"This isn't going to work," Sekher grumbled.
          In full battle armour, holding the twisted leather leash, he followed Chaiila and the creature.  He was beginning to appreciate the effectiveness of shaving prisoners.
          He was forced to wear every piece of armour he could find to cover his furlessness, a dead giveaway to anyone they might run into.  His tail had been a major concern.  No trooper would put his tail into the sheath built into the back of the armour specifically for that purpose unless battle was imminent, and there was no way Sekher could leave his pathetic, shaved appendage wave around like a flag advertising to all and sundry that here was a shaved Trenalbi; a prisoner.
          Chaiila had solved that problem in a straightforward manner.  She'd grabbed the tail of one of the dead guards, cut a ring around the base, slit it laterally, then just peeled it off with a wet, tearing sound.  They tied it in place with thread unravelled from an undergarment.
          Now Sekher's tail twitched at the feel of the dead pelt tied to it.  There was blood or something leaking from it, dribbling between Sekher's buttocks.  Gods!  It looked almost real, but surely someone would smell the gods-be-damned thing!
          The creature was another problem of epic proportions, but Sekher was adamant: it would go with them.  Now it walked in front of him, once more wearing its tunic sealed up, a leather collar around its neck again, the strap in Sekher's hand while his other grasped his sword.  The creature had balked when they first tried to put the collar and leashes on, but Sekher patted its shoulder, making encouraging noises and eventually it acquiesced.
          One beside him, one leading in front of the creature.  The two females were anonymous in their liberated armour, the masks and visors concealing their features.  If anyone stopped them they were taking the creature to the temple.  Orders of the priests.  Nobody was going to interfere with that.
          "Quiet, male!" Nersi hissed, her armoured elbow thudding into his arm.  "And stop that fearscent!"
          "What am I supposed to do!" he hissed back.  "Cut them off?!"
          "That can be arranged!"
          The creature, who had been watching this tirade avidly, abruptly faltered.  "Hai!" Sekher began, "What's..."
          He trailed off.  Trenalbi were approaching them from down the corridor: a trio of warriors in light leather armour and breeks.  They froze at the sight of the procession heading towards them.
          Sekher prodded the creature with his sword to get it walking again, somehow keeping his own legs moving.  The Rim Trenalbi drifted to the side of the corridor.
          "Hai!" one of them hailed Chaiila as she passed.  "What in the name of all that's holy is that thing?!"
          Sekher's heart plummeted into his bowels.  Surely they would notice!
          The leather mask across her mouth muffled her voice.  Not by much: she still sounded a little strange for a male.  "A guest of his Highest," she said with a hint of a snort.  "We're to deliver it to the temple.  I don't know... perhaps they want to cut it open and see how it works."
          The guard eyed the gangling, tufted head speculatively while grey eyes stared back.  "Huh, can't possibly look any worse on the inside."
          Chaiila's laugh sounded genuine.
          "Well, if the priests are waiting I won't keep you," the guard waved them on.  As Sekher passed, the guard's muzzle wrinkled slightly, as though trying to follow a scent.  Sekher tried to master his fear.
          As soon as they were around the corner: "See," Chaiila hissed in triumph, "nothing to it!"
          "Sure!" Sekher spat back.  "Now how do we get out?!  Just walk out through the gates then through the town?"
          "Why not?" she replied, again staring at the creature as it stared back.  "It's night out there you know.  We slip out the gate, then through the town, over the walls... nothing to it!"
          Gods preserve his hide!  They were lunatics!  Here was he, escaping with a thing that defied description from a dungeon with the aid of two mad females!
          "It'll work!" she assured him.
          The palace was quieter at night, but still there were Trenalbi about.  The stairs leading from the servants level to ground were well-travelled routes, with untold scores of menials scurrying to and fro between their masters and duties.  The few who saw them paused only to stare at the bizarre prisoner being escorted by three armoured guards.  It was none of their concern so they simply kept out of the way then went about their business.
          It was dark out.
          The chamber that opened upon the front courtyard was a vast space, a rectangular cleft in the side of the palace.  Three floors over their heads strongstone vaulting supported the roof.  Around the walls, over a hundred paces apart, torches burned, tiny mites throwing small pools of light.  More glows spilled from arrow loopholes and doorways: stables, guardrooms, storerooms.  Trenalbi waded through these puddles of light, dwarfed by their own works, went about their business; here individual guards lounging against their pole arms, a courier scurrying on his way, there a group of males back from the town, their barks of laughter echoing.
