surrounded a small fountain which was alive with birds. The flock was chirping and singing as they enjoyed the fresh water.

Carlisle sat down next to his wife and lay the leg on the bench between them placing it on top of a large pile of papers. "As you know lately the Automata dept has been working on the remains of an automaton. We've gotten enough pieces to identify the automaton as some sort of four legged animal. We think it was some form of predator. Can you identify the exact species involved?"

Gina examined the leg for a moment. "It is definitely a feline but I don't recognize the species. How close a copy of a real limb is it?" she asked.

Carlisle shrugged. "I'm hoping you could answer that. It seems to be a very close copy but some of the automicants got creative and made modifications." There was a disapproving tone in his voice.

"I thought all mechanical mages preferred such strange creatures," a female voice said.

Both people turned to the voice and found the lion and lioness padding over to them. The lion lay down close to the bench and settled in for a nap. The lioness sat up looking at the bench and its occupants.

"There is a lot of what the automicants of old did that I disapprove of," Carlisle responded. "There is so much we can do with Automata like replace lost limbs and organs, allow people to fly or explore underwater or visit places too dangerous for a living creature to go. But all they did was create engines of war," he said is a disgusted tone. "New ways to kill people."

The lioness shook her head in an almost human motion. "What of this metal fox I've heard of?"

"Madog?" Carlisle asked. "He's made quite a reputation for himself."

"In battle?" The lion was still flat on the ground and his eyes were closed but his ears were turned towards the humans.

"Both in and out of it," the man said. "In the Yule attack he saved the lives of hundreds of people. Rumors tell that he killed a Moransai by himself."

"What?" The lioness asked.

Even the lion opened his eyes and his head turned to the man.

"In the final battle for the Keep he defeated and killed a Moransai. Several witnesses say he literally ripped the evil mage to pieces," Carlisle said. The man sounded shaken by his own words. "In spite of being showered with some very deadly spells."

"And you want to restore one of these things here?" Gina asked horrified.

"Misha says Madog is the sweetest and most gentle of souls," the man countered. "He plays with the little children all the time. But you need not take my word on this. Misha is coming here soon enough and Madog is coming with him. Both will be here when we reactivate the automaton."

"Why?" the lioness asked.

"Because Misha is the most skilled automicant and I need his skill and experience. Also having a working automaton to examine will help us infinitely."

"And if your new metal beast goes berserk Madog is the only thing capable of stopping it," the lion added calmly.

"Of course!" Carlisle answered. "The old legends speak of automatons slaughtering thousands and destroying whole cities. I may not like those old stories but I do remember them."

"Old stories," the lion said. "Are just that. Stories. But can you actually trust them Carl?"

"All tales have a grain of truth at their heart," Gina commented.

"We do more in the Automata then just search through junk yards," the man responded. "We are attempting to locate and catalogue every story and legend involving automatons. We have stories written by very credible and trustworthy witnesses that tell of the automatons having immense power. And of course we now have Madog as proof."

"So the legends of automatons larger than dragons and capable of destroying whole cities are true?" Gina asked. "I've heard the tales of the Dragon war but considered them exaggerated myths."

Carlisle nodded slowly. "Oh yes. We have in our collection what we believe was one of the main supports for a wing. It's twenty five feet long! The automaton it was from is estimated to have had a wingspan of over three hundred feet."

"One thing I've never understood," Gina said slowly. "Why did they build such huge monsters capable of so much destruction."

"With great knowledge does not always come great wisdom," the lion said.

The lioness sniffed at the metal limb and even turned it over with her paw. "Why must people attempt to copy or modify the perfection of nature."

Carlisle shrugged. "I personally prefer research that moves in its own ways and does not copy animal forms."

The male feline had sat upright and was also looking at the pictures and the leg. "It has been a long time since I've seen something of this quality."

"It is a crude copy in many ways but it is clearly a feline limb," the lioness pawed through the pictures and drawings carefully examining each one in turn. "You do not have the skull?"

The mage shook his head. "No, the pieces are scattered all over Marigund and we have not yet located that."

"That would have made it easier," the lioness answered. "But it is understandable why you did not recognize it, Gina. This species has been extinct for at least ten thousand years. It's of the family Felidae, subfamily Machairodontinae. Smilodon Fatalis. The common name is Sabercat."

"It's also known as the saber tooth tiger even though it's not really a tiger," the lion said. "There are several members of the same family it could be but the closest match is Smilodon Fatalis."

"Carlisle," the woman said. "Didn't you spend time as a sabercat once?"

The man smiled at the pleasant memories. "For my senior transformation class project I spent the month as a Smilodon. You spent it as a lioness. That was a very interesting month."

She smiled and there was a twinkle in her eyes. "You were a sabercat once," Gina pointed to the metal leg, "Like her?"

"Well," he paused for a moment and stared at the metal limb. "Yes but I didn't know about her then."

"Where did you get the inspiration for that?"

"Ah . . ." he started to say. There was a confused look on his face. Then it lit up in realization. "You gave me the idea. We were in the dining hall trying to choose what form we would do and you . . ."

At this time of the day with work to be done and classes in session the dining hall was usually quiet. Only a handful of the staff cleaning up and getting ready for the evening meal. It was a large wooden hall filled with wooden tables and benches. Lining the walls were paintings, items, statues and carvings of wood, stone and metal. It was under one of those carvings that a small group clustered. Carlisle was there along with his wife and most of the automata department. Above them was a long row of animal heads, some carved from stone, some from wood and one from bronze. It was the last one that held all attention. It was a feline head with massive scimitar shaped teeth. It was the image of a sabercat.

"How long has that been hanging there Edna?" Idette asked. "In plain sight."

Standing next to her was a short, stocky woman wearing the white smock of a cook. She shrugged. "I've no idea. It was there when my mother was a cook here. I remember seeing it as a small child. But it could have hung there for a century. It was probably put up there when the hall was built back in 610," the head cook explained.

"It could have been in the old dining hall. The one that was destroyed during The Burning," Alton commented. "Great, great grandfather Tostig used whatever materials that survived the fire to build this hall. Quite a few of the beams and carvings still have burn marks on them."

"So it could be centuries older," Idette said.

Alton nodded. "Easily. I've never paid them much notice. The last time I did was the Yule when someone animated all the heads and had them singing pornographic songs."

"Not that head," Edna said shaking her head. "All the others sang but not that one."