          Beyond the huge archway the sand of the courtyard was blue beneath the light of the Daughters and the Palace walls were distant black ribbons.  Past them the peaks of rooftops and chimneys.
          Beyond that...
          Sekher raised his muzzle, unable to scent properly for the mask across his face that blocked the night breeze.  Freedom, so close now.  To remove the mask would be sheer folly.
          The creature was rubbernecking wildly, obviously trying to cope with something it had no comprehension of.  How could it?  Whatever it was, wherever it had come from, how could it have encountered anything that could possibly compare with the scale of this.
          The females were both silent now.  Trying to hold themselves like males, and doing a creditable job.  It was working!  They could bluff their way past the guards, then...
          Then an outcry sounded.  As one the four fugitives looked to where that group of down-shift troopers were struggling with one of their number who was straining against their grasp, pointing across the space at them.  His screaming carried: "... Demon!  It killed a priest!  Stop them!"
          Guards were beginning to look interested now.
          "Alarm!  Sound the alarm!" the male screamed.  "They're escaping!"
          That did it.  Guards began to appear in doors, moved towards them with weapons in hand.
          "Oh Gods!" Sekher breathed.
          "Don't pray!" Chaiila hissed.  "Move!" So saying, she bolted for the closest door with Sekher and Nersi close behind.  The creature, demon the Rimmer had called it, took a look at the charging guards and followed them with leashes dragging.  Something whirred and rang against the wall as Sekher ducked through the door: someone had a crossbow.
          It was the creature that slammed the door, rammed the bar into place.  The door was sturdy, intended to keep things on the other side of it, but it wouldn't take long for their pursuers to move to cut them off.  All this door boasted behind it was a spiral staircase, leading upwards.  Already Sekher could hear the females clattering their way up ahead of him.  He paused to help the creature unfasten its collar, then swatted its arm: "Come on!"
          Its peculiar foot coverings pounded the steps close behind as Sekher scrambled up the staircase.
          The females  were waiting in a door way at the top of the stair.  "Move your tail, male!" Chaiila hissed.  They'd both stripped away their masks and now Sekher did the same, gasping air.  He was about to speak when Chaiila gave his helm a resounding slap and snarled, "Don't say it!  Don't even think it.  Come on."
          Again the females took off.  Sekher gave his creature a resigned look: "Well it didn't work, did it."
          It growled, then slapped Sekher's shoulder to get him moving after the females who'd paused at the intersection at the end of the corridor.  Somewhere alarm gongs were sounding.  "Where now?" he gasped.
          Chaiila twisted uncertainly, turning left and right, then she cursed and tore the helmet off and bounced it off the wall.  "This way," she snarled, choosing the left corridor.
          They were lived in, these levels.  The wooden floors were worn smooth, there were tapestries, simple black and white line compositions on the walls, covering the grey stonework.  A servant stepped out of a door and promptly dropped his armload of laundry as he cringed at the sight of a grotesque gargoyle and a bevy of armed and armoured warriors bearing down on him.  They swept past him, then a guard appeared from around a corner.
          It was the creature who received the full brunt of his attack.  The trooper's sword flared torchlight as it swung in a brutal arc.  If the creature had been of average height the slash would have taken it in the neck, as it was the sword hit its upper arm.
          And, impossibly, snapped.
          All the Trenalbi: the females, Sekher, the Rim guard gaped at the shattered blade as it rang against the wall, then clattered to the floor.  Then the creature struck out, a single blow from a fist sending the trooper reeling, then came a kick that connected with the audible crackle of ribs breaking.
          They left the trooper hugging himself and coughing blood.  Now Sekher stared nervously at his creature.  So easily it could have killed him in the cell.  So easily it could have escaped!  Why had it waited?
          Another door at the end of the corridor.  Another spiral staircase.  Easy to defend and space-efficient.  They'd started moving downwards when the sounds of shouting, feet, and equipment jangling drifted up.  "Back!  Back!" Sekher cried as he turned.  The creature lagged behind them, pulling out another of the little cylinders.  It fiddled with it, then hurled it back downstairs where it clattered out of sight.  Heartbeats later the walls were lit with a brilliant red glow.
          Cries and screams of terror sounded.
          "Come on!" Sekher urged his creature.  It seemed even more tired than they were, gasping hard.  He caught its arm to pull it upwards and was surprised at its weight.  It wasn't as broad as a Trenalbi, but that was deceptive.  It was solidly built.  The way it had handled that guard...
          They caught up with the females again on a landing a floor up just as they opened the door.
          The hall beyond was full of guards charging towards them, spears lowered, swords drawn.