"Because the prankster's spells wouldn't work on it," Carlisle said. "It was too well protected."

The ladder was barely set up before Carlisle was scrambling up it. In moments he was eye level with the feline head. Under all the dust he saw that the head was highly ornately decorated. This close up he saw the extremely detailed eyelids. He opened one up and was rewarded with seeing the fine workmanship of the eye itself. He touched the jaw and it moved easily. "Hello kitty," he said softly.

Under a thick layer of dust the metal head was in superb shape. Ears pivoted and moved about exactly like a real feline's would. The lips were made of joints so small that Carlisle needed a magnifying glass to see them. This would allow the automaton to snarl and curl its lips like its flesh and blood counterparts. Turning the head over he examined the neck and found the expected array of gears, levers, rods and the point where it was connected to the spine. He also found something unexpected. Carefully glued to the inside of the skin was a small piece of paper with writing on it. Carlisle leaned close and examined the paper.

"Her name is Salona," the paper simply read. "Please take good care of her."

"That's all?" Carlisle asked.

"Sounds like a mother talking about her child," Idette said softly.

Carlisle gently patted the head. "No worry about that whoever you were. We'll take good care of her."

Carlisle stood looking at the room in front of him. Each and every rediscovered part had been meticulously inspected and cleaned. Then it had been labeled and placed alongside other similar parts. Now arraigned neatly on the tables and benches of the workshop were all the parts of the automaton. All 75,253 of them.

"Now comes the fun part!" Joeline said sarcastically.

The mage shot her a cold glance.

The trip from Metamor to Marigund had been long but in many ways it wasn't long enough. It gave Misha too much time to think about his family and what lay ahead. The only member of his family he had talked to in five years had been his sister Elizabeth. He wondered how would his family react? Time and distance can strain and break up a family. Worse still were unresolved differences. Why hadn't they contacted Misha? They knew where he was. Why hadn't HE contacted them? A thousand different excuses ran through his mind. Once they had seemed important but now felt trivial. But still the fear and pain were there.

Carlisle waited nervously in the main courtyard of the Mages hall. After months of knowing nothing of Misha but letters and packages he was finally going to meet the automaton mage.

"I see them!" Idette announced and pointed upward.

He recognized the massive creature flying high overhead. The massive wings and unusual head was instantly recognizable as Sofia the dinosaur messenger from Metamor. Slowly the massive flyer circled the Menomenta Gul, getting lower and lower with each loop. Finally she landed deftly on the stone pavement a short distance in from of the mage.

After a moment two figures climbed down from the reptile. Even bundled up in a heavy jacket one was obviously a red fox, there was no doubting that with his long bushy tail. Misha took off his jacket revealing that he was dressed in full armor. His famous axe was nowhere to be seen but it was undoubtedly close at hand. The second was smaller, and leaner and just as well bundled up. She took off her heavy jacket revealing a person in a blue dress that seemed to be equal parts woman and otter. From her belt dangled a sword in a sheath and from the saddle the otter woman pulled a long bow and quiver full of arrows.

The reception committee came forward as a group of servants rushed up and helped the new arrivals and quickly started removing packages and two large traveling trunks from the saddle.

"Welcome to Menomenta Gul!" Carlisle said cheerfully and hugged Misha.

"Thank you," the fox morph said. "It's good to be here." He pointed Caroline standing next to him. "This is Caroline Hardy, my betrothed."

Carlisle bowed deeply. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you fine lady."

Caroline gave a deep curtsy to the Marigund mage. "Thank you for inviting us here."

The mage turned and pointed to Gina who. "This is Gina my wife who is head of the Animalia dept and a far more powerful mage then me."

The woman blushed. "My husband exaggerates." She looked at Caroline and Misha. "It's a pleasure to meet you both."

He patted Idette on the shoulder. "This is my assistant and second in command of the Automata department Idette Wolmar."

Misha wagged his tail. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you. I read your paper on the Dragon wars. Very interesting reading." He pointed to the large trunk that had been unloaded from Sofia. "I've brought you all a few items."

Carlisle turned to Sofia who had shifted into her smaller and more human like form. "It's good to see you again Sofia. You will all be our guests for tonight."

"Pardon me for asking," Gina said to Caroline. "You're a northern mountain otter. Correct?"

Caroline nodded in response. "Yes."

Gina smiled. "My daughter Aithne loves otters."

Misha wrapped an arm around Caroline and licked her on the muzzle. "So do I!"

Caroline returned the hug and nuzzled him. "Foxes are nice too." They hugged for a moment before parting.

"How is Salona?" Misha asked. "How far have you proceeded with the assembly?"

"Done!" Carlisle announced proudly.

"You're done?" Caroline asked in an amazed tone.

"You finished assembling it?" Misha asked, surprised.

"Yes," Carlisle answered. "It went together remarkably fast. The parts were numbered. That made it easier."

Misha shook his head. "Good people made it easy."

Carlisle smiled. "Thank you Misha. Let me show you the workshop!"

"Misha!" Someone called out. Misha and Caroline turned to see a small group of people heading towards them.

In the center of the group was a tall woman whose long, brown hair fell loosely to her shoulders. The red dress she was wearing had white and gold flowers all over it.

Walking beside Elizabeth was man dressed in a tunic and pants that matched his wife's dress in color but without the flowers. He was some six feet tall and towered over the crowd.

Misha brightened immediately as his tail wagged happily. "Liz! Verner!"

Misha hugged Elizabeth and his brother in law.

"Welcome home!" Verner said sincerely and hugged him.

Thank you!" Misha said softly. "It's good to be here." He pointed to Caroline. "And this is Caroline, my beloved."

The man bowed to Caroline. "It's a pleasure to meet you!"

Elizabeth wrapped her arms around Caroline and hugged her tightly. "Hello and welcome! I'm sorry we missed your arrival."

"No problem," Misha answered. "We arrived sooner than expected. And I'm glad you got my message."

Verner pointed to the two young women standing with them. "And these are Heather and Brianna, our daughters."

Brianna Lumas was only slighter shorter then her parents and had long, dark brown hair that framed a bright and smiling face. her green eyes seemed to miss nothing as she looked at her legendary uncle. Her body was stocky and had an edge of muscle and refinement that told of her exercising and working out.

Heather was taller and slimmer then her older sister. She had hair that was a dark blonde in color that was tide back in a pony tail. Her blue dress and gold filigree along the edges. On her right shoulder was the gold, interwoven rings symbol of a Mages Guild member.

"Where will you be staying?" Verner asked.

"The guild has an apartment for us," Misha responded.

"You're always welcome at the mansion," Elizabeth said.

"I know," Misha said slowly. "But not now. Not yet."

Verner nodded. "I can understand that. But don't forget."

"I know but . . " he hesitated. "I . . . need time."

"And this is Sydney," Carlisle said. Resting on a bench in one corner was the metal lion. The creature had been polished and glistened in the lion.

"A fine looking automaton," Misha said as he ran his hands along the metal felines spine. "But I don't see many spells on it."

"There aren't many," Carlisle explained. "When we first received it there were only a few simple spells on it. Mostly for preservation and strengthening the skeletal structure."

"Perhaps I could add a few runes of strength and protection," Misha said. "And a few to improve animation and movement."

"I have considered that but we have been concentrating on the older feline," Carlisle said. Carlisle took the small group to a door deeply recessed into one wall of the workshop. The door was made of one piece of steel. The man placed his hand in the center of the door and after a moment there was a soft click. Slowly and silently the door swung open. "We have Salona stored in here. This room is as secure a place as we have here. The walls are 4 feet thick and reinforced with wards and alarms. The only place more secure is the Vault itself."

"Have you had anyone attempt to steal her?" Caroline asked as she followed the two through the door.

"Not yet," Carlisle answered.

The room beyond the door was brightly lit illuminating a large workbench in the center. Resting on the table was a metallic figure. The body was robust and muscular like a bear's but compact, condensed... strength distilled and refined into precisely calibrated power. The hind legs were proportionally shorter than the front legs and the spine sloped down towards the short, lynx like tail. This cat was not a fast runner but the muscular body and legs spoke of immense power. A thick, muscular neck connected the head to the body. Foot long front teeth protruded downward from a short muzzle. From the bottom of her paws to the top of her head Salona stood over four feet tall. and was over eight feet long from nose to tail. the spotted pattern on her skin reminded Misha of the rosette shaped ones on a panther. But these spots were of silver and electrum on a skin made of brass, bronze and gold. The long teeth like great curving daggers, sharp as winter's bite. Above them were whiskers of bronze so finely crafted that, even in slumber, they gently swayed with a passing breeze. The entire metal creature had been cleaned and polished and glistened in the light. The only sign of wear was a slight pitting and scratching on the teeth and a few dents on the right shoulder.

Caroline pointed to the left side of the metal feline. The metal skin there had been covered by a finely painted mountain landscape. Tall mountains covered with glistening snow dominated a valley filled with lush, rolling meadows. Wild flowers covered the valley with a riot of colors. "Beautiful painting."

"It's the Flower valley in the Sylvan mountains," Idette said.

"It was on that section when we found it," Carlisle explained. "It was such a fine work of art that we left it on. As to who painted it; we don't know."

"I think it's perfect," Caroline said softly. "It adds character."

"Be careful," Idette said. "Spells . . . "

A wave of a black furred hand silenced the woman. "I understand!"

He walked up to the motionless metal Smilodon. "Good lord!" Misha muttered. "This is magnificent!" he whispered. The vulpine gently placed a hand on the flank of the creature. Blue and gold sparks danced along his arm. He shook his arm and the sparks vanished. "Did you cast this protection spell?"

"No," Carlisle answered. "It activated the moment the body was completed."

"You didn't have to activate the spell?" Misha asked.

"No, it automatically activated itself."

"That's good!" the fox said with a wag of the tail. "It means the rest of the spells are probably intact. Remind me to give you the spell to counter the protection. It was not meant to stop an automicant just keep away everyone but one."

"We thought as much as the jolt it delivered was rather mild but we were cautious about testing it any further," Carlisle said.

"A wise move around unknown magic," Misha commented. "Especially Automata magic."

"Also we believe there are more potent defenses remaining undiscovered," the mage added.

"That's a certainty." Misha slowly stroked the massive metal head. "I don't see any magic but that's normal. Madog literally radiates no magic at all on the outside."

"The inside is covered with runes, symbols and wards," Carlisle said. "They were all dormant but I doubt they stayed that way."

"Let's get a look inside," Misha said. "And find out."

Carlisle handed the fox a screwdriver with a very tiny blade. "This will work on all the skin sections."

Misha took the tool. "They all use the same attachment methods?"

The mage nodded in response. "Yes but the more vulnerable sections are also held with very fine type of rivet."

Misha picked one of the larger skin sections located over the stomach and examined it closely. It was actually 35 smaller pieces held together in a very fine interwoven mesh.

From a pocket on his vest the fox took a small bottle and a paintbrush. "Put out your right hand please."

Carlisle and Idette both extended their hands simultaneously.

With fast, deft and precise strokes Misha painted a series of complex symbols on the back of the man's hand. "The paint is special and part of the spell. Well, It's not exactly a spell." The fox paused a moment. "It's more like a permission slip," he explained as he painted the same symbols on the woman's hand. "It leaves the protection spells intact but tells them to leave you alone."

Idette examined the symbols on her hand. They were a complex series of interwoven lines. The fox had painted them in mere moments and yet they looked as precise as if they had been stamped there. "But be careful its only a basic permission and I'm not certain of exactly what it works on."

"Thank you," Carlisle said. "There are higher level permissions?"

"Oh yes but let's start with this one," Misha said. "Each of the more sensitive parts has its own such protection."

"How long will this last?" Idette asked.

"Several hours. Less if the paint is rubbed off. So be careful."

An hour of careful work got the section of skin loose. Misha gently pulled the piece of skin free and turned it over.

Everyone in the group let out a gasp of surprise as they could see the powerful magic that radiated from the piece. A quick look inside the automaton showed everything covered with magic. Misha could see a score of different primary spells and hundreds of smaller ones all working at full strength.

"This is new," Carlisle said. "None of these spells were active before. We suspected that some spells were dormant but not so many."

"Very impressive!" Misha said. "I recognize many of the spells and wards but some are unique" The fox peered closely at the interior examining the complex gears and mechanisms. He was amazed by the sheer complexity of it all and the fine shape it was in. "Nicely done," Misha said and shook both Carlisle's, Idette and Alton's hands.. "Congratulations to all of you Automicants."

"Nice place," Madog said as a way of announcing his arrival. "Reminds me of home."