          Chaiila slammed the door.  There was no bar on this one, just a lock.  Then the creature pushed through them, ramming a small cylinder into the keyhole then frantically pushing them back, herding the Trenalbi upstairs.
          They'd gone a couple of revolutions up the stairs when the shouts sounded behind them.  A vicious snarl twisted Sekher's muzzle.  He wished he could have witnessed that: the door exploding in demonic fire just as they reached to open it.
          When the stair ran out, there was another heavy door blocking the way.  Unlocked, it was, hinges squalling loudly as it was pushed open.  Sekher rammed the bar into place, then leaned his back against the door, praying for his trembling legs to hold him.
          This corridor, leading left-right, was a barrel vault, tiled in dark blue with the wooden floor stained a dried-blood purple.
          "Alright," Sekher said.  "Now where?  There's no more up."
          "Uh... This way," Chaiila pointed left.  "There should be another stair down."
          "Which will have a hundred warriors on it by this time," said Sekher.
          "You perhaps have a better idea?" she snarled back.
          No, he didn't.
          From somewhere on that level came the sound of a door slamming open.  Voices echoed from the hard tiles.
          Wearily, the fugitives once again began running.  At one intersection they were spotted by a pair of guards, who howled the alarm and immediately gave chase.  The creature threw another of those fire-cylinders behind it and the resulting small orange sun that flared in the centre of the corridor effectively discouraged pursuit.
          "This... is... hopeless," Sekher gasped.  The Ch'sty Rim forces knew they were on this level.  It was but a matter of time before they found them, and then... How many of those little cylinders did his creature have?  An escape?  Huh!  A farce!  The Rim troopers were doubtless enjoying the hunt.
          Nersi poked her head out to check the next corridor they approached, then she signalled 'all clear'.  It was more conventional, this passage: Plastered stonework with murals of gods and deities depicted in bas reliefs.  Long, also.  They had traversed perhaps half the length when the squad of Rim warriors in full battledress rounded the corner at the far end.  Several of them raised crossbows and the flat snaps of the strings being released sounded down the corridor.  Nersi cried out and stumbled wildly, mewling in pain.  Two bolts struck the creature, staggering it slightly, then clattering harmlessly to the floor.  Another little cylinder was hurled back down the corridor to explode into a yellow glare that obscured anything beyond it.
          "In here!" Chaiila ordered, catching and hooking Nersi's arm about her shoulder to help her through the door to their left.  Sekher was the last through, throwing his weight against the heavy door to seal it.  There was no lock on it save a simple dowel bolt.
          "Haiii," Chaiila hissed despairingly.  "Gods preserve us."
          Slowly Sekher turned to look.
          A temple.  Here in the palace, a temple!
          The circular room of Communion was nothing compared to those in the great temples, nor was it as impressive as the Audience Hall he had so recently been introduced to, but it wasn't the size of the room that shook the Trenalbi, it was the essence, the power that emanated from the very walls and floor.
          Masks of the gods watched from niches around the walls.  The great faces in gleaming black Nightglow stone watching their every move, dark eye sockets glowing with a green light.  Phast, the god of war, was in ascendancy, snarling at them from his position at the peak of the triangle directly opposite him.  Alongside him the effigies of Chith'as' Tre and Hirol, gods of storms and fire took their unaccustomed places.  The altar in the centre of the room was marked with dark stains and streaks, still glistening wet.
          Lingering scents of fear and pain rent the air like screams.  Sekher froze.  All the nightmares, the warnings, of what happened to those who violated the priests' sanctuaries came flooding back, leaving him trembling.  His fear mixed with that of the females, even Nersi, her leg now coated in blood.
          The creature simply walked out into the room, touched the drying blood on the altar, then turned and stared at them, questioning.
          A low murmuring sounded from one of the paired arches flanking the war god.  A hooded figure in grey robes drew aside the curtains across the right archway and moved to stand below the mask of Phast.
          There was a pounding on the door behind them.
          Unperturbed the priest continued chanting his mantras, lifting his head to focus on the creature.  The hood fell back.  He was old, his mane frizzled and nearly white.  Still the creature continued to stand before the altar like a target for a bow, seemingly puzzled by the unarmed old Trenalbi before it.
          The priest raised his arm and the creature half-raised the cylinder it had taken from its pouch.
          There were multiple flat cracks like the snapping of a dozen whips.  From the walls of the room jagged flashes of blue-white lightning clawed out at the creature, outlining it in a momentary nimbus of sparks and power which faded in the blink of an eye.