Misha waved a hand at Madog. "And this is Madog. The oldest, active automaton in the world."

"Oldest known," Madog muttered. Then he looked up at Carlisle. "HI!" he said in a loud and cheerful voice. "Uncle kitty! What big teeth you used to have."

Carlisle smiled. "It's a pleasure to meet you Madog. I've heard so much about you."

"Believe only half of what you see and nothing of what you hear!" The metal fox announced solemnly.

"Does he ever say anything clearly and to the point?" Idette asked.

"No," Caroline answered flatly.

Madog walked up to Joeline and bowed to her. "Greetings Joeline Oshalu Anrula."

The girl looked at Madog for a moment, confused. "Anrula?"

"He's being friendly," Caroline explained. "I've no idea what Anrula means but it's not an insult."

She smiled. "Hello Madog! My name's Joeline Oshalu."

"Young lady, small mage, big lady, big mage!" Madog said cryptically.

"Ah, " the woman stuttered. "Thanks. I think."

"So that is his famous cryptic speaking?" Carlisle asked.

"Oh yes," Misha answered. "You'll get used to it with time."

"PRETTY KITTY!" Madog announced loudly and everyone turned to the automaton. Slowly and silently Madog walked across the workshop. Misha stood a step behind and watched what the metal fox did as he approached the bench.

Madog looked at the metal feline as she rested there. There was a long moment of silence and Madog was as still as the feline in front of him. "Cousin here but not here. The lights are on but nobody's home!"

"What's that mean?" Caroline asked.

"Her heart not here," Madog explained.

"An important piece is the heart," Misha explained. "At least I call it that. It 's what truly controls the automation. There is one last part that you cannot mention to any others. It is called the Culua. It's the vessel that houses the soul of the automaton."

"It houses a real soul?" Idette asked.

"A soul or spirit of some kind," Misha explained.

Carlisle nodded. "Of course. the use of a soul or spirit is the necessary evil of automatons. What does it look like?"

The fox morph shrugged. "I'm not sure. Each is unique but it will be very finely made and possessing extremely powerful magic. But most clearly is that it possesses a soul."

"We'll need divine magic for that," Carlisle commented. "That will have to be handled delicately. Trafficking in imprisoned souls in any way is still punishable by death."

"That is one reason automaton magic went extinct," Misha said.

Carlisle nodded his head slowly. "I have already been strongly warned by the Followers and Rebuilders about that. The cardinal actually sent a personal letter."


"Oh yes, guild Master Demarest was most unhappy," the mage commented.

"Demarest is always unhappy," Misha shot back.

"So where is the Culua?" Idette asked.

"You have it," Madog said cheerfully. "You don't know it. You know where it is but you not know where is."

"What?" Idette asked, confused. "That makes no sense."

"It does make sense," Misha answered. "To him. Remember that Madog isn't human. He thinks along unusual lines."

"And he likes causing confusion," Caroline muttered. "He's good at it!"

Idette scratched her chin a moment. "So. You have it. You don't know it means the guild does have the Culua but it's unrecognized."

"CORRECT! Absolutely correct," Madog said loudly. "Remember, not all questions are meant to be answered. Nor should they be."

"What?" Carlisle asked. "What does that mean?"

Caroline shook her head. "Don't even bother to ask him. His answer will only confuse you even more."

"You know where it is but you not know where is," Idette said. "What does that mean?"

"What do you think it means?" Madog asked earnestly.

"What?" Idette asked and looked at Madog very confused.

Madog started to talk but Misha wrapped his fingers around the metal fox's muzzle silencing him for a moment. "I think you've helped her enough Madog."

"All rightie!" Madog said cheerfully. "I'll check up on you later!" Then Madog turned and walked away.

"Translation," Misha said. "He's done answering questions but you might get more later."

"I think I have located the Culua," Cecelia said slowly.

"You do? Where is it now?" Carlisle asked.

"The single most heavily protected and hard to reach place in the entire guild; the Vault," she said.

"What makes you think that?"

"Madog said 'You know where it is but you not know where is. That makes sense if you reword it a little. You know the Culua's location but you don't know where that location is," Cecelia explained. "He also said we have it but don't know it. And where does the Guild put powerful but unknown items? The Vault."

Carlisle nodded in agreement. "That makes sense. "We know the Culua is in the vault but we don't know where the vault is. No one does except the guild master and a few others."

"What's the vault?" Caroline asked.

"It's where the guild stores anything unknown, dangerous or too powerful to be left laying around," Misha explained.

"Not everything unknown goes there," Cecelia added. "Just the ones that are deadly or cannot be controlled."

The group made a fast visit to Cecelia's office and the woman pulled a large ledger out of a locked cabinet. "This is a list of all unknown items in the vault."

A search of the restricted ledger soon located the entry they wanted. "Item 337. Gold, silver, brass, bronze item shaped like a heart. Weight 4 pounds. Possessing level 24 magic and deadly to the touch. Believed to contain a spirit but unable to confirm due to the potent and deadly defenses. Purpose unknown. Date of placement 11-11.405."

"That's it," Misha said firmly.

"CORRECT!" shouted Madog. The metal fox appeared suddenly in front of them and danced about in circles.

"Does he do that often?" Carlisle asked.

"All the time," Misha said.

It was midmorning when the Guild Master Demarest arrived at workshop of the Automata department. He wasted no time with greetings and walked straight up to Carlisle.

Carlisle bowed deeply. "Master Demarest! It's a pleasure to see you."

"Show me this new project," Master Demarest ordered coldly.

"This way please Guild Master," Carlisle replied.

"Where are we going?" Caroline asked as they walked through the maze of city streets.

"You'll see," he said mysteriously.

The buildings suddenly stopped and the street opened up into a long, wide park. In front of her were a pair of massive stones. Each of the two standing columns were at least 25 feet tall, five feet wide and weighed at least twenty tons. She looked to the right and left and saw similar arches marching off in both directions as far as the eye could see.

"What are they?" Caroline asked. "They remind me of the Gray column back in Metamor Valley."

"They do look like it," Misha responded.

She walked up to one of the standing stones. "Who made them?" the massive column loomed up over her like a storm cloud threatening rain. The stone was gray and showed little weathering in spite of its obvious age. She noticed that the column closest to her had symbols carved into it. Caroline didn't recognized the but they looked vaguely like musical notes.

Her fiancÚ shrugged. "No one is exactly sure but probably the elves. Touch one of the symbols. They're safe."

She gave him a puzzled look and placed her hand on one of the symbols. There was a loud chime like the ringing of a bell. Caroline jerked her hands backed in surprise. "What?"

Misha gave a yip of laughter as his tail wagged back and forth. "This column is named Linduinal. Which means musician."

Caroline touched the column again this time on a different symbol, one below where she had first touched. She was rewarded with another chime but this time deeper then the last one. She laughed out loud with delight.

"The tone changes depending on where you touch it."

She spent some time producing sounds from the stone. "Why were they created?" Caroline asked as she made more music.

"No idea," was her lover's reply. "If you ask people that you'll probably get ten different answers. They're called "Celile al Laniun. Which translates as Husband and Wife," Misha explained.

After a few moments of exploration Caroline understood the symbols and the soft tones of a song wafted up through the air. The simple notes from the stone and the musician rang loudly in the park. People stopped and turned to the source and soon a crowd had gathered round.

Caroline saw none of the crowd. All her attention was focused on the pillar and her music. She moved with an increasing confidence as her hands found the right places almost without her guidance. The notes danced and lilted through the air and people found themselves leaning closer to catch each note.

Those listening tried to indentify the music but none could agree on exactly what it was. Some claimed it was something they fondly remembered from childhood, yet others claimed it was Elvish or Seuilman. Several people closed their eyes so they could concentrate solely on the wonderful sound. Others had pulled out paper and pen and were frantically trying to copy down each note. One young woman held up a small rectangle of brass and wood. The magic in the item was diligently recording every note for posterity.

The last notes seemed to linger in the air for a long time after Caroline had removed her hands from the stone.

There was several moments of pure silence before people started to clap. For the first time Caroline realized they were not alone. She looked around with her eyes wide. There was at least two hundred people watch and cheering. "Wow!"

The room was quiet as the Guild master examined the automaton. He kept a respectful distance from Salona as he slowly walked around the metal feline. Demarest would pause occasionally to examine some detail before moving on. Always he kept his distance.

"An astounding piece of art," Demarest said in an awed tone. "I've heard legends of automatons but I never expected to actually see one." He turned to the silently waiting group with a bright smile. "Does it work?"

"Yes and no," Carlisle admitted. "Physically and magically everything is in perfect working order. What's missing is the controller."

The guild masters smile vanished, replaced by a scowl. "The soul that should be inside is missing."

"Correct," Carl answered. "The soul is most likely in a specially made container called a Culua. We believe we have located it in The Vault."

"Are you certain that this culua is in the Vault?" Demarest asked.

"She sleep in forest!" Madog said in way of announcing his arrival.

The guild master stiffened and the color drained from his face. "How does he know that?"

"Madog knows a lot more than he ever explains," Carlisle said.

"This is very serious," Demarest snarled. "The location of the Vault is the most dangerous of secrets."

"You mean the vault is in a forest?" Joeline asked. "It's in Tol Doron."

"HUSH girl," Carlisle snapped. "Don't mention that to anyone. People have killed trying to locate the vault."

"Yes sir," the girl answered sullenly.

"Seriously," Demarest explained. "If any others suspected that you knew the location of the vault they would hunt down you and your family to extract that information."

"Why? It's a big forest."

"Not big enough," Carlisle added.

"And what of him?" the master said pointing to Madog.

The metal fox was nibbling on a large steel bar. "I know. You know. She need to know. No one else know. We keep secret."

"I will call a meeting of a Divinity dept for tomorrow morning," the guild master said. "They will in turn talk to their individual faiths."

"Do we need to actually tell them about the Culua?" Joeline asked. "That's sure to start a really wild fight. Lots of screaming, yelling and death threats. No one needs that."

"It is hard to hide a half ton metal cat forever," Carlisle commented.

"Your department has been less than secretive in this," the guild master said coldly. "The entire city knows of it."

"That was a decision I made. We needed to widen our search," Carlisle explained. "Some pieces were recovered from off guild property."

"One thousand, two hundred, thirty five," Idette added. "Including one part from a Predecessor synagogue, one from a Rebuilder church, another from a Follower church and the last from a Lightbringer Temple."

Demarest looked surprised at that statement. "How many parts are there in total?"

"Seventy five thousand, two hundred, fifty three," Carlisle answered.

"I knew the project was complex but I did not realize it was that involved," the guild master commented. "The original crafting must have been immensely complex."

"At least ten years," Carlisle commented. "I have not tried to calculate the cost."

"Any idea who crafted it?" Demarest asked.

Carlisle shook his head. "We have found several marks and emblems but nothing recognizable. We are awaiting a more detailed examination by Misha."

"Where is Misha?" the Guild master asked. "He should be here."

"Visiting family," was Carlisle's response. "Misha is preoccupied with family issues."

"I see," Demarest said slowly. "We all have our own issues to deal with and this automaton is ours. Not his."

"Welcome to the Marigund market," Misha said as he waved his hands about. The two were standing in the middle of the street in the midst of chaos. The street was lined with warehouses and stores that were all open with people buying and selling. The streets were lined carts and wagons, all piled high with things. Everywhere she looked Caroline saw people talking, trading and bargaining.

"What can you buy here?" she asked.

"A better question is what can't you buy here? If you can't buy it in Marigund; you can't buy it anywhere. All trade going to or from the Outer Midlands must pass through Marigund," Misha explained. "And the city rests at the point where no less four major roads come together. Trade has always been a major factor here. Probably always will be."

"And I thought the market in Euper was crowded," Caroline joked. "Does this place ever quiet down?"

"It's midday in the middle of the week," Misha explained. "And the busiest part of the trading week. Things do calm down at night but no, it never actually shuts down."

They walked through the crowd ignoring the hawkers and sellers all vying to sell them something. None of them seemed to care that that their buyers didn't look human. What mattered was they were well dressed and obviously had lots of money to spend.

They turned down a side street which quickly became narrower as the buildings crowded closer together.

"Where are we headed?" Caroline asked.

"To see a true master craftsman," Misha answered. "And to show you a little mystery."

After several minutes of walking the two came to a halt in front of a tall, half timbered building. The beams were painted black and the walls in between painted a dark blue. The sign over the door read "Sir Thomas Hodkin, Royal Bowyer," in gold letters on a dark blue background.

Standing at the door was a tall, heavily muscled man wearing full, chainmail armor and holding a large bow. On his back was a quiver with a score of arrows in it. "I'm sorry by Sir Hodkin is not seeing visitors today," the tall guard announced solemnly.