          The creature looked startled, swinging its arm around.
          A stream of fire erupted from the rod in the creature's hand, washing over the Phast's mask, down, engulfing the priest who exploded into flame, staggered forward waving his arms frantically.  Fur burned with a vengeance.  Eyeballs burst into steam and flame ate into the body, erupting from the mouth as a visible scream.  The smell of burning flesh was overpowering, starting Sekher's mouth to watering.
          The creature stood unharmed by the priest's assault, looking - if Sekher could read its expression - surprised at the dying priest.  It let the cylinder drop to the floor and glanced back at the other Trenalbi.
          The twisted corpse on the floor still burned, smoking and steaming, looking like a charred log only vaguely Trenalbi-shaped.  Blackened skin and fur burned reluctantly, bubbled as fat hissed and spat.  Sekher and Chaiila gave it a cautious berth as they half-carried Nersi around it.
          Behind the curtains, the arches both opened into the same hallway.  At one end this terminated in a room with little in it: some stark wooden benches and chests, but the other ended in another stairway, going up.
          "But this is the top level!" Chaiila stated, confused.  "Where's this go?"
          "Only one way to find out," Sekher said.  "We can't stay around here."
          These stairs were broader than the others they'd ascended in their flight.  They were also newer: the stones still bore the distinct marks of masons' chisels.  It was awkward hauling Nersi up those steps double-time, strung between them leaving a trail of blood.  The creature trailed behind them, glancing back over its shoulder.  There was little doubt that the Rim troops were now in the temple, right on their tail.
          And when this stair ran out?  What then?
          Sekher's hand drifted to the hilt of his sword.  Good, he still had that, but would... could he use it?
          He reached the top gasping.  Nersi was yelping each time her foot touched the floor and she was beginning to weigh upon his shoulders like a wet shen.  "Get back," Sekher snarled to the females, in no mood for argument.  Chaiila hauled Nersi through the small doorway and Sekher watched it close, then drew his sword and turned to face the stairs.  At least he'd take a few of them with him.
          His creature stood there beside him, also gasping.
          "Sorry about this," Sekher nervously laughed.  "Could have had some time to find out just what you are."
          Already voices and rattling equipment.
          He grinned at the creature, clutching tighter to the hilt of his sword.  It grinned back at him, then held up a single cylinder, striped yellow and black.  It twisted the top, starting a flashing red light, then dashed down the stairs.
          "Hai!" Sekher yelled, but it was already out of sight.
          Seconds later, it was back, sans cylinder.  Sekher had time to squall in surprise as it grabbed him, hurling him away from the stair.
          The blast that roared up the staircase was almost a palpable force, bringing a cloud of dust and small ricocheting debris that rattled against his armour.
          Sekher found himself on the floor, a heavy weight on his back and a layer of dust coating his mouth.  He coughed, spat, and raised his head.  A deep growl beside his ear echoed his own sentiments.  "Hai!  You said it!" he agreed as the creature dragged itself off his legs and dug in an ear with a finger.
          Sekher's ears wilted in awe at the extent of the damage.  That little piece of metal had destroyed and blocked a section of stair and effectively added another window in the three-span thick walls of this tower.  He could see that was what it was now, a single tower with the rest of the palace spread out below.  The battlements on the roof were swarming with soldiery as the first tinges of the Lightbringer tainted the darkness.
          "Well, they're not going to get through that in a hurry!" he snorted to himself, regarding the rubble.  "Now we just starve to death."
          Gods!  What was better?  Locked in an underground cell, or in a tower?  Either way you bit it, they weren't going anywhere.
          A bleak thought.  Sekher snarled, startling his creature, then headed back up the stairs, slapping loose clouds of powdered masonry from his scratched hide.  He pounded on the door: "Chaiila!  It's me!  Open up!"
          A bolt scraped on the other side, then the door swung aside and Chaiila was staring at him, at the grey coating covering him.  "By my Mother, what happened?!  That noise..."
          "That thing again," Sekher said, jerking a thumb at the creature behind him as he pushed past her, then stopped and blinked in surprise.
          A strange room.  Not little.  The floor was carpeted, the walls panelled in expensive-looking timbers, and over those were hung tapestries.  Not the usual scenes of hunting, battle, and geometric designs, rather these were maps.  Maps of the known lands, maps of the sky, even charts of the seafarers, plotting known currents and winds within the bounds of the Teeth.  There were shelves with over a dozen books along with countless other trinkets.  Ornately carved, almost to the point of gaudiness, a cabinet of burnished dark Splitwood filled a corner, stained glass fragments in the doors protecting the top shelves.  Before another door in the wall to his left, opening onto a broad balcony, was a well-worn desk, covered with a blotter, a neat stack of parchments, inkwells, a small rack of reed pens, a small waterclock, and other paraphernalia.  A good-sized whitewashed adobe fireplace still held the remains of a fire, wood in a stack beside it.