"I have a gift for him," Misha took the bundle and slowly unwrapped one end revealing a wooden bow that was covered with painted and carved decorations. Caroline recognized it as a Lutin made bow. She was sure all the carvings and decorations identified which tribe had made it but Caroline couldn't tell without a closer inspection.

The man took one look at the bow and his eyes went wide with amazement. "Step this way please!" The man said and ushered them through the door.

Inside she found a workshop alive with people working at a score of different jobs. Most were sitting at workbenches carving and sanding long, thin pieces of wood. Someday those pieces would be powerful long bows. In the back she saw three man carefully shifting about more wood carefully sorted and stored on racks and shelves. All of the work stopped for a moment as the workers stared at the new arrivals. An older man with brown hair now graying tapped on a workbench with a large file and all the people got back to work. Even so she saw many of the people casting furtive glances at her and Misha.

All of that was lost on Misha who walked to the far wall where a selection of bows hung on display. He pointed to a bow that was mounted just above eye level. The otter stepped closer. Caroline was no expert on longbows but her family had been in the valley for centuries. That meant she knew a lot about the Lutins whether she wanted to or not. The bow he was pointing to was a little over five feet long and was made of several different types of wood and other materials bonded together. It was, like all things Lutin highly decorated. All the exposed surfaces were either carved, painted or both. Various tufts of fur, feathers and unrecognizable bits hung from it. But for all the decorations the weapon looked strong and well made. This was no decoration but a real killing weapon.

"Is that a Lutin bow?" Caroline asked.

"It is and what can you tell me about it Carol?" Misha asked playfully. "Who made it?"

"You're the Lutin expert my love," she said and wrapped an arm around him. "But I see wolves all over the bow." She gently touched one of the tufts of gray fur tied to the end. "And that is wolf fur. This is a Wolf rider bow!" She turned and looked at Misha. "A Wolf Rider bow here in Marigund? How?"

"It's been here since my ancestor killed the Lutin who was wielding it in 228CR," a voice said.

Both Keepers turned to the voice and Caroline recognized the man who had tapped on the bench earlier. Up close she could see he was wearing an apron of expensive leather. His brown hair was graying with age but his face was bright and energetic. He smiled broadly.

"Sir Thomas Hodkin," Misha said and bowed deeply. "It's a pleasure to meet you! My name is Sir Misha Brightleaf." He patted Carol on the hand. "This is Lady Caroline Hardy. My FiancÚ."

"Misha Brightleaf?" Hodkin asked. "I thought that you were dead."

"Rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated," Misha responded.

"You're from that keep up north by the Giantdowns?" the bowyer asked as he pointed off to the west. "The one with all the silly looking people."

Misha laughed. "I've been described many ways including ugly and an abomination but never silly."

The man laughed. "I've been creating bows for kings, nobles and wizards. Those are some truly strange people. A little fur is nothing. And besides, you brought me a gift?"

"I thought it would make a nice addition to the one you have." Misha explained. He reached into the quiver on his hip and pulled out a dozen arrows. All the projectiles were as richly decorated as the two Lutin bows. "And some matching arrows. Both from the Wolf Rider tribe."

Thomas took the arrows that Misha offered and examined them. Then he looked at the bow Misha had brought and examined that with the careful eye of a skilled bowyer. "The core is a wood I don't recognize."

"It's Althan wood," Caroline explained. "It only grows in the Giantdowns. At least I've never seen it anywhere else."

Thomas looked at the otter for a moment and nodded. "I would like to get some of this wood to try it out." He returned to examining the bow. "I also see horn, sinew, leather, and antler. Please tell me that leather and bone isn't human."

"It's not human," Misha answered. "But I don't know what it's from. It might be from any of a thousand different animals. The Lutins have their faults but they always respect the dead."

"Never mind the Lutins and their composite bows. Mine are made from the finest yew wood," the bowyer commented with pride. "For over two hundred years a Hodkin bow has served the royal family. Can you afford my workmanship?" the bowyer asked.

Misha nodded slowly. "What if I can give you two hundred board feet of Althan wood in exchange for a bow for Caroline and myself?"

The man smiled broadly. "You're a Brightleaf all right. Make that three hundred and you have a deal." He extended a hand.

Misha grasped the man's hand in a firm shake. "Deal."

Page 212

The lutin shook his head sadly. "Human just curse Turlo, call him filth and vermin. He jump onto battlement. 'I die rather than surrender to you'. Then human lord jump off into open air."

There was much cheering at that point and the party broke up into loud raucous singing long into the night. Finally near dawn the group slowly made it's way off, singing as they went.

A long time after the last lutin had departed a figure stirred from the cover of a ruined wall. Misha stepped into the clearing and motioned for the rest. Soon Kershaw, Finbar Danielle, and Meredith joined him.

"Why didn't you give the order to attack?" Meredith signed with his hands.

The fox shrugged. "Didn't feel right. Besides I didn't have the heart to interrupt the story."

The bear laughed out loud. "They'll be other chances to kill lutins. Besides it was a great story."


Authors notes: Of all the tales recounted in this book of mine this one provokes the most comments. Many people refuse to belief the events really happened as described by the Chief. I have to admit that I had my own doubt as to the events. But after long research and correspondence I found to my astonishment that everything was true!!

My attempts to contact the Borrelli family met with a stone cold silence. All I can guess is that they are too embarrassed to talk about him. I don't blame them, all surviving accounts of Marcel Borrelli's stay at the keep do not describe him in the warmest of terms. "Arrogant twit, was the most polite term I found describing him."

With that avenue of information closed I was left to my own devices. I did have one good clue for setting the time - Chief Turlo. A particularly smart and imaginative lutin Turlo held sway over a large empire for almost two decades. A record considering the cut throat nature of Lutin politics. He died in 602CR when he was poisoned. That gave me a timeframe to work with. Careful study of Metamor's vast library soon turned up records of the Lords arrival and departure. I then found a roster some diligent clerk had made up of everyone in the Dukes entourage. He arrived in the early spring of 593 CR with fifty knights and squires, and two hundred infantry (described as being of dubious abilities). Also with him were five hundred and twenty one people described as peasants, farmers and hangers-on. Each one had been dutifully listed along with their sex, age and occupation. Scanning the list I found a name I wasn't looking for - my own!

It seems that my great grandfather (for who I am named) was in the Lord Marcel Borrelli's service. Alas I know very little of that part of my illustrious ancestor's life. What is know is that he spent several years at Metamor Keep. When he returned to his homeland he was wealthy and a well respected noble with a large entourage. It makes me wonder what happened when he was at Metamor. The only clue we have is an offhand remark he made to a friend during a drinking bout. When asked how he gained his good fortune he answered, "By blind arrogance and stupidity."

A strange answer indeed, even for him. He never explained the remark or if he did it's long since lost to time. All I can guess is the arrogance and stupidity was on Borrelli's part and that he distinguished himself in Lord Borrelli's service somehow. I do know that he was knighted by the Duke of Metamor for great service and valor.

Alas all of that is sheer speculation and will remain such as no other accounts of Lord Fool's death have survived aside from the tale I have just told. All that is left is the crumbling remains of a once fine castle. A fitting monument to one man's arrogance and foolishness.

Misha Brightleaf

Knight of the order of Axe and Bow

William Borrelli closed the book with a snap so loud that the dog in his sisters lap yelped in surprise and ran from the room. The man flung the hated tome across the room and into a wall. "LORD FOOL INDEED!" he shouted to the book. "How dare he dishonor the memory of such a fine and noble man."

He was of middling height but with a build that spoke of a lifestyle of moderate exercise. He light brown hair framed a face with sea green eyes. A scar along his right arm told of combat service sometime in the recent past.

Amelia Borrelli looked up from her sewing, she was used to such outbursts from her brother. She was taller than him and had black hair and gray eyes that she had inherited from her father. "Brother it's just a story. No one will believe it."

"Yes they will! Lord Baintree told me of it. The prince himself gave him the book."

She replied without hesitating. "Find this Misha Brightleaf, and make him apologize. Honor has to be satisfied."

"Are you ready?" Idette asked.

"I am," Carlisle responded. Again there was a small crowd in a workshop that held an automaton and a bed. This time Salona was the center of attention. Carlisle lay down on the bed and settled himself into a comfortable position.

When he was ready the mage activated the spell and he felt his mind move from his body and go towards the metal sabercat. Just short of the body he was stopped by what to his mind looked like a wall of blue light. He examined it for a moment looking for a weakness. He didn't see any. Finally He gathered his mental strength and move forward. The mage came into contact with the barrier and pushed against it. He heard a loud snarl and a huge face formed and rushed straight at his throat.

Carlisle screamed loudly as he suddenly found himself back in his body. He tumbled from the bed and fell to the floor as fur raced up his arm. Hands became paws as his mouth pushed out into a muzzle. Foot long saber like teeth pushed down and out from his upper jaw.

The new feline stumbled around for a moment before his mind remembered this form from the last time. Slowly the confusion dissipated and he regained control. Carlisle walked around in a circle feeling the powerful muscles of his now feline body. He looked at his powerful, stocky body with its short legs and spotted fur. The foot long teeth in his muzzle told him exactly what he had become.

"I wanted to control a saber cat body," Carlisle said. "But I wasn't expecting it to be my own."

Idette looked at the new feline in front of her. "I knew there would be defenses but I never expected this."

The sabertooth looked at his altered body. "Very unusual."

"You look to be a healthy, adult, male Sabercat," Idette said as she walked around Carlisle. "Can you change back?"

"Eventually," the feline answered. "Can someone call my wife. I'm going to need her help on this."

It was the type of religious structure common in Marigund. The tall stone walls and thick doors were plain and devoid of the decorations usually found on such places of devotion. The interior was as ornate and bright as the exterior had been drab and dark. Large stained glass windows threw a riotous kaleidoscope of colors over everything.

"It hasn't changed in all these years," Misha said as they walked up the aisle. "It looks the same as when I was here as a child." There was a warm, soft tone to his voice that told of pleasant memories. "We used to come here every Sunday for services."

Misha pointed to a corner of the church. "George says it's over there."

"I thought your family had their own chapel? Caroline asked as they walked up along.

"We do but that's out in the country," he explained. "Here in the city we use this place. I remember thinking the services were so boring."

In a moment the two reached what they were after. Caroline had to admit to herself that it was a very fine tomb. It was tucked into the back corner of the church, near a side altar and had a full length effigy of its occupant laying on top of the slab. The dark, gray, stone figure was of a knight in full armor, complete with helmet, sword and spurs. "Herein lies Misha Brightleaf, brave soldier who died defending us all. 673 - 699," carved on the edge of the slab. A grand place to be interred for eternity. When Misha had said that his family had killed him off she never truly understood that until just now. Standing there looking at the tomb of a person who was still alive and well confused her. Made her angry. Unwilling to admit, even to themselves that their son had become some sort of furry monster they had declared him dead.

Misha just stood there staring at the tomb his whole body shaking. She reached out and lightly touched him on the arm. He jumped and when he looked at her it was with eyes clouded with tears of pain and anger.

Without a word she wrapped her arms around him. He pressed his head into her arms and cried.

Three days later

Gina raced down the corridor. She moved with the speed and grace of the cheetah she had become. Usually the mage used her human form but the message from her husband had told her to come instantly.

The cheetah came upon her husband standing in front of a door. She slowed down to a trot and finally came to a halt. With a thought she shifted her form and the body of the cheetah flowed smoothly into that of a woman.

Carlisle hugged his wife. "Thank you for coming so fast."

"Are you all right?" Gina asked as she examined her husband, looking for anything different or new - like a tail. "What happened?"

"I'm fine," the man explained. "We were again attempting to control Salona and ran afoul of its defenses. Thankfully it wasn't fatal."

"You don't have a tail and you're not covered in fur," his wife said. "So it wasn't you."

"It was Idette this time," Carlisle explained. He pointed to the door behind him. "She's in there."

"What happened? Did she change?"'

"Yes, at least partly. It's best to let her show you."

Gina opened to door and stepped inside. In the center of the room was Idette. She did not speak but simply turned her head to the new arrival and nodded.

Gina took a deep breath and smiled. "The attempt to control the body did not go as expected?"

"No, it did not," Idette said in clipped tones.

"What happened?" Gina asked. "My husband said you needed my help."

Idette took hold of her dress and lifted the hem about a foot. It revealed a pair of feline paws attached to tawny colored feline legs. The tip of a long, distinctly feline tail popped from under the dress.