          Nersi was laid out on a pelt spread across a bed in a curtained niche opposite the balcony door.  Her eyes were closed as she hissed breath through clenched teeth.  The crossbow bolt was half buried in her upper thigh, the orange and white fletchings poking out.  Blood: it was still trickling through the matted fur, not as much now as before.  Her eyes opened as Chaiila sat down beside her head, caressing her facial fur.  "How're you feeling, cousin?" Chaiila asked, unable to hide her anxiety.
          Nersi grinned: "How'd you feel with a lump of wood through your leg?  Sweet mother, it hurts!"
          Chaiila looked distressed and patted Nersi's shoulder.  "I know, I know," she said.
          "Huh!  I got myself into it.  My choice."
          Sekher felt useless, like a crippled limb.  A Trenalbi who'd undoubtedly saved his life now may have to lose a leg because of him.  And to cap it all, she was female.  Gods!  He was supposed to protect them!
          "Gods!  I'm sorry," was all he could say.
          Chaiila turned, teeth showing.  "Leave us cub," was all she said, an edge on her tongue.
          Stung, Sekher retreated to the far side of the room.  He caught a parting murmur from Nersi: "... not his fault..."
          Perhaps it helped a little.
          Well, first thing.  He twisted around and grabbed at the false tail, snapping the threads as he yanked it off.  His own pitiful remnant was slimy wet with fats and other bodily juices.  He wiped it as clean as he could on an expensive-looking tapestry.
          Then he perched himself on the edge of the desk, ruminating while unfastening various superfluous pieces of ironmongery strapped about his person and letting them fall in a clattering heap.  Purple morninglight was saturating the sky, seeping through the balcony door.  There was an impossible silhouette out there: A tall, thin, angular figure standing at the balcony's parapet.  The rising Lightbringer struck glinting highlights from the white clothing... armour, whatever that be-damned stuff was.
          Huh!  An inexperienced young warrior, two females, and a monster of dubious civility attempting to flee the heart of the Ch'sty Rim.  Why had they bothered.  Over there Chaiila was hunched over her cousin, voices low.  She hadn't followed him from K'streth, had she?  No, he was incidental.  She'd said something about some other reason for being here.  Apparently that hadn't been successful, so she'd taken second best (third?  fourth?  She didn't appear overly infatuated with the idea of his company).  Sekher hissed in frustration, anger, and stabbed at a sheaf of parchment, forgetting his claws had been cropped.  He picked it up by hand, read it: some obscure prayer to gods of knowledge and understanding.  He tossed it aside, watched it sideslip down, miss the desk, and plane to the floor like a falling leaf.
          Priests: that one had had power, an immense gift, yet his creature (dare he call it that?) had shrugged off the anger of lightning like rain from a roadcoat.  Also, there was that guard who'd betrayed them.  What had he been screaming?  It had killed a priest?
          Two priests dead?
          But why had it languished in the dungeons with him?  Why had those guards been able to subdue it, beat it senseless?  And how in the unnamed hells had it been able to kill a priest while strapped down?!
          Gods!  The unanswered questions!
          Sekher shook his head, then loosened the neck guard on his armour to rub at where the metal was chafing his bare skin.  How long would it take his fur to grow?  He picked up the waterclock and peered into the complex workings where a steady drip of water moved a tiny model of the Lightbringer on its path.  Another gadget, a simple glass bulb with four small vanes inside, the faces of each painted black or white.  As the room lightened the vanes began to rotate.  Sekher poked at it, but the vanes continued to turn.  Well, he wasn't going to mess with that.  Priest wizardry wasn't something for an uninitiated neophyte to fool around with.
          He glanced a couple of requisition forms and noticed some items were a great deal more expensive out here.  Gods!  A bodyweight of incense required a transfer of fifteen silver rods from the palace treasury to the priesthood's.  Interesting.
          Sekher swept a couple more such ledgers aside, uncovering a small grey slab, about the size of his palm.  Curious, he picked it up, turning it over.  It was solid, but not heavy.  A strange material: not wood, not metal.  One face was decorated with narrow blue lines forming patterns of circles, rectangles, and squares.  Along one edge was a little flap concealing little silvery nubs and tens of tiny holes.  A puzzle.
          He yelped when a hairless pale arm shot past his shoulder to grab the slab.  "Hai!" he turned.  "What do you..."
          But the creature was gripping the little grey box in both hands.  It looked up at him with eyes gleaming, grabbed his shoulder and shook him, roaring, shaking him so Sekher's teeth rattled, waving the box under his nose.
          Then stopped when a sword tip pricked at the skin under its jaw.
          "Tame is it?" Chaiila snarled in a voice as cold as the winds off the Ramparts.  "Cub, we have gone to a lot of trouble to get you this far, now I am not going to have you torn apart by some monster from a nightmare; sending or not.  Do I kill it?"
          It was frozen, storm-grey eyes in a dirt-streaked face locked on him.  Those eyes moved, flickered as Sekher reached out to take the little box from its unresisting fingers.  One quick stab and an unknown variable would be removed from the picture.
          "No." Sekher put the box back down on the desk between them.  "No, don't.  It's saved our hides and if it wanted me dead it could have been done with it long before this."
          Chaiila hesitated, then gave a resigned twitch of her ears and pulled her sword away.  A bead of redness appeared where the tip had dimpled the skin, grew, then trickled downwards.  The creature clutched its prize tight and drew back several steps, looking from Chaiila to Sekher with startled eyes.
          "Huh!" Chaiila spat.  "Very well, cub.  Be it on your head.  Now you can help me."
          The dark-furred female sheathed her sword in one smooth motion, eyeing Sekher.  The rectangular horizontal slits of her pupils were large, dark, stretching across her exquisite golden eyes.  "Nersi," she said.  "We're going to have to get that arrow out."
          "Oh, Gods!" Sekher groaned.
          Nersi grimaced as they approached.  "Just make it quick, alright?"
          "Your desire, cousin," Chaiila reassured her with a pat on the shoulder.
          Sekher's duty would be to restrain Nersi's arms, to hold her down.  Both Nersi and Chaiila insisted that Chaiila be the one to remove the bolt.  Sekher wasn't about to argue.  He awkwardly clambered astride her so he was looking down upon her face.  Scared face, he saw.  Her eyes were wide and she was almost panting.  Her scent was a spicy smell in the air, tangy and fresh.
          "Here," Chaiila passed him a strip of leather, doubled over to make a thick pad.  "She may need this."
          He swallowed and turned down to Nersi.  She plucked the biting cloth out of his hand but paused with it near her mouth.  "You know, she said with what was almost a smile, "you really do look peculiar with no fur." Then she popped the thong into her mouth and spread her arms above her head.  Sekher took hold, leaning his weight forward.  Her fur was warm, coarse against his palms.
          And he knew the semibeat Chaiila began.
          Nersi went swordsteel rigid, her eyes exploding wide as she strained against Sekher's grip with such force as to almost unseat him.  He steadied himself but the first spasm was over.  She was trembling, shivering, her eyes staring through him.  Every so often a noise would escape her, a small sound, but nevertheless painful to hear.
          Behind his back Sekher heard Chaiila's panting, her cursing, then the gasp of triumph.  Nersi almost jerked off the bed, her eyes so wide as to nearly burst from of their sockets.  Then she fell lax, sucking air and whimpering behind the biting rag.  He heard the sounds of tearing cloth as Chaiila made more bandages to strap the wound closed with.
          Gently Sekher lifted the sodden, well-chewed strip of leather from the female's mouth.  She mewled and turned stunned, half-focused eyes on him.  "Calm," he murmured.  "It's alright.  It's over."
          Yet he waited until Chaiila completed bandaging the leg.
          A blood-soaked hand touched his shoulder.  "Done," the dark female told him.  When he tried to stand, Sekher found his limbs trembling.  Chaiila had done a good job: the wound was well wrapped, but still... Sekher had known of many die from wounds magnitudes smaller than this.  The festering... Gods!  He shuddered, tried not to think of it.
          A rumbling voice, dropping out of hearing from sound to feeling.  The creature caught his arm again, this time gentle, helping him lean against the ornate Splitwood cabinet, proffered the silvery flask.  Gratefully Sekher drank.  "Thanks," he said, wiping his mouth on his arm, "I needed that."
          It growled in acknowledgment, then hesitantly moved over to where Chaiila was sitting at the foot of the bed, watching over her cousin.  She looked up, saw it coming, and had her sword out and levelled in a heartbeat.  The creature recoiled from the stained point.
          "Put that away, Chaiila," Sekher wearily admonished her.  "It's only trying to help."