"How far up does it extend?" Gina asked as she stepped closer.

"To just below my breasts," Idette answered. She pulled the dress off revealing legs and a torso that was completely feline down to the row of nipples on her stomach.

"Salona did this?" the woman asked.

"The defense spells on the metal feline did this," Idette explained.

Gina ran her hand gently along the altered woman's torso. "The spell used is unusually powerful but relatively simple. It will take some time to unravel."

"What I find interesting is that with all the power in Salona's body this is all the spells did to me," Idette commented.

"That's all?" Gina asked. "I assumed this was a side effect of one of the more mild spells."

Idette shook her head. "No. The mages who created the automaton seemed to have been a lot more forgiving than I expected."

Gina ran her hands along some markings in the fur on Idette's back. "Have you learned anything about them?"

"Little, a few symbols that could be heraldry is about all we have discovered."

"I can tell you that they liked extinct species and knew them well," Gina commented. "My husband was changed into an saber cat. An extinct species of cat and you were also changed into an extinct species of feline."

"Which one?" The part feline woman asked. "I don't recognize it."

"It's a Cave lion and as extinct as the saber cat is," Gina walked around the other female closely examining her body intently.

Idette scowled and gently pushed Gina back. "Can you change me back without such a detailed examination?"

"My apologies," the animal mage responded. "This is exciting. I've never seen a complete cave lion before. There's only a partial skeleton in Isenport. Not enough for a complete recreation."

"I am only part cave lion," Idette commented.

Gina smiled. "Of course but it's the part that hasn't survived on the skeleton! This is the first time I've seen cave lion bones with flesh on them."

"It's my flesh and I'd prefer that all of it be human again."

"Would you mind if I took some samples of fur and skin?" Gina asked. "I could use them to learn so much! I could even use it to take the form myself later on!"

"You have my permission," Idette said solemnly. "So long as I get my human form back."

"This is so exciting!" Gina said. "We can start a breeding program and recreate the whole species!"

"Not with me!" Idette snarled.

"Of course not!" Idette snapped. "Why do you think we would make you breed with a normal animal? You've been listening to too many of those wild tales about the people at Metamor Keep."

"Can Keepers breed with normal animals?" Idette asked.

"No," Gina answered in an irritated tone.

"How do you know?" The half feline mage questioned.

"I asked them," was the simple answer. "I never expected a fellow mage to ask me about that."

"Why not? I'm curious. Have many people asked?"

"We get that question at least once a day," Gina responded. "More when that fool Guthrey is in town."

Idette wrinkled her nose in disgust revealing a set of large, distinctly feline teeth. "I hadn't realized he was still giving his 'evil Demons of Metamor' rants."

"Still and always," the Animalia mage answered. "And many people are listening to him."

"We have enough trouble here in Marigund without him cause more."


"Misha, you can't ignore them forever," Caroline countered as they again stood in front of the false tomb.

"Why not? They've been ignoring me for over seven years," he responded in a pained tone.

She wrapped her arms around him. "Honey. Just because they made a stupid mistake doesn't mean you can too? Someone has to break the deadlock or the pain will keep festering and destroy all of us."

"But what will they say? How will they act?" He asked in a whisper.

"They are probably asking the same thing about you," Caroline answered. "They are afraid of how you will act."

"But how will THEY act?" Asked with an edge of anger and fear in his voice.

Caroline kissed him tenderly. "They'll greet you like the son you are. Remember the sweet letter they sent us?"

"Yeah," he said in a happy tone as his tail wagged. "They did."

"We all make mistakes." Caroline pointed to the false tomb. "That is an old mistake. Made when they weren't thinking so clearly."

"All right but only after the big demonstration. I need my head clear for that."

It was very late, close to dawn and they should both have been in bed but Caroline found Misha standing at the window staring out at the city. She quietly wrapped both arms around her fiancÚ and laid her head on his shoulders. He stroked her head tenderly with one hand.

"You're worried about tomorrow," she said. "And meeting your family."

"Yes, it's been so long since I've had any contact with my family aside from my sister," Misha responded. "But my mind keeps going over to Salona. What will the soul be like? Will she be happy? Will she be sad? She could very well be stark raving insane."

"That can only be discovered by returning it to the body," Caroline said.

He gave a yip of laughter. That's so simple and yet so deadly. Will we be recovering a lost soul or a releasing a murderous madman?"

"Have you asked Madog what he thinks?" the otter woman asked.

"Yes," the fox replied. "His answer was 'I take care of metal lady. You take care of family."

"Now that is advice to take to heart," she commented.

He kissed her on the muzzle. "Indeed. Now let's get to bed. It will be a long day tomorrow."

It was quiet in the building at this late hour. All the people had gone home, even the last of the late working apprentices had left. The woman had walked this floor countless times. In good time and in bad. She had felt excitement, happiness and exhaustion but never had she known fear, until now. The letter had arrived that morning, delivered by a messenger she had never seen before and probably would never see again. Now she was standing in the workshop where she worked, waiting. She looked up at the ceiling. "Great One give me strength."

"You finally decided to show up." The words were from a man dressed in common street clothes standing in a corner.

It was a figure she recognized. A shiver of fear ran down her spine and she had to repress her panic and the urge to run.

"Your sister sends her regards."

She took a deep breath to steady her nerves. "What do you want now?"

The Rebuilder representatives arrived on time - all thirty two of them. The group included 5 bishops, sixteen priests and eleven others including the official Rebuilder priest assigned to the guild. They seemed to be remarkably quiet for a group that large. Carlisle recognized two Guild mages among their ranks.

Reverend Burtrig stepped forward and pointed to the leader of the group. "Guild Master Demerest I'd like you to meet Bishop Harson. the presiding bishop of the Evangelical assembly."

The leader was a man of medium height whose bare head was ringed by a thin layer of hair as white as the beard that covered his chin. His face had the weathered look of someone who'd spent a lot of times outdoors. There was a modest smile on his face but his eyes sparkled with warmth. He was wearing a shirt and pants of a simple design and with the subdued colors of brown and black. The only bright coloring aside from his beard was the gold cross that hung from a chain around his neck. He bowed deeply to Demarest. "Good morning Master Demarest."

The guild master returned the bow with one of his own. "Good morning Bishop Harson. Thank you for coming!"

"Thank you for so promptly bringing this issue to the attention of the Assembly," the Bishop answered. "Let me introduce you to the rest of committee."

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