          "What's that?" she asked suspiciously, eyeing the flask.
          "Water," Sekher said, watching her with some amusement.  "Huh, it's safe.  I've been drinking it."
          The creature held the flask out and pointed at Nersi.  "All right!" Chaiila snarled.  "I'll do it.  Here!" She stuck her hand out and the creature faltered, then surrendered the silvery flask.  Nersi growled as Chaiila propped her up with pillows and lifted the skin to her mouth.  She drank greedily, licked her lips.  "That's good," she sighed, then relaxed, sinking into Drift.  Chaiila stroked her cousin's neck, watching her for a while.
          She sniffed the flask, poked the silvery skin, then drank.  Her eyes widened at the first mouthful.
          "A little," Sekher said.  "I don't know how much is in there." Chaiila blinked at the flask as if it had just spoken to her, then tossed it back to the creature.  It awkwardly caught it.  "Thanks," Chaiila said, dipping her head in embarrassment.  Storm cloud grey eyes watched her warily.

          Sekher cautiously peered over the side of the balcony.  The battlements below were still filled with warriors, archers, although he was not certain a normal bow had the range.  However he saw several light arbalests being set up, aimed at the tower.  They saw him as well, bows were leveled and voices rose in alarm, but nobody fired.  He drew back within the sanctuary of the doorway.  "Why do they wait?"
          Chaiila shuddered and blinked out of her Drift.  "Huh?"
          "Down there." Sekher twitched his tail toward the door.  "All that weaponry, and they sit on their tails.  I haven't even heard anyone trying to clear that debris off the stairs."
          Chaiila snorted and settled back in the low, stocky chair behind the desk, her feet up on the blotter, right crossed over left.  "Doesn't surprise me.  The High Windbreakers are probably deliberating just what in the unnamed hells to do with us.  Huh!  Our own pet daemon." She barked a laugh.  "If it is a daemon.  Hai!  Is it male or female?"
          "I've no idea," Sekher said, looking over at the thing where it was poking through the books on the shelves, selecting some and almost seeming to read them, except it was holding them upside down.
          "Huh!  How'd you two get thrown in the same box anyway?"
          Sekher scowled, then related the situation that had brought them together.  She listened attentively, chuckling a couple of times while she lounged back.  She'd stripped away almost all her Rim armour, down to the breastplate and chamois breeches.  Her tail was wound around to her front and she absently preened at the twitching black and grey ringed tip while following Sekher's words.
          "An interesting life you lead, cub," she said when he was done.  The creature had stumbled across an illustration in the text it was leafing through and righted the book.  It was an amusing, yet somewhat disturbing sight, a parody of a Trenalbi reading.  "Where do you suppose it came from?"
          "I don't know.  We were in the middle of the plains when they caught it.  I didn't even see how it happened."
          "It's a weird mix.  It bleeds like any other mortal creature, and what god would send something like that?  It doesn't have the characteristics of any deity I can think of."
          "It manifests fire," Sekher said thoughtfully.
          "And also water," Chaiila pointed out.  "And thunder.  And death."
          "I think that may be accidental."
          Chaiila looked surprised: "Explain."
          "Look at it.  Often it seems confused, terrified, like it doesn't know what's going on.  It doesn't understand us, and sometimes I believe it doesn't even hear us."
          "Great," Chaiila muttered.  "What do we do when it gets hungry?"
          "It's got some food."
          "Really?" Chaiila looked interested.  "Could you get it to share?"
          "I don't know," Sekher confessed, rubbing at his arm.  "And do you really think it'll be necessary?  I reckon that long before we're hungry enough to need it they'll either have that debris cleared away, have scaled the outside of the tower, or knocked or burnt it down around our ears."
          The dark female stretched, the fur on her tail bristling.  "Perhaps, but I think the very fact that they're taking so long to come to a head means someone is reluctant to damage one of us," she stared past Sekher's shoulder to where the lanky, naked-skinned creature was examining the tooling on an engraved letter pouch.  "Or they're reassessing what they're up against."
          "I've been doing that from the day I saw it."
          The creature tired of the bookshelf and ambled over to poke around the splitwood cabinet.  It examined an iron candlestick, apparently more interested in the bluebark sap candle than in the ironmongery itself.
          "Oth'c ne'thirin te ne'lirin," Chaiila recited.
          "An ancient tongue.  Used by the warrior castes of the Hub," she replied.  "I think it means 'what you don't know, don't trust'."
          "Huh!  That kind of thinking won't make you many friends."
          "Could keep you alive though.  Now, any ideas on how we're going to get out of here?"
          "Hai!  That's my line," he grinned, then sobered.  "In a tower in the middle of a copulating castle, surrounded by soldiers and siege engines, with a wounded female and something from a dramatist's nightmare.  Wait till it's dark, scale down the walls with ropes?"
          "Ropes of what?" She twitched her tail.  "And they'd doubtless see us and have us for target practice."
          "Huh!  Well then, short of flying out, I'm out of ideas.  What about you?"
          "I've tried," she hissed.  "I couldn't come up with anything either."
          Sekher moved behind her chair, to stand in the doorway.  The city was spread out below him, wisps of smoke curling up from chimneys, steep rooftops of slate-grey and black tile.  There were the indistinct blots of Trenalbi going about their business, oblivious to what was happening in the palace.  The She'ng river sparkled blue in the morning light, the green fields along its banks fading into burnished gold the further they drew from the water so the horizon was a line of copper grasses.  Far in the distance the dark blue thunderheads of a plains storm roiled lazily: one of those storms that flashed out of nowhere, drenched a Trenalbi, then vanished again.
          The air was still cool, the morning breeze chill.  Against Sekher's bare skin it was like nothing he'd ever felt before and he didn't know whether he liked it or not, then decided it wasn't something he cared for.
          That priest had a couple of spare cloaks and Sekher only hesitated an instant before taking one.  Chaiila lounged back in the chair, watching him in vague amusement, then yawned, curling her grey tongue.  "That looks even weirder" she said.
          "You in that robe," she smiled.  "Without your fur... Gods!  You should see yourself!"
          And Sekher's skin broke out in countless tiny bumps as his nonexistent fur tried to bristle in indignation.  He'd opened his mouth to snap back a reply when he was forestalled by a resounding yelp from the creature.
          It had opened the top doors of the cabinet, the stained glass doors, and now was clutching something that resembled a piece of forearm armour, but for the colour: that light grey with red and blue designs.
          Chaiila's chair legs had hit the floor with a loud thump as the chair tipped forward.  "What's it got now?" Chaiila asked suspiciously.
          It stabbed with a finger at the thing, examined it, then yelped again, brandishing it before the Trenalbi and baring its teeth in a grin.
          Both Sekher and Chaiila went for their swords.
          The creature's eyes widened and it took a step backwards, hands coming up while it shook its head.  Then it feverishly fiddled with the device, slipping it onto its left forearm, adjusting something so it locked in place.
          "So it's a piece of armour," Chaiila muttered warily, not sounding completely convinced.  "Is that so important?"
          The creature stabbed at the piece of armour with a forefinger as if it were trying to punch holes in it.  A hum sounded in the air and the creature growled at its own arm.
          Sekher was more than mildly surprised when the arm growled back.
          "Gods!" Chaiila stumbled backwards, tripped against the chair, and sat down heavily.
          "What's going on?" Nersi called groggily from the bed.
          "N...nothing," Chaiila swallowed hard.  "Don't trouble yourself cousin."
          And Sekher was gaping.
          The air above the creature's left forearm blurred, darkened, and strings of tiny green creatures began filling the space in neat rows.  Lines and grids appeared, spinning about each other in a complicated dance.  A small globe, covered with lines, solidified into a blue, green, and white ball, spinning in blackness.  All the time the piece of armour hummed and rumbled sporadically, seemingly echoing the creature's own noises.
          Rapidly the ball changed, seeming to leap towards Sekher.
          The image became a square like a window, a picture of a dark circle; Like looking down into a bowl half filled with green, brown, and bronze paint, the other half with blue.  Veins, glittering blue, crossed the green patches, running into the larger blue mass.
          "A map!" Chaiila whispered.  "Gods!  That's a map of all the demesnes."
          Sekher looked again.  A map, yes, but unlike any he'd ever seen before.  The view zoomed in again, the central tundras marked out.  A red circle appeared in the savanna, a green dotted line tracing a path eastwards, then abruptly turning red and veering south to terminate in a flashing point.
          "That was where they found it," Sekher breathed.  "That place where the line changes colour."
          "And that's Jai'stra," Chaiila said.
          And there was another line, a flashing white line curving out from the circle, turning to follow the red one.  The image flickered yet again.  There was a black shape, obviously representing Jai'stra, harbouring the tip of the red line.  The white line was approaching: slowly, steadily.
          "Then what's that?" Sekher asked, pointing.
          Chaiila looked at him and Sekher could smell her fear.

End Godsend part 5